Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Notes for Trinity Sunday Message; June 16, 2019

Happy Fathers Day!

Anyone can be a father but it takes someone special to be a dad… A real man loves his wife and places his family as the most important thing in life. Nothing has brought me more peace and content in life than simply being a good husband and father.

~~ Frank Abagnale

This coming Sunday is Trinity Sunday.

Scriptures for this Sunday are: Matthew 28:18-20, 2 Corinthians 13:11-14

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

Today is Trinity Sunday. Trinity Sunday is one of the days that keeps pastors humble because it reminds us how complex our vocation is, and how much we have to rely on God…

 

Trying to explain the Holy Trinity, St. Augustine wrote, “Anyone who denies the Trinity is in danger of losing his salvation, and anyone who tries to understand it is in danger of losing his mind.”

 

Preaching about the Trinity is difficult. It is not difficult because I struggle with the doctrine of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, because I do not. To me that part is intuitive. I run out of words when I try to express the experience of God; the experience that has guided the Church as well as each one of us, to describe God as three in one and one in three. God is a lot bigger, a lot more alive, a lot more complex than we are, and the language that we use here on earth is limited in its expressiveness, making it almost impossible to explain the Holy Trinity.

Simplistically, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity teaches us who and what God is.

Since all of us are created in the image of God, and God has a Triune nature (creator, redeemer, and spirit), that Triune nature has to manifest itself in our lives somehow.

We are wonderfully complicated creatures. Humans can produce the most aesthetically pleasing and functional works of art and engineering. Humans are also capable of orchestrating the most terrible atrocities. When we look at the intricacies of our interactions with each other, the complexity of our environment, and the differences in our personalities, it is easy for us to concentrate on the minutia and our differences and miss the big picture. To make these matters worse, because we live in a fallen world, it is our tendency to focus on the minutia, to concentrate on the shortterm at the expense of the long-term consequences.

God’s Triune nature manifests itself in our lives in the intricacies, complexities and differences that we have to face in our daily lives.

 

 

Just like our God who “was hovering over the surface of the deep” (Gen 1:2) and who created the whole Universe out of nothing, we hover over the blank slate that is our future. We imagine new possibilities and new outcomes, and these are the building blocks that create our lives. Every stage of our lives brings with it new possibilities (new “deep waters”) and out of all these possibilities we build the components of our lives (our personal universe). As we journey through our lives, these components make up a narrative of our life. God gave us generative abilities to build our lives out of the basic building blocks that He created “in the beginning” (Gen 1:1). This is how the “creator” God lives in us.

We do not live in a vacuum. We live among friends and neighbors. We need to interact with others. God assumed human form and Jesus came into our world to do just that, to interact with us in order to bring God’s grace to us, and to be our savior. He is our example of what God had in mind when he created humans and what kind of society God was hoping to build. Each of our lives has a component of public life, a public persona that defines how we interact and influence others. Jesus gave us an example of how to be the best person that we can be, and God uses us, God uses us to bring this saving grace to those around us. This is how the “savior” God lives in us.

Every one of us also has a “spirit” that is defined by who we are. Do you project happiness or confidence? Do you walk around with a frown plastered on your face? Are you easy to work with? Do you insist that you are always right? Do you smile? Do you like to laugh? Do you talk more than you listen? Do you even know how to listen? Do you like to learn new things? Are you interested in all things mechanical? Do you prefer to work with animals? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Just like the Holy Spirit tugs on our hearts, our personal spirit tugs on the hearts and souls of those we interact with. There is a saying, “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” How we make others feel is reflection of our spirit.

The image of God the Parent that we reflect helps us to build the components of our lives out of the basic building blocks that God created “in the beginning” (Gen 1:1).

The image of God the Son that we reflect helps us to interact with each other, and helps us to work towards what we believe to be right, true and beautiful.

The image of God the Holy Spirit that we reflect infuses our immediate surroundings with the essence of who we are. The image of God the Holy Spirit inside of us tugs on the hearts and minds of those around us, affecting their actions.

The combination of these three images of God in our lives [OR ASPECTS/FACETS of our lives] makes an image of God that we reflect and project on the world around us. Being created in God’s image means that we are created with:

  • The ability to love;

  • The ability to create and to build;

  • The ability to enjoy and appreciate beauty. In the process of recognizing the aesthetic quality of our world, and striving to bring beauty into our lives, we catch a glimpse of God’s creativity;

  • The ability to experience emotions and feelings;

  • The ability to imagine things and to understand abstract concepts. As we explore the natural world, we understand better how our world and universe is made, and in the process we gain a better understanding of the mind of the Creator;

  • The ability to feel sadness and sorrow (Gen 6:6 “God was sorry that he created men and he was grieved in his heart”), to recognize when we make mistakes and to self-correct (The Flood, Life and Death of Jesus);

When the Image of God that we reflect, the image of the Holy Trinity inside us, is in sync with the presence and mission of God in the world, we find peace and harmony. We engage in God’s mission, and when we are with God all things are possible.

When the Image of God that we reflect, the image of the Holy Trinity inside us, is NOT in sync with the presence and mission of God in the word, we find ourselves frustrated, tired, bitter, and angry.

How does your life reflect and project our Triune God: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit?

 

 

In 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11 Paul wrote, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up…”

 

In Hebrews 10:24-25 Paul wrote, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…”

 

Thinking Towards Sunday; Trinity Sunday; June 16, 2019

Scriptures for this Sunday: Matthew 28:18-20 and 2 Corinthians 13:14

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

Notes for Sunday’s Message; Pentecost Sunday 2019

 

Sunday, June 9, 2019 is Pentecost Sunday. We will also celebrate the Sacrament of the Holy Communion.
REMINDER: our church is changing to Summer Worship hours. Our worship will begin promptly at 9:30 am

Scripture for this Sunday: Acts 2:1-21

You can read this Scripture here: {NIV and ESV}

 

 


As a young pastor, I decided one day that rather than writing a sermon, I would rely on the Holy Spirit to speak through me during the sermon. The whole week I earnestly prayed asking the Holy Spirit to do just that and to deliver the most awesome sermon ever preached on the face of this Earth.

Sunday came. As I stood in front of the congregation waiting for the Holy Spirit to speak through me, the Holy Spirit tapped me on my right shoulder and gently whispered, “You should have prepared.”


When we think of Pentecost, we are preconditioned to think of the story from the book of Acts, when the Spirit came on the community gathered in one place in the form of a strong wind that filled the house, and divided tongues of fire that rested on each of them (Acts 2:1-3).


But that is not the only place where the Bible talks about the coming of the Holy Spirit. Chapter 20 of the Gospel of John chronicles events surrounding the Resurrection and then it continues with a story of Jesus appearing to his Disciples.





NIV2010 John 20: 19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders – [for the fear of their own people], Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
22 And WITH THAT HE BREATHED ON THEM and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”


When I read the scripture from Acts through the lens of the story from John, (“Jesus breathed on them”) the Holy Spirit becomes not only a noun but also a verb, an action.


In Genesis 2:7 we hear, “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” The Holy Spirit is the very breath of God, the same breath that God breathed into Adam to make Adam alive. The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is what brings us the Abundant Life that Jesus talked about (John 10:10).

The Good News is Good not just because we are given a hope of spending eternity with God, but because we are empowered to renewal and regeneration, here and now and throughout our lives’ journeys. Each of us is called to be the best version of what we were created to be by the power and guidance of Holy Spirit, by the very breath of God.


Ever since I was involved in a disciplined Bible Study, I struggled with the scripture from Acts that we heard today. That Scripture challenges me because it implies that I let my past experiences, my expectations of the future and cynicism that I acquired on my life’s journey, to close my heart to the very breath of God rising like a fierce wind all around me.

The truth is that all of us limit our vision through cynicism. In extreme cases, we are so scared of doubt that we allow it to make our thoughts rigid, we choose certainties and absolutes and then never make space for the Holy Spirit to break those open or apart.

But God never stays in the place where we put God. The things we feel sure that God does not care about may be precisely the source of healing for a broken world. In John 3, Jesus taught Nicodemus, “You must be born again; you must be born of the Spirit. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (paraphrase).


Pentecost, the Holy Spirit, the Breath of God, is about making space for the yet unknown, for possibilities that are far beyond our capacity to imagine today.

Pentecost teaches us that recognizing God is not the same as submitting to Him. Hearing God in your heart is not the same as answering the call. Working for God does not mean living in the kingdom of God. Being a Christian is not about believing the truths of the Bible; being a Christian is about acting upon them and allowing the Holy Spirit of our God and the example of Jesus to control your life. Every day, every one of us has a choice to make.


Today is Pentecost! Are you perplexed? Are you amazed? Are you bewildered by the very breath of God all around you? If you are not, I want to challenge all of us, myself included to release the tight grip of the certainty of our routines and habits and make room for the Holy Surprise, allowing ourselves to be surprised and swept off our feet.

{Transition to the sacrament of the Holy Communion}

Thinking Towards Sunday; Pentecost Sunday 2019; 6/9/2019

Scripture for this Sunday: Acts 2:1-21

You can read this Scripture here: {NIV and ESV}

Notes for Sunday’s Message; Mother’s Day 2019

Today’s Scriptures: Romans 16:13-18; Matthew 15:21-28

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

 



We tend to think of the Holy Scriptures as a cure-all for sinners. “Dusty Bibles lead to dirty lives” we say. But when we think about it, the Bible is NOT a book of recipes to fix everything that ails us. The Scriptures of the Hebrew Bible, the Gospels, and the Scriptures of the Early Christian Writings in their entirety describe the method that God is using to redeem all things to Godself and morph us into God’s image. I believe that God is NOT morphing us into a complacent, self-satisfied people, but into an image of the wild, dynamic God of love, redemption and sacrifice. That is the process that John Wesley called “the journey to perfection.” And that brings me to the celebration of Mothers’ Day.


Not all women are biological mothers, that much is true. That being understood, God entrusts all women with the divine responsibility of mothering, nurturing, and guiding God’s children. Paul wrote,
Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, WHO HAS BEEN A MOTHER TO ME, TOO” (Romans 16:13). Rufus’ mother mothered Paul.

Mothers have a sacred role in all of the Creation. They are partners with God, first in giving birth to their children and then rearing those children so they will serve the Lord and keep his commandments. That is why motherhood is a holy calling and a sacred dedication for carrying out the Lord’s work. Our mothers are consecrated to the rearing and fostering and nurturing of body, mind, and spirit. All of us have a mother and multiple mother figures in our lives.

As our country observes Mother’s Day, I recognize that it is our mothers, and other ladies who mothered us on our lives’ journeys, that teach us how to ask the right questions, help us to figure out what we are looking for, and support us as we knock on proverbial doors looking for answers.


For those whose mothers and grandmothers are still alive – cherish them today. Honor them. Thank them.

For those whose mothers have gone home to the Lord, remember them.

I want to close today’s message with a reading from Ephesians 3:14-21. This Scripture describes the incredible love that your God has for every one of us.





NIV2010 Ephesians 3: 14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

When Paul wrote this prayer, he was praying for the Ephesian church and directed it to God. It is easy to see how this prayer can be applied to a mother’s love for her children.


So I want to wish everyone a happy Mothers’ Day! May it bring you joy, comfort, dignity and a glimpse of the Holy God walking by your side.

 


Notes for Easter Message; Easter 2019

Easter Reading interleaved with “In the Garden”

NIV2010
John 20: 1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”


3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)

10 Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11 but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

“In The Garden” verse 1:

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

Refrain:

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

15
“Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!”(which means Teacher).

“In The Garden” verse 2:

He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.

Refrain

17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

“In The Garden” verse 3:

I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.

Refrain

May God add God’s Blessing to
the Reading, Hearing,
Understanding and Living
of God’s Word


Easter erupted and burst violently into the reality that we call life and into the events of human history, but our minds and imaginations are too small to comprehend the full implications of what it means. Please do not misunderstand me, I am convinced that we do our best to understand the Resurrection and the events that happened that morning. But because of the limitations of our humanity and our humanness, all we can do is fit the Resurrection into the categories and possibilities that (1) we already know about and
(2) are comfortable with.


Easter is what being a follower of Jesus is all about. The events of Easter morning are a miracle, they cannot be explained with any sort of “objective” proof. Easter cannot be reduced to logic.

The first Christians were not prepared for what happened that morning. If we were there, we wouldn’t be either. They did not even recognize Jesus at first. Mary thought that he was the gardener; two travelers on the road to Emmaus thought that he was a stranger. To recognize Jesus, the Disciples and friends needed to rely on their faith, experience and on their intimate relationship with Jesus.


Our faith and Christian identity are rooted in the Resurrection. Our faith is about the continual cycle of death and resurrection that happens in our lives. Allow me to explain. In Luke 24 verses 1-3 we hear,


“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.”


Am I the only one to know a recovering addict who was able to rise above their disease? He or she is still the same person, but now they are transformed; they have a new life, new hopes, and new possibilities.

We all know someone who took on too much debt, and in the process of getting out of debt learned a thing or two about budgeting and financial management. With that knowledge came new life, new hopes, and new possibilities.


Just like the stone that was rolled away from the tomb, Jesus comes to us in the direst situations and rolls away our [“stone” of] hopelessness and helps us to become better versions of ourselves.


Each of our lives, each story of our personal relationship with God is a sequence of times when we dug a “grave” for ourselves, and God reached in and pulled us out.

When we are in a difficult situation, we face the unknown in a sense that we have no idea how we will get out of it. It is when we get the courage to face the “unknown,” that we receive a new and deeper understanding of God, which in turn brings new hope, new beginnings, new possibilities and new life.

We see an example of that in Mary’s encounter with Jesus early in the morning (John 20:1-18). The Risen Jesus, whom she did not even recognize, called her name, “Mary,” and her life was changed forever. Although she could not even fathom the Resurrection, although her faith had been shaken to the core the day before, she had the courage to hope and to believe. Resurrection is about the persistence of God’s future interrupting our present; it is the radical leap beyond what we could ever imagine that brings new life and renewal.

Each of our lives, each story of our personal relationship with God is a sequence of times when we dug a “grave” for ourselves and God reached in and pulled us out. And every time this happens, we receive a new and deeper understanding, which in turn brings new hope, new beginnings and new possibilities.


The journey of Lent and the events of Holy Week are about us learning to notice the presence of the Holy when the rest of the world denies it; to show us that God is present when most resist him; to witness to the Holy in places and spaces where God’s presence is not obvious.


“Art is a lie that tells us something about the truth” (Pablo Picasso). The series God Friended Me chronicles the life of Miles Finer, an outspoken atheist and podcaster, who is sent friend requests on Facebook by an account named “God.” This account suggests new friends to Miles, people who require assistance. Initially skeptical, Miles decides to follow these suggestions to help people.

Here is an excerpt from the final episode of season 1, where Miles talks to his father, Arthur Finer, (who happens to be a pastor).


Arthur: What started as a critique of religion, has now evolved into a conversation about hope, about faith.

Miles: Having faith in God and having faith in people are two very different things.

Arthur: Are they?

Miles: Oooooohhh, here we go. Are you sure you left the pulpit? Because you sound like a Reverend to me.

Arthur: Just because I took off the collar does not mean my beliefs are changed. I am just starting a new journey, kind of like you and the “God-Account.”

Miles: How so?

Arthur: It seems you’ve come to square one in figuring out who is behind it. Are you OK with that? That you may never know?

Miles: (pensively) Actually… I am. What I’ve learned is that to question is not the most important thing. Helping people, changing lives, making a difference…. That’s what matters most…

During his journey, Miles Finer discovered something that made him a better man. Although the name of what challenges Miles is “God Account”, notice the quotes, the parallels are unmistakable. When we come in touch with the Holy, we come closer to God.

This Easter I hope and pray that Jesus, who rose in the darkness, will lead us into new life, new light, and new hope. I pray that we recognize him in the half-lit shadowy places when we face hardships and disappointment. I pray that we dare to linger at the graveside until he calls our names.


Easter does not only happen once a year. Every time that we experience such presence of Jesus in our lives is a day of “Easter.” Every time that our personal relationship with the risen Lord enables us to find hope at a time when there seemingly is no hope, that is a day of “Easter.”

Easter happens when the love of God is experienced in the human heart. Easter happens when hope of a new life is born in the higher power of resurrected Jesus. Easter happens when the promise of eternal life with almighty God, our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, becomes a reality of our existence.

Every day can be a day of “Easter” for each and every one of us. Do you hear him calling your name this morning?


{Open Chancel Rail}


 

Difference between Logos, Pathos, and Ethos

Notes for Sunday’s Message; John 12:1-8

Scriptures for this Sunday: Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8

You can read these Scriptures here:
{NIV and ESV}

 

The season of Lent is about facing our faith. It is about looking straight into God’s eyes. It is about making adjustments in our lives that facilitate growth in our relationship with God.


Richard of Chichester wrote this prayer sometime between 1244 and 1253:

Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ
For all the benefits Thou hast given me,
For all the pains and insults
Thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
Follow Thee more nearly.

For me this simple prayer captures what the season of Lent is all about.


In the Gospel reading, John tells us that Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, anointed Jesus’ feet.


That brought a rebuke from Judas Iscariot, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages”
(John 12:5). Lest we forget, John makes a point to remind us that Judas is the one who later betrayed Jesus.

What throws me for a loop is that the argument that Judas presented is solid, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” If sold, that perfume could finance a lot of much needed ministry and outreach.

John also wants to make sure that we understand that Mary and John were not just two strangers engaging in obscure theological debate. These two were among the people who knew Jesus the best; both Mary and Judas were handpicked and selected by Jesus himself and trained to carry the mission and the message into the future. Both were members of Jesus’ inner circle.


Jesus’ response is also surprising. He said, “Leave her alone. It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

Did Jesus just say something like “don’t worry about the poor? Let them fend for themselves for a change? So what if we wasted a year’s worth of wages…”

Today’s Gospel reading sheds a light on the dichotomy of our faith and relationship with God. On the one hand we need to be concerned with social justice. We need to be concerned with the lack of educational, economic, and advancement opportunities for our neighbors in the lower socio-economic strata of society. We need to be concerned with racial tensions in our country. We need to be concerned with the lack of civility in our daily lives. We need to be concerned that we disenfranchise and hurt groups and classes of people. Social justice is what our Christian sisters and brothers on the liberal side of the spectrum focus on.

On the other hand, we need to be concerned with the loss of holiness and disintegration of moral principles in our society. We need to be concerned with the breakdown of the fabric of what it means to be a Christian and a citizen of this country. Instead of just saying, “Oh well,” we need to be concerned with the fact that we have lost touch with generations of future Christians who crave a relationship with God; they even describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” This decline in holiness is what our Christian sisters and brothers on the conservative side of the spectrum focus on.

We need both: personal holiness and social justice.

We need people concerned with tangible things like brick and mortar. We also need dreamers and imaginative thinkers.

We need Christians who ask questions like, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” We need Christians who make sure that we do not waste our resources and that we use what we have wisely.

We also need Christians like Mary who understand the value of spending time at God’s feet, bringing our hurts and our frustrations and allowing God to bring us to new life. Jesus himself said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

There is a time to be like Mary. When she was broken, she was at the feet of Jesus.

There is ALSO a time to throw caution to the wind and to give extravagantly. Kingswood is comfortable with that; just look around and see the Hope Dining Room, the Food Closet, backpacks for the middle school students, donations to charities around the world.

But there is also a time to be like Martha. There is a time for building the infrastructure and maintaining resources, ensuring the institutional strength of this church for the long-term.

Our challenge is to find the balance between involvement with social justice and making sure that we live strive to live holy lives.

God wants so much more for us and from us than just being content with saying: “I am keeping the commandments and obeying the rules.” He wants us to participate fully in God’s Abundant life for all eternity. Holiness is so much more than NOT being a thief or a murderer; God wants us to strive to become perfect as He is perfect.

God also wants us to be concerned with the well-being of our neighbors; making sure that we are the catalyst of a just society.

There is a relationship between personal holiness and works. Rather than going into longwinded explanations, I will use the quote from Paul,


NIV2010 Ephesians 2: 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

We are God’s handiwork, we are created new to live holy lives. We are born-again Christians, redeemed by the blood of Jesus. But we are redeemed for something, and that something is to be God’s hands in this world.

For the long time our church has done an awesome job at outreach. Now its time to focus more on maintaining our resources so we are able to continue our outreach.

A great example of what I am trying to describe is “Friends of Bill W.” meetings. Anyone who goes to those meetings is initially broken. They find themselves at the feet of Jesus, and after they get better, after they invite God to repair their souls, they are then encouraged to help others. Well, the soul of our church is broken. Our pews are becoming emptier, and we need to find ways to renew ourselves and fill our pews once again, so that we have something to give to our neighbors. That will be like the fragrant aroma of the perfume Mary poured on Jesus’ feet. That renewal will allow us to continue our wonderful tradition of ministry in this community.

“I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I’m supposed to do, what I can do. I used to pray for answers, but now I’m praying for strength. I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us, and we change things.”
~~ Saint Mother Theresa (8/26/1910 – 9/5/1997)

 

{Celebrating the Sacrament of the Holy Communion}

{Open Chancel Rail}

Thinking Towards Sunday; April 7, 2019

Scriptures for this Sunday: Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

Notes for Sermon for Sunday, March 31, 2019; The Parable of the Prodigal Son

Scriptures for Sunday, March 31, 2019: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32    

You can read these Scriptures here:
{NIV and ESV}

 

The story of the Bible begins with an act of disobedience and lapse of judgement. Without that disobedience and lapse of judgment by our common ancestors, Adam and Eve, without original fall, we would not need redeeming. I know we pretend to be disappointed that Adam and Eve ate that piece of fruit, but deep down we know that eating that fruit is the whole point! Without them disobeying God, and without them falling to temptation, there would be no story to tell. That is the story that breaks through to our consciousness. We don’t come to God by doing it “right.” Doing it right just makes us fall in love with ourselves, not God. That is how we build an idol in our own image.

About eighteen months ago a young man asked to meet with me. He was getting ready to inherit a large sum of money, and he wanted to move away from his parents’ home the moment he could. This kid is educated and has a job but wishes that he had a better one. His idea of independence was to buy a house in rural Maryland, where houses do not move that fast and need a lot of upkeep, tying himself down to this area. He was convinced that blowing up his entire inheritance and tying himself to a place where there are very few career prospects was absolutely the right thing to do.

It has been six years now, but when I served in Chestertown another young man wanted to talk to me. His problem was that he was engaged and the wedding date was approaching. Meanwhile, he really enjoyed the company of several other ladies and he did not want to come clean about it to his future wife, nor did he want to give them up. He wanted to hear that it was okay for him to continue doing what he was doing. He was looking for absolution.

The parable that we heard today describes such a mindset clearly (Luke 15:11-32). A man has two sons. One son does everything right; the other son wants a different kind of life for himself. He is also convinced that he is too smart to do anything wrong. In the end the one that does it wrong ends up finding his way home; and the one who does everything right ends up bitter, angry and disappointed.

All of us face temptation. All of us have to make decisions and choices in life. The way we approach these decisions and choices makes all the difference in the world.

Every one of us has an ego. I am not talking about “ego” in a sense that our heads do not fit through the doorframe, I am talking about our understanding of who we are in relationship to God and others. When somebody tells me that I am stupid and the world would be a better place without me, it is my ego that helps me to realize that maybe they are right, but more than likely the person telling me off feels terrible about himself or herself and takes it out on others. None of us will navigate life successfully until we learn to recognize our mistakes and recover from those mistakes.

In the process of living our lives we all make mistakes. Each mistake gives us an opportunity to repent, to learn something new about God, about each other, and about the world we live in.

When our egos are inflated, when we insist that we do not need to repent or change anything in our lives or our behavior, that is when we get into trouble. We do not see our own folly because our egos block our vision. In those times, instead of seeking God, relationship with Jesus and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we spend all of our energies on maintaining our inflated sense of self-worth.

God wants so much more for us and from us than merely being content with saying: “I am keeping the commandments and obeying the rules.” He wants us to participate fully in God’s Abundant life for all eternity. Holiness is so much more than merely not being a thief or a murderer; God wants us to become perfect as He is perfect. This sounds foolish to individuals who are more attached to their possessions in this world than to God. However, to those who have heaven as their goal, the Gospel, and all the radical requirements associated with living the Gospel, is the power of God and leads to living the abundant life even now; and in the end — eternal life. “For the word of the Cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18).

Old Bluegrass Song…

You will roll up grades of trial;
You will cross the bridge of strife;
See that Christ is your conductor
On this lightning train of life;
Always mindful of obstruction,
Do your duty, never fail;
Keep your hands upon the throttle,
And your eyes upon the rail.

You will often find obstructions,
Look for storms and wind and rain;
On a fill, or curve, or trestle
They will almost ditch your train;
Put your trust alone in Jesus,
Never falter, never fail;
Keep your hands upon the throttle,
And your eyes upon the rail.

This song is based on “The Faithful Engineer” by William S. Hays, published in 1886.

The Union Depot in this song, is the Depot in Altoona, PA.

Notes for Sunday’s Sermon; March 24, 2019

Scriptures for Sunday, March 24, 2019: Isaiah 55:1-9; Luke 13:6-9

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

 


Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. In Luke 9:51 we read, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Have you ever wondered why Jesus had to go to Jerusalem? In Luke 13:33 Jesus himself revealed the reason for his resolve, “I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day [on my journey to Jerusalem] — for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!” To Jesus, it was unthinkable to be crucified anywhere else because Jerusalem is such a meaningful location in the story of God’s interaction with God’s human children.

Luke tells us that after setting out for Jerusalem, Jesus did a lot of teaching along the way. I almost envision Jesus and the Disciples going from place to place and leading revivals. Jesus also taught the Disciples by trusting them with the more complicated tasks of ministry (he sent them out into the world (Luke 10:1 – 24) as he was preparing them for ministry without him). It is in this context that we hear the parable of the Good Samaritan. It is in this context that we learn about arguments between Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42, “Martha, Martha don’t worry about the dishes“). It is in this context that Jesus gave us the prayer that we know and love as “the Lord’s Prayer” (Luke 11:1-13). And if you scan the Gospel of Luke between chapters 9 and 13, you will see many other teachings; Jesus was preparing his followers for ministry in the future when he would no longer be with them. Jesus was instilling his Disciples with the seeds of vision, so that they would continue serving as his hands and feet in the world.

That is when we come to today’s reading. Jesus was told that Pilate had killed some Galileans who were on a yearly pilgrimage to the Temple. Jesus took this news and offered a lesson. He made the point that the Galileans Pilate killed were average people like you and I and the disciples, and that sometimes we are in the wrong place at the wrong time. The message was, “watch out, be prepared, you never know when you will have to face your maker.”


And to illustrate that point, we received the Parable of the Fig Tree.

Luke 13: 6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.‘”

 

 

 

 

This is a parable about nurturing, about resilience, about regeneration, about finding strength to face the challenges of the day and staying productive. God made us to be God’s hands and feet in the Creation, (“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” Genesis 2:15), Jesus came so that we have an example of how we can live abundant lives (John 10:10) and bear fruit in the Kingdom of God.

Making fruit takes a lot of effort. Once in a while we find ourselves too settled in our ways, too complacent and too comfortable. We are too cozy and we don’t want to invest the effort required to produce the fruit, to make the disciples, to comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable. Many churches in our United Methodist Communion find themselves in that predicament. Today’s parable is a word of warning: We cannot solve our problems without making changes. We cannot solve our problems with the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. To renew and to reinvent ourselves we must let go because when we hold on to our comfort too tight, we lose what we have, as well as what could have been. (Luke 17:33, Matthew 16:25 – “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”)

{Illustration}

That brings me to the last point. When you have a problem with your Ford truck, you take it to the Ford dealer. When you have a problem with your GM car, you take it to the GM dealership. If your Honda breaks down, you take it to the Honda dealer. And when we are broken, when our lives don’t go the way we hoped they would go, when we feel like that fig tree that no longer produces fruit, where do we take ourselves for repair, for renewal, for regeneration? To the one who created us… God.

Psalm 139: 13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

Isaiah 64: 8 Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.

We need to repent from our silence and learn to call things by their real names, and then actually do something about it.

We need to repent from glancing over horrific events like the shooting in the mosque in Christchurch, NZ, or the synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA because it does not directly affect us, at least not yet.

Repentance is necessary for how we continue to ignore the truth, and instead choose to spend our time and energies on splitting theological hairs while there are people that are hungry all around us. We need to re-learn how to be effective in a new environment where the majority of the young people are “spiritual but not religious.”

Repentance is necessary for our complicity and complacency, for our explanations and enabling.

Do you need to take yourself to your Creator in prayer? All of us need to repent for the ways in which we constantly and consistently take advantage of God’s patience and God’s grace, as today’s parable tells us. The world cannot afford our barrenness any longer.

Today’s Closing Hymn is “Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior.”

Verse 2: Let me at thy throne of mercy
find a sweet relief,
kneeling there in deep contrition;
help my unbelief.

What are your struggles? What are your frustrations? Give them to Jesus, and then listen to the Holy Spirits guidance, let’s see what God will do with them?

Verse 3: Trusting only in thy merit,
would I seek thy face;
heal my wounded, broken spirit,
save me by thy grace.

Does your spirit – what makes you YOU – needs healing? Does the spirit of our church needs healing?

Verse 4: Thou the spring of all my comfort,
more than life to me,
whom have I on earth beside thee?
Whom in heaven but thee?

Do you need to bring yourself to the spring of the Living Water?

Thinking Towards Sunday

Scriptures for Sunday, March 24, 2019: Isaiah 55:1-9; Luke 13:6-9

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

 

Scriptures for Sunday, March 31, 2019: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32    

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV)

Notes for Sunday’s Message; 2nd Sunday in Lent; 2 Chronicles 34: 1-3, 8, 12-15, 29-31

Scriptures for this Sunday are: 2 Chronicles 34: 1-3, 8, 12-15, 29-31

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

Josiah became king of Judah at the age of eight, after the assassination of his father, King Amon. Josiah reigned for thirty-one years (2 Chronicles 34:1), from 641 to 610 BCE. Josiah’s story is told in 2 Kings 22-23, and then repeated in 2 Chronicles 34-35.

The Bible describes him as a righteous man; a king who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2). He is mentioned in Matthew 1 in the genealogy of Jesus.

To understand what Josiah means to you and me, we need to understand the times during which he lived and ruled the southern kingdom of Judah. Approximately 100 years before he became king, the Assyrian Empire conquered part of the northern kingdom of Israel and started taking its inhabitants into exile. The Assyrians were fighting on the territory of the northern kingdom of Israel for 40-60 years, slowly conquering it, and during all this time they were carrying men and women into exile.

By the time that Josiah became king of Judah, the international situation was in flux. The Assyrian Empire was beginning to disintegrate, Egypt to the west had recently won independence from the Assyrians and was still recovering from Assyrian rule. The Babylonian Empire had not yet risen to replace it, but the writing was on the wall. That created a power vacuum, and the country of Judah was able to govern itself for the time being.

Josiah, however, had a problem. There were many people displaced by war who settled in his kingdom and adjacent lands. They came with their own ideas of what is right, true, and beautiful. They also came with their own understanding of what is holy. Such multiplicity of ideas resulted in a hodge-podge of beliefs, that in turn led to tribal friction and tension. There was no concrete national identity; there was no concrete cultural identity; there was no concrete understanding on what makes “us” to be “us,” to be on the same team, to share a vision of the future.

I think that King Josiah wanted to build a sense of national unity. The next thing that he did was to clarify the traditions that were passed through generations of priests and make them available for common people like you and me.

He commissioned a group of Temple priests, under direction of High Priest Hilkiah (2 Kings 22:8), to summarize the oral traditions that were available at the time and to organize them into a scroll. That work was the foundation of what we know today as the Book of Deuteronomy.

Although there were memories of Passover among the descendants of the former slaves in Egypt, there was no unified way to celebrate Passover. A part of King Josiah’s vision to establish a national identity was to declare a Holy Day commemorating the events of Exodus from Egypt. In the 16th chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy, we hear:

NIV2010 Deuteronomy 16: 1 Observe the month of Aviv and celebrate the Passover of the Lord your God, because in the month of Aviv he brought you out of Egypt by night. Sacrifice as the Passover to the Lord your God an animal from your flock or herd at the place the Lord will choose as a dwelling for his Name. Do not eat it with bread made with yeast, but for seven days eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste—so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt. Let no yeast be found in your possession in all your land for seven days. Do not let any of the meat you sacrifice on the evening of the first day remain until morning.

You must not sacrifice the Passover in any town the Lord your God gives you
except in the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name. There you must sacrifice the Passover in the evening, when the sun goes down, on the anniversary
of your departure from Egypt.
Roast it and eat it at the place the Lord your God will choose. Then in the morning return to your tents. For six days eat unleavened bread and on the seventh day hold an assembly to the Lord your God and do no work.

The 23rd chapter of 2 Kings, verses 21-23 informs us,

21 The king [Josiah] gave this order to all the people: “Celebrate the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.”
22 Neither in the days of the judges who led Israel nor in the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah had any such Passover been observed.
23 But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, this Passover was celebrated to the Lord in Jerusalem.

{Illustration}

So, what’s in it for us? Jesus established the Sacrament of the Holy Communion during such a meal commemorating the Passover, which was based on the vision of King Josiah.

That vision served both Jews and Christians well. Josiah’s efforts at building a sense of communal identity, in the face of the real possibility of Judea being taken into exile, helped the Jews in Babylonian exile to keep and maintain their unified identity. It helped them to return to their homeland from Babylon and to rebuild, and to this day, 2600 years later, that vision reverberates through every Jewish man and woman whether they are religious or not, because the Passover Meal (whether it is a religious Seder or not) is an integral part of what it means to be a Jew.

That same vision reverberates through every Christian man or woman when we gather at the altar to Celebrate and to Observe the Sacrament of the Holy Communion. The words “This is my body broken for you” and “This is my blood of the new covenant shed for you” are an integral part of what it means to be a Christian.

There is a saying:

If you plan for one year, plant wheat.
If you plan for ten years, plant trees.
If you plan for one hundred years,
educate children.

The truth is we need to “plant wheat” because we need to survive in the short term.

The truth is that we need to “plant trees” because we need to plan our lives. I do not know anyone who accomplished anything of importance without planning, preparation, and more importantly, envisioning how their accomplishments will serve them and others.

The truth is that we need to “educate children” (and I do not use this term literally: we need to constantly educate and reeducate ourselves as well), because education gives us an ability to consider ideas without internalizing them. Some ideas work, some ideas don’t, but without education there is no future.

In Season 7, episode 2, of Call the Midwife, the character of Sister Monica Joan says, “There’s much of value in the old ways, but one must not become like Lot’s wife, frozen in the act of looking backwards” (PBS). Without education, there are no new ideas and society becomes like Lot’s wife, frozen in the act of looking backwards, longing for and wishing for the good old days to return.

We are in the season of Lent. As we get ready to leave today, I want to ask you, What is your equivalent to “planting wheat?” How do you prepare for the immediate future?

What is your equivalent of “planting trees”? How do you see yourself and your families five to ten years from now?

What is your equivalent of “educating children”? Do your grandchildren know their family story and history (which by the way are two different things)? Do you do anything to understand the world around you better, or do you just continue doing the same thing that you did fifty years ago because you cannot imagine anything different?

Thinking Towards Sunday; 2nd Sunday in Lent

Scriptures for this Sunday are: 2 Chronicles 34: 1-3, 8, 12-15, 29-31

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

Notes for Sunday’s Sermon; Luke 4:1-13; 1st Sunday in Lent

Scriptures for this Sunday is Luke 4:1-13

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

 

All of us are familiar with today’s Gospel reading. The devil knows exactly how to tempt Jesus and he uses the Bible to do it. Today’s reading also makes clear that Jesus knows more than what the Bible says. Jesus passed the test and temptation in the desert because he knows how to EMBODY God’s presence with every aspect of his life. Jesus knows how to DO what the Bible says.

 

I am sure that all of you have heard dozens of sermons about what Jesus and the devil said to each other. That is why I will not talk about that today. Besides, none of us are likely to be given the same test as Jesus. We are going to get the test that is appropriate for humans. The devil does not need anything more than an all-you-can-eat buffet and a promise of a sale at Kohls to lead us astray.

 

The test that Jesus was subjected to took place in the wilderness of a desert. Every one of us has been in that desert whether we are aware of it or not. For each of us, that desert looks and feels differently.

  • A hospital waiting room,

  • A cheap motel room you find yourself in for one reason or another,

  • A jail cell,

  • A “Friends of Bill W.” meeting,

  • A place of fear and uncertainty,

  • A parking lot where you couldn’t find your car on the day you received some devastating news,

  • A spot by the chancel rail in the church as you begged God for direction, and all you heard in response was the pounding of your heart and the sounds of your own breathing.

“Deserts” come in many shapes and sizes. When you are in the “desert,” you know it by the way your friends and loved ones have a hard time understanding exactly what you are going through, and because it makes you feel lonely and misunderstood.

Because of all that, deserts are not places that most of us look forward to. We spend a lot of time and emotional energy trying to stay out of the “desert.” But it is in the “DESERT” that we discover who we really are and what our individual lives are about.

 

Such periods in our lives are a part of human experience. They are thin places, when the Holy Spirit gets hold of us and fills our souls with hope, vision and direction; where our lives are changed and where we become the best version of what God created us to be.

In today’s scripture reading, Jesus’ time in the wilderness focused him on the reason he came to live among us, freed him from craving for things that the Devil wanted to waste his time and emotional energy with, and it also made it clear that God the Father was not going to make choices for Jesus. After forty days in the desert, Jesus learned to trust the Spirit that had led him there to lead him out again. The desert gave the human side of Jesus clarity of vision and courage that he could not have found anywhere else.

 

Richard of Chichester wrote this prayer in the 12th century, “Dear God! May I love you more, may I see you better, and may I come closer and closer to you with every day of my life” (paraphrase).

To me that prayer crystalizes the meaning of Lent. Anyone who wants to love God more, follow Jesus closer, and see God in the world around them better, needs the kind of clarity and grit that is found only in the thin place of a spiritual desert.

 

The word “Lent” comes from a Germanic root meaning Spring. Lent is about each of us making sure that our spiritual antennas are tuned to God and to godly life, and not to the distractions that surround us.

Lent is not about punishing myself for being human. It is not about beating ourselves in the chest while chanting, “Mia Culpa, Mia Culpa, Mia Maxima Culpa.”

Lent is not about giving up chocolate or taking on a strict diet and exercise regimen. Lent is not an opportunity for self-improvement.

Lent is about refocusing our lives on God.

We need the season of Lent in our lives every year because we were born in the fallen world where the devil is trying to distract and divert us away from God. Lent is how God breaks the devil’s foot for leading us astray.

I don’t know about you, but I cannot put down a Hershey bar, swear off of Red Robin for few weeks and immediately focus on the still, quiet voice of God. If it worked like that, Lent would last half an hour, we would all be slim and trim, and Red Robin would be out of business.

The season of Lent lasts forty days to give us time to rediscover what life is like without the usual mood-elevators, and hopefully to figure out what lead us to rely on them in the first place.

Simon and Garfinkel have a song titled The Sounds of Silence. Lent is the season when we are challenged to turn the noise and distractions off, so that there is silence and we can hear God.

 

So what should you do to observe Lent? I cannot give you that answer because only you know what will be on your “desert” exam. Only you know what kinds of bribes the devil uses to get your attention; only you know for sure what your weaknesses are.

I do, however, know that spending time in a spiritual desert this Lent is a great way to do some spring-cleaning in your life, to get rid of things that distract you from God.

 

Earlier I mentioned a song by Simon and Garfunkel, The Sounds of Silence. Here is the last verse from the song.

 

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon God they made
And the sign flashed its warning,
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, “The words of the prophets
Are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls”
And whispered in the sounds of silence.

Let us close this worship praying together a version of the prayer that Richard of Chichester wrote:

 

Thanks be to you, our loving and gracious Lord and Redeemer, Jesus Christ!

Thank you for all the pains and insults you have taken upon yourself to redeem our fallen nature and to give us the hope of spending eternity with you.
Every day we pray asking that we may grow in knowing and loving you and in being your faithful followers. Calm our souls to hear the silence, and in that silence to discern your voice. We pray asking that your essence fills our very souls, and that you inspire us to live abundant lives to your glory. AMEN.


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