Easter Sunday message

This past Sunday, as is the case each Easter, we had lots of visitors. Usually it is children coming home to see parents, but this time we also had random visitors from town. Members of their family came from out of town and they wanted to attend a church together, and picked ours. It was wonderful and many of our members reached out to them in a warm welcome, and that was nice to see. Of course my extroverted husband was one of them, bless his heart! Here is what the members and visitors heard that morning. I must admit having such a large audience did make me a bit more animated, and sort of took away the nagging pain in my back. On Monday I went to the chiropractor and she is a magician. Here is the message.

The scriptures we had were: Psalms 118:1, 4-6, 22-24, Colossians 3:1-4 and Matthew 28:1-10. The title was simply, “Easter Morning.”

I read the gospel lesson here at the start then gave the following message: There were two choices for the gospel reading this morning. Both were the story of the resurrection, but each is a bit different. The other choice was from John chapter 20 and we have read it in the past. It is the version that fits more with the song we sang on Thursday about Mary in the garden alone not recognizing Jesus.

Today we have the version from Matthew. It is similar, but not exactly the same. The women see the angel, the empty tomb and Jesus. Later some of the disciples see him and recognize him, and he tells them to go tell the others. And in Matthew’s accounting, both the angel and Jesus tell the women and the disciples to go to Galilee to meet with him.

Ah, Galilee. Galilee is where Jesus grew up. Galilee is where Nazareth is located If you remember back to the story that we often read during Christmas…and he shall be called a Nazarene, words spoken by the prophet Jeremiah…is in the gospel of Matthew in the story of Jesus’ birth.

But again today we are not going to focus on the story of the history of this text because we basically know that. Today, we will look more at the historical geography of this scripture and what it means for us. And our message for today will be the story of why it is important for us to know that version now.

So let us begin with the geography. The area of Galilee is fairly small in comparison to Samaria and Judea and the surrounding places. Nazareth, itself, was basically a small, isolated village. But, in the same area of Galilee where Nazareth was located, there was another city, a much larger city. A place that was Roman ruled with roads and other “modern” infrastructure put up by the Romans. It was a metropolis compared to the little farming village where Jesus grew up.

This other city Sepphoris or Tzippori (Hebrew) as it is named on some of the maps was much larger and far more important in its day than Nazareth. This other city was between 3-4 miles from Nazareth and apparently sitting up on a hill. It was also known as Diocaesaraea by the Greeks with another name being La Sephorie, which is what the French called it during the Crusades. Whatever the name you use for it, during the time Jesus lived on earth it was a growing thriving city with people from all parts of the world, and they were from all religions and all cultures.

And I am not sure which was the chicken and which was the egg (as in which came first), but this city was along a major trade route between countries of the west and countries of the east, it was one of those silk/spice trade routes that moved goods, and animals, and people and cultures from one end of the world to the other. And because of his knowledge and way of acting, this is where many of the Biblical scholars believe Jesus geographically spent part of those unknown years, you know, his teenage and younger adult (his 20’s) years.

The scholars believe that Jesus as a male son and heir likely worked with Joseph in the carpentry trade, and so at that time he was in the middle of a world where there were diverse populations and languages and ideas and actions and beliefs. Not much different from some of the big cities in our country today, and not so different from some of the larger towns in our own area as of late.

But we all know that Jesus did not stay in that world. We all know the stories we have in the Bible. In his early 30’s Jesus left all of that carpentry and family behind and was baptized by John and began the work of his heavenly father. He gathered his disciples and taught them all the things that we learn in the scriptures and charged them as he does us now to go out and share all of that with the world, and mostly to share the love that God has for us, and I think that is the important part of what we have to learn for today.

The truth is that not all of us have been given the gift of voice or witness or the opportunity of missionary work. Not all of us have that ability to stand on the street corner calling out to others to listen to the word. Maybe I am wrong, but I don’t see evangelism as the strong suit of our denomination. We really aren’t that sort of Christians.

And I would guess if we did a poll here today, I wouldn’t be the only one a little skeptical about people who are that sort of Christian. It is sad, but true, I am suspicious of those who are that open about their witnessing; it might have a little to do with my stoic German-Russian genetics, or it might be related to the staunch Puritan ancestry of our church. While on our trip in Tennessee we went to one of the center squares on our last night there, and as we were leaving we noticed that in the middle of the musical entertainers set up every few feet there were a couple of people witnessing and preaching for the crowd. I will just say, it made me a little nervous, and I have to ask myself, why?

When I think of how Jesus shared his love, the love that he was sent by God to show the world, I see the story of the diverse culture in which he must have been raised. I see that in more than just the historical geography of the area where he lived. The proof is in all of the stories about him in the gospels. The proof is in the way that Jesus treated others. He did not take on the closed attitude of the leaders of the religion to which he was born. First off, he didn’t exclude women when he reached out to help those in need, and he didn’t forbid them from being part of his group of followers as the synagogue excluded them from the inner places of worship. We have lots of those stories all the way from the healing of the woman with the years long hemorrhage to the way he treated Mary as she poured the expensive ointment on his feet and washed them with her tears and dried them with her hair.

Jesus also did not withhold his compassion or healing or love from those of different cultures or social status. We have lots of those stories. When he healed the 10 lepers we learn that one was a Samaritan (someone who should have been considered an outcast by a spiritual leader in Jesus area). We learn that when the Samaritan is the only one who returns to say thank you. And, Jesus speaks favorably of Samaritans in his parable about the Good Samaritan as he is teaching about being a good neighbor. He also heals the servant of a Centurion/a Roman military leader and even instructs his disciples to pay their taxes with his, “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” statement.

Jesus does not show prejudice for or against those who were outside of the family in which he grew up. There is even a story of his mother and siblings coming to see him when he stops and says that everyone who believes is his mother and sister and brother. That is who Jesus was and that is the example he expects us to follow. We here in our community and in the area we live in have had a bit of a sheltered upbringing. We haven’t had to deal with many outside of our German-Russian ancestry, well with a few exceptions of some Norwegians or British or Dutch, or some eastern Europeans, but not much else until recently. And it seems the more you watch the news, the more you learn about the battle in our country between those who would open the doors to everyone and those who want things to go back to the days of the long past. And as much as I want to think myself above this sort of prejudice, while I was putting this message together, I came to realize, my issue is not with skin color or race or language; it is with ideas and ideology and values, and I need to come to grips with that fact and make some changes.

What we learn from the acts and the parables of Jesus is that he doesn’t give his concern and love to people based on the color of their skin or the language that they spoke. He didn’t come to earth to be the Messiah only for the people who looked and talked and worshiped as he and his earthly parents did. Jesus died on the cross for everyone. And mostly Jesus expects us to accept that his love and our love should also be for everyone and that even means it should be for those who live a bit differently than we do.

On a side note, another item that intrigued me this week was how on earth did this day come to be known as Easter Sunday? I don’t see that word in any of the scripture lessons. Some believe that the word Easter is likely from a more pagan tradition and was taken from the name of a Saxon goddess that is related to the word east and had something to do with spring and the new life of new growth. Others who are religious scholars prefer the idea that it comes from the German word of Ostern which originates in an older time from the old Teutonic form of auferstehn. I can’t tell you exactly which is true, but I can tell you, I sort of like that second idea better. Well, how many of us have heard of the Oster Haas (Easter rabbit)? [Thank you to the internet and the websites that supplied this information]

The bottom line is that no matter where the English word originated that we use to identify today, and no matter how much we learn about the historical or geographical parts of the human life that Jesus lived, what matters for us today, on this beautiful and wonderful Easter Sunday, is the fact that we are celebrating the resurrection of Christ. We are celebrating the unbelievable love that God had for us in giving his Son to wipe out our sins, our flaws, our shortcomings. And when we accept that love for us, we are then called to share it with those around us, and that means all of those around us, not just our family, though that is a good start. God expects us to share the love of Christ with others and as I said before, maybe we are not great as shouting it from the roof tops or the street corners, but at the least, we need to share that love in our actions towards others. Remember, God expects us to show our Christian love to everyone without judgment or prejudice. Let’s keep that in mind this week as we interact with those around us. And in case you were wondering, next week we will be celebrating Earth Sunday, so we will expand the story to include the rest of creation. Amen!

Christ is King Sunday

This is the message that I used in on Sunday morning on Nov. 20, 2016. The scriptures were: Jeremiah 23:1-6, Colossians 1:11-20 and Luke 23:33-43. The title was “Christ is King”

As the end of the message, I shared a video that I found on u-tube. I am not a technology guru, so I am not imbedding it here. If you are interested in seeing it, search for the names that are listed in the note at the end. You will find it. Enjoy. Now for the message.

Wow! Here we are at the end of another year of the church. Next week is Advent and the beginning of a new church calendar. Until the snow that hit on Thursday, I was beginning to wonder if we were really going to have winter and all that goes with it this year. I was so busy enjoying the wonderful weather that I almost didn’t get the carrots and the beets out of the garden. I did finally dig them on Tuesday and on Wednesday night we finally finished the last of the apples.

Now I am not sure if it was the great weather up to Wednesday or the snow that hit on Thursday, but it messed me up so much that on Friday as I was working on the messages for today and tonight and trying to finalize tonight’s bulletin, I kept thinking, I will write one message on Friday and the other on Saturday, and I went downstairs and worked on laundry and then finished up some knitting and later I organized some Christmas gifts to wrap, and it wasn’t until later that night after supper that I realized Friday was over was not happening the next day…..and you can probably imagine my scramble yesterday.

Today, according to the lectionary theme, is the day that we read the verses and hear the stories and celebrate the fact that Christ is King. I don’t suppose any of us would argue with that fact. Jesus is indeed the Son of God who rules the world and all that is in it. As much as any of the different world leaders think they are in charge of this country or that country or some other region, as much as financial leaders believe they have an influence on a country’s or the world’s economy, as much as CEO’s think that they control different aspects of business, the bottom line is that Jesus reigns all things. Jesus—the Son of God was in existence before the beginning of time, is in charge now and will always be in charge. As much as anyone wants to say this is not so, it is so. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

And for all points and purposes, the sooner we accept that fact, the better life is for us. I don’t mean to suggest that everything will go perfectly smoothly for us just because we believe, but having a relationship with Christ gives us a strength and a peace that we don’t find without that sort of relationship.

The scripture lesson today that reinforces or underlines the theme of Christ the King Sunday comes from the Epistle reading, from Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Paul writes to them letting them know how much he has heard about their faith and how thankful he is for the fact that they have such strong faith, and he writes to reinforce their beliefs. As he writes, he also tells them more about who Christ really is. Let’s hear it again from verse 15. (reread it)

Reading this just as it is with no background, we might wonder why some think it is such a big deal to have to present this as Christ is King. Maybe for us living as we do in a place where we really do have so many freedoms, perhaps even more so than even in other parts of our country, talking about kings and rulers is not really all that scary. For those who have lived in fear or under tyrants, this might not be so easy to understand.

The fact is that the Colossian people lived in a time and place that put lots of value on spirits. They believed that spirits both good and evil were all around them. They existed in a time that held more than just superstitions about having to appease the “Gods” or bad things would happen to them. Paul was writing to them in order to help them understand that Jesus Christ was the one and only Son of the one true God and that there was no need to think about or deal with other spirits.

Reading and studying these passages this week reminded me of when I was a junior in college. I took a class called History of Eastern Religions, also known by some as mess up your beliefs class. One day the professor brought in a speaker from the community. It was a young woman who was part of a new “church.” I think she said there were a handful of them that had formed a congregation of all beliefs. I am not sure what the name was, but I remember her saying that they believed that all the prophets of all the religions were real, and they all had good ideas, and their plan was to sort of meld all these ideas. Now in theory that is wonderful that they were able to recognize the good of these prophets and to respect them for their beliefs, but there is one thing I just couldn’t buy into. Jesus was not a prophet. Jesus was is and always will be the only begotten Son of God. Jesus is not a prophet. Jesus came to earth and though he was a teacher and a healer and a spiritual leader, his purpose was to die and to rise from the dead so that we could all have the opportunity for eternal life with him, with God.

Perhaps this is the reason that I have been unable or unwilling to focus much on speaking about the here and now. I get a little nervous that when we only focus on today and what this message means for me today, maybe we are denying a belief in life after this one. Sometimes when I read some of the “experts” and their message, I wonder if they believe there is something—life beyond today.

Without getting too deep into this subject let me just say that I am suspicious of people who say they don’t believe in organized religion. Of course I am suspicious of people who say they don’t believe in organized government either. But when you think about it, government only affects your life here and now. Not believing in religion, in something spiritual—that affects you way beyond your life here on this earth.

And ok let’s be honest, it might be hard for any of us to say we have lived our entire life without any doubts. I think the more that I read, the more that I study, the more I wonder about the mystery that is God, the truth about Jesus’ death and resurrection and all the different stories that are part of the scriptures.

And as wonderful as the words are in Paul’s letter today, the truth for me is always in the lessons from the gospels. As we look at what we read in Luke about Jesus’ last day on earth as a human when he was hanging on the cross in agony and misery listening to those two thieves arguing, that verse where he tells the one criminal, “Truly I tell you today you will be with me in paradise,” that verse tells me all I need to know about the truth of who Christ really is and what following him is all about.

In light of that, I want to share a little video with you. Of all things I can’t even really make the connection now of how this popped into my head, but when I was doing my reading earlier this week, I kept thinking of this song. I think the connection is that Christ is King for all of us, Christ died for all of us, and if you hear the words he said to the criminal, a sinner a low life a nobody and you realize that Jesus in his worst hour could reach out to such a one as that, he certainly is there for all of us, and because of that fact, we also need to be there for others in their time of need.

(Show video from u-tube: Makem and Clancey All God’s creatures got a place in the choir.)

We can share

The scripture message for today was Luke 12:13-21 and Colossians 3:1-11. The title used was, “Teach us to share.”

As you mostly know, our oldest two daughters are fairly close in age, and they almost share a birthday. Jessica was born on Jan. 24 and Victoria was born on Jan. 25. When they were younger we tried to be good parents and give them each their own separate birthday celebrations. The one year in particular that I remember is when Victoria was 1 and Jessica was 3. Being in the middle of winter, and the days falling in the middle of the week, we did not invite any family over or go anyplace, but had their parties at home with just the four of us having a quiet supper and cake and ice cream followed by them opening their gifts, Jessica’s on Tuesday and Victoria’s on Wednesday. I know these things not so much because I have a good memory, but because we have old video tapes and have watched them quite often.

Part of why I am telling this story this morning is to tell a prominent family joke, which developed out of Jessica’s reaction when Victoria opened her gifts that year. One thing we were quite careful to do was to have each girl open one gift on the other’s birthday. Now this wasn’t such a big deal to Victoria being only one, but on that second day when Victoria had three or four really interesting looking gifts and Jessica only had one, well her reaction to everything that Victoria opened was to look at it and say, “We can share.” The other reason that I bring up this story is to give you the central idea of our focus scripture lesson this morning. The idea that “we can share,” the idea that we should share is the main point Jesus was making in the parable about the rich man who built himself some new barns.

But let’s back up a minute here. Let’s look at this from a farming perspective and try to figure out what is the problem in this story. The parable, if you just focus in a minute on that story, that idea. There is a man, a landowning farmer, who has a good year. Well, ok so not just a good year, but a really, really good year, and as the harvest is being brought in, he realizes that there is no place to store this fantastic harvest. We have all seen what happens when the elevator doesn’t have enough room for what comes in. I don’t remember if there was a pile here in Eureka last fall, but both Herreid and Strasburg each had an astronomical corn pile. I remember way back when that happened in Jud, ND, and in order to keep the mice and rats off it, they laid poison all around the pile. It didn’t take too long for nearly every cat in town to get sick and die as a result.

Building a barn or several barns sounds like a reasonable thing to do after a good harvest. I can remember one year that we added a small round grain bin to our farm, and now as I look at the huge round steel bins near the elevator where I live, I have to laugh at the size of that little thing we thought was such a big deal so many years ago. But we have to look closely at what this parable was really saying in order to understand the point Jesus was getting at. This was not about storing the harvest for the future. This was about hoarding the harvest.

I want to take you off subject, or perhaps just on a different turn for a little bit. Some of you may have thought of another Old Testament Biblical figure who built barns after a good harvest. I don’t think I clued in on it myself, but it certainly was in a couple of things I read. Go back to ancient Egypt when a man named Joseph was in charge of a few things. He came to power after interpreting a dream for the Pharaoh, something about seven fat cows being eaten by seven skinny cows and seven blighted ears of grain taking over seven good ears. Joseph understood the dream to mean that seven good years of harvest would be followed by seven years of draught and that something needed to be done so that the people could survive the drought. He listened to God’s warning and set out a plan, an elaborate plan to store away the excess so that during the hard times there would be enough for everyone, even those from outside of Egypt and that is how he saved his own family and the people of Israel.

Jesus’ parable about the man with the good harvest wasn’t a story against those who do well. It wasn’t a story about being a good manager or a good farmer or even good at anything you do and prospering. It was a story about and against greed. I don’t know how many times as I am working on a message I pause to consider how it will be accepted. Who will think that I might be writing with them in mind, and I want to be clear, I have only one person in my mind, one human-physically present in the church person in mind as I am sitting at the computer and putting together the message for any given Sunday, and that is ME. As Miss Piggy would say, Moi!

Jesus told this parable to let the young man with the question about inheritance, to let those listening around him, to let us know that we are to share our bounty and our abundance with those around us. Love thy neighbor as thyself. And as much as I like to think that I do some of the things we are commanded by the scriptures, I know that sharing with others is the one I need to work on the most. And don’t try to tell me that I share. I don’t—not enough. Sharing with others, giving to others should not come from our excess, though that is a start. Real giving is when we cut our sandwich in half or give it up completely to feed someone else.

If we really look at that passage from beginning to end, we see it started with a young man who wanted some leader or teacher or someone to validate his claim to an inheritance. From the reading we get the point that this man’s brother was not sharing or dividing what has been left behind by their parents, and he wants what is his. He wants his fair share, so he asks Jesus hoping to find someone who will take his side in the matter.

Well we all know from other stories and other readings how that will work. Jesus does not bite on those types of questions. Jesus doesn’t settle legal disputes. He did not come to earth to be a worldly leader. He wasn’t running for any office, he wasn’t trying to build an army to overthrow the Romans or even to take over the temple. Jesus came to teach morals of right and wrong and what is needed to enter the kingdom of God.

Instead of giving him the legal answer that he so badly wanted Jesus tells the young man about another man. One who had great plenty, but rather than use it for good, he decided to hoard it all for himself and sit back and relax for the rest of his life, and ironically that is pretty much what he did, though his life was a little shorter than he anticipated.

In our Epistle lesson today, Paul is writing from prison in Rome to a church that was having internal difficulties surrounding what exactly they believed. Paul was writing to remind them that Jesus was the head of the church and it was the teachings of Christ that they were to follow. In verse 5 he tells them to put to death the earthly parts of themselves and Paul gives them a list of what he means, and at the end of the list he puts the word: Greed and in parenthesis it says, which is idolatry. To be greedy as the man in the parable was is to worship something other than Christ. For such a short and seemingly simple parable, I would say Jesus’ point pack a pretty hard punch.

As we finish today, I want to share with you a wonderful example I found on the national United Church of Christ website this week. It was in the related quotation section and has a bit of a historical piece in it. This is: A story about the Marquis de Lafayette, who helped the American colonists during our War of Independence from Britain, 18th century:

When he [Lafayette] returned home to France, he lived on his big estates and did very well. He was in the same social class as the rich man in Jesus’ parable, but acted very differently. In 1783, after a poor harvest, Lafayette’s workers were still able to fill his barns with wheat. “The bad harvest has raised the price of wheat,” said one of his workers. “This is the time to sell.” Lafayette thought about the hungry peasants in the surrounding villages. “No,” he replied, “this is the time to give.”

In the weeks ahead we will be gathering a few times to have some fellowship, maybe share a little Bible story, perhaps even have a cup of something and munch on this or that, and either sew a little on some quilts or gather up some school supplies. We will do all of that, but mostly we will be looking into ways to be about the business of really being the church; we will be looking into ways to share what we have with others. I hope you take the time to join us. Amen!

Teach us to Pray: Message from July 24

The scriptures today were: Hosea 1:2-10, Colossians 2:6-19 and Luke 11:1-13, the title is as above.

We had a large group of visitors in church today, and I tried to talk more than read script. I am sure if you listened to the tape, the words would not be in exactly this order and there might be one more or less stories put in, but the message below was the script for today, so that is what you get. Hope it makes sense.

This past week was, for lack of any better descriptions, hectic yet interesting. And when it was over, I guess you might say it was far too short. (Those of you here visiting might relate to some of this as you are probably feeling some of the fun of being together and some of the, well…minor struggles of being together.) Though knowing Jerry and Marva there is no time or personality for the sort of tension we get at my house.

So here is our story, last Sunday as we were pulling up to the church two of the three people in our van (not me) decided that we should request a visit from our grandchildren for a week. In truth, for most of the summer, we have been talking about doing just that and wondering when to do it, but we had never quite chosen a “good” time for it to happen. I guess in retrospect, if you stop to consider the best time to have those little ones, you might never pick a date. All things considered, they were fairly well-behaved, and Jaxon had a great time in the pool and picking in the garden with me.

He has grown up so much and we didn’t have any major melt downs with him as have happened in the past, but I won’t give any details about Ana’s nap being cut short on Friday. She must have one of those metabolisms where the less sleep she has, the wilder she gets. She ran more on Friday in our house than some members of our track team did all last spring. Her first night was also a little tough. I thought she had already fallen asleep when she sat up in bed, and said she was done and wanted her mother, but she settled down after looking through some pictures on my phone. As the week went on I was reminded more each day that little ones have lots of energy. Mine began to fade about the time that there was a lack of energy at our little campsite on Monday and Tuesday at the near peak of the heat, and by Tuesday night I was frazzled.

I thank you for understanding that I was not able to make it to the office on Wednesday. James and Paulina were both at work and anyone who I thought might be able to watch the youngsters was not available. And then I found out the power company was at our campsite “fixing” the surging issue, which maybe should never have happened, but that is a story for another day. I just know that with that taken care of; I finally have one less thing for my personal list of prayer concerns. And so we move on to a new week this time with me calling my daughter to check on the children rather than her calling me.

Our Old Testament story today is something that might sound a bit strange from just a simple reading. It is the beginning of the story of the prophet Hosea. In this opening chapter God calls to Hosea and not to check on him, but to instruct him to take a wife. According to our reading, Hosea is told to take a wife who is a prostitute, likely a priestess of the temple of Baal. Sort of an odd thing for God to request of someone, wouldn’t you think? The point is that his family life experience with an unfaithful wife was a mirror of what God experienced with his people Israel.

The Israelites at the time were constantly choosing to worship pagan gods rather than being faithful, to the one God who brought them out of the land of Egypt. Yet God loved his people dearly, much as Hosea loved his faithless wife, who eventually ran away from him much like the people turned their back on God, and if you think about it sort of like our world today as many turn their backs on the teachings of Christ. In fact if we stop to consider our own actions, each of us has our moments when we fail to put the love of God above all else and even more, we know that we have times when we fail to love others as we are commanded to do. I know I have those moments way more than I should.

And so we come to the scripture lesson from Colossians, the words of Paul. In this passage, Paul tells us to remember that Christ is the head of the church. Christ is the one we are to follow. He is speaking to a specific church, but also to all Christians in general, even to us. Paul is reminding us that Christ is it. Through Christ we know God. Through him we come to know what is expected of us as Christians, how to love God, how to love each other and how to act. Paul was specifically trying to make this young church understand that because of Christ there was no longer any need for following the laws of eating certain foods or sacrificing certain ways, or any of the other rituals that were traditions and customs for the people. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we are all free to know his love and to know God on a more personal basis.

And for that experience we come to our final lesson today. Our gospel lesson, which is about how to be in a more personal relationship with God through prayer, comes from the beginning of chapter 11 of Luke. It is similar to separate passages in Matthew chapters 6 and 7, though Luke is the only gospel writer who puts this story into one passage, and the only one who presents it as the disciples asking Jesus to teach them a way, the way to pray.

The story begins when the disciples find Jesus alone in prayer. This is not the only time that we find scripture about Jesus off by himself praying. One of his teachings about prayer includes the idea that prayer is a personal time with God. Matthew writes that Jesus said we are to go to our closet (as in private room, not clothes holder) alone to pray rather than to stand on the street corner like the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders who prayed more for show than for any real reason.

So the disciples find Jesus praying, and they ask him for a lesson in how to pray and Jesus gives them what we might consider a basic outline of how to pray. This is where we get the Lord’s Prayer that we say together each week in our worship service. Jesus did not give them exact specific words that had to be said each time they prayed, by just an order an idea.

As I thought about this idea of exact prayers, I thought about some of the prayers we learn as children or young people. There is the night-time prayer: Now I lay me down to sleep… and then I thought of the meal prayers we might use: “Come Lord Jesus be our guest, let this food to us be blest.” I remember one we learned in youth group: “Be present at our table, Lord; be here and everywhere adored; these mercies bless, and grant that we may strengthened for thy service be. Amen.” “These mercies bless, and grant that we/may feast in paradise with thee.” By the way, one of the websites that I looked up to get the exact wording on that last prayer said that some statistics say only 29 percent of Americans say a prayer before their meals today compared with 64 percent in the past. It was not something we did, but it was never left out of any meal that my mother-in-law presided over. I thought of these as I was sitting with Jaxon watching a Disney movie, Hercules. It was at the part where the girl dies and Hercules goes to the underworld to rescue her soul. We had a pretty interesting conversation about the difference between body and spirit. And I was reminded of the importance of how we go about teaching our children of such things. Thankfully we have lessons like today’s that remind us just what sort of teacher Jesus was. He not only knew what his disciples needed to learn, but he was able to give them instructions and examples about many things including how to pray.

Jesus did not give his disciples a rote, word for word prayer to say over and over, he gave them a guide. Jesus told them to start their prayers with praise and honor to God, then to ask for their basic needs, to ask for forgiveness while remembering to be forgiving to others, and to ask for strength to resist the temptations of the world, but mostly to ask that it be God’s will, not their own. That is how Jesus still instructs us to pray, but that is not the end of the passage.

And in the final part of the passage, Jesus gives an example of how a man goes to a friend’s house to ask for some bread because he is out and another friend has come by and he needs something to feed him. You heard the story as the scripture was read, it is more about persistence than about doing a good deed for a friend or a neighbor. The point of the story is that if you knock, if you ask, if you are persistent God hears. And Jesus’ point is that if a friend, a neighbor, opens up his door after he has gone to bed, how much more will God open up to us if we are persistent.

God wants us to ask, God wants us to seek him, at whatever the hour, whatever the time, but the kicker of the story comes at the end of the passage. Luke tells us that Jesus said if we ask, if we knock, if we seek out God, if we are persistent God will give us the Holy Spirit. The passage in Luke doesn’t say that if we pray for it we will get whatever we desire, whatever we ask for, whatever we want. No, Luke writes that we will be given the spirit from God to be able to endure anything that comes our way. This teaching from Jesus to the disciples on how to pray also includes that last part; that what God gives to us is not always what we think it should be: whether our prayer is about health concerns or other issues. Instead God gives us the Holy Spirit so that we can have the strength and peace and ability to accept God’s answer to our prayers whatever that is.

As we close today, I would like to point out the middle page of the current Upper Room. If you haven’t picked up your copy of the July/August edition there are plenty left. In the middle in the piece called Prayer Workshop, there is an interesting bit on how we prayer in similar, yet specific ways. Mostly what we need to remember is that God is always there like a patient parent waiting to hear our prayers waiting for us to knock, to seek, to ask. Let us be sure this week to take time to do all of the above and as we do, let us each be filled with the spirit of peace that God has for us. Amen.

Our Journey with Christ

It has been 10 days since I published anything on this blog, just goes to show how much extra time I have had. I won’t post my message from Christmas Eve. It was a drama and didn’t follow the script very closely. I had read a few different books and came up with my own version of what some others had done, so I don’t feel comfortable sharing even if the words were all mine. I don’t want any inkling of things to be out of order. Today we presented the power point of the year end. I will give you the message that went with that even without the pictures. So, here it is below.

Scriptures used: I Samuel 2:18-20 & 26, Colossians 3:12-17, and Luke 2:41-52. Title was “A Journey with Christ.”

I remember attending church in years past, sitting in the pew, and listening to the minister and wondering about the message. I often wondered how someone could come up with the stories they would tell or the focus they would choose for the scripture of the day. Then, later, as I took the first class in lay licensed ministry, I wondered what you would do if you came across a particular scripture a second time. Would you reuse the message? Would you tweak the message, or would you write a new and better message? Interestingly enough, I realized that scriptures have historical context and meaning according to the learned scholars, but no scripture ever speaks to the reader the same way every time it is read.

Certainly there are parts that have meanings that don’t change. The story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead always has Lazarus coming back to life, and the story of Noah building the ark always has a great flood, and even the story of Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem to be enrolled always has Mary giving birth to a baby boy. But there are lots of shifts in focus and lots of changing of camera angles and even more lots of variances in how our ears are tuned to the story each different time we hear the words. The truth is that it isn’t the story that changes; instead it is us who change. We are a little different each time we hear or read a passage and that affects how we hear and react to the stories.

Today we are hearing one of the very few stories of the childhood of Jesus. It almost seems odd to be hearing this story on the Sunday immediately following Christmas Eve Service where we listened to the story of Mary and Joseph and an overfull Inn and Shepherds and Angles and a little tiny Christ Child lying in a manger. Are we having another time warp?! It seems this year on this cycle of lectionary, we jump ahead 12 years before the Wise men can appear, or even before that bright star is able to burn out. Here we are this Sunday looking at Jesus at age 12 going to the temple and staying behind when they head home. Here this young man is giving his parents all sorts of fits. Why, and for what reason? And what on earth could this story be saying to us today? What message is there for us to understand?

If we were to go through this story on any other day of the year, we might focus on the parents. And I have looked at it in that regard with a message a few years ago. The anxious mother, frightened for her child. She likely thinks of all the things that could go wrong, all the bad that could happen to a 12 year old boy.

Or, what if our focus were to be on the interaction of Jesus and the elders and scholars in the temple? Reading it beside the scripture about Samuel, it is likely that we could be pointed in that direction. We could study up on what sort of education it would take to become one of the scholars. Such a message might be all about the priests and the learn’ed and how you interpret the rules and laws of God.

The other one of many, many ways you could look at this gospel scripture is the journey of Mary and Joseph and those who lived at the time Jesus was in human form. In terms of journeys, it really could include the journey we take with him now in our time. Because of course if you really think about it, we, too, are on a journey with Jesus. We may not have him with us in a human form, yet as he noted many times to his disciples, Jesus is among us, in our midst to minister with and to be ministered to. That is what it means for us to think of Jesus as Emanuel, God-with-us. Each time we reach out our hands and hearts and offer up our treasures, our time, ourselves in an act of love to others. Jesus is with us. It happens each time we offer food or drink or clothes or shelter or quilts or kindness to others.

(Sigh….It seems I keep saying these things and it seems we keep hearing these things, and hopefully you don’t feel like I used to sitting in the pew, wondering what more I could do, wondering if I have ever participated in any of those things other than by writing a check or hoping that my church participates for me.)

We have been about that journey often this past year. We have been about that journey in several ways: Well how about this idea. Instead of listing it, let’s look at it. I so wish that I had paid closer attention and taken more pictures. Although I will admit there are times when it is hard to takes pictures from up here. I will try to cover it as best as I can from what I have, so here goes. (Present Power Point with whatever narration is possible to add to it.)

These are the types of things we have done together. Yet there are so many more that I did not capture in picture. I think of our annual meeting, or all the times we meet in Bible Study. There are Board meeting which are about more than just the financial and building side of the church. There are worship services and fellowship afterwards. There are all the things we do in small groups and as individuals.

These pictures are just a sample of the things we have done in a spirit of fellowship and camaraderie and most of the time with great fun, with great joy. I know from past experience this has always been a church that works together and shares together and does things with each other and for each other. But I really enjoyed looking at the expressions on your faces as I placed these pictures and really examined them. Some of them might not be in the best focus, but they say quite a bit to me about how willing you are to work with each other toward a common goal.

I will also share that my goal when I accepted your request to come here and fill this spot for you, my goal was to add joy and a little laughter and life to our mix. My goal has been not just to keep the doors open, but to open the doors as wide as we possibly can to make all the room we can for anyone willing to take this journey with us. I didn’t expect it to happen overnight, and though we know and have seen on the slides that we are shrinking. I would ask that we challenge ourselves to join in a new goal. It is just a very small little thing for each of us, but together it could be strong. Let’s join forces and shoot for a goal of 0% membership in 2016. And a very tiny increase of 1% on what we do as a group and give to the world around us. I don’t have any numbers or exact activities worked out, but that is my homework for the next two weeks. I just ask that you be ready to think of what will be your answer to the challenge. Jesus went on the journey to the temple with his parents and challenged the spiritual leaders in Jerusalem. Jesus also invites us to journey with him in our time and place and challenges us to come to the “temple” with him to learn more and do more (in all sorts of ways) with him and for him.

Let’s join together in 2016 to do what we can to promote the love of the Christ Child who grew up to be the Savior.

Happy Easter #2 Message

I used this message this Easter morning at our church, St. Paul’s UCC, in Eureka, SD. The scripture was Jeremiah 31: 1-6, Colossians 3: 1-4, and John 20: 1-18. My message was titled, Christ is Risen Indeed! If I could have figured out how to get slides working for the message, and I will in the near future, I just didn’t really have the time to set it up by today, I would have used the two pictures I will show you here.

Sesame St. sheet.

Sesame St. sheet.

Close up. The H  monster could be the trudge, trudge while the G could be the streak. At least in my memory.

Close up. The H monster could be the trudge, trudge while the G could be the streak. At least in my memory.

We don’t have a sign on our church door, or at the back of the sanctuary that says turn off cell phones or electronic devices, and that is good. I will never be in favor of one of those. If there is an emergency and you need to be contacted, I would hope that your attending church does not prevent someone from finding you. On the other hand, there are times when it is OK for you to disconnect from social media and live in the moment. For those of us who existed before the computer, this is a different world.

I remember the early days of Sesame Street. At first it seemed to be a cute little world of puppets, known as Muppets, interacting with humans to help teach children all sorts of things from numbers to letters of the alphabet to grammatical concepts such as what is a preposition. I still use a memory of how they did prepositions when I happen to get a substituting spot in a language arts room and that lesson is on the docket.

But again, it is not all good. With the beginning of shows like Sesame Street and the high-tech teaching, we old school dinosaurs became just that, dinosaurs. And now in the world of my grandson, Jaxon, Sesame Street is a bit “old school.” I was trying to get him away from some silly show that I didn’t care for one day, and in flipping channels I asked him if we could watch Sesame Street, and his answer was “I Not.” There is no way that a human teacher can keep up with the entertainment value of what students see now days on the television, in a U-tube video, on a Smart board and any of the other technological pieces of today’s education age. It is way too fast.

You are wondering what this has to do with the scripture of Mary and two disciples finding the empty tomb and our church service on Easter morning. I will give you one more image, and then we will get there. One of my favorite and pretty much last memories of watching Sesame Street is a clip so bizarre that I will never forget it. I don’t remember which child was watching it with James and me, but we laughed most of the day. It was the “trudge, trudge, streak, streak” clip. First a rather large monster looking muppet trudged down a lane while the words, “trudge—trudge were being said. Next, a slim, sort of gonzo like, muppet ran past at a rather high-speed with a high-pitched “streak—streak” in the background. This went on for a time and kept getting faster and faster, and more crowded as it went.

One of the sources that I read about the scripture in John suggested that as you read this passage, you pay particular attention to the verbs. In going back I found what the source meant. The verbs, right after a brief set up, are words of action. They are as follows: came, saw, removed. Now after Mary sees the stone to be gone from the front of the tomb the words become more intense. They are: ran, went, said, set out, went toward, running, outran, reached, bent down, went in, saw, and on and one it goes. These are not words of trudge, trudge. These are words closer to the streak—streak manner of movement.

Mary and the two disciples that John recalls finding the empty tomb are almost frantic in their initial response to the idea that the tomb is empty. Mary’s first response is, “Where did they take his body.” Though Jesus has been teaching them for quite some time about his death and resurrection, it is a concept his followers cannot fathom. They are sure that someone, likely some officials have taken his body.

It was known that the Jewish leaders didn’t trust the disciples, and they put guards up so the disciples or other followers of Jesus couldn’t take his body and claim that he was resurrected. But nothing could be further from the truth. The disciples did not take the body; they did not even plan or plot to take the body to fake the resurrection. Jesus’ body was gone because Jesus wasn’t dead. He had no need for a tomb or embalming cloths. Jesus was alive. He was alive then and he is alive now.

It is just as Paul says in his letter to the Colossians: “Christ IS seated at the right hand of God, He is alive! Seated at the right hand is a pretty big deal. We learn that when the disciples James and John come to Jesus asking for important positions beside him in paradise. Jesus tells them, it is God who appoints those positions. It is God who puts Jesus beside himself . It is all part of the plan from the beginning. The resurrection happens as a result of God’s plan to redeem the world. It is to make it possible for us to be Easter people. We have made it through the long season of Lent; we have made it past Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and now we have the opportunity to be part of the resurrection with Jesus. But how do we do it?

We do it by adopting the attitude of the action verb. We need to be doers. Perhaps we don’t have to go running around like the Muppet character personifying the word streak, but we do need to feel the sense of urgency. There is a point at which we need to get out of the trudge—trudge mentality. There is a point at which we need to come to the age of reality, to the newness of a risen Christ.

The commandment Christ gave to the disciples on Maundy Thursday was that they love one another as he loved them. This is for us too. This is even for the times when others don’t really seem so lovable, which is sad because (sarcastic voice) we all know that we have never been that unlovable person, oh wait, that is us too.

The point of Easter is that God loved/loves us even before we were, Jesus Loves us so much that He was willing to give His seat on the right hand of God his father to take on a human form so that he could die for us. For whom would we die? For whom would we give up everything? I bet our list wouldn’t be so long. Jesus’ list was the whole world, and Jesus’ list was each one of us individually.

I was selfish this morning when I picked the text. We could have read the Easter story from the book of Matthew, and some year, I am sure we will. Today, I wanted to read the story about Mary. Mary, who stood in the garden and wept for her missing Master. The teacher who had come to mean everything to her was gone, and she didn’t know what was going to happen. She was so distraught that she just wanted to be alone when some man, a gardener perhaps disturbed her. She probably didn’t look up. Her face was tear-streaked and red, and she didn’t want anyone to look into her eyes, when she heard him say her name. You know that recognitions when someone close to you says your name, you know instantly who is calling you. Mary knew.

And this morning we know. We know that Jesus is calling our names, calling us to be his partners in this world, in this time, to do his work. It isn’t the same sort of work, walking from town to town like the disciples did. It is a different world that we live in, a different time, but it is still the time to share the story of a resurrected Savior who died for all people and mostly for each person. As we go today, let’s remember that as Easter people, we are also people of last Maundy Thursday. We are the people given the commandment to Love one Another as Christ loved us. It isn’t always an easy challenge, and sometimes we might want to say, “I not.” but when we lean on Jesus, it is a possible challenge. Amen.

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