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

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


Sermons

Do Not Doubt But Believe

~ Guest Sermon ~ April 8, 2018 ~ The Reverend Barbara Hoig

Scriptures: Psalm 133

                  Acts 4:32-35

                  John 20:19-35

KEY TEXT: John 20:27a: “Put your finger here and see my hands.  Reach out your hand and           put it in my side.  Do not doubt but believe.”

Sermon Title:  “Do Not Doubt But Believe”

Prayer:  O Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you.  Amen.

We all have doubts.  Sometimes I think that doubt is the by-word for our times.  We doubt the weather predictors, we doubt the promise makers, we doubt the news, we doubt the world leaders, we doubt the IRS, we doubt the insurance companies, we doubt our government…

It’s all about being able to trust people.  Who do you trust in your life?  I have had that concept deeply shaken recently when a 44 year old woman whom I have known for nearly 30 years, and have kept in contact with, came crashing back into my life in a very real way.  Back before Christmas I heard from Kathy, not her real name, and she wanted to talk.  But before I tell you too much, you need some background.  Kathy was an abused child, abused by all the males in her life as a small child, and also in High School.  Kathy was adopted as an infant and a few years later her parents adopted a little boy.  Her Mother did not know that after her husband had abused her, left her unconscious on the floor, he was also abusing the children.  They, of course, were sworn to secrecy being told of horrible punishment if they said anything.  It wasn’t until the age of 25 when Kathy, with my hand in hers, was able to tell her Mom what had happened at the hands of her dad and brother.  Then we found out that her Mom had also been an abused child.

Kathy was brought up to believe that men were bad news.  They hurt you.  When Kathy was of an age that her friends were dating, her Mom didn’t let her date because men will just hurt you and leave you in the end.  You’re better off without them.  Kathy also has several severe and chronic diagnoses, the worst of which is epilepsy.  Her doctors believe that it was brought on by all the hits she took to her head as a child.

There is a beautiful new development to this story.  Kathy has a boyfriend.  He is a wonderful, Christian man that she has known for 10 years.   He was divorced when she met him, got married and divorced again, and has kept in contact with Kathy through his profession, all this time.  He has now declared his love for her, and Kathy was terrified, though she knows Tom is a good man, and does love her and won’t hurt her, it took a tremendous amount of courage for Kathy to go out to dinner with him for that first date.  In fact, she told him she would go to dinner if he didn’t call it a date.  It turns out that Kathy’s Mom, believing she is protecting her, does not approve of this relationship.  Kathy is now engaged to Tom, and planning a wedding.  She is so amazed that love can be unconditional, that a man can love a woman without hurting her, that all the things she has been told about male/female relationships over her 44 years have been proven slanted by an abused parent. 

Suddenly, in not quite 3 months, Kathy has taken a monumental leap of faith.  She has learned to trust a man on a personal level, even though she has many doubts, she is learning to talk to Tom about them and she has found that he does not lie to her when the questions are hard to answer.  

We all need to deal with our doubts.  Sometimes it is easy, sometimes hard.  But in order to live our lives, we must move past them, or know that we have doubts for a good reason.  I believe that is where Thomas was.  He was doubtful that this apparition standing in front of him, who had come through a closed door, was actually the man he had known before he saw him crucified.  Let’s examine some of the leaps of faith Thomas had to make to believe.

We live in an interesting time; long years past Jesus’ time.  So when we read these scriptures, and ponder their meaning, we look back, to what we think Jesus might have meant, then try to give that some relevance in 2018.

When Jesus was resurrected, he entered the same world he had left 3 days prior. 

Rome was still in charge, and the Christians were hiding out and looking over their shoulders.  His disciples, the eleven, (the twelve minus one), were hiding in an upper room in a house.  I saw a friend on Easter Sunday who just returned from a trip to Jerusalem.  She said they visited an ‘upper room’ in a house.  You had to climb a very rough ladder to get there, and it was a fairly large shelf of rock in the cave that the dwelling was made of.  There were no windows, only a small opening along the front side for air.  This is where the eleven were hiding out.  They were going out only in ones and twos and coming back to the room with the news of the day.  When Mary Magdalene found Jesus’ tomb empty, she ran to tell Peter and John.  When the news reached the group gathered in the upper room, they were amazed.  Then when the risen Christ visited them, they recognized their friend and teacher.  But Thomas was skeptical.  He had seen Jesus crucified and then placed in the tomb, after the body had been prepared for the grave.  How could Jesus now be alive?  Was this a ghost?  Was there some trick?  Why were Mary and Peter and John calling Jesus The Christ?

Christ sensed Thomas’ confusion about him and asked him to come close and examine the wound in His side.  “Put your hand in My side.”  He also asked Thomas to put his finger in the wounds in His hands.  The wounds in His hands that the nails had made.  In Jesus’ time, the Romans crucified a lot of people.  They did not use nails in the hands and feet.  The used leather bands to bind the people to the cross.  Jesus was nailed to the cross as per the prophesy.  Those wounds in his hands and feet were truly identifying wounds.  Christ was picking up his lessons where Jesus had left off before the crucifixion.  He was teaching the disciples to trust him.  Jesus IS the son of man.  He IS the son of God.  He IS the Christ.  Jesus was at one time both fully human and fully divine.  Now he is the risen Christ.  Still son of man and son of God, but more.

Christ was soon to ascent to heaven and be with the Father.  He would no longer be walking with the disciples on earth.  Instead they would be acting in his name.  They would be encountering people every day who would not believe them when they said that Jesus, now known as Christ, lives, He has risen.  He has ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father.  So this lesson to the disciples was extremely important. 

The Christians in those days were riddled with fears of demons and ghosts, as well as persecution by Romans.  There were all kinds of tricks and happenings that could not be explained.  They feared them all.  They ran and hid from them. 

The disciples needed to be able to convince the rest of the Christians that Jesus was indeed risen, and that He was ascended to the Father in heaven.  I believe that is why He visited with the disciples and continued to teach them during His short time left with them before His ascension.  The disciples were the first ones commissioned to go out and act in Christ’s name.  They were charged with baptizing and teaching all the people they met.

In the UCC, we believe in the priesthood of all believers.  That means that we believe all of us are able to perform priestly duties.  We hire some people who have been educated beyond the general congregant in the pews, so that they may teach us.  But we believe that we can petition God through Christ for anything we need.  Each one of us can pray for others, can teach others, can offer forgiveness to others we encounter in our daily lives. 

What we know about Jesus, the Christ, and His teachings, we have learned from the Bible.  We know that what is written in the Old Testament are words and concepts that were first passed down by word of mouth remembrances and then they were written down.  And in the New Testament, while there are probably some accounts that have a few of Jesus’ actual quotes, they are mostly what was remembered and written down after Christ ascended to the Father. 

Many of the Gospel writers never knew Jesus personally.  They knew him from the stories and teachings of the disciples and the leaders of the Christian movement. 

None of us ever knew Jesus personally, we never even knew the writers of the Biblical texts.  We cannot go to that upper room and ask Jesus to share communion with us.  We cannot stand with the eleven and watch the Christ walk into the room through a closed door.  We cannot put our finger in His nail holes or our hand in His side.  Our whole Christian Faith is entirely based on just that.  FAITH. 

Christ said to Thomas, “You believe because you have seen.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  In what ways have your lived on blind faith in your life?  For myself, while I was in seminary, I had left my full-time nursing job, and I was working part time as a nurse, and my new part time job didn’t quite cover all the bases.  Every month there were checks in the mail, from my home church, from friends and family, they really paid the bills so I could accomplish my dream.  I was truly living on faith.

Today, I live on the faith that my car will last another few months, and I will stay healthy and find interesting things to do that keep me busy, (I could do with a few less of these today).  I live on the faith that every time I go out and drive, I will get back home safely.  I live on faith the when I am in a crowd, there will not be a shooter in the crowd with me.  I live in fear of travel to some parts of the world.  I live in fear that some parts of the world will invade my happy life here in the US.  I attended a conference in St Louis, MO last fall.  It was all UCC clergy and their families, and I learned that many of them were locking doors, stripping altars and placing all valuables in vaults, hiring security for their parking lots whenever there was an event at the church, and asking choir members not to bring their purses to church and to keep their car key in a pocket because people were walking into the building during services and events and taking car keys out of pockets and purses from choir rooms.  Choir members were coming out of church to find that their money and their cars were missing.  In Traverse City, churches with child care centers are hiring security to police any door that is unlocked during the daytime hours, and only unlocking 1-2 doors unless there is an event.  If there is an event, they hire security for each open door to watch people coming in and going out.

In 2018, we call it being careful; protecting out assets; our families; our patrons; our congregation.  It takes the same kind of faith to live in 2018 as it did to live in the year Jesus was crucified.   “DO NOT DOUBT but believe.”  Christ promised us eternal life with Him and the Father and the Holy Spirit.  “Do no doubt but believe.”

Life with eternity in it – is God’s gift to us.  We have heard it, but we are slow to believe.  We have received it, but we are slow to trust.  It is ours to enjoy, but we have not lived it.  Let us discuss the matter with our Creator.

Closing prayer:

Ever-present God, who by the power of the holy Spirit transforms us individually – and as a church to be your dwelling place, confront us here in the midst of our doubts, grant us your peace while we face our fears, and increase our trust that we may embrace life in all its fullness. Speak to us now the word that we need, empowering us to be a unifying presence in our broken world.  Amen

Pastoral Prayer
We have taken the name Christian, but few of us are known primarily by that name.  We have experienced Easter radiance, but we seldom reflect the light of our risen Savior.  We have heard the message of salvation, but it grows cold on our lips and is of little influence in our lives.  Sometimes we delude ourselves that, because we are basically good people, there is no sin in us.  We deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  Sin is separation from you, and we have allowed great chasms and built high walls to keep you out of our lives.  Forgive us, we pray.

The Bible tells us that If we walk in the light as Christ is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.  If we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive us.  Christ is the atoning sacrifice for our sin.  When we are one with God through Christ, we extend forgiveness to our sisters and brothers, that all may come to faith and have life in Jesus’ name.

Help us to forgive our brothers and sisters; Our neighbors and friends.  Bring us peace in our lives.  Help us to approach that person we shy away from at work, at school, in our neighborhood.  Help us to make a difference in the lives of others by offering friendship and fellowship with another Christian. 

Help us to put our faith in you asking for healing for our neighbors and friends, and for ourselves.  Help us to have faith that you will show us the way each day as we leave our beds and venture out into this world.  Then help us to have courage to step out on that faith we have, and follow your example, teaching and making disciples of all we meet.

Hear us, O Lord, as we pray the prayer you have taught us saying, Our Father…  debts

Amen.

Enjoy the Audio version of Guest Speaker Rev. Barbara Hoig’s Sermon 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.


Seven Essential Questions: What Brings Fulfillment?

Sermon ~ Sunday, March 18th, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson

Seven Essential Questions: What Brings Fulfillment?

John 13:1-5, 12-17

 

In our Essential Questions of Faith series we’ve asked “Who Is Jesus?”  “What Matters Most?” and “Am I Accepted?” Today we probe the question: 

What brings fulfillment? 

Perhaps you would choose other descriptive term: contentment, joy, satisfaction, or as Pastor Rick Warren made popular: purpose.  What brings purpose to life?  

What word might you use to describe that state of being I’m trying to capture when I say, “fulfillment?”

How would you describe a “fulfilled life”?  When you look back over your life, when did you feel a sense of fulfillment?

In our gospel passage, Jesus is closing in on the end of his time on this earth.  I wonder, do you think he was feeling some pressure to “wrap things up,” complete his work; perhaps to fulfill his purpose?

If he did, I believe it might have been articulated in the second sentence of verse one.   “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”  The NIV Bible says it this way, “. . . he now showed them the full extent of his love.” 

How does he go about demonstrating the “full extent of his love”?  

He gets up, takes off his outer clothing, ties a towel around his waist, and begins washing their feet. 

For Jesus fulfillment of his earthly ministry was found in loving service.  Jesus takes on the role of a household servant.  As Paul would write to the Philippians, using what is thought by some to be a portion of an early Christian hymn:        

he made himself nothing

    by taking the very nature of a servant,

Jesus serves his disciples. The one they looked to as their “Master” they now see stooped before them, washing the day’s dirt off their calloused heals and chipped grubby toe nails.  Peter wouldn’t have any of this until Jesus reminded him that, “Unless I wash you (serve you), you will have no part with me.”  

To which Peter says “Well if that’s the case, then here are my hands and my head as well!”

After he has given the disciples this compelling example of his love, Jesus says to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you?”

Then he talks them through how if he, their teacher/rabbi did this for them, then how do they think they should treat one another. 

He concludes by reminding them and through them instructing us, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  . . .  Now that you know these things you are blessed if you do them.”

I ask you, what could be more fulfilling than to know God’s blessing on your lives?  I cannot think of anything right off hand! 

If you what to be more like Jesus . . . serve. 

If you want your life to have more meaning, to experience some fulfillment . . .serve.

Jesus found fulfillment of his mission in serving others to the end.  Ultimately this meant execution by crucifixion for what he believed in and for the salvation of those he loved.

I don’t think that Jesus intended such an act in order to find fulfillment for all of us, crucifixion that is!  But I truly believe whether I act on it often enough or not, satisfaction with life comes through service.

 

You know, I’ve done many things in life that were fun, exciting, were adrenaline rushes, (I am a confessed adrenaline junkie!)

After 40 plus years I finally realized a dream I had to fly some sort of aircraft.  

I love to travel even though I haven’t done it as much as I hoped I would have by this point.  I plan on doing more!  More travel, more adrenaline fixes, more flying.

I’ve been complimented on occasion for something I might have said in a sermon or two.  (I’ve also been criticized!)  In a former life I received accolades for my skills with a chainsaw and ability to work a difficult logging site with minimal damage to the residual stand. 

But in all these things I’ve never found the greater sense of fulfillment, call it satisfaction, that I find whenever I am serving someone or some cause beyond what is solely a personal benefit to me.  I first noticed something about this as a boy of perhaps twelve or thirteen.  You see, I had an uncle who had muscular dystrophy or maybe it was polio.  (You know I don’t know as I was ever was told.)  All I knew is that he wore metal braces on both legs and it was difficult for him to get around.  Once he finagled his way into the seat could operate equipment.  He had a small excavating business. For several years my aunt had some horses and one summer he needed help getting hay in.  About all he was able to do was drive the truck around to pick up the bales. 

It had been a long day already.  I’d had probably been caddying at the golf course that morning.  That afternoon probably worked in our vegetable gardens and then just before supper I had taken care of Sadie and Brownie,our two milk cows.   When my father got home he said he needed help getting Uncle Kenny’s hay in before the rain forecast for the following day.  I was twelve or thirteen, what do you think my initial response was?! 

Yet, later that evening as we were driving the last load of hay off the hillside field, and the whippoorwills were beginning their evening chorus, I remember my father saying something rather philosophical for him (He was not a sentimental person!)  “This feels really good tonight, getting this hay in.”

And I remember to this day how I felt at that moment.  There was a rush of goodness, one of those rare fleeting moments when one might be able to say, as Robert Browning wrote in his poem “Pippa’s Passes” “God is in his heaven, and all is right with the world.”

I’m not sure that as a preadolescent boy I could fully express it at that point but I had an inkling that real “happiness” (The word I would have used at the time.) was to be experienced in helping others and not in doing things I considered necessarily “fun.”  It was one of those moments in which we find ourselves taking a bit of a leap in maturity; we are not the child we were before.  It amazes me that I still recall it vividly today some 50 years later.     

Having loved his own who were in the world,

   he now showed them the full extent of his love. . . .   

Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

I pray that each of us will know more and more the fulfillment and blessing that comes through, if not a life, then occassional acts of service to others following the example and the name of Jesus!

You will be blessed! 

Enjoy the audio version of Pastor Neil’s Sermon below:


Lost Boys of Sudan – Special Speaker

Lual Awan Deng, a friend of Dr. Bill & Betty Wadland,  shared both during worship and after about his experience as one of the “lost boys of Sudan.”

In 1987, Sudan’s Muslim government pronounced death to all males in the Christian south: 27,000 boys fled to Ethiopia on foot. In 1991, they were forced to flee to Kenya a journey of 1,000 miles.  12,000 survived to live in U. N. refugee camps.

Lual’s story about his life in Africa, his life since coming to the United States and the work he is now involved with reaching back to the people of South Sudan is remarkable, inspiring and well worth hearing.  Make plans to invite a neighbor or friend and join us next week!  

The following is the website that tells  more about the work that Lual and his friend     Jacob Atem are doing in South Sudan.              www.sshco.org 

Below are some of the few documentaries that documented the story of the Lost boys of Sudan.  The first one is a 12 minutes video form 60minutes (CBS). This is very educational because it gives a brief overview about the Lost Boys of Sudan.  The next one is an hour movie that followed some boys in the USA cities.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-R5YNZxj2E

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5N_qKbHHWw

 

Due to the size of the file we are unable to share Lual’s time with us this past Sunday.  If you are interested in hearing it, I will be happy to email it to you.

 

Thank you and God Bless you!

 


Seven Essential Questions: Am I Accepted?

Sermon ~ Sunday, March 4th, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson

Seven Essential Questions: Am I Accepted?

John 8:1-11

What makes a person (you or me) acceptable to God? 

Is it a life of great deeds?      Great commitments to worthy causes? 

Perhaps it is a life of simple humility with wisdom?     

Is it being a person of unshakeable trustworthiness?  Or a good reputation?

How about great compassion?

We might say these, and many other ways define an acceptable person before God.  As well as striving for the right, the right way to act, to live. 

Is the person lacking these qualities unacceptable before God, a “sinner?” 

If so, what turns one who is unacceptable, a “sinner” into a person of honor?  

Is it even possible?

In our reading this morning, presented with a “sinner,” a person of unacceptable reputation and behavior, Jesus turned the question of condemnation back on the supposedly honorable leaders of his community.  And then he gave the possibility of change, call it conversion, repentance, whatever, to one considered unacceptable.  And he did it with a simple change in the point of view.  Jesus looked at the “sinner” from God’s perspective not the human.

We know the story.  It is morning, a crowd of people have gathered around the Rabbi Jesus.  He sits down, as rabbis do when they teach, and begins his lessons for the day.  Somewhere in the middle of his instruction the religious leaders barge in with this woman they claim to have caught in the act of adultery.  (I’ve often wondered what the religious leaders were up to that they actually caught this woman “in the act.”  I’ve also wondered where the man was because the Law is clear that, if this is the case, he also is guilty.)

They ask Jesus what they should do with her.  They remind him that she has broken God’s law and the Law says she should be stoned to death.  Of course, according to the law they were supposed to bring two witnesses.  Where were they? 

It becomes apparent that this is all a scheme to trap Jesus.  If he chose fulfillment of the law, he would seem cold-hearted in the eyes of those gathered to listen to him.  If he chose compassion, he would be seen as one who disrespected the “Law” and is “soft on crime.”

Jesus does something next that must have frustrated the religious leaders to no end.  He stoops over and begins doodling in the dirt with his finger!  They keep asking him over and over, “Teacher what should we do?”

After a bit, Jesus straightens up and turns to the religious leaders first. 

“Let the person who has never broken God’s Law throw the first stone at her.”

Then he bends over and resumes writing in the dirt.  And we are told that the religious leaders left one by one, beginning with the elders. 

When Jesus added this condition to the Law it made it impossible for them to follow through on the punishment.  Since no one could keep the Law perfectly, no one could be the perfect (sinless) witness.  Sinners accusing others of sin was and is the height of hypocrisy.

 After they all left Jesus straightens up, looks around, only he and this woman are left. “Woman, (which would be like us saying “Ma’am”) isn’t there anyone here who says you are guilty?”

“No one sir.”

“Well, I don’t say you’re guilty either.  Go your way and leave your life of sin.”

The Law breaker has found grace. 

The Unacceptable has become the accepted. 

The unlovable is the beloved.

This is the Good News. 

Now for many of you this may not be something you ever give much thought to.  Perhaps you grew up in a home where it was safe; you were cared for; you were loved and told you were loved.  But some were not.  Perhaps it wasn’t at home; perhaps it was in school, maybe on the playground.  You were ridiculed for your athletic ineptitude.  You’re the last to be chosen and then placed out in right field.  And as you make your way out there you hear someone say, “No one hits the ball to right field anyway.”

So perhaps for those of us who never really had to struggle with our sense of self-worth and acceptableness, the more appropriate question might be “Who do I find acceptable?”

The world goads us on to judge others.

Whether it is the peer pressure of that school playground or today’s social media sites such as Facebook posts or Twitter “tweets” (I wonder why we shouldn’t call some twitter tweets “twits.”  This seems more appropriate to their content or lack thereof!)  But it isn’t limited to Social media, oh no!  This has been going on for generations around tables where people have played cards and yes, sadly it even happens around many a church coffee hour table. 

We are quick to judge, attach a label, to think we know all that we need to know, about another person or their circumstances.   

So a cautionary word is needed here, in this story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, we must be careful that we do not find ourselves among those holding stones!

Jesus gently invites and encourages us in living a life of humility and honest assessment of ourselves with a generous spirit towards others in our community.  While we are constantly being invited and tempted by the world’s propensity for dividing humans in to us and them – good guys and bad guys, the guilty and the guilt-free, saints and sinners – in truth we are each a little of both, every one of us.  

Whether you are feeling judged and unworthy or find yourself judging others, the lesson is the same.  Jesus speaks the same words to each of us, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”  

It is with such grace and compassion we find ourselves, no matter who we believe we are, or where we think we are in our walk with God, we are accepted.

Whenever I read this story, I wonder what this woman might have done after that encounter with Jesus.  Did she just leave like her accusers? 

Did, she perhaps, become a follower of Jesus? 

Maybe we are left wondering because we are left with the same choices, but also like this woman, even with our flaws, Jesus loves and accepts us as beloved children of God. 

 

Listen to this week’s audio version of Pastor Neil’s Sermon by downloading the link below; open and enjoy. 


Seven Essential Questions: What Matters Most?

Sermon ~ Sunday, February 25th, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson

Seven Essential Questions: What Matters Most?

Mark 12:28-34

 

Continuing with our “Seven Essential Questions” based on Pastor Martin Thielen’s “What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian”, today’s question is simply, “What Matters Most?”  Of all the things we discuss and do as people of faith what is it that is of first importance?

In our Gospel reading this morning, a teacher of the law or “scribe” comes up to Jesus with a pretty straightforward question, “Which commandment is the first of all?”  In a way similar to the question we are asking today, “What matters most?”

First, a bit of back ground and context: just prior to this particular scribe approaching Jesus, Jesus had been confronted by three rounds of questioners that were not, let’s just say, as genuine in their motives!   

First came the “chief priests, teachers of the law, and elders” we find this back in chapter 11 verse 27.  They want to challenge Jesus’ authority.  So they ask, “By what authority do you do these things? (Healings, forgiving of sins, overturning of the money-changer’s tables in the temple) And who gave you such authority?”  Jesus in turn asks them a question about John’s baptism and this has them arguing with each other.

Then came the Pharisees and the Herodians (Herodians were a sect of Greek speaking Jews who were supporters of the Herod family/dynasty.)  They came with the question of whether Jews should pay taxes to Caesar or not.  All this in an attempt to put Jesus in a difficult position and either have the people turn on him or find a good reason to have him arrested.

And thirdly, we have the Sadducees, a more conservative group within Judaism.  So conservative, because there is no mention of it in the Torah, they didn’t believe in the resurrection.  The Sadducees come to Jesus with this fictitious scenario about a woman who marries, and her husband dies.  She remarries her husband’s brother according to the Levirate law who also dies. In turn each of the brothers marry her and they all die, seven of them.  And so, Sadducees ask, “Who will she be married to in the resurrection?”  Can you hear the absurdity of this farce?  First, they don’t even believe in the resurrection, so what is the big deal?  Secondly, what are the chances of seven husbands dying?  Again, it was all done as a means to try to trick Jesus into saying something that would have the crowd turn on him.

So, after these confrontations comes a teacher of the law who seems to be genuinely interested in what Jesus thinks.  He had heard Jesus answering all these others and thought he had handled himself quite well. 

I also can imagine Jesus being rather grateful for this person.  At last here is someone who seems to be sincere, really seeking truth.

“So, Jesus,” he enquires, “Of all the commandments, what do you think is the most important?”

Without hesitation, Jesus responds with the Shema, Deuteronomy 6: 4-5. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and all your strength.”

But he doesn’t end there, he goes on to say, “And there is another, love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”

Some think that here we have another example of Jesus taking his teaching beyond the law, beyond the ways of Judaism. Such as when Jesus taught, “You have heard it said, but I say unto you . . .”  But this isn’t the case.  Right there in the middle of the Mosaic Law, Leviticus 19:18, God instructs Moses to tell the people “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

Jesus seeks to remind this earnest fellow that the love of God and love of neighbor together capture the essence and express the greatest concern of God’s commandments.  Taken together, these teachings from Deuteronomy and Leviticus underscore the interconnected relationships between one’s self, God and neighbor that permeate the Biblical tradition and that will serve in turn as the foundation of Jesus’ vision for the kingdom of God.

In short: what matters most is relationships! 

Our relationship with God and with neighbor. 

Some may not be comfortable with the language of relationship, as in, perhaps our uncomfortableness with the person who talks about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the difference it has made in her/his life.  And while this may not be language we use, to be in relationship is what God seeks from us.  It is what we really need the most in life, whether we are fully aware of it or not.  All other relationships outside of love of God and neighbor will never completely satisfy.  Or perhaps better said, all other things we seek to have a relationship with cannot fill the void that only God can.  We talked some about this at our Lenten study on the Red-Letter words of Jesus, especially on materialism.  No other relationship will in the end truly satisfy.

As the famous passage from St. Augustine’s Confessions claims, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

“Okay Pastor.” you’re probably thinking, “How do I love God with heart, soul, mind and strength?  I can see loving neighbor, having a relationship with another physical human being or even a pet, but God is a bit more abstract!” 

Good question and I think some of the answer lies in what Jesus said after he had washed his disciples’ feet.  He said this to them, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”   (John 13: 34-35)

And also what the author of 1 John echoes in his letter:  (1 John 4: 20-21)

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.  And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

To be in a relationship with God means being in relationship with neighbor. 

This is the what of our question, as in “What matters most?”  Relationships. 

It the “where” question that may be just as important, that really brings it home.

Where do we see this love of God in love of neighbor being lived out in our midst?

We see it every time, I see it every time, I hear of you going to Boulder Park, Georgia House, Grand View, American House.  Sure, sometimes you are going there to visit a loved one, but you don’t limit yourself to kin alone.  That simple “Hello” to the woman in the wheel chair, taking the moment to sit with the man left by himself after all the other diners have returned to their apartments or rooms.

Greeting someone with a “How is your day going?”  and pausing enough to really listen

The touch of an arm, touching is so important.  Like the rest of us these folks want to be acknowledged and a person of worth.

The time you spend assisting people shop at the Food Pantry, but more than this, it is the conversations you have with them.  Again, the listening.  We all want to be heard, acknowledged.

The extra effort it takes to get up early to prepare for the Community breakfast.   And the visiting around the tables.  I’ve personally seen how people are greeted when they walk into the breakfast.  I’ve seen their faces light up when their name is called out and “It’s good to see you.”  Or “We missed you last week.”  And by the way, the breakfast may be held at the Community Reformed Church, but it is a community effort with many different churches involved.

The hours you spend at the Rainbow Shoppe, the lives you touch, not just through the funds raised and the countless ways this makes a difference in our community but also through the relationships you build with shoppers and other volunteers. 

In all of these and countless more Jesus could just as well be saying to you as he did to this scribe, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”  Because the kingdom is about relationships: with God, with neighbor, with the God we see and love in neighbor.     

Audio Version is below, please note that the Audio and Video vary from the written sermon as it was an interactive service on this day.  Enjoy and God Bless!

Select “Download File” and open on your PC to enjoy the audio version of the Sermon.

Video will be added at a later date.


Seven Essential Questions: Who Is Jesus?

Sermon ~ Sunday, February 18, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson

Seven Essential Questions: Who Is Jesus?

Matthew 16:13-16

During this season of Lent, I am going to be considering a series of seven questions are essential questions to our faith regardless of where you believe you fall on the religious spectrum.  My idea for this came from a blog by Pastor Martin Thielen, who wrote What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?: A Guide to What Matters Most.  Both lifelong Christians and people on the edges of the church have some of the same basic questions about life and faith. Lent is the great time to explore these questions, leading up to the big question that is answered with Easter: is there hope for life and life beyond death?

First, I have a preliminary question for you. 

What do you claim as your basic faith perspective?  

Hindu?  Jewish?  Zoroastrian?  Christian?  Muslim? A “none” as in no specific faith perspective?

I would hazard a guess here and say “Christian.”  And if I am correct then there is a follow up question that you and I face every day as Christians:  “Who will we (you/me) say that Jesus is?”

In other words, in our own minds and hearts what/who do we truly believe he is?  And beyond this what sort of testimony do we offer about him through our words, through our deeds, by our lives?  What will our loved ones, our congregations, our neighbors, our communities know about him because of us?  This may be even more difficult to get right than saying the right words and believing the proper theological principles!

Jesus presented the question to Peter and he came up with what seemed to satisfy his teacher in v. 16, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And yet finds himself rebuked in v. 23 for completely misunderstanding what that answer might mean.  

This should serve as a warning to us.  We, faithful followers that we are, may know that Jesus is the one who was sent, the one who took flesh, the one who dwelt with us, the one who suffered and died and was buried, the one who rose on the third day. 

We declare with our pious lips and confident hearts that Jesus is the Messiah (the Christ), the beloved child of the most High.  We know the right words.

We would be wise, however, to proceed with caution, because there is apparently no guarantee, despite the precision and sincerity of our Christological convictions, that we have a clue about what our confession, “Jesus is Lord,” actually means.  I mean after all, if Peter gets it wrong?  And not only did Peter get it wrong, he was rebuked in the strongest terms, being called “Satan” and a stumbling block to Jesus himself.

Peter, praised for saying the right thing,

 and for his faithful testimony named the very foundation of Jesus’ church,

 the rock against which not even the forces of death can prevail. 

Peter, given the keys to free or to bind any and all on earth. 

If this Peter gets it wrong, who are we cavalierly to assume that we have it right?

To put it another way, why, like Peter, do we find it so hard to believe that the beloved of God must go to Jerusalem, undergo great suffering, die, and only then be raised by God to new, everlasting, and glorified life? 

Surely the one known as Son of God will reign without threat,

 will be honored rather than subjected to suffering,

  will live, not die,

  will establish a commonwealth of peace and justice,

   rather than be executed as a rebel and heretic. 

However, this is simply not the case.  But it is also the basis for some consistent and destructive false testimony from some of the best regarded followers of Jesus to this day!

We, of course, live in a post-resurrection world.   We know that what Peter could not accept was true. 

We know that Jesus went to Jerusalem and confronted both religious and secular authorities with their arrogance, exploitive policies, and violence. 

We know that he was arrested and subjected to both torture and capital punishment. 

We know he was raised and ascended to the heavenly banquet table and sits at the right hand of God and will welcome us to the feast. 

Still, we preach, more often than we ought, that the faithful will not suffer but prosper, will triumph over every adversity, will win rather than lose. 

Yes, we believe that Jesus won the final victory, and death’s sting has been swallowed up.  That our salvation has been wrought and cannot again be lost.  Jesus’ work may have been once for all; yet we must avoid Peter’s mistake.  We must not make what Mary Poppins called “pie crust promises: easily made, easily broken.”

We must not say “God forbid” that the righteous suffer, that saints are killed.  Faithful discipleship cannot avoid walking our own roads to Jerusalem and there have our own confrontation with the principalities and powers.  Jesus leads us in the way we must go, rather than letting us off the hook.  That he is Messiah, beloved of God, makes of us members of his body, adopted children of the Most High ourselves – we are participators not bystanders in the fulfillment of the promise of his messianic life.

Unfortunately, this means we do not stroll along easy street but must march down the streets of economic exploitation to seek new means of exchange through which all may prosper.  

We are to enter the halls of power where unjust policies are written and voice the concerns of the voiceless. 

We are to visit those in prison while working to dismantle judicial systems that locks away so many, especially an unproportionable people of color.

We are to welcome strangers, even those we may consider scandalous to our reputation and who by their presence make us a scandal!  (Look at what others said about Jesus. He hangs out with sinners; dines with tax collectors and prostitutes!)

Such was his way.

This way of this Jesus seems to say that we are wrong about something else.  Jesus’ final rebuke of Peter is that he has set his mind not on divine things but on human things.  And we nod approvingly.   “Yes, that’s right Jesus, we’re about the spiritual, not earthly things,” we like to think.   “That is what Jesus points us toward, the spiritual.” 

In this too we risk further rebuke.  If we trust the whole of Jesus’ rebuke of Peter, is it not precisely the avoidance of tangible and material action – with its potential for suffering and threat of death – that Peter’s mistaken interpretation entails, and does not this demonstrate his all too human mind-set? 

Divine things are not always ethereal, floating above the mundane, but those things that involve a vision of justice and liberation, compassion and mercy – and the ones who really seem to know who Jesus is are those who, like him, are willing to bear the burden of his suffering and death to make his vision real.

 

By now you may have noticed that I haven’t really answered today’s question for you, “Who is Jesus?”  While this question, for anyone claiming to be Christian, cannot be avoided, I cannot give the answer as if it were a quiz and I am a teacher with the answer book.  It must be answered by each of us in our own way.    

How we answer though, cannot be avoided.  Who will we say Jesus is?

And, truth be told, our answers may rest more with those who are watching and witnessing with our lives.  As has been said many times, we may be the only evidence of Jesus some people will ever see.  This being the case, what will we be saying with our lives, about who Jesus is to us? 

Whatever it is, it will probably be truer to what we believe, than any pious profession we might utter with our lips.   Peter found that out let us take a lesson from him.

 

Audio and video available below:  

Select “Download File” to listen to the audio version of Pastor Neil’s Sermon.  Also now we have the Video from Sunday’s Sermon.  Enjoy!

Click on the video below… it’s almost like you are here 🙂


The One that Didn’t Get Away

Sermon ~ Sunday, January 28, 2018

The One That Didn’t Get Away

1 Cor. 8:1-33

 

Last Saturday dawned seasonably cold in Rockhaven.  I believe I heard that out at the University Extension Field office on the blueberry farm (one of the coldest spots around) it was about -5.  Here in town it was about zero.   But the sun was shining and there was very little wind.  A great day for the 25th Annual Josiah W. MacPherson Ice Fishing Derby held out on Hobbs Pond.    

Josiah was an old bachelor woodsman and in the 1940s built a camp on Timber Point along the western shore of Hobbs Pond.  In his later years he would invite all the kids out to his place to do some ice fishing.  That was back when you had to carry all your gear or pull it on a sled from the landing by the outlet.  Josiah’ camp was about a 2 mile walk across either ice or ice covered with foot of snow depending upon the year.  Josiah would drill the holes, supply the tip ups and bait, have a roaring fire and all the hot dogs you could eat.  Roasted of course, on a stick you cut from a bush along the shore.  Many a son (and daughter) was given their very first jack knife for the occasion. 

Josiah has been gone now for, gosh, I guess 30 years.  Our community was rather surprised to learn that he had a rather sizable estate and a significant amount of it he designated to be used to establish a college scholarship fund for the youth of our community. 

A couple of years after Josiah’s death some of the folks in Rockhaven got together and organized an ice fishing derby in his memory.  It was so popular that they did it the next year and eventually the Rockhaven Youth Recreation Club took it on as an annual event, this year’s being as I said the 25th .   

There have been some changes in the derby over the years.  Today you’ll see more kids (and parents) with cross country skis than snow mobiles.  Instead of a huge bonfire in front of Josiah’s old camp (now owned by Randal Stearns, Bea and Melvin’s son), gas grills are used to prepare lunch.  And while red hotdogs are still on the menu, they’re turned with tongs, not cooked on whittled sticks.  An occasional a steak will find its way onto a grill along with those vegetables wrapped in aluminum foil.  Then there was the year they tried beer can chicken.  But it being a youth event, the powers to be decided it would be more appropriate to use soda so it was a “cola can chicken!” 

We’re seeing more people using these little sawed off fishing poles.  People leaning over their fishing holes like monks in prayer. 

Even the tip ups are “new & improved!”  No longer the old home made single stick that is stuck into the ice beside the hole but these 3 dimensional things with the reel underwater.  Some have even tried attaching a waterproof game camera and proposed using a radio controlled artificial bait that the “fisherperson”  could control from inside their nice warm ice shack.  But that was quickly  ruled out of the derby along with the use of ice fishing shacks.  No-sir-ree, we’re roughing it with our gas grills and our L.L. Bean poly-filled, thermo-lined, power-dry-stretch base layer, and Gore-Tex covered, weather challenger outerwear!

 But the most notable change over the years has been indeed for the better.  We are seeing more and more young girls and their Dads and even Moms with their sons.

This year some of the adults who were there as the local “fishing experts” were Danny Killington, Jed Carlisle, Joe closed the barber shop, Leslie and Jerome Jordan co-chairs of the Recreation Club, and Peter Warren, teacher at the alternative high school and Jake Bradley’s right hand for the church suppers.  New this year was Sergeant Sally MacFague, the local game warden.  She was there handing out junior game warden badges to any child that could show how to assemble and bait a tip up.  Later she had gave rides in her Warden’s ATV equipped with lights and a siren!  It was more of a hit than the little badges!  

There were about 30-40 people, kids and adults, signed up for the derby this year.  And as usual, the local merchants donated several items for prizes: a dozen bakery items of the winner’s choice from Holgrum’s Bakery; Harbor Hardware gave a tackle box with assorted hooks, sinkers and lures; Mason’s Pharmacy donated a set of six Ty Beanie Baby stuffed animals.  But the grand prize was a dozen minnows a week for the entire ice fishing season from Wally’s Fish Market and Bait Shop!  What 8-9 year-old wouldn’t by-pass the Beanie babies and go right straight for the bait! 

Oh yes, and every participant got a small bag filled with pencils, pens and little note pads all imprinted with “Coleridge Digging & Construction, ‘Your Hole is Our goal!’ Sam Coleridge P.O. Box 235 Rockhaven.”  

Anyway . . . amongst the families last Saturday was Perry Packard and his granddaughter, Jessie’s girl, Samantha.  You remember Perry, owner/operator of Packard’s Garage and Towing on the way out south of town.  

Samantha or “Sammy” as her grandad calls her, is an articulate, thoughtful 9 year old.  She appreciates beauty and her interests span beyond Beanie Babies and Barbies!  Her grandad on the other hand is an avid, old-school fisherman.  He has the bass boat with the 200 hp Merc cruiser, a collection of fishing tackle that rivals the museum collection of Bass Pro Shop, he has his own Ice shack but he keeps his not on Hobbs Pond but on Franklin Lake where there are land-locked salmon and lake trout to be caught.  Hobbs Pond is great for kids but serious fishermen like Perry don’t waste their time there, unless of course, you have a cute, dark-eyed, pony-tailed granddaughter pleading with you to take her to the Ice Fishing Derby!

So there they found themselves just off Timber Point where the bottom drops off into the deeper part of the pond, tending 3 or 4 tip-ups. (Perry insisted that at least they use his high tech ones!) 

It was quiet throughout the morning. They had a couple of “flags” pulled up one little perch and lost the bait on the other. 
They had just finished their lunch, Sammy had some of those potatoes, onions, and peppers cooked in the foil.  Grandad Perry is more of a traditionalist.  He scarfed down three of those red hotdogs, the ones long enough to hang out over both ends of the bun!  He noticed the sun was disappearing behind a high layer of clouds which were lowering as the afternoon went on. 

“A storm is coming.” Perry announced to Sammy.  “Fish bite best right before the storm.  Better make sure our bait is fresh and active.” 

Sammy squirmed at the idea of checking the bait.  It was bad enough that they had to use minnows that were still alive, to think that they were down there trying to swim around with a hook through their back was not something she had expected to be part of fishing.

All was good at the first tip ups they checked.  Minnows still lively, depth about right.

As they were making their way out to the farthest one, suddenly the flag sprung up and the tip up slid over in the hole!  When they got up to it they could see the line zipping off the reel and out towards the deeper water.  Perry cautioned Sammy to be patient, let the line run.  It stopped for a moment and just as Perry was reaching for the tip up, zing, off it went again!

When just about all of the 100 feet of line was out, it stopped.  Perry carefully pulled the reel up out of the water, he took the line in hand and gave it a quick jerk to set the hook.  He then passed the line to Sammy.  The game was on! 

 What seemed like 30 minutes was more like five when Sammy and her grandad caught the first glimpse of what was on the end of their line.  It was enormous!  Perry caught just enough of it as it flipped it’s side under the hole.  It was a pike, one that Captain Ahab could have told stories about.  Suddenly Perry found himself thinking about that grand prize, a dozen minnows a week.  But more than this, what this beauty would look like mounted and hanging over his desk in the little office at his garage!

Back and forth it went just under the ice.  Perry had everything he could do not to take the line from Sammy but he knew that for the fish to count a youth had to pull it through the ice.  Finally, the pike took a flip just as it came to the hole Sammy seeing her opportunity lifted her arms way above her head and up through the ice came the most massive and beautiful fish she had ever seen!  Perry let slip a couple of colorful adjectives to which Samantha said “Grandad!”

Perry helped her lay the pike out on the ice to get a good look at it.   It truly was a beauty.  Sammy marveled at its magnificence.  Perry let out a low whistle. 

“Look Grandad!  Look at those colors!  So bright out here in the light.  Imagine this is the first time this fish has seen light like this.” 

“Look at those eyes Grandad.  Imagine the knowledge of deep places of the lake in those eyes!” 

Like I said, Samantha was an articulate and thoughtful girl for her age. 

Then they came.  The words Perry half expected but dreaded, the words he feared at that moment more than any others . . . “Grandad, we need to set it free!”

She looked at this beautiful creature struggling to breathe; it’s first thrashing around now only a wiggle. 

“No! No!” Perry wanted to cry out.  “It’s the grand prize winner!  Maybe even the biggest fish in the 25 years of the Josiah W. MacPherson Ice Fishing Derby.  No! we can’t” 

But he didn’t. 

The vision of the monster mounted and hanging in his garage office was fading like the afternoon sun.  To him, it was a trophy and a story waiting to be told and embellished upon in years to come.

 To Sammy it was one of God’s special creatures, of so much more value than a dozen minnows a week for fishing season. 

Perry knew that it would be okay to keep the fish.  If he really wanted to push the matter.  After all, no laws were broken; it was a legally caught fish, certainly over the minimum size limit.  And the God Perry prayed to often when fishing, would certainly understand! 

But it was love that reached down and gently removed the hook from the toothy jaw. 

It was love that reached under the massive fish, with the brilliant marking and dark eyes and with his granddaughter slide the prize winning pike through the hole to return to the deep haunts of Hobbs Pond. 

Love won out over knowledge and legality, as it should.           

St. Paul, who wasn’t a fisherman, like Peter and Andrew, wrote, “ . . . we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”

Perry and Samantha went home that afternoon with something that would remain with their relationship much longer than a dusty old pike hanging on a wall.  The memory of a day fishing with a grandad and granddaughter that will be fixed in their memories forever.

For the special relationship, respect and love between them ran as deep as the pike’s home in the dark places of Hobbs Pond. 

Sure there will be days Perry will still wonder “How he let the big one get away.”   But he also knew that for today something much bigger and more important didn’t get away.

Listen to the Audio version by double clicking “Download File” below and open it on your PC.  Enjoy.

We are also trying something new… let us know what you think of this!  Remember this is a Work in Progress!



Bearer(s) of the Kingdom

Sermon ~ Sunday, January 21st ~ 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson

Bearer(s) of the Kingdom

1 Cor. 7:29-31    Mark 1: 14-20

 

The one thing I have discovered over the years is that it doesn’t matter how long you have been a Christian or how long you have attended church or how many sermons you may have slept through (oops listened to!) You probably still have questions about this enterprise called the Christian faith.  I believe I can say this with some assuredness because I still have questions as well!

For me, theology and astrophysics have something in common: the more that is revealed, the more you learn, the deeper into your subject you delve, whether it is the spiritual realm or deep space, the more you know how much you don’t know!

The kingdom or realm of God.  Paul speaks of an “appointed time” when the present form of the world will pass away (1 Cor.), revealing at last the power and love of God.  For Jesus, the kingdom was at hand; for Paul the time left was short.  But the kingdom patently did not come. 

Or did it?

Did it to some extent arrive in Jesus himself, while we still await its fulfillment at some future time?  So, one of those questions for me is: how are we to understand this kingdom, realm of God today; and more significantly perhaps, how should this affect our personal conduct and the social structures in which we are participants?  

It has been suggested that if Paul had a website, 1 Corinthians 7-10 would have been under his FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) tab.  The emerging congregation in Corinth had questions: “What should they believe?”  And just as importantly “How should they live?”  So they wrote to one they thought might be able to guide them.  Their founder, Paul was in Ephesus when he received their letter and our reading is from one of at least two letters that were his reply to the Corinthian congregation and their questions. Unfortunately, we do not have the letter they wrote so we can only guess as to the actual questions asked of the apostle.  But we can extrapolate from the answers Paul provides.  Some of their questions might seem a bit odd to our 21st century sensibilities.  Like the matter of marital relations or the matter of what should I do if my spouse stops believing in God, should I divorce them?  And what about celibacy vs. marriage?  And of course, on the minds of at least the gentile men was the matter of circumcision!  Today’s reading from 1 Corinthians is a portion of Paul’s response to these and other questions.  

At first sight Paul’s answers seem strange (e.g. if you are mourning, keep smiling; if you are feeling full of joy, keep a straight face), yet taken as a whole these questions and the answers help us to respond to one of our bigger questions –what do we mean by the Kingdom of God and does it make any difference to the way we live?

There are those who would like to leave Paul in his first century culture and society.  They argue that Paul was only speaking to people who believed, like him, that the ‘time was short’ and that the end of the world was at hand.  Here we are nearly 20 centuries removed and to my knowledge we have not been pulled into a black hole so time has slowed down, (but then would we know it if we had?!) we must wonder what Paul would think about his claim that the “time is short.” 

Or is there something of Paul that can speak to our different situation? 

I think there just might be.  (Of course I do or I wouldn’t have brought you along to this point!)  Paul seems to say that we are to live in the world with its institutions and relationships, but there is a sense in which we have to keep an appropriate distance from them so that we can see with what some call a “kingdom eye” to recognize how much more these structures, institutions contain or how much better they could become.  We still let them service us and we continue to serve them, but our ‘critical distance’ this ‘balcony view’ – which breaks their hold on us– gives us freedom to allow Christ to change us and our relationships with the structures and institutions of society and even change these structures and institutions; which by the way, includes the church! 

In another letter Paul offered this counsel to the congregation located in the center of the power and social structures of his world:  Romans 12:2  The Message

Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what [God] wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

We are to live ‘as if’ custom and convention of this world no longer press upon us, ‘as if’ we are at the threshold of a transformation to a new state of being where the ultimate source of our life is Christ not the world.  Another word for this: the kingdom of God

Recent theology and study of the Bible have given rise to a new interest in the kingdom of God.  But today we are less likely to think of it as something remote and at the end of time, irrelevant to us now, apart from personal implications like eternal life.  Nor do we think, like our Victorian forebears, that the kingdom is the gradual progress of life in this world towards a better version – which was merely a human construct of what “better” looks like.  Rather, everything we talk about and do as Christians has (or should have) a ‘kingdom dimension’.  This is possible because we believe that Jesus is the ‘Bearer of the Kingdom’, and He not only brought the initial movement of the kingdom into the world, but that it can still be felt in our midst in the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. 

Our disordered world longs for reconciliation, wholeness but there is now hope, and outcrops of God’s reconciling reign can be seen in our own lives and the life of the world, if we would but look beyond the fake and negative news.  Because of this we are to live ‘as if’ the kingdom has come.  Because we have one foot in the world and one in the kingdom, Jesus’ disciples in any age are enabled, in the Spirit’s power, to begin to steer human life in that direction.  So, in a very real sense, we also are bearers of the kingdom.  As Jesus brought the seed of the reign of God into the world and will be there for its fulfillment, we in our day and in our lives, are bearing the ways of the kingdom.

This doesn’t mean we will see it fulfillment on our lives, we may, and we may not, but we are still to live in ‘as if.’

The prayer on the back page of your worship folders sums all this up nicely.  I invite you to turn to it and let’s read/pray it together responsively.

A meditation on working for the kingdom

This meditation has been attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero but was actually written by another American RC bishop for a memorial mass for priests. Five months later Romero was martyred (1980) and it may be that the link was made then. Although originally intended for ministers, and entitled Ministers not Messiahs, it could equally well apply to any ‘worker for the kingdom’. It might be used in conjunction with an appropriate hymn, or sequence of song and hymn. Or two halves of a congregation may read it in alternate stanzas.

It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime  only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise  that is God’s work.

Nothing we do is complete,  which is another way of saying  that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.  No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.  No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the church’s mission.  No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.  We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted,  knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces effects  far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything,  and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something,  and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete,  but it is a beginning, a step along the way,

an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results,  but that is the difference   between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, . . . not master builders,

 ministers, . . . not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

Amen.

There is a wonderful story from the land of my MacAllister ancestors that is illustrative of how our relationship to the Kingdom of God has  ‘here and now’ and ‘not yet’ qualities. 

John MacLeod, Gaelic-speaking minister at Oban until 1974, told of preaching visits to Canada where he met many who viewed Scotland as their home. One introduced himself, saying, “You’re from Oban; I’m a Coll man myself!” (the Hebridean island you sail to from Oban). “And when did you leave Coll?” asked the minister. “Oh, I have never been to Coll,” he returned, “but my great-grandfather and his family came from Coll and I have always felt that I belonged there.” MacLeod reflected: We are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20); we have never been there but Christ has come among us from there and we are of his family.  The King James Version translates Philippians 3:20 ‘our conversation is in heaven’,  With our feet planted in this world we keep our conversation and lifestyle in lthe kingdom of God.

 

Listen to the audio version of Pastor Neil’s Sermon by double clicking on the “Download File” below, open and enjoy!