July 24, 2016

SERMON – JULY 24, 2016 (Guest preacher: Dorothy Cotter) This morning we continue with the adventures of Paul and Barnabas.  This time we find them in the region of Lycaonia, specifically the city of Lystra.  This is located in what is now modern Turkey.  It was known, in the ancient world, as an ignorant backwater, populated by superstitious yokels.  It looks like Paul and Barnabas’ work is cut out for them – not that it has been easy thus far… As per their usual agenda, one of them performs a miracle: discerning that a crippled man has the requisite faith, Paul tells the man to “Stand upright on your feet.”  Upon doing so the crowds immediately respond to the miracle by shouting out “The gods have come down in human form!”    They refer to them as the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes, and immediately bring garlands as tribute, and oxen for sacrifice. But this is not so unusual for the place that had been described as a backwater.  They would not have known that mere mortals, through the Holy Spirit, would be capable of such healing.  And the gods of the pagan world were capricious beings, following their own whims, good or evil, and often times taking their wrath out on humans for no good reason.  The gods were to be appeased, placated, appealed to for favors, but otherwise were to be kept as far from humanity as possible. And there is a story, told by the Roman poet Ovid, of the region of Lycaonia being visited by Zeus and Hermes, in human form.  They went from place to place, visiting thousands of people, asking for aid and shelter.  No one would welcome them.  But a poor, elderly couple, Baucis and Philemon, took them in.  Later when the region was flooded, and the whole population was wiped out, the couple was spared. Given this history, or mythology, if you will, the Lystrans were not going to make that mistake again!  Paul and Barnabas are disturbed at the attempt to worship them, and rend their garments, and tell the people that they are mortals, just as they are. And so we come to an impasse:  the Lystrans think that the apostles are gods; Paul and Barnabas know that they are not God.  But how to convince these folks of the one true God, and his Son, Jesus? They aren’t getting much help from the Jews, who come from Antioch and have Paul stoned.  Come to think of it, they aren’t getting much help from the local Jewish populations wherever they go.  They just came from Iconium, and the Jews there joined with the Gentiles to run them out of town, as well. So, some receive the message gratefully, while others are resistant, if not downright hostile, to receiving the Word. But now, fast forward to the present age:  Are people hearing the Word?  Is there idolatry still going on today, as with the non-Jews in Paul and Barnabas’ day?  And what are we, as Christians, to do about it? And so I would ask you three questions: How do you know of God?; How have you come to know God personally?; and How do you convince others of the existence of the one true God, and of his Son, Jesus...

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August 2, 2015 – The Bread of life

Pentecost 10 August 2, 2015 (Nehemiah 9:6-17) John 6:14-35   The Bread of Life ******************************************** After a long day of feeding five thousand with only two little fishes, five small loaves of bread, and a prayer of thanks – after then escaping away to be alone on the mountain to avoid being crowned king (prematurely) – then walking on water across the lake in the middle of the night – now, over on the other shore with crowds gathering around yet again – now finally Jesus gets down to… Teaching us what he means… by all he says and does – telling us now that the sign of loaves and fishes is really just a beginning – a sign pointing to him – and Jesus says – I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty… And I believe… but… What exactly does Jesus mean by this? Don’t we still find ourselves feeling hungry at times, no matter how much we come to Jesus? Don’t we still get hungry, smelling good food cooking, waiting for supper? Don’t we still get thirsty on hot days, no matter how strong our faith is? Of course Jesus is talking about deeper kinds of hunger and thirst. But – doesn’t Jesus also say somewhere, “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness sake, for they will be filled?” (Isn’t there still holy hunger?) And isn’t there still unholy hunger, even for people of strong faith? What about all the children in the world who still suffer hunger every day? (Many of their families believe, yet still deadly hunger persists…) Jesus can be difficult to understand, sometimes, as he speaks more-or-less-literally and in parables and metaphors (sometimes almost simultaneously) – speaking perhaps in the language of heaven… A language I’m still struggling to learn… My favorite language teacher is often our daughter Rohi, twelve-years-old now, and going through a stage where she really likes to ask questions rather obsessively. Especially driving in the car, when she can’t be reading books, she’ll be asking her mother and me over and over again the meaning of words… “Daddy, what do you mean by ‘bread?’ Daddy, what do you mean by ‘hungry?’” Sometimes I know she knows a word she’s asking me about, so I say ‘you know what that means, you’re the one who should be telling me.’ (And often she does tell me. She just wanted to be asked to share what she knows.) Other times, if we’re home, I’ll say ‘look it up in the dictionary.’ When I think she really may not know a word, I do try to tell her… But sometimes in the process of trying to tell her, I realize – oh my – there are some words that I use that I’m not really sure I know the proper meaning of… And when I turn to the dictionary to check (as I’ve told our daughter to do) I sometimes find that what I thought was the meaning of a word was, yes, partly true – but that’s only one of six, seven, eight meanings of the word…Not always the preferred meaning… Which is how I sometimes feel, listening to Jesus… I often think I know...

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August 17, 2014 – Family Reunion

Romans 12:1-2 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Genesis 42:1-25 When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you keep looking at one another? I have heard,” he said, “that there is grain in Egypt; go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die.” So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt. But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he feared that harm might come to him. Thus the sons of Israel were among the other people who came to buy grain, for the famine had reached the land of Canaan. Now Joseph was governor over the land; it was he who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground. When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke harshly to them. “Where do you come from?” he said. They said, “From the land of Canaan, to buy food.” Although Joseph had recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. Joseph also remembered the dreams that he had dreamed about them. He said to them, “You are spies; you have come to see the nakedness of the land!” They said to him, “No, my lord; your servants have come to buy food. We are all sons of one man; we are honest men; your servants have never been spies.” But he said to them, “No, you have come to see the nakedness of the land!” They said, “We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of a certain man in the land of Canaan; the youngest, however, is now with our father, and one is no more.” But Joseph said to them, “It is just as I have said to you; you are spies! Here is how you shall be tested: as Pharaoh lives, you shall not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here! Let one of you go and bring your brother, while the rest of you remain in prison, in order that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you; or else, as Pharaoh lives, surely you are spies.” And he put them all together in prison for three days. On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: if you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here where you are imprisoned. The rest of you shall go and carry grain for the famine of your households, and bring your youngest brother to me. Thus your words will be verified, and you shall not die.” And they agreed to do so. They said to one another, “Alas, we are paying the penalty for what we did to our brother; we saw his anguish when he pleaded with...

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