Life Here, too

Message of this past Sunday was based on: Acts: 2: 42-47, I Peter 2:19-25 and mostly the last verse of John 10:1-10. I used the following as the title, “Life Here, too.”

Our gospel lesson and our Psalm today are the comparisons of Jesus and God to a shepherd. We read the Psalm as our call to worship, and we just heard the words of the gospel of John where Jesus tells the disciples all about how the good shepherd goes in through the gate and how the sheep know the voice of the shepherd who watches over them and protects them and all of that is well and good, but the focus of what we will discuss today is that last verse, the one where it says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Our other two lessons support this, but we will get to them a bit later.

This week, which has been a month long in case anyone wants to know how it went, this week began with that trip to Eagle Pass Lodge on Monday. Monday is normally when I first look at what we are to study this week, and so as I headed here to pick up Mary Lou and then we traveled on to Bowdle where we met up with Faye Jackman from Mobridge, who leads the church in McLaughlin, I had these lessons in the back of my mind. Jesus came so that we can have life, and have it abundantly. The trip was great, we had enough time to stop in Highmore and have lunch and visit even more than during the trip, and we made it to the place in plenty of time with very little difficulty. We were greeted very warmly, there was one more licensed minister there, a woman from Clark, and we all met in a large room with the Committee on Ministry and the Conference Minister, and it was great!!

I am not just saying this, it was a wonderful meeting and we talked about all sorts of things, what is going well, what is hard for us, what we feel confident in doing and what we would like some assistance with which was mostly resources, and we even shared some ideas of where we get our resources. And we even felt so comfortable that we shared why we were a little put out about having to come there and meet with them. And we talked about this business with the change of how clergy are given their status, and I think we will all be fine. And it made me want to come today with a message about how Jesus came to make sure that we have life and have it abundantly, and I was thinking about just how great life is and so I was really ready to put together this super great and happy message for all of us to share.

And Tuesday was anther fun day in most ways. We hopped on the bus for that conference meet in Ellendale, and except for the porta-potties and the non computer way of doing results, it was pretty good, but the ride was long and it got fairly late and we read some of the news events of the day, and that wonderful happy cheer was starting to fade a bit. Then Wednesday there was Bible study, which was good and nearly brought me back to sanity, but later after practice James and I quick ran to Bismarck and picked up the iPads that he was supposed to buy for the team, and we ended up getting two and seeing Jess, Tony and Lily and it was good, but we got home late and we were tired and things were getting a little testier. Then Thursday there was another track meet in Underwood and we had a couple of qualifying events including a girls’ relay and we were so happy, ….but we bought two iPads and there are 3 coaches and though it is true and I said, I can’t time and record at the same time, so I don’t want one, when we got home and I was extra tired and wanted to stay up to do statistics, but I was too tired and instead I turned on the news and learned some more about what is going on in the world that I can’t change, and then I realized that I never got to record anything on that iPad let alone even touch it or look at what was on it and, well….happy was flying right out the window….

I didn’t intend to go into a boring rendition of my week, but the point is that while I was thinking about talking about this great abundant life, I knew that I could never do it with that sweet and sticky oo/aa sort of voice of sheer happiness that I suspect to be fake anyway, and my tiredness kicked in and the crabbiness took over and I wondered how on earth I could have even considered speaking about it in the first place.

And then on Friday morning as I tried to get myself back into the focus of the scriptures, I took a time out to read some of the skipped pages of The Upper Room and there I found the words from Wednesday, the verse in Isaiah 60:20, “Your sun shall no more go down, or your moon withdraw itself, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended.” And the comment near the end of the page said, God is the wind at your back, not the rain in your face.” During the storms God is there helping you through, not making it harder.

So, as I read the scripture passages again for this week it occurred to me that in the past few years, passages like this would make me focus on the life that God gives to us when we leave this earth. The message was always centered around the idea of eternity, the happiness of the life to come, the reuniting with those who have gone on before, but not a lot of hope for the here and the now. And the truth is that every morning when we wake up, we are all one day closer to the day when we find eternity and meet Christ. That thought used to really depress me. I remember thinking about that so often when I was visiting my mother, and I knew that she wouldn’t always be with me. Our mortality is a fact we carry with us every day, but that is not what Jesus wants us to focus on.

On Friday morning, as I looked at those words that Jesus left us I saw more clearly than ever that our focus needs to be more about this life, this wonderful—joyous life that God has given us to live, this great opportunity to be about the business of living and sharing and spreading the message of the love that Jesus has for all of us perhaps not quite like the apostles did in the lessons we read in Acts and I Peter, but sharing none the less.

Those passages tell us the stories of the disciples in the days after Jesus has ascended into heaven. The faithful worked together sharing their possessions, their treasures, their means so that they could spread the gospel the good news, so that everyone around them could learn about Jesus and the life that he wanted for all of us. He wanted/he wants us to have a life of happiness and goodness and days free of sorrow and strife, and I believe that, but sometimes when you look at the world around us and some of the antics of those in charge you wonder. I get one tangent and I promise I won’t go too far, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if our elected officials or those in power (even at the levels of the city or county or state and some school) would adopt the idea that their purpose was to make sure that every one of their constituents would be able to have life and have it abundantly. Wouldn’t it be nice if their bottom line wasn’t to advance their own agenda? Just saying!

The other thing I found on Friday morning was Jeremiah 29:11. “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord.” And it hit me, that even as I was going through this goofy, overtired week, and I was taking too many things to heart, God hit me on the head with a simple verse in a devotional booklet, “I know the plans I have for you.” Even when we can’t seem to understand where the happy is going to come from because everything around us seems to be falling apart or there is something holding us down or holding us back, God comes to us and says, “I know the plans I have for you. I am the good shepherd, and I came so that you could have life and have it abundantly.”

Were those words there accidentally? Did I read something into them because I wanted to see something? Maybe, or maybe it is the workings of the Holy Spirit. In our denomination, we are not such good spirit believers, though there are some who acknowledge it more than others. I think our Bible study group has an openness to it. I was amazed at the discussion we had on Monday at the Committee on Ministry meeting. It started when we were talking about renewal classes and we 4 licensed women said we haven’t all done any formal training this year, but we have been fairly diligent in our own devotional and Bible study. In fact the more we as licensed ministers shared, the more we saw reaction from the members of the committee, and one of the long seasoned clergy even made the comment that perhaps it might be time to begin a more faithful time of devotions.

I really and truly believe that as we take the time to spend time with God in any number of ways, as we do that, we open ourselves to the workings of the spirit inside of us and when we do that, we begin to recognize the awe and the wonder of this life we have been give. It isn’t always going to be easy, it isn’t always going to be perfect or trouble free, but when we accept Christ who came to earth so that we could have not just life, but life abundantly and when we walk with the God who really only wants good for us, we will enjoy that wind on our back even if the rain is hitting us in the face, and we will know the true joy of a life that is filled with the Holy Spirit guiding us through all things, even hot coals on occasion. Go today, and this week with the confidence that whatever comes your way, you can get through it because God loves you and wants you to enjoy this life.  Amen!

Earth Sunday: a week late

Scriptures used: John 10:11-18, Acts 4:5-12, and I John 3:16-24. Title: “We Honor Our Earth.”

We started by watching a power point. If I cannot get that into the post, I will drop in a few of the pictures that I used. Earth Sunday

Let me just start by saying the thought of celebrating a worship service as Earth Sunday sounded a whole lot more fun a few days ago when the sun was shining, the birds were singing, the wind was calm, and the grass was beginning to green up following a bit of moisture. Looking out on a cold grey day like we had yesterday, or fighting against the wind to even get the door open to get inside or outside as we have been many days this spring, doesn’t make for a very Earth friendly attitude, at least it doesn’t for me.

On the other hand had it not been for the fact that I had already done up the bulletin on Wednesday, and Ronda and I had picked songs early, I would likely have ditched the whole idea. About Wednesday night, or Thursday, I was cruising around on the internet when I came across an Earth Day quiz, to find your carbon footprint. I was feeling pretty good and smug about my answers until I came to the parts about electricity and transportation.

The electricity part pretty much upset me because it only asked for the square footage of your house and the age of your appliances and not about if you leave all the lights on all the time, or if you unplug unnecessary items and what temperature you are willing to tolerate to use less fuel.

And the transportation, well how many miles do you travel per day and why don’t you take public transportation like a bus or a train. Well let’s just say I won’t use the words here that that subject makes me think of. I would love to get into a bus and let someone else drive. I would be happy to hop a train, but the tracks that used to go right past my house (you saw the bridge on the power point earlier) have been removed because of no more train. Living where we do, we don’t have those options, but that is a story for, well not for here.

I began getting the picture that celebrating an Earth Day as presented by current activists might be just plain annoying for most of us. And yet celebrating an [an meaning one] Earth Day with some real meaning to those of us in a basically rural community might just seem silly. Seriously, I have the feeling that for anyone involved with agriculture whether it is as a full-blown land owning farmer or like me an avid gardener or even someone who likes a neat yard, everyday is Earth Day.

Of course to some teachers or school children, Earth Day might mean taking a day to clean up the community. I believe I saw a bit of that going on along the road as we were traveling on one of those days last week. I remember doing some community cleaning when I was in high school, and certainly it was on the calendar for the student body when I was a teacher in Pollock. The day was organized and led by one of the elementary teachers, and if you weren’t there in full gear with boots and gloves and an attitude of ready to work, you better know she was going to give you a what for. I mostly tried to lay low and stay out of her way until all of the major jobs were handed out.

So what about Earth Day is important enough for us to mention it on a Sunday morning let alone celebrate it as an entire service? The first celebration of it happened 45 years ago back in 1970. The idea of its founding is mostly attributed to Gaylord Nelson a former Senator and Governor of Wisc., who passed away a few years ago. The idea came about after a massive oil spill in California and was a reaction to air and land and water pollution as well as endangered animals. Now if that is where the movement had stayed, I am pretty sure we could all join in as pretty vocal protestors. And for our part today, that is where I plan to hold our discussion.

If you think about it, I am not sure anyone in this sanctuary would be against clean streets, clean water and clean air. How many of us can think of someone in our neighborhood whose yard isn’t quite as neat as we would keep it. Driving down the highway how many times have we seen litter that is unsightly? We might think of it as looking bad, but there is also the damage it does to wildlife or depending what the litter is there may even be toxic effects of having it out in the open.

In our rural area ditches are not always left for the county or state to mow. Ditches are left for the farmers to put up for hay. I am guessing that no one wants to have ripped up cans or plastic bottles or soiled diapers in the middle of a bale of hay that is fed to the cattle or even if it is used for bedding. I know that mostly the animals won’t try to eat any of those things, but I can’t imagine that any producer would want to deal with that garbage if they didn’t have to. At the least it is a nuisance and it just looks bad.

I suppose as a descendant of a very particular German-Russian great-grandfather I notice the land pollution the most because it seems to be the most obvious. My mother said her grandfather was such a stickler for a neat farm yard that on some nights, he would make himself a twig broom and sweep the yard so that it was all smoothed out and looked nice. I can’t say that happens in our yard, but I have been known to rake the pea rock out of the grass that gets there after a winter of snow blowing.

The focus of Earth Day this year was a bit off the simple neat yards and streets and air and water pollution. As you can probably tell, some of the major issues are all around the climate and how things are changing. I really am not interested in a political or otherwise debate on the issue. I did take the time to look into what direction our church and some of its ecumenical partners are saying in terms of Earth Day, and I found an interesting piece. Some of the focus has shifted from the issues of the climate to sources of food and issues around food.

There is a resource set, a curriculum of sorts that is available on food and how to make sure there is enough. It is titled, “Have you anything here to eat?”  Sustainable Food in a Changing Climate.” I see the changing climate in the title, but from what I could see the focus was on the food and having enough, but not too much. It showed a food pyramid and talked about how do you handle or what do we do with the excess food. It went in an order sort of like: 1. Don’t create an excess, 2. give away the extra sort of like the Mobile Food Pantry, 3. feed the animals, we always gave scraps to the pigs though I am not sure how legal some of that is in terms of safe food, 4. Compost which is much easier for people in a rural area and finally 5. dispose of properly by incinerating the leftovers.

As I looked into it briefly, it seems to be in line with ways many of us were raised regarding food. I hope I have my math down correctly, as a generation raised by the people who survived the Great Depression here on the prairies where the price of sending your pigs to slaughter cost more than you received in payment for them, and where winds and heat dried up every chance at a crop year upon year with no hope of producing anything, we have an idea of the importance of being careful, (Shporing: German-Russian word for saving)

Yet we have to admit there are times we forget. There are times we may celebrate in excess. I am the guiltiest of all. If we are having a family gathering or a celebration of some kind, I can never cook or pull together food that will just last. I am always of the mindset that unless there are two full pots or brimming bowls left over, there isn’t enough. I have this constant fretting that someone will go away hungry. And in my house we often look at each other and say, “Does anyone here look like they aren’t getting enough to eat?” I don’t think that is the case.

In looking at the concept of food in terms of “Have you anything here to eat.” I began to realize the issue is that same old thing that parents say to children who waste food. You know the “Eat what is on your plate, you know there are starving children in (you fill in the blank) who would love to have that food.” Then today’s child says, “Fine send it to them.” The concept is the supply and demand theory. Remember I said theory, and politics and greed aside; if we demand less there will be a better chance of supply being available to those who don’t have any.

The second part of the pyramid, the part about sharing your food, your resources with those who have none, seems to me to be in line with what the scriptures tell us today. In the passage in John, Jesus talks of being the good shepherd. The good shepherd loves his sheep so much he would die for them. Jesus sets that example for us, and certainly sharing our food would not be too much to ask of us, when our spiritual leader is willing to die so that we can live.

Also in Acts, we see John and Peter being brought before the authorities for what reason, for healing a crippled man? Perhaps it is more for doing the work of Jesus after he is gone, for preaching the gospel and disrupting the status quo. Perhaps cleaning some ditches and sharing some food and speaking up for a cleaner world might be seen by some as going against the status quo, but how do you think God really wants us to treat this world? To what accounting will we be held when our time here is done? Did we do all that we could to keep God’s world from falling apart, or becoming unlivable for the fourth and fifth generation after us? Did we leave any food for our neighbors, or did we use it all because we were afraid that there wouldn’t be any leftovers after the holiday meal?

No we don’t believe that the path to heaven is about good works and good deeds and random acts of kindness, but…yes but, when we believe, and we accept the grace that is free to us, we are expected to be the good and faithful servant that not only witnesses, but sets an example in God’s world. Let’s think about that world this week as we go about our daily business. Amen!

Mother’s Day sermon.

The following message was given on Sunday, May 11 at St. Paul’s UCC in Eureka. Scripture used were John 10:1-10, I Peter 2:19-25, and Acts 2:42-47

Mother’s Day

Many of you may already know that, I grew up on a farm in the area. It is about 11 miles north and west of here as the crow flies. My father operated it as, according to the Haak definition of a farm, as an “Old MacDonald” farm, meaning he had and did a little of everything. He was mainly a small grain farmer, but also put up hay and silage and raised animals. Here is where the Old MacDonald term comes in. We had every sort of farm animals on our farm except goats and, well I guess as some sheep ranchers might have, there were no lamas either.

My parents raised cattle, pigs, sheep, chickens and a few ducks and geese every so often. We even had some horses, but they were not used for anything useful. We just had them. My mother loved this time of year. It was when the new crop was born, and though my father much preferred dealing with a sow and her litter, building one type of crate after another to keep the piglets safe, my mother and I loved walking through the pastures in the yard and checking out the new baby calves and lambs.

It seems there was nothing more exciting for us in the growing up years than when we got to have a bottle lamb. Those were few and far between because my parents believed that animal mothers do a better job than human children, but oh how fun it was to try to hold that bottle and not let that lamb head bump your side while you figured out what was the least sloppy way to get that milk into the lamb. They were cute and cuddly, but demanding and smelly and at the same time, and they were my favorite animal on the farm because I knew we raised them for the wool and not for slaughter. At least I believed that to be true.

My parents weren’t always sheep owners. I think the last of the sheep happened the year that my father left a small hay stack in their area one day too long. They kept eating around it and around it, and one afternoon when we returned home from a trip to town, the stack had collapsed and the flock appeared much smaller than normal. My parents dug frantically to save what they could of the sheep buried under the pile, but many either suffocated or had their necks broken, and sadly among the dead was my little black-faced pet, Lamby.

See sheep are not the smartest animal on a farm. They are easily led one way or another. They play follow the leader automatically and intensely. On the positive side of this is the fact that if the sheep get out of the pen all you have to do is find a leader and get that one going in the right direction, and the rest pretty much follow along. Pigs don’t do that. We always joked that my brother got his running ability because it was his job to chase the pigs back into their pens when he was a youngster, and I mean from about age five on.

Sheep though, go astray as easily as they are led back to their shelter. And the other part that my parents struggled with is the idea that when a sheep is sick and lays down, it is nearly impossible to get them well and back on their feet again. Of course my stories are over 40 years old, so I am sure veterinary medicine has advanced considerably since then, but I do believe sheep are still good followers, which might explain why the metaphor in scripture is always sheep.

Jesus is the Shepherd, and we are the sheep. We could chalk this symbol up to the fact that sheep were the animals most raised in Biblical times, or it might just be that we are most like sheep. I don’t have that answer today. Perhaps when I start looking into classes, I will find something to give me those sorts of answers. I have to wonder, is sheep the metaphor because we are led as easily as a flock of sheep? I have no answer now, but tuck that thought away for a bit.

John tells us that Jesus said he was the Good Shepherd, and we are his flock. We are the sheep of his charge, and he cares for us the way a shepherd takes care of his sheep. He looks for us when we are lost and he digs us out from under whatever falls on us as quickly as he finds us. We are his to watch over and nurture and protect.

It occurred to me as I was thinking about Jesus as the Shepherd and us as the sheep that a good shepherd takes care of his flock much like a good mother looks after her children. A mother is more than the person who gives birth to you. I would prefer to say that a mother is the one who gives you your life. And mothers have been doing that from the beginning of creation. A good mother also provides for a child not just in terms of food and clothing and shelter, but in terms of nurturing with love and affection and comfort, and perhaps most importantly by giving them the skills to grow up and learn to stand on their own.

I know in many ways that was the most important thing I learned from my mother was how to be myself. She did that by example far more than by telling me anything. In fact my sisters and I loved how our mother would tell us to be good wives by keeping a well-organized home, doing such things as cleaning and cooking and laundry, while she took jobs outside of the house in such jobs as: clerking and accounting at livestock barns, managing roofing and insulating crews and later owning her own business. We learned by watching not by listening.

At this point I took a bit of a side track and don’t remember it exactly, but I described how the livestock barns were not set up to be a straight walk or fancy stairs from the audience area to the area where the workers such as the auctioneer and the clerk and the person weighing the cattle sit to conduct the sale. No, they have to climb over the rails, walk through the ring full of animal droppings then finally get to their desks. My mother did this each week even the Friday before giving birth to my youngest sister on Saturday morning. We really learned by example, not by listening.

A good mother also teaches her family the Christian values that they need to get themselves through the darkest hours. And here is what I mean by saying that Jesus as a Shepherd is like a good mother. Today’s scripture lectionary also includes Psalm 23, and that is why we read it as the Call to Worship. All the things that this Psalm says about how the Lord leads us, relate to how a mother cares for a child by giving him or her comfort and protection in tough times.

Today people all over our country are celebrating Mother’s Day. I found some historical information on this holiday, and I would like to share it with you. I found this article on (national geographic.com). It was written by Brian Handwerk and Updated May 8, 2014. I don’t understand how to do links, so if you want to read the whole thing search the site with Mother’s Day and the author and you get right to it. This is what a little of the beginning says:

The holiday has more somber roots: It was founded for mourning women to remember fallen soldiers and work for peace. And when the holiday went commercial, its greatest champion, Anna Jarvis, gave everything to fight it, dying penniless and broken in a sanitarium.

It all started in the 1850s, when West Virginia women’s organizer Ann Reeves Jarvis—Anna’s mother—held Mother’s Day work clubs to improve sanitary conditions and try to lower infant mortality by fighting disease and curbing milk contamination, according to historian Katharine Antolini of West Virginia Wesleyan College. The groups also tended wounded soldiers from both sides during the U.S. Civil War from 1861 to 1865.

In the postwar years Jarvis and other women organized Mother’s Friendship Day picnics and other events as pacifist strategies to unite former foes. Julia Ward Howe, for one—best known as the composer of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”—issued a widely read “Mother’s Day Proclamation” in 1870, calling for women to take an active political role in promoting peace.

Around the same time, Jarvis had initiated a Mother’s Friendship Day for Union and Confederate loyalists across her state. But it was her daughter Anna who was most responsible for what we call Mother’s Day—and who would spend most of her later life fighting what it had become. [Meaning the commercialization of the day.] She wanted it to be “Mother’s Day,” Not “Mothers’ Day”

Anna Jarvis never had children of her own, but the 1905 death of her own mother inspired her to organize the first Mother’s Day observances in 1908.  The article goes on to say that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson officially set aside the second Sunday in May in 1914 for the holiday.

“For Jarvis it was a day where you’d go home to spend time with your mother and thank her for all that she did,” West Virginia Wesleyan’s Antolini, who wrote “Memorializing Motherhood: Anna Jarvis and the Defense of Her Mother’s Day” as her Ph.D. dissertation, said in an interview.

“It wasn’t to celebrate all mothers. It was to celebrate the best mother you’ve ever known—your mother—as a son or a daughter.” That’s why Jarvis stressed the singular “Mother’s Day,” rather than the plural “Mothers’ Day,” Antolini explained.

Here I want to thank the author Brian H for a great and interesting article and hopefully he understands I am not trying to steal, just promote his writing.

Wow! Isn’t it interesting how some events can be basically side-swiped and turned into a completely different thing than what you plan it to be? I knew before I checked into it that Mother’s Day wasn’t a church holiday, though we observe it on a Sunday. But I never knew it was started so many years before it was officially declared a holiday, or that it was part of a movement to help our country come back together after the long and hard struggle of the Civil War. I did know, though, that it was about honoring your own mother, not mothers in general. And I hope that is what we are able to do today whether they are with us in the pews or if they have gone on ahead to be with their own mother.

Perhaps it is hard for some of us to think of Jesus the Shepherd in terms of a mother figure. Those of us with some old-fashioned or traditional values only want to think of God as the Father, yet everywhere we look in the scriptures we see the compassion and the nurturing and the caring that our culture attributes to a mother’s love. Maybe it isn’t so much what we hear as what we see in the example put before us. Now as we close today, I would like to share a little story I found recently in a book I received from one of my daughters several years ago. Though it is not Exactly what I might say to my own three daughters, it is a pretty close fit.

At this point I read a great excerpt from Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul. It was written as if a mother was talking to her three children and kept saying she loved each one best. It was a great humorous piece to take away the somber, but it was also quite true to realize that as a mother you do love each one best and each one just as dearly as you love all of them. I guess that is how God loves us. For me it was nice to have the opening to talk about God as our mother and not just our father. God is everything to us at all times. I guess that is what omnipotence is all about. Hope you enjoyed even though it is so very long.

 

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