Message Aug. 13, 2017

The picture I am sharing with our message doesn’t really go with the message, it is just a picture of our church as we are having the doors repainted. The one to the left is with the openings boarded shut while the doors are being painted. The one to the right is the men after church working together to put the finished doors back in place. The ones boarded up sort of make the statement of locking people out of the building.

The scriptures used today were: Romans 10:5-15 and Matthew 14:22-33. The title was, “Depending on Christ.”

I have always enjoyed reading, and somehow, I never ever liked to read just a single book, I always wanted it to be a series that keeps going. When I was a young girl some of my favorite books were the Nancy Drew Mystery books. Lately I have been too lazy to read, but instead I enjoy watching the television mystery movies, you know the ones on the Hallmark Movie and Mystery Channel. Well at least I used to like them. The past month or so, I can’t seem to watch them start to finish because they scare me. I just don’t like the anticipation of when the killer is going to grab the one trying to solve the case. I know that in these shows the main character is not going to die, because that would end the series, but it scares me anyway.

And after watching them long enough, I hear things and get spooked. Some of you know me well enough to realize that I am sort of a spook anyway so I don’t really need any help with that. But I just do not need any more nights like the one last week when I was sure I heard something walking around on the porch outside my bedroom. If there was something out there, and I am pretty sure I found the proof of cat spray on the upper deck Thursday. Seriously nothing bigger than a cat is going to get up there without the one sitting in the chair downstairs noticing anyway.

So, the point is that we all have things that scare us. Anyone of us in this building can likely come up with a list of time in their lives when they were frightened, and probably a list of things that scared them. I tried to think of a chronological list of things that have scared me over the year, and this is what I have today. As a young girl on the farm, I was scared to go to the basement to get the ice cream. When I had to go there, I would make sure that my back was always to the wall so that no one could be looking in the windows without me seeing them or so that no one could come out of the cellar and grab me. I either had a great imagination or read too much. Of course some of that might have come from older relatives who were really good at driving fear into all of us.

So, maybe as we get older, we are no longer afraid of the dark or the proverbial “Boogie Man,” but our fears do not necessarily go away. They change. Starting school for some children brings on separation fear from being away from their home and family. Of course school itself can be a scary place, especially when you have a test and are not sure if what you studied was the right information, I think I had more of those issues the older I got. Or what about when you join an athletic team or worse yet, when you coach one? Will the game plan you practiced be the right one for this particular opponent? That fear might explain why I prefer track over team sports. And there are the other things like fear of fitting in with your classmates or others in the school and on and on.

As we grow into adulthood, take jobs and leave home to start families of our own, fears change to include thoughts of job performance, co-worker acceptance, how you are treated by the boss. And then there are children and how we spend our time fearful of all the things that can happen to them: illness, accidents, peer pressure, and the list goes on. My oldest daughters love to tell the story of how I always scared them into staying in the yard when we lived a few miles out of Jamestown. We lived on a gravel road just off Highway 281, that goes from Jamestown to Aberdeen. They always wanted to drive their bikes to the stop sign. I forbid them from doing that alone; first off some of the drivers on our road were pretty speedy and might have hit them. The other issue was that it was a major highway, and it was fairly close to the time when the Wettering boy was abducted in Minnesota.

The older I get, the better I understand the why of some of my fears, and many of them are not so scary anymore. But, I don’t think I will ever get over the depression era mind-set and the fear that goes with it that I learned growing up as the oldest grandchild, sitting around the evening coffee table with my grandmother and her sisters and though the talk might have been about other things, the underlying theme of finances, and getting by, and how to make do with what you have, was always there. We have gardens today because we like the taste of fresh produce and the knowledge of how it has been raised. They had gardens to make sure there would be something to eat. That was a completely different mindset and the knowledge of that puts a different sort of fear into the back of one’s mind, and it hangs with you.

With all of that in mind, I want to tell you that I found out this week that because of my fears, my chances of living to a fairly old age are pretty strong. I was on one of those internet news feeds and read a headline that said, “A telltale trait of a long life” I had to tap in and find out and what it was…ironically it is worrying. People who worry who have anxiety about things are likely to live longer than those who don’t really care. To me it sounds odd; wouldn’t worriers be more likely to develop medical issues? Apparently that wasn’t an issue. I read on to see if people who worry are less likely to take stupid chances so then have fewer accidents. Actually the article didn’t really confirm or deny that thought, and it really didn’t have a good reason why it is true, but for some reason of all the people they surveyed in that study, the worriers lived longer.

Maybe the disciples would have liked to hear about that survey, and then they could have come back to Jesus with a good reason for their concerns. They could have at least said their fear, their worry, was keeping them alive longer. Because, as you can see from today’s gospel lesson, they sure knew how to worry and fret.

Our story today picks up right after the feeding of the 5,000 and the disciples have gone out in the boat while Jesus went up the hill to be alone and pray. While they are on the boat, the wind picks up and there is a rough storm. As we read this, some of you might have thought of the other time when the disciples were out on the water during a storm. In that other story, Jesus was sleeping at one end of the boat while the storm is going on. If you remember that story, the disciples were getting pretty frantic and when they couldn’t handle the boat alone, they finally went to Jesus and woke him, and he stood up and told the wind to stop and the waves to quit and it they obeyed him and it was all still. If we read this right, that story, that other story with Jesus in the boat with them that happened first. It already happened. The disciples have already experience what Jesus can do when he is in the boat with them. They know his power, but they also know that this time they are alone. He isn’t here with them on this trip, and it is bad, and they don’t know what to do.

Oh but look up and who is coming towards them, walking across the water?  It is Jesus. Here while they are again frantic about the wind and the waves and they are alone, and by the way, it is dark. They look out across the sea, and good grief here comes a figure walking towards them. OK I am not sure about you, but I am not really that far away from the little girl who turned her back to the wall while she carried the ice cream up the steps. I am not sure how I would react to seeing someone or something walking across the water towards that boat. Yet as fearful as they might be, they recognize Jesus and Peter asks to walk with him, and for a bit he does, and pretty soon they are both in the boat, and the storm stops.

Do you get what happens? We read it here as a historical event, as a thing that happened. Jesus walked towards them, across the stormy sea and when he gets into the boat, the storm quits. Now let’s look at this in the metaphor it is for us today, and for the disciples in their day, but mostly for us now.

When Jesus gets into the boat, the storm stops.

This is what our message today is all about. Our title today might say “Depending on Christ” and that is all well and good, but the bottom line, the thing we need to take away with us is this: When Jesus gets into the boat with us, the storm stops.

I know it is not always that simple, but you know what? It really is that simple. It really is. Maybe the person we care about is still sick, or the problems of our life are still there, but when we invite Jesus into our boat, and we let him be the number one in the boat, in our lives, then the storms do stop. The problems of life are still there, but somehow the way we accept them and tolerate them is different, and that is what we need to understand from this story. If we get nothing else today, let’s go from here with the understanding that we won’t go sailing until we invite Christ into the boat. Amen!!

Message on Sunday, Aug. 6, 2017

Here is the message the people heard today, well at least this is the script of what was out there for today. I may just have gone off script a few times today, but that is how it goes and I am not going to try to replicate the real words here. This is what was intended and this is what you get in print. The scriptures used were: Isaiah 55:1-5, Romans 9:1-5 and Matthew 14:13-21. The title was, “God’s food.”

This weekend was the big city-wide rummage sale in Herreid. As we were getting items ready, which involved dragging boxes of mostly clothing out of nooks and crannies and sorting them then washing, hanging on the line and folding up everything that was deemed sellable, I finally looked at James and asked, “Why do people have children?” You might think this question has nothing to do with a rummage sale, but for me it is a central issue. At that point of the week, I came to realize that I have saved almost every item of clothing that my children ever owned. Seriously, if it didn’t wear out it is probably some place in my house, and let’s not even talk about their toys. I am not quite that far yet. It is no wonder there isn’t any room to live in our house!

Probably one of the most revealing things about me is something I remembered as I was going through the boxes and sorting and trying to figure out how I got to this hoarding life-style. I remembered back to a day when we still lived on the farm and I was some place in that older childhood, pre-teenage existence. It was a day when my mother was “cleaning house.” I remember having to take a box out to the burn barrel and seeing several of my dolls on the ground beside it about to be burned up. Now I did not see that dolls for the broken, hair cut, unclothed used up toys that they were. I only saw the beautiful gift they had once been.

That day, I wanted so badly to pick them up and take them back into the house and hold them and fix them, but there was nothing I could do, there was no undoing the damage that was done, and they were gone. Mostly I try not to think about those sort of days, but sometimes, like on Thursday when I was cranky from being over tired from doing something you I don’t really enjoy and probably would not have to do in the first place if I had just gotten rid of things when I should have, then maybe those memories would not rise to the top of the play list and I would not feel all those old emotions.

Yet for me as I considered those emotions and pondered the message that we were about to consider for this week, I tried to imagine what Jesus must have felt like in the story that we are dealing with today. The opening line of that story seems to me to be the key for today’s message those words of verse 13: “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place.” Hold that thought—that emotion for a bit.

The gospel lesson for today has to be one of the top 10 most recognized Bible stories. It is in all four gospels, and I can remember back to teaching Sunday School that even at the youngest levels there were lessons about the little boy who offered his loaves and the fishes to the disciples who then gave them to Jesus who multiplied them in such quantity that all were fed and there was plenty left over.

I don’t know exactly how many times I have done a message on this text in the past, but I know we have talked about it here, and I remember speaking on it in both Jamestown and Mobridge. If we look at it alone, just in terms of the story of the miracle of feeding so many people, 5,000 not counting women and children according to Matthew, with only two loaves and five fish it is an amazing story of the divinity of Christ. And that is a wonderful story. It is a great message, but after hearing that often enough and speaking that often enough, we have to ask if there is more to the meaning of this lesson. We have to ask if there could possibly be something else in this scripture besides this historical account of what Jesus did in that remote area on that day when all those people came hungry for the words of Jesus and then were satisfied with the food that God provided in that remote area? Are you starting to get ahead of me a little? I hope so.

Well, of course there is more to the story. All we have to do to find out the more is look back a few verses to see what was going on before this story. The opening verse of today, Vs. 13 when it says “when Jesus heard this…” the word this refers to the death of John the Baptist. It was after Jesus learned of his death: the prophet who pointed the way of his coming, the man who baptized him, the one that was chosen in the womb to proclaim “repent for the time of God is at hand” when Jesus learned of John’s death, he took some time to go away to a deserted place presumably in hopes of being on his own.

In our lectionary cycle for this year, we don’t read that story of John’s death, yet if we listen to those words from Matthew 13, it is a big part of what was going on with Jesus. It is such a big deal that he leaves the city for a remote area to be alone with his closest disciples. But he can’t get away because the crowds follow him. They just can’t get enough of him. These crowds of ordinary, everyday people, people like you and me were hungering and thirsting for more lessons from the young itinerant religious leader who seemed to have something new, something amazing, something that would fill them to the brim with knowledge about God and God’s kingdom that no one else had ever shared with them, and they just couldn’t get enough.

And I wonder how much different are we than the people of Jesus’ time? Think about this, we, too, look for leadership in the times of our state and national elections. We long for someone to rise up locally and help our communities grow in amazing ways. We want someone to come to where we are and tell us which direction to go, to lead us into something new and fulfilling and yes maybe profiting, but mostly exciting and satisfying. Yes, we too are hungering and thirsting for something good, something new, something wonderful to follow, and for some of us the new is right in front of us, right in our pews in our hands when we open the words that God—that Christ left for us. We just need to listen to it, maybe in new ways.

Jesus didn’t send the people away when they followed him to the deserted place. He understood their need for his word and he took the time to talk to them, and to heal their sick. When it was late and time to eat, he didn’t tell the disciples to send them off to find their own food, he saw the need and he filled it. He had compassion on the crowd, he realized their need, and he fulfilled it. That might be all we need to know about the love of Christ.

If we look at the words from Isaiah and the opening line says: come to the waters…come buy and eat. It feels to me like those words are being spoken by Christ directly to us. Come buy wine and milk without money and without price…Listen carefully to me and eat what is good food. I know that I am only picking certain lines from the passage, but essentially these are the words from Christ to us… He is calling us to come and be fed, come and be satisfied with his teachings and his love.

Everyone who thirsts, we are all thirsty for the love and the teaching, for the healing and the compassion of Christ. Imagine where we would be if Christ just took his sad emotions and went to the deserted place and stayed alone. Christ didn’t come to earth for that. Christ came to have compassion on the crowds, on all of the crowds, those of his day and those of us right here today. Christ didn’t look at the situation in front of him with no idea where to turn like that sad 10 year old who was standing beside the burn barrel wondering how to reconcile the idea of knowing her dolls were being burned.

Fortunately for us all, Christ looked at this world created by God and corrupted by sin and he said, “Yes I will, pick me, and I will do what is needed to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to be reconciled to God.” With that as our example, I don’t know how we can do anything less than have compassion on the crowds of humanity who are hungering and thirsting to hear God’s word and feel Christ’s love. Let’s be sure we take the time to share what we know about that with those around us this week and in all weeks to come. Amen

Message July 30

The scriptures were: Romans 8:26-39 and Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52. It was another week of parables about planting, so my title was, “Another Sowing Parable.”

Before we get started, I need to apologize for failing to tell you last Sunday that I was planning to be out of town all week. I went with James, this year, to the coaches’ clinic in Bismarck. There was a session on a new piece of technology and he wanted me there to get the information on it. It was good, and there were lots of interesting sessions, but I hope that I will not have to go away overnight again this summer. I am good with staying home and getting things done around here and around home.

Our sessions included information about coaching ethics and philosophy and not just specific techniques, which was interesting for a change. One of our final presenters, a coach from Billings, MT, who did three of the four last hours, gave us his dilemma of walking into a team with absolutely no discipline. It seemed that for many years prior to his coming to West Billings High School, no one cared about the track team, as in no one—not administration, not parents and especially not students or even the track athletes.

After he took the job, he found out that they really were at the bottom of the proverbial sports’ totem pole in their school. The first thing he learned was that they didn’t have a budget, so no equipment purchases and don’t think about purchasing any other sort of things like meals for the meets. He fixed that with a fund raiser. On one of the first bus rides to a meet one of the athletes asked who would be next year’s coach. It was then he learned that before him no one coached there for more than one year, and because of it the athletes did whatever they wanted. In fact, everyone kept telling him not to get worked up because it was “just track.” I don’t think the schools of Eureka or Herreid would understand that idea. We have never been like that.

His point was that discipline and expectations are very important to building a program that will be successful, and then that success carries itself. He decided early on in his time there that he wasn’t going to be there for only one year, and that he wanted to build something that the student athletes were going to buy into and something they would work as hard at as he would.

He was asked to speak at the clinic because he has had a team win the Montana State AA title for 7 of the 12 years that he has been there. And on the other years, they were pretty much second or third. I forgot to write down how many times they have been 2nd or 3rd.

I think his belief that children need discipline and need to buy into a program has done wonders for their teams. Lately, the more news I watch and the more I pay attention to certain local politics, the more I realize how important discipline and following some sort of rules would be good for all of us. Enough said on that.

The reading that we had in Romans today, at least the ending part, might seem familiar to us. I am sort of hoping that it becomes less and less familiar to us, but … Those words are found in our bulletins when we have a funeral. The last verses of Romans 8 are the final part of that affirmation of faith that we read together following our funeral messages, before the final song and benediction. As a public affirmation, we read these words and if we believe, really believe what we are reading, we are telling everyone around us that we have bought into the message that Jesus brought to earth from God, which is that we are loved and accepted and wanted. We have importance. We are children of God and nothing will keep us away from his love, his acceptance, his family.

But what about the words we keep reading in the 13th chapter of Matthew? What about those parables about sowing and plants growing and good seed and bad seed? What about that idea that on the last day, the weeds will be torn from the good grain and sent to the fire to be burned. One of the commentaries that I read last week said that was a much easier concept for the people of our frontier to grasp than it is for us. If any of you have read the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder, you might remember the book called, The Long Winter. In it we read how they were out of fuel in the middle of that winter during a horrible blizzard, and they went to the barn and kept twisting hay and putting it into the wood burning stove to keep themselves from freezing. Having some extra weeds around to burn would have been a great luxury in those days.

So who are these weeds and who are these seeds that grow up to be the good crop? How does this difference happen? In today’s gospel lesson the parable is about a useless seed, a little tiny mustard seed that in the days of Jesus had no purpose, yet it grows up to be something of great importance that houses many of the birds of the air. It seems to be telling us that even what we think is nothing can become something. It seems to be saying that the least of these are important. Could it be telling us that we too are important? Could it be saying that even if we feel mostly inadequate, we are somebody in the eyes of God? Maybe we are supposed to connect them to other Bible stories of how the last will become first and the first will become last? Perhaps that is something for us to study in our age of importance and entitlement.

But what about the rest of the parables, those little incidental phrases near the end of this passage? The themes of those seem to be that the kingdom of heaven is a treasure that is worth more than anything else we could ever have or ever want. Jesus is telling us that no matter what we have or want to have on this earth, nothing can ever compare to what we can have in the kingdom of heaven, in God’s kingdom. And the underlying message of that is sort of the opposite, the converse. It is the idea that we should strive for what we gain in the kingdom of heaven, not what we gain in this kingdom. In other words, what we do here—on this earth—should be in an effort to build up mansions in the great beyond, not mansions on this earth where things don’t last. We need to be buying into the kingdom of heaven, not the kingdom on earth. Sort of gives you a different perspective on saving for retirement. Perhaps this is a different kind of 401K.

And what about the things we talked about a few weeks ago when I said, and I saw some of you agreeing, that we need to be about more than just sitting around waiting for the day when we join the kingdom of heaven?  Yes, we do need to be about more as a congregation and as individual Christians; we need to be active in spreading the gospel and loving our neighbors and caring for the world around us, “A Just World for All” and all of that stuff, but just doing that doesn’t make or break it in terms of getting us to the kingdom of God. We can’t ‘good works’ our way in, we can’t buy our way in, we can’t sing or teach or preach our way in, we all know that.

Paul in Romans 8:38-39 says there is nothing, nothing at all that can keep us apart from the love of God. Then how is it that there still are weeds that get pulled away from the good crops and thrown into the final fire? The fact is, there is nothing outside of ourselves that can keep us from God. It is what is on the inside that determines where we go on the day of dividing. It is what we believe, where our faith lies that makes the difference for us when our time here is over. All God asks is that we believe, that we believe in him, in his Son and accept the Holy Spirit into our lives to guide us and help us through all that we face. Will we be perfect at all times, of course not, we are human. But by following the words of Jesus, who says, “we are to love God with all our heart and love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves.” If we do that then when our day comes, nothing will be able to keep us from that love that God offers us, which means on that day, that wonderful day; we will see Christ in Paradise.  And, as long as we can buy into that faith—that wonderful faith in Christ, I don’t think there is anything we can’t accomplish. Amen!

Message 4-2-17: New Life

Before I share the message that I used in our service on Sunday, I need to explain that while I was posting and thinking about other things on Saturday, April Fool’s Day, in Arizona other members of my extended family were having a very different sort of day. Later that evening, we received word that my 67-year-old uncle passed away of an apparent heart attack. I guess there will be a medical examination to determine cause of death before this is all over. I had completed the message before we got the call, and so I did make a few minor adjustments as I was speaking. For the most part what is posted below is what they heard.

One thing I wish to add, the opening song was “Jesus I Come.” As we began singing, I saw the lyrics with fresh eyes. All I could think of was someone saying those words as they were passing from this life to the next. I had not looked at that song quite like that before, and perhaps won’t ever see it any other way.

Here is what I mean:

  1. “Out of my bondage, sorrow and night, Jesus I come…In to thy freedom, gladness and light, Jesus I come to thee. Out of my sickness into thy health, out of my need and into thy wealth. Out of my sin and into thyself, Jesus I come to thee.

The other lines that start with out of include: shameful failure and loss, earth’s sorrows, life’s storms, distress, unrest and arrogant pride, despair, the fear and dread of the tomb, the depths of ruin untold. The other into’s include: joy and light of thy home, peaceful sheltering fold and jubilant psalm among others. It was hard to sing and for a time I could not, but it gave me the courage to give the message with greater conviction. Hope it makes sense to you.

The title of the message was: “New Life.” the scriptures used were: Ezekiel 37:1-14 and John 11:1-45.

For a couple of weeks we have been watching the geese fly and waiting for the waters to open. As much as geese signal spring, the sure sign for me is the sound of the cranes. It seems that when the other birds come there is still a chance of snow here or there, and some people swear by the return of the robins, but I have seen snow many times after their arrival, for me the trick is seeing the cranes come back. And even though they fly really high and sometimes there is noise around, somehow their sound always comes through, that whirly, purring sort of sound that is different from other birds. I just love hearing them. Now if I could just get lucky enough to catch some of them with the camera that would be a highlight of my spring.

As for a not highlight of my spring, that was last week. Last week I was not so sure how long it was going to take for me to feel like I would survive. Friday, I started to feel sick, Saturday I was tired and miserable, but I found some old decongestant tablets and so I had a bit of relief. Sunday was not all that bad mostly because I had to get out of bed and get here to be with you, but the afternoon and evening were all downhill. Monday when I should have been able to sleep in and get some rest, I got up and told James I would start jotting down some plans for my funeral because I wasn’t sure how long I would still be breathing. (In light of the news we had Saturday, this remark seems rather inappropriate.)

I know that I shouldn’t joke about something like that, and of course there was no reasoning with me to go to the clinic. First off I realized that when you blow your nose and the stuff coming out does not have a color there is probably no bacteria and no way to treat it beyond over the counter drugs. I also started thinking about what Jessica was told when she went to the Dr. a few weeks back. They told her to wash her hands more and drink plenty of fluids. Wash your hands more is now the standard family joke. Monday afternoon, I purchased some decongestant and life got better. Hopefully this is the worst of the springtime illnesses at our house.

So, I might have been feeling better, but when I finally opened up the calendar and saw the lectionary scriptures for today, I cringed and nearly went back into sick mode. Three years ago this was the Sunday of my installation. So as the cycle goes, we have the same scripture lessons as that day, and I really don’t want to repeat that message. I initially had a hard time figuring out where to go that would be different. And as you can see the epistle lesson isn’t even in the bulletin, so that isn’t an option.

Of course the obvious answer would be to focus on the passage from Ezekiel instead of the story about how Lazarus was raised from the dead. I like that idea even less. I don’t like the Ezekiel scriptures and it is a silly reason, but it goes back to my college days. The man who was president of the college when I attended there was somewhat fixated on Ezekiel and used it often in his writings or speeches. For some reason his presentation turned me off at the time, and after he was asked to leave the post because of financial improprieties, I liked it even less. Maybe I will grow out of this down the line, but for now I am not there yet.

So here we are again with the story of the death of Lazarus and how his sisters Mary and Martha and their friends were grieving this tragic event. But today I don’t want to talk about the historical facts of that death and I especially don’t want to talk about the grief (yet ironically my family and I are grieving yet again this weekend) or even how amazing it was that Jesus was able to raise his friend who was in the grave for four whole days. Today I would rather look at this a new way. I would like to look at this in terms of what it means for us. If Jesus was able to raise Lazarus whose body should have smelled from decomposition, what can he do for us, who are still here very much alive in a physical sense?

Today I don’t want to think about all that stuff about Jesus talking to the sister and looking at the closed tomb and then actually grieving—crying real tears himself. No, today I want us to think about how Jesus looked at the tomb where he knew his friend was and instead of saying he was sorry not to get there sooner, Jesus raised his voice and he called for Lazarus to come out. That’s what he did, he stood there and called, “Lazarus, come out!” And if you want the substance of the message today, you hear those words with your name in that sentence. Jesus calls us each to come out of the tomb of our existence.

This is where we look at the scriptures differently than we looked at them in the past. Instead of seeing the grief stricken sisters and friends or even considering what Lazarus gave up by coming back, we see the new life that happened. Today we consider that the call of Jesus brought Lazarus to a new life. The simple call of Jesus brought Lazarus not just back to his old life to continue on, but to a new life, to a testimony of truth of the reality of Jesus, to the power of Jesus’ love, to the difference that the call from Christ can make in our lives.

This is the point of these scriptures for us today. It is the call of Jesus, the beckoning of our Christ that gives us new life. In reality this would probably have been a much more appropriate message for me to hear three years ago, but at that time I wasn’t anywhere near being able to imagine it let alone write it or speak it at that time.

New life is more than just the resurrection that we all hope to experience when this life that we now have is over. New life is about our personal survival of so many things. New life is about overcoming an illness, surviving a job change or the loss of a parent or a sibling or a spouse or even a child. I was reading one of the blogs that I follow last week. This blogger was not posting anything for a time, and it seems something has happened to cause the person pain, but they have not revealed details. I have been concerned that maybe something happened to another family member, but slowly the comments about others in the family are returning. I just know that something is different in this person’s life and I tried to leave a gentle encouraging remark on the last post as a way to connect and to let the blogger know I cared. I was relieved when I received a like for my comment.

New life is an adjustment. New things in our lives, whether they are new jobs—or retirement, different homes, new situations, a change in our health and mobility, new family members, or even the loss of someone close to us those are all adjustments we experience in life. Those are even things we grieve for a time, even when we are excited for the new, there are scary points just as much as when we experience loss. What we need to remember is that just like Lazarus heard Jesus call to him to come out of the tomb, Jesus calls to us to come out of our tombs of existence to experience the great love that he has for us. And more than that, Jesus calls us to come out and share that love with all those around us.

We might not know the details of what happened to Lazarus after Jesus called him from the tomb, and he came out alive and restored. But we can be sure that he didn’t hide out away from the world keeping this miracle to himself. Jesus called him to have a new life. Jesus restored Lazarus to life, just a few days before he himself would be betrayed and crucified and then rise from the dead. He didn’t make that call so it would be kept quiet. And Jesus doesn’t call us from our everyday lives in order to come here to worship then quietly slip out the door back to our homes to keep these beliefs and ideas to ourselves. Jesus calls us out of the tombs of our existence to share—to share what we know to be true with everyone around us.

The epistle lesson we didn’t read today comes from Romans 8:6-11 (read it) Paul tells us that when we give ourselves to Christ, we are given new life through the spirit of God. It is the spirit that lives in us that gives us the ability to answer Christ, to come out of our tombs and follow Jesus wherever that may be. Let us go this week with the strength of that conviction, answering that call as joyously as this magnificent spring day demands. Amen!

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.

 

 

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!

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