Message Feb. 18, 2018

I wrote this message while trying to keep myself from fretting about what the coaches would do in terms of choosing which athletes would be going to the NAIA National Indoor Track and Field meet. Rumor had it that my daughter, who qualified first by the way, would be one of those left at home because she was only a thrower, and not a runner or a jumper. No one had the courage to ask. No one made the “A” standard on the last day of regular competition. We were in suspense. The issue is that God knew. God had a plan that I was too stubborn to wait patiently for. Two of the five qualifiers were in the top 16 so that put them out of the choice and left only three to fill the three spots. All stress was avoided. The choice was not given to the coach, it was determined by a higher power. Trust in the Lord is what I need to get into my head. So, this is what I told my congregation on Sunday morning while I was waiting, not so patiently.

The scriptures we heard were: Genesis 9: 8-17, I Peter 3: 18-22 and Mark 1: 9-15. The title was “God’s Loving Paths.” The songs we sang were: “What a Friend we have in Jesus,” “Great is thy Faithfulness,” and “Amazing Grace How Sweet the Sound.”

Our scriptures today are tied together by the number 40, and we have already discussed that at length on Wednesday night. The three particular issues of 40 include: the 40 days of rain and flood experienced by Noah and those in the ark, the 40 years when the Israelites wandered around the wilderness, and the 40 days when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness.

For some reason I am fascinated by the gospel accounts of Jesus facing the temptations in the wilderness. The idea that he was alone in some desolate place trying to figure out what was to come next in his life, what he was supposed to do and how he was to do it, and then he gets harassed by Satan and has to make some hard decisions. My big question for all of us this Lenten season is: “What temptations do we face in our wilderness moments?”

I suppose the list in the poem would be a good start on the many things that tempt us, or maybe another easier to understand word might be distract us. As in distract us away from following God’s path or plan for our lives. What sort of things keep us distracted enough that we don’t do the things we really should be doing like finishing our message, reaching out to others, visiting or calling on those who can’t get out and about, and the list goes on. I see these things as tasks that I don’t find the time to do because I am distracted, led astray, tempted away from doing what I need to do.

And this morning, I was all prepared to say that in the past few weeks I have been distracted, tempted away from doing what I should be doing because James and I have been out and about following after Paulina’s track meets. But after we got home late last night I came to realize that is not the truth at all. Attending those meets have not been the distraction and the temptation for me. In fact if the truth be told, being with her and her fellow throwers and other team members has been a wonderful opportunity to witness by example to a great group of young people.

The distraction, the temptation to feel anger and have thoughts not worthy of a Christian attitude has come with my fussing and fretting and worrying about why she isn’t hitting better marks or meeting certain standards, and it has been gnawing me to a sick stomach and shaking hands, and it is ridiculous. I have been in such a snit about why she isn’t able to have more success that I have prevented myself and those around me from enjoying the success she has been having. I have missed the friends she has made and the fun they have together. I have missed what is important because of my focus on marks and competition and points. I need to realize that it is just a sport for goodness sakes.

Friday afternoon as we were sitting in the hotel room in Brookings waiting for the team bus (that wasn’t coming because it broke down at the truck stop in Summit for four hours), we heard an ESPN commentator ask why is it that during the Olympics the news media in our country is so stuck on counting medals that we can’t just celebrate the good efforts of the athletes no matter where they are from? That sort of competitiveness can turn into the temptation to feel jealousy, envy, anger, bitterness, disappointment, all those sins that bring us down and make us feel unworthy of anything, especially Christ’s love.

If we didn’t hear it clearly enough on Ash Wednesday, let’s be reminded today that Christ was/Christ is the only person born of a human birth who came into this world without sin. We are all born into sin, but Christ who had no sin died in our place. The sinless Christ died for us sinners. Vs. 18 “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous that he might bring us to God…” Peter goes on to let us know that the experience of Noah and his family in the flood corresponds to baptism which is not about removal of sins like a shower removes the dirt of the day from our bodies, but it is an appeal to God that we are willing and wanting to be part of his family, and follow in his ways, and that we are reaching for and accepting that great love that he is offering through Christ.

So, with all of that in our heads, let us look at the words we find in Mark this morning and how it connects into the ending of the story of Noah and that great flood. First off Mark is pretty cryptic, pretty concise or I guess the better term is brief in what we read today. He has packed quite a bit of information into a short amount of space, and yet it might be that he is telling more in what he is not telling, if that makes sense.

Let’s go part by part. What we read in Mark divides into three segments. In the first one we have a very brief telling of the baptism of Jesus. Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan. We don’t know who is witness to this event, but we hear that when it happened the heavens were torn apart. Interestingly, the author uses the same Greek verb for torn in this story as is used in the telling of when the temple cloth was torn when Jesus is crucified, which is for some experts is a way of linking his baptism to his crucifixion. In this act of baptism which the sinless Christ technically should not need to participate in, we see his acceptance of his path. We see the love he has for humankind and his acceptance of what he is being asked to do.

In this story we also have the spirit of God descending in the form of a dove, which connects to the story of Noah when he releases the dove to see if the waters have receded. In Mark the spirit then sends Jesus to the wilderness to face the temptations from Satan.

Although we learn what those were specifically in other parts of the Bible, Mark chooses to simply tell us that it happened and then it ends with “and the angels waited on him.” This in turn connects to the words from our reading in I Peter today which finishes chapter 3 by telling us that Jesus has gone to heaven are resides there at the right hand of God with angels, authorities and powers made subject to him.

The third part of this passage is after Jesus has returned from the wilderness and he begins his ministry. Interestingly by that time John has been arrested and his time of ministry is over. Jesus now begins to proclaim that the time to repent is now. This sounds a lot like what we heard from the scripture lesson on Wednesday, II Corinthians 6:2 said: “See now is the acceptable time; see now is the day of salvation.” What Mark is telling us here is that after the 40 days, after Jesus left the wilderness and all the temptations he went through, he didn’t falter, he didn’t hesitate, but he got right to work: Perhaps an example for us to follow?

On Wednesday I closed the message with the question of how will we return God’s love, or maybe the modern terminology is how can we pay it forward… because we know of course there is no way to pay it back. Yesterday as I was having one of those mother moments off in the corner of the infield watching the results of the event go less than I had hoped, the opening words of Jeremiah 29:11 popped into my head, “I know the plans I have for you” and it finishes with: “plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” God knows what plans he has for all of us, for each of us just as he had plans for his Beloved Son, who came to earth to be our Savior.

We might be tempted to fuss and fidget about why we don’t know what those plans are at this time, but one thing we can be sure of, is that what God wants most for us is to resist the temptations that stand in our way, and to turn to him for comfort and guidance and mostly that love that knows no bounds. As we travel through the rest of these 40 days, may we be constantly looking for new ways to share God’s love with those around us. Amen.

Ash Wednesday message:

I have not posted yet this year because I am pondering the upgrade of my blog. I won’t comment any further than this, but for now, I will post the message I gave on Ash Wednesday and maybe later the one I gave last Sunday. In the meantime, no pictures…

Ash Wednesday message. Scriptures used were: Joel 2:1-2, 12-14 & 17, II Corinthians 5:20b-6:10 and Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21. The title was, “We are loved anyway!!”

Before we get too deeply into our message tonight, I just want to acknowledge that tonight is the fifth time that we have joined together in an Ash Wednesday worship service. Amazing how time flies, no wonder Diane was able to stay here for 20 years, it just goes by so fast. If I wouldn’t have the computer files and the bulletins to prove it, I wouldn’t believe that we have been doing this together for this long. I actually looked it up because I was trying to determine what we have studied during Lent in the past. I could remember most of them off the top of my head, but not all. We looked at: People around Jesus, Places Jesus went, Things Jesus did, and the Things we do. This year we will take a close look at the parable of the Good Samaritan and hopefully what it means to us and in essence how do we see ourselves in terms of that parable. I don’t want to talk about any of that tonight; I just wanted to give you an idea of what we will do so that you know if it is worth putting on your coat and leaving your easy chair to come to Wednesday night services. Of course if the lunch and fellowship afterwards is anything like the past years, it might be worth enduring the service just to get to that part of the evening. Just saying.

This evening I want to talk about a couple of things and hopefully we will hit on the scripture lessons as part of the discussion. Seriously though, during the past four years we have taken the Ash Wednesday scriptures apart in more ways than one. We have also discussed at length our spiritual practices during this season. We won’t be going into any of that either. We have done those talks today is time for something different.

What I want to begin with is a little bit on this idea of 40 days of Lent. The number 40 is pretty significant in scriptures. For starters, the business of Lent has to do with Jesus in the wilderness enduring the temptation of the devil for 40 days, Moses and the Israelites wandered for 40 years (in an area that should have taken them what—a few weeks to pass through) before God finally let them cross into the Promised Land, then there is the business of Noah and the flood that lasted for 40 days. Understandably there is something about 40. Maybe it is something we could build on.

Think of what we could do in 40 days, or with 40 things, or by doing something during this time other than just showing up in the basement one night for the next 5 weeks to see what is for lunch. I started to think of what I could find time for. The easy thing might be to collect $1 from myself each day and at the end of the time, I would have $40 to share with someone in need. Or if I felt needy myself, maybe I would reduce that to a quarter or a dime or a nickel…

What if I tried to adopt a new habit? If I worked on this everyday for the next 40 days, I should be able to make it a permanent part of my routine…what if that is exercise, maybe not. What if I decided I should read to improve myself, I could plan to read a chapter a day. I might even finish more than one book at that rate. Maybe I could learn to play a new song on the piano. It would probably help if I could play the piano, but that is a different story. Of course there is always the clean out our life sort of project. Maybe I could chose to sort just one drawer or a shelf or a box each day. By the end of Lent, I could have a pretty good handle on the cleaning that needs doing around my place. Well actually it will take at least 5 more times of Lent to get that finished.

What if I took the time to pray for someone each day? By the end of Lent I could have spent time praying for 40 people. Or, if I choose to do something in service for others, something each day—maybe that random acts of kindness thing: open a door, help someone carry something that seems too heavy for them, call someone just to see how they are doing, share my box of chocolates, bake a friend a cake for their birthday, pay the coffee for everyone at the table… you get the idea. If we did that could we change the world, probably not, but we would change a little part of it. So do we do this now, today, this season of Lent? But we didn’t have time to plan, can’t we wait till next year?

In II Corinthians we learn that it is up to us to do it now. At the end of verse 2 Paul writes: “See now is the acceptable time, see now is the day of salvation.” Paul wrote this to the Corinthian Church for them to read in their time, but each time we gather and read this, we hear it new again. Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation. This is part of what we need to understand in the next 40 days. It isn’t about all that other stuff that I mentioned earlier. Oh yes, it would be great if we could go out and find 40 people to help in some way or other. It would be great if we made a donation of X-times 40 to help out some group or person or facility in need. But the fact is that Paul is telling us whatever you do, do it now. Today is the day. Now is the time. We don’t know when Christ plans to return; we don’t know our day or hour, what we do know is that the words Jesus left for the disciples in Matthew 9:37 and Luke 10:2 are still true today, “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”

In the beginning of what we read from this same passage, Paul is explaining to the Corinthian church that Jesus was sent to earth to take on the sins of the world. Jesus was the One who knew no sin/Jesus had no sin of his own, nothing. Jesus was sinless, blameless and had no reason at all to be offered up in sacrifice for the world, but because of that totally indescribable intertwining love of God the Father/God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, Christ came to earth and died so that we can receive forgiveness and salvation.

And is it because we deserve it? Actually it is quite the opposite.

We are given this opportunity because God loves us. God created us out of love and God redeems us out of love, and it is up to us to accept that love and share it with anyone and everyone that we are able to. This morning when I sat down and opened up my copy of The Upper Room I was struck by just how much God loves us and just how silly it is for us to think that we need to be worthy of that love. We can’t be worthy of God’s love, but the truth is that God gives it to us anyway. The Upper Room today referenced the human lineage of Jesus, and in the lineage we see that Boaz the man who married Ruth and was the great-grandfather of King David was also the son of Rahab the prostitute.

The issue is that God accepts us as we are and gives us a place in the kingdom if we are willing to do what we are asked to do. God accepts us and loves us and forgives us when we turn back from our sinful nature. The words of Joel that we read tonight confirm that forgiveness is ours if we ask, vs. 13 “rend your hearts and not your clothing, Return to the Lord, your God for he is gracious and merciful.” God loves us even in our unworthiness. Seriously there is no way we can ever be worthy unless we accept Christ.

I want to share the jest of something I found in some of my digging in boxes a few weeks ago. I had torn the page out of the back of a Woman’s Day magazine. It was a one page article by Salley Shannon. She writes: “Little Things that Matter Big.” It begins with a story about how she had been given a large bottle of Chanel No. 5, a perfume that she really liked, but she did not use it much because she wanted to save it for “good.” Sometime after she received it, her mother passed away, and she had to stay at her mother’s home during the time of the funeral, and she ended up staying in her mother’s room. While she was there, she found that her mother had been using an old night gown that was falling apart while the new ones that the children had given her for Christmas and birthdays over the years were all in the drawers still in the gift boxes. She also found that the towel she used in the bathroom was falling apart while the new fluffy ones were in the closet untouched. It made her believe that her mother felt unworthy of the pretty and nice new things that her children had given her. Later in the article the woman wrote that when she got home, she realized that her bottle of perfume had dried up from lack of use, apparently because she wasn’t worthy of wearing it. At the end of the article she writes that she has changed and now eats her everyday snacks on her fine china.

I share this story with us tonight so that we can think about the concept of worthy. No one is worthy of God’s love, but we have the opportunity to experience it anyway, that is how much God loves us. Matthew chapter 6 lets us know that God is not looking to reward or to call the righteous in fact at the end of verse 2 it says, “they have received their reward.” Matthew is telling us what Jesus says about those who practice piety, those he calls the hypocrites who ring bells so others see their donation in the offering plate or see their grand demonstrations of prayers. We are not called to make grand gestures. We are called to humble ourselves before God and to store up our treasures in heaven.

The bottom line is that starting today, for the next 40 days, we are called as a congregation to consider the fact that Christ came to earth to endure temptations, betrayal, beatings and even death on the cross not for status or power or wealth or personal gain. Jesus came so that we, us, the people who might be like the women in that story who never quite feel good enough. Jesus did it all for us not because we are worthy, but because we are loved. The question is how will we return that love, or maybe the modern term is how can we pay it forward… because we know there is no way to pay it back. Amen!

Message on Sunday, Nov. 5: Our dedication Sunday

The scriptures used were: Matthew 23:1-12, I Thessalonians 2:9-13 and Micah 3:5-12. The title of the message was, “Humble Service.” Again, this was my written script, but probably not exactly what was said.Those of you who know me very well know that one of my favorite television shows is The Voice. It might be because I like listening to music, and it might be because it was a show that James and Paulina and I watched together during that time when we were living in Linton, and it reminds me of what was a much simpler time in our lives.

One of the mainstays of that series is Blake Sheldon, and he has recently come out with a new album. He was on the Today Show on Halloween as a surprise concert singer, and he sang one, of his new songs, which is about thinking back in time to a simpler life, and the underlying issue was that the speaker of the song was really talking about being poor. I don’t know if he wrote it, or if someone wrote it for him, but before he sang it, he told the audience to listen closely to the words. Later that day I read the Upper Room devotional, and it was about a woman whose family had been homeless, and she wrote about how she was so ashamed of being around people because she was afraid they would recognize that she had once stood on a street corner begging for food.

It made me stop to think of all the stories, especially the frontier and the immigrant stores, which I have read over the years about people who struggled financially and eventually made it through to better times. Maybe I noticed these things more this week because I have been binging on those Hallmark Christmas movies, but it seems that at this time of year, those stories of tough times are just so much more in your face, so much more poignant, and maybe for me, so much more special. Maybe it is because I can relate to those stories with some of my own experiences, at different times in my life. OK, so not the homelessness part, but there have been times that have been struggles. Of course it could be because I, at least, am anticipating the coming weeks when we begin to reread, relearn, relive that very special story about a couple who went to Bethlehem with only a donkey for transportation then had to sleep in a stable where the oh so young woman delivered a baby on a bed of hay.

I think that tendency of mine to dwell on the specialness of those times drives some of my family members, especially my children crazy. I just can’t get over the idea that Christmas gifts shouldn’t be all about how much you spend and who gets the fanciest, newest thing. I do think that I read the Laura Ingalls Wilder books about how they survived Christmas way too many times, especially the parts about how their father would make something in the barn as a surprise for their mother, or she would sew the girls a rag doll from fabric scraps with button eyes as a treat. Of course if I would have ever gotten one of those sort of things finished, I think my girls might have appreciated it, but with me it is always on the “to do” list and never quite wrapped up finished and under the tree by the time we open gifts.

Humble times might make for better stories, for fonder memories for some of us. I think it is because the things we earned or were given during those times came with more sweat and more work on our part, and that is why they are cherished more. I just believe that things that come too easily are not appreciated quite as much. Maybe I am off base, but that is how my brain works and that is why it makes me think that part of what Jesus was telling the Pharisees is that they need to be more humble in their attitudes. And especially they need to do more for what they have and expect a little less from those around them. It seems they have this sickening air of entitlement around them.

We have talked about this passage before, about how the Pharisees were so interested in their place in society, and how much they earned both in terms of monetary compensation and in terms of status and respect and ability to wield power over others that they failed to fulfill the position that they had been granted as the spiritual leaders of the people. It reminds me of the favorite saying of my aunt’s father who used to say, “They are so religious, they forgot God.” Hopefully none of us knows anyone like that, or that none of us ever becomes like that. In verse 5 of Matthew 23 that we read today, Jesus is quoted as saying, “They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long.”

So, I couldn’t stand it anymore, I did an image search for a phylactery, and it is this little square thing that looks like a toy box. It is worn on the top of the head and held on with a strap sort of like putting a little box on a leather strap that you wear as a headband. The fringes are the tassels that come out of your scarf, which they put over their head and it is long enough to come down onto their shoulders. At this point I put on a visual aid to give a better idea of what I meant. I am guessing that the longer fringes and the larger phylacteries were a little more spendy, and so it showed that they had more money and status, they were better than the other poorer people. They could afford more. It reminds me a little of A Christmas Carol when Bob Cratchit’s family had to settle for a stuffed goose for Christmas until old Scrooge opened up his purse strings and bought them a magnificent turkey.

Matthew ends this passage by giving us Jesus’ words, “All who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Today I can’t help but think of just how much the Pharisees had. I don’t just mean in status or money or power, but in learning. They had the manuscripts, they had the law, and the words passed down from Moses. They had the temple with all of its; what we would today call artifacts, they were rich if not by their monetary standards alone, but they were rich in the history and the academics of their faith. They had it all, and yet they ignored it for their own self importance. They had so much to share with the people who came to the temple and all they were concerned about was if the people who came there were giving enough money to the coffers. The Pharisees were only thinking about how the people could benefit them.

I guess that is where the reading from Micah fits. He warns of the ruin that will come on the people of Jerusalem as he speaks of the prophets who do not carry out the directions that God gives to them. Instead they only pretend to do their duty when they are compensated or bribed, and there is nothing just or fair about what they do.

Paul is careful in his letter to the Thessalonians to remind the church there that when he was with them, he did not expect compensation for teaching them the gospel or about the love of Christ, but instead worked with them to earn the food they ate and the shelter they shared. That is a theme we read often in the letters of Paul, that the leaders are not to lift themselves up above the status of the people, but instead are to be teachers that work with the people in learning about the love and sacrifice that Christ offers up in order for us all to be brothers and sisters in God’s kingdom. Before his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul was likely one of those Pharisees, who wore phylacteries and long fringes, but because of God’s call and revelation to him, he was changed and understood the truth about how he acted and how he needed to act. Paul was humbled.

Quilts completed in 2017

Today as we offer up the quilts that we have finished off with our hands to be given to those in need, and as we dedicate the door that has been newly purchased and those that have been repainted, we offer them not in the spirit of our own goodness and status, but in humility that God would look on us as participating in the spirit of being “the church.” As we go through the rest of this month, Mission Fest and Thanksgiving in a couple of weeks then Advent and the Christmas Season right around the corner, may we enter this time in a spirit of humble service for our God.

I have been trying to think of fresh new ways to celebrate the upcoming holidays, and I believe the scripture lessons of today may have helped me understand better which direction or at least how to look at both Thanksgiving and Christmas. The story should not be about how many presents are piled under the tree or how much food is piled on top of the table. The real meaning of the season is sharing the love that God has bestowed on us with all of those around us. And sometimes that sharing means a smile, and sometimes it means a meal or a blanket. Mostly it means that we walk humbly with God and share the love that Christ has for us all. Let’s remember to add that to our list of things to do this upcoming holiday season. Amen!

Thoughts of the day

Today when I opened my devotional, which is the Upper Room, I found the page for today. I have posted it below because for me it says it all today. Hopefully I will get some time later this week for more details.

 

 

Idols and Refusing God’s Invitation

Here is the message I shared on Sunday, October 15, 2017. The scriptures were: Exodus 32:1-14, Isaiah 25:1-10a and Matthew 22:1-14. I had another one listed, but saved its reading until the end of the message so it is printed there. The title in the bulletin was, “Called/Chosen.”

Today we are taken back to another parable that puts a bad light on the Israelites. The passage in Matthew 22 that we read for today on the surface is about a King throwing a wedding feast for his son and no one wants to come. This story seems to go against the idea of weddings in the time of Jesus. A wedding feast by a wealthy family would involve lots of food and festivities and would likely go on for days. It was a big deal and people would make sure to be there if not to only to celebrate the wedding, but to have an opportunity to take part in the feast and hopefully build or strengthen some important ties with the one throwing the celebration. Come to think of it, some of that might still hold true today.

The allegory, the deeper meaning behind the parable, is the idea that God has chosen the Israelites to be his people. He is basically inviting them to the wedding feast of eternity in heaven, the opportunity to be his heirs forever, and they reject the invitation, they reject the idea of being with God. And worst of all they do more than turn their backs and ignore the invitations, they do some evil things to the servants sent with the invitations, and the scripture tells us that God did retaliate on those originally on the invitation list. Thus God sends his servants, his prophets, his own son eventually to call anyone and everyone else to come to the feast, to join at the table (an idea we celebrate as the table of Holy Communion—which we participated in last Sunday). God also invites us, all of us to come and participate in this wedding celebration.

The other major part of our discussion today is that business in Exodus where the Israelites get tired of waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain and they insist that Aaron make them a God to worship and Aaron obliges by taking all their gold and melting it down and making a golden calf which they call Baal to worship.

First off in this story, I want to know what is wrong with Aaron. Is he that much of a wimp that he can’t convince the people to just chill a little? The readings that I did this week were far more sympathetic of the people of Israel than I had ever heard messages spoken in the past. I have pictures in my head of this story that involve dancing and music and people doing all sorts of immoral things in relation to celebrating this god, this idol, Baal. The more I think about it, I might be thinking of the old Hollywood version of The Ten Commandments. In light of some of the stories coming from that area lately, I won’t add any comments here.

If we look closely at the wording of the passage in Exodus 32, we see just two things that would give a Hollywood producer this idea. One is the verse where it says after the calf was made, they gathered up items for a thank-offering then sat down to eat, and after they ate, they got up to revel. Later there is a verse where God tells Moses to hurry down the mountain because the people have gotten involve in perverse actions.

The commentary from the Sermon Seeds on the UCC website suggests that the people should not be judged so harshly, at least not by us. The author mentions several theologians who see the Israelites in the desert without Moses as being scared, terrified even. They have been wandering about for years, almost going in circles, and they don’t know what is coming next then their leader who has been their go-between always interpreting the words of God for them, is just gone. He goes up the mountain and there is no word, no message, no communication of any kind, and they are worried that he is not coming back.

They are a lost people, and they just want some sort of proof that God exists and that God will be there for them. They want a structure a solid piece of something to let them know that even without Moses, they will be cared for and protected. I suppose that is not anymore than any of us want in our lives: Proof that we are loved and cared for and protected. Let’s see how does that hierarchy of needs chart go that we learn in education? First is the basic needs of food and shelter, second is safety needs, third there is the need for belonging and love.

The Israelites were so worried about what they would do without Moses, without their leader that they reacted badly. They were so caught up in their own issues, that they turned their backs on the one God who was with them in all things. And in their turning away from God, they got involved in idol worship. They turned to something else to be their God. I have to ask myself, how different am I from those Israelites? How different are we from those Israelites?

This historical accounting of the actions of the Hebrew people when they are in the desert between escaping slavery at the hands of the Egyptians and finally finding their homeland, and the parable that tells about all of the people who reject the invitation of the king who is throwing a wedding feast for his son are not that far off from each other and from the actions of ourselves and those around us. We all have our own idols that prevent us from worshiping the one true God. We all have excuses and reasons not to accept the invitation of the King and join in the wedding celebration of his Son and the church, we the church. Even those of us who are faithful church goers have our days, even those of us who are here faithfully each week, we have times when we are not quite sure, when life doesn’t seem just in line, and we get worried about what will we do without our Moses to guide us and interpret for us, and how can we possibly do it ourselves? We need something real, something to give us security and safety. We need our idols, to feel like God is here. Right?

Actually we shouldn’t need idols, but I am afraid we probably all have had some along the way in our lives. Now as we hear and use the word idol, we often, I at least, would think that doesn’t pertain to us. We don’t have statues in our churches, on our public places, in our homes that we bow to like some ancient people did or maybe some still do. We don’t have that, so why do we even consider that sort of thing in a church message today?

It seems our idols are a little different in nature. Our idols are not really those statues that you bow to, but more the sort of thing that takes up our time and our thoughts and blocks our ability to have a real and personal relationship with God. We become too busy for God or the actions we are asked to do for God: love our neighbors as ourselves sort of thing because we have these “idols” taking up our time. Of course the one thing that most people believe is the ultimate idol in our time is money. We spend so much time chasing around after wealth for the sake of financial security that we don’t even realize that we are doing it. Perhaps what we need to consider is what we do with our wealth, our form of riches. Do we use it to care for those who are truly in need? Do we share what we have, even if it is a cup of cold water? There are lots of other things that can be our idols in this day and time. Maybe it is the job or the business that we pursue to get this wealth?

Maybe it is the leisure activities—whatever their natures that prevent us from any sort of time to spend in worship or in devotion or in prayer talking to and listening to God. The question for us today is probably not obsessed, but perhaps with what are we so consumed that we don’t have time to work at our own relationship with God? What do we have in our way that makes it impossible or even just a little difficult for us to know the peace of Christ that peace that surpasses everything else? What did we hear in the verses from Isaiah today? We heard about the great power of God to destroy evil, to shelter those in need and to wipe away every tear from our eyes. Why or what could we possibly find in our lives to prevent us from having a relationship with someone who promises to do that for us?

I want to give you one last thing today. At the end of that parable it mentions that when the servants went back to the streets and invited all of the commoners to the feast, to the wedding—which in essence meant the Gentiles, the non Israelites, what includes us too, after they came and the banquet hall was filling up, the King came and noticed that one of those who had been called came to the banquet, but did not ready themselves as expected, and that person was not allowed to stay. “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Harsh words! It was sort of like a formal event, and the person came in jeans. What the king, what God was looking for what God is looking for is someone who when they accept God’s invitation they make the effort to develop that relationship with God through worship and study and prayer.

My best comparison is to a sports team, many are called to participate, but only a few are chosen to get on the field. To be part of the team line up, the ones who actually play, you have to work at it. Having a relationship with God is something we should always be working at. Putting aside our idol worship, putting aside the things that prevent us from having that intense personal relationship with God takes an effort. What I am trying to explain  is that there isn’t anything about our lives that we shouldn’t be able to stop and take a time to share it with God in prayer. There isn’t anything too trivial, too silly, too personal that God doesn’t hear us and care about us. But we have to put aside whatever it is that is preventing us from going there. And I believe that God answers us, we just have to be looking and listening to hear those words. Now let us close with the words that Paul left for the Philippians in chapter 4:4-9. Read it.

God wants us to put aside the idols that are preventing us from accepting the invitation sent for us. I hope we are able to do that so we too can enjoy that great feast that has been prepared with us in mind. Amen.

Message for Sunday, Oct 8, 2017

Following is the script of the message that I shared on Sunday. The scriptures were: Isaiah 5:1-7, Philippians 3:1b-14, and Matthew 21:33-46 and the title was, “Love inside the Hatred.” I did go into story telling mode for most of it, but there were some parts that I gave word for word. The script you see is the intent of the message. We also celebrated World Communion Sunday since I was gone last week when we were supposed to celebrate it. Somehow the lectionary that went with communion seemed to fit this message perfectly. I always know God’s hand is in the day when that happens. So here is the message…

On Monday morning when I turned on the television before getting up for school, I sat in the bed and wondered when can we quit having to pray for victims of violence? Yes, I am talking about the unfathomable destruction of the man who decided to do whatever needed to be done to allow him to kill as many people as possible in as short a time as possible. When I got to school that morning, there was a short all-staff meeting. The superintendent was visibly shaken and he wanted to tell us why and how to address the concerns of some of the students.

His wife’s sister and husband had been at the concert and though they were fine physically, they were upset about what they had been through. They had to crawl out of the concert over some of the victims and when they finally got to their rooms they realized that they were covered in blood from those shot around them. We also learned that there were members of the community including one set of parents in Las Vegas, though no one was sure if they had attended the concert, and we knew some of the students would have questions.

Seriously, I can understand—I am not saying it is right—but I can understand when someone is angry at another person, and they seek revenge on that person or others like that person, or on society as a whole because they were wronged, or at least they think they are wronged. I get that. I am able to—in my mind find an acceptance for that sort of violence. I also get it when someone is so warped that they find pleasure in killing whether it is human or animal. I understand that some people are just evil. I am not trying to be funny here, but we need to realize that God gives everyone an opportunity to turn away from sin and sinful choices, but there are some who are not going to make that choice no matter what. We need to understand that it isn’t God giving up or creating evil, or even choosing that person for evil. It is the person, the human who has made the choice to follow the way that is not from God.

In terms of the events last Sunday, what we may never know is why. And except for maybe being able to help someone else in the future to make a different choice, I am not so sure it matters that we know why. What I know is that somehow inside this horror that comes sandwiched in between these natural disasters of one hurricane piled on top of another, we might want to stop and try to figure out where we fit and how it is that we can make some sort of difference in our world. And I think I have some ideas.

This gospel lesson that we are given today seems more like it was written by some 16th century British author than one of the writers of the Bible. John Bunyan and Pilgrims’ Progress comes to mind. One commentary that I read even suggested that it should not be discussed as it is written in Matthew in-depth because of its anti-Semitic implications and instead the focus should be more on the poor tenant farmers and their abuse by the rich land owners. Let me just say that as a land owner myself, I take a bit of an offense to that version. I don’t particularly agree with either sort of stereotype. What if instead we look at this story as it is presented and then look at the meaning that Matthew suggests?

We have a landowner who rents his fields to some tenants. He is obviously rich or living away or both since he sends his servant, not once but several times, to collect the rent money. The tenants, though, don’t really want to pay and instead they beat up or kill the servants when they come. The owner decides that the tenants need a stronger voice and so he sends his son, his heir, but instead of heeding him, they kill him thinking that if there is no heir, they will be able to keep the land for themselves. Personally I don’t think these tenants are very bright. Not only will they lose their ability to rent this land, but they won’t be renting any land because the evidence against them is so strong they will surely pay for their crimes. To me they sound like the proverbial dumb crooks.

So the allegory part is where some theologians get nervous. If we go through this and identify the tenants as the people of Israel, they see it as making it ok for all Christians to ostracize and condemn and even do hateful things to the Jewish people. Perhaps I am naïve, but I don’t see the disciples as intending that in their writing. Let’s look at this allegory in a historical way. It seems the tenants are the people of Israel and the servants are the prophets like maybe Elijah who was sent to the wilderness, or Isaiah who was sawed in half, why didn’t I know that before? Or even John the Baptist, ok I knew he was beheaded by King Herod, and the son is Jesus who was crucified, and the land owner is God. Somehow I get the feeling that the tenants are more like the Jewish leaders than the common Israelites. What happens to the tenants in the end is that the land is taken from them. What happens to the Israelites is that the promise of being the children of God is no longer just for them, but is now given to the Gentiles too.

We could perhaps side track and talk about some of the current political issues happening in the Middle East at the dictates of the leaders of Israel. One of the resolutions brought to General Synod this summer was in regard to the way the nation of Israel through its police force and its military targets the Palestinian children taking them from their homes and families for whatever reason just because they can. The truth of the matter is that people of all faiths, or all races, or all ages and genders can be cruel. We all have the ability to get caught up in the frenzy of the world around us. We are all able to get angry with those who seem to do us wrong, or those who want to do things in ways that we don’t think is right or the way we like, and any one of us can get fed up with the far away land owner who is constantly nagging at us about the “rent” about what is due to them from us. And maybe we don’t get so upset that we kill the one who come to collect, or maybe we don’t get so out of control that we hole up in a hotel room and open fire on a concert full of people, but maybe sometimes we shoot out our anger or frustration in other ways. I know I have a time or two.

It seems to me that the real lesson in this parable is the love that God has for his creation, for all people the Israelites and the Gentiles. Perhaps that parable was spoken as a warning to the Jewish leaders at the time, but those words are for all of us. As creatures of God’s world, we are all expected to be good tenants in the way that we treat others, in the way that we show Christ’s love to the world. At the very least what the tenants did to those who came to collect the rent was bad hospitality. At the worst it was against the teaching of Christ who said we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.

One of the things that I have come to realize over the past few weeks of this long-term substituting stint is that everyone, and that means fellow teachers as well as each student, has their own story, their own problems, their own heartaches, and what they need most of all is to feel that someone cares. The position I have been covering is in the K-12 resource room, the special education room, and thankfully there are two very good para-professionals there who know all of the ins and outs, or I would be lost. What I have come to realize with the students is that everyone just needs someone to care, to listen, and maybe even to help them out every now and then. Sometimes they need a little more help and sometimes a little less.

This week the UCC website had more information on the 3 Great Loves initiative. It also has information on how and where to send information on what we as a church are doing to participate in that initiative. I actually looked at it in terms of “well what do we talk about first?” We might want to count what we send off here soon for the hurricane relief, maybe we write-up something about the quilts we have nearly finished, or perhaps we wait and include what we do at Mission Fest, and then what about the school supplies we dropped off in August. All those things are good, but what we probably don’t mention, is what we do every day with everyone we meet or work with. Every time we treat someone with respect and courtesy and with God’s love those are the times that we are really and truly fulfilling the expectations that God has for us as someone he wants to call his children. Let’s be that family this week and every week. Amen!

Sept. 11, 2017 Message to the Methodist Ladies Aid

I was asked a few weeks ago if I would speak to the Methodist Ladies Aid for their September bring a friend night. I agreed and since it was the 16th Anniversary of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon and the one that was maneuvered to a field in PA, I decided to do the following. Thoughts and prayers with the families of those who were lost on this day, including those who were misguided enough to instigate the attack.

Verse for this evening is: Isaiah 6:8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”

I will start by giving you a little more information about myself: As many of you know, I was born right here in Eureka. My parents were Raymond and Patricia Knoepfle. I grew up on a farm south of Artas (here I mentioned by name those in the room who were close neighbors) and then in Herreid were I graduated from high school a few years back. I married James Haak who is from the Hull area which is a little south of Strasburg. We have lived in Eagle Butte, South Dakota and Jamestown, North Dakota before we moved back to Herreid.

When Mavis first called, I asked her what you were looking for in terms of a topic, and she more or less said whatever. After the second time she called and I agreed to come here, I hung up the phone and thought, what on earth will I say? But I do remember she hinted that maybe I could talk about how I came to be here at St. Paul’s at this time in my life.

Before I tell you anything else, I have to mention that I have just spent the last couple of days watching the coverage of the Hurricane in Florida and I don’t mean just the nightly news or a couple of hours of the coverage between doing this or that. I must be one, of the people, who gives that sort of coverage good ratings because I become glued to the television in events like that. I spent time watching the one in Houston too, but that coverage was not quite as intense. Anyway it reminded me of a few years ago watching the events of Katrina. And from there I began to think of all those other major events that have happened throughout the years.

So here is where I want to begin tonight. When I looked at the calendar, and I realized that today it is the 16th anniversary of the day when the planes flew into the towers in New York City and the Pentagon and the fourth plane which landed in a field in Somerset County, PA. It is safe to say that was the worst attack on the United States by outsiders since the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This was one of those days that many of us will remember exactly where we were when we first heard about it. I remember that I was headed for the Prairie Pioneer office in Pollock and saw it on the Today Show as I was getting ready to leave. We heard about it only from reports on the radio the rest of the day because we had no TV in the office.

The more I got to thinking about this idea of where were you when, I started to think of other times other events that were so overwhelming that you always remember where you were when you heard about them.

Some that come to mind for me were:

Nov. 22, 63—JFK  I remember sitting on the couch watching my mother change my baby brother’s diaper as we watched the evening news report.

April 4, 68—MLKing, Jr. I was riding in car in the front between my mother and someone and we heard it on the car radio. I remember saying oh good and my mother asking what I meant and I sort of indicated that I thought we didn’t like people who were different, and I think maybe after that conversations were a little different, though maybe it was that I finally understood about accepting all people.

June 5, 68—Bobby Kennedy, I watched this on the little black and white TV in the kitchen of the farm house. It devastated me. I was just starting to understand politics and what he stood for, I was 11 and this was a big deal to me.

July of 1969 Moonwalk—Saw it on that same black/white small tv at the farm…I remember that some did not believe we were on the moon, some thought they were in a studio in the southwestern part of the US.

More recently, Aug. 31, 97 death of Princess Di I was out in the flower garden when I heard.

More personally, Dec. 31, 63, the death of my brother. I remember my father came screaming into the house when he found his body at the end of the silo’s auger.

Friday of Labor Day weekend in 1985. I was in Eagle Butte out on the football field with my PE class. The principal came and got me and said there was a phone call that I had to take. It was the news of the car accident 9 months and many surgeries later took away my grandmother Freda. I still dislike phone calls in school.

As I think about these dates and others that were memorable in my life or in anyone’s life, I wonder if we remember the day and the place where we were when we made a public or at least a conscious decision to follow Christianity. Do we know where we were when we decided to accept Jesus Christ as our personal savior? I remember attending Sunday School and especially I enjoyed vacation Bible School. A couple of weeks ago in church we sang “Onward Christian Soldiers” and that was always the song we sang walking in from the outside steps to the opening session. I remember having a day when I raised my hand during the opening session of VBS, and while the others went downstairs to their classes, I had a short meeting with the minister about what that meant to raise my hand and that I wanted to accept Christ, and we had a prayer and that was that.

Now what I experienced in VBS, is not something that we really do as part of our denomination. We normally leave that sort of soul searching and commitment for confirmation in our church. I went through confirmation classes as part of the Herreid Yoked Parish which included the Peace Lutheran Church the United Methodist Church and First Congregational where I was confirmed as a freshman in high school. Only the Lutheran Congregation is left there today.

Let me just say that church was always an important place for me. Besides what I have already shared, I always enjoyed helping out in our church as a youngster even if it was washing dished during after the meal we had at Mission Fest. Here I paused to explain how I was always about 10 years too young to have an opinion while being part of the women’s group, which was true in every place except Eagle Butte where young women were welcomed with open arms. I even told how I had been “taught” to make a ham bun for a funeral in Jamestown until I told the lady that my mother did catering and I had helped a time or two.

In high school I was part of youth group and as such was able to attend a National Luther League Convention in Houston at the AstroDome and that was a great experience, but don’t get me wrong, just because I was active in church, I wasn’t a goody two shoes, but I always felt a tug of some kind.

Later when I got to know the Bible better I was intrigued by the story of young Samuel in I Samuel chapter 3 when he kept hearing a voice and kept going into Eli asking what he wanted until Eli finally realized that Samuel was being called by God, and Eli told him to go back to his own room and the next time he heard the call to answer God and listen to what he was called to do.

College for me was Jamestown College [now University of Jamestown] a private Presbyterian College. I went there with the idea of being a teacher and a coach, and so I majored in Health, Physical Education and Recreation and joined the volleyball and track teams. It was the time of title IX and because I really liked sports, I thought this was what I would always want to do. Yet somehow that wasn’t enough and I also took a second major in Religion/Philosophy with the idea that maybe, someday, down the line, I would come back to that idea.

Over the years I was on different boards or held offices in the churches we belonged to. James and I were the youth leaders in Jamestown and I was even held some offices at the state level for our church then a program opened up for lay people to go through training to become licensed to help our churches find someone to fill the pulpits while the regular ministers were gone for vacations or meetings or whatever reasons, and I decided to participate and I did pulpit supply around North Dakota while we lived in Jamestown and in a few area churches when we moved back here.

You know that saying about when God closes a door he opens a window. I think that has been going on most of my life, but I was not paying attention. Every time something about my coaching or teaching career didn’t go exactly as planned, I would pick up and try something else. I often told myself it was just me getting bored and moving on. Well the last time that I taught full time was in Mobridge the year 2010-11. Our youngest daughter was a sophomore and we would have to leave Herreid every morning at 7 a.m. sharp and often were not home till 9 or 10 at night. That year they were redoing Main Street in Herreid and it was foggy most mornings and often dark when we left. There were times I would have to get out of the car and walk in front of it to see if the road was open. (I gave lots more details here, but maybe some other time)

Then the winter was a series of snow storms and I think I finally realized the God wasn’t closing a door, this time God was slamming a window shut and opening up a set of patio doors and pushing me through. It was time to listen to God’s call for me, and I am very glad that it worked out as it did. I am lucky that I am still able to work with youngsters while doing a little substituting, but I really don’t miss the hassle of teaching full time.

My point of my telling this story about myself is that God has a plan for all of us. Jeremiah 29:11, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” Yes the historical context of this verse was for the Israelites when they were in exile, [read Jeremiah 29:10-14] but this passage is also for us to know that God really does care for all of us for each of us, and that we need to take time to listen to what those plans are so that we don’t spend our whole lives running in circles trying to figure out who we are and what we should be doing.

This past week I came upon a line from a book that I think I will have to order. The author, Anna Julia Cooper wrote: “One needs occasionally to stand aside from the hum and rush of human interests to hear the voice of God. Sort of like the verse in Psalm 46:10 where it is written, “Be still and know that I am God.” Sometimes we need to take a pause from our normal everyday lives or maybe from the hectic pace that some of us try to keep up, and we need just to listen for the whispers, for the tug and the push of what God is trying to tell us to do or to be. And don’t anyone here say that they are beyond doing anything anymore because they are retired. I come from a family that was taught by our matriarchs, that if you are still here God isn’t done with you yet, or at least there is something else that you are needed to do. I ended with a big thank you for them having me. It was a good experience for me and a wonderful night of getting to know some women better.

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