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

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


Sermons

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.

Audio Version:  Select “Download File” below, the audio version will be downloaded to your computer for your listening pleasure.

 


Where Are They Going?

“Where Are They Going?”

Sermon ~ Sunday, Feb 26, 2017 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson

Matthew 17: 1-9

 

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.   And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 

Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 

Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”

And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them,

  “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

 

Often when a person, preacher or otherwise, does sermon prep or Bible study a useful exegetical tool is to ask oneself, “Which character in the story do I identify with?”  We can do this with many of the biblical stories: The Prodigal son, the Parable of the Talents, in fact just about any of the parables lend themselves to this sort of imaginative insight. 

As I read Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration I was draw to some characters that aren’t actually mentioned in the text of the story. I imagined myself standing there when Jesus pulls Peter, James, and John aside.  I kept wondering, “What about the nine left behind?” Seems like Jesus was often singling out these three.  Was he playing favorites?  I don’t know. But there they go off on this path that leads up a nearby mountain. And I’m standing there, one of the nine, wondering, “Where are they off to now?  Why them?  It isn’t fair!!” 

Thus the title: “Where Are They Going?” said with a bit of envy and annoyance!

As many of you know I am a mountain person.  Given the options of a day on the beach, a day boating on a lake or a day pounding my feet up a rocky trail to a mountain peak, I’m up bright and early on the trail.  So to be left behind as these others get to go with Jesus would have been difficult if not heartbreaking for me! 

But then I wondered, if I had been there, would Jesus have thought I was ready for what he was leading the three into on that mountain?

I also wondered were Peter, James, and John, really ready for what they were to experience?  Are any of us ready for what Jesus may actually be calling us to be or do?  But then it has been said that God doesn’t call the equipped but equips the called. 

I wonder, on that mountain top, who was transformed more, Jesus in the divine glory or the three who accompanied him?  They didn’t seem to know what to do with what they had experienced.  So, what does Peter do?  I like the way The Message translates this: Peter broke in, “Master, this is a great moment!  What would you think if I built three memorials here on the mountain. . .

Read in a certain way this was a part of the story that seems to have brought some embarrassment to those who first retold it.  Mark explains it away by suggesting the disciples didn’t know what to say because they were terrified.  While Luke says they did not know what they said, being “weighed down with sleep.”   And both Matthew and Luke make clear that their offer was interrupted almost midsentence by the voice of God from the midst of the cloud affirming the importance not of all three but One alone.

It`s perhaps understandable that the disciples would say this or behave in this manner. What was happening was both exciting and threatening, it was something they had never experienced before.  Something they could have never imagined.  It carried the risk of changing them forever!

The impulse in situations like this is to try to make sense of things, get things under control, to be busy doing something, which often means defaulting to what we always done, doing the familiar!  When faced with te unexpected, the temptation is always there to hold on to what we know. 

Yet how could things be the same after this?  They had seen their master, teacher, conversing with the heroes of their faith, Moses and Elijah.  And more than this, he had been transfigured!   And they were transformed by this event.

The cloud that overshadowed them out of which they heard the voice of God, what did God say?  “This is my beloved. . .Listen to him.”

What is it we hear when we listen?  Jesus says, ‘If any one wishes to be a follower of mine, he must leave self behind and take up his cross and follow me.’ 

To listen to Jesus, to be a disciple of Jesus, is to walk with him as he makes his way to Jerusalem and what awaits him there.  On this journey as we walk and we talk and we listen, our human nature is being transformed into the likeness of that same divine nature that was in Jesus.

The Season of Epiphany which we are concluding is all about the revealing of who Jesus is and this upcoming period of Lent is a time when we specially think of our life as a journey in the company of Jesus. A journey that will take us to Gethsemane, Golgotha and the garden tomb. 

As we walk with our crosses on our shoulders, as we come nearer and nearer to Golgotha, we are also being transformed and transfigured. The life and the light of the cross of Christ will shine on our face. For to be filled with the divine light is our destiny.  Remember  “You are the light of the world!”

“Where are they going? 

I might just as easily thought, “Who is that coming back with Jesus?” 

Would I be ready for such a transfiguration in my life? To be forever changed?

I would like to think so. 

But then who really knows until you have spent time with Jesus on the mountain, but more than the mountain when you have followed him down the path and joined him on the road, all the way to Jerusalem, carrying your cross upon your shoulder.

May we have the courage to be so transfigured ourselves.  Amen!

 

Benediction

There once was a stream which started as a small trickle high on the mountain. Dripping from the snow and ice far above the trees, it began its journey down over the mountain’s bedrock and stone-filled gullies until it reaches the forest below. 

There it joyfully overcomes all the obstacles, roots and downed trees, as it runs down through the firs and pines. Eventually its pace slows as it meanders out onto the plain and finds itself in a shallow lake on the edge of a great desert.

And it is there that our little stream has to trust the wind to transform it and carry it across the desert into the life that awaits it beyond.

Over and over scripture called us to let the Spirit carry us through life’s challenges and Jesus relied on the Spirit that filled him at the Transfiguration to carry him to and through the cross into resurrected life. 

May we also go forth transformed and carried to those places where the Spirit would take us.

Amen.

Based on the story “The Stream” from One Hundred Wisdom Stories from Around the World by Margaret Silf (Lion Hudson, 2011).

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When Tempers Flare

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

When Tempers Flare

Matthew 5: 38-48

Just as we thought we were going to squeak by this winter, mother nature and her sister Ellie Nino reminded us of just who is in charge!
Rockhaven got blasted this past week with not one but two 18” snow storms. We still call them storms not snow “events.” And you’ve got to understand, we don’t get into all this foolishness about naming the storms either. Actually, storms around here aren’t really worth mentioning unless there is at least 10 inches, that is according to the “knights of the round table” who meet for coffee and gossip in the morning at Helen’s Diner. (Did I say gossip? I meant enlightening conversation!)
How those fellows and gals on the Weather Channel get all excited when there is the possibility of 6” of snow someplace. They’re out there standing around in these light flurries with their L.L. Bean jackets, all they’re doing is selling more ad time by naming their storms Gladys, Henry, Izzy, and Jerry.
Here a while back they named one Imogene and our Imogene Reynolds was all wound-up thinking they had named it after her. Pappy Holman told the fellas over at Joe’s Barber Shop one day that they hadn’t made a barometer that could read low enough to produce a storm that could match Imogene for intensity and personality!
Highway department was out 24 hours straight last Tuesday with the first snowstorm. They had about an 18 hour break before the second low moved up the coast and seemed to get hung up on Nova Scotia leaving Rockhaven right in the heavy snow/wind/and cold track, what was her name? Oh yeah, Ursa, which means bear! And let me tell you, bustah, it was!
Jed Carlisle and the crew were getting a bit testy by the time the second storm hit. Lack of sleep and 15-20 cups of that vending machine coffee will do that to a person. (They have one of those coffee vending machines over to the highway garage that uses those little paper cups with the playing cards on them.)
It finally reached the tipping point when some of those pesky snowmobilers came along side Jed. All they wanted to do was ride alongside or just out in front of Jed’s Kenworth 6X6. Now, with “everything down” he could clear a swath 18 feet wide except for those “idiots” on their snowmobiles. All he could think of was one of those YouTube videos he’d seen of dolphins racing alongside a boat playing in the wake. He’d like to give them a wake to ride in . . . right into someone’s mailbox! About that time they revved their engines and disappeared down a trail off toward Hobbs Pond.
He had just turned around at the end of the Christian Point Road and was heading back out, still fuming, when he saw the lights of another snowmobile coming up right behind at him. He could see that there were two people on it and they were trying to get around him. He had had enough!
Just as the snowmobile got right by his back wheels Jed began easing his big rig over into the other lane. The driver gunned his machine in a desperate attempt to pass, but it was too late. With nowhere else to go snowmobile and passengers went right up and over the snowbank and into the 3 feet of soft snow and there they floundered.
As he drove by he rolled down his window and glared at them, only to be taken aback and embarrassed to see that it was Jeff Robbins and his very pregnant wife Gloria. Jeff had one of those “how could you” looks on his face. And Gloria, it was becoming obvious to Jed, was doubled over in significant labor pains!
Seems, with all the snow the local volunteer EMS people could not get to the Robbins house with their ambulance. If Jeff could get to town, they said they would meet at the fire station. They thought they could make it from there.
Jed stopped his truck, backed up, loaded them into the cab and drove them to the fire station and then cleared the highway all the way to the hospital in Union City, some 15 miles.

Later in that same storm, Billy Whitaker was making his way across the open lands of the barrens, battling the occasional white out and he can see the light from Sean Bemis’ place. Sean is well known to the highway crew. A regular complainer about how they maintain the road on the barrens, Sean doesn’t take to it very well when occasionally during one of those wet-heavy snows the passing plow will obliterate his mailbox! Billy is very aware of this and is careful to give Sean’s mailbox plenty of berth, except, that of all places, the one car he will meet on the road across the barrens is coming right down the middle of the roadway as he approaches the Bemis driveway!
Crowded by this wide-eyed, white knuckled driver in the oncoming car, Billy ends up striking the mailbox with the plow’s side wing, only this time the mailbox doesn’t move rather it tears the side wing completely off the truck, spins the truck sideways which leaves no place for the wild-eyed driver to go but right into the side of the snowplow.
After getting out and making sure the occupants of the vehicle are okay, Billy goes to the other side of his truck to inspect the damage. What he finds has his blood boiling!
There under the new mailbox Sean Bemis had installed this fall, was a cement post with a chunk taken out of it where the side wing had struck it. I guess Sean figured he’d fixed the highway guys for good this winter! The estimated damage to vehicle and snowplow $25,000!
As winter drags on and the snow piles deeper, the gray skies seem darker, tempers become shorter and shorter, for some anger and bitterness is right there beneath the breathe, under the mutter, ready to spill out. Even with the good folks at Old First Church on the Common.
Rev. Williams has been stuck on the Sermon on the Mount for several weeks now (at least so it seems!) From the conversations over lunch after worship at Hellen’s Diner and in the Dunkin Donuts in Union City, the congregation is ready for him to move on. But the Rev. doesn’t seem want to and he reminds us when we complain that it was Jesus who said all these things and not him! So lately, I’ve been thinking about all this Sermon on the Mount stuff.
You know, we have our problems here in Rockhaven, but seems to me that in the world beyond our little village life is a bit more difficult, the issues are bigger and a bit more complicated. Here in our little town, Jed may let the frustration get to him but then after he understands the particular situation, he feels bad and clears the road the Union City. Sean Bemis and the Highway department will be the talk of town for a while and it will come up at the next town meeting but eventually they will come to a sensible resolution.
But how does one turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, give a second coat when you have people quick to settle things with their fists or their firearms, groups instilling hate in young disenfranchised youth or you have a rogue country test firing missiles in your direction.
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . .” how does one do that, really?
“Do not resist the evil doer,” its one thing for the big fellow in the sports arena being trash talked on sports radio or the male CEO in a board meeting who is being slandered by his colleagues. But “do not resist the evil doer”, doesn’t sound the same, even when Jesus says it, to the woman sitting on a cot in a domestic abuse shelter, holding her child close.
I have to be honest. I question, what can I do to impact any of these things?
I don’t know that there is unless or until I begin where I can, where I might make a difference, in my town, with my people.
And if perhaps we can have more Rockhavens in this world (Again not that we are perfect here in Rockhaven!) then we might just have fewer fists and bullets flying at each other.
If we foster more reasonable conversations over a difficult neighbor’s fence just maybe, eventually, we could do the same over patrolled borders or even razor wired DMZ’s.
After all as he said the sun shines the same and the rain (or in our case, snow) fall and waters the soil the same on both sides of an argument.
And if we Rockhavenites can practice Jesus’ teachings right here in our town, it may not be perfect, but it just might bring us a bit closer to the One who is. And maybe then we will truly believe and follow the wisdom of this Jewish rabbi we claim is our Messiah!

Want to hear Pastor Wilson share this Sermon from the Pulpit… simply double click on “Download File” listed below


Straight to the Heart

Sermon ~ Sunday, February 12, 2017 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson

Straight to the Heart
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 Matthew 5:21- 37

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus – Sermon on the Mount Matt. 5:20
This is one of those hard teachings of Jesus.
Exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees! How? They are the righteous ones.
They are the ones who know Torah, the Law. They teach it. They interpret it for us.
How could we commoners, ever attain a higher righteousness than they?
And even when Jesus goes on to clarify this greater righteousness, he doesn’t make it any easier! He begins, “You have heard it said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’ . . . but I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement . . .”
“You have heard it said ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you. Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is God’s footstool . . .”
What is one to do with these and the others Jesus taught about divorce and retaliation and love for enemies? Impossible you say? (see Mk. 10:27)
Some would argue that Jesus is using hyperbole here. And perhaps he is, especially when concerning adultery he says, “If your right eye causes you to sin, cut it out and throw it away.”
As Jesus goes on to explain what he means by a “righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees,” he begins with the condemnation of murder found in the law. It seems extreme to use murder as a place to begin a teaching on anger. The people knew the Torah. They knew what the law said about murder, but there was no specific teaching on anger. Jesus’ comparison is clear: murder is serious and so is anger. There was a need in the first century community of Jesus as there is in today’s church to look at relationships and how individuals treat each other. And Jesus seems to be saying that there is value to life and how we value the lives of others.
This is perhaps the heart of the matter in this teaching.
The O.T. law condemned murder, but at the heart of this law lies a respect for the life of another, regard for the right of another to be, reverence for another as the creation of God.
The same could be said about adultery. The teaching is clear: a man should not desire the wife of another. The woman here has no agency, but is an object to be taken, possessed and fought over. But here too Jesus gets to the heart of the law. Jesus values the role and personhood of all people and women are people. A woman is not a thing, a property to be coveted so as to possess, but a person to whom one relates with care and respect.
Right relationship was a goal of Jesus for his disciples, for the church in Matthew’s time and for the church in ours. These teachings of Jesus come from the heart in that they are a call for this “higher righteousness” and a better way of living in community. Eugene Peterson translated Matthew 5:19-20 this way in The Message: “Trivialize even the smallest item in God’s Law and you will only have trivialized yourself. But take it seriously, show the way for others, and you will find honor in the kingdom. Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won’t know the first thing about entering the kingdom.”
Relationships are not to be taken lightly. Now, Jesus’ command to love God and to love others as self is not stated explicitly here like elsewhere, but is central to his understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven and this “higher righteousness” Jesus calls his followers to seek.
So while, yes, Jesus is talking here about anger, lust, divorce, oath-taking and in the next section, retaliation and love for enemies, what is at the heart of it is a choice. In our reading from Deuteronomy 30 (the fifth book of Moses, the Torah, the law) Moses sets before the people a choice. Follow God’s way to life and prosperity or the way which leads to death and adversity. It is a matter of life vs. death and blessings vs. curses. And Jesus, in being the fulfillment of the Law (Matt. 5:17-18), defines this life and blessings in terms of relationships with God and with others.
Are we going to choose to make relationships a priority?
Our relationship with God over our relationship with the idols of this world. (And believe me whether we admit it or not, we live in a polytheistic culture.)
Are we going to choose our relationships with others over a society that it would seem devalues relationships. In a society that all too easily renders individuals less than because of any number of things: economic status, race, gender, sexual orientation and of late political orientation! How quickly we pigeon hole and label people. (Friends will not have anything to do with each other because of who they voted for.)
Our nightly newscasts are filled with story after story of individuals or groups who are dehumanized and rendered victims of a society that no longer values relationships and has ceased loving neighbor as self. It is easy to look at the problems of the world and name them as the fault of others but the bigger challenge comes when we dare to find ourselves in the midst and ask, “How am I contributing to this.”
Or better, “How can I bring a difference to what I observe around me?”
The prophets of the O.T. often urged the people to see the world through God’s eyes and not ask God to see the world through theirs. Jesus challenges us to do the same to see others as God sees them. A world that God so loved that God sent God’s only son to save the world.
And then Jesus challenges us to live our lives and foster relationships in such a way that this Kingdom of heaven which Jesus said has come near will come near to us and through us to all.

Want to hear Pastor Wilson share this Sermon from the Pulpit… simply double click on “Download File” listed below.