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

Word of the Day

Suffoncified: Satisfied or satiated, particularly in appetite.

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Approx. Notes for Sunday’s Message; Sunday, April 15, 2018; Acts 3:1-10

Scriptures for this Sunday are: Acts 3:1-10

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

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It is impossible to say everything that is worth saying about today’s reading in one sermon. There are layers upon layers of meaning there.

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The man that was healed in today’s reading had been deformed since birth (Acts 3:2). After healing, his legs were so strong that he was able to walk and jump. Peter made it clear that the healing happened only by the power of the name of Jesus (Acts 3:12, 16).

The lame man was a wise business man. He had staff, or friends, who situated him each day at the Beautiful Gate outside the Temple, so he would have the best chance of receiving alms from those entering the Temple (Acts 3:2). I wonder how much energy they had to expend to defend and protect their spot from other beggars. He begged outside the Temple from those going inside. He was a fixture, but he was not there as part of the worshiping community. All he wanted was their money and charity. Peter had to say to him, “Look at us!”

In the NIV translation of the Bible the whole story is approximately 200 words. When we read the story, it is tempting to think that everything happened in a span of 10-15 minutes or so.

I do not think that this is correct.

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I think that when Peter and John encountered the lame man, they indeed told him that they did not have money to give him, but they could offer him Jesus. I think that they spent some time (days, maybe even weeks) listening to the man, understanding his plight and his hopes – I think that this is the “Look at us!” part of today’s reading. I think that they had a chance to develop a relationship with him and I think that they trusted that he was open and willing to make changes in his life, and was not going to waste the gift of God’s Grace and healing. They prepared him to encounter God face-to-face.

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There is a saying that holding on is like believing that there is only the past; letting go and moving on is recognizing that there is also a future. Peter and John took the time to understand what the lame man was holding on to, and then they helped him to imagine a different future. The healing came when the man was ready.

After the man was healed, we hear that “he went with [Peter and John] into the Temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God” (Acts 3:8).

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To enter the Temple, the man had to show himself to the priests and to undergo a cleansing ritual. We know that because in Luke 5:14, Jesus commanded a man healed from leprosy to “go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” {Also check out Leviticus 14, aft.} That would take some time. That is why I think that there is more to this story than meets the eye at first glance.

After the healing, the man went from sitting outside the Temple to freely moving inside it; the man went from being an outsider to being part of worshiping community. He went from living off of the charity of others to being a contributing member.

Church, do you hear me! Worship brings us closer to God; the Grace of God offers all of us healing. The church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners.

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As a church we are called to listen to our neighbors, to understand their plight, to find commonalities, and when we have built relationships, offer them opportunities to interact with God and a place to belong and to heal. By and large, most of the churches that I know are eager to offer lunch or financial assistance, but get strangely timid when it comes to offering Jesus. We offer pamphlets instead of personal testimonies.

I can totally relate to that. I used to be an outsider. You cannot be more of an outsider to the Church than an atheist. Something happened, and I experienced God. Many men and women from Gloucester County Community Church, and then from the Peninsula-Delaware Conference of the United Methodist Church, loved and cared enough to give me place to belong and to grow. They gave me Jesus.

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Many of us came to Jesus because somebody took the time to meet us outside the “Temple,” to spend enough time with us so that we were willing to “look at them” and to hear them, and then helped us to experience God’s grace.

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In Memoriam: Charlotte May McLeod

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It is with a deep sense of regret I am posting this to let everyone know of passing of Mrs. Charlotte McLeod.

Her obituary is posted at this link {Click Me to go to the Gebhart Funeral Homes Website}

Thinking Towards Sunday; April 15, 2018

Scriptures for this Sunday are: Acts 3:1-10

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

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; John 20:19-29; 2nd Sunday of Easter

Message Notes:

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What are we supposed to feel or do when we discover that we cannot raise the dead, heal the sick, broker world peace, or prevent and reverse hunger and poverty?

What are we supposed to feel or do when we face the fact that we are powerless in the face of a serious, potentially fatal illness like cancer?

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What are we supposed to feel or do when we watch news and learn that the economy falters, stock market dropped 500 points, and that as a nation we are dealing with a trade war and potential nuclear war?

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What are we supposed to feel or do when we watch the news and see unrest and instability in the Middle East?

What are we supposed to feel or do when we have to face our own inadequacy, our inability to reach desired results, our humiliation, our fears and our moral failure?

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How do we proclaim our faith as physical and alive when the earthly body of Jesus whom we love is nowhere to be found?

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The movie ‘Precious’ is a gritty and poignant tale of a black, 350-pound, HIV-positive, 16-year-old rape and incest victim, mother of two. It is a movie about a young woman who faces many obstacles in her life and struggles with many conflicting emotions.

{Word of caution: this movie is NOT for the faint of heart. There is imagery and language that is not appropriate for all audiences – exercise caution before viewing.}

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On the day when Precious discovered that she was HIV/AIDS positive she wrote, “Why me?” in her journal. Viewers can feel the weight of the whole world is in these two words culminating in the question mark on an otherwise clean piece of paper. “WHY ME?”

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That is where the disciples found themselves that fateful day. They were huddled in the small room with the doors securely locked wondering, “why me?,” with the weight of the world on their shoulders. They were meeting behind closed doors, listening fearfully to every step, to every creak outside, waiting for that fateful knock on the door, the way the victims of Nazi Germany anticipated a knock on a door from Gestapo, scared that the messengers from the Temple would come to arrest them.

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That is when Jesus showed up.

Isn’t it just like Jesus, to appear NOT when we are out in public putting our best foot forward.

Isn’t it just like Jesus to appear NOT when we are wearing the appearance of confidence and of having it all together.

Isn’t it just like Jesus to show up NOT when we are trying to make a good impression and succeed.

Isn’t it JUST like Jesus to sneak into the private moments and spaces of our lives when our masks are down and our desperation gets the better of us.

Isn’t it JUST like Jesus to come and be with us in the dark rooms under lock and key where we are scared, frustrated and hurting, and isn’t it just like Jesus to greet us by saying: “Peace be with you!?”

There are times in our lives when we find ourselves in such places: scared, anxious, worried, insecure, uncertain of the future; hiding behind closed doors because we have no hope, no courage, no energy and no desire to face the world. Those are the times that we long for Jesus to show up and to say four simple words: “Peace be with you!”

I don’t know why Jesus keeps coming and standing by me in such places of fear and anxiety, and, truth be told, I don’t care. All I know that Jesus somehow manages to break through the obstacles and barricades that I build around myself in such times.

With these words, “Peace be with you!” Jesus calls us – that is you and me – to live lives full of life, love, and well-meaning that act – don’t dwell – on our dreams. {There is a difference between acting and dwelling on our dreams.} With these words, “Peace be with you!” Jesus reminds us that there will be times in our lives when it will feel as if the weight of the whole world is on our shoulders and it is going to be OK.

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John 20:21-22 (NIV) 21Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. …”

However, Jesus did not stop at “Peace be with you.” When the Disciples felt as if the weight of the whole world was on their shoulders, Jesus sent them out into their mission field to make disciples by offering fellowship and support, by teaching and preaching the Gospel through the way they lived their whole lives and by reaching out to those for whom Jesus was a stranger.

Today’s reading happened before the Pentecost. That is why Jesus gave his disciples a “preview” of what the Holy Spirit would feel like. We, on the other hand, live after the First Pentecost. The Holy Spirit of our God is present in our lives and helps us to deal with whatever life throws our way.

Whether we are dealing with difficulties, disappointments, shame, regrets, hubris, elation, euphoria or jubilation — whatever our emotion-du-jour is in your heart today – Jesus comes to us and says, “Peace be with you… I am sending you…”

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Precious tried hard. She worked hard and with the help of some strangers who were willing to be God’s hands and feet, she rose above her circumstances. As the movie came to an end, we learned that she was planning to get her GED and to continue onto college. Despite her circumstances, she chose abundant life and she was willing to work to achieve it.

Jesus offers you peace… Jesus is sending each one of us into the mission field to go forth and make disciples… Will you accept his call?

Whether you are the one in the valley calling out for help, or you are helping someone out of their valley, Jesus is present in our lives.

Illustration: The Church is in the Valley. “ Jesus commanded his church to go out and preach the gospel to all cultures, not to huddle inside and manage decline…” (Leonard Sweet)

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A great quote by Leonard Sweet

“Jesus commanded his church to go out and preach the gospel to all cultures, not to huddle inside and manage decline…”

~~ Leonard Sweet

Thinking Towards Sunday; April 8, 2018

Scripture for this Sunday is John 20:19-29

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

Notes for the message for Easter Worship Service

Gospel Reading: John 20:1-18

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 came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, 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 where they were staying.

11 Now 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.

15 He asked her, “Woman, 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”).

17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending 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.

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

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Easter erupted and burst into the reality that we live in, 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. But because of the limitations of our human minds, all we can do is to fit the Resurrection into the categories and possibilities that (1) we already know about and (2) are comfortable with.

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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 him; 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 and on their intimate relationship with Jesus.

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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.

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 too comes new life, new hopes, and new possibilities.

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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.

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.

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?

{Celebrating the Sacrament of the Holy Communion}

Notes for the Message for Easter Sunrise Service

Gospel Reading: John 20:1-18

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 came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, 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 where they were staying.

11 Now 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.

15 He asked her, “Woman, 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”).

17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending 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.

Easter Sunrise Reflection by Pastor Asher

In a world where things are often not as they should be, the resurrection of Jesus offers me hope to see and to know things as they were intended to be. I need that hope every day.

Throughout 2000 years of Christian history, the Church has used many symbols for Easter: eggs become chicks, caterpillars become butterflies, acorns grow into oak trees… All these are symbols of resurrection because resurrection is transformation.

In the normal progression of things, an egg is totally changed. Yellow and white goo becomes alive with feathers and learns to chirp and peck. If you look at the liquid eggs and if you do not know anything about the natural progression of things, you would never guess what an egg will become. Even if we know a little something about normal progression, a gooey liquid may become a chicken, or an alligator, or a sea gull.

When we look at an acorn, it is hard to imagine an oak tree. A caterpillar and butterfly are another example of such transformation.

Eggs, caterpillars and acorns are resurrection symbols because in the normal progression of time they change their essence. And while they change their essence there is continuity:

  • An egg becomes a chicken that can lay another egg;

  • An acorn becomes an oak-tree that produces more acorns;

  • A caterpillar becomes a butterfly, that lays eggs that hatch into caterpillars.

Our lives are not all that different:

  • Persons recovering from tragedy (loss of a loved one or a serious illness). They are the same person, but now transformed; they have a new understanding, and with that understanding comes a new life, new challenges, new hopes, and new possibilities.

  • A teenager becomes an adult. As he or she matures, they are still the same person, but they are different, possessing new maturity, new understanding, new abilities.

Easter, which celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus, is an invitation to look around and to recognize transformation in the world around us. It is an invitation to see God’s redemption at work:

  • An immature person learning responsibility.

  • Something that appears lifeless (like an egg or acorn) morphing into something new.

  • A child maturing into an engineer or a philosopher.

In his letter to Corinthians, Paul wrote:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).

Post-Resurrection appearances have one thing in common: at first Jesus was not recognized by the Disciples and friends. To recognize Jesus, the Disciples and friends needed to rely on their faith and on their intimate relationship with Jesus. The Risen Jesus is the same, but he is also different.

The Resurrection gives hope and meaning to our existence. Resurrection transforms tragedy and heals brokenness. When I reach my limits, resurrection gives me hope for the future. When I hear Jesus call my name, I feel alive again.

Our faith, being a follower of Jesus, being a Christian, is a continual process of death and resurrection. We are very good at getting ourselves into messes, and God continually reaches into our messes, pulls us out, and offers us new beginnings.

Approximate Notes for Maundy Thursday Message

NIV John 13: 1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

31 When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

34 A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

NIV 1 Corinthians 11: 23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

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

Holy Thursday…

As I think of that night so long ago, I imagine myself being there. I am putting this overweight, middle-aged, soul-weary man into the scene because, with every fiber in my body and every shred of my soul, I need Jesus and I want to be there.

In my mind I am there with the disciples. You are there, too; every one of you. Can you see it?

The upper room in a modest inn, and all of us stumbling in tired and hungry. Passover feast is tonight; lambs are already roasting downstairs. So much has happened. So much is going to happen.

Eventually everything is ready, and we gather together for a simple supper. Jesus looks like he has the weight of the world resting on his shoulders. He has talked a lot about going away lately. There is sadness in his eyes. It reminds me of how the prophet Isaiah described him, as a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3).

We recline at the table. Our Seder cups are before us, filled with sacramental paschal wine. A basket of matzah is in the center of the table. As we eat we remember the story of Exodus. Jesus tells us about the wine being a symbol of his blood poured out, and the broken matzah symbolizing the breaking of his body. …

Thick and heavy night is all around us. The oil lamps flicker in rhythm with the breeze, projecting long dancing shadows on the walls.

And then Jesus does something unexpected. He pours water in a basin and says, “Give me your feet.”

All of us are stunned. The room becomes very quiet. None of us know what to say, or what to do. Jesus kneels before us, one by one, and washes our feet. All of us in turn feel the water trickle between our toes as the grime and filth of the world is washed away.

In The Message paraphrase of the Gospel of John chapter 13 verses 12 through 17 we hear:

12-17 Then he said, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. I’m only pointing out the obvious. A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life.”

Act like it, and live a blessed life.

I think of this every day of my life as we, tired, weary, parched, hurting, vulnerable, and hopeful, strive to live out our love and devotion for God with concrete actions. All of us are looking for Jesus, needing the living water, and trusting our souls to each other.

Today we sit shoulder to shoulder waiting, humbled, remembering. And we feel how Jesus is scrubbing our very souls, removing the grime of the world that we have picked up on our journey.

{Celebrating the Sacrament of the Holy Communion}

Bibliography

Staff, Urban Faith. “Give Me Your Feet: A Maundy Thursday Reflection.” n.d. Urban Faith. Web Page. 26 03 2018.

Worship through the Holy Week

Maundy Thursday, March 29, 2018

At 6 pm: we will gather for light meal downstairs. There will be teaching during the meal.
At 7 pm: we will gather for continued teaching and the Holy Communion in the sanctuary.
Scriptures for the Maundy Thursday: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35. You can read these Scriptures here {NIV and ESV}

Good Friday, March 30, 2018

At 7 pm we will gather for worship with our sisters and brothers from St. Andrews Presbyterian and from St. Nicholas’ Episcopal.
We will follow the liturgy of the Protestant Service of the Stations of the Cross. Pastor Randy Otto and Pastor Asher Tunik will lead the service.

 

Easter Sunrise Service, April 1, 2018 @ 6:30 am

Scriptures from Sunrise service: Mark 16:1-8.
You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

Breakfast will be service immediately after Sunrise Service in the fellowship hall of Kingswood UMC.

Easter Service, April 1, 2018 @ 11 am

Scriptures for Easter: Acts 10:34-43.
You can read there Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

In Memoriam: Al Martin

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It is with a great sadness and a profound sense of loss that I am posting this to let our congregation know about passing of Al Martin.

You can read the obituary at this link: (Click Me to go to Spicer-Mullikin Website)

A great quote that I stumbled on this morning…

“Most people do not listen with the intend to understand, rather they listen with an intent to reply. The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”

~~ Stephen Hawking

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; Lent 5, Feast of St. Patrick; March 18, 2018

Scripture for this Sunday: John 12:20-33

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


I arise today through
God’s strength to pilot me;
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s eye
to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s hosts
to same me from
snares of the devil,
temptations, and
every one
who desires me ill.
Amen.

~~ From the Lorica of St. Patrick

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Saint Patrick’s Day is a cultural and religious celebration held on March 17, the traditional date of death of Saint Patrick (c. AD 385–461).

St. Patrick, of course, is the patron saint of Ireland. While many of the details of his life are shrouded in legend, St. Patrick left a legacy far more vibrant and lasting than the green food and beverages served on his feast day.

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Young Patrick was not an active believer. According to his own writings, Confession of Saint Patrick, he was captured by a group of Irish pirates who took him to Ireland and sold him into slavery to herd sheep.

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He was held captive for six years. Patrick wrote in the Confession that the time he spent in captivity was critical to his spiritual development. It is during that time that Patrick experienced the grace of God and became a Christian.

After six years of captivity Patrick escaped, traveled by foot two hundred miles to a naval port and persuaded the captain of a ship bound for Britania to give him passage in exchange for labor. In his early twenties he was able to return home to his family after various adventures.

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Under the tutelage of his grandfather (who was a priest) and father (who was a deacon), Patrick discerned a call to become a priest. He made his way to modern-day France to study at the monastery of St. Martin of Tours. The future saint eventually became known as Patricius, the Latin version of Patrick.

It is during that time that he had a vision of the Irish people calling out for him to return to the land of his captivity. Patrick recounts that vision:

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I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: “The Voice of the Irish”. As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.”

His bishop shared Patrick’s vision with other bishops. Eventually, the pope appointed the former slave to be the first bishop of Ireland. That is how Patrick returned to Ireland as a Christian missionary.

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From his Confession we know that he “baptized thousands of people,” and ordained priests to lead new Christian communities. He converted wealthy women, some of whom became nuns in the face of family opposition. He also dealt with the sons of kings, converting them too.

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Never before did they know of God except to serve idols and unclean things. But now, they have become the people of the Lord, and are called children of God. The sons and daughters of the leaders of the Irish are seen to be monks and virgins of Christ!

Saint Patrick’s life and ministry as a foreigner in Ireland was not an easy one. He treated everyone equally, chieftains and peasants, which did not endear him to those in power. Legally he was without protection; at least on one occasion he was beaten, robbed of all he had, and put in chains, awaiting execution. As an old man, Patrick was also kept captive for 60 days.

St. Patrick’s contemporary, a druid priest wrote,

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Across the sea will come Adze-head, crazed in the head, his cloak with hole for the head, his stick bent in the head. He will chant impieties from a table in the front of his house; all his people will answer: “so be it, so be it.”

St. Patrick was known for seeking out unbelievers. To give an example, if people in a Druid settlement worshiped at a large standing stone, that is where Patrick and his team of missionaries placed a church. The new Christians would then carve the great stone into a cross.

He also preached in the native language, Irish Gaelic.

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We do not know how true it is, but a popular legend asserts that Patrick superimposed the Christian cross on the popular Celtic ring symbol, which stood for the sun or the world, to demonstrate Jesus’ redemption of the world. He thus created the Celtic cross.

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Today’s Gospel reading begins with, “Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival” (John 12:20, NIV2010). The word that is used in the original texts (“hellenes”) refers to Greeks other than gentiles who converted to Judaism. John is talking about pagans who worshiped a pantheon of their own gods and idols and who came to celebrate Jewish Passover. In our culture it would be equivalent to a delegation of Islamic clerics from Tehran coming to Newark to celebrate Easter with us.

Although it does not make sense in our culture, in first century Palestine it made a lot of sense. When the Pagans heard about the God of the Jews who was powerful enough to create the WHOLE UNIVERSE, to them it made perfect sense to add that God to the list of the other gods they worshiped, and to worship the Jewish God as well. No wonder their priests showed up to celebrate the Passover.

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“… unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 20:24).

Jesus recognized that the Greeks were coming to him with open minds, ready and willing to learn whatever he was willing to teach them. Surely, they had their preconceived notions of what is right, true and beautiful, and surely they thought that they could put the Creator of the Universe on the same shelf as Zeus or Aphrodite, but at least they came with their minds open and ready to learn.

When Jesus talked about loving one’s life, he was referring to our tendency to hold on to those things that we think we know. Such tendencies prevent us from considering new possibilities; such tendencies prevent us from thinking out of the box; such tendencies prevent us from meeting others where they are.

The Pagans who came to see Jesus were willing to consider that there was more to life than their minds could embrace up to that point. They were willing to “die to themselves” by opening their minds to new possibilities.

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St. Patrick was willing to “die to self” and go back to the land of his slavery. The man had hutzpah. That is why God blessed his ministry and that is why he baptized countless men and women, and his ministry and legacy still inspire us 1500 years later. That is why Patrick was willing and eager to meet pagans where they were and talk with them in their native language.

Just like Druids in St Patrick’s time, the people that we strive to reach do not care whether Jesus is real or even credible. I was raised as an atheist and I know that for a fact. What non-believers and those who are not in the church care about is whether WE are credible. Before we bear fruit by bringing others to Jesus, they must trust us. That trust begins with our ability to listen, to respect, to reach out and to be credible witnesses to the love of God in our lives.

“… unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 20:24).

It takes 20 years for an overnight success…

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