First Congregational Church
(United Church of Christ)
Neil H. Wilson, Pastor

101 State Street
Charlevoix, MI 49720
231-547-9122


Sermons

A Wild Goose Community

Sermon ~ Sunday, May 20, 2018

“A Wild Goose Community”

Pentecost Sunday

 

As some of you may know I am a bit of a student of Celtic Christian Spirituality.  One reason I am draw to it is the way historic Celtic spiritualty viewed the created order.  For the Celts creation is a “second gospel.” Creation is another means alongside the Holy Scriptures through which God reveals God’s self to us. 

It was thought that even the animals could proclaim the goodness of God.  Franciscan scholars believe that in his early life, Saint Francis of Assisi spent time in a Celtic monastery in Northern Italy.  And St. Francis viewed animals as gateways to a deeper knowledge of God.   

It is thought by many that the ancient Celts used the wild goose as an image for the Holy Spirit.  You see the symbol in their artwork over the centuries. (Examples in the worship folder.)  They understood from Scripture and from their own life experience that God/Holy Spirit was not someone we bend to our wants and desires, but rather someone who was beyond our control.  Someone who we would need to pursue rather than subdue.

This idea permeates the Celtic theological thought, God was not someone who could be tamed or domesticated by humans.  Thus it was the wild goose, not the human-adapted almost domesticated version of the Canadian geese we see wandering around our beaches and parks.

There are those who would like to domesticate God, God or Jesus our buddy; but we shouldn’t lose the notion of a healthy awe of God or as the Bible likes to say, “fear of the Lord.”

The Holy Spirit cannot be domesticated for our use at our whim.  Another mistake I believe we make is to think that the Holy Spirit is something that comes to us in solitary or individual experiences.  That special feeling, or insight we get, or “ah hah” moment, which can be a movement of the Spirit, for sure, but the Spirit also works within communities of people as well. This we see in the story of Pentecost. 120 were gathered when the Holy Spirit “as of fire” rushed into that place, along with all those who were there and observed this wonder. 

With this in mind I have a piece that speaks of the wild goose and the community, cooperation, I believe in a way that reminds us of the work of the Spirit in our midst.  It was given to me many years ago by my mother who heard it at a conference she attended.  It is written in poetic form and I have adapted it a bit for us this morning..

 

We are led to believe that the goose is weak  . . .

  not strong like the eagle. . .

But though the eagle may be stronger, with fight more fit for the kill,

A goose can fly farther . . . and longer . . . than any eagle will.

 

Oh, I’ve heard much walk and talk about eagles . . .

And it’s not my desire, nor would I conspire, to put the big birds down . . .

But . . . as implied, whether in the trees or in the sky,

Eagles, falcons and hawks are almost always alone.

 

And in a way that’s what separates those birds from a wild goose.

I suppose for those from Iowa and Nebraska, it’s really nothing new,

But even as a lad surrounded by hills of western Maine,

I looked forward to each fall . . .

  to seeing hundreds of wild geese, narrowing into view . . .

Over Autumn enflamed maple and white pine tall. 

 

One day, while alone I stood,

   listening to the call of an owl in some far off wood,

I saw before my eye,

   hundreds and hundreds of geese flying and filling the sky.

 

The head goose, the leader of the geese, suddenly veered of the line . . .

Leaving a vacancy, which was filled by the bird behind.

The leader then flew along the side of the formation,

 which continued growing wide until he found a spot at the back.

All the while, they never missed a flap.

 

Well,  . . . I stood there, gaping north, gaping south,

 wondering what on earth this was all about!

I told my friends.  And they said, “So . . .”

“So!!??!!  What do you mean, ‘So . . ‘!!??

Did you ever see such a thing, Jack? What about you Paul?!!”

They said, “So . . . let’s go to the park and play some ball.”

So we did . . .

We used to play a lot of ball, . .  when I was a kid. . .

 

Well, now I’m an adult and I suppose that’s a part of being grown.

I’m very busy and seldom have time alone . . .

Let alone, time to look at the geese high in the sky. 

And if I do see some, it’s more or less luck . . .

Oh, I’ll see a goose . . .  or was that a duck?

 

And I might catch a glimpse through the windshield when I’m stuck in traffic . .

I guess I should be thankful for the National Geographic!

For they told me what I’m telling you . . .

And if you don’t believe me you can look it up too!

 

What I witnessed that day as a child

Is something that has been going on in the wild . . .

     Since the very first Autumn.

 

You see, their bodies are streamlined,

  their necks like a spear, slicing and breaking the wind.

Now, from the ground it’s impossible to see,

  But those wings, they’re not flapping randomly.

 

When the head goose grabs the wind, air is displaced,

  Which rushes up to reclaim its space,

Only to see the smiling face of the bird flying behind in place,

Whose wings just happen to be in a downward position,

    A very dangerous condition . . .

    Which, doesn’t last long,

     Because that upward rush gives them a push  . . . .

And they’re right back up to where they belong.

 

That bird then grabs the air again, causing another upward wind,

Which lifts the wings of the bird behind . . .

And so it goes, on down the line.

 

So, the lead goose shields the wind,

And all the rest are carried by him,

    In varying degrees of course,

   From the back which is the best,

   To the front which is the worst,

With very little effort, I’ve heard,

  on the part of any one bird;

Because when the lead goose has had enough,

 He or she simply drops back depending on another to show its stuff!

 

That’s how I found out how a goose can fly

 From way up north . . . to way down south  . .  . and back again.

 

 

Still, they cannot do it alone.  You see . .

It has something to do with community . . .

 

These days it’s a popular notion,

    And people swell with emotion and pride

When they think themselves on the eagle’s side . . .

Solitary 

        Sufficient

          Strong

But . . . we are what we are . . .

In some ways, we cannot choose . . .

For many of us, the goose . . . might be a clue to who we are . . .

I thank God. . .

      . . . I was made . . .

                   . . . More like a goose . . .


The Incident at the Beautiful Gate

Sermon ~ Sunday, April 22, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson

The Incident at the Beautiful Gate

Acts 3:1-19

 

It was in October of 1958, some segregationists slipped into the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple in Atlanta, Georgia carrying with them a considerable amount of dynamite.  Shortly after 3:30 in the morning an explosion ripped through the oldest Jewish synagogue in the city doing extensive damage.  In her book The Temple Bombing, Melissa Fay Greene describes the events surrounding this hate-crime.  It was on the next Friday evening, at the first Sabbath service after the bombing, the congregation gathered in their temple, its windows shattered and boarded up, doors hanging off their hinges.  The temple that evening was packed almost as if it were the high holy days.  The rabbi, a powerful preacher and civic leader, Jacob Rothschild, stood up to speak.  He looked out over the overflowing congregation, and after standing silently for a moment surveying the crowd with a penetrating gaze, he quipped, “So this is what it takes to get you to temple.”

A somewhat similar scene is taking place in our reading from Acts.  In this case, the “explosion,” the event that attracts the attention and draws the big crowd, is not a tragic hate-crime, but a piece of shocking news nonetheless: that crippled beggar, you the one, always hanging around over at the Beautiful Gate, well, word has it that he has been somehow unexpectedly healed, and in the name of this fellow, Jesus of Nazareth. 

As one can imagine, an astonished and puzzled crowd gathers in the area of the temple known as Solomon’s Portico, and they are pressing around these two Galileans, Peter and John, who seem to be the source of the miracle.

It has been my experience and I think yours, that after momentous events, both good and tragic, people are drawn to sacred places and to people who seem to have a connection to divine power.  At the end of World War II, when humans first walked on the moon, when the soaking rains fell after the drought of the 1930s, when President Kennedy was assassinated, when rumors spread that the Virgin Mary had appeared in a small southern town, and as I experienced personally, the full sanctuary for a week or two after the tragic events of 9/11/2001 – these and other events over the years have seen people flocking to places of worship out of fear and anxiety, as well as wonder, curiosity, and amazement. 

Similarly, when the word got around about this beggar’s healing at the Beautiful Gate, a throng gathered around Peter and John. 

What were they looking for?  Healing for themselves?  To be in the proximity of  spiritual power?

More miracles?  Perhaps an explanation of the one they had already seen or heard about? 

Who knows? 

Perhaps they did not even know themselves.  All they knew was that something startling and unexpected disrupted their normalcy and so they gathered at this holy place.

“So this is what it takes to get you to temple!”

Whatever drew the crowd to Solomon’s Portico and Peter and John, the chances are good that what they received when they got there was not exactly what they expected.  They came to the Solomon’s Portico wide-eyed and astonished, lured by the mystery of a healing, and what do they get in return?   A sermon!!

They came like moths drawn to the flickering light of the miracle and what they got was the clear, steady, penetrating light of a homily.  In fact, the way the author of Acts tells the story, the main event here is not the healing, but the preaching! (As pastors we love to hear this!)

Why is this?  Amazing as it was, the healing by itself was mute, ambiguous, and ultimately misleading.  It took the proclaimed word to tell the whole truth.  The healing was powerful to be sure, but its true meaning was hidden or misinterpreted until the Peter’s message was added.  Notice what went wrong in the people’s minds and hearts, before Peter’s message gave full meaning to the event. 

First, they misunderstood the source of the healing and assumed that it came from Peter and John.   We have this relentless human hunger to believe that there are people who have tapped into the healing powers of the universe and who can make these powers available for us, whether they are the faith healers of the backwoods revival tents or the slick self-help counselors on television talk shows.  We want to believe that these people have the right touch, can say the right prayer formula, have the right technique, have discovered the right wisdom to bring wholeness to our lives.  So we order their DVDs, go to their rallies and retreats, watch their programs, read their books, touch the hem of their garments, seeking for ourselves some of their power, knowledge, and success they purport to offer.

“You’ve got it all wrong,” Peter declares.  “Do you really think that it was our power, our spirituality, our piety, our clever wisdom that healed this man?  It is not about us.  This is about God.  The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the one true healer.” 

 Second, they misunderstood the nature of life with God, thinking that brokenness is the rule and healing and wholeness is the exception.  Currently there seems to be a kind of functional atheism for many.  Life is seen as barren of God, and if God ever should speak or act, it would be the incredible exception to the norm.  Indeed the crowd in our reading ran to Peter and John  because their ministry of healing seemed to be an amazing interruption to life as usual.

“Why do you wonder at his?” Peter asks them, and in his sermon he speaks of another world, an Easter world, where the healing and forgiving power of God is as pervasive and present as sunshine and rain.  One of the things I appreciate about Celtic spirituality is that it begins with the belief in the goodness of God’s creation and that each person is made in the image of God and that in the beginning God breathed God’s spirit into life and so it is good.  The bad, the evil, trials and trouble are the exceptions to God’s intent for creation. To be sure all this bad stuff can sometimes be so overwhelming as to seem to blot out the light of God within, but it can never completely extinguish it!  We live in an Easter world!

Third, they thought that the healing called only for astonishment; but it calls for more, it calls for (interestingly enough) repentance.  Whenever we see signs of God at work in our world – someone is healed of cancer, a broken relationship is restored, a hungry child is fed, communities come together and make real progress in race relations, nations put down their weapons and work toward peace, personal despair turns to hope, – as  people of goodwill we are filled with wonder and joy.

But Peter’s sermon lets us know that such events also call for an ever-deeper response of self-reflection. God’s healing and restorative work discloses another world, another reality, another realm shimmering amidst the wreckage of a decaying culture.  In the face of God’s deeds of mercy all around us, we are summoned not merely to say, “How wonderful, how amazing!  Isn’t God good!” but to turn around, to repent, to change our citizenship, and become a faithful part of God’s work in the this world. 

Healing should do more than touch the body, spirit, emotions of the one healed but should also cause those of us standing by to assess our relationship with the one true Source of the healing.  Not that we may be selfishly looking for something for ourselves, healing, wholeness etc. but that we recognize that the Healer also seeks us to be healers in our families, our communities and in this Easter world we now all live in.

May it be so beginning with us, beginning today!

Enjoy the audio version of this Sermon by Pastor Neil by selecting “Download File” below!


Just You Wait

Sermon ~ Sunday ~ March 25  ~ Pastor Neil Wilson 

Just You Wait

John 12: 12-19

Like his recounting of the evening of the Last Supper, in John’s account of Jesus’ “triumphal” entry in to Jerusalem John seems to take a different vantage point than those of Matthew, Mark and Luke.  In his version of the Last Supper John focuses on Jesus’ washing the feet of the disciples (last week’s message) and says little of the actual meal.  In fact, all he says is, “The evening meal was being served. . . “   

In today’s reading of what we now refer to as Palm Sunday, while the others seem to devote a great deal of words to the subplot of how the disciples found a suitable animal and how they were to locate the place they were to gather, for John it is all about the celebratory character of Jesus’ procession into the holy city.  There are also a couple of other little notes of interest.  We call this day Palm Sunday but it is only in John’s account that palms are mentioned.  In the other three, people cut generic “branches” and throw them and their cloaks on the road before Jesus.  The palm branches in John perhaps carry a political meaning more obvious to John’s readers than to us.  They would know well the two passages found in the Apocryphal books 1 and 2 Maccabees describing the victory of the Maccabees over their gentile overlords.  Palm fronds are used then as symbols of celebration and the victory over their oppressors.    

Matthew and Luke tell of the procession that leads straight to the temple where the surprising and troubling depiction of an angry Jesus clearing the money-changers and their tables out of his Father’s house.  Mark’s account tells of Jesus arriving in Jerusalem with great fanfare, but then simply looks around, decides its late and heads back out of town!  It is the following day that Jesus returns and clears the temple.     

John on the other hand focuses squarely on the entry into Jerusalem and adds details that serve only to make sure the reader understands just how momentous an occasion this is.  It is a sign of Jesus’ sovereignty and a foreshadowing of how his final victory would take place.  And for added twist, tells how there were those looking for Jesus because they were there when this little incident took place in Bethany with this fellow Lazarus.

Its Passover, festival time, imagine the Fourth of July with a little Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day thrown in for good measure!  There are crowds of happy people.  Then there are the antagonists, a bunch of despondent Pharisees.  And while the group of disciples may not understand what is happening in the moment, John assures us that they will soon realize the significance of this grand, heroic entry.

This account (for that matter all the gospels) but especially John’s, is written to people several decades after the events in the story happened.  In other words they were written to people who know the story.  They’ve seen this movie before and know how it ends!  And just like any of us who’ve seen a movie before and are watching it with someone who hasn’t, we might be tempted to say,  “But just you wait!”

  Just you wait!

 You heard about what Jesus did with Lazarus?  I know you did, you are going around spreading the news about It.   Just you wait!

You think this parade with Jesus on a donkey is something to celebrate (Which it is!)  Just you wait!

Like those who first heard these words of John, we are both reassured of where the story is going and invited to be join the victor’s side.  We can enter Holy Week with our heads  high, with the foreknowledge that the one riding in on that donkey is without doubt the king of Israel, the promised Messiah, and the conqueror of death. 

Yes, our problems are real, and our sins many,  tomorrows news feeds will be filled with bad news and often things still get worse before they improve.   None of this is denied here, but just you wait!  The final victory is assured.  

This assurance encourages you and I to become part of the Palm Sunday crowd, and not just the one that recognizes the king of Israel and waves branches in the air.  The crowd that shouts “Hosanna!” continues to give witness about Jesus’ resurrecting power, even after the events of this day.  For those who are convinced of Jesus’ victory over death, anything less than exuberance and full commitment to the cause seem lacking.   

John knows all too well that there will be another crowd shouting just as loudly, “Crucify! Crucify!”  But as one biblical commentator points out, John’s final depiction of a large crowd with palms is found in his writing called the Apokalypsis of John or as it is more commonly known Revelation.  In chapter seven John describes the vision he has been given,

“After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all the tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne  and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.”  

These are the ones who see with their very eyes the victorious lamb who was slain.

Just you wait! 

Just you wait you Herods of the world, who want to maintain control through corrupt political power! 

Just you wait all you Caiaphases who abuse and misuse your religious authority! 

Just you wait you Pontius Pilots, who want to wash your hands of the problems of others. Not my problem!  Not in my back yard.

Just you wait all you scribes and Pharisees who with self-righteous sight see only the speck of sawdust in the eyes of others and not the logs in your own!

John’s triumphal entry begins Holy Week with great pomp, and in doing so previews the joyous day that is still to come.  As an Easter people, we look back on that first Palm Sunday already knowing the outcome.  We can therefore not only fully participate in a festive procession of palms; we can also give up our spot on the sidelines and join Jesus’ side with confidence. 

Christ has won.  Death has found its match. 

True, the worst is yet to occur as far as Holy Week is concerned, but in the end, well,

just you wait! 

If even the Pharisees could recognize way back then that “the world has gone after him,” then what are we still waiting for today?

With our palm branches in hand, let us join the procession and go forth into our world and be the difference Christ calls us to be.

Enjoy the Audio version by selecting “Download File” and then opening on your desktop.  Easter Week Blessings to each who read and listen.


How Can This Be?

Sermon ~ Sunday ~ December 24th 2017 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson

How Can This Be?

Luke 1:26-38

 

Our little town sorely needed a bit of Christmas cheer this year. 

Maybe even a little miracle if its not too much to ask?

It’s been a rough one with the recent storm that took the power out and left us isolated for days, say nothing of this year’s lobster season starting late and slow, then ending abruptly about a month earlier that usual.  Seems the bugs aren’t coming into the bays like they used to.  And this year there seemed to be a preponderance of hens.  “Brooders or “tossers” they’re called.  The fisheries folks up at the university have their suspicions but aren’t saying much except that this might be something we better prepare for with forecasted ocean levels and temps.

So families are struggling this winter.

Buddy Watson and his gang is one of these families.  Buddy runs his traps off Walkers Head just down east o’ Broad Flats, which is another thing.  The red tide came in a couple times this summer and closed down the flats to the clamming, which didn’t help those families out there either.  But I want to tell you about Buddy and the star.  You see, Buddy is the “keeper of the Christmas star.”

The Christmas star has been illuminating the steeple of Old First Church on the Common since 1973 that’s when Buddy first built it and every November since before they called the fourth Friday “Black”, Buddy crawls up into the steeple with his cross. 

 

It is a traditional five-point, five armed star with 60 100 watt incandescent light bulbs shining its Christmas proclamation out over Rockhaven’s common and village, all these years drawing in the wise and the foolish with its 6000 watts of heavenly lumens.   When Buddy heard that incandescent bulbs were on the way out he ran right over to Howard Williams, when Howard was the proprietor of Harborview Hardware, and bought 25 cases with 24 four packs to a case of 100 watts of the Christmas cheer. 

It was always a bit of a task to keep all those hot light bulbs glowing each year.  About every 2-3 days Buddy would have to crawl up there and replace burnt out bulbs.  One year a storm hit followed by a vicious cold snap, Buddy didn’t get up there for a week and a half and by Christmas Eve the patrons of Helen’s Dinner claimed what they saw looked more like a stick figure doing the “M” of the YMCA song!

And to think, that all this holiday devotion comes from a fellow who never once attended a worship service in our church.  He and Emma were married in the church.  Both his parent’s funerals were held in the church, but Buddy nor Emma ever went to church nor did his name even show up on the cradle roll.  Although Rev. Williams did hear that when some members of the Blessed Day of Redemption in Christ Community stopped by the Watson place with some of their evangelistic tracts and pamphlets, Buddy thanked them kindly but informed them that he had a church and asked if they had ever seen the Christmas star shining over the Common.   

 

This year, on top of the poor fishing season, Buddy and Emma’s daughter Sybil, who married Wally Poindexter’s son Jerry, (Jerry is also a lobsterman, a stern man on one of the bigger lobster boats.) Well, they had a fire in their home and Sybil was taken to the hospital because of smoke inhalation.   If that wasn’t scary enough the x-rays of her lungs indicated something else was going on.  Further tests were run up at Eastern Regional Medical Center and they found lung cancer.  Buddy took it pretty hard.  When he first saw his 34-year daughter in the hospital room with all that tubing and such, fighting back the tears his eyes said “How can this be?”  

As I said our little town could use a Christmas miracle this year! 

 

Well, it was about this time that Miss Susie from up on Slabtown Road was over to the VFW in Uniondale.  She was Jed Carlisle’s guest for their annual Christmas dinner.  Jed a veteran, served in the first Iraq war is a member of the post over there.  Well, wouldn’t you know but Miss Susie won the door prize which happened to be 25 of those five-dollar Holiday Gold lottery tickets! 

Now, Miss Susie had no idea want to do with them.  She had never purchased a lottery ticket had had no plans to.  Jed even had to show her how to do the whole “scratch off” thing to see if she had won anything! 

Well, let me tell you, win she did, and Miss Susie won big!  The top prize in the five-dollar Holiday Gold tickets is $100,000.00 and Miss Susie had a “golden ticket” right there in her hand!!

 

 It was big news in our town and perhaps just the bit of good news we needed with the difficult year and now Sybil’s diagnosis.  And there is no one more humble and deserving than Miss Susie of Slabtown Road!  Of course, everyone was weighing in on how she should spend all her $100,000.00!  Sam Coleridge was quick to point out that the Feds would want their 25% right off the top and then the governor would grab his 5% so Miss Susie shouldn’t be spending it all before she has the check in hand!  Which, if you know Miss Susie, the only chickens she is counting are the ones already in her coup! 

The most anyone got out of her was, “My, oh my!  How can this be?”  This and that she might need a new wood stove and she always fancied having one of those little greenhouses.  She asked the Rev. if he would “gaggle” or “goggle” whatever the young people called it about these things for her.

Miss Susie’s good fortune has brightened things up a bit in Rockhaven, but not for everybody.                

Buddy and Emma have been caring for Sybil’s 4 children while she and Jerry have been making the daily trips to Eastern Regional Medical Center and Buddy’s focus being elsewhere hadn’t paid any attention to the Christmas Star.

Well, a couple of weeks ago some of the Priscilla Circle women got to talking after church and agreed that there just ought to be some way to help Sybil and her family.  Everybody knowing everyone’s circumstances in our town knew that as a stern man Jerry would have very little if any insurance, and knew all too well some from personal experience how the medical bills must be stacking up!

 

It was Bea Stearns who asked, “Why couldn’t we have a dinner in the church fellowship hall and raise a little bit of money to help out the family?”    And Leslie Jordan added that it should be an event that the whole community could get involved in.

Word got out and before long calls were coming into the church with donations of food.  

Wally’s Fish Market and Bait shop donated enough Pollock to make 15 gallons of fish chowder.  

Helen’s Diner baked over 40 apple and blueberry pies.  

Holgrum’s bakery promised enough of their famous split top dinner rolls so that everyone in Rockhaven could have two.  

Harry’s IGA sent over coffee and tea, sugar and creamers along with enough Chinet plates, bowls, cups and prepackaged utensils to serve several hundred.   

Even the Daughters of Scotia Society said they would bake 25 casseroles. 

“Danny” Killington donated enough potatoes from her root cellar not only for the chowder but to make several roasting pans of cheesy potatoes. 

People were calling in with milk and butter for the chowder, vegetables, and the ingredients for punch.  There were offers to help set up, serve, and clean up.  Let’s just say it was quite a spread!

 It was last Saturday and the whole town turned out or at least it seemed as though they did.   The fellowship hall is cozy at 125 but was set up for 145 and there were at least 4 settings.  A light snow turned to rain the day before left walkways a bit icy in places, so the Rockhaven Fire Dept. was there to help with parking and getting people in and out of the fellowship hall. 

No tickets were sold.  No one was at the door watching over a donation box.  That’s not how we do it in our town.  Fish bowl like containers were put out on the tables for donations.  To be sure there were certain people not wanting to be seen as uncharitable, would watch to see what their neighbor would put in and make sure that they at least matched if not out donated them!  A little peer pressure is okay for a good cause!  

After it was all over Rev. Williams along with Jerry Charles, Rockhaven’s first selectman and Bob Blaisdell, manager of the local branch of the Down East Banking & Trust, emptied out the bowls and tallied the donations.  There were dollar bills, and fives and tens, twenties and a considerable number of personal checks, even a few zip lock baggies heavy with change. 

And in one of the bowls they found a cashier’s check from the Down East Banking & Trust.  Bob had no knowledge of the check but recognized the signature of the teller who authorized it. 

The check was made out in the font of the bank’s old Remington typewriter to the “Jerry & Sybil Poindexter Family” to the order of $65,432.17!  The memo line blank. 

“How can this be?  This can’t be, can it?”  Jerry and Bob looked at each other.  Rev. Williams didn’t say anything, but he what he found online when he “goggled” wood stoves and greenhouses.   

 

The following day in the scripture for that Sunday the angel had just told Mary a bit of fairly farfetched news about her future.  And Mary said, “How can this be?” 

Maybe she wasn’t asking so much about the biological plausibility of a virgin birth but the more honest human response to such news, “How can this be happening to me?” 

How can this be? 

We may not always have a satisfactory answer for so often the mysteries of God are hidden from us.  But we always have the promise of God’s nearness.

Then and still today the angel’s response is: “Nothing will be impossible with God.”   Not for Miss Susie . . . not for Sybil and Jerry, Buddy and Emma, not for our little town.  

And perhaps this is the ultimate message of the mystery of God’s coming to us in an infant.  God’s nearness comes in unexpected ways, through unexpected people!    

We’ve seen God holiness breaking into our community’s life.  And while it may not have been through the innocence of a baby born to a common young couple, it came through to us through common everyday people just the same! 

 

And you know something else!  Just yesterday I was enjoying a cup of coffee in Helen’s Diner and I looked up at the Christmas star in our church steeple, and lo, all the bulbs are shining brightly.  And I thought, now I knew; we have indeed been visited upon by a number of angels.   And perhaps we have found our Christmas miracle after all! 

Click the link below and you will find the original audio recording from December 24th’s morning service.  Pastor Wilson is a talented speaker. 😉  


Hope: There is More to Come!

Hope: There is More to Come!
Mark 13:24-37

I am indebted to Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian pastor and author, for his insight and thoughts on the gospel of Mark and for much of the inspiration and thoughts I share this morning, especially his writing Peculiar Treasures and Beyond Words.

We do not know for sure who wrote the Gospel that bears Mark’s name. The book itself in the most ancient copy that exits doesn’t say. The title we know it as “The Gospel According to Mark” was given to this manuscript by the early church years if not decades after it was written.
There are those, including some biblical scholars, who claim it was the John Mark who shows up in the book of Acts as a traveling companion of Paul and the son of a woman named Mary, who owned a place where the group used to meet and pray back in the days when the church was young (Acts 12:12). There is also some speculation that he is the same person who appears in the scene of Jesus’ arrest at Gethsemane as a boy who managed to escape from the soldiers but not without leaving his shirt behind. As the story goes he ran off into the dark scared out of his wits and naked as a jaybird (Mark 14:51-52). The Gospel of Mark is the only one which reports the incident, and maybe he put it in as a kind of signature.

An early historian says he was a friend of the Apostle Peter’s and got much of his information from him. Who knows? In the long run, the only things you can find out about him for certain are from the book he wrote. Whoever he was, Mark is as good a name to call him by as any other.
He wrote as a man who was in a hurry, out of breath, with no time to lose because that’s how the people he wrote to were living. The authorities were out for their blood, and they were on the run and often in hiding, using secret signs to identify each other and safe places to gather. At any moment, day or night, a knock might come at the door. And they knew after that, it would be a short journey from there to being thrown to the lions or set on fire as living torches at one of Nero’s evening entertainments. Don’t be caught asleep!
So he leaves a lot out; it’s amazing how much. There’s no family tree for Jesus as there is in Matthew and Luke. There’s nothing about how he was born, no angel explaining it ahead of time, no shepherds, no Wise Men, no Herod, no star.

There’s nothing about his childhood. There’s precious little about his run-ins with the Pharisees, no Sermon on the Mount, and only four parables.
His teaching in general is brushed past hurriedly—except for one long speech, just a word here, a word there.
“Immediately” is one of Mark’s favorite words, and he uses it three times more often than Matthew or Luke, fifteen times more than John. “Immediately he called them” (1:20), “immediately on the sabbath he entered the synagogue” (1:21). Immediately the girl got up and walked (5:30), or the father cried (9:24), or the cock crowed (14:72).

Jesus himself races by, scattering miracles like rice at a wedding. Mark is alive with miracles, especially healing ones, and Jesus rushes from one to another. As if He had no time to lose either.

Mark writes for people who already believe. They do not need things explained for them. So he writes more about who Jesus was, rather than what he said.

Mark’s book is bursting with—who Jesus was and what he did with what little time he had.

He was the “Son of God,” that’s who he was. Mark says it right out in the first sentence so nobody will miss it (1:1).

And he came “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (10:45). That’s what he did, and he died doing it.

The whole book is obsessed with the fact of his death and with good reason.

If Jesus died as dead as anybody, what hope did the rest of them have who woke every morning with the tangible fear of their own death hanging over them?

Why did Jesus die? Mark says, He died because the Jews had it in for him, because he is hard on the Jews. Mark, very likely was a Gentile and writing for Gentiles. He died because that’s the way He wanted it—that “ransom for many” again, a wonderful thing to be bought at a terrible price. He died because that’s the way God wanted it. Marvelous things would come of his death, and the one long speech Mark gives has to do with those marvelous things. Our reading for today is a portion of this writing.

“The stars will be falling from heaven,” Jesus says, “and the powers in the heavens will be shaken, and then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory” (13:25-26).

Of course there was hope – hope that would shake the heavens and send the stars reeling.

But even in the midst of his great haste, Mark stops and looks at Jesus, sees him perhaps better than any of the others do. When Jesus naps in that boat, it’s in the stern he does it, with a pillow under his head (4:38). The others don’t give us this detail. And the grass was green when he fed the five thousand on hardly enough to feed five (6:39), not dry crunchy, brown grass.

He tells us that Jesus got up “a great while before day” to go pray by himself (1:35), not at nine, not after a hot breakfast.

And he was sitting down “opposite the treasury” when he saw the old lady drop her two pennies in the collection box (12:41).

Only Mark reports how the desperate father said, “I believe. Help thou my unbelief” (9:24), and how Jesus found it belief enough to heal his sick boy by.
You can say they make no difference, such details as these, which the others skip, or you can say they make all the difference.

Then the end comes, and even Mark has to slow down there. Half his book has to do with the last days in Jerusalem and the way Jesus handled them and the way he was handled himself. And when he died, Mark is the one who reports what his last words were, even the language he spoke them in—”Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani”—which he translates, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (15:34). Only Matthew had the stomach to pick them up from Mark and report them too. Luke and John apparently couldn’t bring themselves to.

Mark ends his book, as he begins it, almost in the middle of a sentence. There was no time to gather up all the loose ends. The world itself was the loose ends, and all history would hardly be enough to gather them up in. The women went to the tomb and found it empty. A young man in white was sitting there—”on the right,” Mark says, not on the left.

“He has risen,” the young man said. “Go tell his disciples. And Peter,” Mark adds, unlike Matthew and Luke again. Was it because he’d known Peter and the old man had wanted his name there?

So the women ran out as if the place was on fire, which in a way of course it was, “for trembling and astonishment had come upon them, and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid” (16:1-8). Later editors added a few extra verses to round things off, but that’s where Mark ended it. In mid-air.

Mark’s last word in his Gospel is afraid, and it makes you wonder if maybe the theory is true after all that he was the boy who streaked out of Gethsemane in such a panic. He knew how the women felt as they picked up their skirts and made a dash for it. Wonderful and terrible things were happening, and more were still to come.

He knew what fear was all about—the clammy skin, the mouth dry, the midnight knock at the door—but he also knew that fear was not the last thing. It might have been the next to the last thing.

But the last thing was hope. “You will see him, as he told you,” the young man in white said (16:7).

If that was true, there was nothing else that mattered. So Mark stopped there.

And this is where we begin this season of Advent. With talk about Jesus’ death for without it we wouldn’t be here anticipating his coming again, whether we think of it in some apocalyptic end time scenario or coming again in to our homes and hearts when we celebrate his birth in 22 days.

It truly is about hope: for there is more to come!

Listen to the original Audio of Pastor Neil’s Sermon on HOPE! 🙂  God Bless!!!!


Heavy Lifting

 

Heavy Lifting

 

by Nathanael Wilson 

(Pastor Neil & Donna’s son)

 

Have you noticed how our popular culture exudes the idea that all one needs is superior self-reliance to make it in life? As if positive thinking, will power, and a little luck can solve all your problems. I think we all have experiences that prove otherwise.

Sadly, even popular Christian culture has taken scripture out of context to tell the world that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” In the full context of scripture that passage loses its shine as a rallying call for the self-empowered and shares a much different message of where relief and strength comes from.

“How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be CONTENT with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.” Philippians 4:10-14.

How different is that message when in its full glory…fundamentally different I think!

Has anyone else uttered the phrase “I don’t have time for this”? We are busy, we find ways to fill every minute of our lives and leave no room for surprises. One of those surprises for me was that I had surgery to remove my gallbladder in September. That surgery really stressed me out! I was a little anxious about the surgery naturally, but my biggest concern was the recovery. I have 4 active kids and I work in the hands on home renovation industry. A large part of my job includes heavy lifting and here I was in the position of not even being allowed to lift my 9 month old son! The surgery was absolutely needed, but it also made me into one of my biggest fears…a burden on those around me. My family had to pick up most of my tasks around the house while some just went undone. There’s nothing like watching your 8 year old drag bags of trash out of the house to make you feel bad. Once I recovered enough to return to work my coworker still had to do 80% of the lifting and moving that I would have normally done. No matter what anyone told me, I was feeling pretty useless, but I believe God had a purpose for sitting me on my butt and slowing my mind.

Philippians 4:6 says “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.”

I was doing a poor job in the “do not worry” department! Useless as I was feeling, worrying wasn’t going to get me back on my feet any faster. Corrie Ten Boom said it perfectly “worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” I had lost track of the fact that it is ok to let other people help me out when I’m not capable, but as usual God always finds ways to remind me!

 One of the major roles that I have as a deacon at my home church of Markle Church of Christ is serving communion to shut-ins and members currently living in care facilities. Truthfully it can sometimes just be a blip in a busy Sunday schedule, but often it is the humbling experience that pulls my focus in line.

That specific morning was busy, it was Easter…2 full services with my wife Veronica singing in 1 and myself playing guitar in the other. After getting the girls and myself to the church and getting through practice I grabbed the communion kit and headed out the door to Markle Healthcare. I found the first church member by the nurse’s station and knelt down next to her wheelchair. I told her who I was and that I was there to serve her, as I proceeded to get the cup of wafers I could tell she was struggling to tell me something and she motioned with her head down to her hands…her hands that were curled up and locked into unusable fist from what I can only imagine was at the least very painful arthritis. I could feel her shame as she looked at me as I told her not to worry. I physically served her placing the wafer on her lips and pouring the small cup of juice into her mouth. A large tear ran down her cheek as she placed her hands on my cheeks and mouth thank you to me…I felt like a complete fool for having minutes before been concerned about schedules and what guitar parts I needed to play. She and I had church right there in the midst of a busy nursing home and there is no doubt that GOD was there as we shared a moment of clarity.

A lack of clarity with an abundance of worry is not a new issue or a problem solely my own. A quick look in at Numbers 21:4-9 shows us that it is a problem that crosses many generations:

4 Then the people of Israel set out from Mount Hor, taking the road to the Red Sea to go around the land of Edom. But the people grew impatient with the long journey, 5 and they began to speak against God and Moses. “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?” they complained. “There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this horrible manna!”

Does that sort of complaining and distrust sound familiar to anyone else? This could have easily been coming from the backseat of our Suburban on the drive up to Charlevoix, but variations of this have come out of my own mouth as well. “For I have learned to be content” Paul wrote in the letter to the Philippians. A place or state of satisfaction is how content is defined. Have we really fallen into Paul’s kind of contentment in our lives? I know I haven’t! My worry to prayer ratio gets out of whack. When life isn’t going as planned everyone looks for an escape or a scapegoat, but God has a different plan for us as Christians!

“Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.” Psalms 515:22 NLT

Take a moment to wrap your mind around that scripture and Corrie Ten Book’s quote “Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is too small to be made into a burden.” WOW…laid right out in plain sight, yet maybe the biggest stumbling block of our anxiety ridden society. If I won’t pray about it, I shouldn’t stress over it because it must not be a real problem!

Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, had this to say about faith and being Godly “you only believe the parts of the Bible that you do.” Seems simple enough, right? The application proves to be troublesome at times. Reciting something from memory is great and is not my gift sadly, but that knowledge doesn’t carry the same weight as action. Just telling someone that you love and care about them isn’t nearly as powerful as showing them with your actions that you really do love them. Is that not the same for God and his holy word, if we truly love him and his scripture than we should show it by living it in our lives everyday!

Magnus Ver Magnussen is one one of my favorite “strongmen”…I used to get sucked into the replays of “The World’s Strongest Man” competitions on tv, you know the ones where they had to flip tractor tires, carry tree trunks, and lift compact cars. These guys were doing some HEAVY LIFTING!! They didn’t just think they could lift a car…they actually went out and did It! So we all “know” that the Bible tells us to give our burdens to the Lord, but if we don’t actually do it then we don’t actually believe it!

So who is doing your heavy lifting? Are you carrying around the weight of life’s burdens or maybe like me you have felt like someone else’s burden?  Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

My body will heal from surgery, but in the meantime that worry is not gaining me anything and seems very petty when I remember my moment kneeling next to a wheelchair. I think it is time for many of us to stop doing our own heavy lifting and bring the Bible into action. Jesus is all around us if we pay attention and his desire is to do our lifting for us so that we are free to shine his light into the dark places in our world. I pray that we see God and that our actions reflect that we know God!

If you would like to listen to the original Audio recording from Sunday’s Service please double click on “Download File” below and enjoy!


Special Guest – The Reverend Cheryl Burke

We had a special guest speaker; the Reverend Cheryl Burke, the Associate Conference Minister of the Michigan Conference of United Church of Christ.

We do not have a written transcript of this week’s Sermon, but we do have the Audio Link available.  Enjoy.

Click on the “Download File” link below and it should open on your desktop.

 


Crossing the Barrens

Sermon ~ Sunday, April 30th, 2017 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson

Crossing the Barrens
Luke 24: 13-35

The Blaisdell boys, Doug and Caleb, were down at Longmeadow’s Wharf in Wally’s Fish Market & Bait shop picking up a barrel of pogies last week. “Pogies?” You might call them herring but round here they’re pogies. Oily, smelly, nasty business, a barrel of pogies, but lobsters love them!
Well, last week they were stocking up for their first setting of pots for the season and they were telling this strange tale about a trip they took over the Barrens a couple of weeks ago. They were on their way to Ferguson’s Funeral Home in Uniondale, their beloved Mimi passed away right before Easter.
Georgie Vernon, lovingly known as “Mimi” to her grandsons, Doug and Caleb, was their mother’s mother. Mimi’s only child, Gloria, married Cliff Blaisdell. It was a sad thing her dying when the boys were just 7 & 9. Their father had a difficult time coping and ended up hitting the bottle pretty hard, so Mimi took the boys in and pretty much raised them.

Mimi lived here in town most of her life but near the end moved into the Maple Grove Care Center in Uniondale. Maple Grove is run by the Seventh Day Adventist Church. It’s a nice place, if one has to be in such a place. The Adventists are good people.

Mimi was a lifelong member of the Pine Plains Baptist Church and would take the boys across the Barrens every Sunday to attend church with her. That is until they were teens and rebelled, as teenagers will. They never rebelled against Mimi or religion in general just her form of it. Their form of rebellion was to get up early on Sunday mornings and go lobster fishing in their grandfather’s old skiff.

Mimi died on a Friday. It was a miserable, misty morning which turned to rain and roads to mud in the afternoon.

The boys miss her something fierce.

Seems they were on their way over to the visitation at Ferguson’s that Sunday afternoon and decided to take the Stud Mill Road across the Barrens to Uniondale. Not the most direct route nor the most traveled and for good reason, the road was gravel all the way and if it wasn’t wash boardy, it was filled with mud holes.
That afternoon the road was both rough and filled with muddy spots. As they maneuvered their way across the barrens they spoke about Mimi as affectionately as two lobstermen could speak with any level of emotion. (Which wasn’t much!) Among other things they were recalling the smell of her kitchen when they would come home from school, the feel of those flannel sheets and the scratchy wool military blankets she would get out on the especially cold nights.
Doug was driving and as they crested Butterfield Knoll the way looked fairly smooth and clear so he applied a little more throttle. At the end of the stretch though was a blind corner, not that anyone would be coming but what they couldn’t see was the old spruce that had toppled over in the recent rain and was blocking most of the road. Doug made a quick decision to try to squeeze the truck around the tree hoping the shoulder of the road wouldn’t be too soft. Doug allowed he should have known better, mud season in these parts and all, but the other option was to take the chance of not stopping in time and hitting the tree.
There they were the frame of their pickup sitting right in the mud. Of course everyone knows that out in these parts of the barrens there is no cell phone reception whatsoever. Their only option was to hoof it and hope to find someone. It was still over 10 miles to Uniondale.
It was bad enough that they were on their way to their beloved Mimi’s visitation and that they would no longer know her love and comforting presence but now they would be late if they make it at all. Whose hair-brained idea was it to take the Stud Mill Road anyway? The guilt torn at them making the grief even more unbearable.

They had been walking about 15-20 minutes when they crossed over glacial esker known locally as “The Whaleback.” They rounded another turn and there back off the road about a hundred yards they see a house up on a windswept rise. They didn’t realize that there was anyone that lived out here but obviously someone did, there were clothes on a line strung out the back flapping in the wind and smoke rising out of the single center chimney. A old wooden wheelbarrow serves as a flower bed with some spring flowers just starting to bloom.

But no vehicle in the drive.

They go to the door and before they can knock and older woman opens the door and invites them in.

“I see’d you acomin’ ovah the Whaleback.” She tells them before they could ask.

“And Nope. Don’t have a phone. Least right now. Storm took it out when the tree fell on the line. I suppose it was the same tree that put you fella’s in the ditch.”

“But I do have some coffee in the pot and some donuts in the frying pan.”

Well, according the Doug & Caleb’s account the next thing they knew they were sitting at the kitchen table with two mugs of coffee and a plate of fresh, hot out of the pan home-made donuts. They both noticed it at the time but didn’t say anything about it until after, that coffee was so strong it needed extra sugar to get it down the coffee. And then there was how the old woman went to the frig and brought out little glass serving pitcher of heavy cream, no half & half! The home-made donuts were placed on the table in a dinner plate with a sheet of paper towel under them and the towel was soggy with the oil from the donuts. Wasn’t this just like you know who?

“You boy’s got yourselves in a gaum, I ‘d say.” She said as she flopped another round of donut batter in the frying pan.

“Gaum!” They didn’t know many others who used that expression other than . . .

Caleb was the first to speak, “Ma’am, do you have any idea when the phone line might be fixed?”

“Hard telling not knowing.” she replied carefully flipping the donuts.

“Been out for three days now. I s’pect someone will be out ‘day or tamarrah.”

“Hard telling not knowing!” Wait a minute! That sounds just like . . .

“Suppose you boys are in a hurry to get somewheah.” Doug gave his brother a slight tap with his foot under the table and nodded his head in the direction of the window over the kitchen sink. Caleb didn’t notice it at first but once he did it sent shivers through the crusty lobsterman.

There attached by little suction cups were two sun catchers. You know, those little plastic ones that kids make. A daisy and a cross. Just like the ones they had made for their Mimi during Vacation Bible School some 20 odd years ago. No, no couldn’t be. She must have children or grandchildren that attended some VBS at some time. Yeah, that must be it.

There on the table beside the salt and pepper shakers was a worn Bible and sitting on top of it was an equally well used copy of Oswald Chambers “My Utmost for His Highest.”

A tear rolled down the wind burnt cheek of that tough seasoned fisherman, as Doug remembered his Mimi’s favorite quote she posted over the kitchen sink: “We have to pray with our eyes on God, not on the difficulties.” It was said by the very same Mr. Oswald Chambers.

The old woman chattered on with them talking about this and that and nothing in particular and sitting here in the warm smells of this woman’s kitchen, they felt their worries about being late for the visitation slip away, their concerns about the upcoming lobster season seemed unimportant. They felt washing over them an un-explainable peace, a very real Presence; and even as they retold it down at Wally’s they stumbled looking for words adequate to describe what it felt like sitting at the old woman’s kitchen table.

How long they had sat there? Neither would venture a guess, two hours, five hours, but it was the old phone on the wall that brought them out of the warm, numinous moment they found themselves bathed in.

The old woman looked at them and said “God ahead and answer it.”

Doug was closest. He got up and lifted the receiver of the old yellow rotary phone dial phone. It was Sandra with the Downeast Phone company letting them know that the lines were now open. Doug made a quick call to Packard’s Garage and Perry said he could be out with his tow truck in about 45 minutes. “And just what were they doing on the Stud Mill Road after all this rain?”

They thank the old woman for her coffee and donuts and the wonderful conversation. And couldn’t they do something for her?

“Oh no I have all I need. Besides I’ve got others I’m expecting.”

“You boys are going to be okay.” She said with a twinkle in her eye and soft tone in her voice that gave them more comfort than the mere words should have.

By the time they made it back to their mired truck, Perry Packard was there and had already pulled the tree out of the way and was now running the winch cable back to the tow hooks on the bumper of their pickup.

With a little effort the truck was back on relatively solid ground, after promising to catch up with Perry on Monday, the boys climbed in and fired up the engine.

They noticed that the clock on the radio said it was 3:00 p.m.

How could that be they certainly spent more than the hour with the old woman that the time on the clock indicated. At this rate they would still make the visitation! 

Just then a truck from Adrian’s’ Tree Service came along and told them that the rest of the way into Uniondale was now clear. With Caleb behind the wheel now, they eased down the road being careful to stay right in the middle where it was driest.

They climbed up over “The Whaleback”, down the other side, around the corner. There on the windswept rise is the old woman’s house.

They slow down as they drive by turn and just stare at each other. Before them is a house, most of the first floor windows are broken out and the front door is swinging in the cold north Atlantic wind that sweeps across the barrens.

There is no smoke curling out of the chimney, no clothes flapping in the wind, no phone or utility lines running into the house. But there in the middle of the front yard is a single flower surrounded by a what looks like old pieces of oak boards and a few pieces of rusty iron. And both Doug and Caleb swear on their Mimi’s eternal life that there was an Easter Lily growing in the midst of what was once and old wooden wheel barrow.

 

Listen to the original audio version by selecting “Download File” below and enjoy!


Chance Encounter at High Noon

Sermon ~ Sunday, March 19, 2017 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson 

Chance Encounter at High Noon

John 4:5-42

Word had gotten back to him about a rumor going around among the “establishment” that he was “baptizing” more than that wandering prophet John. John had been enough of a thorn in their side now there was this fellow breaking with the customs and practices of the temple. Knowing that that this was not the time to take them on directly, the rabbi from Nazareth gathered his ragtag band of disciples and left Judea for Galilee. It would be safer there, for the further one is away from Jerusalem the fewer Pharisees you’ll run into.

Only one problem some of his followers grumbled, that the quickest way out of town would take them through Samaria, that land of half-breeds and religious mongrels. Hopefully they would be able to bypass that abomination on Mt. Gerizim. The nerve of the Samaritans to build another so called “temple” when there was only one true city of our God, Jerusalem, and the one temple that stood on Mount Zion!

Their way took them just to the east of the hill with its scandalous alternative to Zion’s glory. Midway through their second day they reached the outskirts of the little village of Sychar. The sun was high, about noon, the heat was beginning to build, so the Rabbi stopped to rest at a well-known place where there was a well that was associated with Father Jacob. Those with him decided to go off into town to see about provisioning their company.

**********************************

Meanwhile in town, earlier that morning, lamps were lighting the windows of homes. In one was a woman, like the rest she rose early to prepare for her day. She went about her usual tasks. As she collected bits of animal dung and a few sticks for the breakfast fire she noted that it was going to be a warm day. But that would be okay with her, this would mean that the other women might fetch their water earlier and she could get to the well before the early afternoon heat. She would still wait, though, that way she would avoid those uncomfortable stares from the other women. And if the women’s glares weren’t shameful enough, the hurtful taunts of the occasional child accompanying their mother which sometimes strike her with a sharpness as if it might cause a welt to raise up on her back.

It is just before noon that she makes her way over the rise and down to the well. She can see that someone is there, resting in the shade of a rocky outcrop. As she gets closer she is a little confused. Could this be? Surely not! But it is, a Jewish man resting by the well.

What was he doing here?

At least she won’t be bothered by any small talk about the heat or the weather in general! After all he is a man and a Jew at that.

“He’ll pretty much ignore me.” she thought as she lowered her water pots to the ground.

*****************************************

The rattling of water pots stirred the Rabbi from his quiet moment of meditation. He looks up to see a local woman pulling the rope up from the well.

He smiles at her.

She sends a guarded glance his way not making direct eye contact.

Still looking her way, with that smile, he asks, “Would you mind drawing a bit of water that I might have a drink as well?”

It surprised her at first that she even responded, say nothing about the boldness of her reply.

“How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”

And that’s when it began, a conversation that would break social barriers and forever change her life.

“You are here for water. But wouldn’t you like something more?

A spiritual refreshment, a living water that will satisfy your insatiable thirst, gratify that deep longing for life?”

She dips into her water pot and offers this stranger a sip of her water.

“Sir, you sit here by this deep well, in this hot sun. You have no bucket, no rope and yet you talk of living water? Where does such water come from? Do you think you can draw such water from this well? Are you claiming spiritual superiority over our father Jacob who dug this well?”

“Draw water from this well and you will be back tomorrow and the next day. I wish to offer you refreshment from the wellspring within you that gives life though out eternity. Your heart will never thirst for fulfillment again.”

“Please sir. If I may, would you get me this water.”

The Rabbi from Nazareth changes the subject rather abruptly.

Out of the blue he asks her to bring her husband to the well. To which the woman replies, “I have no husband.”

Again the rabbi smiles, looks straight into her eyes, “Ah, yes, you are in principle correct, for is it not true that you have had five husbands and the one you are with now has not married you?”

There is no harsh tone, no sense of condemnation or judgement, no “repent and change your sinful ways” tone in the rabbi’s voice. No, he’s just sitting there sharing a cool drink with her in the high noon sun.

Once again the woman surprises herself in her response.

Seemingly out of nowhere she asks, “Okay, now I see you are some sort of prophet. So I have this question for you.”

“Where is the proper place to worship God? Up on the mountain, Gerizim, or in the Temple in Jerusalem?”

Apparently she feels no need to explain her situation to this person who seems to know all about her yet accepts her anyway.

Before her encounter at high noon with this Jewish rabbi she had felt ostracized, a cast off.

She met this man who knew her, not just as a woman from Samaria, but knew her inside and out, the beautiful and good, the bad and the ugly. He knew her needs, her dreams and hopes, as well as her nagging doubts, darkness and shame. He knew her bitterness and brokenness, her life of rejection and still spoke with her and listened to her. He saw her not just a Samaritan woman at a well, or a woman with several husbands, but a person thirsty for more out of life, more out of her faith.

********************************************

There is a quote from one of the Lemon Snicket’s Series of unfortunate Events books: “Someone feeling wronged is like someone feeling thirsty. Don’t tell them they aren’t. Sit with them and have a drink.”

Jesus’ answer to the woman’s question about where to best worship God resonated with her in such a way that she went back to her village and told everyone who would listen about this prophet, the man who knew everything about her, yet still accepted her. Perhaps we might understand it better if we hear it in another version, the Message:

The time is coming” Jesus says, “it has, in fact, come – when what you are called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter. It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people God is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before God in worship.

God is sheer being itself – – Spirit. Those who worship God must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”

If God so desires to have us worship with such simplicity and honesty of heart, should we not also see one another with such generosity of spirit? If God sees us as we really are, and loves us as we really are, as hard as it may be, should we not strive to love one another in like manner? Can we be simply and honestly ourselves before God and one another?

Can we extend the same compassion, grace and acceptance to those we meet at the wells in our lives?

According to the proper social customs of the day Jesus didn’t have to even acknowledge that woman. And likewise her him.

Yet look what happens when compassion and love become more important than keeping up appearances.

Aren’t we all like this woman? And those you will meet this day and week? Especially those the customs of culture and pressures of status quo are telling us to ignore?

Some time in the near future you’ll find yourself at a well with a Samaritan.

How will you be? Who will you be with them?

Listen to the Audio version by clicking on the “Download File” link below:


In the Darkness Light

Sermon ~ Sunday, March 12th, 2017 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson

In the Darkness, Light
John 3:1-17

I’ve seen it on signs at sporting events, on t-shirts, on bumper stickers, I believe even once on a license plate! JOHN 3:16 One of the best known and best loved verses of the Bible.
Can you say it with me?
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,
that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (KJV)
Perhaps it is the popularity of this verse that sometimes can blind us or deafen us to the rest of the chapter three in John’s gospel. It begins

There was a man of the Pharisee sect, Nicodemus, a prominent leader among the Jews. Late one night he visited Jesus . . . (The Message)
Nicodemus, like so many today, is seeking something, enlightenment, knowledge, faith. He makes the that Jesus is “come from God” a phrase that normally is used only of heavenly messengers, so it hints at his belief that there is “something more” about Jesus but at this point Nicodemus is not quite ready to commit himself. He refers to Jesus as a “teacher” and has questions about the “signs” Jesus has been reportedly performing.
Nicodemus, it seems, is ready for a theological and philosophical discussion with this teacher (rabbi), so he probably was not anticipating Jesus’ rather blunt reply about being “born again (from above or anew).”
“Being born again” has come to have so many negative connotations even with many Christians! Consider the following scenario:

A modern day John the Baptizer type knocked on the door of the local church parsonage. The pastor opened the door and a young man was standing there with a small booklet in his hand. “Are you saved?” were the first words out of his mouth.
To which the pastor smiled and said “Yes, I’m a Christian.”
“Yes, but are you saved?” insisted the fellow pushing the little booklet the pastor’s direction.
The pastor stiffened himself a bit and replied in a gruff sort of tone, “I’ll have you know my good man this is the parsonage of the Congregational church and I am the minister here!”
“Ah yes, is that not just like the Congregational Church. But are you saved?”
Let me ask some rhetorical questions which I invite you to use over coffee today or lunch this afternoon.
Where were you born?
What time of day, do you know what day of the week it was? If you wish to share, what year?
Were you born in a hospital or at home?
How did you celebrate your birthday as a child? Is there one that’s most memorable?
When did you first hear about Jesus?
Can you remember a day when you decided to become a Christian, or did it all happen over a period of time?
It may seem silly to ask now without expecting any answers, but they allow us to talk about being born again. Jesus says that being a Christian is like being born again. It is when you start your life all over again and make a fresh start with Jesus.
In many ways those who have had a dramatic, what is sometimes called a “Damascus road” experience of God are lucky in some ways. Blessed in that they know when that happened to them.

I would like to tell you about the time such an event happened in my life, when I suddenly saw the light, the totality of my depravity, my sins paraded before me and I got down on my knees and prayed the sinner’s prayer. . .
But I can’t. I never had such a dramatic life altering event in my life. But I am aware that during a particular period in my life I had an increasing sense of Christ becoming more real to me.
I assume there are people, here this morning, who know the very moment they gave their hearts to Jesus and there are others, like me, have been nurtured in the faith pretty much throughout their whole lives. For me the confirmation of being born again, comes day after day in the way we journey through life with God. And while I can point to that period of a couple of years when that became more of a conscious choice I was making, I find I have to continually, daily, choose to journey with God.
Which I guess could be to say that being born again, doesn’t happen only once, like God’s love which is new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23), we all have to start afresh each day, born again into God’s love, it is not only about newness or fresh starts but about being born again into deepening our relationship with God.
For the next few weeks through our gospel readings, we will be finding out more about Jesus from people who got to know him personally, there is the woman at the well and the man who was born blind, and we will learn that they often got more than they bargained for in those encounters.
If you want to find out about a person there are many ways you can go about it. You can ask others who know the person well to tell you what they know about him or her. You can observe how that person behaves – what they do. You can listen to what they say. You can read what others have said about them.
Or you can get to know them personally.
How does one get to “know” Jesus, not know about him but know him? The best way I know is to put your trust in him, by walking with him, by listening to what he had to say in scripture, talking with him in prayer, which also involves listening to what he has to say to you today.
Nicodemus went straight to Jesus, albeit at night, and in the conversation that followed found out more than he was expecting and perhaps wanted to hear. Like Nicodemus our first questions to Jesus might also be tentative ones. But if you are genuinely seeking to know Jesus he will reveal himself to you just as he did Nicodemus.
Be forewarned though, Jesus isn’t much into small talk! We going to want to talk about the weather and he’s going to press us on whether or not we are going trust him! He always moves to the heart of things, he moves swiftly beyond Nicodemus’ opening comment to the real issue. If you want to be part of the kingdom of God, you need to be born anew, born of the spirit. Being a Pharisee or a rabbi or a minister, a church member or leader in the church or a memorizer of scripture does not guarantee being in the Kingdom. New birth through Christ does. On this the young John the Baptizer character at the pastor’s door was correct.
We don’t know how Nicodemus reacted that night but his conversation with Jesus about the work of the Holy Spirit, the new birth and about Jesus himself, did change his life.
Nicodemus became a supporter of Jesus, spoke up for him in the Sanhedrin, tried to stop him being arrested. He was there at the cross. And in the end he helped Joseph of Arimathea lift Jesus’ broken body down and laid it gently in the tomb.
Nicodemus may have come to Jesus by night but he came into the light as a result of the encounter he had with this “One come from God.”
May we seek and be granted the same experience of rebirth in our lives not once but every day as we make our journey with Jesus.

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