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

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


Sermons

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!

 


In Spite of Ourselves

~ Sermon ~ Sunday, January 14, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson

In Spite of Ourselves.

1 Samuel 3:1-20

 

“And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not wide spread.” 

We live in confusing, some would say uncertain times.  Many refer to it as a post-Christian era, and to be sure the church is not as influential and dominate as it once was in our nation.  Now I don’t believe that the Christian worldview was ever as all-embracing as some do, but I think we can agree that it certainly is not a strong a moral guide for people today as it once was.  So a very compelling argument could be made that the story of Samuel is set in our day as well as three millennia ago! “. . . the word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not wide spread.”  Will this be the be the headline of a religious quarterly review a hundred years from now? 

The call of Samuel comes at a time of spiritual famine in Israel.  With no leadership, the people have grown away from God.  The only figure of authority in our story is the priest Eli, but he makes a mockery of his position by ignoring the wickedness of his sons, who have rebelled against the Lord.  (Little side note here. We cannot blame religious leaders for all the behaviors of other members of their families.  We all know the stories and jokes about PKs.  And how some relish the scuttlebutt of some high-profile pastor’s brother or brother-in-law falling into some immoral lifestyle.)  But the biblical account seems to hold Eli somewhat responsible for the sins of his sons.  Even though he tried to set them straight as we can read in 1 Samuel 2:22ff, Eli called them out on their immorality and warned them of God’s judgement, but they did not heed their father’s advice.  Sadly, this would eventually impact the effectiveness of his own ministry. 

We are also told that Eli’s sight was “dim.”  On first glance one would think, “Okay, so Eli is older and his physical eyesight is beginning to fail him.”  But there is in the background of the story the suggestion that Eli’s spiritual awareness or spiritual vision was also “dim.”  

Then we have Samuel: young, dedicated to the Lord by his mother, Hannah, energetic, no family baggage or skeleton’s in his closet.  It is easy to compare the two with Samuel coming out the better.  But when we look at the entire life and work of Samuel, he too has some all too human imperfections.  Like Eli, Samuel’s sons, who he appointed as judges in Israel, (1 Sam. 8) did not follow in the ways of their father, but rather were corrupt, known for taking bribes and perverts justice. (Umm, again sounds all too contemporary!) 

And even though he did not like the idea, when the people pressured Samuel to anoint a king over them (something God had warned them about), in his role as prophet and judge, he anointed Saul as king and in so doing he broadened the people’s independence from God.       

A common way to “get into the scriptures” is to imagine ourselves as one of the characters in a biblical story.  The obvious question here is who do you identify with: with the young Samuel sleeping away as God is attempting to get his attention; or the elder Eli, who seems to lack spiritual awareness, and yet recognizes that it just may be the Lord who is calling to the boy before Samuel does?

There are times when I am like Samuel.  I’m asleep, not fully aware of any divine movement around me.  Sometimes it exhaustion.  I’m tired, physically, emotionally, mentally, often because of the confusion of today’s world.  How does one sort through all the claims, the images, the demands for our allegiance that bombard us?  What is real and what is fake?  What is the truth in the “half-truths” we are being told all the time.  I feel this way and I don’t use Twitter.  I’m on Facebook once every couple of days, if that.

You know I used to get this slight panicky feeling when I would go out the door and realize my cell phone was not in my pocket and return promptly to retrieve it.  More and more I’m finding I’m off somewhere and notice that my cell phone is not in my pocket and actually feeling rather okay about it.  (Or should I worry that this is the onset of age-related forgetfulness?!) 

So sometimes it exhaustion, other times is pre-occupation or distraction.  Which as we know life is full of distractions.  Either way I find myself asleep, unaware of the movement of God right around me like Samuel. 

What is more troubling is that like Samuel, I am in the “temple” day in and day out!  Of all places isn’t it here we would expect God to speak, for visions to occur?  Yet how often do I (we, you) actually come to this place expecting to hear a real “word from the Lord”?

The word of the Lord is indeed rare and visions, real visions (not fake ones) are scarce!

Or are they?

So, we have in the temple a young fellow asleep whose youth and lack of experience, maturity leaves him unable to discern God’s voice and an elderly man whose spiritual sight has grown dim and whose leadership ability is questionable.  Eli, the high priest at Shiloh, who did nothing, really, to restrain his sons, Hophni and Phinehas, and the way they abused the priestly positions and authority they had simply because of their birthright as a priest’s sons.    

The word of the Lord is indeed rare and visions, real visions (not fake ones) are scarce!

Or are they?

The story of Samuel and Eli tells us that “. . . the lamp of God had not yet gone out.”    While visions may be rare in the modern world, they still happen, God only seems to be sleeping, and like with Samuel, while Samuel sleeps, God is wonderfully awake! 

And again, in the end it was the elderly, physically and spiritually blind Eli that seems to have figured it out first.

God calls Samuel in his youth and immaturity and God uses Eli even with his blindness and moral weakness. 

So, I guess my point is rather simple, whether we identify with Eli or Samuel, or both depending on the day and the circumstances, both had their weaknesses, and God used both in spite of themselves.   

And as the title of my message says God can use us in spite of ourselves! 

If we are listening, if we have the inner sight, if we are willing to listen and look for God in unexpected ways and speaking through someone other than the usual suspects, God can and just might use us, speak to us, and perhaps even speak through us in spite of ourselves!   

I know!  God has used me in spite of myself.  

To listen to the original audio version, please double click on the “download file” link below, open it on your device and enjoy.


Okay, Let’s Try This Again. Only This Time…

Sermon ~ Sunday, January 7, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson

 

Okay, Let’s Try This Again.  Only This Time . . .

Genesis 1:1-5   Mark 1:4-11

Yesterday was Epiphany!  Yea!  

I bet you’re tired from all the Epiphany parties last night!

Most people outside church circles and many times within them are not familiar with Epiphany.  We have Christmas, it lasts one day.  Then there is a week to recover before New Year’s Eve.  And then, we if are so inclined, we enter the season of resolutions which lasts usually about as long as our season of Christmas (one day!)

Epiphany is about the “revealing” of Jesus and who he is, or will become. It is marked with the reading from Matthew’s gospel about the visit of the Magi or wise men. In this revealing of Jesus there was in a sense a new beginning, now that Jesus was among them.  And it continues today with the reminder that Jesus is still among us through our baptisms and the presence of the Holy Spirit. 

So I guess in some ways Epiphany and New Year’s resolutions go hand in hand. Epiphany reminds us of new things made possible by Christ’s coming into the world and January marks the new year’s genesis which we often mark by resolving to live new or better lives according to new and improved habits. 

There is a sort of spirit of confession that begins the new year because resolutions are a way of admitting that we have not been the kind of people we want to be.  We confess that we are not as slender, cheerful, thankful, or productive as we would like to be. We admit to our humanness and commit to doing better.  These are ordinary mortal confessions: usually not all that spiritually motivated or spiritually empowered.  They are signs that we would like to do better in turning our lives around.  But when the days speed by and ordinary life is resumed, old habits tend to reassert themselves.  And come next January, the same resolutions are often made anew with plenty of hope, but no better chance for success! 

The baptism of John was similar to our attempts at making resolutions, though it was certainly a more spiritually oriented.  As one who has preached a fair number of times with mixed success, it amazes me is that John preached a message on repentance and was rather successful!  People were drawn to his river side chapel in the wilderness from countryside and city.  At the river he dunked them as a sign of their resolution to turn from their sins and back to the worship and service of God.  But, John knew that there was a tentative quality to his work.  He proclaimed that the One who would come after him would baptize with something greater than water.  The coming One would baptize people with (or in) the Spirit of God.

The Spirit of God represented something far more powerful, more efficacious than any human resolve.  It is the same Spirit that first moved over the waters at creation and brought form to the chaos and gave birth to the universe.  When Jesus rose from the river, this same Spirit descended upon him like a dove.  And in this Spirit, Jesus did the powerful deeds that marked his remarkable ministry. 

For us today, both John’s message of repentance and the empowering work of the Spirit are needed.  Sin is a powerful magnet that draws us ever closer.  Human resolve alone is weak, even with our annual booster shots in January.  Truthfully, repentance is more likely a daily need.

But our resolve to turn around will not do it alone, not very often at least.  Even Paul, the great Apostle, famously struggled with the inability of his humanness to help him do what is good (Rom. 7:15-20.)  Something greater is needed: this something is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.  When Paul encountered the followers of John the Baptizer in Ephesus, he told them something similar to what John had taught.  Though baptized by John with water, they were in need of the kind of empowerment that came through Jesus himself, baptism in or presence of the Holy Spirit.  This is the gift of God that makes spiritual repentance something more than a mere resolution. 

As God asks us to turn from our sin, God also provides the means to become new creatures of spiritual resolve. Baptism with water and spirit is the mark of this gift. 

In Jesus’ baptism, he was fully identified with us as human creatures. In our baptism, we become fully identified with him.

His life in God is our new life. 

His capacity to bend to God’s will is our strength to live a godly life. 

His love of all is our charity towards others.  

Note, I am not making a case for a certain mode of baptism.  This is not a sermon on infant vs. adult or which method is better, dunking or “a little dab’l do ya!”  (This will have to wait for another time!)  

As Christians, we understand baptism differently, depending on denominational or theological tradition.  Accordingly there will be ways this message will be preached and heard within various congregations.  Those of the Anabaptist tradition may argue for God’s capacity to inspire people to godly living as they move toward baptism usually as a believer or adult.  More mainline churches like ours emphasize the action of God in baptism more than the human, thus we baptize infants believing that we are symbolizing God’s acceptance of them into the body of Christ the church universal and our acceptance of them into the care of a congregation.  Pentecostals may argue for the separation of the water baptism and the baptism in the Holy Spirit.  Indeed there are passages in Acts that lend biblical credence to such an idea. 

What is clear, regardless of tradition, is that God will do in baptism what God chooses to do.  God is not bound by human interpretation of the means of grace. 

John had it right. 

One who is mightier than any other human person has come to bring forgiveness of sins and new life in the Spirit.  Baptized into this new life, let us daily undertake to live as God’s people.   So okay, let us try this again.  Only this time let us seek the presence of the Holy Spirit and let God determine where we need the resolve to make things anew in our lives!  And God might even surprise us as we shed a few things along with those pounds!

Enjoy the Audio version of Pastor Neil’s Sermon, click the Download File link below and open it on your computer.   HAPPY NEW YEAR!


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. 😉