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!

Pentecost Sunday message

The scripture lessons that we used were: Acts 2:1-21, Romans 8:14-17, and John 14:8-17, 25-27.

Pentecost Sunday

Before I start the message today, I need to share something that I have forgotten to mention for a few Sundays. This is actually a bit of a joke on me if you know how I was having a fit about the last Oahe Association meeting. One of the reports we had at that meeting was about how hard it is getting for the nominating committee to find people to fill positions. My answer to that statement has always been, well no one is calling me. Anyway a couple of weeks ago as I was sitting in the office the phone rang and it was a secretary from the conference office and she said she was calling on behalf of the nominating committee. Well, of all things me first thought was: “now which committee are they going to ask me to be on and how many times will I have to drive to Chamberlain?”

So the question was “We were wondering if you would be willing to accept a nomination to be a delegate to the next General Synod?” Well I nearly froze. I wasn’t sure that I had heard correctly. James and I about six months ago had a conversation about if you could go anywhere where would you like to go and General Synod was my first answer. So, I am not sure if there will be more nominees, at the last conference meeting there was a nominee from the floor for that opening, but who knows. On Wednesday, I finally finished up the little bio that had to be turned in for the booklet, hopefully the story I submitted doesn’t make me sound too much like someone who is a babbling fool, and that I am able to represent the conference and this church in a positive way. Anyway, I had to share this story before I forget to mention it again….

As for stories, the lectionary lesson, which we did not read for today, was from the first book of the Old Testament. In Genesis 11:1-19 there is a story about how the many different languages of the world came to be. It is an interesting story about how all of the people were getting so smug and so superior, that they thought they could build a tower to heaven. And because of their attitude, God put a stop to them. You know the story about the Tower of Babel.  As in babbling like talking nonstop. God struck the people as they were building the tower and instead of one language, there were many languages and people no longer could understand each other. And their grand superiority fell apart.

Interesting! What a time those beginning years must have been. To me it seems the more we study about what is written of the beginning of time, and the more archaeologists dig up, the more the mysterious it becomes. Just this past week news was released of a find in Florida that indicates humans were on our continent far longer than we had thought. And so we can only wonder at how things progressed and moved in those days after creation and before Abraham became the father of God’s chosen race.

Our actual scripture story for today comes many years after God picks Abraham to father his chosen people, and an even longer time after the incident when God had to step in and stop the building of the Tower of Babel. Our story today happens in the book of Acts in the town of Jerusalem after the Ascension of Jesus. The story today is what we call Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples, and it is in reality the story of the beginning of the Christian Church.

In chapter 1, it talks about how there were about 120 of the followers of Jesus together at various times, but at the end of that chapter the 11 gathered together to choose the replacement for Judas, so they could be a main group of 12. This group, mostly led by Peter, had been praying and staying together waiting for the day Jesus would send the Holy Spirit to them. When it happened there was a noise like a rush of wind, you can imagine the sound. It makes me think of those days when the wind is going up and down, and just when it seems to be calming, there is a rush and a whirlwind stirs up and sweeps through the area where you are standing and you sometimes wonder if it is going to push you off your feet. Those are always the days I feel fortunate to have a few extra pounds to hold me in place.

Verse 2 of Chapter 2 says: “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” Then verse 3 lets us know that wind was not the only indication of the spirit, “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.” And this is when they were filled with the spirit, and they were able to speak in ways that all those around them could understand in their own languages.

On this day, God made it possible for the many people of very different languages, who were gathered in Jerusalem, to understand the words that these 12 disciples, who were mostly Galileans, were speaking about Jesus and his life and death and resurrection, And in case we didn’t understand it before, the term Galileans is not just in reference to where they are from, but in those days saying someone was from Galilee was pretty close to calling them a backwoods hick. This idea of giving them the gift of speaking all these languages was the complete reverse of what God did to the people who were trying to build a Tower to heaven.

On this day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on to the 12 disciples so they could share it with everyone around them. This time, this event was different from their private meetings with Jesus following his resurrection. This was different from when they alone witnessed his Ascension, this event was not just for them, this event was for them and for everyone around them, and even for those of us who are reading about it. And more than that, the Holy Spirit was not just for the 12, it was a gift from God to all who believe. But this event was not without its doubters, and we read in verse 13 that some accused them of being drunk.

And it was at this accusation that Peter kicked in quoting the words of the prophet Joel, explaining that it was only 9 in the morning and that the disciples were not drunk with wine, but were filled with the Spirit of God and were proclaiming the truth about Jesus to all who would hear and believe, and if you read to the end of the chapter you learn that there were about 3,000 who believed and accepted baptism that day.

Yes this story in Acts is the story of the beginning of the church, the history of the first Pentecost, but it is also a story for us to look at in terms of what the Holy Spirit means to us. Digging into this spirit stuff is sort of a hard thing for us old stoic Congregationalists to do. This is more something for a new modern Evangelistic or Evangelical Church. We are more about God the Father and Jesus the Son, and we sort of happily like to just forget about the third corner of the trinity. We’re not really Holy Spirit people because that is just so Holy Ghost sort of thinking, and seriously when we do admit to that sort of belief isn’t it more in a “closed door, private kind of setting.”

The scripture in Romans that we read for today assures us that it is through the spirit of God that we are given the ability to become joint heirs with Jesus to the kingdom of God. This doesn’t happen because we are human, it happens because we accept the spirit of God into our beings. Just as Jesus explains to Philip in John 14 that he is one with God, so we become connected to God and Jesus through the gift of the Holy Spirit, who, Jesus in verses 25-27 calls the Advocate. The Holy Spirit is an advocate who becomes part of us and helps us to learn and understand about and build a relationship with God.

Oh, but reading or even studying all of this and knowing all of this spirit stuff doesn’t really make acting on it any easier. This spirit stuff is really still something we would rather just look at like you do a history lesson or a scrap book or a museum piece. You might want to dig it out once a year, dust it off, say something like, “isn’t that nice?” and then wrap it up and put it back in the closet on the shelf for next year.

The presence of the Holy Spirit isn’t supposed to be acknowledged once a year then hidden away. As much as it would be more convenient or easier to think of our beliefs as a set of rules that are mostly do this don’t do that, it isn’t quite that simple. We are spiritual people, and as such we need to be in tune to the moving and the nudging and the teachings of the spirit. We need to open ourselves to the possibilities of perhaps not completely new ways, but maybe some renewed ways that we go about–as we have said before, not just going to church, but being the church. Perhaps as we accept that, we can also accept the Peace that Jesus promised to his disciples, Christ’s peace of no unnecessary worries or troubles, that would be a wonderful peace to claim. Let’s go this week opening ourselves to the workings of the spirit and claiming the peace that working for Christ can give us.

More love, less hurt

Each month our church puts out a calendar to the members with the birthdays, anniversaries and events of the month. I also put a little blurb on the back to the members. Each month I struggle with what to say. The first year, I concentrated on the weather and the season and the crops. This year, I am trying to branch out a bit and share things that we should be thinking about as Christians. I hope this is something you, too, can make some sense of.

Church Newsletter: September 2015 St. Paul’s UCC Eureka, SD

I have been troubled this week by another mass shooting in our country. Some want to claim the answer is to take away all of the means to shoot someone whether it is to make it harder to own a gun or just eliminate them altogether. I am sure that I wouldn’t have to ask more than two people in our area to find three who are against that plan. Yes I said ask two to find three. What if instead of taking away the weapon, we took away the hatred? What if we took away the pain that caused the person behind the weapon to want to use it? What if we replaced the anger with love? I remember watching a movie in high school (no clue about the title) in which the main characters were infected by a germ that made them happy. It was very contagious and everyone they came in contact with became infected. To me it seemed like a wonderful infection, but as the plot of the movie went on the disease was eliminated. Too many company executives were concerned about the money they would lose. They said sales would be hurt if people didn’t need pills or gadgets or trips to make them happy. What a sad world we live in. As I watched interviews about a recent shooting victim, I was struck that no one mentioned faith in talking about the deceased. No mention of the reassurance a relationship with Christ gives us in a time of loss no matter what the circumstances. In Romans 8:38-39, Paul makes it clear that nothing, not death, not anything can keep us from the love of Jesus, if we believe. It would be wonderful to have a world where everyone can be happy all the time, but we don’t. Thank goodness we can have a personal relationship with a Savior who loves us and a God who draws us near, so we have hope for our tomorrow.

 

Happy Birthday to the Christian Church

The following was the message that I shared at the Eureka Health Care Center on Wednesday. The scriptures were: Romans 8: 26 and 28 and Acts 2:1-8, 14-17a and 21. The reason that I chopped up the scripture so much is that I realize they are bored with the reading of long passages so I am going to try something new by only sticking to the most relevant parts of the passage. My messages will also be shorter to keep their interest. Here is what they heard from me.

I have three sisters and one brother, and they all have summer birthdays. Three of them are in June and one in July. I was born in April; I am the oddball, but that is ok with me. We really could celebrate with one big part sometime in the middle, but that would be no fun.

My own children are all born within one month of each other, and the oldest two are on consecutive days. When they were toddlers, we were careful to give them separate parties with their own cakes and stack of presents and all. In order to keep peace we always had them open one present on the other one’s birthday. It was great on the first day when the oldest had her birthday, but on the second day when it was the younger one’s birthday, the oldest always looked at the opened gifts and said, “We can share.”

Birthdays and anniversaries are fun things to celebrate. Yet having a birthday is something that some people try to down play as they get older. It seems that many people are happy to turn 29 or 49, but not 30 or say 50. But when you stop to think about it, having birthdays is good because it means that you are still going. I like to think of it as: “God still has something for me to do on this earth.” God still wants me to accomplish something for him, to share more about his kingdom and his love and the Son that he sent to save us from our sins, to save us from all of the things we can get ourselves into.

The scripture lessons that we read for today come from the Sunday of Pentecost. It is the scripture that tells about the birth of the Christian Church. We celebrate it each year as way to mark the anniversary of the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is sent to believers after Jesus ascended to heaven to comfort, advocate for us and even to help us pray. Romans 8:26 basically says when things are so bad that we don’t know how or what to pray, the spirit steps in and prays for us “with sighs too deep for words.”

So, the next time you celebrate a birthday or anniversary, or you think of a birthday or anniversary of a loved one or friend, I would like you to remember that the Church has a birthday too. And with the beginning of the Christian Church we are all given the Holy Spirit that helps us to communicate with God and Jesus as we pray. Because of the Holy Spirit, we have the opportunity to share our concerns and joys and love for God. Amen!

Trinity Sunday message

This was our message on Trinity Sunday. The scriptures used were: Romans 8:12-17, John 3:1-17 and Isaiah 6:1-8. The title was “How are we sent?” The message was really hit with the idea that we are to love each other as Jesus loves us. I added the picture on the fountain just for a visual, but the love in the message is hardly the romantic type you may think of when you see this picture.

Spider plants in the swans.

Spider plants in the swans.

Most of you know that my original profession was as a teacher. I went to school to be a physical education teacher, and ended up teaching English because, well because there weren’t any jobs for women PE teachers in the 1980’s at least not in rural South Dakota. When we moved back to this area, there also weren’t any schools with opening for an English teacher, so I began working at the newspaper in Pollock as an editor, which for that paper meant the main writer. I had never taken a journalism class, but I soon learned that writing for a newspaper meant putting together a story that answered the 5 W’s: Who, what, when, where, and why.

I had taught these 5 W’s and the inverted pyramid that goes with it in my creative writing class in Montpelier. I found it in a resource book that I had and I hoped that what I was giving the students wasn’t so far off base that they would fail when they went on to college. It seemed to work for me when I used the information during my 5 or 6 years I was with the Pioneer.

When I say inverted pyramid, I mean think of a triangle standing on its point. I had this neat paper with one drawn out. It was then divided into 5 sections. The assignment that I gave my students and that I followed in putting together stories was to fill up the first two spaces with the what and the who. What happened and who it happened to, were the most important parts of any story. Next the When and the Where each get a section, and at the bottom is the why.

Now if you are anything like me, an inquiring mind. I want to know more about the why, but really how many times do you know the truth of the why when putting together a news story that is current and up to date? Mostly you don’t. So you put together the other parts, and if the room dictates, you include your little bit of information on the why, and if there is no room, it is the part that you take out or shorten up, or if it is a front page story, it is the part that is continued on another page.

The one thing that I always wondered about in that 5 w’s pyramid thing was, what about the How? As I pondered that this week, I realized that the How of things might be included in the what or in the why depending on the way you look at things. One example:  How did you get here this morning? I would include that in my What section describing the vehicle you drove or the route you took or maybe that you walked a certain distance and so on. Now if the question were: How did that backpack get left unattended in the college cafeteria? I would include it in the why. The motive behind that abandoned backpack might just be the heart of the story. Although in that case I am not sure the reporters ever figured it out. By the way, that did happen at a major college to a former student of mine a year or so after 9-11. He simply forgot where he set his backpack, and was looking for it for a few days, and (you are ahead of me again) students were evacuated, a bomb squad was called in, and the backpack was blown up, and when he saw it on TV, he realized his books and notes really were gone.

Let’s go back to the dilemma of How. Today’s message is titled: “How are we sent?” Our lessons today on Trinity Sunday remind us that we are sent to share the news about all three parts of God: God the Parent who cares for us, Jesus the Son who died for us and the advocate or Holy Spirit who guides us. We in the United Church of Christ are not real good at discussing the trinity. We tend to leave Holy Spirit out of the loop most of the time. We spend the majority of our focus on Jesus the Son and God as the Father.

Let’s start today with the part that is usually considered the final part of the Trinity, that dog gone Holy Spirit. It is that part that we UCCers sometimes sweep under cover and try not to think of much, the Spirit part. I read last night an interesting thing about how the unchurched talk about being Spiritual but not religious. I have some ideas about why some refuse to join an organized church, but those ideas are not necessarily very Christian attitudes either towards the unchurched or the churches they have encountered, so I will refrain from bringing them up at this time. Accepting the Holy Spirit is part of being Christian, and part of believing in God and Jesus. It is part of that renewal and rebirth that Jesus teaches. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans that if we are born to the Spirit, we are able to be joint heirs with Christ. What a wonderful reassurance. Through our birth in spirit, we are given the opportunity to live with Christ forever. I will be happy to take him up on his offer, but what does that mean? How does that work?

I think we can find the answer with the middle part of the trinity, Jesus the Son as we read in the scripture in John. Even Nicodemus one of the 70 major Jewish leaders a member of the Sanhedrin in the time that Jesus walked the earth understood, or at least tried to understand the importance of Jesus’ teachings and the need to follow them. How he managed to follow him is unclear but the information we are given in scriptures. Some Bible scholars believe that he may have been a part of the outer group of disciples later on, but nothing is clear on it.

We only know for sure that Nicodemus was interested enough to come to Jesus, privately in the dark of night to ask some questions that were burning in him. Though he doesn’t straight up ask, “How can I be saved,” it was the very question he wanted answered. Jesus responds by telling him he must be born again, born anew, born of the Spirit. Jesus says, Nicodemus and everyone needs to be born not just of the flesh as we were when we entered the world, but born of the Spirit so that we are assured of a place with Christ when we leave this world. And the final part of that passage in John gives us the way to find that Spiritual birth when Jesus says: God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Jesus didn’t come with a sword to mow down the Godless or those seen as evil or perhaps even the people who have strayed away, He came as a living sacrifice so that we could find our way to redemption.

Some Christian zealots in past days, and even today believe that the world needs to be purged of those who don’t believe in Christianity. Savages of the past, terrorists of today, they need to be converted or destroyed before they destroy us. Well??? Jesus words in vs. 17: “God did NOT send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world through him might be saved.” (OK then or is it Oh really?)

Now for the God part of the Trinity: The passage we read in Isaiah today makes you stop and wonder which book you are reading from. Starting with the Seraphs with six wings flying around the throne to the imagery of the singing, Holy, Holy, Holy, it sounds much more like something from Revelation than from the Old Testament. The line, about the live coal, touching the lips to absolve sin really hit me. We all know about fire, and I bet most of us have lived in a home or worked in a place that was heated by coal at some point in our lives. If nothing else, we at the least understand the heat of the charcoal briquettes that are associated with some grills. Now imagine having to endure something as painful as a burn by a coal and on your lips no less. How many of us could do that, could endure that if that was the price of our sins. Fortunately for us, that is not the price. Jesus was the price.

The prophet in Isaiah after having his lips touched by the coal and his sins forgiven was able to answer God’s call of “who shall we send?” with a very simple, “Here am I, send me.” This line makes me think of the many times when you are at some event where there is a drawing for something, and I know we all anxiously sit and think, “pick me, pick me.” I have gotten to the point lately that I take note of what is being offered and every now and then I think, “not me, not for this one.” But mostly, I believe we are anxious to hear our name called. How willing are we to have our name called when God is drawing the name?

I think back to school days when sides were being chosen for a game. I remember what it was like to sit and wait for your name to be called. Although I worked at being athletic, I was not always so skilled in all areas, and there were always those times when teams were not necessarily picked for skill. Lots of times our teams were picked by friends, and sometimes it was hard to break into the “in” crowd. “Pick me, pick me” was not always within our control. And not many things were set up on a volunteer basis.

This story in Isaiah was not about the popular person. This was not about the “in” crowd. This vision of the prophet became a call to “doing” for God, and the person answered that call with a “here I am, send me.” This is the answer God expects from all of the people, from all of us. When Jesus called his disciples, it wasn’t with the idea that they would come if it was convenient or if they felt like it. He didn’t ask them expecting the “von veet” attitude. He expected the disciples to follow when he called, and he expects the same from us. He expects us to answer with the words we hear in Isaiah. “Here am I, send me.”

And then we come to the question of today’s message title, How are we sent? Over the past few months, I have been so concerned about trying to fit the message to what can we do as a church? What missions are we still capable of completing? What causes do we still support? We could all go on and on about what we don’t have what we don’t do that we did once upon a time. We could sit and brainstorm about what we can still do, what are the ways we might still be capable of sharing the message of Jesus in the community and beyond. But, the bottom line is we don’t do this for ourselves, and we don’t do this on our own strength and ability. We do whatever we do with the help of God. Mostly though, what we do is follow the commandment that Jesus left for his disciples: To love one another. If we truly and sincerely believe in Jesus as our Savior, we will follow his commandment to love, really love those around us. And that is the answer to our question. How are we sent? We are sent in love? We are sent to love those around us and those in the world. When we do that, when we carry that as our How, all those other 5 W’s don’t matter, or perhaps just come as they may. When we set out in love with God’s love and with the help of the Holy Spirit, nothing is impossible and we really can answer God’s call with, “Here am I, send me.” Amen!

Pentecost Sunday

Our message on Pentecost Sunday was based on the following scripture: Romans 8:22-27, John 15: 26 & 27, 16: 4b-15 and Acts 2:1-21.

The scripture focus for today centers around the events of the original that we call Pentecost. We of the Christian faith and traditions might believe that Pentecost is only a Christian Day. We might think that this tradition and observance began at this story in Acts when the disciples were gathered in Jerusalem and a great wind came up and tongues of fire came and landed on the heads of the believers and they were all blessed with the gift of another language. It was a great thing that they were able to witness to people of all nationalities who were gathered in the city of Jerusalem. Many were confused. They couldn’t understand what was happening and why was this witness coming from Galileans? Galilee was a place that many trade routes crossed so the disciples were exposed to people from all areas. It was not a strictly Jewish area as some of the other cities were.

The truth is that Pentecost actually has an Old Testament beginning. They were gathered in Jerusalem at the feast of the Pentecost or the Feast of 50 Days or the Feast of weeks. 50 days is about 7 weeks and since the number was 7 which is the perfect number in their tradition, it began to be called the Feast of Weeks. Oh yes, the 50 days were the days immediately after Passover, so it had a particular start time. It was about the amount of time that it took for a barley or wheat crop to develop and be harvested, and soon the festival was about waving stalks of grain in celebration of the harvest. It makes sense that if Passover and Easter are near the same time that would be around the beginning of planting season, then 50 days later the barley is ready and harvested, the next celebration happens, and it happens to be called Pentecost. In some other information that I studied, it also appears that the timing of the festival coincided with the traditional date of the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai. It was a time of celebrating the “New” way of worshiping, and certainly after receiving the Spirit, the disciples and the followers of Jesus will be about a completely New way of worshiping God than was custom in the past.

At any rate it makes for interesting reading. It also makes perfect sense that the disciples are gathered together on another time when there is a religious observance, and God chooses that time to send the Spirit that has been promised to the disciples by Jesus before he ascended to heaven. He revealed much to them in the days before his crucifixion and much more after his resurrection, but there was still more for them to learn and understand. There was also much for them to ponder as they really never understood what was going on around them until Jesus opened up their minds so they could grasp the meaning of his teachings and of the events that happened both to them and around them while Jesus was on this earth.

I don’t mean to be glib, but there are days that I really could use that phenomenon where someone or something opens up my mind to understand things. I was always the last one to figure out the “cool” sayings or meanings of things when I was a teenager and not much has changed. A gift of opening my mind would be helpful at times. I know of a few advertisements that leave me clueless, or even car vanity plates we saw this weekend, that don’t seem to make any sense to me.

I also think that many times we have “drama” that could be avoided it we only understood why people do some of the things they do. Is it confusion, or lack of communication or a lack of judgment, maybe immaturity, or possibly selfishness, bitterness, jealousy or is it a power higher than ourselves that is pushing us or others to do things and say things and even think things that aren’t necessarily right? Why do we do some of the things we do?

Wouldn’t it be nice just to have our minds opened to the knowledge of our own actions, and maybe those of others, but I am moving off the focus of today…  Jesus left the disciples with a greater wisdom than they had while they were following him around the streets of Galilee and Jerusalem and all the parts in-between. He left them with a better ability to grasp things, but he also promised them the Holy Spirit. This spirit was going to help them to continue his work, to expand the fellowship of believers. This spirit was going to help them to endure all they would need to endure during their days as witnesses to the life and gospel of Jesus.

When it came they were gathered in Jerusalem at a particular festival and in what seems to be a rush of wind and flames; they were given the ability to speak to others in their own languages. They begin witnessing to those around them about Jesus. But we also know now that this spirit wasn’t sent just for the disciples. This is part of the plan that God has for all of us. We too have the ability to accept it as the disciples did so many years ago.

We know Pentecost as the birth of Christianity. It is celebrated as the beginning of the Christian Church, yet it begins during a Jewish gathering and as it happens those around the disciples don’t seem to understand. In fact they think the disciples are simply intoxicated. Although Peter denies that they have been drinking, they are in essence, drunk on the knowledge of how believing and following Jesus has changed their lives.

One of the commentaries connects the question about them being drunk on new wine to the parable that Jesus used about putting new wine in old wineskins. He said that it would cause the wineskin to burst. The connection that the commentary made was that Christianity was/is like the new wine that burst the old wineskin/the old way of thinking at the time that it began. The gospel of Jesus that the disciples begin to speak in all these different languages is a change that breaks down the barriers of race and nationality and language and comes to the whole world.

James and Paulina and I were in Bismarck this past weekend for the North Dakota State Track and Field Meet. One of the interesting parts of the meet is that it opens on Friday morning with a parade of athletes. Although it isn’t major, we are beginning to see a shift in the population of that state. Not everyone on every team coming through that line up looks like we do, and the major contrast is no longer between the Native American and the descendants of western Europe. I was struck with how different things are becoming right in our own back yard, we are in a time of change.

It was also interesting to realize as we were shopping how many other languages were being spoken around us. I had the scripture for today on my mind as we went about this weekend, and I think maybe the thought of what the disciples encountered was on my mind, and it caused me to be more aware of the other languages and accents, but it really stuck out to me this weekend. I began to realize that a city just up the road from us is becoming a mini-melting pot. I began to wonder what our ancestors encountered when they came to this area. I also wondered what it was like to be those Galileans who were able to embrace the newness of what they were sharing with the world.

In the gospel of John we don’t see the word Holy Spirit, but Jesus refers to an Advocate that will come to the disciples to work with them and be with them and help them when they need someone to get them through the difficult times. We too have that advocate to be with us through the tough times and as we share the love of God for the world. In Romans Paul writes of the Spirit that intercedes for us even as we are unable to pray. The Spirit is there to speak to God on behalf of our needs as we go about the tasks God gives us. But, but we have to be willing to accept that Spirit, to be open to that movement within us.

And what are those tasks we are given? I was reminded again this weekend the simple importance of a kind word, a friendly face, a hand reaching out to lift another up or offer a shake of congratulations. We are witnesses everyday by the way we treat others and the way we treat the world around us. It is like the song, that we probably should have added to the list of those to sing, but I didn’t think of it at the time, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” (Our pianist caught this line and played the song for the offertory—wow!)

Although we probably won’t see any tongues of fire hovering over anyone this morning or hear any real rush of wind with the windows closed, and we likely aren’t’ going to hear each other speaking in several different dialects, we still celebrate the birth of the Christian Church on this Pentecost Day. Today we rejoice that the disciples accepted their tasks and shared the story of their teacher Jesus with the rest of the world. We rejoice that we are able to read and study and share our personal experience with Jesus as our savior. Let’s just remember that sharing and witnessing is more in how we treat and accept others than in the words we profess.

One last story from this weekend, we talked about going to get lunch for the coolers for Friday, and a couple of the athletes expressed not wanting to go to certain parts of town because the people there are “sketchy.” Now granted I probably wouldn’t go there alone as a 15 year old girl, but I have never felt that way personally, and I hope we don’t get to that point of not embracing the possibilities of our diversity. Let’s go from here today with the thoughts of sharing our faith in Jesus with others through the witness of our actions no matter who they are. Amen.

Perspectives and the right focus

I gave the following message this morning in St. Paul’s UCC in Eureka. I originally titled it Communication and the Art of Saying No! James agreed that the title was pretty much a miss. He understood the scripture part of saying no, but was waiting for the part when we say no. I sort of had that early in the week, but waited too long to type the sermon and apparently lost the point. The whole thing ended up being about perspectives and photos and such. I like the new title much better. At any rate, it is what it is and hope you enjoy. I will say you might miss some of the interpretation without the voices. There were parts that I used sarcasm and such. Maybe I will go through and put some hints into (..). Scriptures used were Genesis 29:15-28, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 and Romans 8:26-30. Title on my copy was “Saying NO!”

I apologize that I didn’t’ take the time to play with visual images as I wanted to today, but it just didn’t work out this week. First off, I was forgetful about grabbing my projector to see if it would even work with the lighting, and secondly, it is probably best, since I don’t have Paulina along as she would have had to be my assistant on a trial run. At any rate, I do intend to get to the point where we can have some visual images just for fun in church a few times. For today’s purposes, I guess you will just have to keep using your imaginations, which from the expressions I see at this angel, it seems those work fairly well around here.

Here is what I would have done with a projector and some images. I wanted to show pictures of the church from different angles. In your mind now, go outside and imagine what it looks like coming straight up the large steps. What about going off to the street side and checking the angle from that new sidewalk. Some of us don’t like that angle too well right now. What about the other side of the church and seeing the angle of using the back entrance that brings us to this door here off to the left, which is a bit of a different look again.

I got to thinking about these angles of entering the church earlier this week as I thought about the perspective of today’s scriptures. I first learned about artistic perspective in a high school art class. We started with some simple drawings and a tool that I fell in love with I think the first time I touched it, and the tool was a T-square. I looked how it made your drawing move from something flat and boring to a three-dimensional picture just because you square up the front focal plane and then run all the other lines back to the horizon. It was all about putting the picture into perspective.

I don’t draw anymore. I think it is because I have gotten too lazy. I tell myself it is because I am not really that good, and I would rather do something easier, yet, it is laziness. Now, I would rather pick up a camera and play with the lens and backgrounds and angels and where you stand to get a shot rather than sit down to draw it out. Paulina does this far better than me. She has more patience than I do. She often plays with taking pictures of a some simple object or just a single flower moving around it to change the background for different framings or angle the tilt up or down, or …on and on. As I said, I must be getting lazy, I just want to take the shot and have it done, but I am seeing that even a picture of something can change dramatically just depending on the angle, the perspective.

Now let’s take that same thought and move it to a story, or perhaps a scripture. Those of you who attend Bible study will likely be able to relate a bit to what I am about to mention. Last week after church Pastor Di and I had a conversation about Jacob, and lo and behold we found that we have different opinions about him. I mention Bible study because it seems we have had this happen with most of the stories we are studying. I will be honest with you; for a time this difference of opinion concerned me. In fact up until last Sunday it was starting to nag at my self-confidence. It seemed to me that perhaps (unlike the Paul Simon song: Kodachrome, where he says, though my lack of education hasn’t hurt me none.) my lack of education is hurting. And then last Sunday, Pastor Dianne and I had this great conversation on Jacob, and it was all clear to me. Yes part of it is the education and time reading and such, but that will come with time. The real difference we have is that we point the angle of the lens in a bit of a different direction when we shot the picture. It isn’t the right or wrong of it, it is just the perspective is different.

I need to get off the lazy of the single perspective and turn the camera more. I need to look at the stories in the way that Paulina makes her camera look at the flowers: from the top and all of the sides and the bottom, and even sometimes from the inside out. I want to look at Jacob with the lens and the eyes that I used when I first met him. This story that we read today about how Jacob this poor young man who was traveling all alone to a land he didn’t know to people he had never met before was one of the first Bible stories that I read as a young probably pre-teenage girl. I was reading it more as a story rather than a Bible story, and I was starry-eyed young girl.

Actually let’s face it, I was a nerd when it came to reading and stories and such. I was a sponge and a nerd, or maybe I should say nerd and sponge, whichever. I saw Jacob as this (dripping with sweetness) poor, lonely, young man in search of a wife, and he falls in love with this beautiful young Rachel, and he works for her father for seven years so he can marry her, and then on his wedding night, he is duped and given the older sister. Oh the poor guy, what a horrible thing to happen to this young man. (Harsh and realistic voice) Or NOT.

How about I take my little girl, starry-eyed nerd lenses off and get a good look at this guy, Jacob. First he stole from his twin brother with the help of his mother. Next he is sent by the father that he misled to find a wife from the house of his mother’s brother. He certainly knew the customs of his time concerning marriage. Somewhere along the line there should have been a conversation about older/younger daughter. And how is it that Jacob, who could swindle his twin brother out of his birthright, this same Jacob can’t figure out what Laban has in mind? And it is not as if they are running out of time to hold the wedding. There is a span of seven years here. And really, who wakes up the morning after the wedding to find out that they married the wrong sister. This is worse than a bad soap opera.

I guess I have to agree with Pastor Dianne that Jacob is NOT “poor” Jacob. He is someone not to be trusted, and perhaps Laban was the one best able to see through him, though, really a simple up front conversation about customs could have taken a whole lot of drama out of this story. Laban could have changed most of what seemed so tragic to me as a young girl by simply saying “No Jacob, you cannot marry Rachel unless Leah is already married.” Sometimes, we just need to have a simple conversation to put things into perspective.

On the other hand, we might be tempted to think it served Jacob right for what he did to his older twin brother Esau. Finally the big swindler got what was coming to him. He got his and Esau didn’t even have to lift a finger. Reminds me of what my Great Aunt Mandy always said in teaching us that revenge was not something we had to try to gain. She always said that what goes around comes around, and you don’t have to do anything to help it along.

But this scripture lesson for us isn’t about getting even. God doesn’t want us to look at this to learn the importance of someone getting what they have coming to them. God wants us to realize that even in the worst of situations, even in the smallest of things; God is there to guide us, to give us the correct perspective, and to show us the way we are to go. God looks out for us. God takes care of those who love him. It is what Paul writes to the Romans in chapter 8: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God.”

Jesus in the parables that we read for today keeps repeating the theme of how something small something that seems so trivial, ends up becoming something of great importance or great worth. Jesus speaks of the little tiny mustard seed and how it becomes a large plant that even the birds can sit in. Then he mentions yeast. If you have ever baked bread, you know just how small yeast is, but it is able to make bread rise, and feed many.

What we can learn from all of these passages is that God is able to make good come from the worst situations and the smallest of things. If God is able to grow a large plant from a little tiny seed, or turn a swindling conniving youngster like Jacob into a Patriarch of an entire nation, what more can be done for us and with us? We just need to check our angle to make sure we have the correct perspective and that we are focused on Jesus. Amen!

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