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.
October 4, 2020 - Enough to Love, Deuteronomy 6:1-5
Let us here Moses' words as he extends the understanding of the first commandment, laying a strong foundation of love of God's people in the wilderness.
In the Message version of scripture, Eugene Peterson writes the last verse in such a way that we can envision the layers of love being established as a strong foundation in a person's life...
Love God, your God,
with your whole heart:
love him with all that’s in you,
love him with all you’ve got.
Imagine a solid foundation of a home. Perhaps you are imaging a concrete slab, crawl space or basement. The strength of a building lies in its foundation to hold the structure above it and built in such a way that the moisture does not seep in to weaken the structure. Building upon a weak or unlevel foundation creates problems during storms, cracks in the walls, difficulty in the longevity of the home.
We know that strong solid foundations are important in buildings and likewise in our faith. God's love can be seen as the foundation of our life and staying in constant connection with this divine love helps us when the storms come, the cracks appear and the difficulties appear. We are not found hiding from God in these storms or difficult times but standing on the promises that his abundant love resides within us and leads us through.
Love that takes our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength is a wide and deep love is found beyond a feeling of happiness - this Love is found in a covenant, a promise. Love is a verb. Love is always leading us, restoring us, preparing us and chasing after us.
And our simple response is to dwell with this active love. God's dream is to dwell with us, this was from the beginning of time as God created man and woman in his image, this was made evident in Christ as John 1:14 says; The word became flesh and made his home among us (CEV), and God’s desire to be with us continues today through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
A few months ago, I visited Bob Scates. I asked him if I could share this story and he said that would be fine. Outside at the picnic table, Bob said to me, I don't feel love for God like I feel love for people such as my children or Nancy or my dog." He asked me, "How do you feel God's love?"
Take a moment and reflect on this question, what would your response be.
Before I share with you my response to Bob, let us understand God’s extensive and unrestricted love for the whole world.
God's love is evident in creation.
God's love is evident in relationships with Him and in relationships such as parents, spouse, children and pet.
God's love does not stop there.
Richard Rohr writes about divine love in this way;
When we are truly "in love," we move out of our small, individual selves to unite with another, whether in companionship, simple friendship, marriage, or any other trustful relationship. He goes on to ask the reader...Have you ever deliberately befriended a person standing alone at a party? Perhaps someone who was not attractive to you, or with whom you shared no common interests? That would be a small but real example of divine love flowing. Don't dismiss it as insignificant. That is how the flow starts, even if the encounter doesn't change anyone's life on the spot. (Universal Christ, pg. 70)
God's love extends beyond our chosen circles of relationships and can be found when we follow the flow of God's love toward a stranger or to someone who has a different story than us.
Myuresponse to Bob was that yes, I experienced God's love in creation and with those people who are closest to me such as my spouse and children and Daff-o-dill.
However, when I feel closest to God and notice God with me is when I am serving in mission. Mission takes my whole self; time, skills and often money. In reflection of this response, I would now add mission is one of the best ways I have seen in my life to extend the circle of relationships, to allow God's love flow through me toward a stranger or someone who has a different story than I do.
Jesus showed us how to embody God's love by dwelling with him in private and in public. We dwell with God through prayer, scripture, creation, and following Jesus as he leads us near the least of these; those who were hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and imprisoned.
God's dream of an indwelling love is our foundation - this first and greatest commandment of Loving God with our whole heart, soul, and might grounds and secures us in eternal and holy ways of living. The Holy Spirit guides us to evaluate all other dreams in relation to this solid firm foundation of love found for us Christians through Christ our Lord.
Throughout the month of October we are using resources from Rev. Adam Hamilton, a Methodist pastor in Kansas our church knows well. We have received Adam's words of wisdom and faith to guide us through studies in worship and small groups. I encourage you to participate in the adult Sunday school Bible studies with excellent teachers such as Tammy McKibben, Linda Ralston, Beth Teachey and Sue Wright. These Bible studies in person and online will allow more time to open up scriptures and stewardship themes of how God is calling you to know that God's love for you is enough to live a life of abundance rather than a life of fear and scarcity. Also, the 140 page small book entitled
Enough, can be read in one or two days which provides stories on simple ways to enrich your life through the generous divine love of our God.
Along with God's dream for us based on love, Rev. Adam Hamilton provides a warning In his book that often Christians follow a different dream, pursuing what is called the American Dream of achieving success and satisfying the desire for material possessions. This dream leads us to define success by the stuff we possess.
When we choose to love money and the things money can buy- our life is built upon how much we can consume and acquire. This American Dream can turn very quickly toward an American Nightmare, that leaves us weary each morning with two illnesses that Adam calls "Affluenza" and "Creditius"
“Affluenza” is the constant need for more and bigger and better stuff. It is the desire to acquire, and most of us have been infected by this virus to some degree.
“Credit-itis” is an illness that is brought on by the opportunity to buy now and pay later, and it feeds on our desire for instant gratification.
America is not looking for a vaccine for either of these illnesses, because both consumerism and credit, build wealth in a select few while leaving an impression of wealth to a large majority with piles of stuff and debt.
Money is a part of our everyday lives. As Christians we can choose to love God while being good stewards of the money entrusted to our care. Money on its own does not separate us from God, it is our focus on loving money rather than loving God that separates us from the divine love flowing in our lives.
We all have a so-called money illness that could classify as stealing our time, talent and money away from loving God. Maybe for you it is not Affluenza or Credit-itus, maybe it is Frugality Disease, or Prideful Giving. We all have brokenness toward money, naming it is half the battle, and then shaping the brokenness toward money with God's mercy to see our lives through the lens of God's perspective.
Over the next few weeks allow Christ to work in your life by building a strong foundation of love seeking ways to experience that love in the world while listening for his voice and following his will.
As we do this, we can begin to see the calling to live in faithfulness, simplicity and generosity. We feel blessed as our time, talents and money make a large impact for God's kingdom.
God has more than enough love. This active love of God moves toward us first, restores us, cares for us, shows us a better way and invites us and the whole world to the table.
October 11, 2020 - Enough to Give, Mark 12:41-44
The first verse of this passage we find Jesus watching the crowd which reminded me of the common “people watching” pastime.
Over the last seven months, we have watched crowds with a different perspective as our focus has not been on the event as much as how far apart people are standing or how many people are wearing a mask.
The common "people watching" pass time in crowds has been humbling to observe during the pandemic. We may have trouble remembering how things used to be, but let’s try together. This people watching pass time is not just a novelty in our country, but is known as a free and fascinating pass time around the world.
In reading a travel magazine, a journalist reported in 2018 the top ten favorite cities around the world to engage in the "people watching" pass time. Although the pictures were captivating from this travel magazine, I thought it would be more fun to ask people connected to Westminster to share their top place they visited to people watch
In each picture, observe what object or which person stands out among the crowds.
1- The first picture is from Andy and Andi Shifflett taken on the Spanish Steps in Rome - where they did in sit and people watch.
2- Second picture... From Francine Johnston- She was on the same trip and shared this picture of the Spanish steps from a different angle. If you look closely enough you can see Andy Shifflett with backpack on the left. Instead of Where's Waldo we are looking for Where's Andy.
3-Third picture... From Francine Johnston in Vietnam. The colorful lanterns catch our eye in the crowd. Also, the lady over in the corner caught my attention as her hat looks similar to the table umbrellas along the street.
4- Fourth picture... is from Ed and Katrina's trip to Scotland with their daughter CJ. The picture is taken at the entrance to Edinburgh Castle. You notice the sophisticated tourists of CJ and Katrina in the center, cool pink/purple hair, and a castle entrance that reminds me of the crowds of people entering Cinderella's castle in Disney world.
5- Fifth picture... is from Angela Wright when her family traveled to London. The picture is of Buckingham Palace. You may notice the statues and the flowers, and how everyone is watching alongside the road.
6- Sixth picture, since you may be looking for the Queen in this picture... Angela sent an additional picture of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles since that is what everyone was waiting there to see that day.
7- Seventh picture... is from the Cuomo's at the Macy's Day parade. The balloon float captures our attention along with the crowds of people along the road watching the parade pass before their eyes.
8- This picture is from Savannah Arrington our new communications assistant. She and her family lived in Nazareth for two years. She shares a picture from Nazareth at Christmas. Notice the beautiful lights that line the sidewalks linking the businesses together.
9- This last picture is a painting from our scripture story. Notice the widow in the center of the picture. Notice how Jesus was the only one who saw her, not even the man walking near her offered a glance in her direction.
In the Jewish culture, Rabbis taught by sitting not by standing. Off in the distance, Jesus is watching the crowd and teaching his disciples.
On that day, Jesus does not praise the offerings of the rich people.
Jesus does not tell a parable about financial stewardship.
Instead, Jesus points to a widow to teach a lesson selfless and sacrificial giving.
A widow was considered among the lowest classes of society. Throughout the old and new testaments, we read a constant refrain to care for the oppressed, the widows and the orphans in the land. The widow's actions spoke a thousand words. Her actions displayed a humble habit, a spiritual discipline, a commitment to a promise. Jesus watched the giver and saw the value of the coins were from the heart.
Watch the stories that teach faith lessons not by words but by the actions displayed in scripture, in others and in your life through faithful habits, spiritual disciplines, personal commitments and new discoveries.
Observe the stories in scripture that teach about finances…
-Watch the actions of the widow who gives
-Watch the actions of the rich young ruler who leaves relationship behind.
-Watch the actions of the prodigal son who leaves with his inheritance, and watch the father graciously accepts him back.
In this week's lesson from the “Enough” series by Rev. Adam Hamilton, he encourages us to watch the habits of spending, saving, and giving.
In the area of wisdom and finance, he offers six financial planning principles to help become better money managers such as
- Give first - before saving or spending
- Create a budget to track your expenses
- Simplify your lifestyle by living below your income
- Establish an emergency fund - which is typically 3-6 months of living expenses
- Pay off credit cards or any debt
- Practice long term saving and investment habits.
We may have heard these financial principles before, some we may do well, some may be a challenge. There may be other pieces of wisdom you have learned over the years regarding finances.
I have found that the best lessons on money management are learned when we are honest with God and others about our money. Seek advice from people who faithful and wise in money management. Be honest with your finances and allow their wisdom to lead you toward a healthier, faithful financial future for you and your family.
One of the most honest money lessons our family participated in took place last fall. For an entire month, each person in the family oversaw the budget. This person paid the bills, recorded the receipts in spreadsheets and kept the family informed on the budget. Before the money adventure began, our family sat down and talked about our income. This took a level of honesty and trust to share our financial information with our children.
Then we went over how much was given, saved, and spent each month. We went online and taught about homebanking and bill paying. After the overview of income and expenses, each person selected the month he/she would oversee the family’s budget.
I wanted to share a few honest reflections that we learned together.
- When paying the bills one person asked why the cell phone bill was the highest utility bill? When four people have a phone, then yes, this bill will be high and need to be constantly evaluated with the other bills.
- One person noticed while maintaining the budget how grateful they were for what our family does have rather than be caught up in the mindset of what we do not have when compared to others.
- One person learned they liked recording the receipts each time a purchase was made.
- Lastly, one person learned the value of accountability. When they stood in line at a store, they thought twice about the item and cost of the purchase. Because when they got home, the receipt would be handed over to a person keeping up with the shared excel spreadsheet for the Cranford Budget.
After the family budgeting experiment, I returned to maintaining the family budget, but a few things remained. Everyone in the family had access to the shared excel spreadsheet. family members enter receipts into the budget rather than depending on me to do this task. And our family continue to have hard conversations about money as we seek ways to grow, learn and be faithful with the money God has entrusted to our care.
Money lessons such as these help us to watch the habits of spending, saving, and giving.
Be courageous and share honest words with a trusted friend or family member about giving, saving, and spending.
Tell stories in the car or over the phone of how when there was a need, God was the Provider of that need.
Gather with your family around the table, brainstorm on the ways to give and fill out the commitment card together.
God gives us more than enough to give. Let us watch and manage our money more like the widow whose giving comes from the heart.
Let us pray,
May the spirit guide our lives in your steadfast love. As Jesus watches the crowds on this day, may our humble giving, saving, and spending bring honor and glory to your holy name.
In Christ’s name we pray,
October 18, 2020 - Enough to Know, Philippians 4:10-13
Last week, we talked about an individual's sacrificial giving with the story of the widow’s offering in the gospel of Mark.
This week our scripture text is from Philippians, a church who demonstrated sacrificial giving toward Paul’s ministry. We assume that Paul has already written an acknowledgment letter to the church for the generous gift the church sent to him while in prison.
At the end of this letter, Paul writes again of his gratitude and what his life in Christ continues to teach him. Let us a portion of his words of gratitude that speak of contentment in Philippians 4:10-13.
During Paul's ministry he received occasional donations from churches such as the church in Philippi. Along with donations, he worked a day job as a tent maker. A tent maker during these times could be anyone who worked with leather, for tents or for other purposes. In Acts chapter 18, we read how Paul went to see Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together as tentmakers.
Receiving support from churches and his manual labor in Corinth, Thessalonica and Ephesus, led to him being at peace and content with
Because of Paul's hard work as a tentmaker, faithful witness of the gospel, and financial support from communities of faith, Christians and churches have access to faithful words in scripture that continue to make an impact today. We have more written words from Paul than any other author in scripture, and we are grateful beneficiaries of his service to the kingdom.
When thinking of Paul's tentmaking handywork, we have two visual tents present today. The tents are not made of leather, but the emphasis is not on the material of the tent, but what is on the inside of the tent.
From the Enough Series, Rev. Adam Hamilton says we have a choice to live in two types of tents; “discon-tent” or “con-tent-ment”?
We have the choice of which tent will be ours. We choose the tent, in large part of deciding what life is about.
Let's look inside each tent for a better understanding of how to dwell with God. For God is under both tents!
In the third chapter, Adam opens our understanding to discontentment….
First- Let's look at Discontentment
When discontent is a virtue
There is a certain discontent that God intended us to have. God actually wired our hearts so that we would not be content with certain things, causing us to seek the only One who can fully satisfy us. We are meant to yearn for a relationship with God, to cultivate a deeper prayer life, to pursue justice and holiness with increasing fervor, to love others more, and to grow in grace and character and wisdom with each passing day.
When discontent destroys
The problem is that those things we should be content with are the very things we find ourselves hopelessly discontented with. For example, we find ourselves discontented with our stuff, our jobs, our churches, our children, and our spouses. God must look down on us and feel the way we feel when we give someone a special gift and the person asks for the gift receipt. It’s as if we’re saying to God, “I don’t like what you have given me, God. I want to trade it in and get something better.
Now let us look at Contentment
Paul shares in the verses before this text we read today ways toward contentment; we hear in both Philippians 4 and Thessalonians 5; Paul's encouragement to rejoice in the Lord always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances. All three work together for God's goodness and graciousness to bring contentment, a sense of peace and joy to your life.
Choosing contentment means
- First, that we choose to look to God as our Source
We rejoice in the Lord always
We seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness
We know to seek God first before we seek anyone or anything else.
- Second, we pray without ceasing
We pray when we want to and we pray when we don't want to.
We pray in private and we pray in public
We know that prayer connects us to God and prayer changes hearts.
- Lastly, we are to give thanks in all circumstances
Gratitude changes our perspectives in all seasons.
Having a thankful presence moves us through the good and hard circumstances.
We know that our life is an unending thank you note in response to God's unconditional love
As we rejoice in the Lord always, stay constantly connected with God in prayer and give thanks no matter the circumstances, these practices, disciplines, and habits begin to shape our mind, heart, and soul to be more like Christ.
In seeking to know God more and more in our faith, our hearts change, our thoughts transform, and we find our identity in Christ through humble and loving service to God and neighbor in the brokenness of our world.
In knowing God more, our choices are reflected in being intentional toward simplicity, wasting and generosity. We conserve and use our time, money and skills toward advancing God's kingdom in creative and holy ways of living.
What leads you toward dwelling in the tents of either discontentment or contentment?
-Reflect on these actions and place them in the proper tent-
For example.... when I say watching a sunrise....
For some watching a beautiful sunrise is the perfect way to start a day of contentment.
While other people may be thinking, waking up at that time of day to see a sunrise leads to discontentment.
Reflect on a few actions regarding money and place them in the proper tent...
Walking into Target - is this contentment or discontentment for you -
Reviewing your savings account - is this contentment or discontentment for you -
Filling out the church's annual commitment card - is this contentment or discontentment for you -
We may find ourselves being content and discontent in the same place depending on the seasons in our faith or in our life. If any of these areas of spending, saving and giving were forming feelings of discontentment how could rejoicing in the Lord, prayer and gratitude change your mind and heart toward contentment?
Now let's reflect on conversations - how often are you in a place of contentment or discontentment in the following scenarios
-when reading a text message or email
-when answering a phone call
-when face to face with a person
If any or all these types of conversations are leaning toward discontentment, choose ways to be content before, during or after the conversations?
For example, pray before reading a text,
during a conversation talk about how you have seen God's goodness in the day
and after the conversation give thanks for something even if it is small or even if it is to show gratitude to God for what God will be teaching you through that hard conversation.
Lastly, let us reflect on our stuff
Review your phone, computer, books, or television.
More often the websites we visit, the shows we watch, the articles we read leave us in a state of restlessness and discontentment. Make the choice to engage on a daily basis to fill your mind, heart and soul with information that encourages faith, hope and love and allows time for God's still small voice to be heard.
Contentment takes a holy balance of living for God while living in the world. God gives us enough to know where true contentment, joy and abundant life is found, not in our strength but in the strength of Christ. As faithful servants of Christ, let us choose daily to rely on our Savior's strength and allow the Spirit to transform our mind, heart and soul for God's glory.
Lord, help me be grateful for what I have remember that I don't need most of what I want, and that joy is found in simplicity and generosity. Amen
October 25, 2020 - Enough to Live, Proverbs 11:24-25
I shared a conversation with a woman who talked about being on the receiving end of generosity. Friends, family, faith communities, neighbors, and even strangers were providing help to her during a difficult season in her life. She shared a humble and honest response, that she preferred to be on the giving end rather than the receiving end of generosity. However, during this hard time in her life she was storing up the creative gifts people were giving to her so one day soon she could return the generosity to others.
I appreciate the honesty and humbleness of the woman who chose to receive rather than reject help during difficult seasons. When we receive freely, it teaches us how to give freely.
As children of God, we are constantly on the receiving end of God’s love. The way we know how to love has been taught to us first by God. We need to step into the position of a receiver with honesty and humility.
Generous people are grounded in being grateful receivers from God. As Proverbs shared their life is enriched because they acknowledge that everything and everyone is a gift from God. Life is a gift. Family is a gift. Job is a gift. Worship is a gift. Money is a gift. Home is a gift. Today is a gift. Once we realize that nothing, absolutely nothing comes to us by our own doing, it is only then when we can hold on to the gifts from God.
As grateful receivers, we let go of pride and hold onto God’s love. We are shaped by his will, his ways, and his wisdom. And as faithful followers we too begin to give as freely to others as God has given to us. As we freely give, we grow richer in God’s grace and our life is enriched for all eternity.
As we freely give toward people who receive our help during difficult seasons of their lives, they teach us that our giving matters. We let go of the guilt, judgment, or expectation in our gifts. We freely give out of love to grow richer as faithful extenders of God’s vision in the world.
Many people ask, how much should we give? In regard to money, the church has taught to give 10% of your income. Yet research shows that most Americans give 2% of their money. I believe we are asking the wrong question. Our question should not be how much should we give, but how much do we want to receive?
In Old Testament scripture, Abraham was the first to give 10%, a tithe. Abraham is one of our faith fathers, a hero in our faith story. When we turn to the New Testament scripture, Christ gave his life. He continued God’s outpouring love of 100%. He gave his full life, not so we would have 2% or 10% but 100% of abundant and eternal life.
How could our lives change if we lived with the idea that we already have enough; enough to love, enough to give, enough to know, enough to live? If we lived with this idea, we are living with a divine perspective of abundance rather than a human perspective of scarcity. When we live in scarcity, we limit the work of God in our lives and for our world. By contrast, when we live in abundance, we see from God's perspective of endless possibilities and unlimited resources. Perhaps it is that easy, to shift our vision from scarcity to the abundance that God wants for us all.
Jack Cornfield tells the best true story on giving that I know.
An eight-year-old boy had a younger sister who was dying of leukemia, and he was told that without a blood transfusion she would die. His parents explained to him that his blood was probably compatible with hers, and if so, he could be the blood donor. They asked him if they could test his blood.
He said, “Sure.” So, they did, and it was a good match.
Then they asked if he would give his sister a pint of blood, that it could be her only chance of living.
He said he would have to think about it overnight.
The next day the eight-year old boy went to his parents and said he was willing to donate blood.
So, they took him to the hospital where he was put on a gurney beside his six-year-old sister. Both were hooked up to IVs. A nurse withdrew a pint of blood from the boy, which was then put in the girls IV.
The boy lay on his gurney in silence while the blood dripped into his sister; until the doctor came over to see how he was doing.
Then the boy opened his eyes and asked, “How soon until I start to die?”
God’s love is pouring into our veins every moment of every day. God wants you; God wants all of you. Let us take time to think about God’s request overnight.
As grateful receivers and follower of Christ, may we freely give our whole life to God’s abundant love. The commitment card is one small piece to the grand puzzle God has in store for each one of us. May we choose this day to live so God can use us anywhere and anytime.
November 1, 2020 - Prayer is Essential, 1 John 5:13-15
I write these things to you who believe in the name of God’s Son so that you can know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence that we have in our relationship with God: If we ask for anything in agreement with his will, he listens to us. If we know that he listens to whatever we ask, we know that we have received what we asked from him.
1 John 5:13-15, (CEB)
John’s central theme in his letter is to communicate eternal life. When we turn to God in prayer, we turn toward experiencing a taste of eternal life in God’s kingdom.
From the book, “101 Most Powerful Prayers in the Bible," author Steve and Lois Rabey write these words about prayer;
“God will not force us to return to him from our worries and concerns but he will continue to draw us to himself. Even now he is inviting us to learn the language of the Spirit, to come to him through the doorway of prayer.”
The language of the Spirit that is a beautiful way to describe prayer. To pray is to open our lives to God’s abundant love; To communicate from our heart; To worship truth; To sing with joy; To give thanks; To cry out in pain and grief; To confess our sin; To receive forgiveness; To seek guidance and wisdom; And to intercede on behalf of others.
Life is enriched as we draw close to God and learn the language of the Spirit. Each time we pray; we practice, we engage, and we learn what eternity looks like, feels like, and sounds like through Christ.
John and Jesus encourage us to have bold and confident prayers. When we pray in this way, we let go of control, we place our full trust in God, and let God’s love lead the way.
Author Henry Nouwen shares a beautiful story that teaches us to trust God's willingness and power to answer our bold prayers.
Henry took his 88-year-old father to the circus in Germany. Though the circus tent was full of wild and colorful sites, Henry was bored - until the trapeze artist came out. Then he could not take his eyes off the show. In fact, Henry was so fascinated, he decided to go back stage and see if he could speak to the high flying acrobats after the show.
Henry asked the trapeze artist about the amazing skill he had acquired. The seasoned performer revealed a secret Henry had never suspected.
“You know,” he said, “since I am the main flyer in the act who can do triple flips, I get all the applause. But I’ll tell you a secret, Henry. I am not the hero. The real hero is the catcher. One of the greatest mistakes I could make in the air would be to try to catch the catcher. If I moved my arms around or tried to grab for him, we would miss the catch. I just have to do my triple flip and put my arms out and trust that he will catch me. And when I trust, he always does.
One of the greatest mistakes, we make is thinking we can live without taking everything to God in prayer, our catcher.
We juggle the responsibilities of holding down jobs, raising families and making decisions on our own.
We attempt to do it all. However, God designed for us to be a team, to work together and be in relationship with each another.
Let us stop trying to do life on our own. God designed life to be more than a one person show on a tight wire. May our prayers extend out our arms with trust, knowing God our hero will catch us when we fall every moment of every day as we experience eternity both now and forevermore.
You have called us to experience eternal glory through your son, our savior Jesus Christ. Guide us with your spirit and transform our lives to be a living prayer to you. Amen
November 8, 2020 - Essential Prayers; WOW, Exodus 15:1-3, 11
The Old Testament contains three songs of Moses. The first song is found in Exodus 15. The second song in Deuteronomy 31 verse 22 and the third song in Psalm 90.
The first song of Moses in Exodus is in response to the parting of the Red Sea. Moses lifted his staff and stretched out his hand over the sea to divide the water. The Angel of the Lord and the pillar of cloud separated the Israelites and the Egyptians. When the water was divided and the waters formed walls, the Israelites walked on dry land in the midst of the sea.
This experience led Moses and the Israelites to sing to the Lord.
Let us hear a portion of this song from Exodus 15:1-3 and verse 11.
The parting of the Red Sea story is one of many stories in scripture that leaves us in awe and wonder of God’s remarkable ways.
We serve a God who raised water into walls and who raised his Son from the grave. We serve a God who is majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, and who is still creating miraculous wonders among us today.
Sometimes God calls us to stand on the shoreline, be still in a field or sit on the front porch, to watch the majestic views of holiness such as walls of water, a star lit sky, or a golden sunrise. In these standing moments of wonder our response may be a song.
Other times, God calls us from a standing to a walking faith. We move forward through the walls of water, the darkness of night or the morning light. As we walk, we learn, grow and experience God in new ways. In these moments of wonder our response may be a prayer.
Christian Author Ann Lamott writes about three simple prayers essential to come through tough times. It is these three essentials prayers containing the words help, thanks and wow that can show us the way forward. These prayers help us to ask for assistance from God, appreciate the good and feel awe in the world around us.
In regard to wow prayers, Ann shares how often the word wow is expressed more by taking a gasp or experiencing a speechless wonder rather than by speaking a word. Wonder can take our breath away, and make room for new breath. God consistently offers new aspects of his glory and goodness. When we pay attention to these wow moments, we in turn experience moments that are breathtaking.
Expressions of wow can happen in both joyous and difficult times such as when a child sees the ocean and we say within us, "WOW God, thanks." Or when a person sees the World Trade Center towers fall, we say within us, "WOW God, help us."
Often, we miss the wonders of our God. We must be willing and watchful for God’s remarkable ways. We must move past comfort and attempting to manage situations to find ourselves stunned to the place beyond words. When all we can say in response is "WOW" that is a prayer.
There are small wow prayers such as enjoying a crisp red delicious apple on a fall day. There are all cap WOW prayers such as when a person comes to know Christ as Lord. When all we can say in response to God’s power is Wow - we have stepped into the creative wonder of God’s kingdom.
Wow prayers can happen in standing or walking in faith. Wow prayers can occur in the greatest and lowest moments of life. These prayers take an element of risk to acknowledge a powerful God who is willing, waiting and wanting to wow us with his love. Amen.
Transform our simple prayers to discover your remarkable power that breathes new life into us through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
November 15, 2020 - Essential Prayer: Help, Psalm 121
Late in the afternoon in a memory care unit, an activities director asked two ladies who were residents in the facility to help her set the table for dinner.
They lined up the glasses all on one side.
They stacked the placemats up in a neat pile.
They placed the plates in random spots.
And one lady started folding the napkins into tiny squares.
And the other lady began to realize she was getting hungry.
The activities director could have corrected them in setting the table properly,
but instead she said,
"Thank you both for your help.
Why don't you all relax in the living room while I finish dinner?
I'll call you over when dinner is ready."
When the director asked for the two ladies to help her, she thought the help needed was for setting the table.
Instead, the setting of the table helped these two ladies.
Being a part of the meal preparation triggers appetite. The help needed that day was not for a perfectly set table, but to help the ladies have a smooth transition to dinner.
How often have we asked God for help, yet
God takes too long to set the table.
God does not set the table the right way.
Or heaven forbid that God invites people to the table we dislike.
Our eyes look for help defined by our perspective rather than accepting God’s help from his perspective.
In her book about three essential prayers, Ann Lamont writes that the most good and honest prayers remind her that she is not in charge, that she cannot fix anything, and that she needs to open herself up to being helped by someone who is greater.
These help prayers step into the truth of the old riddle which says;
What is the difference between you and God?
God never thinks he is you.
Help prayers often are exhausting because we turn toward God only for the big stuff. We must trust God with the small stuff, too.
Help prayers lead us to lift our eyes and place trust and assurance with our creator in the big stuff and the small stuff of life.
when our foot slips a little or a lot, we pray for help and turn toward our maker
when our worry is minor or major, we pray for help to the one who does not slumber
when our pain is small or large, we pray for help to God who is our keeper.
Help prayers lead us to depend upon God’s power, wait with patience, and lasty be willing to go to our knees or shed a few tears if needed.
We miss out on God’s goodness, because we fail to involve God in all of our days. We miss out on being wowed by God or thanking God because we do not ask God for help.
A dear lady I have come to know shared the following story with me about God’s Goodness.
She said; I am rich in a lot of ways, but it sure isn’t money.
I am going to tell you how good God is though.
When I need to bake a cake, but I do not have enough money in my checking account.
God goes shopping with me
God will have my butter and eggs on sale, everything that I need. He’s got it all covered. And I just say “Well Lord thank you so much.”
He is not just a Sunday morning God.
Westminster, God is our keeper every day of the week. May we lift our eyes to him in trust, lean upon him for help and live in hope both now and forevermore.
Gracious God,O Lord, transform our help into grateful thanksgiving and praise. We refuse to give up as your faithful disciples. Continue to lead and guide us with your love found in Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.
November 22, 2020 - Essential Prayer, Thanks
Today concludes our series on essential prayer ends with a focus on thanksgiving. Colossians 4:2; Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.
Paul urged the church to be passionate and devoted to prayer. In this devotion, to be alert in prayer NOT with worry or fear rather to be alert in prayer with thanksgiving.
Paul’s encouragement reframes our faith as our prayers of devotion do not weigh us down but lift us up as we are watchful for thanksgiving.
Anne Lamott says in her book that we if we say thanks often enough, then gratitude becomes a habit.
You can even look at what was revealed in the latest mess, and you say thanks for the revelation, because it shows you some truth you needed to know…
You say ‘Thank you for lifting this corner of the curtain so I can see the truth, maybe for just a moment, but in a way that might change my life forever. (page 49)
When we are devoted to prayer through good and difficult seasons of life, over the years, we begin to realize in time if we are patient and are paying attention that God will restore what the world has broken, and for this we are grateful.
When a person is devoted to work, family, faith, hobby, or craft, it does not take much time for you to discover through their words and stories their passion.
This passion is not without an investment of time, skill, or hard work.
Teachers must teach lessons year after year to discover ways for students to excel beyond the classroom.
Reporters must deliver the news day after day to find ways to tell a compelling story.
Writers must write for long hours to publish an article, essay, or book.
Years ago, I sat down with a journalist who talked about the nagging deadlines when she had no good words to write. She said, “Sometimes when you need to write a news article, you just have to start writing.”
As she looked out the window, she continued,
“Pick up your pencil or type on a keyboard and begin writing…
Today is a beautiful day
The sun is shining, and I hear the birds are singing.
I am wearing a red hat
I am sitting around the table with friends.
The more words you write, eventually the good words, the right words begin to show up on the page.
I believe the same is true with prayer. When you need to pray during a loss, for a healing, or in need of direction you just need to start praying.
Look out the window and begin praying
God, today is a beautiful day.
I give you praise for the warmth of the sun and the songs of the birds.
I am wearing red shoes
I look forward to gathering around the Lord’s table with faithful friends.
The more words we pray, eventually good, holy, and grateful words begin to show up.
As writers must wriers, believers must pray to reveal the good, holy, and grateful ways God continues to transform our lives and our world for his glory both now and forevermore
May the devotion of your love received at this table
help us to face every struggle,
wow us with your love
and become thankful witnesses of your grace
In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
November 29, 2020
Sermon given by John Tindall
December 6, 2020 - Practicing Honesty, Mark 1:1-4
Mark begins his gospel of the good news of Jesus Christ by introducing to us a man named John the Baptist.
Perhaps John the Baptist was considered odd with his clothing attire of camel’s hair, his diet of locusts and honey, and his extreme message of repentance. Whenever a person pursues righteousness, justice, and salvation, they typically do not fit the cultural norms of the day. Those who the world labels as odd, often are the most faithful among us.
John had heard the prophecies of a coming Messiah from great prophets such as Zechariah, as John Tindall shared with us last week, and Isaiah. He trusted in the continued revelation and fulfillment of God's covenant with Israel.
John accepted the call of prophet to chart a new course ahead where there was no map or manual to follow because his message not only pointed people to believe in the Messiah but to meet the Messiah face to face.
After Mark's introduction of John, he tells of John baptizing the people from the countryside of Judea, the city of Jerusalem, and Jesus in the Jordan River.
Later in Mark’s gospel, we hear how John is imprisoned by King Herod. Now, in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, we read an additional story of John while he was in prison. John sent a message by his disciples, asking Jesus these questions; "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"
Jesus's response was sent back to John, that said; "Yes, what you hear and see is true; the blind receives their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleanse, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed are those who take no offense to me."
Jesus then goes on after this response praising John in front of everyone who had gathered there, saying that there was no human greater than John the Baptist.
We may like to think that a prophet, a great messenger like John, prepares the way for the Lord only through bold proclamations of repentance or through administering the sacraments, such as baptism. However, God uses our questions and honest reflections of the heart to lead people closer to him.
Perhaps, this question that John was wrestling with in prison prior to his death, others were wrestling with as well. Perhaps, God used John’s honest reflection in his faith as one final way to prepare people to know Christ as Messiah and Lord.
We all need a Savior, and we all need people such as John the Baptist who consistently point us to Jesus by communicating gospel truths and asking honest questions of our faith.
These messengers are far from perfect, yet they strive to be humble in spirit and strong in faith to prepare the way, often when there is no way.
Last week, we celebrated the life of Steve Yancey, one of God's great messengers.
Steve was not afraid to share an honest conversation with you by picking up the phone, taking you for a ride in his truck or pulling you aside in the Narthex or on the ball field. Steve could share these types of conversations with so many of us because through spending time with us and loving us, he earned the right to speak hard truths that often ended with a big hug.
Steve knew it was important to build relationships day after day with family in the home, morning after morning with the guys at New Hope Grocery, week after week with his family of faith here at church, and year after year with neighbors in West Virginia and at home here in Virginia through Summerlee Mission. These were places that deepened Steve's relationships with God and others.
I believe Steve taught us how important it was to be a loving and consistent presence in the lives of others. He was committed to being present on regular days and on special occasions. He was present when it mattered and when it did not matter. Through his faithful presence of celebrating with us on the good days, we knew who to turn to on the bad days. He shared honest conversations with us with compassion which in turn we received his words with understanding.
Steve knew Jesus as Lord. Last year, Steve shared his testimony in church. He ended his testimony with a challenge. He said, “Do not let a difficult situation, a struggle, or a sudden illness prioritize life, but to choose now to live God's plan for your life.”
Let us be honest with ourselves that we are sinners, and we need a Savior.
Let us be honest with God, accepting his love and living our life for his glory.
Let us be honest with one another to restore relationships now rather than later.
Once we accept this strong love of God made evident in Christ that breathes in us through the gift of the Holy Spirit, our life may look a little odd, but remember those who the world labels as odd are often the most faithful among us.
We may find ourselves showing up in people’s lives that we do not even know to support them through the joys and storms of life.
And we may hear ourselves ask a few hard and honest questions that lead us to a deeper relationship with God and neighbor.
Let us strive to be God's messengers, like Steve Yancey and John the Baptist who magnified Christ by practicing honesty in their faith and pointing us to God's strong love that always leads the way.
Continue to lead us through this weary world. Guide us as your faithful messenger to take steps of peace and reveal words of truth as we journey through this advent season together. In Christ's name we pray, Amen.
December 13, 2020- Embracing Paradox, Luke 1:46-56
About this time each year, the Christmas begins to show up in the conversations we share and in the shopping adventures either in stores or online. I believe this Christmas Spirit that is an extra burst of good and gracious cheer this time of year, is evidence of more people listening and responding to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit cannot be quarantined. We are reminded of this truth in the gospel of John 3:8, "the wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."
As we place two feet on the floor each day, we may feel like a walking paradox as the Holy spirit is breathing new life in us and motivating us toward experiencing God's kingdom, yet the weariness of our world keeps dragging us toward isolation and cancellation.
Rev. Kathy Escobar reflects on how to embrace paradox in her book we are using for this year's Advent Series. We embrace paradox when we hold contradictions in the same space at the same time. We hold the tension of contradictions about ourselves, others, God, and life in the same space. She says; to remember there is light in the darkness, beautiful in the ugly, peace in the chaos, and hope in despair.
Mary was a walking paradox, a walking contradiction held together in great love as a human mother carried both a divine and human baby within her.
Mary’s story and song holds the human and divine together to bring forth God’s kingdom
In this song of praise we find Mary sharing words of paradox in verses 52-53...
"He has brought the powerful from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly
he has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty."
As Christians who acknowledge reality and practice honesty, we embrace paradox like Mary as a spiritual discipline. Through the gift of the spirit we hold our human perspective with God's perspective.
Let us consider your story on this third Sunday of Advent and how you are holding the human and divine together, the good and the broken together as you bring forth God’s kingdom here on Earth.
Refer to the sentence that is printed in the bulletin or printed on the screen which says,
Right now, my story is __________________ and ____________________.
Reflect on this sentence and fill in the blanks to this sentence using the words you read on the screen or I speak out loud, or other contradicting words you think of;
For example, the two words you fill in the blanks could be;
Right now, my story is ___Abundant________ and __Lonely_________.
Listen now to the following 10 sets of words and choose two words to fill in the blanks that reveals what your story looks or fells like now.
- Abundant - Apprehensive
- Beauty - Bound
- Curious - Challenging
- Delightful - Dark
- Easy - Exhausting
- Free - Frustrating
- Good - Grumpy
- Humble - Hard
- Light – Lonely
- Loud - Mess
As we embrace paradox, we hold together all that is good and broken in our story as we look toward and lean upon God’s story. Allow the Holy Spirit to breath through you this day leading you to uncover how to magnify Christ in this weary world.
Help us hold on to your Spirit as you us to transform despair into hope
Chaos into peace
And division into love.
Grant us the courage to walk our own story as we remember yours.
December 20, 2020 - Borrowing Hope, Matthew 1:18-25
I am not a good borrower. There always seems to be an unfortunate set of events that occurs when I borrow items that belong to family, friends, or neighbors. I lean toward going without rather than borrowing an item, because when I borrow an item, the item breaks before I return it. When I borrow a book, and the coffee spills onto the cover. Whenever I borrow a sweater, I eat spaghetti and a stain ruins the top.
Rev. Kathy Escabor shares in her book A Weary World that we need to borrow hope from God and others to see us through weary seasons of life.
I have used the word borrow with tangible items such as borrowing a pencil but not with concepts such as borrowing hope.
When we borrow things, there are at least three components. Asking for the item, completing the task, and returning the item.
Perhaps, what we really dislike about borrowing is asking for the item, because in the asking we are admitting that we lack something when we rather be seen in the light of having everything together. When we turn to God and others for help, we begin to realize that we were designed to depend on one another. Each time we ask and seek, we grow a little wiser and experience love a little deeper.
Perhaps, what the difficulty about borrowing is the required follow. We may have enough energy in preparing, asking, and completing the task, but the putting things back in their place, the returning may be too much.
The best way to follow up and return a borrowed item is with gratitude.
We let a friend know the devotional they sent us started our day off better than we had hoped, for this we are grateful
We tell a colleague that their words spoken long ago directed us down a clearer path than we had hoped, for this we are grateful.
We write a thank you card for a family heirloom which passed down hope through the generations, for this we are grateful.
Perhaps it is not the asking or the follow up that troubles us in borrowing, it is that we do not know what to borrow, we do not know what answer would lead toward a more hopeful tomorrow.
In Matthew, we recognize how hope appears even before a formal request. Joseph borrows hope from an Angel that appears in a dream leading him to take Mary as his wife and to name his son Jesus.
In seasons of doubt, weariness or fear, hope may appear from an angel giving directions in a dream, a friend leaving encouragement on your doorstep, or a memory while listening to a song that motivates you toward persevering in a hardship.
After the angel spoke to Joseph, Matthew includes words from the prophecies of Isaiah that a child would be born to a virgin and be named Emmanuel - meaning God with Us.
We believe in a God who is with us. A God, who stands besides us in the hard times and rejoices with us in the good times. We know a God does not abandon us, even when we abandon him. Because of this truth, God knows what we lack. God knows what we need to borrow even before we ask.
Let us borrow hope this week by striving to remain present with a God whose love will never let us go.
We need to borrow some hope from you and from others. Guide is in this weary world to be active witnesses of your love that appears in dreams, in conversations, and especially in our relationship through Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray and in whose peace we rest, amen.
January 10, 2021 - Finding God & Community in the Ordinary; Water
Our winter worship series is entitled Finding God and community in the ordinary. In the spiritual journey, to notice God in the everyday is a discipline, a practice, and a habit. We look at star lit sky and we are reminded of how majestic is the creator of the heavens and the earth. We open the mail box to find a sympathy card after the death of a loved one and we are reminded of our God who sustains us through the care for one another in community.
Water is our first ordinary item as we will shortly see that water can remind us of the baptism of our Lord and the sacrament that connects us to the family of God.
Let us listen to God's word found in Mark 1:9-11
Every photo album tells a story, some from years at college and others of the first year of life. Many photo albums have pictures of distant cousins who have never met in person, yet they have heard their mothers tell stories of distant relatives around the dinner table for years. One day, the opportunity may present itself to put a name to a face of relatives only known by name, picture, and story.
Well, that day had come for the two cousins in Mark’s gospel account. John and Jesus must have heard each other's names from their mothers, Elizabeth and Mary. I am sure John had heard the story over and over again from Elizabeth of him jumping for joy when Mary who was pregnant with Jesus walked into their home. This story has been told so often that John must have claimed it as his first encounter with Jesus.
Up until this point, scripture only tells of these two meetings of John and Jesus. The stories of John focus more on him preparing the way for the Lord in the wilderness rather than weekend trips to the lake to visit Jesus and his friends, the disciples.
Jesus travels to meet his cousin for the first time. Jesus exchanges one body of water for another, as he departs from his home near the sea of Galilee to find John at the water's edge of the Jordan river.
This is surely a photographic moment. If their mothers were there and iPhones were created two thousand years sooner, I feel sure Mary and Elizabeth would want a picture. Mary would pull out her mobile device wrapped securely in her shawl while Elizabeth would position John and Jesus shoulder to shoulder with the Jordan river in the background. Then with the click of a button, snap the moment is captured for all eternity.
Jesus baptism not only was a celebration with extended family but his baptism extended the family of God to future generations.
Mark's gospel brings more photographic moments as John holds Jesus in his arms and dips him slowly into the water. After a few moments, John lifts Jesus up out of the water as the heavens tear open. The crowd near the river now hears a transition from John's voice to the voice of God. As graceful as a dove, these words are spoken from the heavens, "This is my Son, my beloved, for whom I am well pleased."
Jesus set forth a practice to follow with the waters of baptism that confirms his father's love and transitions him to ministry. The waters of our baptism washes us clean from sin, connects us to the family of God, and attunes us to listen to the voice of God confirming that we are God's beloved, claimed by Christ, and anointed by the spirit for service in the world.
The waters of baptism from a font or a river, speak the same intimate truth, You are God's beloved. Your baptism picture may appear in the album labeled, "baby's first year," or in later albums, or in an album waiting to be delivered to your home. These waters do connect us to God and the community of faith in holy and mysterious ways. And for those who have been held in the waters of baptism know this is a gift to be received, not a work to be earned.
Although many denominations may require people to experience waters of baptism before coming to the table or entering through the pearly gates, may we put more emphasis hearing the voice that "You are God's beloved than being held bound to a rule.
Here are a few helpful tips in letting the waters of baptism remind you of being God's beloved
Speak the words to yourself and out loud, "You are God's beloved."
Next, seek and find daily reminders that we are God's beloved, for although we know this truth, often it gets forgotten. Surround ourselves with those who help us to remember. Perhaps this is what we miss most about church The regular rhythm of kind words from a Sunday school teacher, a hug in the narthex, or play time in the nursery. These people and these places remind us week after week of the love we have forgotten.
Perhaps this is what America is missing as well. The daily, weekly rhythm of being surrounded by people who remind you that yes you are God’s beloved.
Lastly, choose to celebrate the truth of being God's beloved.
Perhaps your albums are different than mine, there are not many pictures of crying babies, or toddler temper tantrums in the grocery store, or arguments near the Christmas tree. The moments we desire to capture are ones of joy, celebration, and meaning. These are the photos we post online and frame for our walls. Similar to these pictures, every day we can choose to celebrate being God's beloved. When we notice and celebrate this truth within ourselves, and we can begin to notice this truth in others.
We are keenly aware how the pandemic continues on at the beginning of a new year, and although the vaccines are being administered there still remains a long road ahead before social distance is exchanged for hugs and masks no longer are apart of our clothing attire. May this worship series transpire to spiritual disciplines of paying attention to the ordinary this winter as we allow every day items remind us of God's presence and in mysterious, yet holy way connect us to the body of Christ.
May the waters of baptism refresh your soul, bring others to the waters edge, and fill all of your photo albums with the same caption... "You are God's beloved."
Ever Present God,
Your Spirit invites us to notice how you are making things new. Guide us to find you in the ordinary, from a simple glass of water to a sink full of dirty dishes. In doing so may we join and lead others to the good work you are already doing in the kingdom.
In Christ's name we pray,
January 17, 2021 - Finding God and Community in the Ordinary; A Messy House
We walk into the sanctuary and draw near to the font and table that represent the holy sacraments - these sacraments of baptism and communion where we find God and connect to community. During various seasons of the year, Bibles, candles, crosses, and advent wreaths fill the space with beauty. Perhaps we have done a disservice to this space only adorning it with beautiful things and forgetting how God's love remains constant no matter how beautiful or how messy our spaces or lives may be.
Many thanks to Rebecca Rider and Linda Lemons for allowing this space to represent the ordinary item of a messy house. Scattered among the mess is the Spirit reminding us that we are God’s beloved.
Luke shares two versions of the same story, be sure to read Luke 5:12-16 where Jesus chooses to touch one leper and make him whole. I have chosen the second version of Luke's story in Chapter 17, which seems more applicable to us during a pandemic, where people keep their distance from Jesus and multiple people need healing.
Let us hear God’s word from Luke 17:11-19.
“On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?”
I have always read this story highlighting the one person who followed up the gift of healing with praise and one human size thank you note where the other nine had forgotten this gratitude and praiseworthy practice in their life.
Let us focus on the ten lepers at the beginning of the story rather than solely on the one grateful Samaritan who ends the story.
The story shares how the ten lepers do not touch the hem of Jesus’s garment for healing nor do they climb a sycamore tree for Jesus to notice them. They are united by the common element of disease hoping strength in numbers may appeal to the master, teacher ,and miracle worker to not only notice them, but to make them well. From a distance they cry out for help.
The ten men are not known by name but by the disease that disfigured their skin. When you are known by cancer, homelessness, or addictions, names often become secondary.
Ten brave souls had the courage to come to Jesus not on their best day but on their worst. We see what they look like when they wake up first thing in the morning with messy hair. We view them after years of pain and loneliness from a disease.
Our worst days are often kept hidden behind the doors of our home, or silent in the secret corners of our hearts. Only a trusted few, if we are so bold, brave, and courageous, gain access to our mess.
Our faith grows, perhaps even more from being messy as it does from being in order.
Messes can remind us of loved ones who share the same space.
Messes can remind us that God is not quiet done with us yet.
Messes can help us discover new ways to become clean.
Life is not always picture perfect, so before we clean up our living rooms prior to company, let us be courageous to open the door of a messy house, church, or heart. In doing so, God can take our mess and make it beautiful according to his plan, which is better than our plans that often looks like cramming toys in a storage closet or fussing over which plates to use for the dinner meal.
Inviting Jesus to walk into our messes can not only heal but change our lives.
The nameless man has changed in many ways in this story.
Once distant from Jesus, after the healing, he is found at Jesus' feet.
Once labeled by his disease, after the healing, labeled by the place he called home.
Changes are not always good, they can be hard as well.
Once surrounded by community, after the healing, he faced life alone, for now.
Whatever current mess we are facing, may we be so bold to reveal that mess with nine trusted individuals, seek Jesus for the healing and accept the changes, both good and hard, with praise and thanksgiving on bended knee. Amen.
We draw close to you as broken, weary and messy people. May your spirit mend what is broken, support what is weary, and bring beauty out of the mess. In Christ's name we pray, Amen
January 24, 2021 - Finding God and Community in the Ordinary; Phone, Matthew 26:36-46
I wonder what words have been prayed prior to dialing a number. Let's listen in....
Lord, I suspect this is going to be a hard conversation, give me the words to say, the ears to listen, and allow us to move forward together in your name. Amen.
Lord, I cannot wait to talk to this person on their birthday and let them know how special they are to me. Thank you for creating him, he makes my life so much better. Amen.
Lord, you want me to call who? But their words have been so hurtful and their actions unkind. Why should I call them, shouldn't they call me? Ok, I will call them, but you need to be on the other line listening in, I need you! Amen.
Lord, place upon my heart today, who is lonely, who needs an encouraging word, who needs a lift in their spirits. This pandemic has been extremely difficult, may this ordinary phone draw two simple voices together so that we can speak of your wondrous love. Amen.
The phone calls we make and the phone calls we receive can be filled with love and pain, joy and sorrow, hope and despair. Over the years we may come to expect the calls that will make us laugh or make us cringe. Yet through it all, we can find God in this communication tool by choosing to use it as a gift to connect rather than distract us from community.
Although Jesus did not have a phone, Jesus often sought connection to his Father alone through prayer on a hillside far away from crowds or sought connection to community with his disciples in a boat on the sea of Galilee. Jesus drew close to God and others in times of love and pain, joy and sorrow, hope and despair.
On two occasions during Jesus' ministry, he invites Peter, James, and John to share an intimate moment with him of prayer and connection with God. The first time occurs a few chapters earlier in Matthew, chapter 17, as Jesus chooses these three disciples, some say his closest friends, and takes them to the top of Mt. Tabor for his transfiguration. These three disciples see his face shining like the brightest sun and his clothes becoming white as light.
They witness the presence of both Moses and Elijah. Peter helps us to grasp how magnificent this moment was on the mountain, for he did not want to leave. He wanted to stay and preserve the experience by building tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Yet Jesus knew that high moments are not where we stay in our faith journey, but these moments do help to see us through.
The second time, Jesus spent an intimate moment of prayer and connection with Peter, James, and John was when he took them deeper into the garden of Gethsemane. They witnessed Jesus' face full of pain and his sweat like that of blood. They did not witness any special guests that even because exhaustion must have lead them to grow weary and failed to stay awake. I am sure these three wanted to skip over this holy moment, to sleep through it, forget it, and definitely not preserve it with a tent.
Jesus took his disciples to see God in his glory and to remain with him in misery. Connection can leads us to both the festive mountain top moments and into the sorrowful garden with our Lord.
Mt. Tabor and Gethsemane phone calls appear throughout out our lifetime. Like Peter, the celebration phone calls are ones we desire to last for long hours into the night. Much like Peter, James and John, we prefer to sleep through the painful phone calls, or at least ignore them so they go to voicemail. Then there are some phone calls, where we find a joyous mountain in the middle of a sorrowful garden. These are the voicemails or the saved greetings that hold the voices of our loved ones who are no longer with us. Although it is painful to let them go, the sound of their voices reminds us of the energy they once had and the love that continues on past their death.
Perhaps we need to make a few more phone calls today, ones filled with celebration and ones filled with pain, and the God who is constant, consistent and connected will abide with us as we dial the number. We believe in a God who never leaves us nor abandon us, but draws us closer to him and to one another in community, often with a simple ordinary item such as a phone.
In closing, perhaps our conversation with God would sound something like this over the phone, let us pray...
It is so good to hear your voice.
You have been on my mind and heart lately.
I want, no I need to tell you, I love you.
I love how you forgive my mistakes even when these same mistakes wake me up at night
I love how you create beauty everyday for me to enjoy in a sunrise, a snowflake, and a half crescent moon.
I love that you listen to the concerns of the present and that the Holy Spirit guides me toward a better tomorrow.
I am starting to realize how short life is, may I not miss the chance to offer the love you show me to others.
Thanks for answering my prayer today and aligning my heart with yours.
Talk to you soon, Jesus. Amen
February 7, 2021 - Finding God and Community in the Ordinary, Bench
The writer of the psalms invites us to see and listen to how God is speaking in creation. These verses in psalm 36 are like a song of praise to the goodness of God our creator, this divine goodness that is high as the heavens, deep as the sea, and firm as the mountains. God does not limit his blessings, but extends them to not only men, women, and children but to animals as well. I love in the message version of this text it says that in God's largeness nothing gets lost; Not a man, not a mouse, slips through the cracks. How reassuring that God always knows where to find us and to bless us.
God’s goodness surrounds us in beauty and steadfast love. We view this love as clouds stretch across the sky at sunrise with the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains in the background. We know this love has existed from the beginning of time, uniting every living creature made on the sixth day of creation. A bond of love between humans and animals is evident as we adore red cardinals at the bird feeder or a furry companion by the fireplace. We are active witnesses of God’s love in creation from the rivers along the countryside to the fountains in a city’s town square.
These words from the psalmist desire us to love our Lord as active as God’s love seeks after us, by eagerly running toward this love, finding rest under the shadow of love’s wings, and to come with hunger pains to the table of love.
When we view God’s goodness in creation, we may fall into his arms with exhaustion, or find a bench to rest upon. As our physical body is at rest, we can put our energy into actively engaging our mind, heart, and soul in all that God has to teach us. Benches can teach us new stories of God and of one another if we can pause long enough to listen.
We may be drawn to a bench to rest, catch our breath, tie our shoes, watch kids on the playground, and often the longer we stay, the more we get to hear.
As we sit on a bench, we slow down long enough to notice a portion of creation reminding us of the constant presence of our creator.
As we sit on a bench, we may recall a memory that has something more to teach us, that can bring us joy, or restore a relationship.
As we sit on a bench, we find a calm resolve toward making the next simple step now with clarity and confidence.
When we view a bench in light of time spent with God and others, oh the stories that can be told, and the memories that can hold us together through another day.
Perhaps when we view a bench, we see a person. We see a person we miss who is no longer with us, or a person we have not seen since March of 2020.
(Pic#1) When we view a bench, we may think of the movie, Forest Gump. This humble bench has become quite famous for the hours of Forest telling stories to anyone who would sit with him and listen. The purpose of the bench was to assist people traveling to a physical location, yet Forest helped people to travel back in time through the gift of storytelling.
(Pic#2) When observing the Central Park’ benches some may think of Lou Young who is know as the bench Guy. For 33 years he has worked for the parks department caring for the 9,435 benches by painting them, fixing them up, and placing plaques on them. Since 1986, Lou has placed plaques on almost half of the benches in Central Park through the adopt a plaque program. Lou, the bench guy has a plaque as well, donors who have adopted many benches over the years noticed Lou's continued care and donated a plaque in his honor.
(Pic#3- sample plaque) The cost of each plaque is only $10,000. The plaques engrave memories, to remember a relative, friend who has died, or to honor an occasion such as Sept 11. There are joyful plaques for graduations, birthdays, birth wishes and wedding gifts. A Charlottesville couple bought a plaque that recalls a memory from the phone call announcing the news of their engagement. The gentlemen's mother dropped the phone and after calming herself down she told her son that he was making a big mistake. The plaque reads, “We Would Make the Same Mistake All Over Again! Vic & Nancy Schiller. Still Best Friends.” In Central park you may be sitting in a place where a memory took place, or where a treasured memory is held.
(pic #3) Benches seem to all have a story to tell, some joyous and other challenging. The bench that remains in my memory are the ones that line Tryon Street in Uptown Charlotte. These benches have an additional bar in the center. The center bar was placed not for an arm to rest upon but to prevent the use of a bench as a bed.
(pic #4) Benches with center bars lead me to pray for all the people who view a bench they see a bed.
(pic #5) I prefer the benches with no center bars which allows room for one person to stretch out and spend time contemplating on the constant love from our Creator. A bench that allows room for two friends, a couple, or a family of four to sit side by side, resting together in the love of God, catching up on stories, and having time to make new memories together.
Let us engage in the spiritual practice of finding God and connecting with community by sitting on a bench today even if it is covered by snow, we will find the steadfast love of our Lord waiting for us there.
February 21, 2021 - Fear in the Tunnel
Fear in the Tunnel, John 14:25-27
During the season of Lent, we will explore our faith through a Tunnel Worship Series that was inspired by the opening of the Blue Ridge Tunnel in November 2020.
We have either said or read the phrase, "I see the light at the end of the tunnel."
As believers, this phrase may remind us of Jesus' words in John chapter 8 verse 12 when he said; '‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’”
I invite you to walk or ride your bike through the tunnel during Lent to combine a physical and spiritual journey together. Be sure to take a picture at the tunnel like the Henry's and Russel's have done. Post it on Facebook and Instagram or email the picture to Savannah who will include these photos in the fridge news.
As we approach Easter, each Sunday we will explore our faith alongside what we may experience through the tunnel.
Today's message is focusing on the emotion of fear in the tunnel. Let us listen to portion of Jesus's words of departure to his disciples found in the Gospel of John 14:25-27
Jesus tells his disciples words he has spoken in the past, yet these words may have been forgotten. Jesus confirms the truth to his disciples that when he ascends to the Father, the counselor, the advocate, the Holy Spirit will empower them to further the kingdom of God.
Jesus gives this advance knowledge to his disciples so that at his departure they would not be unsettled. He did not want their faith to yield to fear.
Jesus reminds the disciples that his legacy is not that of trouble or fear, but that of peace. Jesus gives peace as a gift, a gift that is available to us as well.
There are a variety of circumstances in life that can cause us to feel insecure, anxious, and fearful. When we allow faith to yield to fear, perhaps we are not being unfaithful, we may be like the disciples, forgetful.
When fear makes us forgetful we must turn to God in prayer, scripture, and creation where we are reminded of a perfect love and peace that casts out fear with a light that shines in the darkness.
Words from Jesus and many additional words from scripture, speak of this vital truth for our faith not to yield to fear.
We hear in 1 John 4:18- There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.
Isaiah 41:10 -
Do not fear, for I am with you
do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
1 Peter 5:7
Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.
The Word, both written and the Word made flesh in Jesus gives us boldness in our faith when fear rises up within us or becomes a dominant character in our story. We are to focus on the light of Christ and the love of God by trusting in the sustaining presence of the Spirit.
Whenever we become overwhelmed by fear and buried in questions of doubt, due to the death of a loved one, loss of a job, health crisis, or a new experience; In times like these, God draws near to us and often brings others near as well to provide the answers we need to hear.
Pastor James Mayfield recalls a story during college where he and other students were discussing life after death.
The students asked questions such as;
What happens to non-Christians when they die who seem to love God and neighbor?
Is there a heaven and a hell?
What about those people who do not know the name of Jesus? What happens to them?
One of the students turned to a pastor who was quietly listening to their discussion and asked, “What do you think, Dr. Hill?”
The pastor replied with a question to the students, “Do you believe God is the wisest of the wise and that God really is a God of love?
The students all replied, “Well, yes.”
Dr. Hill smiled and replied, “Then why worry? Whatever is wisest and most loving is what will happen in death. We may not be able to say exactly what that is, but because God is wise and loving, we do not have to worry about it.”
If we believe that God is the wisest of the wise and that God is really a God of love, then we too are to trust God with our fears, insecurities, and anxieties. When we trust, we become active witnesses of living out the gospel and making disciples of all nations. When we trust, we believe in a God who is bigger than our fears, and who is greater than our faith.
God is merciful and forgives our forgetful and fearful ways. When we fail, God is faithful.
During this season of Lent, may our fear melt away, may the barricades of anxiety and insecurity be removed, so that we may remember to accept the gift of peace as we focus on the light of Jesus who abides with us through all the dark tunnels in life.
Forgive our forgetful and unfaithful ways.
We believe that Jesus is our light.
A light that guides us with peace, hope, and love.
Give us new eyes this day to see with trust, and live in faith
as we cast all our fears upon Christ in whose name we pray. Amen.
February 28, 2021 - Uncertainty in the Tunnel
Uncertainty in the Tunnel, Mark 9:14-29
This story may challenge our minds as we wrestle with our understanding of an evil spirit that has taken hold of a young boy’s body.
One way to understand stories such as these, is to reimagine the story into our context. A place where I have witnessed many people wrestle with belief of a certain God and the unbelief of life’s uncertainty is within the walls of a hospital. Let us imagine the story taking place at Augusta or UVA Medical Centers..
Jesus enters the foyer of the hospital and approaches the welcome desk. Jesus is greeted by Mark the gospel writer as he shares the patient’s name he is visiting. Jesus receives the boy's room number and a visitor's pass. Mark informs Jesus that the boy's father, neighbors, and disciples are in the room. Obviously, we are imagining this story pre-COVID.
Jesus enters the hospital room with people filling every space. The father rushes over to Jesus and shakes his hand profusely with gratitude.
The father’s voice is shaking with emotion as he desired for his son’s suffering to end. The father begins telling Jesus the boy’s symptoms: unable to speak, foaming mouth, grinding teeth, stiff muscles, and convulsions like a seizure.
He explains that the disciples and the doctors have done everything they know to do, but the boy remains in the same state.
Jesus approaches the boy and stands at the bed side. The boy cannot focus on anything other than what has consumed his body.
Jesus turns to the father and asks, “How long has the boy suffered in this way?”
The father says with great sadness, “since childhood.” Then the father goes on to share stories of his son being burned by fire and nearly drowning in the water. The father feels utterly helpless in these episodes. All he desires is for his child to be made well and asks Jesus to help him.
Jesus responds to the man’s cries for help reminding him that all things are possible for those who believe.
The gospel writer Mark has been standing at the door to the boy’s hospital room the whole time. He pulls out his notebook to write down the next statement he heard in the room.
The father falls at Jesus feet and cries out; “I believe, help my unbelief!”
The room is silent. Everyone can relate to this man’s statement. They are all suffering in some way and they lean in to listen and watch for Jesus’ response. For if Jesus can help this boy’s suffering, perhaps Jesus can help their suffering too.
Jesus turns his eyes back to the boy.
He lays his hand on the boy’s shoulder.
The convulsions stop.
The foaming of the mouth ceases.
The muscles relax.
The grinding of teeth is no longer heard.
The boy lies in stillness for the first time in years.
Everyone is speechless as they believe that the child is dead. It must have been better for the child to die than to suffer in life.
The only sound in the room is the ticking of the clock. Jesus moves his hand from the boy’s shoulder to grasping the boy’s hand. The boy opens his eyes, sits up and stands before his father. He speaks for the first time in years saying “I love you, dad. His father embraces him with love and tears of rejoicing.
The room fills with celebration. Jesus and the disciples slip out of the boy’s room and move into a waiting room down the hall.
The disciples turn to Jesus and ask, “Why were we and the doctors limited in healing the boy?”
Jesus responded that in this circumstance the only way for healing to occur was through the healing power of prayer.
Jesus and the disciples leave the waiting room to encounter the next story that awaits them, blessing the children and talking with the rich young man.
Jesus’s words remain in the waiting rooms of our hospitals. Countless prayers have been prayed when fathers, mothers, family and friends wrestle between belief and unbelief during uncertain times of life.
These waiting rooms hold life’s uncertainty alongside our belief in a very certain God. These are co-companions in our journey of life. The more we know, the more we become aware of what we do not know. The more we believe, the more we recognize our unbelief in challenging times.
We believe that God meets us at the bedside and abides with us in our sufferings. When we rest in God, we accept a healing not according to our timing, expectations, or understanding.
In the waiting rooms of life, we believe that God has a much better plan, for he has a wider perspective as he holds this world in his hands.
Thomas Merton wrote one of the most famous prayers that speak of uncertain times in the waiting rooms and tunnels of life. Merton was a Roman Catholic monk who wrote over seventy books on the spiritual life. In his book, Thoughts in Solitude, first published in 1956, this German monk speaks honestly of his confusion alongside the desire to follow God’s will.
Merton believes that as he prays, he is in fact doing God’s will. In Merton’s words we hear the father’s words from our story- I believe, help my unbelief.
Let us close with an opened eyed prayer as we reflect on Merton’s prayer on the screen that leads us to place our trust and belief in God through the uncertain times of our life.
CLOSING PRAYER Prayer by Thomas Merton
O Lord God, I have no idea where I am going,
I do not see the road ahead of me,
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
And that fact that I think I am following Your will
Does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe
That the desire to please You
Does in fact please You.
And I hope I have that desire
In all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything
Apart from that desire to please You.
And I know that if I do this
You will lead me by the right road,
Though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust You always
Though I may seem to be lost
And in the shadow of death.
I will not fear,
For You are ever with me,
And You will never leave me
To make my journey alone.
March 7, 2021 - Determination in the Tunnel
Determination in the Tunnel, Matthew 18:21-22
If Peter had a number that marked his ministry, I assume it would be the number three.
For example; On Mount Tabor, Peter desired to build 3 tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.
On the night of Jesus's arrest, outside of Caiaphas’s house, Peter denied Jesus 3 times.
During one of Jesus' resurrection appearances, Jesus asks Peter if he loves him 3 times.
Peter’s Pentecost sermon on the theme of repentance leads 3,000 people toward baptism.
These are a few examples how the holy number of three is remaining constant in Peter’s story.
In the scripture verses from Matthew, we may assume Peter would ask Jesus if 3 times would be enough times to forgive a brother or sister, a believer, a follower of Christ.
In the background of this question, is the Jewish law of requiring three pardons, three acts of forgiveness.
Peter’s question could have included this law, however after following Jesus he must have realized that Jesus required a higher standard.
So Peter doubled the requirement and added a one to it for good measure. Surely this would be the right answer, seven times to offer forgiveness. That is more than twice the current requirement and is a number that holds symbolic meaning as well.
Peter does not receive a pat on the back for his response. Jesus extends Peter’s understanding of forgiveness.
Jesus wants Peter to stop counting, he wants him to focus on the truth of forgiveness instead, the truth of restoration and completion.
Matthew is writing to the first century Jewish audience who knew the Jewish stories and Hebrew symbols. This community was familiar with the number seven and it’s symbolic meaning.
I believe Westminster would know this truth as well, but just in case you have forgotten, let us remember the first story of where seven shows up in scripture, the story of creation in Genesis.
Creation was finished in seven days, six days to work and one day to rest. The seventh day completed creation in its fullness. This pattern continues through the narratives and rituals of the Jewish people.
The ten commandments state that every seventh day is a day of rest, to observe the sabbath and restore health.
In the Levitical law it states that every seventh year the Jewish people are called to give rest to the land and restore it with nourishment.
And then in the seventh cycle of seven years is the year of Jubilee where the Jewish law called to forgive debts, release slaves, and restore land to the original land owners.
The number seven conveys to the Israelites a sense of completion and a call to restoration.
The number seven shows up countless times in the stories of scripture.
Jesus takes this number seven and multiplies it with the same symbolic number. Maximum completion to the holiest degree!
Jesus expanded Peter’s Jewish and human understanding of the act of forgiveness restoring a relationship between two people or two families to the act of forgiveness having a cosmic effect to restore the world.
Whenever we participate in forgiveness, we are participating in restoring creation back to the original design.
Forgiveness is bigger than our hurt and pain, it is about kingdom building. When we limit forgiveness, we limit revealing God’s glory.
When forgiveness is seen in this light, then we can reframe forgiveness in God’s love rather than human pain.
Within a relationship we can be determined to continue the cycle of bitterness, revenge, and grudge holding.
Or in a relationship we can be determined to continue a cycle of forgiveness, freedom, and restoration.
The choice is ours and when we choose the cycle of forgiveness, we not only heal a relationship between two people, but we are also bringing healing to the world.
Joy and freedom can be experienced in forgiveness.
We do not forgive on our own.
Our ability to forgive is thanks to the power of Christ.
As we continue to match our physical steps through the Blue Ridge Tunnel with our spiritual steps, what are we determined to experience in the tunnels of our lives?
Are we determined to experience joy or to hate?
Are we determined to show kindness or judgement?
Are we determined to get revenge or offer forgiveness?
I wonder if we could reframe our determination in the tunnels of as Jesus helped Peter to reframe forgiveness.
During Lent, as we walk toward Jerusalem, we walk toward the cross, which is the greatest model and symbol for forgiveness humanity has ever received. In the cross, we find true healing and freedom. Place the cross at the end of the tunnel and let the light of Christ shine through. Watch how the rays of light create a humble pattern for living and loving.
How many times should we forgive? The answer is in the Lord’s prayer… until God’s kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven.
We are grateful for your forgiveness of our sin that brings healing and wholeness. Empower us as your church to follow the example you set before us in Jesus that we might both forgive others and seek forgiveness. May our acts of mercy bring healing to a broken world through Christ our Lord, Amen.
March 14, 2021 - Darkness in the Tunnel
Darkness in the Tunnel, John 11:1-44
A few characters redeem themselves in this passage. We know Thomas as Doubting Thomas, yet here in John 11: 16, we hear Thomas say these words to his fellow disciples; “Let us also go, that we may die with him.
Martha redeems herself in this story as well. The Martha we knew was busy cleaning, cooking, and complaining in preparation of Jesus visit. And her sister chooses the right action of listening at Jesus' feet.
We learn in this story; Martha is the one who is attentive to Jesus while Mary is distracted back at the house. Martha is the one who is asking him questions and listening to his truth about resurrection.
As Jesus both the humanity and divinity of Jesus as he weeps. The tears we cry are filled with emotions. In Jesus’ humanity he weeps for a friend. In Jesus’ divinity he weeps for a world that follows the way of judgment rather than the way of love.
John 11-12 is the bridge - the tunnel - Jesus walks through leaving his public ministry behind and walking toward his death, resurrection, and ascension.
We should keep reading after John 11 because the raising of Lazarus leads to the decision to kill Jesus found in John 11:45-54, followed by the anointing of Jesus in Bethany in response of that decision.
Perhaps we are witnessing in this story the beginning stages of grief where Jesus knows this one decision of raising Lazarus from death will lead him to his own death. Restoring his friend to life in turns means he must let go of his ministry and turn toward death himself.
We know those moments in life, but for us clarity comes in hindsight.
We typically grow in wisdom after the life event, yet for Jesus, wisdom and truth abides within him leading him forward in and toward his Father’s love.
We can imagine Jesus at the west side of the tunnel prior to raising Lazarus knowing his own darkness of arrest, rejection, and death.
This is the one truth we all hold in common; death is part of life. Yet each person approaches this dark tunnel differently. Each friend and family member releases their loved one differently.
In the dark tunnels of death and grief, Jesus comes to us as he came to Martha and Mary. Jesus weeps besides us, receives our anger and questions, and listens to our stories.
We mirror Jesus' actions in times of darkness, grief, and death. We see his wisdom in his actions by going toward those in grief, crying with them, and listening to their stories. And when we do not know what to say, we say the only truth we know; I am with you.
Each Lent, we practice stepping into mortality on Ash Wednesday reminding us we are dust and to dust we shall return.
As Lent continues, we practice patience, waiting for Jesus to emerge from the east entrance of the tunnel, where there is light from a sunrise and falling waters upon the rocks.
As Jesus prepares for his own death, he teaches Martha about her own death and the death of her brother Lazarus. He speaks words that are said at nearly every funeral, memorial service, or graveside service that I have officiated or attended.
Jesus says in John 11:25-26
I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord.
Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Jesus asks Martha if she believes in this truth.
She does believe that Jesus is the Messiah, that he is the Resurrection and Life that follows in death with eternal life but Jesus is expanding Martha’s knowledge to believe that eternal life starts now, starts in her believing before death.
May we believe and live out this truth that Jesus is the Messiah, he is the resurrection and the life that leads us on the way of love through all the dark tunnels of life this day and forevermore.
Thank you for sending Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life. Teach us to trust in you when we are grieving and troubled- and when others are as well. Grant us the wisdom and secure knowledge of eternity with you.
April 4, 2021 - Light at the End of the Tunnel
April 4 - Light at the End of the Tunnel
Most of us have said the phrase, "I see the light at the end of the Tunnel."
Many of us have visited the Blue Ridge Tunnel since it opened in November of last year.
AND many of us may be tired of talking about this tunnel or this phrase of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
Most of us have said the phrase today, "Christ is risen.”
Many of us have attended one or multiple worship services this Easter Sunday.
And perhaps there are even people who are tired of talking about this resurrected Jesus.
We can attempt to describe places such as the Blue Ridge Tunnel or the person of the Trinity such as the resurrected Christ, but mere words fail to provide the full experience.
We can watch a video of the tunnel or view a picture of the risen Christ, but videos and pictures fail to provide the full experience.
For us to fully experience the Blue Ridge Tunnel, we must encounter the tunnel for themselves.
For us to fully experience the resurrection of Christ, we must encounter the risen Christ themselves.
In Matthew's gospel, in the midst of uncertainty since Jesus’ crucifixion, we find the women kept going and remained faithful in carrying spices to the tomb.
Along the way, the women were first to experience an empty tomb and an angel who exclaimed the truth that Christ was not dead, he was alive!
The angel invited the women to witness the empty grave and called them to simply go and tell this truth to the disciples.
The angel needed for the women to keep going in their faith even if their minds could not fully comprehend the divine concept of resurrection. The angel completed his mission, now the women were called to complete their mission of proclaiming the good news that Jesus was alive.
Along the way, the women were the first to meet Jesus’ face to face, they were first to touch him, and worship him.
Perhaps you are at a stand-still in your faith, take the angel's advice, start practicing the truth of the resurrection until you start experiencing the resurrected Christ yourself.
If you are struggling with prayer, keep praying.
Choose your favorite part of the day and allow gratitude to shape your prayers.
If you are struggling with joy, keep laughing.
Choose laughter over bitterness and watch how a smirk or a joke can turn your day around.
If you are struggling with reading scripture, keep reading.
Choose a different way to engage in scripture by drawing the story or listening to children read the story.
If you are struggling with a relationship, keep connecting.
Choose to learn a person’s story and discover what brings them joy or what has led them to their pain.
If you are struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel,
Choose simple steps to move forward in the darkness with the light of Christ living within you.
Lastly if you are struggling with your relationship with God,
Choose to actively engage with God every day.
May we be like the women in scripture who did not need an explanation to go to the tomb or to go tell the disciples, they just kept going and along the way; they met an angel, witnessed an empty tomb, and worshipped a risen Lord.
Remain faithful through all the tunnels of life.
Who knows, you may experience a holy earthquake, see an angel descend from heaven, or experience the risen Lord face to face.
Lead us forward in your truth.
Keep us going in our faith.
May be a faithful witness of your grace made known to us through your son, our risen Lord, in whose name we pray.
March 21, 2021 - Surrender in the Tunnel
Sunday, March 21 - Surrender in the Tunnel, Luke 9:1-6
If I had to pick a favorite gospel, Luke would be it!
I appreciate how Luke is a cheerleader for the outsider and the stranger since he was an outsider himself. Luke was the only Gentile writer among the New Testament authors. His life was a testimony of how Jesus includes those who are typically treated different by the religious organizations of the day. He stood with and by other outsiders such as the poor, the common laborers such as Shepherds, women, Samaritans.
Luke was writing to a gentile audience, a second generation of gentiles who were wondering when Jesus would come back as he said he would.
Luke was a doctor who addressed his two-books to a man named, Theophilus, which means “God Friend.” Luke told stories of the holy kingdom that revealed to the outsiders that they belong to Jesus too.
Let us hear Luke 9:1-6 as Jesus sends the twelve disciples to proclaim the kingdom of God and providing healing to those in need. Enjoy the artwork drawn by Kierston Anderson.
As you listen to this passage, imagine Jesus sending you on a mission across town to Ruth's WARM house, or across states to Fayetteville, West Virginia, or across oceans to Sierra Leone. Listen to what Jesus wants his disciples to take with them.
Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.
Did you hear what Jesus wanted the disciples to take; nothing. The disciples could not take bag, food, money, or extra clothes.
In essence they were called to depend not on their own resources but on the resources that God would provide for them from others in the towns they visited.
The kingdom advances with disciples surrendering their control so they can become dependent upon God and hosts.
This is a radical mind shift to the concept of mission. When sent, the disciples become the receiver rather than the giver.
In the ancient Middle East, strangers were an important part of the overall culture. There was a deep interdependence between host and stranger, because they knew that at any time in the future, they or their children might become strangers themselves and need to be taken in. There were strict laws about how the stranger was to be treated.
Later in Luke, in Chapter 10, Jesus gives similar instructions for the seventy disciples that are sent on a mission of proclaiming the kingdom of God when he says to take nothing with them: no money for necessities, no bag for emergency, and no staff for protection.
Jesus sent the seventy disciples into towns where he would be coming. The disciples needed to know the people in these towns where Jesus and the best way to get to know them was to depend upon them as their guests. They needed to be in their homes, share conversations around their tables, and listen to their stories.
After Luke writes these stories of sending the twelve disciples and the seventy disciples, he tells the story of the Good Samaritan. The man who was beaten and left half dead, ends up being like these disciples of the previous stories with no baggage, no money, and no staff for protection. He becomes a stranger in his own land, dependent on others to provide hospitality, healing, and the good news of the kingdom.
Let us watch and listen to a modern version of the Good Samaritan story…
There’s a guy walking down the street one day when he suddenly falls into a hole. The hole is deep, and no matter what he tries, he just can’t get himself out.
He starts calling up for help and, after a few minutes, a doctor walks by.
"Doc!" he yells up, "I’m down in this hole, can you help me?"
The doctor says, "Sure!"
He writes him a prescription, tosses it into the hole, and keeps on going.
Next, a priest walks by. "Father!" the guy yells up when he sees him, I’m down in this hole! Can you help me?"
The priest says, "Of course!" He writes down a prayer, tosses it into the hole, and keeps on going.
Finally, the guy's friend walks by. He yells up when he sees him, "Joe! Hey, Joe, I'm down here in this hole. Can you help me out?"
Joe says, "Of Course!" and proceeds to jump down into the hole too!
"What are you doing!?" the man exclaims, "Now we're both stuck in here!"
But Joe shakes his head. "I've been down in this hole before. I know the way out."
Whenever we fall into a dark hole, seem stuck in a dark tunnel, or feel called to serve in mission, we need to rely on God’s provisions rather than our resources.
Jesus ushers in this upside-down kingdom.
Where missionaries go with nothing other than a listening ear.
Disciples become like strangers to depend upon a host’s hospitality.
Sarmatians are the heroes of stories and friends jump in dark holes to bring healing.
The way we will experience the kingdom is by surrendering our lives to God. Do not worry, Jesus is with us and knows the way out. Let us close by hearing St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Prayer of Surrender who leads us in that direction.
“Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess You have given me: I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more. Amen."
March 28, 2021 - Celebration in the Tunnel
Celebration in the Tunnel, John 12:12-19
Recall the words and actions in times of celebration.
Perhaps we clap, dance, or wave our hands in celebration
Perhaps we shout the words congratulations
or sing a familiar tune.
Perhaps we cry out tears of joy or laugh until our stomach hurts.
We find a grand celebration going on in our passage today as Jesus rides a donkey from the Mount of Olives into the holy city of Jerusalem. As the palm branches wave and the hosannas are shouted, we hear in the background the words from Pharisees who want this celebration to end.
They hear the people proclaim Jesus is the blessed Messiah. They recall this blessed messiah has disagreed with their religious practices and embarrassed them in front of their followers.
The Pharisees see the crowds’ actions intensify their beliefs that Jesus’ way is God’s way. These religious leaders hear their power being stripped, they see the religious structure. Perhaps if the structure has no values, then as religious leaders they hold no value either or even worse, they are no longer needed.
The Pharisees realize that they cannot stop the celebration of a parade in fear of a riot but they will do everything within their power to stop this Jesus, this so called the blessed one who comes in the name of the Lord.
Throughout this year, the pandemic may have felt like those Pharisees, attempting to stop the celebrations.
But there is something that rises up within us when there is a celebration such as worship, a birthday, an egg hunt and an anniversary. Celebrations must continue!
O the stories we can tell of the creative ways we have found over this year to praise God, recognize an achievement, or carry on a beloved tradition.
A pandemic cannot stop celebration. Even in the middle of a cold, dark tunnel celebration cannot be stopped.
In January, Haven and I walked through the blue ridge tunnel starting at the east entrance. A woman in front of us shared that her son planned to propose to his girlfriend inside the tunnel. She encouraged us to allow the couple time alone for the proposal to take place. We paused by the waterfall and watched with excitement as the young couple entered the tunnel. A few minutes later, we entered the tunnel and saw a glowing light approximately 1,000 feet ahead of us. This glowing light was from a twelve-foot tree branch wrapped with battery-operated white lights.
Let’s watch a short clip on what it looks and sounds like when there is celebration in the middle of the tunnel with a light from a tree branch illuminating the dark space
Play #1 video- Celebration in the Tunnel
I’m so glad she said yes! Her response erupted shouts of joy. The light and joy filled this dark and cold space with contagious celebration. Haven and I had a spring in our step and joy filled spirit the rest of the afternoon.
This past week, I visited the tunnel for the seventh time. I pulled into the east entrance to find an empty parking lot. I only saw a few people while I was there. As I entered the tunnel from the east side I noticed that I would be the only one in the tunnel. The flashlight on my phone did not illuminate the giant space well. The space was dark and cold. I wished the couple would have left the lit tree for me that day.
I paused in the middle of the tunnel and wanted to turn back. I did not want fear to rob me from this experience the tunnel, so I began to recite Psalm 23. My voice echoed in the tunnel. I noticed that I kept missing the phrase - he leads me in paths for his names sake. I repeated the psalm again, and missed the same verse again. By the time I had said the psalm 4 or 5 times searching for the right placement of verse 3, the light from the west entrance of the tunnel. Psalm 23 had helped me move pass the fear toward the end of the tunnel.
Outside of the tunnel, I looked up Psalm 23 the words followed the still waters.
As I entered the tunnel from the west side, I was the only person again. In the middle, where it was dark and cold. I stopped. I closed my eyes and I said psalm 23. After I said verse three correctly, I could feel the joy within me and the experience was not scary but a form of celebration.
Play #2 Video- Psalm 23 in the Tunnel
Fear cannot stop celebration.
Often people have said that the light at the end of the tunnel reminds them of how loved ones described transitioning from this life to the next that there is this light they walk toward, that calls them forward. While they are in the darkness, they are not fearful because they are being drawn toward the light.
This reflection leads us to believe that not even death can stop the celebration. The light of Christ shines in the darkness, within us and offers us life everlasting.
On this Palm Sunday, may nothing stop our celebration of the blessed one.
Direct us forward this holy week
as we celebrate with palm branches,
watch tables overturn in the table
dine at the last supper
weep in the garden
humble ourselves at the cross
and wait in dark silence awaiting an empty tomb.
We pray in the name of Christ,