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

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An Ecumenical Thanksgiving Worship Planned for Brookside.

Canadian Catholic Priest, Fr. Thomas Rosica, writes

(see http://saltandlighttv.org/blogfeed/getpost.php?id=58981),

The celebration of Thanksgiving in Canada makes an interesting counterpoint to the holiday celebrated by our American neighbours (sic). While Americans remember the Pilgrims settling in the New World, Canadians give thanks for a successful harvest.  At the heart of our Thanksgiving celebration is the idea of giving thanks for the goodness of the season past. …

Thankfulness is much more than saying “Thank you” because we have to. Thankfulness is a way to experience the world, a way to perceive, a way to be surprised. Thankfulness is having open eyes and a short distance between the eyes and the heart.

In the Old Country we did not have a holiday called “Thanksgiving.” Instead we had an unofficial period of time set aside for a “feast” that lasted almost two weeks. That feast happened around harvest time (early to mid September, when a certain variety of grapes and yellow figs were ripe). We would visit each other, make special pastries and meals that were usually shared with friends and neighbors and shared family stories. I remember the taste of sweet, juicy grapes mixed with the saltiness of feta, string cheese “suluguny”, “peda” bread and the tanginess of stuffed grape leaves. Quite a bit of what I know of my family history I learned in that setting.

I think that is a major part of the Holy Day of Thanksgiving. It is a feast that helps the community to become reconciled. As we share our stories and break bread together, we experience the transformation and transcendence of the mundane, physical, and temporal dimensions of reality, we are invited to experience the goodness and mercy of God.

This year our church will be part of an ecumenical Thanksgiving worship service on Tuesday, November 21, 2017 @ 7 pm at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church.

I hope to see many of you at this service.

Philos,

Pastor Asher

 

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Approximate Notes for Thanksgiving 2017 Message

Behold how good and pleasant it is for sisters and brothers to worship together in unity! (Psalm 133)

{Acknowledgments)

I struggled as I was preparing today’s message. At this time in the life of our country, divisions in our society run deep. We are divided across socio-economic and racial lines; there is a huge generation gap that brings with it another level of animosity. International news is not any better. It almost feels like the whole world is ready to erupt in flames. It is depressing and scary.

That brings me to the task at hand. What can I say that would end with “we ought to be thankful,” and would not sound hollow and meaningless. And that forced me to think of Thanksgiving from a different perspective.

We think that Thanksgiving began with the Pilgrims in the early 1600s, but I want to suggest that Thanksgiving is actually rooted in prehistoric times, long before the first Pilgrim ever set foot on this continent.

Thanksgiving began with a journey. There were migrations long before the Pilgrims. There were migrations of indigenous groups from Africa to Asia to Europe to America. These migrations continued over centuries, and they crisscrossed the globe with wave after wave of immigrants, refugees, slaves, wanderers and dreamers.

These travelers came from one place and settled somewhere else. Without those journeys, without their legacy to inspire the Pilgrims, without their longing for a better future, there would be no Pilgrims landing on American shores and there would be no annual Thanksgiving feast.

Journeys and migrations may sound exciting, and they are, but they are not easy. A long list of traumas and tragedies that took place during those journeys have been forgotten over time.

Thanksgiving is in part about remembering that there are stories and that these stories are sacred, they are a part of who each of us is. That is what God did for us. God didn’t simply pass over our sins and choose not to remember them. God engaged with our sins, God battled our sins on the cross and paid for them with His own blood, sweat and tears. We remember that sacrifice and that story every time we celebrate the Sacrament of the Holy Communion.

The forgotten traumas, tragedies, and accomplishments over time were compressed into what has become our common bond. All of us share the common story that our ancestors arrived from somewhere and settled somewhere else; there was a journey, and more than likely it was demanding. The world that we live in is built on the legacy of a multitude of these journeys, made in different eras, by different people. The shared human experience of what happened during these journeys is what binds us and unites us. These journeys give us a common story and shared experiences with all other humans.

Generations upon generations of our ancestors journeyed all over the world before coming to these shores with the idea of building a new world, filled with possibility and hope. Eventually the migrations began that brought our ancestors to these shores. They came hoping for better lives, for a safer future for their children, for economic opportunity, for freedom to worship God. They came filled with excitement, optimism and energy.

That is the idea of the American Dream. It is an idea that our best tomorrows are in front of us regardless of what is happening today because, if history is any indication, it shows that we have always managed to pull together when times were tough.

And now it is our turn. And what a better place to start pulling together than to share a story. The way I think of Thanksgiving is that there is one gigantic table. There are countless people sitting at this table and all of them are sharing a single meal: men and women, children and adults, healthy and frail, poor and rich, black and white, blue and red.

I see an investment banker from Delaware seated next to a truck stop waitress from Nevada.

I see a farmer from the mid-west exchanging stories with a fisherman from New England.

I see a bearded professor from MIT passing the gravy to a bearded auto mechanic from the sticks of Alabama.

I see a young soldier from Wisconsin laughing at a joke that a little old lady from Maryland just told him.

This gigantic table stretches far into the distance, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, from the Canadian border to the southern border with Mexico. People from all regions of our great country have found their seats and enjoy their meal at the same time. At this table, the barriers that we built to separate us are removed. OUR WHOLE NATION SITS DOWN TO A SINGLE MEAL. At that table and in that moment we are indeed ONE NATION UNDER GOD WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL. This dinner is shared in the homes of the wealthy, middle class and the poor. It takes place in soup kitchens and in suburban restaurants and diners; it happens with stuffy formality and with casual folksiness.

This Thanksgiving, give thanks to God for the story that all of us share, give thanks to God for the legacy that we have inherited and are tasked to carry forward.

May God bless America, and may our tomorrows be filled with thanksgiving, excitement and adventure.

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Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; November 19, 2017

Scriptures for this Sunday are: Exodus 16:1-3, 13-16, 17:1-7

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

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In October 2013, Debbie and I were on a cruise ship that visited the Island of Saint Lucia. As we were sailing away in the late afternoon, I was standing on the deck with my camera taking pictures. All of a sudden, from a balcony below I heard a man crying out, “I want a rum punch!” I cannot possibly describe what he sounded like because I can’t replicate the longing and frustration in his voice as he bellowed out, “I want a rum punch!” every 20 seconds or so. I think, that he has been on a boating excursion that afternoon and had a wonderful time, and what he really wanted was to be back in that “happy place.”

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Today we heard a reading from Exodus and we heard the Children of Israel crying their version of, “I want a rum punch!” In today’s reading we heard “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Exodus 16:3). … “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” (Exodus 17:3).

We are preparing for Advent season. It is impossible to understand and comprehend the ministry of Jesus – the events of Easter, and Christmas without understanding the patriarchs and exodus. That is why several previous messages were about Abraham and Jacob, and today I want to talk about the Hebrews wandering in the desert.

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Exodus was a painful and defining experience in the psyche of Hebrews. It was so defining that to this day every devout Jewish household in the world observes it, and Christians, as the theological descendants of Abraham celebrate Easter, which is Christian Holy Day rooted in the celebration of Passover.

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In Exodus 1:6-8 we hear, “… Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them. Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt.” That new pharaoh was concerned about the security of his borders and he was worried about peace in his lands. From archeology we know that when Joseph became a vizier in Egypt, the ruling class were Hyksos. Hyksos’ were Semitic people, who somehow won control of the lands. We still do not know the whole story, we do not know where they came from, nor what happened to them after Egypt won independence again. Hyksos’ Pharaoh was much more inclined to look favorably on Hebrews because they were their distant cousins. That is why Hebrews enjoyed protection and special privileges under Hyksos rulers. When Egypt won their independence again, when a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt (Exodus 1:8), Egyptians were rightly concerned that Hebrews could rebel. There were too many of them to deport, and there were too many of them to eradicate without civil war. So the Pharaoh and the ruling class started oppressing the Hebrews, destroying their hopes, squelching their self-esteem, making it difficult to survive.

Eventually things got so bad that God sent Moses to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt. Just to put things into perspective,

Isn’t it surprising that after witnessing God’s power and presence in such mighty ways, the Hebrews are saying that they want to go back to Egypt?

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In the wilderness the Hebrews were faced with the reality of what it meant that they were no longer slaves in Egypt. They may have been unhappy in Egypt, but they knew how to deal with that unhappiness; there was a certain routine and rhythm to life, and that routine of oppression became their identity. Now in the desert they had to face a new, painful reality. And from that reality, the security of their oppression in Egypt seemed better than the ambiguity of the harsh conditions, that they found themselves in, while in the desert. Their laments came because the Hebrews could not even imagine a new and different life for themselves in the Promised Land.

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The reason this is relevant to us is because we too live in a world where a new reality, a “new king,” a new set of values, has come to reign supreme. This new king is secularism. We live at a time and in a place where it is not fashionable to have faith and to honor God. As a society, all of us are paying the price. Many times when I say that I am an Evangelical Christian, that I believe that the Holy Spirit of our God is guiding my life, that Jesus died on the Cross for me and that God the Father cares about “even such a wretch as I,” someone will roll their eyes and say something like, “Oh, you are one of those…”

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And as the Church (big C) in North America we are all crying, “I want a rum punch!” We are hoping that a miracle will happen and the 1950s will return and our pews will be packed again. In doing so, we totally overlook the fact that the 2050s are within reach. We overlook the fact that there is discussion in our society of what it means to be a believer and what God is doing in the world today. I think that as a Church (big C), we fail to create an environment where new ideas can germinate, and we do not give new ideas room or time to grow to maturity.

Art is a lie that tells us something about the truth. In our Bible study we just finished the movie The Shack. Previously we saw Stranger than Fiction, The Intern, and The 100 Foot Journey.

These movies give us a glimpse of what it means to honor God and to be a good neighbor in the context of the times that we live in. These movies challenge anyone who is willing to listen to consider the nature of God and who God is to each and every one of us, and more importantly, what God is doing in the world around us today. That is important, because when we are with God, all things are possible.

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The truth is that we are a small community of believers. We cannot change the direction of the whole North American Church (big “C”). But we can do something in our church community.

Thinking Towards Sunday; November 19, 2017

Scriptures for this Sunday are: Exodus 16:1-3, 13-16, 17:1-7

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

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; Sunday, November 12, 2017; Military Appreciation Sunday

This Sunday we will Celebrate all those who served in the Military and their families.

Scriptures for this Sunday: 2 Timothy 1:6-10

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

This week our Opening and Closing Hymns will be led by Kelli and Jim playing guitars.

Our opening hymn will be: Let There Be Peace on Earth (UMH 431)

Our closing hymn will be: The Battle Hymn of the Republic (UMH 717)

 

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Veterans Day is a day set aside for us to express our gratitude to all veterans for their willingness to do the difficult job of defending our country, acting as mediators or peacekeepers in conflicts and aiding the citizens of this nation in times of natural disaster or civil unrest. Whether or not we approve of our nation’s foreign policy, we need to support the everyday people — mostly working class, often minorities — who fight our nation’s wars. They deserve our prayers and praise. They deserve our support because so many of these young men and women have been inexorably and tragically changed by the tragedy of war and by the violence and suffering that they witnessed.

Truth be told, most of us don’t know what it feels like to feed fleas and lice for months on end while living in the trenches and being shot at; I hope and pray that we never find out.

Truth be told, most of us don’t know what it feels like to take another human life and what it does to our psyche; I hope and pray that we never have to find out.

Truth be told, most of us do not understand the emotional battles that our veterans live through every day of their lives after returning home. Just like our veterans from World War II, from Korea, and Vietnam, some of our veterans returning from the Far East and Middle East come home with deep physical and psychological wounds, scarred not just in body, but also in mind. As a nation, and as Christian sisters and brothers, it is our duty to help to heal these wounds with love, patience, understanding, respect, and admiration.

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The sad truth is that our soldiers come home to a country divided and distracted by internal politics. Our returning soldiers come home to find that the public has little interest in or understanding of what these soldiers have been through or what their service means to us. That is heartbreaking, but that is the reality of our lives today.

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Whether we individually agree with the military conflicts that our nation is involved in or not, all of us “own” that war as citizens of the United States. That’s how our country works. Every man and woman who wears the uniform overseas goes over there wearing the American flag, representing each one of us and our nation’s ideals. As our soldiers come back, they face new and different battles when they arrive: unemployment, inflation, apathy and indifference to name a few.

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Our veterans can teach our nation an important lesson. That lesson is that there is no threat that we cannot face and overcome together; there is no challenge we cannot figure out and find a solution to. Our veterans teach us that we are a nation and one country under God that does what is necessary to assure that future generations have opportunities to build their lives.

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Our soldiers have stories to tell. In my travels I was privileged to receive a photocopy of a letter from the First World War.

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Beaufort of Luximburg (sic) Nov. 26 1918

Dear father (sic)

Am writing you a few lines to let you know I am well and in pretty good health and improving every day am glad I can tell that the war is over and that I went to the front on the 23 of October and was there when the last shot was fired and I only got one wound and it was in the hand but it did not amount to very much…”

The soldier that wrote this letter had to walk across France to get to the coast, where he boarded a ship to come across the Atlantic Ocean and back home to Virginia. His story, his service and his dedication continued to live with his children and grandchildren. His grandson,  after serving in the United States Navy, worked for NASA and was instrumental in putting the first man on the moon. His great-grandson served in the Air Force with distinction and retired after 25 years. His great-great-granddaughter is a graduate from the Naval Academy, and is serving in the Navy on a submarine.

The stories of our soldiers continue to live in the accomplishments of their children and grandchildren.

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President John F. Kennedy wrote, “As we express our gratitude [to the veterans], we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them” (Veterans Day Quotes).

To keep faith in God’s faithful care and protection is easy when everything is going well. It is difficult, however, to keep such faith in times of danger and ever-looming peril. It is in the middle of the terrible fighting of the American Civil War that Julia Ward Howe proclaimed her confidence in God’s triumphant power in the song that we know today as The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

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Julia Howe was frustrated and anguished with the division in our country, the division that resulted in the Civil War. She appropriated a melody that was first used in Methodist Camp Meeting (*). In her own words, she “scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper.” The hymn first appeared in the Atlantic Monthly Magazine in 1862, as a battle song for the republic. Before long the entire nation became inspired by her text and united in singing the new words with the old tune. This hymn still calls us to unity today, and it is as relevant today as it was in the days of the Civil War.

(*)(see https://daily.jstor.org/the-long-winding-history-of-the-battle-hymn-of-the-republic/ — para 5. Also see http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcestarters/battlehymn/pdf/battlehymn.pdf

“Say, Brothers, Will You Meet Us”, the tune that eventually became associated with “John Brown’s Body” and the “Battle Hymn of the Republic“, was formed in the American camp meeting circuit of the late 1700s and early 1800s. — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Brown%27s_Body)

In verse 1 we hear, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;…” Have your eyes seen the coming of the glory of the Lord?

In verse 3 we hear “He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat; … O be swift, my soul, to answer him; be jubilant, my feet!” Have you heard that trumpet? Is your soul swift to answer, are your feet jubilant?

In verse 4 we hear that Jesus’ glory “transfigures you and me;” and calls us to make it our business to bring the Freedom of Christ to all around us. Have you been transfigured by your relationship with Jesus?

Is Jesus your “wisdom and honor” (verse 5).

Today more than ever, this beloved hymn is calling us to work out our differences and to once again be the United States of America, to come together not as Republicans or Democrats, to come together not as Methodist or Presbyterians, not as Black or White or Asian, but as Americans.

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Thinking Towards Sunday; November 12, 2017

This Sunday we will Celebrate all those who served in the Military and their families.

Scriptures for this Sunday: 2 Timothy 1:6-10

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

This week our Opening and Closing Hymns will be led by Kelli and Jim playing guitars.

Our opening hymn will be: Let There Be Peace on Earth (UMH 431)

Our closing hymn will be: The Battle Hymn of the Republic (UMH 717)

 

Approximate Notes for Sunday Message; Genesis 32:22-31; November 5, 2017

Scripture for this Sunday will be the Story of Peniel (Jacob struggling with an Angel or the banks of Jabbok River): Genesis 32:22-31

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

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One of the episodes in the movie The Shack, shows the main hero (Mackenzie Allen Phillips) taking a rowboat across the lake. That episode reminds us of the time that the disciples were crossing the lake and were caught in a storm. Jesus showed up, walking on water, and calmed the storm. In the movie, however, something different happens. Mac was rowing his boat towards the opposite shore when he was overtaken by troubling and disturbing memories from his past. Immediately the water around his little boat turned dark, the boat sprang a leak and started sinking. That is when Jesus showed up and said, “Mac! Mac! That is happening inside of you! Look at me Mac, give me your hand! You are OK!” As soon as Mac focused on Jesus, his little rowboat stopped sinking and the water around him became clear again (Matthew 8:23-27, 14:22-33; Mark 4:35-41, 6:45-52; John 6:16-21).

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Something like that was happening to Jacob in today’s reading. His family was not the most dysfunctional family in the Bible, but it is in the top ten: most of that dysfunction stemmed from Jacob himself. Throughout his life, Jacob demonstrated a lack of discretion, honesty, empathy, love and patience. The deceptions that Jacob committed against his father, brother, and uncle came back to haunt him. That night at Jabbok river, Jacob was alone and the memories came flooding back. That night at Jabbok river was a turning point in Jacob’s life because he finally understood that he could not proceed into the future and be a bearer of God’s Blessing relying on his own devices.

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Jacob understood that he simply was not good enough on his own (Romans 3:10, 8:1). That struggle was indicative of Jacob’s understanding and accepting of responsibilities that come with God’s blessing. Jacob finally became consciously aware of the presence of God in the world around him and understood his human need for divine Grace.

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Through the struggle described in today’s reading God does not judge Jacob’s life and actions (John 3:17, 8:1-11). Jacob’s conviction comes from within.

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We see a similar moment in Peter’s life as well. When Jesus called Peter to follow him, “he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’” (Luke 5:8).

But Jesus did not walk away from Peter. God did not walk away from Jacob. We know that Jacob was forever changed by what happened that night. To magnify his internal and invisible transformation with signs of visible change, his name became Israel and he received a physical mark on his hip that caused him to limp (verse 31).

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As a born-again Christian, someone who is constantly challenged to face my own shortcomings and need of God’s Grace, what I see in today’s reading is Jacob’s moment of being born-again of the Spirit (John 3:3) for the very first time. Before that night Jacob knew about God; after that night Jacob knew God personally. In verse 30 he even said, “I have seen God face to face.”

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Jacob walked from that experience with increased hope and deeper faith. Hope is the ability to hear the melody of the future, to envision what the future might look like. Faith is the courage to dance to that melody today, to do what needs to be done so that the future becomes a reality.

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One of the most important lessons from the life of Jacob is that if you and I are to be molded by God into the Church of tomorrow, it will depend largely on the courage with which we respond to God today. It won’t be worked by God’s action alone…it works through our willing cooperation, our active acceptance and use of all the material we are offered, and adapting to our current environment. It does not happen overnight; it takes courage and boldness and a willingness to face God face to face even when such encounters damage our vanity and oppose our self-will.

{Celebrating the Sacrament of the Holy Communion}

Thinking Towards Sunday; November 5, 2017

Scripture for this Sunday will be the Story of Peniel: Genesis 32:22-32

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

For Monday Evening

Psalm 37: 4 Take delight in the Lord,
                    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

                         5 Commit your way to the Lord;
                                        trust in him and he will do this…

Our Christian life is a process of continual renewal. We were created to be constantly growing in our relationship with Jesus. This life of transformation happens as we constantly renew our thinking through the power of the Holy Spirit. God has given us the Scriptures so we can grow in our understanding and be transformed by the renewing of our mind.

But we must seek more than just intellectual knowledge. We must invite Jesus to enter our hearts and to become a part of our conscience. Apostle Paul wrote that true transformation also comes through experiential knowledge. He wrote in his Epistle to Ephesians, I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God” (Ephesians 3:16-20).

Question to think about: How did God touched my soul last week, what have I learned, and how have I changed as a result of that encounter?

Philippians 4: 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; October 15, 2017; Rachel and Leah

This week’s Scripture comes from Genesis 29:1-30

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

Hymns for October 15:

  • Opening: UMH 152 – I Sing the Almighty Power of God

  • Middle: UMH 61 – Come, Thou Almighty King (verses 1 & 4)

  • Closing: UMH 430 – O Master, Let Me Walk With Thee

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After an arduous journey, Jacob finally arrived at the camp of his uncle Laban. After the unsettling events at home and a dangerous journey, being in the safety of his uncle’s house was a welcome change. Laban had two daughters: Rachel and Leah. To describe them the Bible says:

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NIV Genesis 29:17 Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel was lovely in form, and beautiful.

What this line tells us is that Rachel had a fighting chance at the title of Miss Delaware; she was lovely in form and beautiful to see. Leah on the other hand … the most attractive thing about her was the fact that she wore really stylish glasses from Costco optical with really thick lenses.

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From the moment that Jacob laid his eyes on Rachel, he was in love. So when his uncle offered him a job, Jacob asked for Rachel’s hand in marriage in return. The agreement was that Jacob would work for SEVEN years before he was allowed to marry Rachel.

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NIV Genesis 29:20 So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.

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And by the way, it was not an easy gig to endure. Twenty years later, Jacob would describe his life working for his uncle in these words: “39 I did not bring you animals torn by wild beasts; I bore the loss myself. And you demanded payment from me for whatever was stolen by day or night. 40 This was my situation: The heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled from my eyes” (Gen 31:39-40). Jacob’s love for Rachel was like the yeast of hope that sustained Jacob through these seven years so that this time “seemed like only a few days” (Gen 29:20).

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After seven years, Jacob came to his uncle and the conversation had to go something like:

  • “Uncle, I’ve done my part, now it’s your turn. It is time for the wedding.”

  • “Son, I don’t know how you do things in New York where you are from, but here in Newark we do not do anything half way. We need to slaughter animals and prepare the meat, we need to make cheese, we need to grind wheat so that we can bake bread, we need to print the wedding invitations and stuff them into those itsy-bitsy envelopes with wedding bells that women-folk are so fond of, we need to invite guests and make sure that there are adequate facilities for them, we need to audition musicians and select a band, we need to make sure that your bride’s gown is ready. Kid, you’ve waited seven years, what’s a couple more weeks. Let’s do things right…”

So the preparation for the wedding began. Animals were slaughtered, grain was ground, cheese was prepared, wine procured, wedding tents were set up. It took some time, but eventually everything was ready.

So the feast starts one morning. The custom of the time was that the feast would last for a whole week. Guests were congratulating Jacob and extending their good wishes on the upcoming nuptials (something like – Jacob – you lucky dog). If I had to guess, Jacob was fairly tipsy by the end of the day.

When darkness fell, Laban put his daughter in the tent, blew out the candle and walked away. A few minutes later Jacob came in to lay with his wife.

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The next morning, as the skies were turning grey, Jacob had his first chance to see his bride. Can you imagine his horror when he saw Leah’s thick glasses on the night table next to the woman he married. I can see him jumping up and taking off running towards Laban’s tent:

  • “Uncle Laban, Uncle Laban!”

  • “What time is it? It is only 5 AM; what could be so urgent Jake?”

  • “Uncle Laban, it is Leah, not Rachel…”

  • “Yeah …. And…?”

  • “But uncle Laban, I wanted to marry Rachel”…

  • “Well son, I don’t know how you do things in New York where you are from, but here in Newark we have certain customs and proprieties. If I were to allow you to marry Rachel before her older sister married, it would bring shame on Leah (Gen 29:26). I love both my daughters and I would not hurt Leah like that. And besides you wanted to marry my daughter, and you married my daughter. Celebrate, have a good time! And get busy, I want a lot of grandchildren.”

  • “But uncle Laban, what about Rachel? I love Rachel… You promised…”

  • “Well, OK. After all, you are my nephew. You worked seven years for your first wife, you will have to work seven years for your second wife. And because I am a nice guy, you do not have to wait another seven years to marry Rachel. I will let you marry her next week after we have PROPERLY celebrated Leah’s wedding.”

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Looking back, Rachel came to represent HOPE, while Leah came to represent the GRIND OF DAILY LIFE and PERSEVERANCE in Jacob’s life. All of us can relate to that.

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Between Rachel and Leah, Jacob had 13 children. Leah and her maidservant bore 9 children, and Rachel and her maidservant bore 4 children. Most of the children came from Leah. Children meant wealth, they worked for free, they supervised other workers, they were dedicated to the success of the family business. Although Rachel was loved more than Leah, Leah participated in building Jacob’s business by bearing twice as many children. In the long run, Jesus came from Leah, not from Rachel. Jesus is a descendant of King David, who is a descendant of Judah, who is the fourth son born to Leah and Jacob.

All of us live lives hoping for “Rachel” but we deal with “Leah” most of the time. But here is the kicker: if we deal with “Leah” long enough, we will get to “Rachel.” In other words: do not lose hope.

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{Illustration/(s)}

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Most of our journeys begins with a hope: that is “Rachel.” And then we discover the daily grind, obstacles, and difficulties that every life has to deal with. When we persevere and hold on to our hope and deal with “Leah” long enough, we will get to “Rachel.”

Hope is the ability to hear the melody of the future; Faith is the courage to dance to it today. And when we do that, the melody of the future becomes the reality of today.

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{Liturgy of Baptism}

{Liturgy of Reception into the Local Church}

Thinking Towards Sunday; October 15, 2017

This week’s Scripture comes from Genesis 29:1-30

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

Hymn for October 15

Opening: UMH 152 – I Sing the Almighty Power of God

Middle: UMH 61 – Come, Thou Almighty King (verses 1 & 4)

Closing: UMH 430 – O Master, Let Me Walk With Thee

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; October 8, 2017

Scriptures for this Sunday: Genesis 28:10-17. You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

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Two weeks ago we talked about Jacob and Essau. Essau was Isaac’s and Rebekah’s firstborn son, and was therefore the one to receive Isaac’s blessing. Jacob however wanted the blessing to himself. With this blessing came the promise of wealth and prestige.

We saw that Isaac lived through Essau. We saw that Essau was doing everything that his father Isaac was scared to do for himself. Essau was not afraid to live in the open fields and he knew how to fend for himself; how to hunt and how to survive in the wilderness. Isaac admired that.

Rebekah on the other hand, had no use for Essau. From her point of view, he was always running around doing wild and crazy things, hanging out with the “wrong” friends and marrying the “wrong” women (and by “wrong” I mean the ones that Rebekah did not approve of). In contrast, Jacob, their younger son, was accustomed to staying close to home and managing the family business. In Rebekah’s eyes, Jacob was the model son, someone whom she could control, guide, and eventually depend on for her own survival.

If I had to guess, Essau was probably well‑balanced and adjusted to his life. He was hot-headed and impatient, but he was an independent man who loved and enjoyed his life. On the other hand, Jacob was probably starving for his father’s approval and smothered by his mother’s excessive love and attention.

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Right or wrong, Jacob ended up with his father’s blessing and God’s promise to Abraham.

Jacob’s and Rebekah’s deceit tore up the whole family. Isaac was confused and frustrated. Essau blamed Jacob for treachery and even vowed to kill him; “Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, ‘The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob’” (Genesis 27:41).

Because of this, Jacob had to run for his life. He left behind an angry brother, a disappointed father and a devastated mother.

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This is where we find Jacob in today’s reading. He was lonely and scared. He did not feel good about what he had done; how could he? On top of that, he faced an uncertain future. He was alone and far from home with only the shirt on his back. He was not sure if he would ever return home; he was certain he would never see his mother or father ever again. He had no assurance of having his basic needs met, let alone {1} finding employment, {2} having a roof over his head or {3} starting a family. Things looked scary and hopeless. Did you notice that he had to use a stone to support his head as he slept? I think there is a reason God wanted to make sure that this particular detail was preserved as a part of our Holy Scriptures. It is a metaphor for how Jacob felt.

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It is in that place of desperation that Jacob had his dream of a ladder reaching to the skies, with God standing on top. And Jacob heard God say, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:13-17).

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Today’s reading reminds me of another time and another place. After the First Easter, Jesus appeared to his disciples as they were scared, hiding from their own people, hiding behind closed doors. Remember Jesus showed up and said, “Peace be with you!”

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Today’s episode of Jacob’s dream tells us that we are invited by God into places that are holy. Not because we deserve to be there, but because that is how God redeems our fallenness. We are invited into those places by an authority that exists outside of ourselves. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10 NIV).

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Today’s reading reminds us that I can have all the blessings and well-wishes, and all the knowledge, but without knowing what God feels like, without God’s touch on my soul, I will not amount to much. Our experiences of God matter and make a difference because they connect us to God. In John 15:5 we hear, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

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Jacob was a son and a grandson of a Patriarch. Jacob was the Church of the time. He knew about the blessing, he knew about God, but his knowledge resided in his head. But that night this knowledge traveled into his heart. It does not mean that he became a super-hero of faith overnight. But it started the ball rolling. Jacob made a first step from being a scared young man with emotional baggage to becoming a patriarch of our faith. In Ephesians 1:18, Paul wrote, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people…”

Most of us are not superheroes of faith. Most of us need to be reconnected with God once in a while. Today I want to ask you a simple question,

  • “What is your ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ experience?”

  • What are the rocks in your pillow? Do you need to put them at God’s feet?

  • When was the first time you experienced God’s touch and God’s Grace in your life?

Is it well with your soul? Do you need to come to the altar and lay your life at God’s feet? Do you need to recommit your life to God and remind yourself that you are on your journey to perfection?

Thinking Towards Sunday; October 8, 2017

Scriptures for this Sunday: Genesis 28:10-17. You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; October 1, 2017; New Access Ramp Dedication at Kingswood UMC

Scriptures for this Sunday: Ezra 6:13-22

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

Historical Note:

The Scroll of Ezra reveals two main issues faced by the returning Jewish exiles:

  • the struggle to restore the temple (Ezra 1:1–6:22) and

  • the need for spiritual reformation (7:1–10:44).

Both were necessary in order for the people to renew their fellowship with the Lord.

God moved the hearts of secular rulers (Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes) to allow, even encourage and help, the Jewish people to return home. He used these unlikely allies to fulfill His promises of restoration for His chosen people.

Today’s reading tells us that King Darius, the Median king, re-invigorated the efforts by supplying whatever the returning Jewish exiles needed to finish the construction of the Second Temple (Ezra, chapter 6). This Temple is called Zerubbabel’s Temple as opposed to the original, known as Solomon’s Temple.

When was the last time that you have you encountered an unlikely source of blessing? Have you wondered how God can really work all things together for the good of those who are called by His name (Romans 8:28)? Take time today to acknowledge God’s sovereignty and mercy in your life. Recommit to Him your trust, your love, your devotion, and your obedience.

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{Illustration}

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{Illustration}

Text of the Plaque:

Josephine Watson Hubbard

“Beatae Memoriae” *

1842-1901

A devoted worker

in this church and Sunday School,

a friend and helper

of the poor, the sick, the needy,

a lover of humanity,

the fragrance of her pure life

lingers with us still.

* “Beatae Memoriae” = “Of Blessed Memory”

Nobody in Chestertown remembers this woman. I think that these two pictures are of her and her husband. From what I recall, the town clerk knew someone who had the same maiden name; that lady lives in the Midwest somewhere now, and she thinks that these two are her aunt and uncle and these are the pictures of them that she emailed to me.

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Christ United Methodist Church in Chestertown stands today because of the efforts and energies of people like Josephine Watson Hubbard and her husband. They are gone and we do not know anything about them. But their presence is among us, their memory and spirit is a part of our tradition and a part of our cloud of witnesses.

Josephine and her husband had no idea what the church building would look like in 2017. Josephine and her husband had no idea what the congregation would look like in 2017. I suspect that if someone told them that the church would have a Russian-Jewish pastor in the future, for them it would be a reason for concern.

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As churches go, Kingswood United Methodist Church is young. It was established in 1954 (the building cornerstone is dated 1955) and that means that our congregation is now 63 years old.

I sincerely hope that in 115 years (around the year 2130) someone will stand in front of the descendants of this congregation and remember all of us and honor the memories of us, as these memories and this legacy linger among them.

One of the ways that churches continue to serve God is by making sure that the tradition of God’s Grace, Jesus’ Love, and the Guidance of the Holy Spirit is preserved, discerned and carried forward through the ages.

Today, at the end of the service we will dedicate the new access ramp to God’s Glory and to Christian service.

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….

{Celebrating the Sacrament of the Holy Communion}

Thinking Towards Sunday; October 1, 2017; Service of Dedication of a New Access Ramp; World Communion Sunday

Scriptures for this Sunday: Ezra 6:13-22

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

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; Genesis 25:27-34; September 24, 2017

Scriptures for this Sunday are: Genesis 25:27-34

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

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NIV2010 Genesis 25: 27 The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. 28 Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

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Knowing a little bit about Isaac it is easy to understand why he preferred Esau over Jacob. The event of his near-sacrifice (see Genesis 22:1-14) left him shell-shocked for the rest of his life. Esau, who “became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country” was Isaac’s way to live precariously through his son. Anyone who enjoys watching sports can understand why Isaac preferred Esau.

Rebekah, on the other hand, favored Jacob. That also makes a lot of sense. In those days women had no means to survive on their own, so if something were to happen to her husband, the child who inherited the blessing would be the one to take care of her. Given a choice between Esau and Jacob, it is easy to see why she favored Jacob: he was more likely to be there for her in her time of need.

Rebekah, however, had a problem. Esau was the first-born, he stood to inherit God’s promise to Abraham and all of Isaac’s riches.

We kindda know the story. Jacob wanted the blessing.

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NIV Genesis 25:29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” … 31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” 33 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright.

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How could a rational adult who knows how to take care of himself make a conscious decision to give up God’s Blessing and ALL of his fortune? For one thing, I do not think that Esau took Jacob seriously, and he said the words that would give him what he wanted at the time. Esau said whatever helped him to satisfy his most immediate need, and he did it without much thought. It was an impulsive decision. How many of us have uttered words or made decisions when we were hungry, tired or anxious, and how many of us lived to regret these words, actions and decisions?

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Now let us look at Jacob. Jacob made a conscious decision that he wanted to inherit God’s blessing – he wanted something that wasn’t rightfully his.

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To get that blessing Jacob had to devise a plan; he patiently watched Esau, figuring out his habits and learning his comings and goings. When the opportunity presented itself, Jacob was ready.

A few years later, when Isaac was preparing to pass the blessing, Rebekah and Jacob had to come up with a way to trick Isaac into blessing Jacob instead of Esau. That story is found in Genesis 27.

Reading Genesis 27 makes me think of sifting through a pile of birth, marriage, and death certificates, as well as public records of lawsuits between members of the same family.

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We know the rest of the story. It took Jacob more than twenty years, plus a night of wrestling with God, to learn that trickery could win him the blessing, but there was a price. It also brought discord and suffering into his family. In the process, Jacob learned that to realize the blessing, to make it into something tangible, he had to demonstrate sustained commitment and dedication to God.

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This story had been told and retold over countless times in the last 4000 years. Through the years Jacob and Esau have come to represent one of many dualities in our lives. Their relationship sheds a light on the tug of war that takes place in our lives between the sacred and profane, between the physical and the spiritual. Esau represents the physical part of each of us.

{Illustration}.

Jacob, on the other hand, has come to represent the spiritual side of our existence.

{Illustration}

This duality permeates our lives.

There is a little bit of Esau and a little bit of Jacob in all of us. We all have certain amount of Esau’s impulsiveness and bravado; we like it when someone we admire says things like: “That’s my boy!” or “I know him, very nice person!” We like it when things go OUR way. On the other hand, we tend to get frustrated and impatient when things do not go exactly as we have planned them.

We have a certain amount of Jacob’s resourcefulness, initiative and adaptability as well. He was very good at figuring out how to thrive in difficult situations and how to turn things to his advantage. We live in a culture where individuality is encouraged and resourcefulness is admired. That is where Jacob excelled.

{Illustration 1: Story of Itzhak Perlman}

{Illustration 2: Diet Story}

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