July 26, 2020 - Embrace Mission with Joy, Pslam 100:2
Worship fuels our mission to the world, and mission in the world leads us to
worship. This revolving door of worship and mission reveals an active, abundant, and
eternal life with God. We hear in Psalm 100:2: “Serve the Lord with gladness, come
before him with shouts of joy.”
The psalms often reflect a daily worship for God’s people. The book of psalms begins with Psalm 1 comparing people who are happy to planted trees near streams of water who meditate on the word day and night. Psalm 92 encourages the people to declare the steadfast love of God in the morning and make known the Lord’s faithfulness at night. The last Psalm 150 says everything is to praise the Lord from creation to humanity.
These refrains of praise and worship in the psalms remind us of God’s consistent flow of love in our lives that amazes us in the day and gives us rest each night.
Psalm 100:2 encouraged all the people to serve the Lord with joy as they
approached the temple for worship. When we are filled with joy, it is hard to keep it hidden for very long. Joy overflows from our heart and shows up on our face.
Toni Morrison shares a good illustration of a joy that appears on our faces.
Morrison won the Nobel peace prize for literature in 1993 for novels such as The Bluest Eye. In an interview, she asks the audience, “When a child walks into the room, does your face light up?”
She goes on to share that when her children were little and used to walk into the room, she would look at them to see if they had buckled their trousers or if their hair was combed or if their socks were up. A person's affection and deep love is not displayed in this way. When children see you doing this, all they see is a critical face. She shares some simple advice. Let your face speak what is in your heart. When children walk into the room our faces should say that we are glad to see them. Simple and solid advice for not only parents but for everyone. Instead of placing our focus on what appears to be wrong, we focus on the child that appears at the door whom we love. And in doing so, we let the children in our homes and in our communities know they are loved not only by us but by their creator simply from the glow upon our face.
Over the years when sharing conversations with people, there are these moments when their face lights up. This is when they begin to share about their passion around a topic, relationship, or mission. Their words flow from their heart, move their body, and inspire all who are listening.
One day when visiting with a lovely couple in their living room, the gentlemen’s face began to glow as he remembered helping an employee with her personal finances. She walked into his office and shared that her spending habits were spiraling out of control as all of her credit cards had reached their maximum limits. She had heard in the office about his financial advice that had helped others and wondered if he could help her. He agreed to help. He asked her to hand over all credit cards and to promise not to sign up for any future credit cards. He placed all the cards in an envelope, sealed the envelope and put the envelope in the drawer of his desk. He coached her in forming new spending habits. The employee moved away. Years later, the employer received a handwritten letter from her sharing that she and her husband were now debt-free. She was passing on his financial advice to friends and family. She was grateful to him for giving her a new way of life. For this gentleman when he talks about being a faithful steward of finances his face glows with passion. Mission for him includes helping someone to their feet who has fallen on the sidewalk and helping someone to stand on a solid financial future who has
fallen into financial debt. He says, “mission is exciting, for you find joy coming back to you in amazing ways.”
One morning when talking with another gentleman, his face began to glow as he leaned back in his chair and he said, ; waking up is a joy for him, it is one more day that he did not deserve.; His mission every day is to improve the lives of those he encounters through day to day interactions. For example, when he goes through the drive-thru at McDonald’s he notices something specific about the worker and shares a compliment rather than a complaint. When spending time at a coffee shop with a lawyer, she shared what brought her the most joy were the moments that she did not plan or expect. Over the years she has done pro-bono work. Her face began to glow. She remembered years ago when it was so dry in the south, farmers were struggling to survive. She learned that black farmers were not taking advantage of the low interest loans that white farmers were already receiving. Most of the black farmers did not know these loans were
available. Through countless hours, she shared education, resources, and justice for all farmers despite the color of their skin to receive the low interest loans needed for their farms to survive the drought. When pro-bono cases come across her desk, it is difficult to move past the challenge of how much time it is needed to do good. Yet she remembers the grateful faces of the South Carolina Farmers that help her now to say yes to the small amount of good that she can do to make this world a better place for all people.
When our joy moves from heart to face, it affects our whole body, impacts our time, transforms our life, and inspires others. I would like to suggest three ways we can experience a joy that moves from heart to face as we serve the Lord.
First, joy is about connection. Our joy is found in God. We need connection
to the Source, to our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. As the psalms encourage us from morning to evening, we are to seek, listen, and follow as we remain in the flow of God’s love. Our connection to God or lack of connection, affects all our other relationships in the home, at work and in our community. When our relationship with God is out of balance, all other relationships are as well. Spiritual disciplines enhance our relationship with God and others.
Joy is found in the intersection with God and neighbor. I am thinking joy looks
more like a round-a-bout than a 4-way intersection. In the design of a round-a-bout there is a constant flow of movement, rather than sudden stops by cars in every direction. In a round-a-bout, we can imagine God guiding how our roads intersect with one another in our journeys of faith.
As joy is found in our relationships with God and neighbor, we begin to see how joy deepens when we allow worship and mission to weave in and through our life. As we let go of control, distractions, and discomfort, we can notice the needs of our neighbors. Jesus shared in the temple that his ministry was to the poor, the sick, and oppressed. We will soon discover that as we meet a need for those who are poor, sick and oppressed, we will meet Jesus there too.
Second, joy abides through difficult circumstances but is not dependent upon them. Any task or event of great value, will take more time, often will have more hardships, and will endure more work then we planned. Joy sees us through long endeavors and is found in their completion. Scripture reminds us how joy calms fear in troubling times and remains with us along the journey. We hear the angels quiet the shepherds in the field to not be troubled for they bring good news of great joy for a child had been born who was the Messiah, the Lord. The shepherds traveled to see this child. As the first eyewitnesses of the Messiah, the shepherds could not contain their joy. As they returned home, praises were lifted for all that they had seen and heard as the angels had told them. When serving the Lord in gladness, we notice how our actions overflow with joy. There is always the option to stay or to say no to the task ahead. Count on difficulties, brokenness, and hardships along the way. Yet when we go to the temple, sew the quilt, build the house, complete the work, visit the baby in the manager, and serve in mission, we are not alone. Joy is abiding with us, maybe even pushing us along because there is great news to share. The great news of God’s love found in Christ cannot be contained in a manager, it is to be lived out in our life.
Lastly, joy is a choice that flows toward peace. You are the only person
who can choose the direction of your day. As God lives within you, joy takes up residence. Each day is a choice, to either give joy away or let joy stay locked away. God’ s joyous love is made evident throughout creation. This abounding joy moves in, through and among us. The only limiting factor to experience or share God’ s joyous love is really us. Depending on our mood or situation, we can limit the joy we experience and limit the joy others need to experience throughout their day. Try this experiment. When you are not feeling so joyful, choose joy anyway. Speak words that reveal love. Tell a silly joke and laugh. Have your actions show forth joyful deeds. Watch what happens. By choosing to experience joy despite how you feel or the situation, your mood and day starts to be rearranged in surprising ways. With a little joy, even the cloudiest of days can start letting the sun shine through.
In choosing joy, peace tends to follow. When it is difficult for us to choose joy on our own, we need to look to people who can lead us in that direction. In the wise words of Proverbs 12:20, we hear how counselors of peace bring joy. The apostle Paul was a planner of peace as he writes letter after letter in the midst of troubles to send words of faith, hope and love to the churches he established along his missionary journeys. Paul writes from prison the letter we know as Philippians to a church he says was his crown and joy. He encourages the people to rejoice always, pray constantly, be worry free and give thanks for everything. When living in this way through the strength of Christ, the peace of God can surpass human understanding. Paul advices us to know peace and contentment through knowing Christ Jesus as Lord. Choosing joy is a simple decision, that reflects the abiding love of God in our relationships.
Our decisions can either grow or limit how we and others experience joy. A child walks into the room and we love instead of criticize. A woman walks into the office asking for help and we say yes, rather than no because we are too busy. At a drive-thru window we give a compliment and let go of the complaint. Choosing to serve the Lord with joy does not make hardships disappear but allows us to have a traveling partner along the way. In the daily adventure of choosing to serve the Lord over everything else we will discover that when the job is done, the conversation is over and the mission is complete, peace is found in our heart and joy appears upon our face.
Over the summer we have explored many ways to embrace mission with joy as we serve the Lord as a volunteer, with church, with family, at work, and on a trip. We are surrounded by opportunities every moment of every day to share the love of God in our unique way. May the revolving door of mission and worship define our life as we experience and share with others the constant flow of God’s love. Mission is more than an annual trip and more than a monthly event on a calendar. Mission is a daily adventure with God, may we choose to serve with great
Sermon given by Rev. April Cranford
July 19, 2020 - Youth Sunday
Sermon Text: Freedom in the Eyes of the Lord, by Joe Kearney
Hello. I’m very happy to be here giving a sermon for Youth Sunday. I have been looking forward to speaking to you all for a while now. I’d like to thank you all, for being here to listen to me talk for 15 minutes, and I’d also like to thank my parents, for being here to listen to me talk for almost 18 years.
Now, as the title of the sermon might imply, I’m here to talk about freedom. And I’d think I’m a decent person to ask, I recently graduated high school and am in the middle of what will probably be the freest summer of my entire life. So, I figured, if there’s ever a time to talk about it, it’s right now.
This sentiment is echoed by the various events occurring in the nation around us. I can’t even list all the ways I’ve found that the struggle between the freedom of the people and the structure needed to hold a civilization. But I can talk about one.
I [see/hope] [most/all] of you are wearing masks. I’m glad that you are taking precautions during this uncertain time. I’ve seen some of you over at the local Martin’s, where I work, and they don’t tend to be as flexible or willing on this particular issue. A common argument I hear people use to defend their choice is that being forced to wear one infringes on their freedom to wear whatever they like, and that the government should not control how one uses their own body. This is a good point, and the moral ambiguity surrounding this and similar issues should be handled with care.
But all of that aside, how do we approach this as Christians? We know that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ grants us freedom and forgiveness from sin if we ask for it, but that doesn’t immediately free us from worldly consequences that may result, as I have learned countless times over the years. So, what does freedom in the eyes of the Lord mean? Well, one step to an answer is to crack open the Bible. One passage that came to me first Peter, starting at verse 3:16, offers a suggestion:
“Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up from evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.”
Now, this verse caused me some confusion when I first read it. I thought to myself, “How does it work that we can be free people while also remaining servants of the Lord?” I pondered this for a while, and the answer just came to me, as if it was sent straight to my brain: freedom isn’t about doing whatever you want. If that was true, America wouldn’t be a free country until I get to eat ice cream for dinner. Rather, freedom is about doing what we can to make the world a better place for everyone, because what use is freedom if we don’t do good things with it?
I’d like to leave you with another passage that comes from second Corinthians, 3:17:
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
Unfortunately, I may have confused some of you with the interpretations of freedom I have presented here, but I believe this verse makes it simpler: if we, as God’s children, do what is right and just in the eyes of the Lord, then He will grant us all true freedom.
September 13, 2020- Miracle that Sees, Matthew 20:29-34
All four gospels include stories of Jesus restoring sight to men who cannot see.
We may remember the story in John's gospel the most since there was so much to tell from who to blame for the man’s blindness to Jesus forming mud glasses on the man before having him go wash in the pool of Siloam to receive his sight.
The synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, all include the same miracle story of restoring sight to men who cannot see with a few variations. Mark gives the blind man a name. Luke tells a second story of a man who could not see due to being short in statue. Matthew writes about two men who are blind rather than just one.
Let us hear from God’s holy Word Matthew 20:29-34
As we have sat in these chairs for worship telling the stories of miracles in scripture along a road in Waynesboro, I can imagine these two men sitting in chairs along a road in Jericho telling of the miracles that have happened in their town.
Such as the story passed down through the generations when for 7 days, the 7 priests with 7 trumpets marched around the city and the walls came tumbling down.
And the parable story of the Good Samaritan that Jesus told with Jericho as its setting where a man was traveling down this road and was beaten by bandits. Although the priest and the Levite walked by without helping the man, the Samaritan stopped, took care of him and brought him to a safe place to heal.
Then there was the story of another man in their town that could not see well. Zacchaeus was not blind, but he was short, so he climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus. Jesus went to his house and provided spiritual sight of salvation.
Perhaps these two men were thinking the next miracle in Jericho would give them sight and be a story for people to tell future generations. Anything could happen in this town where walls come crashing down, Samaritans become heroes and tax collectors receive salvation.
Although these two men could not see, they could hear each other and feel empathy for one each other as they shared life side by side. Most healing stories include one person receiving the hearing, but Matthew liked to include stories with two people sharing the burden and blessing together.
Earlier in this gospel, Jesus sent the evil spirits of two men into a passel of pigs that ran toward a cliff to their death in the sea.
Next, Jesus healed a woman who was hemorrhaging for twelve years and raised Jairus’ daughter to life. Then in Chapter 9, Jesus healed two other men who were blind.
This story in Jericho is Matthew's final story before Jesus enters passion week. Jericho is 15 miles away from the holy city. One final miracle for two people that shared the same burden of blindness. Struggles seem to unite us even more than celebrations, for when you suffer alongside one another community builds. When a blessing or celebration occurs, the ones who have suffered alongside us are the ones we want at the party.
Great miracles such as restoring sight to the blind may have us miss less obvious miracles such as the persistence of the two men seeking healing when told to keep silent, not bother this busy rabbi.
Prior to this story the disciples dismissed the children in coming to see Jesus, just as the crowds dismissed the men shouting for Jesus to come to them. The men shouted the same words twice, just in a different word order. First they shouted, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” After being rebuked, they shouted again, “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!” The men shouted just the right amount of words to be noticed. They did not share their life story, they chose their words wisely. Their concise statement proclaimed belief that Jesus was the messiah which drew Jesus to them.
Jesus’s response to the men was in classic Jesus style, he returned a question with a question by asking; “What do you want me to do for you?”
The men spoke in unison perhaps with the same words they prayed in unison over the years; “Lord, let our eyes be opened.”
Matthew began the story with empathy as two men shared the same burden together. The story ends with compassion and blessing as Jesus touches the blind men to restore their sight. When given their sight, the men leave their chairs empty along the road to follow Jesus as his disciples. The trip on foot over the next fifteen miles would hopefully prepare them to witness the grandest of miracles of a risen Lord.
Often it takes a change in vision to lead us toward deeper insight in our faith journey.
In the original movie of Mary Poppins that we watched last night, Mary Poppins teaches the children to see past the end of their nose as she sings about the bird women. The woman sits on the steps outside of St. Paul’s Cathedral feeding the birds a block away from the bank. Mary Poppins prepared the children to watch for the way money is used in the city. The bank partners represent greed and frugality and the Bird Woman represents charity, kindness, and the importance of enjoying life’s small pleasures.
What stories help us see beyond the end of our nose, that have our eyes opened to see Jesus and participate in holy ways of living.
May we be moved to bring the healing love of Jesus to the brokenness in our world.
Let us be eyewitnesses of the miracles by leaving our chairs empty along the roadside to follow Jesus as his disciples restoring burdens and bringing blessings in the kingdom here on earth. Amen.
Open our eyes to see the glimpses of your truth that set us free. Ready our heart so that we may see your divine ways break through the darkness of this broken generation. We believe in your ways of salvation and that your love will never fail through Christ Jesus our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Sermon given by Rev. April Cranford
August 2, 2020 - Sermon given by John Tindall
August 30, 2020 - Miracle that Gives, Matthew 17:24-27
We continue our Miracles worship series today. We read the miracle story of Peter pulling a coin out of the mouth of a fish only in Matthew’s gospel. Matthew was a tax collector. Let us hear Matthew 17:24-27
A few years ago, there was a person who needed that cost $20. I looked at the Cranford budget to find the money, however it was the end of the month and the budget had no money to spare. I prayed for another source of income then I got caught up in completing chores around the house.
Later in the afternoon, I decided to go for a walk. The seasons had changed, summer had turned quickly to fall. I pulled out a coat from the closet that I had not worn in months. I put on my coat and walked out the door. There was a chill in the air, so I placed my hands in the coat pockets. There was something in one of the pockets. I thought it was a piece of paper but when I pulled the item out of my pocket, I discovered it was a $20 bill! In the past, I had found quarters or even $1 bill but never a $20 bill. I knew exactly what to do with the discovery. I gave thanks to God for answering my prayer and used the money to purchase the needed item for the person.
This small money miracle reminded me of the small coin miracle we find in Matthew's gospel. Both small and grand miracles can advance God’s kingdom. We read in scripture and witness in our prayers, miracles that calm storms, miracles that heal diseases, and miracles that meet financial needs
I feel sure that most people have prayed for a money miracle in their lifetime.
A pastor friend of mine has prayed to win the lottery so that every child in Haiti would have food, water, shelter, and education. I know adults who have prayed for health bills to be paid, the pink slip to go away and mortgage payments to be lowered. I know children who have prayed for the piggy bank to double with coins and the tooth fairy to place money under their pillow.
Money is a part of our everyday choices, but money is not to control our choices. Our prayers for money miracles are not to be for an accumulation of wealth or to make life more convenient. All our prayers especially prayers for miracles are to be according to Gods will, bring him the glory and to advance God’s kingdom. God is gracious and generous. We are to be good stewards of God’s graces. We are to bless others with the money, the time, and the talents entrusted to our care.
We read about the temple tax in Exodus which instructs every male Isrealite to pay the temple tax of a half of a shekel. Today, a half shekel is about 15 cents worth in American money. Before the temple's destruction in 70 AD, the payment of the tax was important for the upkeep of the temple and showed a sign of solidarity for all Jewish families.
Matthew's gospel is believed to be written in 70 AD or after. The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70AD by the Romans. So why is a temple tax still needed if there is no temple? Donald Senior a professor of new testament studies shares in his commentary "that after the destruction of the temple, the Romans continued to require the temple tax but applied the revenue to the Temple of Jupiter in Rome. Payment of the tax, therefore posed something of a dilemma for the Jewish Christians of Matthew's community both before and after 70 AD." The Gospel of Matthew (pgs 142-143)
Senior's words can help us to understand a possible reason why Jesus did not feel the temple tax was necessary since the tax was going to the Temple in Rome to worship other gods rather than the Temple in Jerusalem to worship the one true God.
Yet Peter confirms that Jesus pays the temple tax to not be a stumbling block in people’s faith. And Jesus reason may be different than our assumptions. As shared last week, Jesus taught that God is spirit and our worship is not dependent on land or location. Jesus knew that he and his disciples were set free of the constraints of the past, but Jesus recognized that changes in belief and tradition takes time. Instead of having people stumble in their faith because Jesus and his disciples were not seen paying the temple tax, Jesus asked Peter to go back to the sea, hook a fish and use the coin found in the mouth of the fish to pay the temple tax for both of them.
I do appreciate how this is one of many stories in scripture where others get to participate in a miracle, allowing the face of all who were near the sea that day be filled with surprise as Peter reveals God’s glory.
Barbara Brown Taylor shares about a problem of miracles in her book The Seeds of Heaven which highlights the stories in the gospel of Matthew. She writes:
The problem with miracles is that we tend to get mesmerized by them focusing on God’s responsibility and forgetting our own. Miracles let us off the hook. They appeal to the part of us that is all too happy to let God feed the crowd, save the world, do it all. We do not have what it takes, after all. What we have to offer is not enough to make any difference at all, so we hold back and wait for a miracle looking after our own needs and looking for God to help those who cannot help themselves. (The Seeds of Heaven, pg 52)
The problem of miracles has nothing to do with God and everything to do with us. We pray for a miracle. We wait for a miracle. We desperately want a miracle. However, we may not expect to be leaders in the miracle. Jesus used Peter in this story. Jesus can use you in your story. We need to be ready to respond when Jesus calls us to lead and show God’s glory here on earth
I am sure that Peter surprised many people when he revealed a coin from a fish’s mouth. I can imagine the faces along the shore of the sea were like many children who have their face light up with surprise when an adult reveals a coin behind their own ear.
My success has been limited in pulling a coin behind someone’s ear and I am not very good at finding money unless God helps me find the $20 needed in my coat pocket. I do know one person who was good at finding money and that was John Lindsay.
John served as treasurer at Westminster for twenty years. He was good at finding money to do God’s work and supporting the ministry of the church. He was a strong faithful presence in leading the church through financial challenges and celebrations.
Many years ago, he stepped back into the Treasurer’s role when Shirley Gillespie was recovering from surgery. When I would walk into the church office and smell a Hardee’s biscuit, I knew that John was taking care of all the financial needs for the church that day.
John completed each task with faith, quality, and integrity. Most people knew that John was an engineer at Dupont. Most people know the years of dedication that John served in various leadership roles of the church of Deacon, Elder Trustee and Treasurer. But in John’s humbleness most people may not know how he prepared for his Treasurer leadership role in the church. John signed up for an accounting class at a local community college, paid for the class himself and gained the tools he needed. He wanted to make sure he had the knowledge to lead the church in the right direction for God’s glory.
Faithful leaders and humble servants like John make us all better for having served with him in ministry. He will be deeply missed.
I believe in small and grand miracles that calm storms, heal diseases, and meet financial needs. I believe in a grand God who cares about the small details of life, who creates miracles that give toward financial need such as a temple tax, a $20 item or the financial need you have thinking about throughout this sermon. May we be faithful leaders and humble servants who are ready to respond where Jesus calls to advance God’s kingdom here on earth.
Sermon given by Rev. April Cranford
August 9, 2020 - Sermon given by Rev. Bronwen Broswell
August 16, 2020 - Miracle that Calms, Mark 4:35-41
We begin a new miracle worship series as we look at various miracles throughout the scriptures, old and new testaments. Today’s miracle story of Jesus calming the storm comes from Mark’s gospel. Mark's story of the good news of Jesus Christ is the first gospel and Mark’s story of Jesus’s life is the shortest gospel perhaps since he started the narrative without Jesus's birth and not as many stories of Jesus appearing to others after his resurrection.
Although we do not know how much time has passed in four chapters of scripture, we do know the disciples have experienced Jesus as a teacher who has healed many people including men with leprosy, paralysis, and withered hands, they have heard him preach in Galilee, they have been with the crowds to hear his teachings about fasting, Sabbath and parables about the Kingdom and he has casted out many demons and spirits along the way.
We can assume the disciples have been around Jesus enough to be familiar with his miraculous ways. Let us hear Mark 4:35-41
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’
Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’
There are over 150 miracle stories of scripture, and what may be one of the greatest challenge in each story is to look beyond the miracle that we know to see if there are any miracles we have missed along the way. Could we see the miracle of Jesus calming the storm and see the miracle of how Jesus could stay calm in the midst of raging storm?
These days we need both of these miracles that Jesus provides in this story, the calming of storms in creation, and the calming of storms inside our souls.
In a devotion I read a few weeks ago the author provided a helpful exercise to bring calm and peace to the soul. The prayerful exercise was to imagine an animal that was at peace.
My mind first imagined a deer, then I saw the deer by streams of waters. This peaceful moment did not last long as my mind shifted scenes to imagine a deer in the middle of the road frozen in fear by the headlights of a car. I told my brain to choose a new animal.
I began to see our dog Daffy, she is a little black and white dog who normally does not get in trouble. But every now again we have to call her by her full name, Daff-O-Dill. Sometime in the evenings when we up past her bedtime we get to watch her lay on her back, spread out on her pillow making sounds in her sleep. She looks safe, secure and at peace.
Again, that peaceful moment did not last very long in my mind as the scene shifted to what seems to be daily thunderstorms that makes Daffy so anxious. She cannot be still, she will not eat, and she pants until the thunder stops.
I am wondering how often we are like the calm deer by the stream, Daffy on her pillow at night and Jesus on the cushion during a storm. And how often we are filled with panic like the deer when there is real threat in the car, Daffy in the midst of a passing storm, and the disciples in the midst of a storm when Jesus is steering the boat. In all the storms of life, storms that are real and storms that are passing, how often do we miss the miracle in our story because of our anxious ways?
A miracle is a divine work of God that creates awe and wonder. We see how the divine work of Jesus creates great awe and wonder as he rebukes the winds and stretches his hands over the sea to calm the waves. The nature storms led the disciples in this story and leads the disciples of today to panic with questions, worry, complaint and fear. We tend to ask questions to God in the storms; Where are you God? Don't you care about us God? Instead of abiding with God in the storm, trusting him and learning from his ways.
Many scholars will argue how much Jesus knew of future realities during his time on Earth. Did Jesus know a storm was coming? Perhaps so, Perhaps not.
Instead of getting lost in the details, we can hold onto the greater truth that no matter if Jesus knew or did not know the storm was coming, Jesus placed his trust not in the storm, but placed his trust in the Father, the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth.
Often, the most important life lessons are taught outside of the classroom and beyond a virtual platform. In reading through the book of Mark, the disciples call Jesus, Teacher, more than any other name in this gospel. Jesus taught divine lessons to advance the kingdom of God, to lead people toward glorifying God, and to restore all of creation and humanity to the fullness of God's love.
Let us enter this story using our imagination as we wonder how Jesus does not use a blackboard or google classroom, but Jesus's lesson plan unfolds along the waves of the sea.
Every teacher knows a lesson plan needs a material list; First item, boats. The gospel of Mark indicates multiple boats which we can appreciate these days of social distance scenarios. In the gospel of Matthew, his story crowds everyone into one boat.
Second item, Sea of Galilee. Third item, pillow
The Objective or Goal by the end of the lesson, disciples will place their faith and trust in the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth.
At the beginning of the lesson, we see the teacher is located at the stern of the boat, the position of control. The disciples must have been comforted in their seats on the boat as they leave the chaos of the crowds to go to the other side of the lake as Jesus leads the way. As the boat enters rough waters due to a storm, the disciples notice that Jesus, the teacher is sleeping on a pillow rather than steering. He looks safe, secure and at peace.
The students are not pleased with how this lesson is unfolding. Jesus is not teaching the curriculum in a way the students can understand the material. It seems that he has taken a dinner break that has led to an evening nap.
As the waves crash against the boat filling it with water, the disciples determine that the flooding boat is an unacceptable learning environment. Filled with panic, they choose to wake up their teacher and ask questions accusing Jesus of his lack of concern for the students entrusted to his care.
Jesus is flexible with the lesson plan as he begins to soothe the winds and calm the waves. Once the winds and waves are at rest, the students expect Jesus to sooth their worries and calm their beating hearts next.
As he turns from creation to humanity, he asks them two questions; Why are you afraid? Where is your faith?
The disciples knew this lake, they had been through previous storms, but Jesus was teaching them new lessons in the same classroom. The old ways of learning were being transformed so the disciples could stop catching fish to spend their time catching people instead.
The disciples leave this water classroom with an open stance of wonder, asking “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Miracle after miracle, the disciples with Jesus by their side never seem to understand who is this man, that even the wind and the sea obey? They struggle to comprehend with human understanding the majesty of Jesus and the magnitude of the kingdom of God.
We should be empathetic toward these disciples for we too struggle to comprehend with human understanding questions that seem unanswerable in these days and lessons that go unlearned of what Jesus is trying to teach us in the midst of storms.
There are many storms; physical, emotional, racial, political, and spiritual these days. I hope that whatever storm you are facing right now, you can be rest assured that Jesus is at the stern of the boat, our Great Teacher and Lord is at peace and desires to stretch out his hands over the rough seas in your life to bring a dead calm to the chaos.
Hold on to the side of the boats, even if the waves are crashing all around you and the boat seems to be swamped with water. If the old saying is true to not wake a sleeping baby, I would think the same would be true about a dog that is sleeping or for Jesus who is sleeping. Trust in his ways and abide in his love.
Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus dwells within us. This great teacher who was abiding beside the disciples in the boat before, during and after the storm, abides within our hearts before, during and after the storms in our lives.
No matter if the classroom is familiar or unfamiliar, be ready for Jesus' miraculous ways of grace to transform creation and humanity with three simple words, Peace! Be still!
Reframe the storms that rage outside and within us, to transform our thinking, and learn new lessons for to build your kingdom here on Earth. Increase our faith to remain steady as we reveal your great love to the world found in Christ Jesus our Lord who is our prince of peace and in whose name we pray. Amen.
Sermon given by Rev. April Cranford
August 23, 2020 - Miracle that Heals, 2 Kings 5:1-19
Naaman seemed to be a man who had it all as a high ranked official, respected at work and at home, yet he lacked one thing - healthy skin. Naaman's wife had a young servant girl who was captured from Israel by the Syrian army. The servant girl knew of a prophet in Samaria who could heal Naaman and shared this advice with his wife. This unnamed character in scripture spoke bold and humble words to move the story in the right direction toward healing a man with leprosy.
Naaman’s request to the Syrian king was to seek healing in Israel. His request was granted, and the King of Syria wrote a letter for Naaman to present to the king of Israel.
When the king of Israel received this request, he assumed that the Syrian King was picking battle and tears his clothes in rage. The prophet of Israel, Elisha calms the king’s anger and asks the king to send Naaman to him so that this commander of the army would know there was a prophet in the land of Israel.
Naaman had approached two kings in person and expected to see this prophet face to face as well. However, Elisha’s messenger steps outside to speak to Naaman. The servant share’s Elisha’s healing instructions, “to go wash in the Jordan River seven times.”
Like the King of Israel, Naaman is angry and filled with rage. Naaman expected a public healing with all the bells and whistles. This was Elisha's custom to speak through his servant. He is treating Naaman like everyone else, no special treatment for a guest or military commander, no special treatment other than offering a miracle that would heal him of leprosy. All Naaman must do is to let go of his expectations and pride long enough to receive the miracle by the water’s edge.
The Jordan River was not spectacular compared to the Damascus rivers in Naaman’s homeland. I agree with Naaman, when visiting the Jordan River, it was not what I expected either. This river was cloudy and narrow. Yet while at the water’s edge, person after person would walk down into the Jordan river and dip into its healing waters. This simple and humble river does not appear noteworthy, but God uses the simple and humble things in amazing ways.
We have to wonder how many times Naaman had sought healing from other sources such as medicine, magic or sorcery. Elisha’s ordinary healing instructions were not like anything he had heard before. The previous attempts did not work back at home. Naaman must have thought, the prophet’s intentions was to embarrass him to heal him.
Thankfully Naaman brought wise men with him that day and listened to their advice to lay aside pride and go down to the River Jordan. One of the most important aspects of a leader is to surround oneself with wise advisors and mentors. Pride can lead to feelings of anger, resentment, and bitterness. Pride almost kept Naaman from a healing because the healing came in simple packaging.
After Naaman was cured he returned to show his faith in God and his gratitude to Elisha. We know that faith or gratitude was not always the response in healing stories, yet Naaman exhibited both of these qualities.
First, Naaman tried to show his gratitude with a gift of gold, silver and clothing which valued at approximately $80,000. Elisha refuses the gift.
Next, Naaman makes a request so his new faith could continue when he returns home. He wants to take a portion of the land with him two mule’s worth of dirt - so he can worship the God of Israel. At this time, in the stories of the book of Kong’s and the books of the New testament as well, the belief was to worship a particular God you had to be on the land of that particular God or present near the temple where the god was located. Jesus transforms this thinking as we read in John’s gospel another story that took place in Samaria with the woman at the well. Nearly a century later in the same place of Samaria. Elisha and Jesus use water to share God’s truth. Jesus tells the woman by the well that worship of God is not dependent upon the temple in Samaria or the temple in Jerusalem, but God is spirit and those who worship God must worship in spirit and truth. (4:24)
Although the worship of God is not dependent on place, it seems that Naaman is granted the request to return with loads of dirt from Israel.
Like Elisha, Naaman asks for more. Remember that prior to Elisha stepping into the role as prophet of Israel. Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah's power. His request was granted which allowed him to perform 16 miracles where Elijah performed eight.
Naaman’s last request is to ask for a pardon of forgiveness when he returns to his job that requires protection of the king of Aram at all times even when the king goes into the shrine of Rimmon. Naaman is not asked to step down as commander but is given mercy to perform his tasks at work as he puts his faith in the god of Israel.
Naaman returns home with more than he expected and more than he could have imagined;
he returned with silver, gold and garments,
he returned with faith In the one true God,
he returned with ongoing forgiveness at his pace of work,
and he returned with a healing from leprosy
A very successful trip for this military commander who received more than one miracle that day. Naaman wanted his body to be restored but received instead restoration of his body, mind, and soul.
Often miracles come in simple and humble ways and offer a healing that we do not expect or cannot imagine.
I believe in miracles that can occur in the simple humble moments such as a long car ride taking in the scenes of the countryside, a day spent with loved ones without the time restraints of a watch or a calendar, and a visit to the mailbox that reveals a handwritten letter filled with words of gratitude, story and love.
I believe in miracles that restore skin diseases, remove brain tumors, and allow people to walk again. I believe in a God who makes the impossible happen. When sitting across from someone who desires to be whole again, their eyes tell the story and their words reveal their hope. When praying for someone who desires to walk again, for the tumor to go away, or for mornings without the first thought being cancer, prayers are offered to a powerful God who hears and heals.
The healing can be exactly what a person expects, the healing can be more than a person expects or can imagine, or the healing is beyond human comprehension and expectations.
Over the past five years at Westminster, I have witnessed many miracles. There are members with a second chance at life such as Jill Klippel and Curtis Foltz. Babies moved from the NICU to the playground such as Tanner Layman and Hampton Steele. Hands were held around a loved one as they passed from this life to the next such as Jean Martin and Renee Gibson’s dad Chuck.
As a pastor, often the best stories are the ones that cannot be told. Many miracles have taken place here. I believe more miracles are to come. And I look forward serving alongside Westminster in the years to come as we wait and witness for God to make the impossible possible.
Miracles are not expected or deserved, these moments of the divine love from God our Creator, Jesus our redeemer and the Holy Spirit our sustainer lead to awe and wonder. When we let go of pride, there is room for a miracle to shine through. May we recognize, receive and worship our miraculous God who is spirit, who is not controlled by time or constrained by a building, but lives and moves within us all.
God of surprises,
Open our eyes and lead our ears to listen to your still small voice as we are made aware of the unexpected graces that wait around the corner. Give us boldness to stretch out our hands and raise up our voices to believe in your great power and grace made evident in Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Sermon given by Rev. April Cranford
September 6, 2020 - Miracle that Frees, Acs 16:16-34
We hear in the scriptures today miracles that provide freedom. Paul had a dream during his second missionary journey that led him to Macedonia. After Paul and Silas arrived in Philippi, they went down to the river and prayed on the Sabbath. At the river, they found Lydia and others praying. Through the witness of Paul and Silas, Lydia and her whole household received salvation and provided gracious hospitality to the missionaries.
Let us hear what happens next in Paul and Silas’s journey, as we listen to God’s word found in Acts 16 verses 16-34.
At the beginning of this story we read in Acts, Paul and Silas were walking toward the place of the prayer. Perhaps this was the same place of prayer by the river where they had met Lydia and others on the Sabbath. When we have experienced holy moments, these places of faith have a way of drawing us back
For several days, Paul and Silas encountered another woman in this same area whose voice got their attention when she shouted at them; These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.
These two women, Lydia and the nameless slave girl appear to be total opposites in nature. Lydia encouraged Paul and Silas toward prayer. The slave girl distracted them from prayer. The slave girl was owned by successful businessmen where Lydia managed her own business of selling purple cloth.
Paul was blessed by Lydia but becomes aggravated with the slave girl. He commanded the spirit to leave her body, this spirit that kept her captive and owned for her skills in fortune telling and prophecy. Her last prophecy led her to freedom and possibly salvation, although we do not get to hear the end of her story.
A miracle that freed a slave girl led her owners to anger since they lost their source of income. The angered men captured Paul and Silas and brought them to the authorities. The accusation presented did not include their sly business schemes but presented false information of disturbing the peace. Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown into jail that very night. This miracle that brought freedom to a slave girl brought imprisonment to missionaries.
Paul and Silas were placed in the most secure cell and their feet were shackled to the ground. At midnight, they were finally at a place where they could pray and sing without the distractions of slave girls, furious investors, or angry crowds.
As prayers and songs filled every corner of the jail another freedom miracle occurred. An earthquake shook the doors open and released the chains of prisoners. After the ground settled, the guard saw the swinging doors and the broken chains. He assumed every prisoner escaped, but Paul’s reassuring words brought him peace. The prisoners remained in jail so the guard and his whole family could be set free in Christ.
Freedom miracles are often found near places of prayer.
Years ago, an older lady down south had no money to buy food. But with complete trust in God, in front of her fireplace she got down on her knees and prayed aloud:
“Dear Lord, Please send me a side of bacon and a sack of cornmeal."
Over and over again, the older lady repeated the same plea in a loud voice.
Now, one of the town's most detestable characters, overhearing her supplication, decided to play a trick on her. Hurrying to the nearest store, he bought a side of bacon and a sack of cornmeal.
Upon his return to the cabin, he dropped the food down the chimney. It landed right in front of the hungry women as she knelt in prayer.
Jumping to her feet, she exclaimed with great joy, "O Lord, you have answered my prayer!"
Then she ran all around the neighborhood telling everyone the good news.
This was too much for the scoundrel. He ridiculed her before the whole town by telling how he had dropped the food down the chimney himself.
The wise woman quickly replied, "Well, the devil may have brought it, but it was the Lord who sent it!”
Freedom miracles are often found in places of prayer such as near a fireplace, along the road, or in a jail cell. God’s best can shine through when we are at our worst to provide bread to the hungry, freedom to the enslaved, and salvation to the lost.
Freedom miracles can shake up foundations of perspective, take a risk for injustices, and stand up for truth in compassionate love.
Paul was aggravated and annoyed by this slave girl. Her loud cries to the missionaries revealed the true meaning of freedom in her last prophecy; that these men are slaves of the Most High God and they proclaim to you and to me a way of salvation.
Often it does take, the brokenness of this world to aggravate, annoy, and anger us to build up the needed motivation, energy, and faith to make known the Most High God who provides freedom and salvation for all.
This story in scripture describes many people who are bound by their sin or the sins of others that limits fully experiencing freedom in Christ. The slave girl was bound by the greed of others. The businessmen were bound by anger at the loss of their investment.
The prison guard was bound by fear after the earthquake.
God did not create us in his image to be bound to sin or brokenness.
Prayer connects us to God and in God’s mercy and love we are released from the bond of sin and death to experience freedom in Christ both now and forever more.
Eugene Peterson was a Presbyterian pastor who translated the scriptures for his congregation into contemporary language know as the Message Bible. In his book Working with Angles, he shares the importance of seeking places of prayer, where the intentions of our heart collide with the presence of our faithful God. When we are in these prayerful places, he says that. Praying puts us at risk of getting involved in God's conditions. Praying most often does not get us what we want, but what God wants… when we realize what is going on, it is often too late to go back. (Working with Angles, pg. 44)
When we pray, chances are good that we will end up in an unplanned and unexpected place for the Spirit to transform human ways into holy ways of kingdom living.
Paul and Silas went down to the river to pray on the Sabbath and found a community of faith to pray with and find encouragement in their missionary journeys. These two men showed us an important spiritual practice of stepping away from work to rest and worship. The Sabbath is needed for resting, praising, and connecting with God in a community of faith.
During their working days, Paul and Silas sought prayer when their plans were interrupted by cries of a young girl. Again, these missionaries display faithful practices as they seek places of prayer in their workday. Along the hallways and during the meetings we need to be ready to hear the voices that are crying out for help, peace, and justice.
In our nation, people of color are crying out for freedom of the injustices they face on working days and on Sabbath days through systematic racism. As Peterson says, Our prayers should put us at risk of getting involved in God’s conditions. We need to work together and stand united, as we the people strive for freedom, salvation, and peace for all. Paul says to the church of Thessalonica “to pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16) When we pray, the Spirit reveals the truth of God in our souls that need to be proclaimed through our voices.
When we pray, may we pray with all our heart, mind, body, and strength. Let us pray when we are at our worst and when we are at our best. Prayers are not fueled by human emotions but ignited by God’s faithfulness that reaches all generations.
As we seek out places of prayer let us cry out to the Most High God, that our lives are to proclaim the way of salvation through Christ our Lord. May we watch and may we wait with the Spirit to be an active part of miracles that shake the ground and set the captive free.
Take away what keeps us bound to sin and set us free in your grace to experience wonder and awe throughout all our days. Holy Spirit lead us toward places of prayer where miracles are waiting to be discovered through Christ Jesus our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Sermon given by Rev. April Cranford
September 20, 2020 - Sermon given by John Tindall
Sermon – A Miracle That Provides
Scripture – 1 Kings 17: 1-6
We’ve been meeting outside for a few months now, and every week we’ve been able to count on the neighborhood birds joining us.
In fact, crows have frequently been around in the trees in the upper lot…
They’re not ravens, but they’re as close as we’ll get here in the neighborhood.
Stop and imagine any of these birds around here this morning bringing you food. Does the thought intrigue you or repulse you? How hungry would you have to be to eat food dropped off here by wild birds? Does it depend on the species? Some ARE cuter than others!
At the beginning of his ministry, Elijah found himself the recipient of this unique miracle as Ravens brought the hungry prophet meat and bread.
Elijah appears out of nowhere, dropped into the narrative of 1 Kings with no long backstory, and is immediately plunged into action and danger. Ahab was one of the more evil kings of the Northern Kingdom during Israel’s history, and to make matters worse, he married the Phoenician princess Jezebel, who brought her ways of idol worship to the nation.
They built altars and temples to the pagan God, Ba’al, which angered God, who in turn sent the prophet Elijah to give warning to Ahab. Elijah tells him of a devastating drought that will fall on Israel for the next few years.
Assuming Ahab and Jezebel are ready to shoot the messenger, Elijah runs away to hide in a valley, the Kerith Ravine.
Why is this so offensive to the king and queen? Because Jezebel’s god, Ba’al, is supposed to be the god of storms where she comes from. Taking away the rain, thereby showing Ba’al to be powerless and useless, is humiliating.
So after delivering God’s word, Elijah finds himself on the run, in hiding , and hungry. He drinks from the brook, and gets food delivered morning and night, in 30 minutes or less, I suppose, by an ancient Door-Dash program.
This brief miracle is fascinating in many ways, partly for how it introduces the Prophet Elijah so abruptly, kicking off his ministry with a miracle in only 5 verses.
But also for its use of ravens as the deliverers. Why ravens? Their general reputation IS pretty negative.
Ravens have a long reputation for being spooky. Think of Malificent’s pet raven in Sleeping Beauty. (Whose name is “Diablo”, by the way), or most famous, Edgar Allen Poe’s raven “tap tap tapping” on the chamber door.
For centuries, they have appeared in folk tales and myths around the world. In Medieval times, superstitious folks believed ravens were sent by the Devil, or were witches in disguise.
It’s why today, the collective nouns for ravens and crows are all so negative. Most of us would refer to “flock” of ravens, but the traditional terms are much more interesting.
- A treachery of ravens
A conspiracy of ravens
An unkindness of ravens, based on the belief that ravens were bad parents!
And did you know what a flock of crows is called? A murder of crows!
I’m not making this up!
Wouldn’t if be nicer if a covey of quail brought you your lunch today instead of an unkindness of ravens?
In Greek antiquity, ravens were symbols of bad luck, and were messengers of the Greek gods, bringing dire warnings to the mortal world.
It’s in the Bible where we find a more balanced look at the poor raven.
In Judaism, ravens are listed as one of the unclean, detestable, forbidden foods as mentioned in Leviticus 11.
The Judge Gideon once defeated a villainous Midianite king who’s name meant “Raven”, and if you recall, the first bird Noah sent from the ark was not a dove, but a raven. And THAT bird never returned leading to a definite 2nd class status compared to the beloved dove.
But despite this hard-to-beat reputation, the scriptures also make it clear that God cares for the raven.
Psalm 147:7-9 tells us….
“Sing to the Lord with grateful praise; make music to our God on the harp.
8 He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain
and makes grass grow on the hills.
9 He provides food for the cattle
and for the young ravens when they call.
While Job 38:41 asks…
Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God
and wander about for lack of food?
And Jesus beautifully references the birds when he teaches us about worry in Luke 12:24…
Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!
Kind of a back-handed compliment, but a beautiful passage nonetheless!
These scriptures reflect a common thread in the Bible…the “IF-THEN” theme. If A is true, then B will surely follow. If God takes care of lowly, unclean ravens, then God will surely take care of his favored children.
Which brings us back to Elijah’s story. Why ravens?
This story reminds us that God not only provides for us abundantly, but that it is frequently in surprising, unexpected ways. How fitting it is that our God, who is so concerned with the least, the lost and broken of the world would use such maligned creatures to be his instruments, not as harbingers of bad news, but as providers of life-giving sustenance.
This passage is actually part of a theme of provision that continues in the 17th chapter of 1 Kings. When the brook dries up, Elijah leaves and goes to a place called Zarephath. There he meets a poor widow and he asks her for food and drink. Despite being down to her own last meager supplies, and fearing starvation for herself and her son, she still does as Elijah asks, then discovers that, miraculously, her jars of flour and oil never ran out. This is how it reads in 1 Kings 17: 13-14….
“Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as I have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’”
A poor widow, and a foreign Gentile at that, is both a provider in this story, and recipient of the miracle.
This theme of providing abundantly runs through both the Old and New Testaments.
Following Elijah’s death, Elisha takes over the prophet role, and on one occasion in 2 Kings, he feeds 100 men with 20 loaves of barley bread, saying, “Give it to the people to eat. For this is what the Lord says…’they will eat and have some left over.’”
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Feeding a multitude with just a little? Though not as impressive as feeding 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish, Elisha’s miracle still reminds us of Christ. Jesus’ hillside miracle reflects the food miracles of Elijah & Elisha, thereby reminding and comforting the people that the providing God of the old stories is the same God working through Him that day.
In the holy scriptures, God rains down manna from heaven, and Moses draws water from a rock. While in the N.T. Jesus turns water into wine, and calls up a miraculous catch of fish.
God provides abundantly, not just on one or 2 occasions, but throughout history. It’s virtually a personality trait. God can’t help but provide!
And we can’t help but need it and ask for it. We do it every time we recite the Lord’s prayer. We say, “Give us this day our daily bread…”
We ask for God to provide. But here’s an interesting thought about that provision… We have a role in it.
The book “The Misunderstood Jew”, that we’re reading now for the book club, brings out this intriguing idea. “Give us this day” may sound greedy, but asking for bread implies work. God makes the raw ingredients, but we knead the dough. We could say…“Give us this day what we need to make bread.”
“Give me this day what I need to provide for my family, for my neighbor, to those in great need.”
You know, the next phrase also points to our involvement….”And forgive us our debts AS WE forgive our debtors.” This is not a one-sided relationship. The Lord’s prayer is not a laundry list of greedy needs or a Christmas present wish list. We are active participants with God.
Have you ever seen the movie “Evan Almighty” with Morgan Freeman as God and Steve Carrell as a modern-day Noah? In a diner scene (food again!), Steve’s wife talks with Morgan about wanting to be closer to her family. And in a great bit of dialogue, he responds…
“Sounds like an opportunity. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience, or does he give them an opportunity to be patient? If they prayed for courage, does he give them courage, or an opportunity to be courageous?”
In God’s act of providing, we all have a role. In each story of multiplying food, Elijah, Elisha and Jesus ALL used the provision a believer brought to them.
But what about the ravens? Those birds appear to have brought Elijah ready to eat bread and meat. But it’s not as if Elijah was lazy and had done nothing to deserve it, or had not done his part to further the Kingdom of God. He had just stood up, alone, in God’s name, to the powerful royal couple of Ahab and Jezebel.
Our mysterious and surprising God provides in unlikely ways, and in unlikely places to those who walk in his way. Don’t discount any possibility. How many creative ways has God provided for you?
Maybe when you were in school, the daily bread you needed was a new group of friends, and you wound up with the oddest bunch of non-conformists there, but you’re still in touch today…
Or maybe when you met the love of your life, you didn’t give him or her the time of day because they didn’t fit the perfect ideal you had in your mind, but now you can’t imagine life without them…
Or maybe when you went looking for that first house, it wasn’t in the neighborhood you loved or even the town you wanted, but years later you’ve raised children and celebrated countless wonderful moments, and now that house is a home.
And in each case, and countless others, you have the opportunity to embrace what God provided, and to walk with God as you worked together to make your relationships, your homes, your families, your jobs, & your lives rich beyond measure.
God provides abundantly. He always has for the people of God. Just don’t discount the fact that God will do so in a variety of unexpected and mysterious ways. And remember, if you’re only looking out for doves, you’re likely to miss the ravens.
September 27, 2020 - Miracle that Celebrates, John 2:1-11
The miracle worship series concludes with the miracle at the wedding in Cana found In John chapter 2:1-11
There are many items to check off a wedding to-do list. Perhaps for the couple getting married in this story, their wedding list looked something like this;
- Invitations sent - check
- Musicians secured- check
- Homes cleaned- check
- Food prepared - check
- Wine chilled - semi-check
No matter how much time a couple plans or money a family spends, weddings will have at least one detail forgotten or will have something go wrong during the celebration.
A wedding during this time, lasted up to seven days, a complete amount of time to celebrate two people joining in holy matrimony. Perhaps it was around day 5 or day 6, when Mary, the mother of Jesus noticed that the wine was running out. Providing inadequate hospitality could lead to public embarrassment for the couple or lifelong shame for the family. The lack of wine may be due to uninvited guests at the wedding or miscalculation of wine consumption by each guest.
Mary noticed the problem. Her reaction did not resort to blame or complaint. Instead, while in the background of the festivities, she searched for a solution and found Jesus and his disciples. Mary heard Jesus's concern that his time had not come yet to reveal his Messiahship, however she knew there was a need. She turned toward the servants with assurance that her son would make all things well - if only they would do whatever he tells them.
Jesus spoke two lines of instructions to the servants; “fill the jars” and “take a portion to the host of the celebration.” Through Jesus's words and presence, the liquid in the jars transformed from water to wine.
Like his Mother, Jesus humbly served in the background of the celebration, not wanting to draw attention away from the married couple to focus. The miracle was not done to impress, although the quality of the wine indeed left a lasting impression on the host. The miracle glorified God, responded to Mary’s faith, and led new disciples toward belief.
Celebrations are moments of transition, a bridge of hope linking the past to the future. The wedding at Cana revealed many transitions during the celebration. Water transitioned to wine. Two people transitioned to one couple. Disciples transitioned from following Jesus to believing in him.
Only John’s gospel includes the miracle story at Cana. The synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke transitioned Jesus into ministry through his baptism. John's gospel is absent of this story. However, John used water to transition Jesus into ministry like Matthew, Mark and Luke not through the waters of baptism but waters turned to wine,
possibly preparing his disciples to come to the table for the Last Supper.
Often during celebrations, silhouettes of time appear as frozen moments of memories now mixed with the excitement of what is yet to be.
During a wedding, a father sees his daughter as a young child standing on his toes while dancing.
During an anniversary, a couple remembers the first time they held hands while walking along the beach at sunset.
During a 16th birthday, a mother sees her son as a fragile bundle of joy in the backseat during that first ride home from the hospital.
Memories change with time. Memory helps us as Frederick Buecher said to recall the people we loved. The people who loved us. The people who, for good or ill, taught us things. Often it is in memory when we understand ourselves in new ways.
(Memoir of Early Days, The Sacred Journey, by Rev. Frederick Buechner, pg. 21)
In the major and minor celebrations of life, God's miraculous ways shine through transitioning our past, shaping our memories, and forming our futures. During these occasions we may see the glimpses of heaven shine through or the footsteps of grace may walk humbly in the background making all things well.
As Westminster celebrates 20 years of music ministry under the direction of Bettie Tindall, we can recall all the ways when the music in a rehearsal, worship service, or out in the parking lot has touched our soul, raised the hairs on our arms and glorified God. These music memories include people Bettie loves people who love Bettie and the people, for good or ill, taught Westminster and Bettie new ways of music ministry.
We are grateful for Bettie who has been a string of hope for this church through the years of transitions which continues to tune the music and ministry together for God's glory.
Through the laughter and tears of joy during celebrations; we become eyewitnesses of how Jesus miraculously fills us up like jars, we hear God's still small voice that resides within us, and we are challenged to follow Mary’s advice to do whatever Jesus says.
In a poem entitled Wedding lLght by Kent Goff he encourages us to “Fill the jars with stories that sparkle with surprise, the ferment of suspense. Fill the jars with music, the rhythms of grace in drum and dance. Fill the jars with ordinary drops of experience, holy silence, joy in sacrifice. And when the jars are full, This steward may yet announce, You have saved the best till last.”
May the jars that represent your lives, contain the power of Christ. This Holy Spirit power that turns water into wine, discord into harmony and human steps into a miraculous journey of faith.
Let us pray,
All of creation is tuned to the cosmic rhythms of your grace through the daily sunrise and sunset and the seasons of the year. We claim your son as our Savior and as Lord of our Lives, who satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.
We ask you to pour out your Holy Spirit upon your people who are gathered here in your name. Fill them up with your goodness and grace.
Pour out your Holy Spirit upon all the leaders in government and those who serve in the armed forces. Fill them up with wisdom in decisions and courage in the field.
Pour out your Holy Spirit upon your people who are sick, battered or bruised.
Fill them up with your healing mercy, we especially pray for Rachel Henry’s Mother Vivian as she recovers from a car accident, for Joel Spencer as he undergoes chemotherapy treatment today and for many names and faces that lay within the forefront of our hearts.
Continue to fill our jars with your love turning our doubts to belief, our fears to faith
and our lives into a sacrifice of praise through the power of Christ Jesus our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.