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

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


Sermons

You Are Blessed

~ Sermon ~ Sunday, July 15th, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson ~

You Are Blessed

Ephesians 1:3-14

 

Reading and hearing this passage from Ephesians can be a bit challenging in the best of times.  But to subject you to it in the midst of the summer season in Charlevoix can be a bit like sitting down to a picnic on the patio or deck overlooking the water on an unusually warm day and being served a steaming hot bowl of thick beef stew.  Not really what you have an appetite for!   Perhaps a nice Michigan cherry chicken salad would be more palatable.

The very first sentence can be a mouthful for the reader and an earful for the listener!  And if we’re honest, we’re probably more in the mood for a nice little parable this morning than this densely worded, run-on sentence.  Yes, in the original Greek much of this is one long sentence! 

But even with all this, I want us to hear in the denseness of Paul’s words, the wonderful good news carried in phrases like : 

“blessed in Christ”,  “chose us in Christ”,

 “destined us for adoption”,

 “God’s glorious grace freely bestowed”,

“the riches of God’s grace lavished on us”.

“Made known to us the mystery of his will”

“So that we might live for the praise of God’s glory.” 

Paul has heaped superlative upon superlative, one blessing piled on another as if he thinks the little congregation in Ephesus does not believe him.  And one might suspect that this may be the case.

The congregation in Ephesus, like all the “churches” in Asia Minor (If you can call them “churches” at this point in their development.) was a small loosely organized movement.  And in this very cosmopolitan city, Ephesus was the seat of the region’s governor, a city of great wealth and power; this fledgling sect of Christ followers was up against some pretty big cultural forces.

Ephesians is thought to have been a “circular letter” sent and meant to be read in many congregations.  If so “Paul” writes to this church and the other struggling fellowships to remind and encourage them,

“Don’t listen to the voices of the culture around you.  

Don’t feel shame because you’re not as big and well attended and funded as the temple to the Artemis, you are blessed in Christ!  (The Temple of Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.)

Don’t feel of like you are of little value, you are destined for adoption, the riches of God’s grace lavished on you!  A glorious grace freely bestowed.

Don’t feel abandoned, God chose you in Christ.

Don’t say “Who are we or what difference can we make.”  With all wisdom and insight God has made known to us the mystery of God’s will.

Yes, you, little church in Ephesus. 

Yes, I’m talking to you, First Congregational Charlevoix Michigan!  

And by the way, Paul reminds them, this is all God’s doing not yours!  It is a gift!  You do not have to earn it!  You can’t acquire it, it is gift, a amazing gift of grace.  All that is needed is to believe it and accept it!   

 

We may not feel it as much here in northern Michigan, but I suspect we do or at least we are aware of it,  the world, culture, society is telling the church “You’re no longer relevant!”

We are told, the church has little if any influence. Nobody pays any attention to you. The church may have been a place of influence “once upon a time” but like all other stories that begin with those words, the church is now only a fairy tale, like those stories found in that book you people take so seriously.

We are told indirectly and directly that we have nothing important to say to the world’s issues.  That’s the political realm and religion and politics are two separate things.  Well, I couldn’t disagree more!  If your faith doesn’t impact your politics then I would question your faith!

Perhaps we have lost our place in our culture and we certainly do not have the influence we once did.  (Like 60+ years ago, the “Good old days!”)  But actually the church and the culture were more closely aligned back then and I’m not sure that was always a good thing.  Because from the beginning, since the time of the church’s founder, that fellow out of Nazareth, his movement has always been counter-cultural!     

It can be easy for us to look around and feel the world is “going to H in a hand basket.”   Bu Paul  is saying to us through these Ephesians, “no” as difficult as it may seem to believe, trust that “all things in the fullness of time will be gathered up in Christ, things in heaven and on earth!

“So that we who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.”(12)

These words of Paul are important.  He is telling us about the sort of life we should be living as people who are adopted, graced, and richly blessed with this immense inheritance of love.  Paul says this inheritance is a way of life.   And he says it twice to make sure the church hears it. Paul refers to this way of life as living to “the praise of God’s glory” (vss. 12 & 14).  It is a journey “toward redemption as God’s own people” (v. 14). 

The words “praise” and “glory” are easily domesticated by the church.  They can become little more than words of a hymn or what we call a certain style of worship.  The glory of God for Paul  – a rabbi by training – is the kabod, the weight and gravitas of the presence of Holy.  Paul imagines the church of the Ephesians and the Ephesus’s of today living as a people known not for their praise of human institutions or idols or ideas but for their joy in what Christ is doing to redeem aching souls and a suffering world. 

Paul is imagining the church even today, as marked by people who keep a consistent focus on what God is doing in its midst and in the midst of a troubled earth. 

We can have this hope not because all this is visible to us, but because according to Paul we have knowledge of God’s final plan as yet only partially realized but one day to be fulfilled.

How do we know all this to be true and that we are not the victims of some self-imposed delusion?  Again Paul provides an answer here.  It is the presence of the Holy Spirit, which according to Paul is the “down payment” on the ultimate inheritance of unity and peace.  Where the church in all and every age, praises God and confesses Christ as Lord, that Spirit is present, assuring us that the divine goal will one day in fact become reality. 

Indeed we are blessed.  Let us live into the blessing.

To enjoy the Audio Version of this Sermon, please select “Download File” below and enjoy:


Thus Says the Lord…But Who is Listening?

~ Sermon ~ Sunday, July 8th, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson ~

“Thus Says the Lord . . . But who is listening?”

Ezekiel 2:1-5

 

It is always an interesting worship service at Old First Church on the Common on a Sunday after Rev. Williams attends one of those Spiritual Revival in Leadership conferences.  Especially if it is one sponsored by one of those big non-denominational churches! They do it up big! Bright lights, jumbo screens, big name speakers, you get the whole load!  One year, somehow, Rev. Williams talked Melvin, Bea Stearns’ husband, into going along with him.  Upon returning Melvin allowed, “It’s like attending one of those Amway conventions.  You may not make a lot of money but they’ll get you wicked excited and all wound up!”

Well, he does, Rev. William returns from one of these and steps into the pulpit on Sunday morning all wound up and ready light a fire under these stolid New England Congregationalists.  Trouble is, they sittin’ in the pews and huffing a puffing right back, snuffing out the flames of the Holy Spirit out as fast as a 5 year old blowing out the candles on her birthday cake!  And the good Reverend is sure that some may have even brought along buckets of water! 

And so, on Monday mornin’ he slumps into the chair in his church study all deflated and thinking, “Well, who am I anyway? I’ll never be invited to speak at any convention.”

He lets out a long breath, “Nobody listens to me anyway.”

And then he slides even deeper into despondency, “No, I’m no a great orator and we are certainly not spirit-inflamed people. We are but a small town gathering of the faithful, and some of the ‘not so sure about it all.’”

“Why would anyone listen to us?  What do we have to offer?” 

 Yeah, he was feeling pretty blue that Monday and it carried on into Tuesday and Wednesday.  Thursday morning found him staring at the computer screen without a clue as to what he was going to preach on, when there was a soft knock on his door.  Abby had left for the post office, so he got up and went to the door and standing there was Wendy Barstow. 

Wendy had just graduated from the Rockhaven High School and was the only senior from First Church on the Common this year and in a way just another reminder for Rev. Williams the state of the congregation.  She had an unusual request for the Rev.  She wanted to know if she might speak to the congregation sometime this summer.  

Well, the good pastor saw this as a way out of the spiritual desert he’d found himself in.  So, sure she could speak to the congregation, “How about this Sunday?!”  He would like that and sure the congregation would as well.  (He just didn’t let on that it was probably be the whole sermon!)

So it was, this past Sunday, Wendy Barstow told her story.

The Barstow’s are one of those families that has had its share of generational hard luck.  Her great-grandparents had a farm out on the tidal flats on Prescott Road of Ricker’s Bluff Road south of town.  They had apple orchards, hay meadows, some good timber land on high ground.  Then at the urging of the State Milk Board, old Chauncy Barstow decided to become a modern dairy operation.  With the loan the bank provided, they bought the equipment, built a new barn and purchased a herd of Holsteins.  That was the spring of . . . 1929!

By 1932 milk production was high and consumption low, prices even lower!

In the end they managed to keep 5 acres and build a small home and each successive generation has struggled to recover. 

Now there are three little homes on the five acres (actually the one Wendy, her two younger brothers and parents live in is a 1985 14’ by 70’ mobile home.)

Wendy paused at this point in her story, but she couldn’t look up from her notes the feelings welling up.  She gained her composure and went on to say, that a little over two years ago she made an extra effort to study and work really hard and she was able to get B’s and one A- on her grade report.  For the first time in her life and her family’s she thought that maybe, just perhaps, college or some sort of technical school might be a possibility.

So one evening she spoke to her parents, who quickly pointed out that they had noticed that she had been missing some of her chores and doing homework instead.  With both Mom and Dad working long hours to make ends meet, as the oldest, she carried extra responsibility at home.  But with their hesitant blessing the next day she made an appointment to see the school guidance counselor.

She sat across the big wooden desk from Mr. Campbell, the counselor, and nervously shared her desire to further her education after high school.  Could he help her explore her options and see if there just might be some financial assistance or even a scholarship or something? 

Mr. Campbell smiled and looked at Wendy with all seriousness, “We’ll see Wendy, you know, you’ve only got these grades for one semester so far.” 

And then those dream demolishing words . . . “Higher education isn’t for everyone, you know.”  He might as well have said, “Especially those like you and your family, Wendy Barstow.”

A wave of murmurs swept through the congregation. 

Wendy paused again, swallowed her tears back and went on.

It was about that time that Elsie Flanagan invited her to come along on an Old First Church youth outing to Bangor to see “The Hunger Games: Mockingbird II” which was all the rage among teens at the time.  Wendy says she was hesitant at first. Their family had no extra money for movie ticket and dinner out even if it was just going to be Taco Bell.  When Elsie assured her that the Church Youth Fund was covering everyone’s cost, Wendy said with some hesitancy still, she would go.   

With her voice cracking, Wendy told how what she found that day and the two and a half years since was not just a group of high school friends but an extended family.  She recalled when how Gerry (Geraldine) Walton volunteered to pick her up and bring her to church.  All the questions she had for Gerry during those drives!

Why are there tablecloths on that big table up front? 

Why were they green last week and purple now?

Whose “Gloria” And is Patri her last name?   

Why does the pastor wear that black thing?

Looks like it made out of a drapery from Nichol’s funeral home! 

And she recalled how when she got to church because Gerry taught Sunday school on occasion she would sit with Betsy and Carl Holgrum.  She still remembers the day Betsy asked if Wendy would assist her with Coffee Hour the next Sunday.  

The next Saturday afternoon she met Betsy in the kitchen of their bakery and she told the congregation how Betsy let her use that humongous Hobart mixer to make the batter for the cupcakes they baked for coffee hour.  And how Mabel Bradley invited her over to “tea” one Sunday after church just this past winter and helped her navigate the confusing paths through scholarships, educational grants and college applications.

She paused here again.  She looked at Mabel with deep appreciation.  She turned to Betsy and had this sort of smile that said they shared some special knowledge. 

Before she spoke again, she looked out into the entire congregation for the first time and sitting there with Gerry Walton and her husband Brad, were Wendy’s parents, Sharon and Clint Barstow. Their eyes beaming with pride and yet a bit misty as well (at least her Dad’s!) 

Wendy drew in another breath. “I want to share with my parents and with the extended family I found in this place that I applied and have been accepted at the Eastern Maine Community College and this fall will be entering their Culinary Arts Program!”  

And for the first time ever (other than the obligatory clapping for the children’s Christmas pageant) the congregation broke into applause with all manner of indecorum for us Congregationalists.  Why I believe I even heard a hoot and whistle or two!

When it settled down Wendy drew upon all her inner strength and looked into the eyes of the congregation and said,

“When I first came here two and a half years ago and sat in that pew with Gerry Walton, I was asking myself, ‘I wonder, if even the church would care about a student like me from a family like mine?’” 

The church fell silent.  They had no idea.

Rev. Williams reflected back on his response to last Sunday and he thought:

Sometimes the church is called to be prophetic with its words and actions spirit-filled.  And you know, other times it needs to hear the life-giving words of a prophet. 

And sometimes that prophet isn’t someone with the grand gift of oratory or dressed in black funeral home drapes, but just happens to look and sound like a recent high school graduate from Prescott Road just off Rickers Bluff.

And so we learned last Sunday at Old First Church on the Common.

To listen to the Audio Version of this Sermon, please select “Download File” below and enjoy:


Grace & Power in Weakness

~ Sermon ~ Sunday, July 1st, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson ~

 

Grace and Power in Weakness

The Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12:9

 

“My grace is sufficient for you.”

Here we are on the weekend before the Fourth of July where in the United States of America many this week, rather than remembering our 242-year history will think only of fireworks, picnics and more fireworks.  Look at the many firework stands that pop up every year in June!  They are more abundant and more reliable sign of June that u-pick strawberry farms! 

But I would like to at least take this morning and pause long enough to remember that 242-year history and give thanks for the liberty and strength of this country and the many other ideals our nation stands for when it’s at its best.

“America, America, God shed his grace on thee.” Those lines from the song are both a statement and a prayer.  Indeed, God has shed grace on this country.  

When leaders of our new country gathered to declare independence, when they gathered to write a constitution, it didn’t come easy, but God gave them grace.  

A hundred years later, when our country was threatened with civil war, God gave us grace—even during the deadliest battle fought on this nation’s soil—and we avoided secession and division.

The twentieth century saw the United States become a world leader in commerce and trade.  When our country was drawn into wars abroad, God gave us grace to come together with our allies and overcome dictatorship and totalitarianism.

Over the years, God has graced this country with a pioneer spirit, (Which to be sure, wasn’t without its excesses and abuses!  Ask the Wampanoags of New England or the Sioux of the plains or the Apache and Navaho of the southwest!) Still at our best, God blessed our nation with courageous energy and generous wisdom.  

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, these “unalienable rights” which our Declaration of Independence says have been given to all human beings by their Creator, and which governments are created to protect.  It is because our country thrives that people want to join us.  And so throughout our history, our country has attracted immigrants.  We have always benefitted from this influx of new energy and ideas, and we will always need these.  Sadly for some today, this stirs up more fear and suspicion than welcome.  But it has been the experience of our nation that it more often brings with it, grace and strengthens our nation’s character.

But here in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, the Lord says to the Apostle Paul something else about grace. “My grace is sufficient to you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  

In other words, according to God, grace involves weakness.  Paul delivers to us today an important lesson for any individual, and for any country: power, good and righteous power, is able to acknowledge weakness, individual and our weaknesses as a nation.

As a nation we are experiencing more and more horrendous actions within our society.  Deadly shootings in movie theaters, night clubs, shopping malls, places of business, in our schools!  And every day on the streets of our major communities. 

Three years ago (does it seem possible that it’s been that long?) our country was horrified at the murder of faithful black churchgoers in Charleston.  It struck our land with pain and horror.  How could this be?  How could a young man, any person, in our country commit such terroristic murder?  Yet, that tragedy was powerfully answered by forgiving attitude of those left in the church.

And our country by-in-large reacted as if we too were a part of that healing grace.  People lowered and removed confederate battle flags.  Even people who don’t necessarily think the battle flags are racist began removing them.  The pro golfer Bubba Watson who owns a replica of the “General Lee” the iconic car from the 1980’s Dukes of Hazzard television series, painted the American flag over the Confederate one on the car’s roof!  He did this he said to show his solidarity with those for whom the flag was very disturbing.

Of course, in our country these tragedies have sparked a national debate on everything from race, gun control, video game violence to mental health matters.  And with the current lack of civil discourse in our nation, it seems we will be arguing about these issues and many more for some time.  

Yet, when we are at our best as a nation, it is by God’s grace that we can carry on such arguing freely and hopefully constructively.  But sometimes, these arguments have revealed embarrassing weaknesses, and they have revealed arrogance and fundamentalism, too.  Now, let me be clear, “arrogance and fundamentalism,” is not limited any one particular political party!  As a very progressive politically and theologically minded mentor of mine once reminded me, “There is sometimes no one more close-minded that an open-minded liberal.”  He knew that the dangers of arrogance and fundamentalism were not the sole traits of any one political or theological perspective.  

Scripture teaches us that power is made perfect in weakness. God’s power is perfected in weakness.  “The Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

Our country has always been at our best when we have considered the needs of the weak, the suffering, the minority.  Seeking and serving the weak, no matter where and who they are, makes this country who we are.  And it makes people want to live here!  But realizing weakness is also what makes each of us, as individuals, stronger people.  Indeed, the spiritual life starts and ends with humbly realizing our weaknesses, acknowledging our struggles and pains.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians in an earlier letter: “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (1 Cor. 1:25)

And the faithful Christian spiritual life certainly means following the example of Jesus, seeking and serving the weak.  In the wonderful “miracle economy” of God, God works like this: when we seek and serve the weak among us, we are actually better able to recognize our own mistakes and weaknesses.  It is then that amazing grace occurs.   

One of the glories of our country is that we are able (or have been able), with grace, to recognize our needs and weaknesses.  I know that some of us don’t want to hear about our country’s weaknesses especially on this holiday.  Some people mistakenly think it is treason to point them out.  But such is not the case. 

This ability to acknowledge weakness, wherever it might be in our country’s structure, is exactly what makes the United States different from authoritarian countries, and from dictatorships, and from tyrannies.  

We are different!  But our difference is this: that our greatness comes from being able to voice criticism and name our mistakes and weaknesses. We are not an imperial power, a power that blocks out all disputes and opponents.  We are freer, much freer, than those countries of the world which seek to suppress dissent and acknowledgement of weakness.  Again at our best we listen to each other individually and internationally.  We learn from listening to each other, really listening.  And we can learn from our mistakes.  But first we must admit them! 

And in the end as Christians, we hear as Paul heard, “My grace is sufficient to you,” says our Lord, “for power is made perfect in weakness.”  When we can acknowledge weaknesses, we can then experience grace.  And in this grace find our strength as persons, as a people, and as a nation.

So yes, “America, America God shed your grace on us.”  May this be our prayer: And may it be O God, your grace and your power for only then we will really understand greatness in weakness!  

To enjoy  the Audio Version of this Sermon, please select “Download File” and enjoy!


Touching Bottom

~ Sermon ~ June 24th, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson

“Touching Bottom”

Mark 4:35-41

Did you hear about Jerome Jordan walking on water last week?

You didn’t!  Well, maybe it didn’t happen exactly like the gospel account of Jesus;

or even as it has been retold a dozen times over at Joe’s Barber Shop, but still a pretty good story non-the-less!

Let me back up a bit. 

This past winter the Rev. Samuel Hartford, director of the Outer Island Relief Society was a guest preacher at Old First Church on the Common.  He shared heartbreaking as well as heartwarming stories about the hardships of life on the outer Islands and how the Relief Society seeks to meet the needs of those remote island fishing families as they deal with the isolation, substance and physical abuse, medical emergencies and lack of educational opportunities for their children.

In his Power Point presentation during coffee hour, Rev. Hartford had photos of an old lobster trap shack on Great Seal Island that the island high school youth (all 4 of them) were attempting to convert into a computer lab.  The Relief Society had helped them with a grant to get satellite internet to the island but only to one location.  The school such as it was, is located such that the satellite signal would be obscured by the high ridge to the south. So the kids decided to mount it on the old trap shack which because of its shoreline setting has an unobstructed southerly exposure.  The youth have been working to weatherize it, new roof, shingles, windows, and finish it off inside and purchase computers and routers, printers and scanners. 

The youth of Old First were of course interested in this seeing as it was right up their bailiwick, computers, internet, Wi-Fi and all that.  But they were also amazed at how difficult life must be on Great Seal Island without the technology they took for granted!  

So several of the youth got together, Bobbie Flanagan and his sister Elsie, Banda McIntyre, Billy Hollman, a Walton youn’ un or two, the Jordan kids and they approached church member, Peter Warren, a teacher at the alternative high school in Pembleton to see if he would he be willing to help them organize a trip out to Great Seal Island to help the kids there finish their computer lab.

Well, within a week those kids had hit up just about every business in town and amazingly had raised enough money to purchase insulation, tongue & groove paneling, two of those assemble yourself computer desks and a couple of iPads for the Great Seal student computer lab project. 

Their success at fund raising is possibly the more amazing part of the whole story and perhaps the real miracle.  You see, historically there has been no love-loss between the outer islanders and the mainlanders.  The islanders can be an odd lot (not that us mainlanders are all that sociable at times) but islanders keep pretty much to themselves.  What happens out there stays out there.  Except some 50 years ago something happened between two of the old families, the Bailey’s from Great Seal and the Teagues from Rockhaven.  Threats were made, traps and gear sabotaged, storage sheds burnt, boats sunk.  This bad blood spread and the islanders retreated to Great Seal and Little Lookout Islands.  To this day islanders will take their boats across the exposed open waters of Englishman’s Bay, an extra 25 miles to Machias, rather than do business in Rockhaven, even though the only living descendant of the Teague clan in Rockhaven is Buster MacMillan, a great nephew of old Tiger Teague one of the antagonists in the “lobster war” as the dispute is known today. 

Day of the trip Peter had enlisted the adult help of Jerome Jordan, Bertie Dixon and Abby Reynolds, the church secretary.  They met down at Longmeadow Wharf at 7 a.m. where Peter had thought he had secured the service of two 35 ft. lobster boats through Wally Poindexter of Wally’s Fish Market and Bait Shop.  Only instead of two 35’ wide beam lobster boats, tied to the piling they found three little 20’ footers with what Peter thought of as “vintage” 20 hp Evinrude outboards!  “They not vintage.”  Bertie informed him “They just old!”   

And to top it all off, one of the boats boasted the very sloppily hand-painted name, “S.S. Minnow” after another boat infamous for a three hour tour that lasted three seasons and three movie sequels!  Not a good omen! Jerome drew the short stick and loaded his gear into the “Minnow.”

Well, they had no time to find alternative transportation, the tide was in their favor and the wind light, eerily light, Bertie Dixon noted.  So they divided the supplies and passengers up as evenly as they could into what amounted to little more than oversized tenders and got the ancient Evinrudes fired up and put out into the bay working their way in and around moored sailboats and small motor yachts.  All the lobster boats were, of course, out for the day.  They worked for a living. 

Great Seal Island was just a dark ragged line on the horizon.  About half an hour into their motoring Bertie could see a change in the water color out just beyond Great Seal.  He knew how the tides and the wind could play tricks on mariners when a summah sow-westerly would push against the tides in the narrows between Great Seal and Little Lookout Island, a scrub covered rock of about 200 acres.  Within minutes the seas could become a choppy, turbulent, mixing bowl of whitecaps and deep troughs.  And the only navigable harbor on Great Seal was up through the narrows.           

As luck wouldn’t have it, just as they rounded Pilot’s Point on the east end of Great Seal, they came about into the full fury of one of Mother Nature’s occasional tantrums.  It was only a mere two miles through the narrows to reach the shelter of the breakwater off the landing on Great Seal but the winds were making the old Evinrudes struggle.  And occasionally the outboards would scream as they lifted completely out of the water!

Jerome worked to manage the throttle on his outboard as they shot up the swells, over the crests and plunged into the depths.  Abby, in the same boat as Bertie, kept her eye on the lighthouse of Little Lookout Island and could tell that they were gaining some headway but it also looked like the lighthouse was getting a bit closer with each swell they climbed! 

Panic was beginning to come across the faces of the youth aboard the S.S. Minnow, as Jerome Jordan nursed it over a steep side swell.  And just as the old Evinrude came out of the water it let out one last roar as it over-revved and came to an knocking halt.    

Jerome called for Banda and Beverly Walton to grab the paddles that were stowed along the gun’ales of the boat.  By this time there was sheer terror on the faces of the youth!

The best Jerome was hoping for was to use the paddles to get them to move in the general direction of a small pebble beach on Little Lookout Island know as Jasper Cove.  The other boats seeing what had happened and being carried by the out-going tide themselves closer to Little Lookout decided to stay with their friends in trouble and see if there would be anything they could do to help. 

At some point a rogue wave hit the side of the floundering Minnow and sent Banda flying, his paddle shooting overboard.  Grabbing it before it floated out of reach, Jerome took over helping Beverly get their boat righted around and pointed roughly in the direction of Jasper Cove. 

Meanwhile Peter, Bertie and Abby looked on helpless from the other boats.  Bertie thought of the story of Jesus and the storm of the Sea of Galilee and said something about it hoping to calm their fears.  

To which Abby, always the cynic, quipped, “Maybe Bertie, but I’m looking around and I don’t see a sleeping Jesus in any of our boats!”

After about 15 minutes Jerome could see that they were actually making headway toward the beach in Jasper Cove and so he shouted to Beverly “Give it all you got!”

She and Jerome dug deep both within for strength and into the depths of the stormy sea.  They topped the first crest, plunged into the trough.  Paddling in desperation up the next one and quickly dropping.  So quickly in fact, Jerome was still paddling when they hit the low point and wham his paddle hit bottom!   And suddenly he realized that even though they were still a good distance from shore the water there was only maybe 2 feet deep 3 at the most! 

A few more strokes and a couple more crests and troughs and Jerome grabbed the bow line and without a word jumped over the side of the S.S. Minnow and felt his feet quickly hit the pebbly bottom.  Standing there suddenly the waves didn’t seem as high and the troughs as low, in fact most of the time he could see over them.  With the bow line over his shoulder he began making his way toward the beach perhaps 75 yards away. 

Peter and Bertie at first couldn’t believe their eyes!  First, that he jumped out and then, from where they were it looked like he was walking on water!     

Abby, the skeptic perhaps finding faith, muttered “Well, I’ll be God-dazzled.”  (except she was dazzled!)

Seeing this, the others motor in a little closer, shut off their faithful Evinrudes and Peter and Bertie, each taking the bow line in hand, walk their loaded boats to the safety of Jasper Beach where they wait until evening when the sou’wester dies down and the tide runs with the wind!

Paul Bunyan in his classic allegorical novel  The Pilgrim’s Progress tells about Christian, Bunyan’s archetype of a person struggling to lead a life of faith.  Christian with his friend, Hopeful, is reaching the end of his symbolic journey.  But to reach the end will require crossing a mighty and fearsome river. 

Christian is desperately afraid .  Together with his friend Hopeful, he wades into the water with trepidation. 

Christian cries out, “I sink in deep Waters; the Billows go over my head, all His waves go over me.” 

Hopeful replies with what may be among the most grace-filled words in all of literature, “Be of good cheer, my Brother, I feel the bottom, and it is good . . .”    

 

Now I don’t know about you but I haven’t found that I can walk on water.  More often than not though, I’ve found that there is a bottom, something solid under the storm or within the storm, and find in that, something to stand upon which helps me move forward.  

 

It was later that evening, round a campfire safely ashore Great Seal Island  for some strange mystical reason, a little sea shanty came to Peter’s mind so he sang,

“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip. . . ”

Enjoy the Audio Version of this sermon by selecting “Download File” below, enjoy!:


Where Is God?

~ Sermon ~ Sunday, June 10th, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson ~

“Where Is God?”

2 Corinthians 4:13 – 5:1

Let me start with a “simple” question. . .   Where is God? 

I’m not asking in the sense of a spiritual crisis as in “Where is God when a child dies because her house is hit with artillery shells?” (We cannot answer that in the next ten minutes or so even if it could be satisfactorily answered!)   But this is simpler, more of a spatial reference question.  Where is God located? Up/down, in/around or out?

  In 1934 two heavyweights took a few intentional jabs at each other.  Think of pre-fight sparing between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman or Joe Frazier, only this time the opponents were not wearing boxing gloves but were two testy European theologians, Karl Barth and Emil Brunner who sparred with their pens.  At stake was determining once and for all the Anknupfungspunkt or the “point of contact” between God and human beings.  Where do we find or meet God?

Emil Brunner believed the point of contact was located inside of us, while Karl Barth saw the point of contact as truly beyond us.  To summarize many pages of their argument , Brunner believed there were echoes of Eden still inside our heart, soul, and mind, while Barth staunchly defended the notion that God is nothing like us, but instead distant and ultimately “other.”

So . . . where is God?

In our reading from 2 Corinthians this morning, Paul suggests, amidst the trial and tribulations of life, we can take comfort that a resurrected Christ lives “inside us.”  Like Brunner, Paul locates the anknupfungspunkt at first inside us rather than outside.  Paul writes, “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”  (2 Cor. 4:16)

Bede Griffiths was a twentieth century Benedictine monk who in his travels around the world asked people of various faiths, “Where is God?”  Hindus and Buddhists in the East, he found out, would typically point to their heart; while Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the West would point outside of themselves to the “heavens.”

So let me ask you our question a bit differently . . . Where do you find or meet God in your life?   Inside or outside?  Up or down?   Or do these spatial references not fit with your understanding of the Holy.

Returning to Paul’s writing, he claims that (as I think we can testify) that indeed while we are being renewed within, our outer nature is being worn away.  And ultimately this earthly tent we live in will be destroyed.  Paul’s point is as Ben Franklin quipped, like taxes, death is inevitable.  Everything that is human will crumble and perish, whether it is a city, a home, or even our own life.  But in the face of this reality, Paul steers his readers to the hope found in “eternal” things.

What does this mean?  I believe like an inner nature grounded in the resurrected Christ, there also exists Paul says, divinity “outside of us,” another reality to restore us, but not one easily seen.  So we might assume that if Bede Griffiths met up with Paul and asked his question, “Where is God?” Paul would have first pointed to his heart, and then with his other hand to the world and stars overhead. 

How would you describe your experience of God?

Those moments you cannot fully explain. . . but that somehow hint of a spiritual dimension within this world or beyond it.  Some might describe them as coincidences or déjà vu.  The Celtic Christians called these moments “thin places.”

It has been observed that some creatures seem to have a sixth sense.  For instance sharks and birds have a magnetic sense to enable them to respond to the earth’s magnetic field.  Rupert Sheldrake who wrote The Sense of Being Stared At, says that while humans may not have this sixth sense, we seem to have what he calls a seventh sense – a spiritual awareness that connects us to each other, the world and to the realm of the spirit.  He points out how many of us believe we have sensed people staring at us even though our backs are turned at the time.  Sixty percent of us claim to have experienced telepathy.  Sheldrake points to the skaters Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, who dazzled us at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics.  According to Dean, the reason they could skate so fluidly and beautifully was telepathy.  “There’s simply no other way to explain it,” Dean said in an interview.

Have you ever thought of someone and have the phone ring, or receive a letter in the mail or email or text?  Have you ever woken up right before the alarm rang?  Or before your baby started to cry?

It seems to me that just as Elijah heard the still small voice at the entrance of the cave, and Samuel the voice call him in the night, and as Moses saw God’s glory on the mountain, we can discover God’s presence all around us – inside and out – if we have the eyes of the heart to see. 

There is an old story about a disciple and his teacher. One day the disciple approached his master with a question, “Where shall I find God?”

“Here.” the teacher said.

“Then why can’t I see God?”

“Because you do not look.”

The disciple pressed his teacher, “But what should I look for?”

“Nothing, just look.” the teacher replied. 

“But at what?” he protested. 

“At anything your eyes will light upon.”

“But must I look in a special kind of way?”   

“No, the ordinary way will do.” the teacher insisted

“But don’t I always look in the ordinary way?” asked a puzzled disciple.

“No, you don’t.” the teacher answered matter-of-factly. 

“But why ever not?” the disciple pressed further. 

“Because to look you must be here.  You’re mostly somewhere else.”

 

It has been said that the Apostle Paul’s thought, as a theologian, could be summed up as the “triumph of God.”  This triumph of God is discovered when we come to understand that as Christians we already live in the dawning of God’s coming reign and since the coming of Christ and his victorious resurrection, suffering becomes all the more tolerable. 

Perhaps Paul would say both Brunner and Barth were right, that God’s presence and triumph is both internal and external – as the resurrected Christ renews us from the inside out, but also God continues to birth in our midst and with our help and before our very eyes, a new heaven and a new earth.   

Might God grant us the eyes of faith to see and behold the wonders around us and also see those traces of the Holy within ourselves and each other, without regard to the color of our skin, the language we speak, the name by which we pray to God or the ones we call family.  Amen.

Enjoy the Audio Version of this Sermon by clicking on “Download File” below:


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!!!!