December 2, 2019

Advent 1 Ps 24, Genesis 15:1-6, 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13, Luke 1:5-25   Be ready ***************************************************************** Be ready. Don’t be afraid. Be prepared… for God’s Good News. One never knows when an angel might show up. Always remember  – Do not be afraid. But – Do – Be ready. Prepared… Zechariah the priest is serving in the Jerusalem temple. Doing God’s work in God’s holy place. He and his wife Elizabeth are old, getting older, still childless. Children were considered a sign of God’s favor, and they’ve been praying for a child – and they must be wondering – why is that we have not received this blessing that’s supposed to come to the righteous? And they are, both of them,  righteous and blameless we’re told. Yet they have no children. They’re still not seeing the blessing they believe they’ve been promised in spite of all their prayers. Zechariah the priest for sure knows the ancient biblical stories of Abraham and Sarah, childless for a very long time – till Sarah gives birth to their son Isaac (whose name means laughter) finally, when she’s 90 years old and Abe’s 100. Zechariah knows the biblical stories of Abe and Sarah’s grandchildren, Jacob and his twin brother Esau, born to Isaac and his wife Rebecca after 20 long years without children. He knows the story of Samuel the son born to Hannah after long years of childlessness and many tears poured out. He surely knows Psalm 113, where we’re told God“gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children…” And for sure Zack knows the first thing angels just about always say when they appear to people is “Do not be afraid.” But Zechariah is shocked out of his socks in fear and terror when the angel Gabriel appears… bringing good news of great joy…. And… Zechariah can’t quite bring himself to believe the angel’s words. Can’t quite believe all those prayers he and his wife have been praying all these years are finally being answered. Even though the first thing the angel tells him is “Don’t be afraid” – he is very afraid – literally terrified. *** And isn’t this still….the way life so often is? We know we shouldn’t be afraid –  especially not afraid to receive good news. We know we shouldn’t be afraid of the presence of God… Afraid of receiving the blessings we’ve been praying for. We remember Jesus telling us not to be afraid even of those who those who can kill the body, but not the soul. Long before Roosevelt said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” Jesus said, many, many times – “don’t be afraid.” Roosevelt, in that same speech named many challenges and difficulties that lay ahead in the worst days of the Great Depression. Jesus names many great challenges and difficulties that lie ahead for those who follow him. But Jesus never stops telling us “Do not be afraid.” Yet of course we still have fears… Which I sort of understand, on one level. We’re programmed instinctively to fear things that can hurt or kill us if we don’t watch out… But I have a harder time understanding – Why, I myself, and many other people… often seem afraid not only of fearful things –...

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Christ the King Sunday November 25, 2018

Christ the King Sunday   November 25, 2018   Psalm 47, 1 Samuel 8:1-9, Revelation 1:4-8, John 18:33-38a ************************************************************** Clap your hands, all you peoples – shout to God with loud songs of joy – for the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth…. Sing praises to God, sing praises – sing praises to our king, sing praises – for God is the King of all the earth – sing praises with a psalm…. God is King over all the earth Psalm 47 tells us joyfully and emphatically. But…as I read the daily news, it still feels like most of the world is in all-out rebellion against God. Not at all willing to have God rule… Arrogance, hatred, bragging, disrespect, doing our own thing without regard for others – disregarding God’s law of love – still seems to be considered normal…especially among those who have the most power in this world. Even in Israel of old, in our first reading today, all the elders of the nation ask Samuel, the prophet and judge of Israel, to give us a king like all the other nations. Samuel is dismayed to hear God’s people talking like this. But God tells Samuel “it’s not about you, it’s about me. They don’t want me, God, as their ruler. They want a king like all the other nations have. Someone who will tell them how great the nation is and what a great leader he is… while leading the nation into idol worship and ruin…” So when God sends his only Son into the world to rule with him and save, teach, and heal the world and establish God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven… it shouldn’t be a total surprise… When God’s Son is rejected, mocked, scorned, crucified and buried. Even now, to this day – it often seems as if Christ our King still suffers through endless reruns of his trial before Pontius Pilate – as all the spiritual descendants of Pilate and Herod in every land still interrogate King Jesus, asking, a thousand and one different ways, the same dismissive questions asked by Pontius Pilate, concluding with – “What is truth?” Pilate, the governor over Judah is really not interested in truth. But he is interested in the politics of Jesus. He understands quite well the politics of self-preservation and self-advancement…And he does want to know “Are you the king of the Jews?” He really is curious to know: “What have you done… to get yourself sent here to me to be crucified?” Probably even Pilate senses something much more in Jesus…than he’s ever known. And as Jesus tells him “my kingdom is not from this world…” We can almost hear Pilate and all the kings of this earth ever since with him… breathing sighs of relief.  We can almost hear them say to themselves, “thanks be to God. (Even if we don’t believe in God.) Thanks be to God that Jesus says his kingdom is not from this world.” And yes, what a nightmare for this world’s kings it would be… if Jesus were to say my kingdom is of this world and I’m here to fight with all the angels of heaven to install myself as king… Sometimes the church has acted as...

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November 11, 2018

Pentecost 25  November 11, 2018   Psalm 42, Mark 12:38-42: Ruth 1:1-18,3:1-5, 4:13-17 ********************************************************** In the days of the Judges, one of Israel’s darkest times, a period of chaotic social break-down and deep divisions leading finally into civil war – a time of utter disregard for the law of God and the way of righteousness – a time when leadership fluctuated between useless and blatantly disobedient to God… In the time of the Judges, a certain Israelite family migrated to the nearby nation of Moab to the Southeast. The husband, Elimelech, whose name means “my God is king” died there, leaving his wife an impoverished widow. Naomi’s name means “sweetness” but as our story opens she is feeling bitter and forsaken. Her sons Mahlon (the name means “sickness”) and Chilion (the name means “spent” or “perishing”) have also died in Moab. Now, with no visible means of support, Naomi hears the famine that caused her family to migrate is over, so she starts home, bidding her daughters-in-law to stay in Moab and seek husbands for security. She refers to the early Israelite custom of a brother marrying his brother’s widow to raise up children for her, the closest thing then to social security – saying she’s too old to have sons who they could marry. Her daughter-in-law Orpah (whose name means “back of the neck”) turns back to Moab. But Ruth, whose name means “friend” or “companion” insists on accompanying Naomi as she returns to Bethlehem in Israel… Ruth insists she will go wherever Naomi goes, saying “where you go I will go, where you live I will live – your people will be my people, your God will be my God.” And she lives the words she speaks, as she journeys to Bethlehem with Naomi. Back in Naomi’s hometown, Ruth goes to work gleaning, gathering leftover grain in the wheat and barley fields, working behind the harvesters. The humblest kind of farm work, at the bottom of the economic ladder. Every day she’s first to arrive, last to leave, working hard all day. Winning the praise of Boaz, owner of the field, who, as it turns out, is a relative of Naomi. His name means “in God is strength.” Like all the characters in the story, Boaz acts out the meaning of his name, doing what the word of God says to do – welcoming the stranger, treating Ruth as a neighbor – instructing his workers to treat Ruth well, ensure her safety, let her harvest extra grain… He shares his lunch with her… and doesn’t make anything out of her being a Moabite – a member of a despised nation that Israel’s had a long and troubled relationship with. Back in Exodus days, Moabites tempted and troubled Israel in the wilderness. As a result, Deuteronomy forbids Moabites from entering the temple. But now Moabite Ruth serves as a stellar example of the Hebrew word hesed, meaning steadfast love and faithfulness – a Hebrew word often used to describe God. As now Ruth, loyally following Naomi’s instructions – seeking security for both Naomi and herself – takes the initiative with Boaz – an honorable man, a nice guy with a good heart – who seems a bit slow in figuring out how to act on his obvious admiration for...

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November 4, 2018

All Saints Sunday  November 4, 2018  Psalm 24, Isaiah 25:6-9, Revelation 21:1-6, John 11:32-44 *************************************************************** In the process of preparing for our parish annual meeting tomorrow night… Reading over all our various reports that together become our annual report –  running even a little later than usual, due to three funerals in a week and a half…. Last Thursday night as I was finally reading over the minutes of last year’s annual meeting, I was reminded – how last year we prayed for the families and communities of those martyred a few days earlier in a Baptist church in Texas. Now this year we’re praying for the families and communities of the eleven martyrs of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh… And for the families of those murdered in a Kentucky supermarket when a man shot them after first trying but not being able to enter a nearby African-American church. Praying also for the people who had pipe bombs sent to them by a man who didn’t know them at all, but regarded them as mortal political enemies… On All Saints Sunday we remember all the saints – saints meaning all Christian believers. All Saints day is a reminder for us – that by faith, we are all united in life that cannot be extinguished, even by death – thanks to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. All Saints day is a joyful celebration of life without end. All Saints is also a time when we weep with Jesus for this world’s addiction to the power of death. Weep for this world’s refusal of the true life Jesus offers. We’ve lit candles of remembrance for loved ones and members of our congregation who, in the words of Charles Wesley’s hymn – have crossed over the narrow stream of death. As that hymn we’ve sung this morning also proclaims – we, too, expect to die. We, too, hope to be reunited in resurrection life with loved ones and all the saints from all ages, times and places… We’ve heard again today the visions sent by God to the prophet Isaiah – sent anew hundreds of years later, to John, author of Revelation. Powerful visions, sent by God – God swallowing up death, removing the shroud of death from all the earth – God abolishing death and wiping every tear from every face – as God makes all things new… In the beginning God created all things, and God sees that it is all good. Now God is making all things new again in the resurrection life of Jesus, our Savior. Christ’s resurrection is our new beginning. The new start of God’s new story, in which the power of death is defeated. We don’t and can’t know yet the details of how this new life unfolds. We know God will wipe away every tear. But I wouldn’t be surprised if once God has wiped away our tears, we now shed tears of joy… And tears of compassion. Heaven’s not likely to be dull. I don’t think we’ll be watching re-runs. I’d actually be surprised if God doesn’t keep offering us opportunities to continue to love and serve God… And since God is not God of this earth alone, but of all the universe, there’s probably no shortage of places and ways...

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October 28, 2018

“WITH ALL YOUR HEART” Mark 12:28-34 A few weeks ago I went with Pastor Tim, Dottie, and Donna Mark to a workshop on stewardship presented by the United Methodist Foundation of New England.  The Foundation’s purpose is to help churches manage their funds and  also to help them grow in their understanding of stewardship, or as they prefer to say, to grow in our understanding of generosity.  I’ve been to many workshops on this topic, as I’m sure Pastor Tim has, but there was one thing that stood out for me that I don’t remember experiencing at other workshops. I don’t know if it was the mood I was in or the other things I had on my  mind that day, but as I listened to the Foundation’s president and two other staff  members, I found myself captivated by their Christian witness.  It wasn’t just the information they were sharing that caught my attention.  Rather it was the intensity of their voices, as well as their facial expressions, as they spoke of the spirituality of our giving, not only our financial support to the church but also the investment of our time and talents to the ministries of the church.  I could tell that these men believed with all their hearts every word they spoke because they love Jesus and want to help we United Methodist learn to express our love of Jesus, as well, through our generosity.  In other words, our giving is a spiritual matter.  And that brings us to today’s Gospel lesson. In this passage, we learn that a scribe, a teacher of the Law, is impressed with the way Jesus had just responded to a trick question put to him by the Sadducees.  He saw that Jesus didn’t argue with them, but simply quoted words from the Torah, the first five books of our Bible.  Realizing, then, that Jesus was well versed as to the content of the Torah, the scribe asks Jesus which commandment is the first of all, the most important.  And to his question Jesus recites the opening words of the Shema, as recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy:  Hear, O Israel:  the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. Of course, these words weren’t new to the scribe or to the Sadducees.  Pious Jews repeated them every morning and every evening. They were foundational to their belief in God and their relationship with God.  But Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He continues, quoting words from the Book of Leviticus, adding now a second part to that great commandment, saying:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself. What Jesus is saying here is that the most important thing is love—loving God and loving others. So, the question put before us today is:  How do we live by those words?  I’d like to suggest that the only way we can attempt to love God with all that we are is by placing our lives into God’s hands and asking our Creator to direct every part of our lives, forming us into the people we were created to be.  None of us will ever love God perfectly, just as...

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October 7, 2018

Pentecost 20   October 7, 2018  Psalm 8, Isaiah 8:16-18, Hebrews 1:1-4,2:5-13, Mark 10:13-16          As a little child ************************************************************* “Let the children come to me,” Jesus says. “For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these…. (and…) Unless you receive the kingdom of God as a little child receives, you’ll never get in.” And as Hebrews tells us – Jesus, Son of God, is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters – since we share the same Father in heaven… And as Hebrews also reminds us – Christ is the very image of God – and through our relationship with Christ and God the Father we too carry the image of God… So we know intuitively, at least kind of sort of… what Jesus is talking about here… Which is probably why… even at a very early age… I was able to figure out… Peter Pan got it right. It’s a good thing to never grow up. As a little child I knew… I certainly did not want to grow up. It wasn’t hard to figure out – kids have all the advantage over grown ups, with all their worries and hurries… Why go there? And by the time I hit adolescence I was all the more convinced adults were doing life all wrong. I wanted nothing to do with grown up lifestyles. Adults “know” too much. Reason too reasonably… Or think they’re being so very reasonable… even when we’re obviously sometimes not…. not that my adolescent self wasn’t all the while starting down that same grown up road… As, I suppose, with most children, by the end of adolescence and into my early twenties, all my best-laid-plans to stay forever young went off the track… And I began to think it was time to be an adult and grow up. Hey, I even thought I was a grown up, already… I wish I could say this was just a phase I was going through… I wish I could say I’ve always managed to keep my inner child alive, alert, attentive to the ways of God and God’s kingdom. I wish… but that’s not the way it’s actually been… Still, thanks God, there are times when I do feel like I’m not far from the kingdom – like when I’m fishing, singing or just feeling good in God’s good creation… Or – when I’m here in church worshiping and singing to God with you… Or – when I’m passing pumpkins, along with 105 other people – unloading our annual truckload of pumpkins, making a sea of bright orange with nice contrasting tints of green and white… Doing for others, in the company of others doing the same… Young and old, laughing, smiling, sharing stories… strangers and friends… Crossing over that invisible border… into the kingdom of God… No one to stop us at the border… Because we’re doing it all as little children… The way Jesus said to do… *** Psalm 8, our psalm this morning, reminds us – out of the mouths of babes and infants God has established a defense against God’s foes – a sure defense that causes God’s enemies to hush and keep quiet… The voices of children can, when we pause to listen for God’s Spirit, cause us to hush from bickering,...

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