Recognizing Jesus

This was my message last Sunday. The scriptures used were: Acts 2:14a, 36-41, I Peter 1:17-23 and Luke 24:13-35. The title was as posted above, and the message was about the disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus and how we meet Jesus on the roads of our lives. Below is the script of what was presented, though I can’t guarantee that at times I was off a bit.

Some of you are aware that tomorrow, I am headed to a place called Ree Heights, SD. [Grrrrr, why didn’t I take a picture to add to this post?] According to the email directions that I received it is some place on Highway 14 between Highmore and Miller. Great! Not a problem, I have been on that road in the past, and the way roads are marked in South Dakota, this should be easy. But the hitch is that the meeting is not in Ree Heights. The meeting is in the country at Eagle Pass Lodge some 2.1 miles off the highway on a non-paved surface north of Highway 14 going north and curving east and following along and the other piece of information that Marva was able to glean off the internet for me was that there are NO road signs for this place, so keep close track of your mileage. As much as I use the internet to find songs or search out the answer to my questions, I don’t use GPS. I guess, sadly, in this day and age, I am just so old fashioned that I still believe in road maps.

Speaking of road maps, I have a quick story. About 10 years ago when Jessica was interning in Washington DC, she had to come home in the middle of the summer for a wedding.  So because of the cost of the trip, she decided to fly into the airport in Minneapolis, and she thought Victoria (who was maybe 19) should come and get her, alone. Well, I went along. The short version is we missed the exit for the airport and ended up in some little tiny out of the way area. The business section had boarded up gas stations and the restaurants were brick buildings with no windows and let’s just say none were familiar chain restaurants or anything to do with sausage or Knepfla and sauerkraut. We were in some really unfamiliar territory and didn’t know how to start finding our way back. We had a cell phone and I called my brother-in-law, Bruce for help. He knew Minneapolis fairly well, and with his knowledge and an internet search he was able to get us turned around and to the airport in time to meet her plane. Let’s just say it was scary, and I am pretty sure this trip tomorrow will be nothing like that one.

Our gospel lesson today is also about a trip. It is about a couple of disciples or the term should probably be followers because these two were not part of the inner circle of 12 which is now 11. They were on a trip on the third day after the death of Jesus, the same day that his tomb has been found empty. Unlike the two trips that I mentioned, they are going to a place they know. They are headed to Emmaus, which interestingly is one of those cities that the “experts” have not exactly located. I say interesting because when you study literature when a place is not specifically on the map it can translate to be Anyplace.

Not the best road, but a typical road here in the winter.

So these two followers of Jesus are traveling a road, well walking actually, on a road they have been on before to a place they have been before, but the difference for them is that they are going this time with a very different frame of mind. This time they are traveling with great sorrow in their heart and probably a bit of fear for their own lives. I will admit that during that drive into unknown territory in Minneapolis, I was more than a little scared. Victoria was driving and I just kept telling her where to turn and, I pretty much remember, saying don’t stop, don’t pull over just keep driving. These two men are walking along and recounting the events of the past few days, the past week, maybe especially the news from early this morning when their leader’s tomb has been found empty and they are wondering what is to happen next, and they meet up with a stranger.

Even stranger to their ears is the notion that this person has no idea of what they are discussing. This stranger seems to them to be the only person in existence who has no knowledge of the drama they are discussing. How can someone be in this vicinity and be so clueless? How can anyone possibly be on this road and not know that Jesus was crucified and now he is missing? As the story goes the three men travel along together until evening and then the stranger wants to go on his own way, but the two disciples insist that he stay and eat with them and that is where they recognize Jesus.

The point of this story for us today is not so much about the journey and knowing where we are going, or not know where we going as was the case in either of the two stories I mentioned in the beginning. The point for us is about recognizing Jesus, about recognizing the opportunities to be present with Christ in our everyday lives. Where is it in our lives that we have the occurrence, to be on this road with Jesus?

This feels like one of those tough, open-ended essay questions where the answer key says, “Answers will vary.” And the joke goes that the new teacher counts everyone’s wrong because she is expecting them all to write, “Answers will vary.”

How do we recognize Jesus when we are out walking the road of our lives? The truth is that Jesus is all around us, all the time. He comes and meets us on our road to Emmaus just as he met the disciples. It is a road we know, but it is also a road that holds lots of emotions. It varies from day to day. One day it is a road on which we are struggling, maybe in sorrow, maybe in frustration because things are not going as we think they should be. Some days it might be a road where we are rejoicing because of any number of blessings in our lives. The fact is that when Jesus meets us, he reassures us, he builds us up, and he gives us purpose, and rejoices with us. And we recognize Christ when we have a relationship with him. We recognize him when we take the time to let ourselves be drawn closer to Christ in prayer, in worship, in song and in the way we live our lives.

And hopefully we come to know that the encounter with Jesus is not really all about us, though sometimes when we are hurting that is what we need it to be. But the deeper the relationship we have, the more we begin to realize that looking outside of ourselves is really how we find Christ. I am not quite sure how to put this, but it seems to me that the more we come to know Christ and the more we travel with him, the more we realize that the journey should never end with it being about us. The time we spend together is about listening and learning so that we can be built up, and can be strengthen so that we are able to continue Christ’s message of love for this world.

We see from reading to the end of the gospels that Jesus did not stay with the disciples after the resurrection. He didn’t come back to be with them and continue their ministry physically, but he stayed with them and stays with us spiritually, and he continues on the journey with us as we meet others. That spirit that has been left with us is there to empower us as we encounter others. What is the line?…When you did it to the least of these, so you did it to me.

As we are strengthened by a closer relationship with Christ, we begin to recognize the needs around us. And did you notice where they were when the disciples realized who Jesus was? It was when they were sitting down to a meal that their eyes were opened to who he was. One interpretation of that might be that it is in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper that we find Christ. And another idea might be that it is in simple ordinary, everyday tasks when we encounter Christ. Did we offer someone a glass of water, a cup of coffee, to join us in a meal? Did we open someone’s door or help them with a task they couldn’t do alone? Did we listen to a friend in need? I am so starting to understand the importance of that simple deed of listening, even and especially when we think we are way too busy doing something of great importance.

The last thing I want to mention today is the text from the book of Peter. In this passage Peter is trying to explain to the early Christians the importance of treating each other up with the same love that Christ had for them. The churches were facing conflicts both from inside themselves and from outside of their circle of Christians. Historically I can understand the conflict that the early church faced from outsiders, but I always had this notion of them being really together as a group. Yet I suppose they were all looking to take leadership control, and I guess if you consider it, that is how conflicts inside a church can happen.

But instead of arguing or demanding their behavior to be a certain way, Peter simply reminded them all to love as Christ loved them, and he said they were to love, deeply. The real meaning of the Greek word at this point is not deep as like a deep hole, but instead the word is more like strenuous or sustained, like a long distance run. Peter is talking about a persistent love, a love that will not let go. Peter reminds us that Christ wants us to keep on loving even when it seems that there is no hope. Peter told the believers and us when we see situations of conflict that we are to love because God is at work in the situation, and we are not to be discouraged or drug in other directions.

This week as we set out on our journey to wherever Emmaus is for us, I pray we are able to carry the spirit of Christ with us and recognize the needs Christ sets before us to be filled, and mostly I pray that we be filled with the deep love that God gives us, so we are able to share that love with those we meet. Let’s go today with our eyes opened wide to see the risen Christ in our world. Amen!

And for an update, the trip was wonderful! Three of us traveled together and shared information and stories on the way there and back. The meeting was uplifting and supportive and we were approved for another year, and so all was good. For those of you who took the time to stop and read through this message, I pray God’s blessing on you!!

Be the Light!

Be the Light

Be the Light

Below is the message from Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017. The scripture lessons were: Isaiah 58:1-9a, I Corinthians 2:1-12 and Matthew 5:13-20 and the title was “Be the Light.”

In the newsletter that you found or will find in your box this morning, I talked about the advantages of being a pack rat. Some of you will laugh because of how I have been complaining about clutter for over a month, and now I think it is good to be a pack rat. The issue is that I keep all of my messages with the bulletin and other notes like announcements in a binder each year then this past December, I put them in a file box in chronological order. It was helpful to look at for the Historian’s report, and now I find it useful each week as we are now repeating the lectionary cycle from 2014. So now I can look back to read that former message and mostly see which scripture I used as the focus for the morning. Today, I can tell you that the last time we discussed this gospel text, I put most of the focus on the part about the salt.

While our focus three years ago was on the statement about salt, and how it flavors foods and reacts chemically, there is more to it than just that. Jesus also inferred that salt is also used as a preservative and when it loses that quality it is pretty much useless. During the time of Jesus “the Rabbis used the term Salt as an image for wisdom” (France 117). [from Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Matthew by R T France.] Add to that the “translation from the original Greek for “lost its taste” actually means ‘become foolish’” (117) and we begin to understand exactly what Jesus was saying to the disciples about not losing their ability to follow and learn and do what they are asked to do in working with him to proclaim the kingdom of God to the world. He does not want them to lose their focus and drive. He does not want them to lose their wisdom in what he teaches them and become foolish. He needs them to learn and to eventually lead. Interesting thought for us even today. And speaking of today, isn’t it true that today when we say salt of the earth people, we are talking about common, everyday, down-to-earth sort of people? That is what we here are, and we, too, need to learn from Jesus’ teachings so we can be the leaders that are of value to him.

Today, though, I want us to concentrate more on the part of that passage that involves light. As Jesus was talking to the disciples he not only told them they were the salt of the earth but also the light of the world. As I started to consider light and just how important it is in our life, I was reminded of those two days when the lights went out right after Christmas. If we put aside the fact that it was cold outside and the heat was off, the issue of not having light wasn’t really so bad until the sun went down. Am I right? During the day, it was a matter of opening the curtains, well if you have them, which on most windows we don’t but that is another story. At night there were candles or flashlights or as we were running around gathering all of those, there were the lights on the cell phones. In my bedroom, I have two kerosene lamps hanging on either side of my patio doors, and those are really handy when the lights are out because they throw lots of light, unless they are empty as one of them was. Oops. The point is that light is important, and those couple of days probably reinforced it for all of us.

I have been noticing the importance of light more and more lately and really see the difference in amount and quality of light when I am reading. I used to think that is was just the size or the particular font that made most of the difference, but I am beginning to recognize the wisdom of my mother and grandmother and great aunts when they would say that you should have good light for reading because it was bad for your eyes, maybe not so much when I was young and knew everything, but now as I get closer to their age, I see their wisdom. Light, good light is so very necessary to see what is important.

The sort of light Jesus suggests with that line about a city on a hill is more like a beacon. A beacon shines in the dark as a guide to others. Think of a lighthouse and how its light would guide sailors to the shore or light the way to help them maneuver past a rocky cliff. Jesus is encouraging his disciples to be the light for others, to show them the way to him because he is the true source of all light. Jesus is also telling us to be that light for others to help point the way to him because he is the true source of all light. And that is what is expected of us as Christians to point the way to Jesus. As a Christian our light is not about attracting attention to ourselves, but showing others the goodness of Christ’s love so that they might see the way to his salvation.

The third part of this light passage seems a little “duh” yet just might be the thing that we as a church should consider more. That line about how no one after lighting a lamp puts it under a basket. Of course we know that a light shouldn’t be hidden under a basket. In the first place if you are thinking about a light with a flame, covering it would choke off the air and suffocate the flame. At the least it would dim it enough that it wouldn’t be of any real use to anyone. And that is what Jesus meant both in terms of a light, and in terms of the light of guiding others to find their way to him. Jesus expects more from his disciples and his churches than just accepting his light and hiding it away for ourselves. He expects us to share our light with all around us, so they can have light too. It all goes back to that candle at our Christmas Service where we shared the light and the total light was multiplied, not divided. I believe we have seen in the past years that as we share more of our light, we have more light to share and we are brighter because of it.

Our Old Testament lesson for today might not seem to fit into this discussion about light or salt, but it fits with this idea that our light is not just for ourselves and it is certainly not to be used to make us look good. Chapter 58 of Isaiah speaks of fasting, which is something that many churches participate in during the season of Lent, which is actually right around the corner. As we have talked of in the past, this is not something we do, and passages such as this one might be part of the reason that we don’t. This passages talks about fasting to make yourself look good and that is not the intent. The true intent of fasting is to make yourself ponder and consider and concentrate on what Christ wants of your life and how to purify yourself for that work.

This passage suggests that instead of fasting for the wrong reasons we should instead take up a cause to help others. To work for justice for those around us, something that the hardcore, mainline people of our denomination are pretty outspoken about. I was reading some of the posts under the tag, UCC on the Reader part of the blog that I am on this past week and I was really upset with one of the posts that I read. There was a very negative comment about our denomination. It was all about how because we have no set in stone doctrine, we have no direction and we don’t’ look at scripture correctly and we really are not a church worthy of joining, and I so badly wanted to bite back, but realized that there was no changing that mindset. I also know that it is not a good idea to get into a urination contest with a skunk, so I just bit my lip and moved on to read something else. But it made me stop and think about the importance of our social justice work because our churches and the members of our churches are not about forcing others to believe the exact same way that we believe, but we are about taking the time to get to know each other and finding ways to work together to reach out to each other in Christ’s love. We are to be that beacon of light that points the way for others to find Christ. We are not the judge that tells them they are not worthy.

Right to life issues: Not really pro life, it is pro-birth. Someone who is really pro life believes in things that support quality of life, not just the birth of a person. I have not actually researched our local or state legislatures, but I encourage all of us to do a little “follow the money” sort of look into what they are supporting and what is being cut. Someone who is really pro life will not vote for cuts in funding for those who are at the poverty level, for school lunches, for early education intervention, for special needs children and their families or for shelters to help those who are abused and the list goes on.

In the passage Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, we see that Paul was encouraging the members there to be more perfect than the law. Not to be above the law in a way that no one could reprimand them for their wrongdoing, but to do things the correct way, to treat others with respect and to act in a way that would not hurt anyone else. And when you think about doing a job and being an example, to be a good example you should do your job better than anyone else. I guess if you stop to think about it that makes good sense.

I will give you one quick example. I used to be an English teacher. I should know maybe better than some that when I write or speak I should use my own thoughts, or I need to give credit to those that I have quoted or even paraphrased. Quick side note: when I was taking classes at Northern State one summer, one of the students was kept after for a “talk.” We later learned she had plagiarized her paper quite obviously and this was her one warning. The NSU English department had a rule of dropping a student from their major if they plagiarized. I guess that conversation was to determine intent or lack of knowledge. Thus as church goers, church leaders Paul tells the people of Corinth and us that we need to follow the laws not just to be smug and say we are better than others, but as an example of what it means to live as Christ asks us to live so that we are able to point the way for others to follow him. Remember to those whom much is given, much is required, and as members of a fellowship of believers it is given to us to be positive, good examples for others, not smug, “better than anyone” sort of Christians, but true believers who are here to joyfully share our walk with Christ with all those around us. Let’s make sure we do that this week and all weeks. If we do that, we will be that light that Jesus was talking about with his disciples all those years ago. Amen!

Year in Review/Planning the New

Today our church held its annual meeting. It was a long day, sort of. We had a regular service with Communion then went to the basement and held our business meeting then joined together in a pot-luck meal. It is always such a good time together. We have a variety of people from their early 50’s to one lady who will be 90 this summer. She is a spry one too. I have always wondered on their ages and today the moderator let the cat out of the bag when he said one was a junior in 1947 when he was a sophomore, and she promptly said, I was a senior. Well, I could do math pretty fast, and then the others started filling in where they fit in the mix. Wow! They are a plethora of knowledge for me. I also intend to gather up all my knitting and other sewing questions for the eldest of the women soon. It seems that any project I am working on, she has already done. Her work is always so meticulous too. What she could teach youngsters, but we just are not quite on the ball enough to learn or to connect those dots. What a waste. And by the way, the picture of the quilt off to the side is one that we made as a group this year, and they presented it to me this year. What a thing this congregation is. I appreciate them more than they can know!!

My new quilt.

My new quilt.

So back to the church thing. Our scriptures today were the Beatitudes from Matthew 5:1-13, then a bit in I Corinthians 1:18-31 and finally I used the Old Testament of Micah 6:1-8 as our focus. I did this with a power-point presentation, which I will not show here. I did that one year and the amount of space it takes is unreal. I showed the power-point and we talked about all the things we had done during the year. Fortunately I had pictures of some of our events. I always seem to forget to take them, and had help this year because my secretary shared some of hers. Then at the end, I added what is below as the finish to our message. Hope it makes some sense for the rest of you, too.

Another view

Another view

Now that we have looked over the past, and maybe even thought about more things than what we say, let’s turn toward the future….

The gospel reading for today was from Matthew and the passage is what we call the Beatitudes. This is where Jesus begins his famous Sermon on the Mt. and he is teaching his disciples and followers so many things. He starts with:  Blessed are the __ for they will____ The one that I always remembered was the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God… In other words those who do what they can to end strife, to prevent harm to someone by another, those are the people who God wants as his children. Certainly a goal to work for.

Mostly as I read these verses, I notice the absence of negatives. Jesus doesn’t teach from the aspect of punishment in this passage. He doesn’t say, Condemned are the liars, the thieves, the murderers, the cheats, the bigots, the…. These words are a stark contrast to the teachings of the Old Testament laws. 

So moving on to the words from Paul today, in this part of the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul seems to be writing in contradictions and if you try to read these verses quickly, it is easy to be confused by them because they seem to be saying the opposite thing all the time. The bottom line of what Paul is writing is that God does not choose the most powerful, or the most beautiful or the best of anything to put at the front of the line or to go about doing his work. Mostly, according to Paul, the ones who are set in front are those who are not quite perfect. (whew—that seems to give me a little hope) God chooses the humble, the lowly, the one who is not quite so, how does my family put it, easy on the eyes… Paul says that God chooses the lesser to be the leader so that no one can boast of their own talents or abilities because it is all about God, and that any boasting should be because of Christ and not because of ourselves.

So this leads us to our focus for today. The scripture that we read last, the ones from the Old Testament seem to be the exact ones for us to think about as we head downstairs to our Annual planning meeting, because that is really what we are doing in the New Business section of the meeting, we are planning what comes next.

The writer of this text obviously understands being nothing more than a lowly sinner. This author realizes that in the eyes of God, no one—no human is worthy of redemption and there is nothing we can give to buy back our salvation. Nothing.

The speaker asks, what can I bring? And he goes on to name some ideas: a calf, ok that is not nearly enough, how about some expensive oil, how about rivers of that oil, that is still not enough

What about my first born child… now this speaker is getting a little warmer, and as we read these words and make them our own, maybe we are getting a little closer. Now maybe we are getting the hint. It is not our first born child that is worthy of the sacrifice, it is God’s first born child that makes the difference. And so what can we do in the end? Nothing except to accept that sacrifice in our place. But then the speaker notes that God does ask something of us. As we accept Jesus as our means to Salvation, God also asks that we: Do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with our God.

As we go to our meeting today, I hope we remember those things and ponder and move and vote to do those things as a congregation. Amen.

 

 

So true, so true!!

Sometimes it’s simple things that speak loudly. Just after looking at a recipe, I heard a POP and knew it was something in the fridge. My imagination did not prepare me. The biscuit tube I had thought to use, was overflowing its diagonal lines… How often are your hopes and ideas bursting before you get to […]

via when plans burst — It’s not really about me…

Called Together

Not really feeling the greatest today, so I will post my message from church and call it good. Hope to be back posting tomorrow or later this week. We have a very full week lined up, so hoping that the snow predicted for Tuesday holds off or is mild and that the weekend is as good as is promised. Catch you later.

The title for today was as above and the scripture was: Isaiah 9:1-4, I Corinthians 1:10-18 and Matthew 4:12-23

A view of church from where I stand.

A view of church from where I stand.

Just for the record, three years ago on this Sunday, we called off church due to bad weather, and apparently it was not the best winter on record then either. A few weeks back if you remember, I talked about clearing out some of the clutter at my place, and though I had a decent start on that project, I have to admit that I got a little side tracked during that power outage over Christmas. Yesterday it occurred to me that the way I have been feeling the last few weeks, you would think that the outage was a week or two rather than just a couple of days. For some reason, I just can’t get back into doing anything and so if you are wondering why there is no Annual Meeting report booklet in the mailboxes yet, that is the main reason. I have missed a few Wednesdays in the office and the week before this past Wednesday, I really couldn’t get much accomplished beyond the Ministerial Meeting, the bulletin and the Board Meeting.

Last Wednesday Patty was in the office and we worked on the Historian’s Report together. And I will admit that I should have just left it as is, but when I get on a roll it is pretty typical stubborn German-Russian. I took the report home on my flash drive, along with the Pastor’s Report which is likely the last one in the book. On Thursday, I pulled out my stack of bulletins and messages for the year and went over both those reports trying to make sure that nothing was left out. Well, I know for sure that a couple of items were missed in terms of dates, but I see they are listed under the Memorial Report so they are covered. The bottom line is some people are not capable of making a long story short. I admit, (and I bet none of you knew this before) it is really easy for me to make a short story long.

The point of all of this is that in taking the time to write up those reports, I stopped and looked through the papers and notes that I kept from this past year, and I was reminded of some of the things we did as a group, some of the discussions we had, and the scriptures that we studied. I also learned something from the notes that I kept in regard to our attendance. I was amazed at how many times we have visitors in church with us. Sometimes one or two, sometimes several, and so many different people here just seemingly on a whim, not always with someone as a guest. And through the whole thing, I was amazed again at how much we were able to do together. The key word being: Together.

I don’t believe that it is a coincidence that every year about this time there is a scripture lesson that touches on how Jesus “called” his disciples to follow him. Last week we looked at how John wrote of Andrew and Peter coming to take a look at the work Jesus was about. This week we look at the passage in Matthew when Jesus very specifically passes by the boats where Andrew and Peter and then down the shore a bit where a second set of brothers, James and John are working, and he calls out to them to follow him. The actual text before translation was “come behind me.”

As Jesus calls these two sets of brothers he asks them to come and fish for people. He recognizes that they know how to fish and he invites them to fish not for the creature in the water that is sold as food, but to fish for humans that are looking for a fulfillment you cannot get by eating. In the Old Testament there is a place in Jeremiah that refers to fishing for people and it means “fishing” more like we think of as “fishing” for information so you can catch someone at something. They were more about “catching” someone to send them to judgment. The “catching” Jesus was referring to was to catch someone in order to lead them to salvation.

One of the readings I came across this week gave me some new information about these men and their occupations. I was always had the belief that these fishermen/ disciples were likely poor in relation to someone like Matthew the tax collector or some of the religious leaders of the time. Apparently the water that they fished was very productive and they likely made a decent living, in fact it was noted that James and John’s father employed other fishermen and so it was a fairly good business. When they answered Jesus’ call, their lives were disrupted and it was sort of a big deal. For some reason, I just had this idea that they were young men who really had not established themselves and so accepting this call wasn’t much of anything. So, I learned something.

But the difficulty of their call is not really the focus of today. The focus is the idea of them being called, together, at the same time, to join in a group to work with and for Jesus and be with him as he fulfills his mission and then to carry on his mission. We see the importance of that when we look at the words written by Paul to the Corinthians.

This passage which we read at the beginning of Corinthians is about the early church there and how something is happening that is causing friction inside that group of believers. Paul writes to them reminding them of the grace of God that has been given to them and then flat out says that he has heard of some division among their members. He appeals to them in the name of Jesus and says that they should be in agreement with no division among them. Mostly he was meaning division about which person: Paul, Appolos or Peter has the correct view of how to follow Christ. Paul reminds them that the only one they need to follow is Christ.

As we read this scripture today we are reminded to work together as a fellowship of believers. Just as the fishermen were called together from the seashore to follow Jesus as he walked throughout the area teaching and healing and preaching the way to salvation, we are called together as a church to share the message of Jesus with those around us. And as we are called, it is not just as individuals in our own corners of the community or of the world, but we are also called as a group, as a church to fill a void, a mission in our community. And as we do so, we do it together, maybe not all of us at the same time or even most of us, but some of us working together doing what we can to share the mission and love of Christ.

Hopefully next Sunday I will have another power-point for you of what we accomplished this past year. I have been digging around in my photo stash and Marva sent me some of what she took, and I have plans to put them together this week so that during the service we are reminded of what we did, so that when we get to the meeting after church, it will help us decide what we should continue and what we should perhaps change.  And though some of us might want to say, but what we did was great, why mess with it, change is ok too and so I hope we all are willing to speak up about what we liked or didn’t and add a new idea or two.

Our Old Testament reading, the text from Isaiah is something we probably want to associate more with the words that we read during Advent. Note: especially the second verse where it says, “The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined.” We only read a small portion of this chapter that clearly points to the birth of Jesus the expected Messiah. The light that is mentioned is clearly a metaphor for Jesus who is considered the Light of the World.

If you were here on the 23rd when we celebrated Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services, as we were about to do the candle lighting at the end, you might remember that I said something about how when a candle gives its light to another candle, it doesn’t lose any of its own light, I found the place I read that the other day. The exact words are: “A candle loses none of its light by lighting another candle” and the author is unknown. Apparently I was bored one day when I was substituting and I wrote down several quotes.

Also on that sheet: Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you are right.” Vince Lombardi said, “The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.” And at the bottom of the sheet, I added my own version, “There is no I in teamwork or cooperate.” Last week we talked about being called, sort of like the disciples were called individually to join Jesus in his earthly walk around the Holy Land. Today I hope we have heard that when they were called it was not just as individuals, but together as a group, as a fellowship of disciples.

We as a church are made up of individuals who are similar in some ways, but different in many ways, which is really a benefit when we have jobs to fill in the life of the church. Mostly we as a church are called to work together to fulfill the mission of the whole of the congregation. We are here to be the light that Christ needs in this place and time. Let us continue to do that as best we are able. Amen!

Jan. 15: Message on calls

This is the message from Sunday, Jan. 15. The scriptures were: Isaiah 49:1-7, I Corinthians 1:1-9 and John 1:29-42. The title was “God’s Call for Us.”

Pink beanie about to be finished.

Pink beanie about to be finished.

Most of you are well aware of the fact that I like to sew and knit and do other crafty things in fact far too many different ones if you want the truth. In fact I just finished up an orange headband and have a pink beanie quite close to being finished with the yarn that was in the church stash in the basement. And because of this like, or passion or hobby as some might call it, I have accumulated lots of “stuff” to go with the idea of someday creating this thing or that thing. Some of you might also know that I like to write and that I used to write more publically, but now mostly I write what is needed for church and I journal. This week I spent a little time looking back at some of my journals as I was pondering a purpose or a plan for this year, and how to resolve all the stuff that I have accumulated especially in terms of sewing and knitting and such, and I found that at least once a year, usually near the beginning of the year, I have written about how this is the year that I am going to clean out the excess junk involved with all my fabric “hobbies.”

Headband front.

Headband front.

Headband back

Headband back

After seeing all the times I wrote about it, I mostly decided that this year I will not hold my breath on the issue, something that James and the rest of my family stopped doing long ago. The truth is that I really, really need to do some sorting and mainly I need to finish more than just a few projects not only to prevent all of us from suffocating under the volume of what I have to work on, but so that the items being stored become of use to someone who is in need. So for the time being, I am going to take these projects as my “calling” to do something good for others. But maybe that is selfish of me because in the long run doing that is really doing something good for myself.

So what is a “calling” if it isn’t a decision or a plan to do something that is worthwhile? According to most Christian beliefs a calling is a summons to serve a church in some capacity or in a place that has a Christian, church like purpose such as being a chaplain in a hospital or on a college or university campus or in the military. In secular terms the word “calling” can also mean a vocation, an occupation, a job. So is there a way to resolve all these meanings into one. Could we be “called” to various occupations in general, to positions of civic leadership, to volunteer tasks, even to groups or organizations in order to be a Christian presence in the midst of a worldly place in order to bring a witness and example for Christ?

Last week I mentioned here during the announcements and Wednesday during the board meeting that our denomination is looking to change the definition of who is eligible to answer the call to be clergy. A change that may take years to implement, but if nothing else, it will force our membership to look at how we think of call and how we interpret leadership in our corner of the Christian world. I for one like the heading that is at the top of our bulletins where it says: Every member minister because in truth we are all called to minister to each other in Christian fellowship.

In all of the scriptures that we read for today “call” was the central theme. In Isaiah, in the second verse that we read, the prophet spoke of being called before birth. This gives us the idea that God chooses us before we even know what we are capable of accomplishing. God knows, and God pushes us towards what we are to do, if we will only take the time to listen, to hear and obey.

In I Corinthians, Paul talks to the church there and speaks of their call as a church to be saints for Christ. That is to do the work of Christ no matter the sacrifice, no matter the hardship. And in turn, Paul instructs those church members to call on Christ for strength and leadership and love and all the things they need to endure whatever they will be asked to endure, even the petty everyday disagreements that happen within any group of people.

The gospel lesson, which we read for today, is not a new story to any of us. We have heard it before. It is the story from John’s viewpoint of how Jesus called his disciples. It is the story of how John the Baptist was busy declaring the importance of Jesus when he came by and two of John’s disciples (one of them is later identified as Andrew brother of Peter) decided they would rather follow Jesus than John and so they did. The story also goes on to list others that took up the call to be Jesus’ disciples to accept whatever it would take to be part of that inner circle. In fact, according to this version by John, Jesus didn’t even say, “follow me” to some of them, he just walked by and they went. They felt this calling without a formal invitation. It was something they were willing to do, something they were inclined to do and if we are able to believe it, this was what they were destined to do.

If you continue reading beyond where we stopped, you will find the words, “follow me” in the calling of some of the other disciples, but today’s lesson didn’t have it. The words we read today give an implied “call.” It is sort of that intuition thing of just knowing without anyone needing to say the words. I am guessing that most of us here at some point in our lives just knew what it was we were going to do as adults in terms of jobs. We had this feeling of how we wanted to devote our time earning a living. Some felt the need to be in health care, some working in education, some felt the tug of the open spaces talking to the animals or riding across the fields planting and harvesting, or running a business or a household, or doing something where you were serving others or all the many things that any of us have done over the years.

In going through this whole business of “calling,” I can’t help but think of that phrase: If you choose a job you love, you will never work a day in your life. It doesn’t literally mean that you won’t work because sometimes what you do is hard work, but if it is something that you enjoy, it won’t be a burdensome work. I also believe that if we answer God’s call for our lives and if we complete our tasks in a Christ like manner what we do is not a burden. But when things are hard, and tasks are overwhelming, Jesus has another answer for us. Jesus calls us not just to work for him, but to come to him. In I Corinthians Paul spoke of being called as an apostle to go out and spread the good news of Jesus. But there is also the call to come to Jesus to lean on him and to learn from him.

In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Jesus doesn’t call us only to endure hard, challenging or impossible tasks, he calls us to so the things we are capable of doing and when things seem too hard, we are able to rest in his love and care. Jesus wants us to be successful, but he also wants us to follow his example of kindness and gentleness and honesty and sincerity. He wants us to care for others in a welcoming and fair and just way. And actually, another thing that I have come to learn over the course of these three years is that when you do things with the attitude of caring and concern that Christ would have, burdens are a little lighter and smiles are a little easier to use.

At the end of this month after our morning service, we will meet in the basement to review the events of the church year of 2016 and make some plans for the coming year. The nominating committee has done their job to give us a full slate of officers and for those who have agreed to serve (those who said yes when called), I say thank you from me and on behalf of the congregation. For those of you, who don’t have your name on the list; don’t think that means there isn’t a task for you someplace in the course of the coming year. If nothing else we are expecting something good to eat at the meal after the meeting, or maybe after one of the Lenten services, and besides that there are several more quilt tops that need stitching up next fall. Just remember that song we watched a few months back, “All God’s creatures got a place in the choir, some sing low and some sing higher…and some just clap their hands.”

One of the things we need to consider at our meeting is again what is our call as a church? We do actually fill needs in our community perhaps not as we once did or not necessarily as some think a traditional church should, but we have a real purpose, we have a real call. Let’s ponder that, let’s prayerfully ponder that between now and our meeting so we can all join in working together in answering God’s call for us individually and as this body of believers. In Christ’s name Amen!

Advent: Dec 23 Christmas Service

Church this evening

Church this evening

We had a combined Christmas Eve/Christmas Day Service of Lighting Advent Candles and Lessons and Carols this evening in church. We were discussed the impending bad winter storm headed our way and decided to try to get ahead of it by holding the service on the 23rd instead of waiting for the 24th. The service was nice and the attendance was ok. We had 25 there including me and the piano player. It was nice. My sister Kathy and Aunt Glenda and sister Melissa and niece Elisabeth also came. It was really nice to see them all sitting together with James and Paulina and singing the carols as a group. I only wish that I had taken an extra glass of water with me to the pulpit. My throat was really dry by the time I finished with the readings and the short message on the passage about Joseph in Matthew chapter one.

I followed the recommended nine sections of lessons. In order to give the pianist a break I put an offering after lesson 4 and did a little message after lesson 5. We were singing the song on lesson 2 when I realized that I had forgotten to print out my message and that I didn’t have the prayer for the offering. Well, I found the prayer in the booklet with the invocation that I had to go hunt up during the Advent song. Good grief talk about unorganized. Fortunately I had the message in my head because I had used that scripture lesson at the Health Care Center on Wednesday. That was really an amazing day, but I will share that later.

Another view of the decorations

Another view of the decorations

The passage in Matthew is about how Joseph is considering his options when he realizes that Mary, his betrothed is with child and it is for sure not his child. He basically has some options. He can make a big public deal about it and could have her judge for her infidelity and she could be stoned for it. He wasn’t really interested in that, but had sort of settled on his second option which was to put her aside, basically divorce her. She would not be judged or stoned, but she would end up being shamed for the rest of her life because of having a child without a husband. She would likely end up as a servant or worse for the rest of her life with no chance of being a wife let alone an honorable woman. His last option was to accept her as she was, but he would probably be ridiculed or talked about for that. Well the visit by the angel convinced him that he needed to take her as a wife and be a real father to that baby.

On Wednesday at the Health Care Center it was a service of all women in attendance, and I mentioned that most of the time we center the Christmas stories on the passages from the book of Luke and we concentrate on Mary and the baby in the manger and the angels announcing it to the shepherds and all, but tonight I talked about Joseph. He was that loving man, that carpenter who was just looking for a woman to be his wife and the mother of his children. Instead he is struck with a child that isn’t his, and if he is to believe this angel coming into his dreams, this child is the Son of God.

First he needed to resolve that the dream was not some piece of his imagination or as Dickens had Scrooge say in A Christmas Carol just a bit of indigestion from something bad he ate that caused these weird thoughts. But Joseph was a God loving man, and eventually he realized that he was chosen for a very difficult task, but he was the one who would give God’s Son the heritage of being descended from King David, and he would be the one to raise Jesus in the correct way, and in a safe way. What love he had for God and for Mary and finally for Jesus. What an amazing man to accept that task.

Picking up a light from the Christ candle

Picking up a light from the Christ candle

We closed the service as we always do on Christmas Eve, we turned down the lights, sang Silent Night starting out with a verse in German and then finishing it in English as we passed candle light from one to another. I take the light from the Christ candle and walk down the center aisle lighting the candle of the first person in each pew. Tonight I remembered reading something about how when one candle lights another it takes nothing away from the first candle, and I mentioned that is how it is when we let out lights shine in the world, it just makes everything brighter. Hopefully people were able to leave with some sort of blessing.

At the end of the evening, it felt so good, so free to be able to just do the service without the scripts to follow and all the pre-organized paperwork. It also feels so great to know that tomorrow we will be able to relax and enjoy the time together at home waiting for the arrival of that crazy winter storm. The joke will certainly be on us if it dissipates or turns and heads in another direction, and we have held church early and cancelled the other services for naught. Oh well, I thought we had a special time. We also handed out little bags of goodies to everyone who came. It is supposed to be a reminder of what it was like to come to church in the olden days when every small child or elderly person received a bag of treats.

So, Merry Christmas to all of you, and remember why we celebrate this holiday!

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