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God’s Greatness — A sermon by Joanne Rich

Filed under: Writings of the people — Pastor Jeff at 10:25 am on Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A sermon preached by Joanne Rich on October 15th, 2017 — Laity Sunday — based upon Mark 12:28-34.


Today’s reading highlights a man referred to as a “scribe.” During Jesus’ days, the group to which the scribe belonged was considered to be very influential  and important. There are several texts in the Bible that refer to the scribes. Some were men who were employed by the secular government  while others  were part of a theocracy of the Jews. Ezra, one of the most famous scribes in Jewish history was also a priest. It was common in the early days of Judaism for priests to serve as scribes. Also, under Roman rule there has been mentioned a servant employed as a scribe and also a city clerk. They wore many hats as we would say in these contemporary times. Their roles were covered by city clerks, lawyers, public notaries , school teachers, theologians, scholars and pastors. Their responsibilities were as influential as today’s media. I could picture Jesus standing behind a podium, cameras flashing, film rolling as these guys grilled him, trying to trap him. They pretty much thought Jesus was a jerk! Picture the tweets and the memes too! What a great youtube video. Imagine all the hits!

This particular scribe walked into the middle of Jesus’ ”press conference” and heard him being quizzed with questions by other scribes such as, “Do we have to pay taxes?”and “If a woman is married more than once, whose wife is she in the resurrection?” Often Jesus would respond to a question with another question or he would minimize the importance of a certain question by pointing out some other question that was more important. This scribe wanted to see how he would handle another question.

When this scribe put forth the question, “Which is the first commandment of all?” Jesus answered directly. The scribe was very impressed and restated Jesus’ answer. In front of all his peers, who despised Jesus, this scribe broke ranks and praised Jesus for his strong answer, which put an end to any more lame, “Gotcha!” questions. The interrogation was done, over, kaput. I guess nobody could tweet anything negative that day!

Jesus gave that scribe the ultimate “thumbs up” by saying he was one step closer to the kingdom of heaven. He pretty much was saying, “ Keep it up and you will get there.”

The first part of the answer was “The most important one is this: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Juxtapose this to what the Romans believed, which was that there were hundreds of gods. They were known as the “Pantheon”. There was a different god for different aspects of life. They worshiped a god of war, a goddess of fertility and on and on.

Jesus continued his answer with, “Love the Lord our God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” God created us with all of those essential parts and with a spirit to use them all to love him with.

He connected this commandment to a second one:  “ Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”

I would like to hone in on the second part.

In Jesus’ teachings our relationship  with all men, women and children, should be the same as the loving relationship we have with God.

“A new command I give you. Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (NIV John 13:34-35)

Love thy neighbor..neighbor!! Most often we think of our neighbor as the person who lives close by.  But Jesus meant our neighbor to include ALL mankind-even our enemies. That is a difficult pill to swallow, especially today! With social media, and with cable news 24 hours a day we are inundated with  stories of division. How often do we get to see true goodness — people truly loving their neighbors? It DOES happen, and probably more than we are shown. WE can make our own stories, we can bring about love in big and wonderful ways and well as in small ways. What can we do to bring more love into the world? We contribute to UMCOR as Anna is helping our kids do by making hygiene kits for those in need following the catastrophe brought about by the hurricanes.   Tracy spoke of this a few weeks ago in her beautiful sermon. We need to follow through and brainstorm (which is a POSITIVE storm).

The enemy part is the hardest for me. The politics have divided us. There are those who look at the world as us vs. THEM. It has hardened hearts and this makes me sad and MAD! I am working on the mad part. I have taken to going on a diet from the news. I only need to know a little bit and this way I can put my energies into positive thoughts instead of angry ones. Perhaps if more people did THAT we would have less tension and more love. Dialogues would be beneficial if there was civility. Looking at at each other as children of God would too. And YES loving them would too. Tough one, but isn’t that what God wants us to do? Would praying together on that be an answer?

I live in an apartment complex. It is a melting pot and I love it! There would be wonderful wind of change if people could hear the sound of people speaking different languages and hear it as sweet music, different modes of dress and consider it beautiful to behold.  With more love and acceptance, we’d come closer to meeting God’s commandments.

Yesterday as I walked to my apartment I saw a lovely Indian woman coming toward me, wearing colorful attire. I smiled at her. She smiled back, oh just a tad. I have made it my mission to smile as a person passes me. In the old days this was normal. People automatically would say hello and smile. But these days we live in a more guarded world. Too many of us are wrapped up in our own thing removed from others with our devices and earbuds and headphones. It is possible that the smile we make the effort to offer another person might be the only smile they receive that day, or for days to come for that matter.

I’m thinking maybe we can come up with a SMILE PROJECT. I am not sure how we would give out FREE SMILES, but this is something we could ponder over. We can talk about this!

Think about the parable of the Good Samaritan. The backstory is that the Jews of Jesus’ society considered the Samaritans to be ceremonially unclean, socially outcast, religious heretics.Yet the Samaritan took pity on the poor man who had been robbed and beaten . He gave of his time and money to help this Jewish man who was not only a stranger, but an enemy from a foreign country.

In conclusion let’s go back to the beginning, ALL of our beginnings. We were born into this world as innocents, as babes knowing only that we were loved. We knew nothing of hate, for God created us TO love. Jesus commands us, gives us this direction, to love God with every fiber within in us. God is the supreme being who knows all and knows what is best for us. We were made in his image and likeness, which means he is all loving and we should be too. In loving HIM we are to love all his children. In a sense, if we are all his children, then we all belong to the same family!  It should be a loving family. Compassion is key!

We have that HERE in this place I call my second home, for here is where I find love, acceptance, laughter, warmth. This is my center and YOU all are my family! Love is found here and I can only pray that other people in this world can find a home where God and people are so very well connected. The hope is that as we walk out of here we keep the contagion of that love and carry it to others and they in turn will carry it to others — a chain reaction of kindness!

Esther: For Such a Time as This?

Filed under: Writings of the people — Pastor Jeff at 4:49 pm on Sunday, September 24, 2017

A sermon Preached by Tracy Booth on September 24th, 2017 based upon the Book of Esther


Good morning. I am your sister-in-Christ Tracy Booth, and I am a sinner saved by grace. I am here today to talk about my favorite Old Testament story, Esther, and something that has been on my mind and in my heart for a while. I am not a trained professional, I don’t have a background in theology or Biblical studies, and I am not an official lay leader of the church. Everything that I am going to say today, except for the parts where I’m quoting or paraphrasing someone who knows a lot more about this stuff than I do, is my opinion for you to consider…or not. But you all are my family, and I know you will give me the benefit of the doubt, so I want to thank you for that in advance and tell you that I will do my best not to let you down.

The passage that Bob read for us this morning comes from the Book of Esther, one of only two books out of the 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New to be named for a woman (the other is Ruth, which is earlier in the Old Testament). Esther is only ten chapters long, and comes right before the significantly longer and much more often-referenced Book of Job, which is 42 chapters long. The story takes place in Persia, which is now Iran, where the king is a man named Xerxes – though this is a rough translation of other names from Greek and Hebrew. I mention this because there is historical and archaeological evidence that King Xerxes really did rule Persia from approximately 486 to 465 B.C., but beyond that, scholars can only speculate whether the events of Esther actually took place. Esther reads more like a dramatic story than a historical account, but the events are considered so significant to the Jewish people that there is an entire holiday dedicated to its reenactment. It’s called Purim, and it’s celebrated in the late Winter or early Spring. The entire book is read aloud, and listeners cheer for the good guy and hiss at the bad guy. (I’ve never been to a Purim celebration, but I’m hoping for an invite one day because I love this story.) I’m going to summarize it for you, primarily in my own words, but where I’m quoting scripture it will either be up on the screen, or I’ll use air quotes.

Chapter 1 begins with King Xerxes throwing a six-month-long party to show off his wealth to his nobles, officials, and military leaders. This party is attended only by men, as was the custom. At the same time in a different part of the palace, the King’s trophy wife, Queen Vashti, is throwing her own party for the noble women.

Well, at the end of this six-month bacchanal, King Xerxes decides that he hasn’t quite impressed his guests enough with his glorious palace or his unlimited wine “served in goblets of gold,” so he calls for his stunningly beautiful wife to be brought before all of these men, “wearing her royal crown.” Now, Vashti is, presumably, having a grand old time at her own party, so she refuses to come. King Xerxes is furious, and, after consulting with his misogynistic advisors, has her sent away and an edict proclaimed throughout the land “that every man should be ruler over his own household,” lest anyone think King Xerxes is weak because his woman won’t listen to him.

A few years pass, and King Xerxes’ advisors convince him that it is time to find a new wife. But they definitely don’t want another Vashti, who actually has a mind of her own and might not do as she’s told occasionally. So they suggest something that sounds like a really messed-up version of the Bachelor, the reality dating show where a bunch of beautiful women compete for the affections of one man. In this version, many dozens – possibly hundreds – of virgin, teenage girls are brought to a harem – the Bible actually uses the word “harem” – near the palace to prepare to meet the king. Chapter 2, verses 12-14 explains this in a much more tactful manner than I would if I were to paraphrase it:

12 Before a young woman’s turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics. 13 And this is how she would go to the king: Anything she wanted was given her to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace. 14 In the evening she would go there and in the morning return to another part of the harem to the care of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the concubines. She would not return to the king unless he was pleased with her and summoned her by name.

But this book isn’t called Xerxes the Jerk, it’s called Esther. And this is where Esther enters. She is a Jewish orphan, being raised by her cousin Mordecai. Esther is “lovely in form and features,” so it’s not surprising that she becomes part of the king’s harem. Mordecai doesn’t just let her go and forget about her, though…he first tells her to hide her “nationality and family background,” so she has a better chance of actually surviving in this highly anti-Semitic society. And then he also follows her, and every day he walks by the courtyard outside the harem and tries to find out how she is doing. Inside the harem, the eunuch in charge of the virgins takes a particular interest in Esther, so he assigns her seven maids and moves her “into the best place in the harem.” He also tells her exactly what to bring when she finally meets King Xerxes (wouldn’t you love to know what that was), and it works. Little Jewish Orphan Esther becomes Queen Esther, and the King throws another big party and declares a holiday in her honor.

Now, one day when Mordecai is sitting around outside the palace gate, he overhears a plot to assassinate the king. He tells this to Esther, who tells her husband, and the men are found and killed. Esther makes sure to credit Mordecai as the one who discovered the plot…that’s important for later.

Shortly thereafter, King Xerxes elevates an incredibly xenophobic, anti-Semitic man named Haman to “a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles.” I imagine this position is similar to the one Joseph took at the right hand of pharaoh back in Genesis. The king orders everyone outside the palace to bow down to Haman (physically bow). Mordecai is part of this crowd outside the gate, but he will not kneel. For days, he is warned that he is defying the king’s edict, but he still will not bow down to this hateful man. So Haman, who has learned that Mordecai is a Jew, decides that he wants to punish not just Mordecai, but all of the Jewish people in Persia. Here is chapter 3, verse 8:

Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them.

But rather than just kicking them out, Haman convinces King Xerxes to give him free reign to exterminate the Jews in Persia. Haman sends out an edict that all Jews – “young and old, women and little children” – are to be killed on the same day, a day that he chose by casting lots. Mordecai finds out about the edict, tears his clothes and puts on sackcloth and ashes, and begins to wail loudly outside the king’s gate. Esther hears about this, sends a trusted servant to Mordecai to find out what is going on, and this is where the passage that Bob read for us begins.

The most often-quoted verse in Esther comes from this passage, chapter 4, verse 14: “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will this?” Mordecai recognizes that this young, Jewish woman – who, in any other situation would have no power at all – is possibly the only person in the entire kingdom who has more influence over the king than Haman. However, we’ve already established that the king does not like to be questioned, especially by a woman. So Esther has to play this very, very carefully.

She goes before the king in her best robes, and he is so happy to see her that he offers her anything she wants, including up to half his kingdom. That, right there, is a miracle, because if he’d been in a bad mood, he could have had her executed on the spot for approaching him without an invitation. Esther proceeds to ask to have a special dinner with her husband and his top advisor, Haman. She says she’ll tell her husband what it is she wants at that time. Well, Haman is over the moon when he finds out. He brags to everyone that he is so important that Queen Esther is holding a banquet in his very honor. But while he’s outside bragging, he sees Mordecai off in the corner, weeping and wailing in his sackcloth and ashes. And he just hates Mordecai so much that he decides to build a 75-foot high gallows to hang Mordecai on personally come the day of execution.

That night, the king can’t sleep, so he asks for the chronicles of his own reign to be read to him. Basically, he wants someone to read him the official biography of himself. In the process, he is reminded of when Mordecai saved his life by telling Queen Esther about the assassination plot. And he says to his servant, kind of, “Hey, whatever happened to that guy? Was he rewarded?” And the servant says he was not.

So the king asks for whichever of his advisors is around at that moment to be brought to him. And, of course, in walks Haman. He asks Haman, “What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?”

And Haman thinks the king is talking about him. So he comes up with this grand plan to have the person paraded through the streets wearing royal robes, on a majestic horse, while “one of the king’s most noble princes” proclaims, “This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!”

Well, the king loves that idea, so he says, go out to the gate and get that guy Mordecai, and do all that for him.

Haman does as he is told, as humiliating as it is for him, because he knows he’ll be killed if he defies the king. But that’s just the beginning. That night, he is brought to the palace for Queen Esther’s banquet. And as the three of them are gathered, the king again asks the queen what she wants. And she takes a deep breath and says (this is my paraphrase), “I want for myself and my people not to be annihilated by that guy.”

And then Haman is hanged on the gallows he built for Mordecai, the Jews of Persia are not only saved but given permission to slaughter the people who were plotting to kill them, and Mordecai becomes one of the king’s most trusted advisors.

So, why did I just tell you all that? How does the 2500-year-old story of Esther relate to us, here, today?

I don’t know about you, but I have had a rough year. There are some days when I get so sad and/or stressed out that I can barely function. I’m stressed at work, I’m stressed and often sad at home…pretty much the one thing that doesn’t stress me out is my cat. She is the only thing that gets me to smile some days.

But then I turn on my TV, or the radio, or I open the newsfeed on my phone, and I am reminded that the whole world is having a rough time right now. And no matter what happens to me, it’s nothing compared to what other people are facing. The world that we live in today is not as different from Esther’s world as we might like to think it is. Plenty of people are persecuted and even killed because of what they look like, where they come from, who they love, what they believe – basically, anything that distinguishes them from the ruling class. And if that’s not enough, it’s like the planet itself is hurting, and it almost seems to be crying out to us, begging us to take better care of it. When I see images of what has happened just recently in Charlottesville, or Houston, or the Caribbean, or Mexico, or Syria, or Myanmar, I immediately stop worrying about my own problems, and I start wishing that there was some way I could help. I mean, I pray, and I give money to aid organizations where I can, but it doesn’t feel like it’s enough. And knowing the people in this room as I do, I would guess that I’m not the only one who feels this way.

We, and I’m referring to those of us in the Western world generally, but I’m also referring specifically to this congregation: we are the lucky ones. It doesn’t always feel like it, but we are. Our children, the vast majority of the time, live to adulthood. They get to go to school regardless of their gender or parents’ economic status. We don’t live in a war zone, and those of us from my generation forward don’t know what it’s like to live with the constant threat of nuclear war…though I fear we may find out. We get to choose where we live, who we live with, how we make our living, how we spend our free time. We have free time. We have indoor plumbing. We have electricity. We have air conditioning and heat so we can survive brutal temperatures at both ends of the spectrum. We have roofs over our heads and clothes on our backs, and chances are pretty good that we know where our next meal is coming from. We have problems – some of us have problems so devastating that I cry every time I think about how difficult living with them must be – but in many ways, we are the world’s royalty. Not in the sense that we’re superior to anyone else, though there are some Haman-like people out there who think so. I mean in the sense that just by virtue of being Americans, being educated, being middle class, and for most of us, being white, we have power. Probably a lot more than we realize. And when we combine that with the power that God has given us to love others the way that God loves us, we are a force to be reckoned with. I can say that with authority because I have directly benefited from the power of this congregation. I owe you all my life, and I am not exaggerating. And I’m definitely not the only one. Many others have benefited from the kindness and generosity of this congregation through our ministries.

Mordecai said to Esther, “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” I’m standing here today, way out of my comfort zone, because it’s been on my heart for a while that maybe what I’m supposed to do with my royal position is stand in front of some the strongest, smartest, most generous people I know, and say: Let’s do something big. Let’s work together, and use this power that we’ve been given to try to effect real change. I don’t know exactly how…this is as far as I’ve gotten. But I have seen what we can do, and I know that we’ve just scratched the surface of our power. So let’s talk about it, let’s pray about it, and let’s just try to quiet our minds, open our hearts, and see where God leads us. I truly believe that this congregation is being called to do something amazing. And I can’t wait to be part of it.

No Fear

Filed under: Writings of the people — Pastor Jeff at 2:33 pm on Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A sermon preached by Bob Keller on Sunday, August 13, 2017 based upon Matthew 14: 22 – 33.

Bob keller no fear

Several years ago, Connie and I owned a boat.  We loved the boat, a 27 foot Sea Ray and, though we docked it on Lake Hopatcong, it was a manageable size to trailer elsewhere.  So we, and a group of fellow boat owners, often trailered our boats to other, larger, waters.

For one trip we trailered to the Hudson River and went down to Hell Gate into Long Island Sound and spent the night along the Connecticut coast.  There was a fog the next morning that delayed us, but it lifted by mid-morning and we continued out trip.

By mid morning the fog dropped again without a shred of notice it was coming.  You couldn’t see 50 feet in front of you!  Eight boats strung together in unfamiliar waters.  Only two of us had LORAN’s.  LORAN was the predecessor to GPS, but basically worked the same way except it used land-based triangulation instead of satellites.   Needless to say, we were afraid.  We had to have trust in the LORAN to safely guide us.  We arrived safely, eight hours behind schedule.

Another time, on the Chesapeake Bay, a storm came up suddenly, not unlike what happened to the disciples on the Sea of Galilee.  We had five or six boats along with us that time.  The water got choppy at first, then the storm intensified and the big waves, the rollers, started.  I remembered advice given to me by an old friend, a Navy veteran and a boater himself, who told me to head directly into the waves to avoid getting swamped.  The ride is rough, kind of like an unpredictable roller coaster, but you won’t get capsized.

I think you see where this is going.  Fear – we were certainly afraid.  But we called on trust in what we had learned.  We relied on the experience of others to see us safely through.  Trust can be verified.  Faith is trust in what is unseen.

The word “fear,” or “fear not,” or “be not afraid,” or some iteration of those words appears some 365 times in the Bible. The word “faith” appears 336 times in the King James Version.

Leading up to today’s scripture reading we know that Jesus was tired. His disciples were tired.

They had been grieving over John the Baptist’s murder so  they tried to get away and be alone.

They had gotten into their boat and sailed to a deserted place, but it didn’t work. The crowds followed them, we know at least 5,000 men, plus women and children followed them.

And even though Jesus was consumed with grief, He had “compassion for them and healed those who were sick.”

Then, when everyone was hungry–instead of sending the people away–Jesus blessed what the disciples had–5 loaves of bread and 2 fish and everyone was fed.

Now Jesus is really, really tired.

And we are told in verse 22, “Right then, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead to the other side of the lake while he dismissed the crowds.

Then Jesus went up a mountain by Himself to pray, regain strength, and I would imagine—to mourn. Then “Evening came and he was alone.”

Then, sometime in the wee hours of the morning, Jesus goes to “catch up” with the twelve disciples.

And the disciples are having a horrible time.  Mark tells us that Jesus saw them struggling at the oars.

A storm has whipped up, and they are being battered by the waves and the wind; they are far away from land.

And that’s when they spot someone, or some thing, walking on the water.  We are told that they were “terrified and said, ‘It’s a ghost!’”

“They were so frightened they screamed.”  Why did they think they were seeing a ghost?  Well, what would you think?

But this was Jesus coming toward them, This was Jesus as they had never seen or known or understood Him before.

What kind of a being can do such things?

To get into the mind of the disciples at that moment, we need to get into their world.  These guys were Jewish men living 2,000 years ago.

They thought about things and interpreted things according to their background and how they were taught.

That’s what we do now.  That’s what they did then.  For these guys, water represented much more than a mere “physical reality.”

According to Karl Barth, water, in Hebrew thought, was “the principle which, in its abundance and power, was absolutely opposed to God’s creation.”

“It represented all the evil powers which oppressed and resisted the salvation intended for the people of Israel.”

Throughout the Old Testament, it is God’s Lordship over the chaotic waters that continuously proved God’s victory.

Think back to the very beginning, in Genesis Chapter 1 we are told, “When God began to create the heavens and the earth–the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea,”

But God proved God’s power over the chaotic waters.  God said, “Let there be light.’ And so light appeared.”

In Genesis Chapter 9, God made a covenant with Noah promising, “that never again will all life be cut off by floodwaters.  There will never again be a flood to destroy the earth.”

In Exodus Chapter 14, God delivered the Israelite people by “pushing back the sea.”

In Joshua Chapter 3, the Jordan river had overflowed its banks completely, but God made sure all of Israel was able to cross into the land of promise “on dry land.”

God tramples the waves in Job Chapter 9 and Habakkuk Chapter 3.

Over and over again we see that God is the only One who can triumph over the waters.

The point is that when Jesus comes walking on the water–triumphing over the sea as the disciples are battling the elements–what this means to the disciples is even more than terrifying.  Jesus is doing something that only God alone can do!

So, this story isn’t just about Jesus walking on the water, it’s also a divine revelation.  And Jesus’ words to the astonished disciples only go to reinforce this.

Jesus said to them, “Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”  The words translated as “It’s me” are the same words God used to reveal Himself to Moses at the burning bush.  Jesus is saying to the disciples, “I AM is here, trampling victoriously over the waves.”

“Be encouraged. I Am the God of Israel. Don’t be afraid.”

Can you imagine the awesome vision that is unfolding before the disciple’s very eyes as Jesus says these words while standing on the choppy sea?

Jesus is God.  And Jesus, as God, says, “Be encouraged–Don’t be afraid.”

That was Jesus’ message to the disciples in the midst of the storm on the water, and this is Jesus’ message to you and to me in the midst of the storms of our lives–”Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

We live in a world that is ruled by fear.  Like the deep dark chaotic waters of the sea, fear seems to be the one thing we humans can’t overcome.

We are afraid of one another.

We are afraid of getting old.

We are afraid of getting fat.

We are afraid of being laughed at.

We are afraid of being punished.

We are afraid of being “found out.”

We are afraid of being embarrassed.

We are afraid of losing those who are close to us.

We are afraid of being alone.

We are afraid of the dark.

We are afraid of getting cancer or West Nile or Zika.

We are afraid of war, terrorism, chaos, death.

There are days when we seem to get along just fine, and then there are days that come upon us, with little warning, and we are consumed with fear.  And when this happens, it’s dark and we have no idea what to do next.

We wonder how we are going to make it through.  But be alert.  Jesus walks out to us, victoriously gliding across the things we fear most.

Jesus comes to us in our fear and Jesus speaks to us: “Be encouraged. It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

Remember what we are told in 1 John: “God is love…There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear…”

In verse 28, Peter says to Jesus, “Lord, if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water.” Really, Peter was saying, “If you are Jesus and you are God, order me to come to you on the water.”

And Jesus says, “Come.”

And that is what Jesus says to us.  “Come.”

“Walk right out of the safety of the boat and conquer your fears.”  “Come to me. Believe.”

Come to me, and with me, into the troubled waters of the world to proclaim the love, mercy, and justice of God to a terribly lost and frightened race.

And so Peter gets out and he walks on water as he moves toward Jesus.  But the strong wind blew, and Peter was distracted.

And once he became distracted, fear got a grip on him again and he started to sink.  “Lord rescue me!” he shouted.  And you know what happened?

“Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him.”

What is clear is that we are called by Jesus to step out of our comfort zones in faith, even in the midst of troubled waters.

There was a gathering where a pastor was talking to a group of other pastors about the crisis in our churches.

He said, that the reason we seem to lack faith in our time is that we are not doing anything that requires it.

I had a different ending prepared for my message this morning, but I felt compelled to change it because we saw our share of troubled waters this past week.  The rising tension between the US and North Korea is led by two men who are afraid, as they should be due to their positions of leadership.  They have huge responsibility and huge egos that mus be kept in check to be true leaders.

And the events in Charlottesville, VA yesterday show us how easily fear can turn to hate.  If I can’t control it, I become fearful and I’ll lash out at whatever I think is making me fearful.

Our Bishop of the Greater New Jersey Conference of the United Methodist Church sent a letter yesterday.  I’d like to read it to you.

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

The recent violence in Charlottesville and the threats between the leaders of the United States and North Korea remind us that words take form and shape for healing or destruction.

John, in his Gospel, describes God’s great love, healing and salvation for us in saying the Word of God, the grace of God, became real in the person of Jesus: The Word became flesh. (John 1:14)

I read stories of white supremacists, neo- Nazis and KKK members saying that it is time to take America back. Here in Greater New Jersey this Sunday, the Word of God will be read by United Methodists in nine different languages. The Word made flesh! Greater New Jersey United Methodist Churches have more than 100 cross-racial appointments and nearly 150 multicultural congregations. The Word made flesh! Our five largest worshiping congregations are Korean. The Word made flesh! Greater New Jersey United Methodists will give witness to mission trips taken to Hatti, Honduras, Guatemala and others will take offerings to support mission work in Ghana, Nigeria, and the Congo. The Word made flesh!

This week I want you to pray for peace and an end to racism and I want you to bear witness in your communities, schools and work places that hate is the work of evil, not Christ, that nuclear arms are the work of a fallen world, not the Creator’s desire and that our words should work toward drawing people to Christ. I call for all of us to spend the week living and modeling the same Word of God that we find in Christ Jesus.

I give thanks to God for United Methodists of Greater New Jersey who speak of Christ in nine languages and pray and work for mission across the globe regardless of race, creed and faith so that people see in us the love of God.

Keep the faith!

Bishop Schol

Will Willimon, a professor at Duke Divinity School and a former Bishop of the United Methodist Church,  wrote the following: “If Peter had not ventured forth, had not obeyed the call to walk on the water, then Peter would never have had this great opportunity for recognition of Jesus and rescue by Jesus…

Getting out of the boat with Jesus is the most risky, most exciting, and most fulfilling way to live life to the fullest!  Jesus invites us to do just that.  Just remember to keep your eyes on Him.

Be not afraid.  Have faith.

Let’s Allow Jesus to deflate our worries today

Filed under: Writings of the people — Pastor Jeff at 5:47 pm on Monday, July 10, 2017

A sermon preached by Bob Keller, a certified lay servant and lay leader of our congregation, on July 9th, 2017 based upon Matthew 11:25-30.

bob keller and balloons

You might be wondering why balloons are being distributed to you.  Believe me; it does have something to do with the message for today.

In a moment I am going to read a list of stressful situations. Each time you hear a situation similar to one you’ve experienced in the past, blow a deep breath into your balloon. Don’t let any of the air out until I tell you.

Some of your balloons may pop before I am finished reading the list and that’s okay. Here’s the list.

1.Got into an argument with a family member.

2.Got an unexpected bill and worried about finances.

3.Car broke down.

4.Failed at something.

5.Broke a Commandment.

6.Felt afraid.

7. Felt hurt by someone’s actions.

8.Felt like giving up on someone or something.

9.Worried about something.

10. Worried about my children or grandchildren and what the future holds for them

11.Worried that I was worrying too much.

Okay, those of you who still have your balloon intact, hold them up and remember to not let any air out until I tell you. Look around, notice the different sizes.

These balloons represent our stress levels. We all get stress from various sources don’t we? But there is always one place we can go to find relief when we feel stressed: directly into the arms of God. Listen to what our Scripture says:

The scripture that Susan read for us says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Okay let you balloons go.

Worry is the number one joy stealer in life.  It’s a thief. Worry diminishes the benefits, the hopes and dreams of many people because it robs us of clear thinking and faith walking.

Maybe even now as we worship together, many of us are unable to concentrate and fully give ourselves to God this morning because our minds are drifting to the problems and worries that we have.

How can we let go of the worry in our lives and start living? How can we let go and allow it to fly away like our balloons?

First of all, I believe we must recognize that worry attacks both the strong and the weak.

Worry is a product of the human condition we call sin?  We need to realize that no matter how strong our faith is in Jesus, worry is out to get us!

Just because we believe in Jesus does not guarantee a worry free life. When sin entered the world, it did more than just separate us from God.  Sin stole our confidence. It made us question God’s relationship to us.

When things don’t go as we had hoped or planned, we ask God why. Why have you not given me a job? Why have you not restored my marriage? Why have you not rescued me from my financial distress? Why have you not taken my illness from me? Why God? Why?

Here’s how we focus our worries:  These are questions of confidence. The average person’s worry is focused  40% on things that will never happen… 30% on things about the past that can’t be changed… 12% on things relating to criticism from others, mostly untrue… 10% about health, which gets worse with stress and 8% about real problems that we will face.

Worry is the product of the human condition and everybody worries to some degree. The challenge God gives us is to come to Him, all you who are weary and burdened, and He will give us rest.

Worry also breeds in an environment of insecurity and uncertainty.

It is like the germs that are all around us. The body’s immune system is constantly trying to fight them off – so too our faith must fight and wage war on worry.

Germs require favorable conditions in order to breed and grow. Eliminate those conditions and you control the spread of germs. If we eliminate the environment of insecurity and uncertainty in our lives, then we, too, can control the spread of worry in our lives.

We may not be able to completely eliminate it, to eradicate it, but we can sure cut it down to a manageable size.

Worry is faith in the negative, trust in the unpleasant, assurance of disaster and belief in defeat. Worry is wasting today’s time to clutter up tomorrow’s opportunities with yesterday’s trouble.

Take your authority over the realm of uncertainty and remember, “Greater things you shall do in Jesus’ name because you believe!”

Worry is a lack of trust and it causes us to question our faith because we are fed a lie!

In Genesis 3 the serpent tempts Eve with a lie. Eve says in verse 3, “God has said, You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” But the serpent responds in verse 4, “you will not surely die!”

The Scriptures are full of the promises of God’s presence for us.

When Jesus spoke to the people about worrying about various things, he wanted to prove that God was trustworthy to take care of their problems. He spoke at length of how they could trust in God rather than worry.

The greatest problem with worry and anxiety is a lack of trust in the Lord. When we worry we are essentially spending time wondering how we can fix a problem or what we can do about something, when the reality is, we are looking to the wrong place.

God needs to be the very foundation of our lives. He and He alone is the only thing that will never fail us. All around our world we see let downs and failure. God will never let us down and He will never fail us.

God promises to take care of the needs that we have. We need to understand that when we worry we are failing to trust in a dependable and a good God for our basic needs.

Sometimes we convince ourselves that we trust in the Lord with our whole heart, but when push comes to shove, we don’t really trust Him. It is easy for us to say at times, “I fully depend on God.” However, it becomes a little bit more difficult when times are tough. It becomes a little more difficult when we do not know how we’re going to pay our bills. So what do we do? We worry about it. We take it into our own hands.

There is nothing wrong with taking action and trying to be proactive about a problem that you have in life, but the question is; when money gets tight do we trust that the Lord will provide our needs? Do we trust him enough to keep on giving a portion of our incomes? It is easy for me to trust the Lord when things are going great, but what about when work isn’t going so well, or when my health begins to fail, or my children are giving me some problems, or I am involved in some conflict with someone else? What do we do? Do we trust the promises that God gives us in His Word or do we worry about it constantly to no avail?

Worry constantly drains the energy God gives us to face daily problems and to fulfill our many responsibilities.

Worry is a waste of time and energy. It feeds the lie that makes us question ourselves and God’s greater purposes for us.

Worry also causes us to question our faith because we want a “sign.”

An empty tomb was a sign that Jesus is risen! But signs are not to be the basis of our relationship with God – faith is. We believe God because He is God – not because we need a sign.

Worry demands some kind of tangible evidence from God that He is here for us, or that we are to do this or do that. But Jesus says in John 15:4, Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

Worry free living is the goal – but in the meantime we need to keep moving!

I have found that worry takes up a lot of time. It’s something we all do, but it is costly of our time. Many of us stay up late at night as we lay in bed worrying about different things. I believe many of us spend more time worrying about problems than we do working to fix problems.

Worry takes up so much time that sometimes it can hinder us from doing what needs to be done. People can get so bogged down with worry that they are good for nothing. Let us not get hindered from fixing our problems or doing what needs to be done because of our worries.

There was a patient in the mental hospital, holding his ear close to the wall, listening intently. A nurse finally approaches him and says “What are you doing.” “Shhh!” he says. And he keeps listening. And finally the patient beckons the nurse over and says, “Listen.” The nurse presses her ear to the wall for a long time. And she finally says, “I can’t hear a thing,” And the patient says, “Yea, and it’s been like that all day!”

Worry is a little bit like that mental patient sitting and listening to the wall. Worry consumes a lot of our time, but accomplishes very little.

The reality is, and we understand it from our experiences, that no matter how much we worry about something, it does not change things.

One man said, “Don’t tell me that worrying does not help. The things I worry about never happen.”

Often times the things we spend time worrying about are beyond our control anyway and it does not accomplish anything good. Let us let go of worry and anxiety because. in reality, worrying does not accomplish anything.

I think that all of us worry to some degree. All of us are carrying a burden of some kind. Some of us may hide it better than others – we may pretend that we have it all under control, but nonetheless, worry is present and the burden is still there.

But the greater need is for those of us who are gripped by worry.  Those of us whose lives are lived in constant anguish and fear because we allow worry to control us and to rob us of living.

We laugh and make fun of ourselves at times because we are worriers, but in reality, we are hurting and we are in desperate need of help. We want to be released from this bondage that chains us to our fears and insecurities, to be released to enjoy life rather than fear it.

There once was a man who always worried. He worried about his children, his job, his wife, his health. One day a friend of this man noted that he was extremely calm and peaceful. “Why are you so calm?, he asked. “You always worry about every-thing. What happened?” The former worrier replied, “I just hired a man to do the worrying for me.” “Well, how much are you paying him?” His friend inquired. “A thousand dollars a week,” the man replied. “A thousand a week? You can’t afford a thousand dollars a week.” The worrier responded, “That’s his problem, let him worry about it!”

The good news today is that we do have someone to take our worries and our cares for us and we don’t have to pay Him a dime. Not only is He capable of working out the problems that we worry about, but He asks us to lay our burdens, anxieties, fears and worries upon him.

(I Peter 5:7) Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Let’s allow Him to deflate our worries today.

Chaos to Community

Filed under: Writings of the people — Pastor Jeff at 5:38 pm on Monday, July 10, 2017

A sermon preached by Steve Blake, a certified lay servant and a member of our congregation on Sunday, July 2nd based upon Matthew 10: 40-42.

Steve Blake

This is Declaration of Independence Weekend!

We celebrate the birth of our country, The United States of America.

Today, is the 4th Sunday after Pentecost – Pentecost is the celebration of the Christian church. And, several Sundays afterwards tell the story.

Colors for Independence Day are Red, White, and Blue or the color of my tie which is the declaration of independence.

The colors of the church calendar is Green. So, since I don’t have vestments I improvised.

The Post Pentecost period of 9 Sundays is the time frame of putting our celebration into the actual practice of our Christian Ministry. This process was traumatic and dramatic. Any, cause, belief, or country that is put into motion goes through these lives affecting and altering situations.

I am going to attempt to place a relationship of the early church and the birth of a new country. And, for a little spice throw in some thoughts on patriotism.

The post Pentecost for us Christians goes from the creation of the movement to the promises. On the way we have Birth, Weaning, Rites of Passage (TODAY!), Legacy, Freedom, Groaning, and Intercession.

So, this Sunday, we touch upon the early church going from Chaos to Community: or the rites of passage.

In the old Testament, God puts Abraham through the ringer and paces. The man is old…80 yrs. 180 yrs. old. He has a wife whom cannot have children. But, he has one through one of Sarah’s servants. But, then God comes to him and says Sarah will have a son. And, she does. Isaac! Their own son. He was too old to get married and have a son but he showed his obedience and faith in God.

One would think this is enough! But, no. God tells Abraham to go to the Mountains of Moriah (side bar) and offer his, only total, son as a burnt offering. Keep in mind there is a half son, Ishmael, from Sarah’s servant.

So, he packs up with helpers and Isaac and travels for 3 days. This no walk in the NJ countryside. But, a rugged journey like in the US southwest or the California Sierra Madres.

So, they reach their destination on top of a desolate mountain. The story continues in the Old Testament story of Genesis 22:1-14. I will pick up the story at verse 9….

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt-offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.’Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘Father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ He said, ‘The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.’ So the two of them walked on together.

Abraham called the mountain “The Lord Will Provide”. God will have tested his faith and obedience. God will take care of him from this time forward.

The story goes on that Isaac did not get along with his half-brother and Abraham may not have been the best father or husband. Some scholars may have said he was abused. But, Isaac never abused his wife Rebecca and was devoted to her.

God watched over Isaac as he started a farming business away from his original home.

God tested Abraham’s obedience and rewarded his son.

Now, in Paul’s letters to the Romans, we visit the Christians that were slaves to the Romans. They lived in the underground catacombs which were like living tombs. Somehow, Paul was able to reach and communicate with them. Life was horrendous and depressing. They had to commit multitude of sinful acts that I don’t want to get into. They must have felt like the Reba MacIntire song that Connie soulfully sang:

Oh, have you looked around

Have you heard the sound

Of the innocent d’yn

In these Darkest days

Paul writes to these Christian slaves to grit this out, to be strong, to not to be tempted, or succumb to the sin. Paul provides strong words of encouragement as Bob read. Paul tries to instill positive inspiration. And again, I go back to Reba’s words:

You gotta get down on your knees, believe

Fold your hands and beg and plead

You gotta cry, rain tears of pain

Pound the floor and scream his name

Cause we are still worth saving.

Paul, as cruel as it may seem, is telling the Roman Christians that though God has provided Salvation and forgiveness of sin, one is not free of the bondage of sin. They are still slaves, and they can be of sin and eventual death, spiritually and/or physically. Or, be slaves of the one you obey, which leads to the righteousness – the moral state which leads to heaven.

Paul was pleading with them that they may be slaves to the Romans but not to sin. They were trying to claim an allegiance to the teaching of Jesus Christ. These Christians were spiritually righteous.

What do we get from this? We don’t have to be burdened with sin when we are sanctified or served by the grace of God.

Again, God’s grace is there during horrifying times.

This brings us to the New Testament Scripture Reading that Bob shared with the children. Jesus is speaking to his disciples. He is concern that they will lose focus and faith when he is gone. Up to now, God has been speaking through Jesus.

So Matthew shares the this brief but powerful message spoken by Jesus. The words are simple.

‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’ Matthew 10: 40-42

We like to be rewarded for doing good acts and deeds. This does not end there.

The real reward is not the doing for recognition but the result of just doing and giving of oneself.

Jesus is telling his disciples that whatever they do and are received, he is also receiving, and in turn God is also receiving.

This unconditional giving of love and grace to another. This is sort of God’s reward system.

I guess these guys were getting a head start.

Here are some quotes from famous people:

The reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more – Jonas Salk

Happiness is a virtue, not its reward – Baruch Spinoza Dutch philosopher

There are those who give with joy, and that joy is there rewards – Khalil Gibran

These people are not only doing to make themselves feel good. But, more importantly, giving their time and talents away for a purpose beyond themselves. As a Christian, we consider this an award blessed by the grace of God.

We have looked at 3 stories for this Pentecost Sunday. They each affect the rites of passage of the early Christian Church from Chaos to Community.

-          There is absolute faith and obedience of Abraham to God

This devotion is needed to start any movement.

-          The perseverance and moral and spiritual victory of the Roman Christians over the Romans and sin by their allegiance to God to do Good and be righteous. This was sanctified by God.

-          The unconditional love, grace, and comfort to others

These rites were all needed in the early church’s journey.

Today, July 2nd 1776 was the signing of the Declaration of Independence. July 4th was when it was approved and ratified. This was also the beginning of a Passage of Rites from the Chaos to the Community for this Nation

Though there was not any real clear reference to God, the signers must have felt they had God’s back. Even though, their parent country, England, were Believers of God.

Of the founding fathers and signers of 56, 27 had degrees from seminaries. One oversaw the printing of the Bible as Secretary of Congress in 1782; the signers of the declaration were responsible for starting 121 Bible Societies in 8 yrs.; Charles Thompson translated the Bible in America. Also known as the Thompson Bible.

These founders wrote this document to bring some structure and belief to the existing chaos that was occurring in the 13 colonies. They felt there was a need to rally and believe in something which translated into a piece of parchment.

Was God a source of inspiration or guidance? There is no evidence in the document. There are some inferences. And, based on the background on many signers, maybe God was working through them. But, then an agnostic could make a case of not.

One can consider words that may be related such as:

Laws of Nature – Nature may or may not be God? I believe it is God

Nature’s God –

Creator –

Supreme Judge – there was no supreme court at this time

Divine Providence

These were the founding fathers and original patriots of this country along with those who fought the subsequent war for Independence

Patriotism, Patriotic, Patriots

God Bless America, In God We Trust, I pledge allegiance to the flag, one nation under God, Boys Scouts God and Country Award

These founders were faithful to the premise that all men were created equal, they were endowed by their Creator (GOD?) with certain in alienable rights. Maybe like Abraham was to God? Maybe a stretch? Maybe not?

The black slaves like the Roman Christians had to believe in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence to endure. The immigrants of the past century and those of now believe in the Declaration of Independence. So, they can get through the obstacles and challenges that confront them. The people in the cities and the unfortunate rural parts of this country will celebrate their belief in this holiday and this document in their own humble way. No other country in the world can quite celebrate in the abandonment that we can.

Then there is Jesus’s words in Matthew 10: 40-42. As a Patriot and believer in this nation and God we are to love our country and fellow brothers, unconditionally.

As patriots of this Nation, what we think and how we act should be as what we are as Christians working the love and grace of god. Christ is no longer here on this earth to be a “mouth piece” or vessel for God. By his crucifixion, Jesus charged us, you and me with the carrying out the will of God.  As it is said in the Lord’s Prayer “They will be done”, not yours or mine.

You cannot distance yourself when you hear in god we trust or god bless America. So, when you say or hear someone say God Bless America, it is not God actually blessing America, but God working through you, me and anyone whom believes in God.

This is our search and journey to have righteousness with God. This is a dual citizenship – God and the United States.

So, we have shared in the thinking of two journeys. The Christian Church and that of this country, the United States of America. They both arose out of chaos and passed into a community.

Both communities are still revolving with new rites and trials of passage.

We do have and know one comforting belief, I HOPE. In time of horrifying, challenging, hopeful, and joyful times – GOD has provided and God does provide. That is part of our family legacy of the Christian Church and the United States of America.

Let us take a moment to gather in prayer.

This is a great weekend, Lord. We celebrate the joyous birth of this country. A country that arose out of the chaos of 13 different and probably dysfunctional colonies. These founders seeked a more independent life from the provincial and suffocating bondage of European Monarchy and Church sovereignty. Our forefathers recognized the strength of individual freedom along with a common goal as a nation. So, was the birth and growth of the Christian church. God, through Jesus and his disciples conveyed the individual and personal belief, faith, and commitment. Through Jesus’s crucifixion he invoked a common cause and belief of God by the formation of the Christian church. And, the passage and process continues for both the church and country today.

Be with us today and all our future days as we seek to follow YOU as good patriots of this country and above all. You.

In Jesus name, we pray AMEN.

What Growing Up In the Church Has Meant to Me

Filed under: Writings of the people — Pastor Jeff at 8:51 am on Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A sermon preached by Kayla Christofferson on June 25th, 2017 – Children and Youth Sunday – based upon Micah 6:6-8 and  1John 4:7-9; 16b; 19-21.   Three days earlier Kayla graduated from high school.Kayla preaching

Good morning everyone — for those who do not know me I am Kayla Christofferson.  About a month ago Pastor Jeff asked me if I would be willing to talk about my experience with our church and what it has meant to me.  (Obviously I said yes because I’m standing hear today!)

It was hard to put into words what church has meant to me.  To some church is simply a place where one goes to pray and to be with God.  Some say church helps them feel grounded, while others view church as just a place where they’ve been forced to go to – some kind of duty, nothing more.  The list could go on and on for everyone views church in their distinct way.

For me, the thing that stands out about our church is that it is like an extended family: each member of this congregation will laugh with you when you just need a reminder that life doesn’t have to be taken so seriously all the time; they will pray with you and be there for you in your time of need, and offer a little help when you need help getting back up when you’ve been knocked down.   After you get back up, they will recognize when you are succeeding in life and be the first ones to congratulate you.   And most of all they will always be there for you, sharing their love.   All of this is possible because we recognize together that we are all part of God’s family.

It took me, however about 7 years to figure this out.

Before 2007, if you had asked “what church means to me”, I would have told you that I have no idea.  I thought of church as a place where you have to go and be quiet the entire time and listen to people talk. That was because at the age of eight, my only experience of church was a vague memory I had of my cousin’s baptism.

But that would soon change.

One day my around Christmas of 2008 my family and I were sitting around the table talking, having a good time and sharing a meal.  At some point my brother Ryan who was maybe only six or seven at the time said to our Grandma that he liked this little girl named Aleigha.  When my Grandma asked about this girl Aleigha Ryan jokingly said he was going to marry her.  My mother said he couldn’t because Ryan and Aleigha weren’t the same religion.  Aleigha was Jewish and my mom said that Jewish people don’t usually marry outside their religion.

My grandma said that because my mom didn’t teach us about our religion, that it didn’t matter if someone we liked was of different religion. Because how could we claim to only like those of the same faith if we didn’t know what it meant to be Methodist.

That led my dad to ask me to explain Christmas.  Why do we have Christmas? Well, I answered, to get presents? But why, he asked do we celebrate Christmas? I didn’t really know.

Then he asked me to explain what Easter was all about.  I said it was about coloring eggs, finding them on Easter morning and getting candy and treats in an Easter basket.  What else? he asked.  I had no idea what he was referring to!  He told me to go look it up and then report back to him regarding what I found out about the true meaning of Easter (which I did and it was the first time I can remember really learning about my religion and who Jesus is).

This all inspired my mom to make it her mission to teach us about religion, church and most importantly God, and with that the hunt for a church began.

One Sunday my mom announced that we were going to church and so we had breakfast, got dressed and headed out the door.  We came here to this church, quietly making our way inside, trying to get a feel for whether this church would be a good fit or not.  If not, we would try another church, but low and behold we liked it here and this became the church we would spend the next eight years being a part of.  (This probably had to do with the fact that this church gave us such a warm welcome, acknowledging the fact that we were here instead of just looking past us.  We enjoyed the passing of the peace, and coffee hour wasn’t bad either.)

Now I’m not going to lie:   although the children’s circle with Pastor Jeff and Sunday school was a lot of fun and I was, in fact learning a lot about my religion, establishing the habit of attending church wasn’t an easy thing for an eight year old when you’re used to having Sunday mornings to play rather than learn things.

I think what really got me into church was when Pastor Jeff approached us about being in the Christmas play. At first I was hesitant about saying “yes” because I was a pretty shy kid and I thought I might mess up there on the stage, but I’m glad I did because it became the thing that made me feel really connected not only to my religion, but also to my church family.

After that anything that I was able to do for the church I did with enthusiasm: I continued doing the plays which I will never forget.  I was given interesting and quite different characters each time I got up on the stage.   I joined our youth group which was so much fun because I got to know people my own age who were willing to talk with me about their thoughts and feelings about life and our faith.   I appreciated the opportunity to volunteer with Interfaith Furnishings, moving furniture into peoples’ homes who couldn’t otherwise afford to buy furniture.  Incidentally, this is an experience I would recommend for anyone who has the time.  For me it was a real eye opener regarding what some people are going through.   It was so great to see the way the little bit we did lifted their spirits so.

And one of the greatest memories I have was of the whole process of being confirmed.   The confirmation class was so much fun and rewarding.  Our talks in the beginning helped me through a very stressful time in my life with high school getting really crazy.   During the prayer time we drew strength from each other.  Pastor Jeff taught us everything we needed to know so that, with Greg’s help we could put on an amazing confirmation musical based on Bible stories that spoke to us where we are in life.  It was so great to all work together to make the show come off.

And then the Sunday in worship when we officially were confirmed as full members of this church. I realized that day that there had been a long process leading up to that moment:  All I had learned and experienced being a part of the children’s circle,  Sunday School, the Confirmation class, and most importantly from my interactions with all of you — the people of our church.  I have learned that we are all broken – that we all have our difficulties — but that as we come together to be the church we are able to feel complete and whole through the love of God we share here.

Together we find an assurance that we have a place where we can always come and feel accepted as sisters and brothers in Christ, no matter what challenges we are experiencing in life.   To quote 1John 4:9, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” As we live through Jesus we learned that love is the key to a happy and truly meaningful life.   Jesus loves every one of us, and as we walk together with him, he shows us how “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8)

His life has made such a difference in so many lives throughout the world, and as we follow him, we, too can make a difference in the lives of the people we meet, knowing that God is with us and we have been given the honor of representing him in the world, and the joy of being a part of his family.

And that’s what church has meant to me.

No Exceptions

Filed under: Writings of the people — Pastor Jeff at 11:24 pm on Wednesday, January 11, 2017
  A sermon preached by David Turner on October 3rd, 2004 based upon Matthew 5:43-48.

I want to talk with you this morning about what is going on in the world. I want to talk with you about hatred, terrorism, torture, and genocide. Can you imagine a worse subject for a Sunday morning sermon?

If we read the paper, listen to the radio, or watch the news, we cannot avoid hearing about events too horrifying, too tragic, too catastrophic to even imagine. They are happening in Iraq, Sudan, Palestine, Israel, Afghanistan, North Korea, America–and so many other countries.

So why, David, do you bring this up now, in church, when we are bombarded by such sickening news every other day of the week? …Yes, it is sickening–and I believe we need help with it.

Jesus’ words to us this morning seem to offer little comfort. Listen again, this time from the NIV Bible which you have at your seats, Jesus says: “…Love your enemies and pray for those persecute you.”

When we consider these words in light of the terrible things that are happening in our world today, they are confusing. They are troubling. Dare I say it? They are outrageous! And I imagine that some of us might well be thinking something like this:

“Wait a minute, Jesus. You are telling me I should love the terrorists who carried out the unspeakable horrors of September 11th?! You are telling me I should pray for the cold-blooded killers who targeted hundreds of children and their parents in a Russian school and slaughtered them with the push of a button? How could you ask that of me?! May they burn in hell for what they’ve done!”

Make no mistake. This is exactly what Jesus is saying to us. At the heart of our faith is a message of love and forgiveness which is so radical, so extreme, that it is just plain scandalous.

If we consider what it would mean to us–what it would cost us — to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, we might well say to ourselves: “No! Absolutely not! No way!” I suspect that this is exactly how most people in Jesus’ day reacted when they heard him speak of these things.

So what are we to do with this seemingly impossible teaching of Jesus? Well first I think it is important to understand what Jesus is NOT saying to us. He is not saying, “Like your enemy.” Jesus is not telling us what to feel. He is not saying, “Don’t feel horrified, anger, pain, or heartbreak at the evil which your enemy is doing.” And Jesus is certainly not telling us that the suffering, death, and destruction caused by our enemy is okay! It is not okay! It is evil.

Okay, Jesus, we’re with you so far. But this still doesn’t help us understand what you mean when you tell us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. How are we supposed to do that?!

The truth is that we have enough trouble dealing with the people we encounter in our day-to-day lives. Take, for instance, the woman in the car behind you, blasting her horn so you’ll get out of her way and she can continue driving recklessly through traffic at 85 miles an hour.

Or do you remember that inconsiderate man who just parked his grocery cart, packed with at least 40 bags and boxes, in the 10-items -or-less Express Line? And to our young people, perhaps you’re thinking of that bully at school who has been insulting, punching, and pushing you around every chance he gets.

Then there’s that tyrant of a boss you have to face every day at work. And don’t forget those people you never quite see who keep throwing their cigarette butts, empty beer bottles, and other trash on your front lawn. …Our lists could get pretty long, couldn’t they?

Yet in all likelihood, none of these people are terrorists or any other kind of criminal. But the things they do sure can make our blood boil! Which brings us right back to Square One: “How, Jesus, are we supposed to love or pray for any of these people?!”

And we hear: Silence. ….Then suddenly, right out of the blue, it hits us: “Wait a minute. This is just one verse out of the whole Bible. Maybe we could just sort of ’skip over’ it. What do you think?” Tempting, isn’t it?

* * *

Not long ago I was driving west on Interstate 78. A blue van was in the next lane over, just ahead of me. My eyes were drawn to a bright white bumper sticker where I read the following words: God Bless the Whole World. And then below these words, in parentheses: (no exceptions).
Now that’s a switch! Over the past 3 years, we have become used to seeing God Bless America signs and bumper stickers. And we have heard that song sung many times, on many occasions.

That bumper sticker made me think. It is indeed a good thing to call upon our God and ask for God’s blessing upon our country. But what about the rest of the world? Does not this whole crime-filled, war torn, and tragic-but-still-beautiful world desperately need God’s blessing, God’s help, God’s touch? You and I know that it does. So I ask you today: Can we go beyond God Bless America? Can we also find it in our hearts to say: God bless the whole world?

I must admit to you that something about that bumper sticker troubled me: those two words in parentheses: (no exceptions). “No exceptions?” Not any? That means “God bless: the drug dealer, the thief, the rapist, the pedophile, the terrorist. “God bless Osama bin Laden.” Who could say that? And actually mean it!

I bet Jesus could.

Could we? Before we answer that question, we would do well to remember that raging, hate-filled parents who beat the living daylights out of their children right here in our own communities–they were once children too. They were once innocent. In almost every case, they faced the savage blows of a brutal parent–utterly alone. That child, now a violent parent, needs a blessing.

The suicide bomber, the torturer, and the cruelest of tyrants–they were once children too, innocent and good. How they became capable of such evil, we will never know. But that child, now an adult, committing terrible atrocities, needs a blessing.

When we become filled with fury and judgment about people and events beyond our understanding…

When we would inflict violence on our own children at home or on people we do not know around the world…

When we look upon ourselves with hatred and we don’t like what we see: we need a blessing. We all need a blessing.  Every last one of us.

We may not be ready to ask God’s blessing on Osama bin Laden. Perhaps a better place to start is with that impatient driver who’s blasting her horn at you so you’ll get out of the way. I can’t tell you where to start. That’s up to you. But we must start somewhere.

Our whole anguished planet is crying out to be touched…and blessed…and healed by God. May the day come, and may it come soon, when with humble voices we shall say: “God bless the whole world. No exceptions.


Shredding those Grudges — Letting go of the Past

Filed under: Writings of the people — Pastor Jeff at 9:37 am on Monday, January 2, 2017

A sermon preached on January 1, 2017 by Bob Keller based upon Matthew 2:13 – 23

Bob Keller and Marissa

So are you glad Christmas is over?

The traditional start of the Christmas season, for those old enough to remember, was right after Thanksgiving.  No more!  Now you start to see Christmas trees and cards and decorations in stores before Halloween is over.

It all sets out expectations so high that we often feel inadequate to achieve.

The season builds and builds to such a crescendo and then – poof – it’s over.

There’s no pushing back from the table and rubbing your belly like you might after a good meal.  No.  Right after Christmas the Valentine goods come out alongside those pretty red and green storage boxes for you to put all of your Christmas “stuff” away.

And life goes back to normal.

That might have been something like Mary and Joseph felt.  The birth of their son was a big deal.  There was a lot leading up to it.  The hard journey to Bethlehem with Mary being nine months pregnant.  The search for a place to stay.  Then their child being born.  Then shepherds, people they didn’t know, came to visit.  And not long after the Magi came.  Again, unknown Christmas visitors.  Would life ever get back to normal?

Then we hear, as Denise read for us today, about Joseph getting a visit from an angel.

The scriptures don’t tell us much about Joseph.  He has no words in the scriptures attributed to him.  But he plays a significant role here.

The most important role he plays is to demonstrate obedience to God.  The angel tells him to go and he does.  It’s immediate and without question.  No “Let me get things together first, Lord.”  He packs up Mary and his son and they go.  He heads out on a long and arduous journey to the safety of Egypt to escape Herod.  And by going to Egypt, one prophecy is fulfilled.

Then we heard about the slaying of the innocents by Herod.  We don’t know how many babies were killed.  It could have been a handful.  It could have been thousands.  We don’t know.  And, I’ll be honest, I don’t know why God allowed this to happen, but I do know that God, through one of His angels, spoke to Joseph and Joseph obeyed and God’s son was saved.

And thus was fulfilled another prophecy.

Then Joseph again obeyed and brought his son back to the land of Israel after Herod died.  But he stayed away from Jerusalem and went to Nazareth and thus another prophecy was fulfilled that He (Jesus) would be called a Nazarene.

Ten verses and three ancient prophecies fulfilled.  And Christmas was finally over.  But Christ remained.  Just as He should for us.

So how do we keep Christmas alive?  How do we avoid the post-Christmas doldrums?  Well, perhaps conveniently, we have a symbolic new beginning.  A New Year.  The turning of a page to start over.

Many of us will make resolutions as a promise to do things differently.  But, sadly, most of us won’t keep those resolutions for more than a few weeks.

Makes you wonder why we celebrate the new year, the new beginning, with such gusto when we know we are likely to fall short.

Let’s be honest now.

How many of you kept to the diet?

How many of you actually kept exercising past February?

Well this year I am determined it’s going to be different.

I have made New Years resolutions I know I will be able to keep for the whole of 2017

I have decided to eat more and exercise less.

Now I believe I’ll be able to keep that kind of resolution.

Seriously, how can we make things “real?”  How do we really change our lives?

Let’s see if we can come up with a game plan.

First, commit yourself to putting failures behind you.  In Paul’s letter to the Philippians we read: “I do not consider myself to have yet taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind me and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

We don’t have to live our lives imprisoned by our past.

All of us have failed in some way in our lives over the past year.

We probably won’t see our failures recorded for history on TV, but they are recorded in our hearts and minds.

For many of us our failures are painful memories.

Maybe for you it is a memory of how you failed in a relationship.  You made the wrong decisions or said and did the wrong things and the relationship ended.

Some of you who are parents probably know that you failed your children in some way.  And some of you are aware that you have failed your parents

It’s more than likely that many of us know that we have failed ourselves in some ways.

And all of us should know that in some way we have failed God

What God’s Word is saying to us here is that we must not allow ourselves to be bogged down by our past failures.

That we should not dwell on our past so much that it stops us from moving forward into the future that God has for us.

I think that the start of the New Year is a good time for us to rise to that challenge.

To say to yourself “I am going to, with the help of God, forget my past.”

I am going to stop torturing myself about what I did or didn’t do.

This New Year is a good time to stop being chained to our past failures.

God is saying here in His Word that he doesn’t want you to go through your life branding yourself as a failure.

If you haven’t done so yet, really think about something to write on that piece of paper.  Something that’s holding you back so you can have a physical reminder of something that you should not be holding on to.

Second, commit to giving up your grudges.  Remember, while you’re sitting there holding onto a grudge against someone, others are out there dancing.

Listen to these words from the third chapter of Colossians:  “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Did you catch that challenge?

In those words God is challenging us directly and personally to give up our grudges. That is what he means when he says forgive each other whatever quarrels you may have against one another.

A grudge is a deep ongoing resentment that we cultivate in our hearts against someone else.

A grudge is an unforgiving spirit that leads to unforgiving attitudes and unforgiving actions.

Harboring a grudge is about nursing a dislike for someone.

What you need to know is that grudges are dangerous because they are destructive.

Grudges destroy marriages.

Grudges break up families.

Grudges ruin friendships.

Grudges split churches.

Let’s be honest enough to admit that one of the problems of the Church in general is the grudges that Christians hold against one another as well as those they hold against those outside the Church.

I want to tell you this morning that if you know you are holding a grudge against someone, then God has something to say to you.

He says, “Give it up. Let it go”

Grudges are not just destructive, they are also self-destructive. When you hold a grudge against someone you will hurt yourself as much as, and perhaps more than, you will hurt the person you are holding it against.

Third, commit to restore your relationships.  In Romans 12 it says: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

The important phrase there is, “as far as it depends on you.”

By using that phrase, God is personally challenging each one of us to do all we can to restore our relationships.

The Lord wants us to do everything we can to restore any relationships that may have gone wrong in our lives

Some relationships might have gone wrong in our lives because of what other people have done and they might well not want that relationship restored.

God recognizes that.

That is why he starts by saying “If it’s possible”

But let’s be honest; some of our relationships have gone wrong because of what we have done

When God’s word says here “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” it is saying if you have caused a rift in a relationship, then you have a responsibility to do everything you can to restore it.

A story is told that at the beginning of a new year, a high school principal decided to post his teachers’ new year’s resolutions on the bulletin board. As the teachers gathered around the bulletin board, a great commotion started. One of the teachers was complaining. “Why weren’t my resolutions posted?” She was throwing such a temper tantrum that the principal hurried to his office to see if he had overlooked her resolutions. Sure enough, he had mislaid them on his desk. As he read her resolutions he was astounded. This teacher’s first resolution was not to let little things upset her in the New Year.

Or how bout this one…A son called his parents to wish them a happy new year and when his Dad answered the phone, He asked his dad,  “Well Dad, what’s your new year’s resolution?” His dad replied, “To make your mother as happy as I can all year,” When his mom got on the phone he asked her the same question. His mom replied, “My resolution is to see that your dad keeps his New Year’s resolution.”

Or some of you may have given up on resolutions, taking the same attitude as the characters in the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes:

The character Calvin once said, “God put me on this earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I’m so far behind I’ll never die.”

Are you willing to make these commitments for the New Year?

Will you commit yourself to forget your failures?

Will you commit yourself to give up your grudges?

Will you commit yourself to restore your relationships?

This New Year will really be something to celebrate if you’ll make forgiveness the heart of what it’s all about for you.

Have the courage right here today

To forgive yourself and “forget the past”

To forgive others who have hurt you “and forgive whatever grievances you have”

To ask for forgiveness from those you have hurt and “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone”

With your commitment and the help of the Holy Spirit, it is possible for the spirit of Christmas to never “be over.”

I hope that by now you’ve written something on that piece of paper that you’d like to put behind you.  As you leave this morning, there will be a paper shredder near the door.  Place your paper in the shredder and put it behind you as your first step toward a new year with Christ.

Remember, it isn’t about the material things, or pride, or ego.  It’s about our hearts and who they beat for.

The Way Up is Down

Filed under: Writings of the people — Pastor Jeff at 2:59 pm on Monday, September 5, 2016

A sermon by Bob Keller preached on August 28, 2016 based upon Luke 14: 1, 7-14.  

If you understand the New Testament, you realize Jesus grew up in Galilee, which was considered the country. The followers of Jesus were labeled, “unlearned and ignorant men.”  I guess you might call them “Rednecks” today.

Maybe you’ve heard Jeff Foxworthy’s “Redneck” list. He says, “You know you’re a Redneck if…”:

1. Directions to your house include, “Turn off the paved road.”
2. You take your fishing pole to Sea World.
3. You have flowers planted in a commode in your front yard.

There’s a similar list for country, or Redneck, churches. It says, “You know you go to a country church if…”:

1. The church votes not to buy a chandelier because nobody knows how to play one.
2. A member requests to be buried in his 4-wheel drive truck because “It ain’t never been in a hole it can’t get out of.”
3. The pastor asks “Bubba” to take up the offering and five guys  stand up!

The sophisticated city folks in Jerusalem looked down on Jesus and were constantly looking for an opportunity to embarrass Him

Jesus noticed how the dinner guests were jockeying for spots at the table.

There were places of honor at dinner tables. At banquets, the basic item of furniture was the triclinium, a couch for three. A number of such couches were arranged in a U-shape around a low table. The place of highest honor was the central position on the couch at the base of the U. The second and third places were those to the left of “center,” that is, reclining behind him and to the right.. At this particular feast there was a rather noticeable undignified scramble for the places of honor. Jesus used the situation to comment and teach.

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Once again, notice the brilliant way Jesus taught. He told a simple little parable of people sitting down at a wedding feast, and then He applied the spiritual principle. Listen again to the spiritual principle in verse 11: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” This is one of the wonderful paradoxes of Jesus that is totally contrary to the way the world thinks. The world says if you want to climb higher and be somebody you must push, fight, claw, and work your way to the top of the heap. The world says the way up is up! But Jesus says just the opposite. He says the way up is down. In other words, if you try to promote your prideful self, you’ll end up humbled. And He also says the way down is up. The Bible says specifically in James 4:10 “Humble yourself before the Lord and He will lift you up.” So, contrary to what the world is teaching you, the way up is down and the way down is up.  It’s an issue of pride and humility.

Pride is basically the attitude that says, “‘I’ am the center of my universe.” As Jesus watched these Pharisees, He noticed they all jockeyed for position to sit in the best seats at the dinner. It is still true in both the Middle East and the Far East that seating positions are a clearly defined part of their dinner protocol.  As Jesus observed the maneuvering of these men, He detected the poison of pride in their lives.

Pride is hard to recognize in yourself

Someone once said pride is the only disease that makes everyone sick except the one who has it. We can see pride and vanity in others, but we are usually blind to it in our own lives.

Those of you of my generation will remember the song by Carly Simon, “You’re So Vain.” Carly Simon never revealed who she was talking about when she wrote it, but she did date Warren Beatty, who dumped her. And he did call her up after the song and thanked her for writing it about him!

Second, pride leads to ruin

The Bible says in Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Jesus was saying the best way to guarantee you’ll fall is to let pride take over your life.

There’s a story about a frog who wanted to go south with the birds for the winter. It was too far to hop and he couldn’t fly, so he thought about it and came up with a solution. He got a couple of his bird friends to hold each end of a stick in their beaks and then the little frog clamped down on the center of the stick with his mouth. The birds took off and the frog was hanging from the stick they were carrying in their mouths. They flew over a couple of farmers who observed the scene. One farmer said to the other, “What a brilliant idea! Whoever came up with that idea is a genius. I guess it was one of those birds who had the idea!” When the frog heard that he just couldn’t let the birds get the credit for his good idea, so he said, “I…I…I…” as he fell to the ground. The moral of that story is: If someone else gets the credit for your good idea, just keep your mouth closed!

The greatest warning about the danger of pride can be seen in the devil himself. Before the creation of the world, Satan was a beautiful angel named Lucifer. He let pride and ambition take over his personality until he rebelled against God. We read about it in Isaiah 14:12-15: How you have fallen from heaven, Oh morning star son of the dawn! You have been cast down to earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, “I WILL ASCEND to heaven; I WILL RAISE my throne above the stars of God; I WILL SIT ENTHRONED on the mount of the assembly…I WILL ASCEND above the tops of the clouds; I WILL MAKE MYSELF like the Most High.” But you are BROUGHT DOWN to the grave, to the depths of the pit.”

Satan makes four boasts and each of them is driven by “I” and what “I” is planning to do. Satan wanted to take God’s place. He wanted to sit in a throne above the stars, to be his own little God. He said, “I’m moving on up!” God said, “No, Satan, you’re going down.” God kicked Satan out of heaven and he’s been going down ever since. Why? Because the way down is up and the way up is down.

Pride always leads to ruin.

You don’t find a lot of people who are asking the question, “How can I be more humble?” They are asking, “How can I succeed?” Or “How can I climb to the top of the heap?” Go over to Barnes and Noble  and ask to be directed to the section on “how to be more humble.” They will look at you like you’re from another planet. Yet the Bible speaks over and over about the value of humility. Humility is actually a wonderful honor. Proverbs 29:23 says, “A man’s pride will bring him low; but the humble in spirit retains honor.”

Humility is not having a poor self-image or thinking you are a worthless wimp. It’s having an honest evaluation of who you are–as the Bible describes you. On one hand I am a sinner who deserves death –yet I am a child of God. Humility is found in the tension and the balance between those two realties. Paul writes  (Romans 7) about what a wretched creature he is who cannot refrain from sin. He says the good things he wants to do, he doesn’t do them. And the bad things that he doesn’t want to do, he does them. What a picture of a failure!

But in the very next chapter he writes about how we are deeply loved as children of God–heirs of God with Christ. Was he confused? No, he understood the balance.  He wrote, “I know that nothing good lives in me…those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (Romans 7:18; 8:14)

Another way to look at it is to remember Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) That will prevent pride. Yet the Bible says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

Someone once said, “God has wisely designed the human body so that you can neither pat yourself on the back, nor kick yourself in the seat.”

I read a fascinating short story some time back about the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The donkey was so overjoyed at being chosen, he held his head high as they entered the city. He drank in the songs of praise and enjoyed walking on the palm branches underneath his hoofs. He relished the attention and the love directed toward them. A week later, the little donkey wanted to enjoy it again, so he pranced out to retrace his steps–but this time, the people didn’t pay him any attention. He said, “Where are the palm branches, don’t you know who I am?” The people who heard him threw rocks at him instead. The donkey neared the city of Jerusalem, and said, “Where are the songs of praise for me? Don’t you remember me?” Inside the city, nobody paid him any attention, they just shooed him away from their stalls in the streets. The little donkey went home dejected and humiliated. When his mother saw him she said, “Foolish child. Don’t you know without Jesus you are nothing?” That’s true for each of us. Without Jesus we are nothing, but in Christ, we can do all things. That’s humility.

Humility is if you treat others more highly than yourself. It’s the old formula for joy, J.O.Y., which is Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself third

It is pride that makes you want to rush to get the best seats at the table. It is pride that makes you rush to the front of the line so you can eat before anyone else. It’s pride that makes you reach into a loaf of bread and get the soft piece in the middle so someone else can take the crust from the ends. Pride keeps “I” at the center of the universe and it constantly is looking out for #1.

Humility has replaced “I” with “Christ.” And Jesus Christ was the most humble man who ever lived.  Jesus humbled Himself to step down from the throne of heaven to become one of us–a human being.

Remember the night before Jesus was crucified. All of the disciples were too full of pride to perform the slave’s job of washing feet. Jesus humbled Himself and became as a servant. He took a towel and wrapped it around himself and went to the disciples and washed their dirty, dusty feet.

He further humbled Himself and became obedient unto death–He died the death of a common criminal. What did God do? The scripture says, “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and given Him a name that is above every name.” That’s still the way it works. The way down is up and the way up is down.

It’s only human nature for us to want to sit in the best seat in the house. At sporting events it’s the skybox seat, or the seat on the 50-yard line or the seat directly behind home plate, or a ringside seat at a boxing match. Those are the places that have the best view and carry the highest price. They also carry the greatest bragging potential. It impresses people when we tell them we have those seats.

I think it’s fairly obvious that Jesus had more in mind here than just seating arrangements at wedding feasts. Luke tells us in verse 7 that this was a parable. And the point of the parable is — If you force yourself into a position of honor, you will eventually find yourself humbled. But if you willingly take the last seat, you’ll be exalted. That really goes against the grain of our culture!

There is a quote which is often attributed to Vince Lombardi, but it was actually UCLA coach, Red Sanders, who once said, “Winning isn’t everything — it’s the only thing.” That philosophy has a great deal of value in the realm of sports. I doubt if any coach would remain for very long if he said to his players at the beginning of the season, “Guys, it’s OK with me if we end up 3-8 this year, I just want you guys to go out there are have fun!” In sports, being number one is important. It’s the driving force.

The problem, though, comes when we try to apply that philosophy to our daily lives. Being first is so important to some people that it becomes the only thing they will settle for. Nothing else is acceptable. Everything else is disgraceful. But in Mark 9:35, Jesus said, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all.”

That doesn’t sound much like a winning formula, does it? You probably wouldn’t find it listed in the “Ten Most Important Habits of Successful People.” Our culture says, “Go for first!” Our Lord says, “Go for last.” Both of them are telling us how to get to the top, but the difference is the means by which we get there.

Jesus said, “Sit down at the lowest place.” The best seat in the house, according to Jesus, is the last seat.

We don’t find Jesus making a comment about competition for the seats with less honor associated – they were the ones left when they had all been picked over. This teaching really is different than the way we think, isn’t it?

An admirer once asked the famous orchestra conductor Leonard Bernstein what was the most difficult instrument to play. He said, “Second fiddle.” He said, “I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm or second French horn or second flute, now that’s a problem. And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony.”
Most people don’t want to humble themselves. They don’t want to get their hands dirty doing any kind of work. Like the guests at the wedding feast Jesus is describing, they would rather emphasize their rank over others and be noticed for it. They want to push themselves as high as they can, even if it means stepping on others to do it. It’s the law of the jungle. It’s survival of the fittest. It’s eat or be eaten. But it’s not what Jesus is teaching here.

We take the humble seat as the best seat in the house because it’s our Lord’s seat! He showed us the way by willingly heading to the bottom of society’s ladder, to the place of a criminal, to death on a cross, falsely accused before all who watched, though he did nothing wrong. And He did it on our behalf. Because He humbled Himself, God has now exalted Him.



Hidden Treasure

Filed under: Writings of the people — Pastor Jeff at 1:07 pm on Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A sermon preached by Bob Keller on July 3, 10`6 based upon Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20.

Last week we read from the 9th chapter of Luke’s Gospel and found three men who said they wanted to follow Jesus, but their level of commitment was questionable.

Recall the first man who was warned that the road he said he wanted to follow was not going to be easy – not even a place to lay his head.

The second wanted to stall, put off, his commitment until he buried his father – a man who probably wasn’t dead yet

And the third man who wanted to say goodbye to his family – probably a prolonged goodbye – before he would follow.

Last week we heard Jesus say that we had to take up our cross and follow.  A lot of us get a bit confused and think that wearing a cross is the same thing as carrying the cross.

Today’s reading is slightly different, but along the same theme, that of a journey.

Connie and I have been married for more than 40 years so an article that I read this past week was unfamiliar territory for me.  It was about D – T – R.

Some of you may know what these letters stand for.  For a young man in a relationship, these letters strike fear in their hearts. They dread the DTR talk. It makes single men as well as many women, so uncomfortable they will only use the initials DTR.

The objective is to postpone, run away, and put off DTR for as long as possible. In fact many people are so afraid of the DTR; they will terminate the relationship when they sense the DTR talk is imminent. Now do you want to guess what DTR stands for? D.T.R. stands for Define the Relationship.

This is an official talk that takes place at some point in a romantic relationship to determine the level of commitment. You define the relationship and decide where things stand – is it casual, or is it committed?

There comes a point when it’s important to define the Relationship and you see if things have moved past infatuation or admiration and moving towards deeper devotion and commitment. And how you feel about the DTR talk is determined by how committed you are to the relationship. If the relationship is one of convenience that you want to be just a casual weekend thing – then you will feel uncomfortable. You will feel anxious. Your mind will be flying with excuses…you may even have a fight or flight response.

Such may have been the case with the seventy people in today’s Gospel.

In the scripture that Susan just read for us we see Jesus calling seventy people to Him and He sends them out to deliver the message that God’s Kingdom is at hand.

Jesus said, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. (3) Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. (4) Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road.”

Jesus recruited seventy additional soldiers for duty on the frontline. We are not told their names and we do not know how or when Jesus selected them. But we do know that when Jesus called they were ready to go.  They were committed.  Probably afraid, but committed.

Jesus told the seventy that there is much work to do, but not enough people to do the work. He also told them that this evangelistic mission would be dangerous.  It would be like sending lambs out among wolves.

Jesus knew that they would face opposition and danger in preaching this new message. He also conveyed a sense of urgency to the mission by telling them to travel light. This also avoid the opportunity for delay as they “gathered up their things” similar to the man last week who wanted time to say goodbye.

The he said, “greet no one along the road.”  Jesus is not telling the disciples to be rude to people, he is warning then against engaging in the Jewish custom of long and elaborate time-consuming greetings when meeting people on the road. He is telling them to get on with what they have been called to do and not let anything distract them.  Jesus is giving them a sense of urgency!

There is an old story told about a man by the name of Ali Facid.

He had a small farm and a family.
One day, the story goes, a Buddhist priest came by and said to Ali:
You know, there are valuable stones called diamonds, and if you find one of these you could be a wealthy man.”

Ali Facid went to bed that night, but the words of the old priest haunted him.
He was so obsessed that he felt that he must find one of these diamonds so that he could become rich.

He sold his farm, put his family out to neighbors and went out to find his acre of diamonds.
Months passed. He was broken in body and spirit. His funds were gone.
And at the Bay of Barcelona, he threw himself into the sea, never to walk this earth again.
Meanwhile, the man who bought his farm bent over one day and picked up a little stone.
He laid it on the mantle that night not knowing what it was.
A few days later the old Buddhist priest came by and saw it and exclaimed:
Ali Facid must be back from his search.

“No,” came the response.
Then where did that diamond come from?

The farmer replied: I was out plowing in the garden and found it there.
And from that very garden, came the jewels and diamonds that today adorn the crown heads of Europe and Russia.
In Ali Facid’s own back yard there were acres of diamonds and he knew it not.
He threw his life away in search of that which was under his nose the whole time.

How often do we miss the very treasure that God has put right before us because we are unwilling to open our eyes and see His blessings?

In a way, this morning’s Gospel lesson is a story about a hidden treasure.  A treasure that is not only under our noses, but all around us.

Sadly, many people go through their entire lives and die, sad, broken, and beaten, because, much like this character, Ali, they were not willing to see the treasure all around them.

Today’s Gospel lesson is a story about hidden treasure.  It’s a story about a treasure more valuable than money, gold, or diamonds that is all around us.
Sadly, it is a treasure that many people never open their eyes to see.

That treasure is the person of Jesus.  Jesus sent those seventy people to where he was about to go.  But think about it for a minute.  Jesus was already there.  He had to be.

Would Jesus have sent lambs in among wolves?  Not very likely.  The ONLY way that lambs would be safe with wolves around, and this was a metaphor that the people of that time could relate to, was if the shepherd was present.

Would Jesus have told them to travel so light if He had any doubt that they would be cared for?

Later in today’s passage we hear Jesus say that he saw Satan falling from heaven like a bolt of lightning.  He didn’t quote scripture – He said that He saw it happen.  That shows that the physical person that was speaking was present, even before Adam and Eve, and the only way that would be possible is if the man Jesus was also fully God.

The scripture doesn’t tell us where the seventy went, or how long they were gone, but it does tell us how excited they were when they returned.  Jesus was excited, too!

He said, “When I saw the force of darkness defeated through your ministry I am reminded that Satan is already defeated.”

I believe that Jesus would say to us today, “I see Satan fall like lightning from Heaven when our church feeds the hungry at Homeless Solutions.  “I see Satan fall like lightning from Heaven when the youth take on a mission and raise funds to drill wells for the thirsty.  “I see Satan fall like lightning from Heaven when the church gathers for worship and you invite a friend. “I see Satan fall like lightning from Heaven when you cheerfully welcome the new person who comes to church. “I see Satan fall like lightning from Heaven when you forgive the one who has wronged you.”

In verse 19, Jesus, in figurative language, tells the seventy that they had authority over spiritual enemies illustrated by “serpents and scorpions” that they trampled under foot.

“Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

The Lord cautions them to not go on rejoicing only over the outwardly spectacular victories, but rather to rejoice because their names are written down in heaven. The verb here is in perfect tense and means “they have been written and they stand written.”

I think Jesus was telling the disciples to remember that, while it is true that they will be with the Lord forever, it is not because of anything they have contributed, but because of His grace. They must never forget that they are not fundamentally different from those to whom they are carrying the message of the gospel. And neither are we.

The kingdom of God has come near.  There was urgency to that message 2,000 years ago and there is still an urgency today.

The harvest is great, but the workers are few.

I’m reminded of the story of the old man who was walking along the beach at dawn.  In the distance he spotted a young boy throwing something into the ocean’s waves.

As he got closer he could see the boy was picking up starfish and throwing them into the water.

He asked the boy why he was doing that.

The boy replied that if he didn’t, the morning sun would burn them up.

The old man said there must thousands of starfish on the beach.  Surely you can t throw them all back.

The young boy picked up a starfish and threw it into the waves and said, “But I could save that one.”

The harvest is great and we can get overwhelmed thinking about all the lives that need to hear God’s message.  We can become paralyzed into doing nothing.

But get started!  You don’t have to preach to every soul, but you can let God be seen through you.  Offer a smile.  That may be the only ray of light that someone will see today.

Hold open a door.  That may be the only opening that someone will have today in a world of closed doors.

Lend a hand to someone.  That may be the only hand extended to them today.

God does not send us out alone.  He’s only sending us to where He’s about to go Himself.  He’s with us.  Let others see that in all that we say or do.  Offer to take the journey and be committed to it.

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