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

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; Luke 4:1-13; 1st Sunday in Lent; Scouting Sunday

Scriptures for this Sunday: Luke 4:1-13

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV and ESV

We will continue with the series of messages about how we can share Jesus with the world in which we live… 

This week our community will celebrate Scouting Sunday. At 8:30 am, Boy Scouts will serve pancake breakfast. Boy scouts and their leaders will also join us for worship at 11 am.

Immediately following the service and after I had a chance to greet everyone, we will gather at Tony’s Bistro for Singles Get Together.

It will be an awesome day of worship, fellowship and fun

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Today’s Scripture features an unpleasant character: the devil. Jesus is being tempted in the desert and the account of that temptation is so full of symbolism that it is hard for us to see ourselves in that reading. We simply don’t know what to do with it because in our experience the devil does not transport us from place to place like he did with Jesus, and the devil is not easily recognizable. All of us experience temptations, but those temptations are not as drastic as those that Jesus faced.

There is no man, woman, boy or girl alive on the face of this Earth that has not had to deal with disappointment at one time or another. Our toys break and when we want to play with the stuffed elephant, we can’t because our cousin is playing with it. As we grow older, we don’t always win a trophy and sometimes life takes a wrong turn. Who among us has not had their heart broken at least once?

That is why we gather as a church community at least once every week; to share and witness to our faith and to the presence of God among us. We gather to help each other celebrate our accomplishments and milestones, we support each other in our difficulties and we help each other find meaning in the ordinary days.

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Today is the first Sunday in Lent. The word “Lent” is a church word. Lent is a period of time when the followers of Jesus are invited and challenged to focus on ways to grow closer to God and to face their faith.

Lent is not about “religious behavior.” Lent is not about giving up chocolate and then feeling guilty for giving into temptation. Lent is not about saying “praise God” every two minutes or saying lengthy and public prayers with each morsel of food that passes our lips.

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The Season of Lent is about each one of us taking an honest, introspective look at our lives and faith; Lent is about questions.

  • Would a loving and caring God allow so much suffering in the Middle East, with refugees and displaced families scattered all over the world?

  • What can I do to help my neighbors?

  • If God loves us, why is there a Zika virus outbreak?

  • Would a loving and caring God cause an innocent baby to be born with terminal cancer?

  • Would a loving and caring God cause pain and suffering?

  • Why was my friend killed in a car accident?

The promise of Lent is that when we find the courage and discipline to go into the desert with Jesus and face the difficult questions of our faith, we are strengthened and become better Christians and better followers of Jesus. The promise and the hope of Lent is that through a stronger relationship with God we are better able to face the difficulties of life.

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We all get frustrated or angry at some point in our lives. At some point all of us will feel defeated or embarrassed by something that we said or did. We don’t live in a perfect world; we live in a fallen world and sometimes things do not go the way we hope them to. We live in a world where the forces of evil – a.k.a. the devil – are active.

Quite often we see the devil portrayed as a man in red tights, wearing a red shirt, with a goatee, two horns and a sarcastic smile. The truth is that a character like that is easily recognizable and easy to resist. That is why I think that the devil that we encounter in our daily lives is sly, and looks very much like us, talks very much like us, smells good and sounds convincing enough for us to be interested in hearing what he has to say.

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Today’s reading offers a lot of insight that we can apply to our daily lives. After being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus felt a need to go into the desert. For forty days, Jesus was tempted and challenged to become stronger in spirit, to become more relevant to the culture in which he lived, and was prepared to fulfil the mission for which he came. For Jesus, these forty days were a time of preparation and planning, a time of emotional growth and a time of spiritual formation. I think of the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert as a Spiritual Boot Camp, preparing Jesus for what was to come. Just like Jesus prepared for his mission by spending time in the desert, scouting prepares and builds young men for their future lives. Everything worthwhile takes time, effort, perseverance and strength of character to accomplish.

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That brings me to the second point I want to make today. The way the Devil tempted Jesus was subtle.

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Temptation 1: Jesus, you are hungry… Would a loving and caring God leave you hungry for that long? Besides, you know how to turn these stones into bread… And after you do you will feel so much better. Take a shortcut Jesus. Enough is enough.

Temptation 2: Jesus, you don’t need to die. You can become a king over all the world because everyone knows what a great man you are. Besides I can pull few strings to help you. You don’t need to die on the cross or do any of that Messiah shtick. Take a shortcut Jesus, I am here to help you.

{//Illustration}

In every single temptation that Jesus faced, the devil was offering an easy way out, a shortcut to success. “Jesus, you can have everything that God promised you without going to the Cross. There is an easy way out of your ‘predicament.’”

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Each of our lives is a journey that leads us on a path towards becoming something tomorrow that we are not today. God did not create us to grovel in the grime of our sins. God created us to be the best version of the image of God that we can be. The truth is that there is no shortcut to success and there is no substitute for hard work and preparation.

The good news and the promise of Lent is that it gives us an opportunity to look into our hearts and ask ourselves some tough questions. Lent is about facing our faith in an honest, patient and mature way that challenges and stretches us. Dealing with these challenges leads to new life and better discipleship.

Thinking Towards Sunday; February 14, 2016; Scouting Sunday

Scriptures for this Sunday: Luke 4:1-13

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV and ESV

We will continue with the series of messages about how we can share Jesus with the world in which we live… 

This week our community will celebrate Scouting Sunday. At 8:30 am, Boy Scouts will serve pancake breakfast. Boy scouts and their leaders will also join us for worship at 11 am.

It will be an awesome day of worship, fellowship and fun.

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; February 7, 2016; Gideon chapters 6-8, Luke 4:14-30

Scriptures for this Sunday: Judges 6-8; Luke 4:14-30

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV and ESV

We will continue with the series of messages about how we can share Jesus with the world in which we live… 

This week our community will welcome the local chapter of Gideons who will set up  a display in the back of the sanctuary. Immediately following the worship service, we will gather in the fellowship hall of the annual Super Bowl Party.

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Cliffs of Nazareth in 2004

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We are in the middle of a series of sermons about how we can share with the world around us the wonderful relationship that all of us have with Jesus.

Since we are privileged to have representatives from Gideons International with us today, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about who Gideon was and the lessons we can learn from his life and the times that he lived in.

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The story of Gideon is found in the Scroll of Judges, chapters 6 through 8. When we refer to the leaders of Israel from that period as Judges an image of a man or a woman in a judicial gown comes to mind (think of Judge Judy or Judge Wapner). That could not be further from the truth. In the book of Judges, the word “Judge of Israel” is used to describe someone who was called by God to be a military and civil leader of the nation at a time of political and economic distress.

Forty years after Deborah was a judge, “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites” (Judges 6:1). When the Israelites planted, the Midianites came in and destroyed the crops (Judges 6:3). When the Israelites built, Midianites came in and did not leave a stone unturned. Israel was “greatly impoverished” by the Midianites and driven to live and hide in dens and caves in the mountains (Judges 6:2). Things were going from bad to worse.

It is in this environment of fear and hopelessness that God sent an angel to visit Gideon.

Just like everyone else around him, Gideon was scared of the Midianites. One day, we find him threshing wheat in a winepress because he was trying to hide (Judges 6:11). Threshing floors are usually in the open so that breeze can remove chaff, wine presses and oil presses are usually built in protected areas like caves or dens and are not exposed to breezes. Threshing wheat in a winepress is not very productive. As Gideon was hiding from the enemies, an Angel of the Lord appeared and said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12). I hope that you can recognize the irony and sarcasm in that greeting. Gideon is not a mighty warrior nor does he act like one. As a matter of fact, Gideon’s response is not grandiose at all. What he wants to know is, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? (Judges 6:13). Why do I have to quake in my boots and hide from the enemies when all that I am trying to do is to feed my family?

Who among us has not asked something similar?

To make a long story short, God started working with Gideon to raise him as a Judge of Israel. It did not happen overnight. He did not go from a “mighty warrior” – <wink> <wink> – to one of the twelve great military and civic leaders of Israel overnight.

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The first step to becoming a devout follower of God was an act of repentance and re-focusing of his own life. It just so happened that Gideon’s father owned an altar to Baal, with an Asherah’s pole next to it. Per God’s instructions, Gideon stood up to his father, and tore down his family’s altar to Baal and Asherah’s pole (Judges 6:26). The Bible narrative is clear; that was not a feat for the faint of heart. Gideon’s neighbors wanted him to pay for that with his life.

God was with Gideon, and with God’s guidance he eventually was able to assemble an army of 22,000 men to fight 135,000 Midianites. Then, per God’s instructions and guidance, 300 men were selected from that 22,000 to fight the 135,000 Midianites so that “Israel would not boast against” God (Judges 7:2) in victory.

Today’s sermon is not about Gideon’s life or victory over Midianites. Today’s sermon is about how we can share with the world around us the wonderful relationship that all of us have with Jesus. And Gideon provides us with a great example.

Who among us does not have fears and doubts. Gideon had the courage to recognize the Angel, to ask God difficult questions of faith, and do what had to be done in his own life (destroy idols and refocus on God) so that he could grow in his relationship with God and become a leader among his people. Gideon’s willingness to face God and to do what he had to do, and change what he had to change, was a powerful testimony to God’s presence in his life. That is why the children of Israel have followed him.

The story of Gideon does not end there. After the victory over the Midianites, he was asked to become a King of Israel. Gideon refused because he knew that the only King of Israel is God (Judges 8:22-24). Unfortunately, Gideon’s words were not supported by his actions. His words attributed kingship to God alone, but his actions claimed the privileges of kingship. He took the crescents, pendants and purple garments of rival kings that he had killed, and demanded taxes from Israelites in the form of one golden earring from each household (Judges 8:21, 24-26).

Even with all his shortcomings, Paul includes Gideon in his list of Great Judges in Hebrews 11:32. And that brings us to today’s Scripture. We live in a fallen world and we are products of that world. There is something so human and so vulnerable in the life of Gideon. He was doing what he was supposed to do until he got too big for his britches, and just by the sheer force of inertia he was able to intimidate Israel as he was becoming more and more corrupt. After being a great leader he became a bully and a tyrant.

At one time or another, all of us have found ourselves in a rut and routine, and then find ourselves far away from where we were hoping to be.

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In today’s Gospel reading we heard,

NIV2010 Luke 4: 16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

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And that is when everything broke apart. Jesus pointed out that the community was coasting, the community was too inward looking and too focused “who is who” in the synagogue community and in the town. Just like Gideon, their heart was in the right place and they were saying the right things, but by the force of complacency and inertia they had drifted to a place far away from God and were just going through the motions of religion.

Here is the illustration from Jesus’ sermon:

NIV2010 Luke 4:25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

What Jesus was illustrating was that God is still here, but the Nazareth synagogue somehow had drifted away.

NIV2010 Luke 4:28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.”

Church do you hear me? How often do we throw Jesus off the cliff because we are too scared to upset the apple cart or because we are too set in our rut and routine to notice the presence of God among us, or to feel the movement of the Holy Spirit? Notice I did not say “YOU”; I said “WE” because I am in the same boat. All of us live in a fallen world.

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And because we live in a fallen world, we need a regular reminder that God loves us and that God is as close to us as we let God come. That is why we gather regularly as a community, that is why we celebrate the Sacrament of the Holy Communion.

{Transition to the Celebration of the Sacrament of the Holy Communion}

Thinking towards Sunday; February 7, 2016

Scriptures for this Sunday: Luke 4:14-30

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV and ESV

We will continue with the series of messages about how we can share Jesus with the world in which we live… 

This week our community will welcome the local chapter of Gideons who will set up  a display in the back of the sanctuary. Immediately following the worship service, we will gather in the fellowship hall of the annual Super Bowl Party.

It will be an awesome day of worship, fellowship and fun.

AND speaking of worship, fellowship and fun. I am back from the MDNG Chaplain Corps. conference and it was an awesome time of (1) learning, (2) worship, (3) fellowship and (4) fun.

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Picture of me with some friends: The Musketeers and two photo-bombs.

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On a more serious note…

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MDNG Chaplain Corp gathered after the worship service at Chaplain O’Grady Chapel.

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Educational Session.

Liturgy of Blessing and Commissioning of New Paraments

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L: Loving and Gracious God!

It is good to give honor, glory and thanks to the LORD,

P: It is good for us to remember what God has done in our midst in the past, to be awed by God’s presence among us in the present, and to faithfully discern God’s will for the community of Kingswood United Methodist Church in the future.

L: In Paul’s letter to Hebrews we hear:

NIV2010 Hebrews 12: 1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

L: The paraments that have been lovingly and carefully placed on the altar, podium and pulpit, and the banners that have hung on the walls of this sanctuary through the years, have marked the passing of the seasons of the Christian calendar. They have helped us to remember that we are standing on the shoulders of, and are surrounded by, the “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) who have kept the faith alive.

P: We thank you God for the efforts and dedication of those who presented these paraments, who took such loving care of them, and worked to prepare this Sanctuary for worship. We pray God’s blessing on the paraments and banners that are in use in our church. May these continue to remind us of the rich history and tradition that Kingswood United Methodist church has been built on.

L: Today another set of paraments is presented to be added, consecrated and commissioned into service in Kingswood United Methodist church.

P: We accept these paraments as a sacred trust and will use them with reverence and with respect.

L: In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we consecrate these paraments to the Glory of God. Let us pray:

P: Loving and gracious God! Grant us your blessing as we consecrate this gift of paraments to your glory, that they may be an enduring witness before all of your people, and that our lives may be consecrated to your service. We pray this in the name of our Risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. AMEN.

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; January 31, 2016; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Scriptures for this Sunday: 1 Thes 5:1-11

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV and ESV

We will continue with the series of messages about how we can share Jesus with the world in which we live… 

During the service our community will consecrate and commission a new set of paraments for the altar.

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1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 The Day of the Lord NIV2010

NIV2010 1 Thessalonians 5: 1 Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

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We are in the middle of a series of sermons about how we can share with the world around us the wonderful relationship that all of us have with Jesus. Since we had to cancel worship services last Sunday, I would like to reiterate the gist of the sermon I had planned to preach last week.

We live in a world that is created by our thinking, our efforts and our interactions. That is what makes a community, and church is a community. Church communities are a microcosm of the thinking of their members. With the history of church decline that we have lived through in the last 70 years or so, that microcosm of thinking is becoming smaller and smaller every year. And, truth be told, we love it.

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Look how wonderful the interactions in this community are; people love coming to church, to hang out with each other. Our lives are not a bed of roses but all of us have experienced some days that are magic, some days that are tragic and most of our days fall somewhere in between. I have only been here six months, but I have already observed that in this community people help each other to celebrate days that are magic, help each other through the days that are tragic, and help each other to find meaning in the days that are routine. We love the environment that we have built here.

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Albert Einstein said once that, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” To me that quote comes close to describing what goes on in most of our churches. Allow me to explain.

When our neighbors feel the need to be with God they come to church. They come here looking for God.

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If they think we are in a rut, if they see us doing the same thing we’ve done for the last 70 years without reflecting changes in the world around us, it is hard for them to see or understand how God moves among us today, how God rules Kingswood UMC in present time.

Clarification: I am not saying that God is not moving among us, the point I am trying to make is that it is not always easy for outsiders to recognize God’s presence in our midst.

While we all speak English, we speak different “cultural languages.” While we know God is in this place, what they may perceive is a spiritual drought, a spiritual desert, parched and thirsty for God. That is why many visit once and leave, never to be seen again. Because of that generation gap and cultural divide they do not find spiritual renewal and nourishment among us, and they perceive a spiritual drought. Nobody wants to go to a drought stricken area when they are looking for renewal and nourishment (whether spiritual or physical).

That is why the first thing that most churches need to do before they experience growth is to become a spiritual oasis that feels awesome not only to us, but also to those who come seeking God.

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That brings us to this week’s message. In today’s reading, we heard Paul teaching the church in Thessalonica about the days of Jesus’ return. We read this Scripture today because, as I was planning this series of sermons, one verse from this reading came to mind and I feel that it holds one of the keys to what we are trying to do. In verse 1 Thes 5:11 Paul wrote, “encourage one another and build each other up” (NIV2010).

Dictionary.com defines word “encourage” as (1) to inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence, (2) to stimulate by assistance, approval, etc., and (3) to give support, confidence, or hope.

One of the many ways that we share with the world around us the wonderful relationship that we have with Jesus is by being encouragers. Everyone has heard the saying that says something about giving a man a fish and he will eat today, teach a man to fish and he will never go hungry. Encouragement is about teaching a man to fish.

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We live in a troubled world. Who among us does not have their share of problems and frustrations? We see needs everywhere and it is not possible or even feasible for us, by ourselves, to address all of the needs that we encounter. We don’t have the physical resources or stamina for that matter.

What is practical is to bring Jesus to the needs that we see, and in a way that our neighbors can relate to. When we treat someone for what he or she is, they stay where they are, they remain unchanged. When we encourage someone to meet their potential, to be the best of what God created them to be, we give them vision, and hope. That is how we share Jesus; “silver and gold I have not, but what I have I give you. I give you Jesus” (Acts 3:6, paraphrase).

We share Jesus with our neighbors each time we reach out and demonstrate, in a way that they can relate to, that God is active in this community. Every one of these encounters is a seed planted. Some seeds will sprout, some seeds will not. Some seeds will grow here in this community; some other seeds will decide to go somewhere else.

Our job is to bring Jesus with us to every encounter and to plant seeds of hope in the lives of our neighbors. Many of them already know Jesus, or at least about Jesus. Our job is to find those who made a choice, for whatever reason, not to associate with any church. And we need to invite these men and women to make a home here, to grow in faith with us. The challenge is to make that “come and grow with us” meaningful.

To demonstrate the relationship that we have with God to our neighbors, we must understand the culture that shapes them and learn to recognize the ways in which God is active in that culture, outside the walls of our church.

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St Francis of Assisi said once, “Preach the Gospel always; use words only if necessary.”

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Our closing hymn today is “We Have a Story to Tell to the Nations.”

Verse 1: “We’ve a story to tell to the nations, that shall turn their hearts to the right…”

Verse 2: “We’ve a song to be sung to the nations, that shall lift their hearts to the Lord …”

Verse 3: “We’ve a message to give to the nations, that the Lord who reigneth above…”

Verse 4: “We’ve a Savior to show to the nations, who the path of sorrow hath trod…”

And we do that because we know that someday “the darkness shall turn to dawning, and the dawning to noonday bright; and Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth, the kingdom of love and light.” Now is our opportunity and chance to be God’s presence in this world, and to create a community that can nourish our ministries and outreach for years to come. Now is our opportunity to create a community that is able to nurture and build not only each other, but also welcome our neighbors and help them to grow emotionally and spiritually.

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Thinking Towards Sunday; January 31, 2016

Scriptures for this Sunday: 1 Thes 5:1-11

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV and ESV

During the service our community will dedicate a new set of paraments for the altar.

We will continue with the series of messages about how we can share Jesus with the world in which we live… 

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; Sunday, January 24, 2016; John 7:33-44

Due to inclement weather, there will be no worship services held on Sunday, January 24, 2016. Please stay safe and exercise caution while dealing with the snow.

 

John 7: 37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

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Each one of us is created in the image of God. That means that we can appreciate beauty, experience love, sadness, and other emotions, feel empathy and compassion, think creatively and make things (our version of creation). Each one of us has a God shaped “space” inside us and I think that this is where our soul is rooted. I think of that “space” as communications central for our personal connection to God.

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We also live in a fallen world. When humans disobeyed God and were expelled from the Garden of Eden, something happened to those God shaped “spaces” inside us. It is as if we are born with those spaces empty, waiting to be filled with something. I believe that God left these spaces open, meant to be filled with God’s essence, God’s love and grace, but it is up to us what we fill this space with.

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It is up to us to open the doors and invite God in… In Revelation 3:20 we hear, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in …” (NIV2010).

One of the problems that we face in our culture is that we have so many things knocking on the doors of our lives that it is easy to miss those times when God knocks on our doors. We have many enticements that cause us to take our eyes off of God.

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On one of my mission trips, our team was stationed in a rural area. Fairly early in the two-week trip, as we walked from our dorms to the work site someone told me, “Look at all these blue rocks. They are so beautiful.” All I saw was a pretty drab landscape with very little greenery and I definitely did not see any blue rocks. The person just reached down and picked up a pebble and gave it to me and it was a most beautiful shade of blue, teal and turquoise that I have ever seen. And all of a sudden I saw it, the landscape around me was littered with blue rocks and for the rest of the trip I saw these rocks everywhere.

Just like that, once in a while all of us (notice I did not say “YOU,” I am in the same boat) need to reminded that God is all around us, with us and among us, and the way we know that is by observing how God is moving in our community.

When we get focused on anything other than God, that is when we experience a spiritual drought. When our neighbors feel the need to be with God they come to church. They come here looking for God.

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If they think we are in a rut, if they see us doing the same thing we’ve done for the last 70 years without reflecting changes in the world around us, it is hard for them to see how God moves among us today, how God rules Kingswood UMC. What they see is a spiritual drought, a spiritual desert, parched and thirsty for God. It may not be the reality of what we experience, but that may be their perception. That is why many visit once and leave, never to be seen again. Nobody wants to go to a drought stricken area when they are looking for spiritual renewal and nourishment.

That is why the first thing that most churches need to do before they experience growth is turn our drought into an oasis. So how do we do that?

{Illustration from the practice of ministry}

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Our closing hymn today is “We Have a Story to Tell to the Nations.”

Verse 1: “We’ve a story to tell to the nations, that shall turn their hearts to the right…”

Verse 2: “We’ve a song to be sung to the nations, that shall lift their hearts to the Lord …”

Verse 3: “We’ve a message to give to the nations, that the Lord who reigneth above…”

Verse 4: “We’ve a Savior to show to the nations, who the path of sorrow hath trod…”

And we do that because we know that someday “the darkness shall turn to dawning, and the dawning to noonday bright; and Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth, the kingdom of love and light.” Now is our opportunity and chance to be God’s hands and feet in this world, and to create a community that can nourish our ministries and outreach for years to come.

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Thinking Towards Sunday; Sunday, January 24, 2016

Scriptures for this Sunday are  John 7:33-44.

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV and ESV

We will continue with the series of messages about how we can share Jesus with the world in which we live… 

During the service there will be a time of Reaffirmation of Baptismal Covenant. Everyone will have an opportunity to come forward and reaffirm their Baptism if they so choose.

Two quotes from the fictional character Albus Dumledore

“It is our choices…that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; January 17, 2016; John 21:1-14; Acts 3:1-7

This week we will start a new series of messages about being Jesus’ representatives in the world that we live in.

This week Scriptures are John 21:1-14; Acts 3:1-7

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV and ESV

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Today’s reading from the Gospel of John happens after Jesus’ crucifixion and before the first Pentecost. After events of Easter, the Disciples left Jerusalem and went back to their old lives by the Sea of Galilee. I suspect that they did not know what else they could do; I suspect they had a difficult time trying to reimagine and to reinvent their lives now that Jesus was not physically with them. That is why they left the lives that they had built with Jesus back in Jerusalem. They went back to the lives that they knew before they even met Jesus. At the Cross, their lives SEEMINGLY fell apart, and they had to go back to the comfort of something that felt safe and familiar.

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That is when the disciples heard, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” (John 21:5)[1]. Isn’t that just like Jesus, to call on us when we have hit rock bottom? Isn’t it just like Jesus to call on us when we are trying to occupy our hands and bodies with mindless tasks because we don’t know what else to do? Isn’t it just like Jesus to call on us when there is no hope in our heart, when we don’t even know how to face the next day?

Just like that, Jesus was there. That morning the Disciples learned that it is possible to change your location, but it is not that easy to leave Jesus behind. It is possible to run, but it is not possible to hide from God.

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That is why the Disciples were so embarrassed when Jesus invited them to share a meal with him. That is why they did not dare to even lift their eyes to Jesus (John 21:12).

That is when this dialogue with Peter took place.

NIV2010 John 21: 15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

In the interest of full disclosure, there is more in that exchange than meets the eye. To understand these intricacies, we need to dig into the ancient Greek, which is a topic of a different sermon. All that I want to say today is that this exchange happened three (3) times. In essence, Jesus told Peter that he is a human being, that all humans make mistakes and that it is time to stop moping around and get busy about his Heavenly Father’s business.

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It is totally possible to hear this reading and say, “That’s it, I am going to spend all my time, money, and energy at the Hope Dining Room downstairs.” After all, doesn’t Jesus call us to “feed” his sheep.

The reality is, however, that we cannot eradicate hunger on our own. The world that we live in is too big for us to be able to do that. What is even worse, we live in a fallen world and that means that when we get what we need and what we want, almost immediately every one of us realizes that we want something else. We will run out of resources before we satisfy the wants of everyone who demands things from us, and we will end up burned out and frustrated.

So what do we do? What gift can we bring?

Today we heard Jesus instructing Peter to “feed [his] sheep,” to be a leader among the followers of Jesus. We know how Peter put Jesus’ instructions to use. Let us consider a reading from Acts 3.

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Acts 3:1-7 NIV2010  Peter Heals a Lame Beggar

Acts 3: 1 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. 2 Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. 4 Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” 5 So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

6 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” 7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.

Peter demonstrated that one way we can help others is to help them to find a way to meet their own needs. Peter enabled and encouraged the beggar to become the best version of what he was created to become. That is what Jesus’ ministry was about. {Illustration.}

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“Feed my sheep” (John 21:17) became “I give you Jesus” (Acts 3:6). We feed God’s sheep by helping them to see God clearer, love God more, and follow God closer with every day of their lives. And by the way, each one of us is God’s sheep as well… It is not about “them” out there; there is no “them,” it is all “us.”

We live in a troubled world. Who among us does not have their share of problems and frustrations? We see needs everywhere and it is not possible or even feasible for us to address all the needs that we encounter.

What is practical is to bring Jesus to the needs that we see. What is practical is to be God’s hands and feet in the world around us, doing what we can with what we have. What is practical is to allow the Holy Spirit to minister to the needs around us.

So how do we do that?

{Illustrations from the personal practice of ministry}

Every time that we reach out and let our neighbors know that God is welcomed and active in this community, we bring them Jesus. Every one of these encounters is a seed planted. Some seeds will sprout, some seeds will not. Some seeds will grow here in this community; some other seeds will decide to go somewhere else.

clip_image014Our job is to bring Jesus with us to every encounter and to plant seeds of hope in the lives of our neighbors. Most of them already know Jesus. Our job is to find those who made a choice for whatever reason to not associate with any church and invite them to make a home here, to grow in faith with us.

= = = = Footnote = = = =

[1] Gospels record two miraculous catches of fish.

The first is reported in the Gospel of Luke (5:1–11), and takes place early in the ministry of Jesus. As a result of the first miraculous catch of fish, Peter, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, joined Jesus as his students and disciples. The second miraculous catch of fish is reported in John (21:1-14) and takes place after the Resurrection of Jesus.

Thinking Towards Sunday; January 17, 2016

This week we will start a new series of messages about being Jesus’ representatives in the world that we live in.

This week Scriptures are John 21:1-14; Acts 3:1-7

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV and ESV

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; January 3, 2015; Epiphany Sunday

Today’s Scriptures: Matthew 2:1-12

You can read these Scriptures at this link: NIV and CEV

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Today is Epiphany Sunday.

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Inside the church we use words that most people outside the church do not understand or cannot relate to. And if we are honest, many of us do not know what certain “church-y” words actually mean.

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We have our own “inside-these-walls” language that I call “Churchese.” I think of “Churchese” similar to the way Star Trek fans and aficionados think of Klingon[1]. The Klingon Dictionary and Grammar Guide is available from Amazon for $12.99. There are Klingon Christmas Cards and even Klingon Wedding Ceremonies complete with Klingon invitations and menus. Such literary and culturally influential works as Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tse, and The Epic of Gilgamesh were translated to Klingon. There is a Klingon opera specifically written for the language. Performances of Dickens’ Christmas Carol in Klingon delighted sold-out audiences in four major cities: St. Paul, MN, Chicago, IL, Washington, DC and Cincinnati, OH[2]. Some Star Trek fans know, love and appreciate Klingon and use it in everyday life to communicate with each other when they do not want muggles to understand them, while everyone else thinks that these men and women are nuts.

Just like that, inside the church we know, love and appreciate “Churchese,” while few outside the church know, understand or care about it.

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The word “Epiphany” is definitely one of those “Churchese” words. That is why I want to say a few words about what Epiphany is.

In English “epiphany” describes a moment in which a person suddenly sees or understands something in a new way, it is a moment when the proverbial light-bulb goes on, it is the time when we realize the meaning behind the facts and truths. Who among us has not had such a moment of realization at least once in their lives?

In “Churchese,” the word Epiphany is used to describe a Christian festival held on January 6 (12 days after Christmas) in honor of the coming of the Wise Men to visit with the family of Jesus while he was just a toddler. That story is found in the Gospel of Matthew 2:1-12. The Sunday that is closest to January 6 is referred to as “Epiphany Sunday.”

That brings me to today’s reading. We hear the story of the Magi and a sermon about the Magi every year, and that makes it difficult for any pastor to say anything new or even interesting about these gift-bearing strangers from the East. That being understood, the story contains important insights about God.

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1) The Magi were foreigners and outsiders. The Magi were not even believers in God; they were probably Zoroastrian priests from the territories of today’s Iran or Azerbaijan. God’s revelation was given to outsiders, not to the inhabitants of the Holy Land and not to the religious elite. God’s revelation was given to those that were thought to be outside God’s chosen. Revelation came in ways that defied the religious and cultural norms of the time; outsiders were the bearers of the Good News.

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2) The Magi were guided by a star, a tiny speck of light that no one else paid any attention to. God speaks through the non-human as well as human world. The whole Creation and everything in it can reveal God’s presence. We can catch glimpses of the Holy through science, through interaction with others, as well as through scriptures when we have the courage to look.

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3) God communicated with the Magi through dreams. That means that sometimes God communicates with us through the subconscious.

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4) Can you imagine the Magi’s disappointment or surprise when they saw the Holy Family? They expected to find Jesus in the palace, and that is where they went at first. Then they learned something about God (Matthew 2:6 – the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem), and they traveled the road that they did not expect to travel. And then they came to a house of a peasant family. Even though they found a child and a family that did not have the trappings of a future king, they still gave their gifts to the Holy Family because they trusted what they had learned on their journey. That is why the day that commemorates that event is called the Epiphany.

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5) After visiting the Holy Family, the Magi “left for their own country by another road.” When we encounter the Holy, we are transformed and changed. How many of us are not in the place we imagined we would be just a year ago? Have you ever asked yourself, how did I get here? All of us are dealing with changes in our families, economic realities, changes in health, and relationships. All of us must travel unexpected paths. “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Just like the Magi, we find and experience God not where we expected to, but on our lives’ journeys.

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The story that we heard today teaches us that God comes to all of us disguised as ordinary life. All of us experience epiphanies every day and find God in every season of life and in all sorts of unfamiliar persons and places.

{Receiving New Member}

{Celebrating the Sacrament of the Holy Communion}



[1] For more info about Klingon visit this site: http://www.kli.org/

[2] For more info visit http://www.kli.org/about-klingon/klingon-history/ & https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Klingon_Christmas_Carol

Thinking Towards Sunday; Epiphany Sunday; January 3, 2016

BG

This Sunday is Epiphany Sunday.

The word “Epiphany” is definitely in the “Churchese” language. In case you wondering, I think of “Churchese” kind of like Star Trek fans and aficionados think of Klingon (for more info about Klingon visit this site: http://www.kli.org/). There are Klingon Christmas Cards and, for those die-hard fans who want to make their wedding day extra special, Klingon Wedding Ceremonies. Star Trek fans know, love, appreciate Klingon and use it in everyday life to communicate while no one else cares or understands their fascination.

Just like that, Inside the church we know, love and appreciate “Churchese” while nobody outside the church knows, understands, or cares about it.

That is why I want to say a few words about what Epiphany is. In English the word Epiphany describes a moment in which a person suddenly sees or understands something in a new or very clear way. In “Churchese,” the word Epiphany is used to describe a Christian festival held on January 6 in honor of the coming of the Wise Men to visit with the family of Jesus while he was just a toddler. That story is found in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 2, verses 1-12. The Sunday that is closest to January 6 is referred to as “Epiphany Sunday.”

Period of 12 days between December 25 and January 6 is called the Season of Christmas. (The well known Christmas Song about somebody’s “true love” bestowing lavish presents for 12 straight days is about the Season of Christmas.)

Scriptures this Sunday: Matthew 2:1-12 – the Story of Wise Men visiting the Holy Family

We will also receive Ray D. into membership and celebrate the Sacrament of the Holy Communion.

Christmas Eve Prayer and Litany

Loving, Gracious and Redeeming God!

We rejoice in new possibilities. The new life born in Bethlehem, the new life that tiny baby brings to all who suffer from the curse of sin and death. The new life in human form, but that which has always existed, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from light.

But as we wait here in the tension of the “already but not yet,” the light grows oh so dim. Our flames flicker and wane. Our joy burns out. Our lives become dark.

Let us hear the good news once again: The light has dawned upon the earth!

The light of the world is Jesus!

For those of us who say we believe but so easily forget:

The light of the world is Jesus!

For those whose light has been extinguished by the prevailing winds of greed, hatred, and prejudice:

The light of the world is Jesus!

For those whose darkness is an empty table or no table at all:

The light of the world is Jesus!

For those whose darkness is grief and pain and loss:

The light of the world is Jesus!

For those whose darkness is broken homes and abusive relationships:

The light of the world is Jesus!

For those who have no peace, without or within:

The light of the world is Jesus!

For those who grapple with the darkness of addiction:

The light of the world is Jesus!

For those whose darkness is mental illness, or who live in the light-masking fog of anxiety or depression:

The light of the world is Jesus!

For those whose darkness is persecution for their faith:

The light of the world is Jesus!

For those in the darkest places on earth, who live in a perpetual night of violence, oppression, and hunger:

The light of the world is Jesus!

King of kings, be born in us today, brighten our souls, give us fire in our hearts, so that we may carry our light to those who grope in darkness. Shine in us, so that your glory reaches the far corners of the earth. Like sunshine at noonday, let your glory shine into our hearts and our minds, and may its expanse be so great that nothing can snuff it out.

May we hear the invitation, and may we extend it to everyone, everywhere:

Come to the light, ‘this shining for thee!

The light of the world is Jesus!

These things we pray in the name of Jesus the Christ, the holy Child of Bethlehem, the light, in whom there is no darkness at all, who taught his disciples to pray:

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

 

Note: I do not know the source of this litany. It was stored on my computer for a few (what seems to be like) millennia. If you know the source or the author, please e-mail me…

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