A FEW RECENT SERMONS

 

Sunday, December 3, 2017
The First Sunday in Advent
Presented by Kathleen Ordiway

 

Stay Awake
Isaiah 64:1-9, Mark

I used to have this crazy fear of thunderstorms. It was kind of like the first verse of Isaiah 64: "O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence-"
I felt like the skies were literally being torn open, that the earth shook with each strike of lightning, that "something" was about to change my life … whether it be something good or something bad … but in my fear, it could only be something bad!

I couldn't sleep if there was a thunderstorm. I'd stay awake to make sure that the lightning didn't hit the house or the tree in the front yard! As if staying awake would somehow stop the "bad" from happening.

I had to be ready! What if the house got hit and we had to get out quickly? I had to be awake!

My dad would tell us kids that the angels were just bowling and it was the ball hitting the pins that caused all that noise!

Don't tell my husband - but the fear isn't as bad as it used to be. If I'm home with Toby, I sometimes even LIKE the sound of thunder and the crash of lightning … as long as I can count to 5 between the two!

Now a thunderstorm lets me cuddle up to Toby and lets him play the protector without me being scared out of my wits!

Before we look at the Gospel passage from Mark, I wanted to look a little at Isaiah. It's a prayer for deliverance from those who still believed. The Israelites knew that they were filled with sin and they were afraid of God's judgement … but they knew God was great and powerful and could change their lives; they knew that God could reach down from the Heavens and touch them, that God, being their Father, their Creator - the Potter - could change their lives because of His grace!

The Israelites knew that they were not worthy, that "all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth," but they also knew that God had called them to relationship with Him. In verse 9, the prayer says, "Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever."
They prayed that God would forgive them. They prayed for God's advent! Advent - the presence, the arrival, the materialization of something or someone great and life changing.

"O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence-"

We pray, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." In that prayer that Jesus taught us, we, too, call out to God that His kingdom would come. That something life changing would happen. That all things, that all of us, would be made new!

The Israelites knew that God promised a Savior, but they didn't know when the Savior would come.

We know that Jesus came. We know that He lived, and loved, and taught, and sacrificed His life … for us, sinners, undeserving, like filthy rags … he died on the cross for you so that God's grace could change your life. That's not the end of the story though.

Many Advent seasons speak of the coming of the Baby Jesus. The arrival of this innocent, cuddly child, probably with those little pudgy legs mothers love, fingers that grabbed Mary's hair, that new baby smell that endears a child to us. I don't think we're going to hear about that Baby until Christmas Eve.

Today we hear of another coming Advent - the presence, the arrival, the materialization of something or someone great and life changing. The Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

In the early church, Advent began a time of repentance and preparation for the church's second most important time for baptisms, January 6th.

Christmas celebrations as we know them didn't take place until the fourth century. Our text today really takes us back to those early days in which Christians renounced the sin over which God's judgement stood, and prepared to accept their new birth in Christ.

From Mark 13:24-26, "But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory."

Woooo - I want that sweet, cuddly baby! Now I'm going to be thinking about the heavens tearing open, about the mountains quaking, about Jesus returning. He's going to return to judge … what if? What if Jesus finds me lacking? What if Jesus returns and my family isn't prepared? What if my friends don't believe? What if…? Just stay awake … be ready … shake some sense into everyone … I want that sweet, cuddly baby!

We won't know the day nor the hour; the angels don't know; Jesus doesn't know … only God the Father knows - Scripture says so; just look at Mark 13:32. And continuing at verse 33, "Be aware, keep alert … keep awake, for you do not know when the master of the house will come."

We are not literally meant to "stay awake." It's a metaphor for how we should be living our lives. Be ready. Our lives hopefully have a goal, a destination. And if we have this goal it gives us a sense of urgency. We are to keep busy. We are to continue to be productive, to serve God, to love our neighbor, to feed the poor, to clothe the naked, to visit the sick and the imprisoned … to be the love of Jesus to all. We don't just sit and wait for Jesus' return.

And in doing all these things, we are a witness to what it means to be Christian, to what it means to be a child of God … and we hope and we pray that our witness introduces Jesus to our family and to our friends so that we don't have to fear His return, because everyone will be ready!

Think of the parables we've heard over the last several weeks. Parables that spoke of being ready for the master's return.
The Parable of the Bridesmaids - some were ready with their oil and some were not. Those who were not ready expected the others to share their oil.
The Parable of the Talents - the master left his servants with coins. When he returned, he found that some had invested what he had given them but one, in fear of his master, had buried the coins in the ground. The coins, the gifts, the talents that should have been invested so that more would be returned to the master - were buried so that no one could benefit.
And last week, being reminded that when we do good for others, we do good for Jesus. When we ignore the needs of others … we ignore Jesus.

We do not have to wait in fear. We do not have to literally stay awake, fearing that Jesus is going to surprise us and be angry to find us asleep. What we have to do is be in preparation. We have to be about the work of God … always. We have to stay awake in our decisions, in our paths, in service so that when Jesus returns He will see that we listened and obeyed and will call us good and faithful servants.

This week I read about a book written by Morris West, an Australian writer - "Clowns of God." The book jacket starts with "After receiving the vision of the End of the World and a commission to announce that it is imminent, (fictional) Pope Gregory XVII is forced to abdicate…"

Although he is no longer pope, many believe his message and as one cell group of Christians celebrate Christmas in the hills of Bavaria, a Middle Eastern man joins them.

They ask him if he is a believer and he answers, "I am not a believer; I am He."
They ask for a sign. They tell him that "If you were really he, you would say, 'Ask and it shall be given.'"
So, he says, "Ask."
And they reply, "Time. Enough time to change a world, to beautify it, to cleanse it, to prepare it for you."
The man said, "I accept."
They asked him, "How much time do we have?"
He said, "I won't say. Not much - but enough!"

Isn't that what we want to know? How much time? We want enough time to say, "I'm sorry," to be truly repentant. Enough time to do the things we are supposed to be doing. Enough time to say love God the way we should love God. Enough time to know that our children and our children's children and our friends and family and our neighbors know Jesus Christ.

There's enough time … not much maybe, but enough. Enough time to welcome Emmanuel - who the Israelites called to rescue them and forgive them; there's enough time to be ready for the Long-Expected Jesus - born to set us free, to free us from our fears and our sins, to give us rest; enough time to share God's joy in place of fear and worry; to be God's love through the gifts of time and food and friendship and support; enough time to fight for justice and for truth for all those on this awaiting earth.

"O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence-"
I felt like the skies were literally being torn open, that the earth shook with each strike of lightning, that "something" was about to change my life … and it has.

 

 

Thanksgiving Sunday, November 19, 2017-11-18
Presented by Kathleen Ordiway

Light
1 Thessalonians 5:5-11, Matthew 25:20-21

I'm at the tail-end of a long weekend of scrapbooking that I go to every year. I'm spending my days and nights with about 150 women, putting our precious memories into albums for generations to enjoy.

One of the ladies I sit with every year told me a story she had heard and it reminded me of today's passages. It was a story Beth Moore shared about time spent in an airport, waiting for a delayed flight.

While waiting, everyone turned to watch something that she couldn't see, they were watching an elderly man wheeled behind her and into their area. The flight hostess wheeled his chair close to Beth. He was an odd sight, long hair to the middle of his back, long fingernails, oversized clothes, his shoulders bent over. Beth knew, just knew, that God was going to ask her to witness to this man and inside she was saying, "oh no." Instead she heard God speaking to her - speaking to her in a way she'd never experienced before, "Go and brush his hair."

Beth thought, "No, God - he needs to be witnessed to! What good is brushed hair if he doesn't hear my witness." God said, "Don't witness to him, brush his hair!"

"But I don't even have a brush. How equipped can I be, I don't even have a hair brush!"

So she gets up, she walks over to the man, she bends down to speak to him and she asks him, "Would you like me to brush your hair?" The old man said, "What?"

Beth raised her voice and said, "Sir, could I have the privilege of brushing your hair?" And every eye in the airport turned toward her.

He says, "If you want to."

Inside Beth is saying, "I don't want to, I don't want to." And outside Beth says, "I don't have a hairbrush, do you have one?"

The old man said, "Yes, I do - it's in my backpack behind my chair." Beth goes through his bag, sorting through his pajamas, his undershirts, his clothes and she was flooded with the love of Christ. She found an old bristle brush and started to carefully brush his matted hair, starting at the very ends and working her way up.

It took forever and she was oblivious of everyone. Eventually his hair was as smooth as silk. When she was done she went around to the front of his chair, stooped down and asked him, "Do you know Jesus?"

He said, "Yes I do." And in her head she said, "Of course you do! I wanted to share Christ with you, but God told me to brush your hair."

The old man said, "My wife of many years would not marry me until I came to know Christ. I was just sitting here thinking, and I wept, what a mess I must have been for my bride. I've spent quite a long time, months, in the hospital and I'm heading home now." It seemed that no one had cut his hair or brushed it.

The hostess soon came over to them to put him on the plane and she came back out crying hard. "What made you do that?"

Beth answered, "Jesus, he's the boss of this thing."

The hostess needed Christ, she needed to be introduced to him and Beth got to talk to her. The man just needed his hair brushed!

When we are filled to the measure with the fullness of Christ, you can't believe the needs we can meet. "That's not me - it's Christ!"
……

So, Thanksgiving is Thursday … how many of you are doing the cooking? Hosting? Who is eating at a friend's or relatives? Eating out?

Toby and I were out for pizza a few weeks ago and across the restaurant was a couple on vacation. As the pizza arrived, they joined hands and prayed.

What a witness!

It is amazing how we are a witness of our beliefs to people … often without realizing it! Beth found that God used her mightily. The couple in the pizzeria, praising God and asking for blessings on their dinner, were both thanking God and being a witness to others around them! Hopefully we will be a witness as we share a meal on Thursday, giving thanks for our blessings and the food before us!

How we live our lives, how we react to stress, to difficult tasks, to the good times, to sorrowful times … all are a testimony to our God.

Beth's story reminds me of today's gospel passage, "Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents." His master said to him, "Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.

"For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance…"

It got me to thinking… what is the "more" we are given, that Beth was given?

More responsibility? More expectations? More opportunity to witness? More chances to uplift others? More people in our lives to love? More occasions to share?

1 Thessalonians 5:5 says that we are children of the light, children of the day. It speaks specifically to how we are not in the darkness; it speaks to how when Jesus returns we won't be taken by surprise, because we should be living the life intended for us and know that Jesus will return, to find us doing the best we can.

I'm looking at the "light" in the passages, to the light that God puts in and around us, the light that God wants us to shine for Him, to share God's blessings and joy with all those around us, to let everyone know that they, too, can live in the light.

It says, in verse 8, that we should put on the breastplate of faith and love, the helmet of hope of salvation… and encourage others, build them up!

God's Word is powerful and gives us renewal, literally gives us encouragement to witness - to be a candle in the dark, to be the light amidst the darkness!

The late Rev. W. Herbert Brewster, an African American, Baptist minister, also wrote moving gospel hymns and gospel music dramas (and interestingly had a formative influence on Elvis Presley who occasionally attended Rev Brewster's church and heard his sermons).

Rev. Brewster wrote, "If you walk by faith and not by sight, though darkness and starless be your night, Christ the bright and morning star will lead you on. And you'll never be left to walk alone."

Hear the comparison of a dark and starless night, to Christ - the bright and morning star, the light that will lead us, the presence of Jesus that will never let us walk alone!

To be a part of that light, to allow God to work through us so that we can share that light with those who walk in darkness, feeling alone and lost! Oh how wonderful!

Paul wrote his letter to the converts in Thessalonica - to those who had become Christians because Paul witnessed to them, Paul bore the light of God to them! He introduced Jesus to them and they learned to live in the light. Don't you want to be a part of that?!!

I read a sermon by Rev. Dr. Ozzie Smith, Jr of South Holland, IL. He told of a stained glass rendering of Paul, preaching in a church. Paul stood at a lectern, bent over an open Bible. On each of his shoulders perched an angel, whispering in his ears. From the ceiling of the sanctuary, a light beamed down on his head, as if from heaven, while water flowed from his mouth. What Rev. Smith found to be most moving were the people listening and leaning forward to drink the water flowing from Paul's mouth! The Word of God flows from Paul's mouth, refreshing the lives of those listening! Rev. Smith said that the scene "fleshes out the truth that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God!"

This was the impact Paul had on the people of Thessalonica. This is the impact we can have on those around us! I want God's Word to flow from my mouth and refresh the lives, the very souls of those hear!!

Turning back to the gospel, look at those slaves who multiplied the talents they were given as lovers of their master, the landowner, the king - lovers of God! We're told to "Love God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul." They loved God, they yearned to be in God's presence, they wanted God's approval! … so they did want was expected of them!

And when we love God with all our hearts, our minds, our souls - all the rest comes naturally. When we truly love God, we will love our neighbor, we will be God's light, we will yearn to be a witness for God to those around us.

We yearn to share the free gifts God has given us, the talents He has blessed us with - blessings received from God! We want to share the joy in our lives.

We want to smile, we want to hug, we want to give of ourselves; we want to give a literal "hand up" to those who stumble; we want to be God's light in a dark and scared and desolate world. We want to brighten someone's day, refresh their soul, introduce someone to our Savior!

It's not all that hard and it doesn't cost us much!

Two of our three hymns today were unfamiliar to me, but I thought all three fit our passages so well.

The first one, "O Morning Star" … I know I want to feel Christ's love on me like a ray of purest pleasure, His mercy warm upon me! Isn't it wonderful to imagine Jesus as the Morning Star, shining with God's truth and light and grace and mercy … shining on each of us?! And when we are looked upon with such amazingness, we want to give it back, we want to serve with love, being part of God's light in the world!

"Many are the Light Beams." And yes, there are many! And just like we pray that we would be God's hands, feet, arms, heart - we pray that we can become one of God's light beams, that our actions will spread God's love, can be a light on the path of someone's journey so that they can see the way God would intend for them to go, so that their life can be brightened.

"Many are the gifts given, many are the ways to serve God."

In our final hymn, "Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise," there's the line "silent as light." It talks about God, the invisible presence of God, sometimes the silent present of God. We don't always know by our sense of sight or hearing that God is present, but we know through our sense of just being that we are not alone - BUT … we have probably all faced a time of struggle when that sense that we aren't alone fades, when we think we have been abandoned.

But God is still present, quietly present.

For others who feel abandoned, who feel that God has never been present in their lives - we are to be the silent light, the invisible presence of God … we are God's servants and we are called to be God's presence!

This weekend I've shared with my friends pictures of wonderful times and beautiful memories; at 12:30 Friday night I shared a pizza with my table … because all of our bellies with growling; I've shared that I'll be ordained soon - and not to make myself look or feel good, but to witness to God's presence in my life.

In this Thanksgiving season, coming upon the Christmas season, we should be thankful for the ability to be used by God, to use that talents … the gifts … freely given to us; to bless and serve and uplift and encourage and love others… today, tomorrow, and always!

We are not alone and no one should ever believe that!



 

The Wedding Robe

Matthew 22:1-14, Philippians 4:8-9
Presented by Kathleen Ordiway, October 15, 2017

Think about jobs that require a uniform: many police officers, nurses, doctors, firefighters, astronauts, chefs, fast food restaurant workers, casino employees, football players … when you see their uniform, you know they've come prepared to work. Most would be sent home if they didn't wear the uniform - and most of them wear uniforms that are provided for them.

And then there's the things we just have to wear or have if we want to do the fun stuff: tap dancers wear tap shoes or you wouldn't hear them, can't play tennis without a racket, roller skates, swimsuits, you understand.

Not so much nowadays, but when I was a child (and I know it goes for many of you, too) I was expected to wear something on my head when I went to church. Sometimes it was a bonnet, but more often than not it was a lace doily style head covering, bobby pinned to the top of my head. If we didn't come with one, there would be something available at the church.

When I'm invited to a wedding, I usually chose a skirt, but the last few times I've worn black slacks. Nothing wrong with that - but last week … I felt very under-dressed, like I hadn't worn the appropriate outfit. I was 1 of only 3 women in slacks.

In Matthew, we find Jesus telling a parable about a wedding feast.

There was a king who had a son who had found just the right woman to marry. The king ordered the best of everything to celebrate the wedding. He ordered the finest wine, the tastiest meats and cheeses and fruits. Every detail was well-planned.
Invitations / Announcements had gone out and people acted like they were excited about the upcoming wedding. Many of us can put ourselves in the king's shoes. We've planned wonderful celebrations for our children and we hope for the very best for them.

Then the second invitation is sent - the king's servants are sent to call the invited into the feast - the ones who already said "yes, we're coming" - the food is ready … but no one came.

Excuses were made. I have to bring in the harvest, I have to get new yokes for my oxen, I have to pull rocks from the field … I have to wash my hair, I don't have a babysitter, I don't like crowds … I'm too busy to care.

Some who were invited even killed the servants who came to call them to the wedding feast!

But it's the king who invited them!!

So who was Jesus talking about? Who were these invited guests who accepted the original invitation, but didn't come to the party?

It makes sense that these first invited guests were the religious leaders in Jerusalem, those that the rest of the people looked to for guidance about God, those who claimed to know the law and judged others who didn't follow it.

But Jesus knew these self-righteous leaders were more interested in the letter of the law, rather than the spirit of it. They were good at judging, at pushing away, at building walls, at deciding who was good enough

These were the religious in the community who have no actual time for God.

Amongst the invited guests were the Jews who didn't see Jesus as God, who still waited for their Savior. And these were the ones who couldn't be bothered to come to the wedding feast. They couldn't take the king and his invitation seriously enough.

It would have been insulting not to have accepted the invitation to the wedding … and who would pass up free food?

What Jesus was really speaking about were those people who didn't accept the invitation to the Gospel.

There are those who feel they have to work toward the gift of salvation, rather than accepting God's free gift.

There are those who are distracted by the world - their oxen, their fields, their television programs, their new babies and grandbabies, their vacation plans - and don't pay attention to God's invitation.

There are those who are hostile to the invite, who persecute the bearers of the Good News, of the invitation, who torment those who invite them to hear and accept the Gospel.

By their refusal to accept the wedding invitation they showed they were not deserving of the invitation. They made their choice.

And the king punished them, destroying the murderers and burning their cities.

So who was invited next?
Verse 9 and 10 say: Go therefore to the thoroughfares, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find.' And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

The invitation went out to the people on the streets, the strangers - the Gentiles … those whom the Jews hated. Everyone was invited - the good and upright, along with the bad. The invitation is given regardless of one's moral behavior.

The king had his servants go to the back alleys and call the poorest people, the blind, the lame, the ostracized - the king wanted the wedding feast FILLED with people who wanted to be there!

Continuing at verse 11: "But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?' And he was speechless.

Then the king said to the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.' For many are called, but few are chosen."

Now our first reaction would probably be, "Wait!! He didn't even know about the wedding until maybe 5 minutes ago! He probably doesn't even own a wedding garment! How can the king punish him when all he did was accept a dinner invitation?!"

The only thing the guests need to know is that the wedding robe is necessary - but it's a robe that's freely given; it's a robe that might not have been in our closets, one that we won't have until we get to the door of the wedding feast! The king would have enough robes for everyone at the door. The servants would have handed each guest a robe to put on so that all would be respectfully clothed for the feast.

They were to put on new clean clothes, remove their outer garments that were covered by worldly filth and wear the robe provided by the king.

Why didn't that guest put the robe on? He knew that a robe was provided and expected to be worn. He chose not to wear that robe. That man was probably one of the original guests who were not worthy to receive the invitation, who had abused the invitation. Who said, "No, I'm too busy right now clipping my toenails."

Maybe he got curious or hungry or just bored at home and now he thinks it's okay to just show up and take a peek inside.

That's where we look to today's passage from Philippians: Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about (WEAR as a wedding robe) these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.

We are to put on new robes, new clean robes - a new life. Being a Christian is like being invited to a wedding feast, a place where we're going to have a great time, but we have wear the robe.

This isn't a story about a bully king, a bully god - it's more the anthem of the left out, the bullied, the unchosen on the kickball field … the anthem for those who have been told that they don't fit in with everyone else.

Those listening to Jesus' parable are the ones who have not cared for God's people, who have spent more time making themselves look good, building their own kingdoms rather than God's - they are the ones not welcome to the feast. They are the bullies who made everyone else feel like they were unworthy.

This parable is a warning to each of us today. We can't be so tied up in a building, a denomination, a reputation that we forget to wear the robe … to care for the community, to uplift the forgotten, to feed the poor, to visit the sick - to remember that God choses to send out an invitation to everyone.

This is what it means to be a Christian - to offer the joy-filled knowledge of God's love to everyone. To be the invitation. We're invited to a wedding.

And it is joy-filled. I've heard stories told about the immense joy in the slums of Nairobi and the paper shack towns of Puerto Prince, Haiti. It's not about how much we have, it's about love, about the welcome, about fellowship, about uplifting each other, about providing for the needs of our neighbors, about the Spirit's presence, about knowing the invitation is there for us to accept.

A question for us is: How do we as a congregation start reaching out to these poorer people of our neighborhood and begin drawing them into our banquet, into our lives, into our worship services, into our ministries? We wear the wedding robe.

Augustine of Hippo said:
"What is the wedding garment that the Gospel talks about? Very certainly, that garment is something that only the good have, those who are to participate in the feast. …
"Could it be the sacraments? Baptism? Without baptism, no one comes to God, but some people receive baptism and do not come to God. … Perhaps it is the altar or what a person receives at the altar? But in receiving the Lord's body, some people eat and drink to their own condemnation (1 Corinthians 11:29).
"So what is it? Fasting? The wicked also fast. Going to church often? The wicked go to church just like others. …
"So what is this wedding garment? The Apostle Paul tells us: 'What we are aiming at … is the love that springs from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith' (1 Tim 1:5).
"That is the wedding garment. Paul is not talking about just any kind of love, for one can often see dishonest people loving others … but one does not see among them this love 'that springs from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith.' Now that is the love that is the wedding garment.
"The Apostle Paul said: 'If I speak with human tongues and angelic as well, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal. … If I have the gift of prophecy and, with full knowledge, comprehend all mysteries, if I have faith great enough to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing' (1 Corinthians 13:1-2).
"He said that even if he had all that, without Christ 'I am nothing.' … It would be useless, because I can act in that way for love of glory … 'If I have not love, it is of no use.' That is the wedding garment. Examine yourselves: if you have it, then come to the Lord's banquet with confidence."

I almost wished we still had our dainty little doilies to put upon our heads - that symbol that we've accepted the wedding robe and willingly wear it.

God wants his house filled …the Pharisees didn't get it.

 

 

 

Do You Have the Mark?


Presented by Kathleen Ordiway, September 3, 2017
Romans 12:9-21

I have this little indentation on my left ear. My brother has it. My sister has it. I think all three my kids have it. On my ear, it's a very small indentation, but on everyone else's ears it looks like a little mouse took a tiny bite, confusing their ears with a piece of cheese. Just little marks, but they remind us that we are family. Some families are filled with red heads. Sororities will wear certain colors so they stick out as a unit. We show our patriotism by wearing flag pins or red, white and blue t shirts. Certain jobs find employees wearing a special uniform. The mark of a UPS worker is clearly their brown uniforms. Very often, just be looking at a person, you can identify where or to whom they belong. What's your mark?

Every once in a while, I like to present a sermon that dissects a passage … Today is one of those days. This should really be a series of sermons, not a sermon on a Communion Sunday!

Romans 12:9-21… Some Bibles subtitle this section as "the Marks of the True Christian" and others start chapter 12 with "Personal Responsibilities" and the subtitle of "Love" at verse 9. It's a simple passage - telling us what we should and should not do as Christians and as a community of faith. It's easy to look at the reading and say, "Duh" and then not give it much more consideration. But if we really take this passage to heart, the words will literally change the world.

Let love be genuine.
Many of us have mastered the art of pretending to love others. We're polite. We speak kindly. We avoid saying things that will hurt the feelings of others. We appear to take an interest in the things they are interested in. When something terrible happens to someone else, we say, "Oh, I'm so sorry." Or we express our love with strings attached - "I love you so you should … fill in the blank."

That sounds horrible, crass, for me to even say that. And even if we have mastered that "art" - it doesn't mean we practice it all the time, but I'll be the first to admit that there are times when I'd rather be reading a good book than hear about someone's bug collection… but I'll fake it so I don't hurt their feelings.

But God calls us to truly, genuinely love others - love with sincerity, no pretense. That kind of love requires effort. It demands our time, our personal involvement, sometimes it requires our money. God calls us to look for people around us who need to feel loved, to look for ways we can love our community, our country, our world for Christ.

This week my granddaughter and I were enjoying our time in California with my sister and her family. While Texas was being deluged by Hurricane Harvey, we were on a dolphin and whale cruise, we were walking in the ocean, we were sharing a day at Disney.

My compassion for those suffering was real. Seeing the many, many pictures of people carrying the few possessions they could grab, or holding their pets, or their children … the photo of the baby in the plastic bin, the senior citizens in waist high water waiting for rescue … all brought real tears to my eyes. I prayed for them. I texted Toby and said we needed to do something, realizing the best way to show them my love and God's love meant spending money - sometimes sincere, genuine love requires our money.

The passage tells us we are called to so many more things:

Hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good
This phrase reminds me of Jesus clearing the temple of the money changers. Jesus was angry to see what was happening in His Father's house. Be the person who stands up for the oppressed, the hurting, the ignored. Be angry when you see something that would make Jesus angry and do something about it.

Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.
"Outdo one another in showing honor" - that speaks to seeing each other as God's creations, created in the image of God. And if we are created in the image of God, we can do nothing less than honor each other - and therefore honor God.

Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.
Zeal: great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause… Most days I want to do all I can to serve the Lord. Some days I'm filled with an abundance of zeal - I think I may have the zeal of a few extra people. Other days - not so much. Wednesday night / Thursday morning my flight from California landed at 1:33 a.m. We waited for our baggage. We drove the 30 minutes home. We dropped Chloe off with her suitcases. We drove to our house. We carried in my luggage. I changed and we went to bed. My head hit my pillow at 3 a.m., but it was still on California time - and was convinced it was only midnight and I had plenty of time to talk to Toby. I finally fell asleep at 3:45 a.m. and woke to my alarm at 6:45, so I could be at work at 7:30. Zeal … great energy. Not so much on Thursday or even Friday. We have to care for ourselves, getting the sleep we need, the food our bodies crave, being in positive environments and reading God's Word so that we can have zeal, be ardent in spirit and be able to serve the Lord.
Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
Prayer produces and sustains our hope. Prayer gives us the ability to be patient in our suffering, knowing that we do not suffer alone. In this world there will be suffering, but believe that when we hurt, God - our Father - feels our pain.

Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Some translations say "practice hospitality" or "pursue hospitality." 1 Peter 4:9 tells us to Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another.

I have been the recipient of true hospitality many times. Carling and Sean welcomed us into their home and served us a delicious dinner a few weeks ago. I've had tea and sweets at several of your homes. My brother and sister-in-law are great hosts. My sister outdid herself, making her home our home last week. And most welcomed me knowing that I will not be reciprocating by having you to my home! That's ungrudging hospitality - no resentment to be had! (but I'll take you out to dinner though!)

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
What?!! Are you kidding me? But I truly pray for people who hurt me. I've tried to repay their persecution with kindness. It may or may not change their lives, but I'm confident that it changes me and how I respond to those hurts and the hurter.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
Joy, compassion, celebration, encouragement.

Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.
I am no better than you and you are no better than me. We are all created in God's image and are a part of his family, brother and sister alike.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.
Hand in hand with blessing those who persecute you.

If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
If we truly love one another, living peaceably would come naturally. When we consider our words, our thoughts, our actions before they happen - we will live peaceably.

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."
These days, it's too easy to sue over every little thing. Commercial after commercial tell us what lawyer to call when we've experienced wrong.

No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Bless those who persecute you…

If we say we are Christians, we must accept the responsibility to have the mark of Christians - to live as Christ lived - a higher life. When Jesus said that those who lose their life for His sake will find it, when He means is that those who are willing to give up what they hold as dear for His sake, will find a higher, better, richer life.

This reminds me of a story:

There was a little girl who had a plastic string of pearls. She wore the pearls everywhere, and every night she would take them off and place them in the drawer of her nightstand.

Every night, the little girl's father would tuck her in and ask her if she loved him. And every night the little girl would say, "Of course, Daddy, I love you more than anything!"

Each night the father would ask the little girl if she would give him her pearls. The little girl always responded, "Oh, please ask me for anything, but not my pearls!" After she answered, the father would smile at her, give her a big hug and kiss, and go out of the room.

This continued for years until one night, something changed. The girl looked at her father and, with tears streaming down her eyes, responded, "Yes, I love my pearls, but I love and trust you more. So yes, I will give you my pearls." And the girl took the pearls out of the drawer and handed them to her father.

Her father was overjoyed! He looked at her with tears streaming down his cheeks and pulled out a box and handed it to his daughter. It was a string of, not fake plastic, but real pearls! He had wanted to give the real pearls to his daughter, but she had to be willing to give up the fake.

Christ wants to live real lives, not something pretending to be life. Paul tells us how to live as Christ would have us live - a real life filled with love, compassion and sacrifice. We are to look after our enemies, strangers, those different from us, neighbors who live 1500 miles from us, those who can't return our hospitality, our generosity. We are to look after the greater good of all people, not just those who we know or like. We have to work at being like Jesus.

When we give up the fake life, pretending to be loving, and accept the real life, the real string of pearls, we will be blessed.

Do you have the mark?

 

Sunday July 16, 2017 - Presented by Kathleen Ordiway

 

It All Depends on the Dirt
Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

My daughter, Eileen, told me yesterday that her tomatoes weren't doing very well at all … but the tomato plant that my grandson, Thomas, brought home from pre-school was doing very well. Eileen's plants are in one part of the yard and Thomas' is in another. Is it the tomato plant itself? Is it the sun or lack of sun? Or is it the dirt?

She doesn't know a whole lot about gardening, she's thrilled when her peas produce enough to nibble on once or twice a season. I've seen plenty of little creatures in her backyard, probably enjoying the meal she is growing for them and I doubt she uses fertilizer.

Eileen isn't completely sure what's causing her tomatoes not to grow, but I'm guessing it's a little bit of everything - but especially the ground and lack of fertilizer!

I'm pretty certain her gardening "success" runs in the family. Who remembers my tomato plant last summer? The one that never produced a tomato?

The dirt you plant in is extremely important to the success of your garden!

If you have ever driven along a country road and found a primitive stone wall along the edge of a farmer's field, you will have probably seen what had become of the rocks and stones that had been found in the field when it was cleared so that crops could be planted many years ago. If the ground is full of rocks, there won't be a very good crop. So the farmer would use his oxen to move the rocks to the edge of the field and he killed two birds with one stone by creating a wall to separate his property line or the road and creating better soil.

If the soil is hard or is filled with clay - your plantings aren't going to be very successful. Seeds can't spread out their roots in hard soil. Clay drains poorly, leading to root rot, and contains very little air, which will suffocate the roots.

Don't even get me started on weeds. This year my garden consists entirely of perennials - plants that come back every year. I've become that kind of gardener!

I have tulips that Toby keeps trying to kill for some reason, a one-year-old bleeding heart that brought me happiness this spring, a small pot of sedum that comes back every year, black-eyed susans that aren't doing very well yet… probably because of the over-abundance of hostas I have, and day lilies that are being attacked by a wandering ivy … that's a weed as far as I'm concerned. Weeds are not conducive to good gardens. But I'm not going to rip up all my lilies to get rid of that ivy!

But poor dirt, hard soil, clay-filled gardens, too much sun, an abundance of stones or weeds, birds, rabbits and deer don't need to be considered unsurmountable walls.

Some say that clay can be loosened by adding gypsum, but most don't think that's enough for a garden. Adding lots of organic matter - like what you get from a composter, or manure - works much better. In fact, this works wonderfully for a lot of poor soil. The drainage and aeration is improved and it creates a friendly environment for good soil microbes and earthworms.

I already mentioned a way to use the stones found in your garden and there's creating an actual rock garden with those stones, too. As far as the animals - there are a lot of animal repellents including smelly perennials like chives, mint, garlic and lavender; thorny foliage; moving decorations like scarecrows, wind chimes and shiny ribbon.

So, enough of the gardening. I guess it's pretty clear I'm going to be talking about the Gospel passage today!

What's easy about this parable that Jesus shared is that a few verses later He explained what He meant. For us, if we aren't farmers or at least weekend gardeners, not all of it makes sense … but Jesus was speaking to people who understood planting. He was using something that was a part of their everyday life to explain something spiritual that was more confusing for them. Jesus was talking about the different responses to God's message.

The seeds that landed on the path, quickly eaten up by the birds … Jesus said that this seed represented a person who hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it - and then "the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart."

Think about times we've spent listening … maybe to one of my sermons or someone else's; maybe to a message on the TV or radio; maybe to the words we are reading in our Bible or in a devotional … and we aren't really paying attention. Maybe we're thinking about what we're going to be doing later today or about something that happened yesterday - we "hear" the word, but we're just not listening. Nothing will grow in our lives from that seed.

There are those who just don't understand what is being said. Those who share God's Word have the responsibility to share it simply and to explain its truth at a level where the listener can understand. This is the perfect explanation for the use of Parables.

And then there are those who just don't care to listen or to understand. Their hearts are hard and the wall is high - nothing will sink into the dirt.

Some seed fell on rocky ground, where there wasn't much soil. That seed sprang up quickly because it wasn't planted very deeply. With no roots to give it water and nourishment, the sun burned it and it withered.

We have probably all known someone who received God's word like this. Jesus said that this is "the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy" (okay, that part is good, right?) … but He goes on to say, "yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away."

Someone actually hears the word for the first time, they are excited, they are ready to run out the door and tell everyone about what they've heard - all good! They were probably moved by the Holy Spirit! But these are the people who try to do it all alone. They have this amazing knowledge and they don't need anything else!

Some of the "rocky" people don't know what to do what trouble hits. They thought Jesus would take all their pain and hurt and problems away and they don't have a support system, no roots.

This is why after an altar call we hear the encouragement to join a church, find a group of people studying God's Word, get guidance from the elders, from those who have "known" Jesus longer …

The seed is planted, but the roots aren't deep in the dirt.

Some seeds fall among thorns that grow up and choke them. Jesus said that "this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing."

Weeds and thorns have very strong roots and if you only pull out a part of them, they grow back!

At yesterday's Gospel Fest we were asked if we had the Holy Ghost … but do we still curse others? Do we still lie? Do we still covet what our neighbors have? Are we embarrassed to tell others about our faith?

Sometimes we hear God's Word, we believe what it says to us, but we want to keep on doing the same things we have always done. The seed, the Word, has been planted amongst the weeds and those weeds will choke out the good growth.

When my girls were young, one of their friends' mom told all of them that being around bad kids would make it easier for them to do bad things - it would be harder to choose the higher path.

We want to bear fruit, to grow, but we get worried about what others think; the influence of others pull us down; we want what's on the other side of the fence; we think that more money, more stuff will make us happy. When we don't focus on living for God, we won't produce good fruit!

And then there's that good dirt! Seed was planted and it brought thirty, sixty and even a hundredfold of grain! Jesus explained that "what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields" plenty.

We hear the Word; we listen and we try to understand; we put the message into practice in our lives - we feed the hungry, we comfort those filled with grief, we visit the sick, we guide the lost, we love God's creation… and a plentiful harvest is produced. We put our trust in the Holy Spirit and the seed takes root.

People respond differently depending on how ready they are to respond - and even when our dirt, our willingness to respond is usually good, there can be bad days.

On our worse days, when we're thinking of 20 other things or we're hungry or when nothing seems to be going right - we aren't always ready to receive God's word. We have to be ready to receive the word so that it can go deep into our souls for protection and understanding.

I want to end with how we decide where we sow. Should we be worried about the dirt we plant in? Or should we scatter the seed wherever the winds blows?

In the passage, the farmer went out to sow his seed. Some landed on the path, some amongst the rocks, some in the weeds and thorns and others on the good soil. The farmer joyfully scattered the seed all around, everywhere! Shouldn't he have paid attention to where he put the seed? Was it irresponsible, stupid and wasteful just to throw the seeds willy-nilly?

Do we really want to risk our time just tossing God's Word out, not making sure it's given to people who are going to appreciate it or understand it? Should we really risk letting the wrong people claim the seed?

Risk! That's what it's about. You never know when something will take root somewhere you don't expect it! If we are too careful about those we share with, if we are too controlling about those we let in the door - we risk losing something amazing coming from the most unexpected places!

We need to trust in the judgment and the generosity of the Sower with the capital S. It's not up to us to decide where the seed goes - the Sower will take care of it.

That's why many prison ministries are successful. Think about it - thieves, rapists, murders, tax evaders … hardened criminals locked behind bars as punishment for their crimes and there are those who are called by God to enter those prisons by choice, on a regular basis, to sit down with those men and women and shares God's saving message! And lives are changed.

Stop worrying about who gets the seed. We have to let go of our fears and feed the hungry. We have to be generous with what God has given us and spread the seed by our actions, our love, by sharing our possessions, our faith with everyone. I know that something amazing will happen - something that will surprise all of us when we just let go and let God. And that's the hard part - relinquishing control and trusting God.

In our backyard gardens, we have to test the soil, fertilize it, make sure there's enough sun and water so that our plants will grow. The seed usually isn't the problem - it all depends on the dirt.

But in our spiritual lives, in our lives that are supposed to be exemplifying Christ? The quality of the dirt isn't our decision or judgment to make. Sow the seeds of God's love, not worrying about the dirt the seeds land in … leave that up to God's grace!

 

 

Presented by Kathleen Ordiway, Father's Day - June 18, 2017

Who's Your Daddy?
Romans 5:1-8, and numerous other passages

I remember reading a book to my kids when they were toddlers. There were animals and a little rhyme and then pictures to let them guess which daddy belonged to the baby.

"Who's your daddy? My daddy goes 'Quack! Quack! Quack!' and gives me a ride on his back! … My daddy is a duck."

It was a fun read!

Thinking back about that book gives me a wonderful feeling. I loved reading to my children and they loved curling on my lap to listen to the stories, look at the bright pictures and eventually learn to read themselves. They passed their love of books on to my grandchildren. I have the pleasure of reading to Thomas all the time!

Who's Your Daddy? Most of you have heard stories about my daddy, some of you have met him … maybe some of my stories have escalated in their greatness over time … but I think I have a pretty great Daddy.

None of our daddies have been perfect (no matter how your memories might have changed over time). You may have had an absentee dad - maybe he died when you were young, like my mom's dad; maybe your parents divorced and you didn't get to see him every day (like my girls' dad); maybe your dad had to work two or three jobs to put food on the table and a roof over your head, so you only saw him between shifts. Maybe "your" daddy was your best friend's dad or your grandpa or your uncle or your stepdad - someone who stepped in when your father couldn't. Maybe you had a rotten dad … I refuse to go into details because no one wants to relive the memories of a rotten dad.

Let's think about the attributes, the characteristics, of a great dad. Maybe you can claim them for your dad.

Love - no matter the amount of time your dad has to spend with you, love is probably the most important characteristic he can have for you. When your daddy loves you, you know that his primary concern is for your well-being.

Faithful - loyal, constant, steadfast, unswerving adherence to a person or thing or promise. If daddy said he was going to be there for me … he was there. Sometimes daddies promise to always be present, but work calls them away or they get sick or they just forget.

Wisdom - My daddy knew everything … or at least I thought so at the time. He also knew what was best for me, even if I disagreed. Who hasn't been there?!

Justice - that equates to fairness and makes you think of punishment. We all want to be treated justly, fairly. If our brother gets a cookie, we want one, too. If our sister gets to stay out until midnight, we want the same privilege. My daddy was just and fair … until I was the one sent to my room! Now we all know that I was a perfect child … so how dare he send me to my room when I clearly had done nothing wrong!

Merciful - wow! That goes with justice and if you have ever did something wrong, knowing you were going to get "it" by your father, heard the words from your mom "Wait until your father gets home!" Mercy! That's what you wanted! We wanted to NOT get the punishment we deserved. We wanted Daddy to be merciful to us. We wanted Daddy to understand that we yelled at our brother or pushed our sister because we just had a bad day … just one bad day - it was so out of character for us … give me mercy, Daddy!

Goodness - I just finished a good book; I think chicken and biscuits are good; Toby and I want to see a good movie tonight … But our daddies - it's just another, deeper kind of goodness we want from them! We want their good to be for always.

Unchanging - We want our daddies to be consistent - if he said something yesterday, I want to still believe it today. As my daddy gets older, I wish he was unchanging. I want back that daddy who doesn't make me worry about him falling, or forgetting, or not having enough money to provide for himself, or dying …

Always present - even if he's at work or out with his friends or on a "date" with mommy, we want our daddies to be always present. We want daddy to know when we are hurting, when we need a word of encouragement … But we don't want daddy to see our mistakes, to see that side of us we try to hide. For our own good, though, having an "always present" daddy is important. Correct the errors of a child early and that child will grow into a better adult.

All knowing - we believed that as children. I went to my daddy for the answer to every question! My daddy, in my mind, was a walking encyclopedia!

No limitations - We want daddies that can do everything! Play baseball with us, throwing the perfect pitch and running the bases; and get down on the floor and play with our dolls with us.

God - If we trust in the Bible to be truth, we know that our Heavenly Daddy has every one of these characteristics! Because I've been warned many times by Toby that quoting from too many Bible passages can be confusing, I've made sure that there is a copy of today's sermon for everyone to read later.

Love: God is love and with God, love is so much more than an emotion … love is an action!
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 - Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. When we say that God is love - it speaks to everything else that God is.

Faithful: We can believe in that everything God has promised. Our hope of eternal rest is based on believing that God's Word is truth. Deuteronomy 7:9 - Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments.

Wisdom: You've heard "Father knows best…", well God, the Father, really does know best. In Romans 11:33, Paul said, Oh, how great are God's riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible is for us to understand His decisions and His ways! We have to trust that God does know best and has our best interests at heart when we are guided.

Justice: Which goes with righteousness - to do what is right. We cannot talk God into giving something to us by taking it away from someone else. That's not just nor fair or right. Justice often speaks to punishment. When we have done something wrong, justice demands a penalty. Proverbs 21:15 says When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous, but dismay to evildoers. But, what about when we are the "evildoers?"

Charles Spurgeon said, "God in his infinite mercy has devised a way by which justice can be satisfied, and yet mercy can be triumphant…"

Romans 3 verse 20 For no human being will be justified in his sight by deeds … skipping to 22, For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus … verse 26 It was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one has faith in Jesus.

So, Mercy. God's mercy is found in the knowledge that God does not always give us what we deserve! We, as sinners, deserve eternal punishment, away from God's presence, but God's mercy gave us a way for undeserved salvation! God is compassionate! Deuteronomy 4:31 Because the LORD your God is a merciful God, he will neither abandon you nor destroy you; he will not forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them.
Romans 5:8 But God proves his love (God's mercy) for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
A beautiful picture of God's mercy is found in the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. Read that tonight.

Goodness: God is good and God is good ALL THE TIME - that is a fact that never changes! Psalm 34:8 says, Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man (or woman) who takes refuge in him. Because God is good, God bestows blessings on all those who follow Jesus. But when you are feeling troubled and it does not feel like anyone is there for you or on your side - when you are feeling attacked and it seems like God has taken away every blessing from you, speak out loud, "God is good! God is good! I may be having trouble, but it is not God's fault! God is good!"

Unchanging: Immutable. God is absolutely unchanging. Every attribute, every character that God possessed before the creation of the world are the same ones God possesses today. Psalm 90:2 - Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. And Malachi 3:6 I am the Lord, I change not.

Always present - Omnipresent: God is present in all places and at all times. God is with us, even when we doubt. Proverbs 15:3 The eyes of the Lord are in every place. Jeremiah 23:23-24 Am I a God nearby, says the Lord, and not a God far off? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord. Jesus said, "and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

All knowing - Omniscient: God knows everything about everything. There is not a thing God does not know. It is impossible to hide anything from God. Isaiah 40:28 The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.

No limitations - Omnipotent: God has no limitations. In chapter 42:2, speaking to God, Job said, "I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted." Genesis 18:14 simply asks, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" The answer, of course, is "no."

Some things we want our fathers to be, but we know it is impossible … not so with God.

God is sovereign. God is free to do what God knows to be the best. God is in control, but gives us free will. 2 Samuel 7:22,28 How great you are, Sovereign Lord! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears… Sovereign Lord, you are God! Your covenant is trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant. Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

God is gracious. God enjoys giving us great gifts, the greatest of these is heard in Ephesians 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast.

God is holy. God has perfect moral purity. God is without sin or evil thought. Exodus 15:11 Who is like You among the gods, O Lord? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders?

And God, unlike our daddies, is eternal. Revelation 1:8 "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty." 2 Peter 3:8 But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. Exodus 15:18 The Lord shall reign forever and ever.

These are not the only characteristics of God - God is so much more.

"Who's your daddy? My daddy goes 'Quack! Quack! Quack! And gives me a ride on his back! … My daddy is a duck!"
Keep in your hearts the promises of Romans 5:1-8
… we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ ... we boast in the hope of the glory of God… we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. … when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. … God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

 

 

 

 

May 21, 2017 - presented by Kathleen Ordiway

On The Playground
1 Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21

On the playground - in my day:
Girly girls - making sure their dresses didn't get dirty and their shoes stayed clean and no one could see their underwear; the other kids playing jacks or hopscotch or tossing a ball or drawing with chalk; climbing to the very top of the monkey bars; racing from one end of the blacktop to the other; walking on the edge of the grass, looking for grasshoppers and ants.

Eventually someone would wander too far away from the teacher while trying to catch a frog; or someone else would get a little rough and there would be bloody knees or noses; and then there was the time my sister and I got sent to the principal's office for throwing snowballs …
… Does anyone remember my story about dropping the Communion wafer at my First Communion? I didn't drop that wafer and I certainly didn't throw a snowball at anyone!

On the playground - there were the goody two shoes, the tattletales, the daring dos, the adventurers, the ones who took an hour to walk 5 minutes home because there was so much to do on the playground and the ones you just knew to stay away from…

The Goody Two Shoes - those were the ones that did everything they were told to do: at recess, they immediately turned back towards class when the teacher called or the bell rang; after school, if their parents told them to get right home, they would never think to swing on the swings … they would get right home; they didn't even think bad words, let alone say them; and a lot of times they were teased like crazy for doing what they did … or didn't do.

And sometimes kids can be pretty cruel. They would call you names because of the color of your hair, the size of your feet, your unpronounceable name or your name that sounded like another word … I got "Cody's Cooties".

They called you names because of the color of your skin, your stutter, your clothes, the fact you packed a lunch - or because you didn't, because your dad lost his job, because you didn't know anything about the newest toy or music or craze … and if you stuck up for someone who was being ridiculed - you got it, too.

On the playground - some pretty wonderful things happened: you made friends for life, you learned to skip, you got over your fear of the monkey bars … and when bad things happened - those friends for life were there for you.

As we become adults, we can see a lot of the bad playground behavior sticking around. There are those who just don't know how to or want to grow up. They still "tease" … but now we realize their teasing is just bullying and always has been. They ridicule. They threaten. They hurt.

1 Peter was written during a time of Epicureanism - a philosophy that says "As long as it feels good, do it. If you want to do it, do it."

Nero was ruling during this time - he was depraved and he took great pleasure in torture.
Morality was low. Rome needed what Jesus Christ had taught, needed people committed to living like Jesus - needed Christians, but these Christians would be ridiculed for how they lived; some lost their families and friends because of their beliefs, some were killed for them.

That kind of suffering still happens. Many of us have never experienced, nor will ever experience, true suffering for our faith because we spend most of our time with like-minded Christians who believe like we do and behave like we do. But you may have spent time with people who have laughed at you when you return the $1 the salesclerk gave you back by mistake, or when you buy a cup of coffee for the homeless man at the corner, or when you refuse to laugh at an off-color joke.

Ridicule - none of us like to be laughed at.

When I was in middle school I can remember a few things that I did that made me feel I would be laughed at. I wasn't the most popular, and what others thought about me was important.

Plagued with pimples, like most kids my age, I used a cream on my skin at night. One morning I woke up late for school, quickly got dressed, ran a toothbrush over my teeth, grabbed a banana and ran to the bus stop.
When I got to class, I realized that I had never washed my face of the pink acne cream. Did anyone notice? I don't know.

One day, getting dressed in the semi-dark because my sister was sick and still in bed, I slid my feet into my shoes and headed off to start my day. When I got to school, I looked down and saw that my shoes didn't match each other. Did anyone notice? I don't know.

On vacation, my brother and I were racing across the pool and one of his strokes hit me in the mouth, swelling my lip. Did any of the cute boys by the pool notice? I don't know.

But inside my head, in each of those instances, everyone was staring and laughing and judging me. It was traumatizing to even imagine what people were thinking.

And those were only imagined ridicule.

People are ridiculed for all sorts of things: tall, short, brainy, skinny, poor, left-handed, wears glasses…

We even catch ourselves snickering at other people's expense - think you haven't? Have you ever watched America's Funniest Home Videos? Ever laughed at some else falling or dropping a cake … even if they did mail it in to win a million dollars?

I know people have laughed at me because I can't or won't say a word that I was taught was vulgar even if everyone uses it now. I know people have shook their heads when I've lent money out, knowing full well I was never going to see it again.

1 Peter chapter 3 - it's about being ridiculed for doing what we believe to be right, for our behavior, for our belief in Jesus Christ. During the time the passage was written, there was the threat of death. In some places of this world, there is still the threat of death for being Christian. Simon Peter wrote to warn Christians in every generation, in every culture - that there would be ridicule.

On the way home from Margaret Payne's memorial service yesterday - a woman who knew what it meant to be Christian, to live every moment of her life as God taught her to live it - Hazel and I talked about First Baptist Church, about how we strive to be a welcoming church.

What does that mean? Here we are, at the corner of 4th and Main Streets … not the most effluent section of the city. When we throw open our doors, we welcome into this sanctuary those who aren't always easy for others to love. We allow this sanctuary to be a true sanctuary of healing, of hope, of love, of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Hazel and I talked about the hurt and the lost who have found their way here and how we were given the honor, the pleasure and the responsibility of being instruments of God's love. Others might look at us and laugh, wonder why we would welcome someone who certainly only came in for a handout. But we know that the Holy Spirit works through those who are ready to love and serve God's children. We know that it's us who have been blessed when we have been given the opportunity to serve.

Jesus ate with tax collectors and prostitutes, He spoke with Samaritans and women, He healed on the Sabbath because He was more interested in justice for the oppressed and in love for the lost and in uplifting for the forgotten than He was interested in worrying about what others thought of Him.

If we do the same, we might be ridiculed. Depending on what we do when we stand up for others, we might lose our jobs, we might lose friends, we might lose our freedom. We might suffer for doing what is right. Peter said that there might be consequences for living like Jesus.

What's wonderful about our faith, though, is that we don't live it alone. The Christian faith is a faith of community. We are told to gather together in worship and in prayer and in study. We are told to gather together in encouragement for each other. When one of God's children suffers, we are to be there. When one of God's children is lost, we are to guide them home.

We don't live our faith alone. When we were on the playground, making our forever friends, we knew we could always turn to that friend - no matter the time of day, nor the need we had.

We don't live our faith alone. The Holy Spirit was sent to us when Jesus returned to God the Father. The Holy Spirit works amid and within us.
Many of us have probably seen the work of the Holy Spirit, seen a changed life.
Many of us have felt the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, the guidance, the direction, the discernment.

When you have seen someone stand up for another - you have seen the Holy Spirit.
When you hear a story of unimaginable forgiveness - you have heard about the presence of the Holy Spirit.
When you have felt a deep peace settle on you when you don't know how you can take one more moment of suffering - you have felt the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

At one time or another, the Holy Spirit looks like you, looks like me, because at one time or another, the Holy Spirit has worked through you to be God's love.

Look in the mirror as you leave here today and see the Holy Spirit going out into the world, out on to the playground - where there should be only joy and laughter and love and encouragement. See the Holy Spirit - our forever Friend - be there for us, no matter the time of day nor the need we have.

 

 

Mother's Day, May 14, 2017
Presented by Kathleen Ordisay

Evidence
John 14:5-14, especially verses 11-12

Mother's Day … when we spend time with our moms - either in their physical presence, by phone or in memory - hopefully they are beloved memories.

Thinking about my mom always brings a smile to my face. She was wonderful and I still miss her. Lately I'm becoming more and more like my mom - much to Toby's chagrin! I know that sounds odd, but my mom could be a burper, and she thought it was kind of funny. Over the last few years, I've become quite proud of sharing a few unladylike burps after a can of pop, and maybe when no pop was involved! - evidence that I'm my mother's daughter! I think it's kind of funny!

I look more like my mom as time passes. And don't even get me started on the things that I have caught myself saying … things that my mom always said! I'm sure you have done the same thing!

Evidence that we are our mother's children.

Evidence - proof; grounds for belief; something that makes another thing plain or clear; an indication or a sign of something; in court - evidence can include the testimony of witnesses, records, documents or objects.

In today's passage from John, verses 11 and 12 read: Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do.

In the NIV version, it reads: Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles (the works) themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do what I have been doing.

So, by definition, when Philip asks for proof, wants to see God, the Father, Jesus says, "Look at the evidence, look at the proof I've already given you, look at everything that's been going and it should be clear to you; look at the testimony of the blind man that can now see,
the testimony of the crippled man who can now walk,
the testimony of the woman who no longer bleeds,
the testimony of my friend Lazarus - who died and is now alive!!"

And that's just a few of the miracles Jesus performed. Think about all the other things that Jesus did that showed that He was not like the others. Jesus was not afraid to talk to the Samaritan woman at the well - who cares what others thought of Him. Jesus would not ignore the lepers - He walked amongst them. Jesus was not afraid of eating with tax collectors. Jesus would not ignore the little children - He called them forward and told us all to be like these little children.

Jesus continued to show evidence that God was in Him - but His disciples still did not understand.

This is Jesus' last night with those who were closest to Him. He has served them by washing their feet. He has broken bread with them. Jesus knows that His time is short and they still don't get it. Jesus is trying to give them the confidence they need to continue the works He has started. He tells them that anyone who believes in Him, will do what He has been doing.

Jesus tells them that He is going to prepare a place for them, but He will return for them … Jesus will return for us! … He tells them they already know the way to that place - and they still do not get it.

Jesus tells them He is the Way, He is the Truth, He is the Life. He tells them that no one will see the Father except through Him. They don't get it.

Jesus tells them that if they truly believe in Him, believe in Jesus Christ and all that He has done in their presence - then they should know God well and know the way to God!

He's given them the evidence!

We know they eventually believe - why else would there be a Christian church today?! They eventually get it, they eventually go out and do good works, share Jesus' message of salvation, they get in the trenches, get their hands dirty, reach the poor, the hungry, the desolate - those who need Jesus most.

Evidence of their belief is found in Acts and in Romans, in the letters of Paul, in all the others books of the New Testament. Evidence that the Holy Spirit was in them. Evidence that their lives were changed and they were no longer afraid to introduce Jesus: the Way, the Truth, the Life - to everyone.

My mom taught me how to make some of my favorite meals - I provide you with evidence of that at many Second Sunday lunches.
My mom taught me how to live joyfully - I hope you see the evidence of that joy.
My mom taught me to be fair, to be loving, to be generous, to be friendly, to persevere.

Even my burping is evidence that my mother made a difference in my life. If I had to go to court to prove who my mom was, I hope there would be enough visible evidence to convince the jury that Mary Ellen Cody was my mom… and that Jim is my dad!

Eventually the disciples had evidence in their lives that they truly knew Jesus, they knew that the Father resided within the Son - and the evidence was enough to convince those around them, the evidence was enough to convict them.

Is there enough evidence in our lives to convict us of being Christ-followers?

I read my Bible … but I admit I don't open it every day.

I donate to charities … but I admit that I have enough to be more generous and I admit that it can be easier to write a check than it is to actually get my hands involved.

I give of my time … but I admit that I have wasted some of my time with things that I don't even find useful.

I pray … but I admit that there are times when I fall asleep in the middle of my prayers.

I try not to judge … but sometimes I do.

Is there enough evidence in my life to be convicted of following Christ? I hope so. But I'm a continued work in progress.

When I started school three years ago, I knew I would grow, that I would walk closer to Jesus, that I might even find new paths for my life. I knew that after holding my certificate in my hands I would be driven to make the evidence more evident.

This congregation has been around for 175 years. I believe we've made a difference in this city. I hope we've made a positive difference in the lives we've encountered.

Where is God leading us? What are we next called to do so that the evidence of our faith, of the Holy Spirit residing within us, is more evident? Where will the next 175 years find First Baptist?

We have to open our ears to the words of Jesus, open our eyes to the needs around us, open our hearts to the lost, the ignored, those who need Jesus most.

With the Holy Spirit working within us, we have to be like the disciples, carrying the gospel of God's kingdom with us. We have to break down the doors, we have to go to the streets, we have to welcome in those who are different from us, those who maybe make us a little uneasy, those who society find invisible.

Jesus ate with the tax collectors, walked amongst the lepers, fed the hungry, healed the bleeding. Jesus was not afraid to come into contact with those society ignored, those society ostracized, those society turned their backs on and called sinners, called the unclean, called the unworthy.

Is it time for us to do the same? Is it time to put the evidence on the table so that the jury can see who we are and declare us convicted as Christians?

I don't know the direction the Holy Spirit is leading us, but I do know that we are being led, that we are an important part of the future of Niagara Falls and the only way that we can be a part of that future is if we listen to the Holy Spirit and if we continue to be in existence.

I declare, here and now, that I am a follower of Christ, that I am opening up my eyes and my ears and my heart, so that all who need to feel the love and guidance of Jesus Christ will not be afraid to ask me. I declare, here and now, that my hands and my feet will be used to glorify God in all I do and say and think and believe.

I hope my mother would be proud of the person that I am becoming; I hope your moms would be proud of the people you are becoming.

We are the people of God and we will follow where Christ leads this church.

 

Sunday, March 19, 2017
Presented by Kathleen Ordiway

And Many More Believed
John 4:5-42 (verses 39-42); Romans 5:1-11 (verse 2)

Do any of you remember Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg, Tennessee? They experienced a devastatingly horrible fire this past fall - about two weeks after Toby and I decided to plan a vacation there this coming summer.

There's this campground in Pigeon Forge that we want to stay at. It's called Up the Creek. They describe their property as: "Nestled between two creeks, Walden Creek and Cove Creek, surrounded by magnificent hardwoods, you can relax in the shade and enjoy the beautiful sounds of the creek." The photographs and videos on the website show water running over rocks, with a clear splash upwards into the sky here and there. You can hear the water flowing along the creek and you just want to be there.

Every Sunday, Betty and Marge make sure there's a cold glass of water in the pulpit for me - and I make sure I take a refreshing drink from it several times.

Nothing is better than a long swallow of ice cold water after 45 minutes of lifting weights or using a rowing machine.

My husband swears by the healing abilities of a hot bath when his muscles are tired and aching after work, or when he's suffering from the flu or a bad cold.

I love to stand in the shower and let the water run over my head, down my shoulders and across my back - it's a luxurious pleasure. When the kids were young, my husband would start the tub for me, make sure the water was warm, turn the radio on and put my book close by - and then he'd occupy the kids for a half hour while I just soaked. That was a rare treat!

Each of us had to give a sermon during our last class. I've become used to preaching for our congregation, but to be in front of my fellow students, as well as our professor, who just happened to be the president of the school, and a few other seasoned preachers … that gave me a very dry mouth, lips sticking to my teeth and I was so grateful for the bottle of thirst-quenching water nearby!

Who doesn't like to feel a cold washcloth on their feverish brow? A hot cloth on sore muscles? The feel of clean hair and clean teeth?

In today's passage, the Samaritan woman arrives at the well and meets Jesus. He asks her for water, they talk, He offers her water that will forever relieve her thirst.

We have probably all heard sermons about this passage, but let's look at what happens next. The woman returns to her city and tells everyone what has happened. This man has told her everything about her life, a man she does not know, so therefore cannot know her! Certainly he cannot be the Messiah … or can he?!

Those who heard her story left the city and went to find Jesus. "They believed in him because of the woman's
testimony! When they came to him, they asked Jesus to stay with them, and he stayed for two days. And many more believed because of His word. They said to the woman, 'It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.'" (John 4:39-42)

The people of her city believe because of what she has said. If she had not shared her experience they would never have went to see Jesus, they would never have met this man who could provide the living water, they would never have looked face to face at the Savior of the world!

Do we return to our "city" and tell everyone what Jesus has told us? Romans 5:2 says "we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God." Do we boast in that hope? Do we share God's glory? Do we tell others how Jesus has changed our lives?

As I re-read the Gospel passage, I noticed that Jesus didn't reprimand the woman for her sins. He got into her personal life. He saw who she was and what she had done, and told her he knew that she had had five husbands and that the man she was now with was not her husband.

He stated a fact. And he knew what she really needed - refreshing, life-giving, eternal living water. This is what he offered her - the presence of Himself, the wisdom of God, the guidance of the Holy Spirit in her life, so that she could have eternal life. He wants to free her from her sin; He wants to change her into a new person; He wants to give to her what she really needs.

We all have parts of ourselves we'd rather others didn't see, that we sometimes think we can hide from Jesus -
a part of ourselves that conflicts with God's will. So Jesus comes into our lives. He tells us that he sees that part, he sees our dark side, our secrets, our guilt, our actions, or lack of action, that we know are wrong … and Jesus loves us anyway.

Just like with the Samaritan woman, he doesn't try to embarrass us or to be cruel to us. He does not condemn us, but he doesn't condone our sin either. He comes into our lives to free us, to change us and to offer us what we really need - the gift of living water.

Is this the Jesus you know? A forgiving Jesus, a loving Jesus, a welcoming Jesus? Jesus that calls you into the family? Is this the Jesus you want to introduce to everyone else?

"And many more believed…" Do your words come from deep within a healed heart, a satisfied soul? Do you speak the truth to others who need that living water? Whose throats are parched, who yearn for a new life, for forgiveness?

The disciples approached Jesus as he spoke with the woman. She went away and Jesus told his followers that "the fields are ripe for harvesting." Our words, our lives, our actions can be the tools for the harvest. Many more will come to believe if they see in us the change that Jesus Christ causes within us.

We cannot hold Jesus for ourselves. The time for harvest is now, but our labor is necessary for the harvest to be plentiful. We must boast about the living water offered by Christ; we must hope in the harvest and in the free gift of salvation offered to everyone; we must share the glory of God … with Everyone!

My husband reminds me not to use "I" to often in my sermons - but this calls for a few "Is." I want my life in Christ to sound as wonderful as that babbling brook in Pigeon Forge. I want people to know that when I'm having a bad day, when I'm facing struggles, when sorrow overcomes me, when my bones ache from illness, when the world presses down upon me - I want them to be able to look at me and know that I have the confidence, the trust, to turn to God for comfort, for healing, for direction - for love.

I want my words to reflect the thirst quenching pleasure I receive in my faith. I want to live a life that convinces others to come see what it's all about, to travel the road with me and meet Jesus and welcome Him home, to listen to His stories, to believe because of what they've heard. I hope that my life shares the glory of God with others.

Do you want the same? Are you able to let God's glory show through all that you do? All that you are? Can you introduce Jesus to those around you just by how you act, how you love, how you accept, how you live your life?

We aren't perfect. We don't always live a life that would make God proud. As you contemplate Jesus' temptations, His suffering, His sacrifice for you, remember that we can strive to be the tools for the harvest, so that God can welcome more to the family. It is possible for our lives to invite "many more to believe."

 

Sunday, January 15, 2017
Presented by Kathleen Ordiway

Testify
John 1:29-42, 1 Corinthians 1:4-6, Psalm 40:10

Jack Murray, a Certified Legal Investigator, wrote a list of 16 tips on Testifying in Court. I want to share six of the tips:
#1 - Appear and behave professionally (on and off the witness stand). You never know who is sizing you up for the other side, while you're waiting in the hallway.
#2 - Before the trial starts, familiarize yourself with the courtroom, so you can walk directly and confidently to the witness stand.
#9 - Listen very carefully to the question. Make sure you understand it before you answer.
#11 - Avoid being combative.
#12 - If you make a mistake, admit it. No one will hold it against you, but they will certainly hold it against you if they think you are lying.
#16 - Most important of all, tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
I'll go back to those tips in a little while.

When you testify - you are a witness to what you have seen and what you have heard. And what is a witness? "One who can give a firsthand account of something seen, heard or experienced; one who furnishes evidence." And biblically, the word witness has the same root as the word martyr - which certainly gives a stronger meaning to the word witness. Someone who is willing to put his or her life on the line to tell you what he or she believes.

In 1 Corinthians 1:4-6, Paul said: I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in Him, in speech and knowledge of every kind - just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you.

In Psalm 40, David wrote about waiting patiently for God's help, while telling others about God - verse 10:
I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the congregation.

And in John 1:32-34: John testified, "I saw the Spirit descending from Heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God."

Paul, before confronting the Corinthians with their sins, voiced his thankfulness that the testimony of Christ had been strengthened in their speech and in their knowledge. They had been given the privilege of speaking out for Jesus, of testifying for Him. So have we! And we have to see it as the privilege that it is. We have to make sure that we are able to give strong, knowledgeable testimony to our faith in Jesus.

David felt God's love, God's saving help, God's faithfulness and salvation and it changed him.
He could do no less than to testify, to tell everyone about his amazing God. He couldn't hide it and neither should we - when we realize all that God is to us, to how our lives have changed because of God - every part of us should testify - every word, every action should bring God glory! Can I have a witness?

John the Baptist testified to what he had witnessed. When Jesus came to John to be baptized, John saw the Holy Spirit come upon Jesus. John testified that Jesus was the Son of God.

John was not afraid to tell his own followers that Jesus was the Lamb of God - the ultimate, once and for all, sacrifice on behalf of all humanity - that Jesus was the one to be followed. John wasn't envious and he didn't need to hold tight to his own followers - he turned them toward Jesus. His life testified to what he believed.

Paul acknowledged the privilege of testifying. David was filled with the need to testify. John testified that Jesus was the Son of God, sharing the wonder of what he saw and because of this, Jesus gained His first disciples.

So back to that court advice:

#1 - "You never know who is sizing you up for the other side, while you're waiting in the hallway."
I was having a late night dinner with Toby at Denny's a few months ago. After about 30 minutes, one of the waitresses came up to me and said she was the aunt of one of "my" grooms and had been at the wedding this past summer. She thought she had recognized me, but wasn't sure. Now that she was, she had to come over and introduce herself to me. We were behaving ourselves, no worries there - but you never know who is watching you.

Do your actions, your words, testify to what you believe - to who you say you are?
If someone were to see you outside of this church - could they look at you and know that you are a child of God? Even more importantly, do your actions make people want to "come and see" what all this church stuff is about? To get know who you say you believe in?

#2 - "Familiarize yourself with the courtroom, so you can walk directly and confidently to the witness stand."
Know what you believe in! Be confident in your faith. If you don't know - don't be afraid to ask questions yourself!

#9 - "Listen very carefully to the question. Make sure you understand it before you answer."
Someone wants to ask you about God … about your faith … take a moment and see what they are really asking you. Are they asking for comfort? For compassion? Are they asking what you believe about them? Are they asking if your faith can solve their problems, make life easier for them? What part of Jesus' message will be the answer to their questions?

#11 - "Avoid being combative."
It does not matter how right you are and how wrong I am. If you raise your voice, shouting over top of everything I say; if you turn your back on me in anger - I am not going to listen to you, I probably will not believe you and I will certainly not want anything you have if this is the kind of person it creates.

#12 - "If you make a mistake, admit it," which goes along with #16 - "Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."
Know how to be a good witness - know how to testify to what you believe in, to what is important in your life, to what is meaningful, to where you put your faith.

On this commemorative weekend, I think about what it would have been like to be in Martin Luther King Jr's shoes, I would probably have been afraid. But, like John the Baptist, King didn't show fear. He showed love for his brothers and sisters. He showed love for Jesus Christ. He showed bravery in the face of obstacles.

He spoke out in defense of others, and encouraged everyone to do the same. He was a witness for those who were afraid for their lives, for their possessions and for their well-being. He was a witness for those who deserved an equality they weren't getting.

King encouraged us to love one another as we have been loved by Christ. And this weekend, we remember his brief life and all he accomplished, his ability to speak to a wide array of people and we give him honor.

Sometimes I'm afraid to be a witness - to testify. I thank God each and every day that I have been given the ability to preach His message in this church, in other churches and through my ministry. It gives me the courage to speak openly about the love I have for Christ, but, more importantly, the love Christ has for me and for each of you - a love so great that Jesus became a sacrifice for our sins.

King bore witness for others and showed no fear. On the day before his death, King gave his last speech and it included these words:

"Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

Like Martin Luther King Jr, like Jesus, we must continue to speak up for equality for all people. We must continue to help the downtrodden, the lost, the left behind, all those who do not share the privileges that we have - enough food to eat, the opportunity to live in a peaceful community, to have a job.

Tomorrow and every day, consider all that King stood for and died for, all that Jesus stood for and died for - pray for these causes and do all that you can to make equality a reality.

Martin Luther King Jr was certainly called by Jesus to his work for justice. He testified to what was right, to how Jesus taught us to treat each other, how to live. He was not afraid to testify that: "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

From the beginning of time, God has delighted in taking little things and doing something wonderful with them. Our little attempts to share our faith - our tentative, fearful ventures into telling others what we've seen and felt - will be used by God for marvelous things!

Are you willing to testify to all you believe? Can God count on you to make Christ known today?I testify that I am a witness for Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Amen.

 

Sunday, January 1, 2017 - presented by Kathleen Ordiway

What's In A Name?
Luke 2:15-21

My name, Kathleen, means "Pure."
I was named after my grandmother, Katherine, who raised her two children by herself. My grandfather died when my mother was a toddler. I wonder if my parents thought about the meaning of my name when they chose it?

My husband's name, Toby, means "God is good!!" and isn't that the truth!! Toby's mom wanted to name him Todd, but she had a gall bladder attack right after giving birth. His dad and his Aunt Ruby, while my mother-in-law was … "incapacitated," decided to name him Toby, after an uncle.

My oldest, Christeen, was named after the girlfriend of a friend of her father's, who had died too young. We added "een" at the end, rather than "ine," so she could be like me. Her name, of course, is derived from the word "Christ" … a follower of Christ, a female Christian.

Eileen, that's another story. There was this catchy song in 1981 when she was born, "Come On, Eileen." I loved the tune - some of the words, well, aren't completely appropriate, but I loved the name. It was just happenstance that her name ends in "een," like her sister and myself. Her name means "Shining Light."

We didn't know what Tyler's name was going to be until hours before he was born. Toby thought it would be great to name him Oren … as in Oren Ordiway - I just couldn't do that to my son. I had some ideas, but nothing that really spoke to me. And then my cousin said, "Why don't you name him Tyler?" And it was just right. The Old English meaning is "door keeper of an inn," but it is also derived from "tiler" - one who makes or lays tiles.
Most of us have stories about how we got our names. Some of them are humorous. Some of them are regretful. Some of them mean a lot to us, and mean even more as we get older.
Our greatest name? Child of God.

The name "Jesus," or "Yeshua," was fairly common in 1st century Galilee. Looking back, the 1611 King James Version of the Bible uses the name "Iesus," with an I. The letters "J" and "I" weren't distinguished for some time, not until the 17th century.

There is much writing about what Jesus' true name is … but I think that all of this studying and writing clouds the fact that, no matter the pronunciation, Jesus - the man we know, the man who was born of Mary, who knew His Father God, who taught us to love and to serve and to honor - this man who went to the cross for our sins, who is our Teacher and our Savior - this man was once an infant, and was named by God, His Father.

Matthew tells us that an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, telling him, "Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

Jesus - He was not named by Mary and Joseph. His name was picked by His Father, God. Jesus name means "Jehovah is Salvation." God sent us his Son with the promise we are given in John 14:9 by Jesus: "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father."

Sometimes Toby answers to Hon, or Babes, Tobes, or my favorite, "Love of my Life, my Reason for Living" … sometimes I use that because I want something, sometimes it's to make him smile or laugh and sometimes it's because I'm so filled with love and emotion, I can't think of anything better to call him.

We have so many names for Jesus, for God, for the Holy Spirit. Names that are dear to us, names that evoke a special feeling, an emotion, that uplift us, that give us courage - that are right for the time that we use them.

Our names for Jesus:
Savior - because Jesus died for our sins, so that we might be saved;
Friend - because Jesus accepts us unconditionally; He walks with us through our trials; He is always available; He listens to us, to our doubts, our fears, our tears, our joys.
King - in fact, the King of kings!
Deliverer - because he has freed us from our slavery to sin and death.
Light - Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light (Revelation 22:5)
Love - because love is of God, God is love.
Guide - because when we are lost, we need only look to Jesus' words and we will find our way.
Teacher - because all things we need to know, we can learn from Jesus.
Judge - Jesus is fair and righteous. He invites all to come to Him.
Prince of Peace - the true source of everlasting peace.
Companion - because no matter how alone we might feel, Jesus is always with us.

"When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.'" I can't imagine the feeling the shepherds must have had! I think it would have been wonderful to be with them, to be one of the first to see the face of God in this Child laying in the manger. We are told they were "amazed."

Amazed: astonished, astounded, shocked, surprised … in awe of what they had been told and what they saw.

They told Mary and Joseph what the angels told them, and, after the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God, Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

Last week we read what the shepherds had witnessed and bee told: "The angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid; for see-I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
'Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!'"

Mary pondered all of this in heart, she treasured these words - the confirmation that she held in her arms the reason for great joy for all the people - she held in her arms the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord.

And eight days later, when it was time to circumcise the child, as was their custom, Joseph gave Him the name that angels shared with him in a dream.

The name of Jesus - a blessing from God; a blessing given to each of us. Whatever names are used: Savior, Babe, Lord, Jehovah, Yeshua … when spoken by a sincere and seeking heart, our Heavenly God responds to them all!

November 20, 2016, presented by Kathleen Ordiway

Christ IS Our King
Jeremiah 23:1-6, Psalm 46:1-2, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:35-43

Stir-Up Sunday. Anyone know what day that is? It's today. Stir-Up Sunday - it's an unofficial term in the Anglican Church for the last Sunday before the season of Advent.

Traditionally, families gathered together in the kitchen on Stir-Up Sunday to mix and steam Christmas pudding. It takes several weeks for the candied fruits, lemon and orange peels, raisins and currants to mellow and mature, before it can be served on Christmas Day with a delicious plum pudding sauce poured over the top.

Everyone would take a turn stirring the pudding mix, making a special wish for the year ahead. The family gathering together to stir up the pudding is a good way to begin thinking of the season that's approaching, and to stir up our hearts in preparation for Christ's birth.

Now, two thirds of British children surveyed say that they've never experienced stirring Christmas pudding because their parents prefer the store-bought plum puddings and fruit cakes.

Things change - whether we want them to or not.

The phrase Stir-Up Sunday originally came from the opening prayer for the day from the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. I'll read it in a more understandable version than the Latin:

Stir up, we beg you, O Lord, the will of your faithful people, that we would bring forth an abundance of the fruit of good works, that we might be abundantly rewarded through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Stir-Up Sunday. I like that - it reminds us that we should be stirring up our own excitement, not just for the coming season, but for every time we think of Christ - who IS the King of our lives. We should stir up our joy, our love, our faith.

It's Christ the King Sunday, too. In 1925, Pope Pius XI created Christ the King Sunday because secularism was growing - and he was concerned.

Lots of new words and ideas for you today.

Secularism: as the Merriam Webster "simple" definition states: the belief that religion should not play a role in government, education, or other public parts of society;
and the "full" definition: indifference to or rejection or exclusion of religion and religious considerations.

I think we can all agree that the separation of church and state is good in that it allows us to worship as we please, rather than how a government tells us we can, or cannot, or should worship; but secularism, when viewed as a rejection of religion, was rightfully a concern of the Church and the pope, and still should be of concern to us.

This is was Pope Pius XI said regarding how Christ the King Sunday should affect the laity … us - I've paraphrased a bit:
"The faithful, by meditating (thinking) upon these truths, will gain much strength and courage, (allowing) them to form their lives after the true Christian ideal. If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all people, purchased by his precious blood, are, by a new right, subjected to his dominion (Christ's sovereignty, His control); if this power embraces all people, it must be clear that not one of our abilities is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds … He must reign in our wills ... He must reign in our hearts ... He must reign in our bodies …"

Christ the King Sunday, Stir-Up Sunday - a gift to us to remind us that we aren't the center of the universe … that place is reserved for Jesus Christ. It's a Sunday to remind us to be prepared and to give all praise and thanks and glory to the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords. How perfect that it also falls on Thanksgiving Sunday.

For more than a month, Christmas decorations have been popping up in stores. 102.5 has been playing Christmas music since Election Day. I've been talking about the Nativity Festival - hint, hint - for weeks. But Christmas is more than decorations, and music, and gifts, and even more than a baby in a manger… it's about our sovereign King.

So let's look at today's scripture passages.

In Jeremiah, God's flock, the Israelites, were being destroyed and scattered. God saw this and promised to gather them up and to bring them back to their pasture, where they would be fruitful and multiply. God promised them shepherds to tend to them so they would no longer be afraid. God promised them a King who would reign wisely … His name? The Lord, our Righteous Savior!
We are to be thankful.

This same promise is for each of us - we are freely presented with our Shepherd, to watch over us, to tend to us so that we aren't afraid; our Lord, who reigns over our life; our Savior, who gave of Himself so that we can someday be in God's presence.

The Psalm is song of celebration: "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change…"
We are to be thankful.

It promises that even if the world ends, we need not fear. God is not a temporary retreat - He is our eternal refuge.

In Luke, this wondrous King, this amazing Savior … is to be crucified like a common criminal. One of the criminals who is crucified beside Him asks to be remembered when Jesus comes into His kingdom. Jesus tells him, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise."

We are to be thankful. That promise is for everyone who believes in Jesus, even if that belief arrives moments before our death. We will be with Him in paradise.

And in Colossians, we who follow Christ, the Head of the Church, are promised a share in His inheritance; we have been rescued from darkness and called to the light. Through Jesus, we are reconciled, through His blood we have peace.
We are to be thankful, in fact it says we are to be joyfully giving thanks to God.

Our world can be a frightening place - it has been throughout time. Imagine how frightened Jesus' followers were while they watched the man who they thought was going to rescue them, who they thought was going to be their King, die on the cross.

But we HAVE been given a King, given a Shepherd, given a Refuge, given a Savior; we are adopted into God's family and given a home in His Kingdom - we are given hope.

Pope Pius was worried about secularism creeping into the lives of Christians and he wanted us to have a reminder that Jesus Christ reigns as King - Christ IS the King. As Head of the Church, Jesus works through us. When we allow Jesus to live within us, we become Christ's hands, His feet, His arms, His heart to those around us.

We are called to encourage healing, peace and reconciliation where there is division; we are called to address injustices, not to turn our backs; to show love to all. When we make Jesus the sovereign King of our lives, we are witnesses for Him.

A few years ago I shared a bit of folklore from the Jataka - Indian and Buddhist tales telling of the past lives of the Buddha. Their stories are not part of our faith, but this one makes me envision Jesus and I think it's worth sharing again.

The tale tells of a monkey kingdom, ruled by a very large and wise monkey king. The monkeys lived near a plentiful grove of mango trees, alongside the Ganges River.

One day, the king noticed a castle being built downstream from the mango trees. He ordered the monkeys to gather all the mangoes from the trees. All but one mango, hidden behind a bird's nest, were collected. This mango fell from the tree and into the river.

King Brahmadutta, the human king, was taking a swim and saw the mango float by. He picked it up and ate the delicious fruit. King Brahmadutta ordered his guards to search the jungle for more mango trees.

When the mangoes were found, so were the monkeys. The monkeys were willing to share the mangoes, but King Brahmadutta was not so generous. He wanted all the mangoes for himself, so he ordered his soldiers to kill the monkeys. When the wise monkey heard this, he sadly knew the day he feared had arrived.

The soldiers chased the monkeys through the jungle until they came to the edge of a tall cliff. The monkey king knew that if he could get his subjects across to the other side, they would be safe. But how?

The monkey king took his huge body and used it to form a bridge between the cliffs. One by one, his subjects climbed over him to safety. As the monkeys scrambled across their king, he grew tired and bruised, but knew he had to hold on until the last monkey was safe … and then he collapsed.

The human king saw all of this from high on a hill. He was so moved by the monkey king's sacrifice that he ordered his guards to rescue the monkey king. The guards found him barely alive, and brought him back to the king who ordered his doctors to care for the monkey king. When he regained consciousness, the human king asked, "You are their king, why did you bother to die for them?"

The monkey king replied, "Because I am their king. These are my children and it is my sacred duty to protect them." And with that, he died.

Today, we celebrate Christ who is our King. And like the human king in the story, and the leaders, soldiers and one of the criminals in Luke, we may wonder what kind of king does not use his power, his divine connections, to save himself from death.

These people in the scripture taunted Jesus with variations of the same question.
They said, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ, the Son of God."
"If you are the king of the Jews, why don't you save yourself from the cross?"

What kind of king is Jesus? The kind who, like the monkey king, freely gave his life for us so that we might live. Jesus did so, not in spite of the fact that he is our King, but because he is.

Jesus showed the true nature of leadership. He didn't seek his own good - He served the needs of his followers. His life on earth was lived for others. The cross became our bridge to eternal life. For this we are thankful.

Stir-Up Sunday: Stir up, we beg you, O Lord, the will of your faithful people, that we would bring forth an abundance of the fruit of good works, that we might be abundantly rewarded through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Know that you are blessed, know that Christ OUR King sends His love down to you and deserves the thanks we give both this Thursday and every day and know that we are to spread that love throughout the world, witnessing for Jesus, who IS our King.

 

Sunday, October 16, 2016
Presented by Kathleen Ordiway

Written on My Heart
Jeremiah 31:27-34
2 Timothy 3:14 - 4:5

Who here has ever said "Cross my heart?"

It tells the person you're talking to that you really mean what you are saying - because crossing our heart speaks to honesty and sincerity. The heart represents love.

Written on my heart are all the things I believe, the things I know to be true, the things that I can share sincerely and with love.

Written on my heart is God's Word.

In our Jeremiah passage, we hear of a new covenant with the Israelites that was to be realized in Jesus Christ. Jeremiah looked forward to a future day when Jesus would come to establish this covenant - this promise, this pledge, this agreement - with His people.

Although he didn't understand how or when his Savior would arrive, in fact he didn't understand that his Savior would arrive as a small baby in a manger - Jeremiah believed that the promised Savior would indeed come to fulfill the covenant. Jeremiah had these truths written on his heart, along with the law that was announced by the Lord.

This covenant involved not only Israel and Judah, but the Gentiles also. At the time, it wasn't understood to be this way. But we now know that God intended each of us to be members of His family, He intended all of us to accept Jesus as our Savior. God calls to each and every one of us to accept our place in the covenant.

When we turn our hearts over to God, when we accept the Holy Spirit into our hearts, the desire to obey Him, to be the people God calls us to be - is built into us. We begin to understand the law that should guide our every decision and action.

We understand that these rules are meant to protect us. We know right from wrong, without fail, because God's commandments are written on our hearts.

In 2 Timothy we find that Timothy was surrounded by false teachers. There were those that wanted to make a comfortable life for themselves, so they took the Words of Scripture and even the Words of Jesus Christ and distorted them to fit their own needs. They ignored the laws that didn't fit into their lifestyle.

We are still surrounded by these false teachers! There are men and women in our world today that call themselves ministers, but preach a message that doesn't fit with God's Word. They create new laws as they see fit. They ignore God's laws if they don't like them.

Haven't we all heard of people who will say that all we need to do is pray a certain prayer and we will be blessed with all these amazing things? How about those who preached years ago that handicapped children were born as punishment to sinners, or that sickness is the result of sin? Or, as we've talked about recently, if we TRULY believed in Christ, we will receive great wealth.

Certainly, God may choose to bless us here on earth. We may be blessed with earthly possessions, good health and a great job. But these "blessings" can come to the most evil people on earth, too. God never promised that by accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior, we would receive physical possessions and happiness. We are told that we will receive abounding joy, which isn't the same as happiness. We are told that the Holy Spirit will be with us through our trials. We are told that we will receive our reward in heaven, which means we may go without all the extras here on earth.

Do we really believe that God punishes the innocent, infant child because of our sins, or that we are plagued with this or that sickness because of God's judgment?

True, God can choose to punish us in any way He desires. But the actions of us here on earth, as well as those who have come before us in this world, create an environment that would allow a child to be born with handicaps, our actions allow us to become sick with the flu, with cancer, with diabetes - it is usually not God's actions, but our own.

We live in a world of chemicals, of cigarette smoke, of poor eating habits, lack of exercise. We don't take care of our world as we should. These are things that can bring poor health into our lives.

We need to be aware of what our Bibles teach us. When we look to the Book of Job - he was asked what sin he had committed that God would punish him by taking away all of his possessions, taking his wife and his children from him. Job said that he had committed no sin. God allowed Satan to plague Job with misfortunes to test Job's faith. As a result of those misfortunes God drew Job closer to himself as a God-fearing man. God used Job's misfortunes for Job's good.

Misfortunes can, indeed, be the punishment of God on the sins of unbelievers. God may use their misfortunes to call them to repentance. But does God punish with misfortunes his children when they possess the forgiveness of their sins through Jesus Christ?

In John Chapter 9, the disciples happened upon a man born blind. They asked Jesus who had sinned to be punished so, did he sin, or did his parents. Jesus said, "Neither this man sinned nor his parents, but he was born blind in order that the work of God might be revealed in him."

As we endure hardship, we have to be aware of these Words so that we know we don't walk through darkness alone, that our misfortunes can be blessings in disguise, which Jesus uses as the opportunity to open our eyes to see His light of life and salvation.

We need to spend time everyday in God's Word so that we remember the truths in the Bible. In 2 Timothy 3:15 we hear that Timothy was taught the scripture from infancy. His mother and grandmother, Eunice and Lois, taught him the Old Testament, which allowed Timothy to come to the belief in Jesus Christ as Lord.

We have a huge responsibility to teach our children the truth of the Bible - to allow them to come to the understanding and acceptance of Jesus Christ as their Lord. We need to share these Words so that they can be written on their hearts.

The words in our Bibles are not myths - they are the inspired Words of God. The Holy Spirit inspired the writers of this book to put these messages on paper. Yes, the writers wrote from their own personal, historical and cultural context, but they wrote what God wanted them to write. Scripture is completely trustworthy because God was in control of its writing.

The Bible has become our model for testing everything else that claims to be true. It is our defense against false teachings. We need to read it regularly so that we have confidence in our faith and the way we live our lives.

We need to find a plan that works so that we can study the whole Bible, not just the passages that are familiar, comfortable and easy to accept.

My sore spot was always Revelation. I found it difficult to understand, as do most people. I even had a personal superstition about reading it that, through prayer, I've overcome. One of my classes last year was on Revelation and I was amazed by the beauty of the writing, of the promises I found in that book. If you have a stumbling block in the Bible, find a way to work through it - choose that passage as the next one you will spend time on.

We need to be able to write Scripture on our hearts. We need those truths within easy reach to protect us from fear, from false teachers, and to equip us to do good, as verse 17 of 2 Timothy chapter 3 reminds us.

We should not study our Bibles only to increase our knowledge, but so that we will know how to do Christ's work in the world. We need to be aware of the work God intends for us personally. We have to be open to the work planned for us. Our knowledge of God's Word should strengthen our faith and lead us onto the path God has set before us.

Because of people like Timothy that preached the gospel, we have our faith today. As we spread the gospel, the Christian faith spreads throughout the world. It is not always easy or convenient to share the message of Jesus Christ. Sometimes we're ridiculed, laughed at, stared at. Sometimes we don't want to appear "a certain way" so we avoid opening our mouths, but it is our responsibility.

There are more people who do not know Jesus Christ in this world then who do know Him and have accepted Him as their Savior. Jesus wants ALL of us to be ready when He returns - so we need to be prepared and courageous whenever the opportunity arises to share the Good News.

I know I've said this before, but we need to be ready, whether it be in sharing our own experience with Jesus Christ, by introducing someone to a Christian friend, inviting a friend to a Bible study we are involved in, or by bringing a friend to church. Our lives must tell the truth of our faith, each and every day, not only on Sundays.

Beginning on November 1st, we will be having a 6 week Bible Study right here at church! We'll be doing an Advent study - in preparation for Christmas - and our evening will begin with a light dinner. What a wonderful way to invite a friend - who can't pass up a free meal!

As verse 4:2 says, be prepared in season and out of season. In other words, be prepared whether it is convenient or inconvenient. When the promises of salvation through Jesus Christ are written on our hearts, we can readily come up with the words to share.

If you have never memorized a single word of Scripture, vow this week to memorize John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

I've put these words on cards for everyone to take home. Some call it the Gospel in a Nutshell. It's a great start for keeping the promises of God written on your heart.

Written on my heart are all the things I believe, the things I know to be true, the things that I can share sincerely and with love.

Written on my heart is God's Word. Amen.

 

 

October 2, 2016, Presented by Kathleen Ordiway

Be Still
Psalm 37:4,7

I like preaching on the Psalms once in a while, especially when the words are ones of comfort. 2 Timothy and Luke would have been wonderful passages for this morning, but, with all the craziness in our world, with the upcoming election, with weather woes, with gunshots and drugs and riots, with the suffering and loss of loved ones, I thought Psalms was more inspiring.

I'm not going to dwell on the passages that tell us not to fret because of the wicked. Just know that if they don't turn to Christ, eventually the wicked will get their due. It might not be here on earth, and we may never know the satisfaction that evil ways did not end up paying well for them … but believe that God does not love their sin … or our sin either, and that their punishment is not our concern.

Don't fret about what you think the wicked might gain by their evilness. When we are in constant worry about what might happen, when we start to burn inside because of what we feel is unfair in the world or how we think someone has hurt us - our hearts harden and we risk wanting vengeance against them, as verse 8 says, "Do not fret, it only leads to evil."

Instead, pray for them, pray for a change of heart, pray that their hearts might turn to Jesus and, instead of punishment, pray that they will have forgiveness and salvation like we are promised. Pray that you will be healed, that you will find joy even when you think things couldn't get any worse. Pray for the Holy Spirit to dwell within you and give you the Lord's peace.

I miss leading the women's retreats. Don't get me wrong - I love going to school, but there's just not enough time do all things well, so something had to give … and it ended up meaning a sabbatical from the retreat program. I loved our times of peace, of being still, of listening for God's voice. Even when the room was filled with women, there was this great calm that overcame us as we silently prayed, as we felt God's presence among us, as we listened to a peaceful hymn. I still get that at home, but there was something special when I knew we were all "being still" together.

Verse 7 of the Psalm says: "Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him." That's not always easy to do, but, with dedication, I hope it becomes easier for you.

We live in a world that says go, go, go. Everyone's rushing everywhere. We're applauded for how much we can accomplish. Lawyers and accountants strive for more and more billable hours in their day. We're told that bigger and better should be our aim. Some of us are constantly checking our emails, our Facebook account, our text messages. Being still is practically an un-American "activity."

But God says, "Be still - wait patiently."
In Psalm 46:10 we're told, "Be still and know that I am God."
Exodus 14:13 and 14, Moses tells the people that the Lord will fight for them, they need only be still.
Zechariah 2:13 tells us to be silent, be still before the Lord.
In Job 37:14, Job is told to stop, to be still and to consider the wondrous works of God.
Several times in the Gospels we hear of Jesus telling the wind to be still so that the disciples would be calmed.
Psalm 62:5 says, "For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him."
There are so many mentions of being still, of giving your worry to God, of feeling God's presence and, as Philippians 4:7 promises: "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

One of the greatest things we get when we are still is the ability to feel joy through all kinds of sorrow.

In today's Psalm, the words of verses 3 and 4 - promises that if we trust in the Lord and do good, if we take delight in the Lord - these words promise that we will then enjoy security and have the desires of our hearts. But these are not promises that riches and good things will come to us. These aren't promises of prosperity.

Instead, we find that when we put our trust in God, when we take great pleasure, great delight, in the Lord - the things that we desire begin to change. We become satisfied with less. We realize that somehow, someway God supplies all that we need and we find peace and joy. Our pains seem to be lessened because we place our worries in God's hands. We blot out the noise of the world and we are content to be still before our Lord.

Toby and I are going on our maiden voyage with our RV next weekend. We are both looking forward to time being still. Being calm. Being quiet. Getting away from the craziness of the world.

We know there's a chance that things won't be so peaceful - we've never hooked up sewer and water to an RV before … that should be a treat! And we can't be guaranteed that any neighbors we have at the campground will be quiet … but we've promised ourselves to find time to be still and feel God's presence.

You don't have to be on vacation to be still, but you do have to make an effort to separate yourself from all the things that pull you away from Christ.

This morning I'm falling into a few things labeled as "mistakes" in a sermon. I've referenced too many scripture passages in one sermon and I've given too many personal statements - I this, I that… but being still is something that is very important; finding God's joy in every moment is something to be treasured.

I've been consciously trying to take time every day to be still … sometimes I have to resort to my drive to and from work as my only stillness, but more and more often I've been able to block out a large piece of time for stillness.

I pray that, instead of only fleeting moments of stillness, I can receive the gift of living life slowly… and things are improving. I want to be able to hear God speak whenever God decides to speak to me. I want to be ready for the unexpected. I want to be ready for God's uniqueness. I want to experience what God shows me in the every day. And I want that for each of you, too.

On the way home from school yesterday, as my car was starting to make some very unusual noises and I was getting worried that I might be staying overnight in Henrietta, it started to rain. The sun was shining though and I thought, "There must be a rainbow somewhere," but I didn't it. Instead, my mind was racing about what I should do about my car, who should I call?

As I was entering the onramp for the 390, I looked to my left as cars were verging from that side … and I saw the most amazing, the most beautiful, probably the largest and most clear and vibrant double rainbow I've ever seen. And I remembered the words of Genesis 9:13, I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

God wasn't forgetting me. God knew that I was troubled. God knew I was fretting and I was forgetting to wait patiently on him - so God, threw this amazing masterpiece in the sky - something I couldn't miss - God said to me, "BE STILL!!! I am with you."

Stop worrying about the what-ifs and the maybes, stop worrying about those who seem to have more than you, who seem to prosper by evil. Instead allow peace and joy to fill your soul by claiming stillness and letting God's presence fill you … in every moment of your life and at this table, as Christian all over the world observe World Communion Sunday along with us.
Amen.

 

 

September 18, 2016, presented by Kathleen Ordiway

Jesus' Strangest Parable
Luke 16:1-15

My kids have been known to say things to me that either go right over my head or are a completely foreign language. And don't even get me started on some of the phrases my dad uses. We hear people saying things that totally confuse us, and sometimes we aren't even sure we want to know what they mean. Here's some examples of our crazy language:

Bling - flashy jewelry
Mad - not angry, it means "very", as in, "That dinner was mad good."
I can't even - you've got so many emotions going on that you are left speechless.
Selfie - you see everyone taking pictures of themselves with their phones … they're taking selfies.
Cray or Cray-Cray - Crazy, as in "You're doing all your Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve? That's cray."

There's texting language:
LOL - laugh out loud
BRB - be right back
TTYL - talk to you later
ROTFL - roll on the floor laughing
Some have even become part of our speaking language, like:
BFF - Best Friends Forever

Some 50's slang:
"Meanwhile, back at the ranch" - to get a storyteller back on track.
"Rag top" or "flip top" - a convertible.
"Hit the bottle" - to bleach your hair blonde.

And I can't even believe some of these phrases were ever used, but the internet says they are from the 40's:
Goo and the Moo - pancakes, syrup and milk
Cookin' with helium - dances well and fast
And the easy 1940's ones, the ones we still hear:
Lamb - a nice person
Jiffy - quick
Swell - great
Quencher - cold drink.

Sometimes our words don't make sense to everyone.

That's how I feel when I read today's parable. What could Jesus be talking about? I've read it several times, but I have never actually studied the passage. I shook my head, more confused each time. How could Jesus be praising dishonesty?

I'm sure you have felt the same, even if this morning was the first time hearing the parable.

Jesus is talking to his disciples, but he is aware that the Pharisees are listening, too. We didn't read verses 14 and 15, and the words are important:
The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. So he said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God."

What the Pharisees had come to prize was far from what God wanted from them. They justified their behavior, their love of money and laughed at Jesus' words.

In the parable, the rich man has found out that his manager has been squandering his property. So the rich man calls the manager to him to give him an account of what's going on and to let him know that he would no longer be working for the rich man.

So, the first point in this parable is that the manager no longer has a job. He realizes that no one is going to hire him to manage their properties; he cannot perform hard, manual labor and he's too ashamed to beg. He decides the best thing to do is to get on the good side of all the people who owe the rich man - he wants to make sure that he will be welcome in their homes - he's going to need somewhere to stay when he loses his job.

The manager goes to all those in his master's debt and tells them to decrease what is owed. These debtors don't know that the man is being dishonest, they just believe that he is extending the rich man's grace. A hundred jugs of olive oil owed quickly turns into fifty; a hundred containers of wheat is changed into eighty. They are extremely happy.

Verse 8 is where it starts getting confusing. The master - the rich man - finds out what the unrighteous, dishonest manager has done … and praises the man! But what does the passage actually say? "And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly."

Some translations use the word "astutely." The dictionary defines shrewd as "showing a clever awareness or resourcefulness, especially in practical matters." So the rich man is not praising the manager's dishonesty in handling his property; but is praising how clever he is to have found a way to take care of himself after he has lost his comfortable job; he probably would have done the same thing.
Okay, that helps just a mad little bit - I mean, a very little bit.

Verse 8 finishes with Jesus saying, "for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light." Some have said that the "children of light" are the Jews - the ones who followed the column of light and the smoke in the desert. They were to be the light to the gentiles.

If this is a correct understanding, it would let us know that Jesus is actually speaking to the Pharisees in the background. They were God's Chosen and they weren't acting like it. Jesus says that the people of the world are more "clever" than the Jews - they are acting smarter.

Verse 9, Jesus says, "And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes."
What?! Make friends through dishonest money? The Greek word that has been translated as "dishonest wealth" is "mammon." It is believed that Jesus chose this word so that those listening would understand that he was speaking about physical money - our possessions, our wealth - and all that we've gained physically.

The Greek word would not have meant that these things had come dishonestly. The negative undertone of the word reminds us that we should not store wealth / treasures here on earth and that we should not put our treasures before our love of God.

So Jesus tells them to make friends by means of this mammon - this wealth that they possess, so that when they have nothing, when it is all gone, their friends would welcome them … into their eternal homes!

We can't buy our way into heaven, so Jesus is speaking about "friends" in heaven that have the power to get us there … and the only one who can do this is God - become friends with God. Use the money we have today, to make God happy. Hopefully I'm not confusing you even more, but let's go on.

The dishonest manager was shrewd enough, clever enough, smart enough to realize that he needed to make preparations for himself. The praise isn't directed toward his dishonesty or that he has squandered the rich man's possessions.

What Jesus is saying is that if a worldly, unrighteous, dishonest man is smart enough to take care of himself here on earth, why aren't the Jews preparing themselves for their eternal dwelling? Aren't they concerned about their eternal destination? How most of them were treating Jesus would say they aren't.

So, how does using our money, our wealth, our possessions on earth make an eternal home for us? Now we're up to verse 10. "Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?"

Remember, this "dishonest wealth" is wealth and possessions of this world. In fact, every time the New Revised translation says "dishonest wealth," the NIV translation says, "worldly wealth," so read it: "If then you have not been faithful with the wealth of this world, who will entrust to you the true riches of heaven?"

Jesus says that if we show our faithfulness with the riches of this world, we are showing our faithfulness, our trustworthiness, for the true, eternal riches that God wants to give you.

Verse 12, "And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?" The manager was found to be untrustworthy so the rich man let him go - he didn't give him another opportunity to care for his property. If we cannot be found trustworthy with the riches God has given us here, why would God give us our own riches in heaven?

The rich man praised the manager because he saw that he needed to make preparations for his destination! Have you made plans for your eternal destination?

That's the point of this parable - we all know we need to make preparations for where we will be staying on this earth. When we marry, we look for a house or an apartment. If our job moves us out of state, the first thing we do is find a place to live. If we hit a financial hard spot, we ask a family member or a friend if we sleep on their couch until we can figure out our next step. When you go on vacation, we have some type of a plan of where we will be staying. BUT are we making plans for our final destination?

Jesus is telling us that how we use our earthy wealth matters to God. We want to think that this money is ours, that how we use our possessions is our own choice - Jesus is reminding us that it does matter to God. When we forget that this money isn't ours, we act just like the dishonest manager. The manager acted like he could manage his master's possessions any way he wanted - forgetting that he was accountable. Sometimes we forget that we, too, are accountable and that God looks at how we've handled our worldly possessions.

This parable says to use worldly wealth to gain friends. I mentioned being friends with God - giving up our friendship with the world and becoming friends of God. But think about creating some BFFs - Best Friends Forever. We can use our worldly wealth - our friendships here on earth, what truly what makes us wealthiest - to tell as many people as possible about eternal life through Jesus - hoping that they can become our BFFs in the here-after.

In today's world, most of us are considered the rich. Are we selfish with our money, or are we selfless?
Do we spend our money on others or only on ourselves?
Do we use our wealth to feed and clothe those are without?
Do we brighten a gray day of someone with a surprise lunch?
Do we hoard money, or are we cheerful givers?
Is our money ours? Or is it God's?

1 John 3:17-18 says, "How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action."

We will be judge, but we will find peace in our giving.

When God's word is confusing, when it seems like it's a foreign language, when what Jesus - the lamb - is trying to tell us just sounds strange, we need to call on the Holy Spirit and try to figure it all out. I hope I made some sense out of a confusing parable.

 

Sunday, Sept 4, 2016, presented by Kathleen Ordiway

How Well Are You Willing To Be Known?
Psalm 139:1-4

Think about three children in the playroom … You are in the other room and you have been hearing laughter for a while, maybe a loud yell or two, but all of a sudden you realize you can't hear a thing. How long has it been this quiet? What's going on in there?

I saw a pin on Pinterest that says: "The sound of silence: A good indication your child is drawing on, cutting up, ripping, destroying, or eating something they are not supposed to."
If only we had cameras in every corner of the house - then we would always know what they are up to!

Now think for a moment about the person who knows you best. A best friend? Your sister? Your brother? Your spouse? Your child? A parent? Have you known that person long? Do you tell her every secret on your heart? Or do you keep some things from him? How well does that person really know you?

I'd have to pick Toby or Eileen as the two who know me best - but I admit I don't tell them everything. Sometimes it's because it's a surprise; sometimes I don't want to hurt them; other times telling everything would be embarrassing.

That closest person doesn't know everything about us. Do we admit every hurt feeling? Every fear? Every doubt? Or do we try to protect them from our reality? Some thoughts we just want to keep for ourselves. Some dreams we are afraid to put into words because it might make them disappear or our dreams might be ridiculed. No one knows us completely.

Open your Bibles to Psalm 139 and read verses 1 through 4 with me.
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.

God knows us in a way that no one else can. God sees through the walls we put up around ourselves. God sees under the mask we put on and the personas that we wear. God knows us intimately.

God knows our hopes and our dreams. God is the Potter and reaches out to reshape us when we do what is wrong. And God loves us, because we are God's perfect creations.

When no one has the time or the interest to sit by our side - God is there. God listens and comforts us. God knows our pain and knows our joy. God never tires of us. God reaches toward us to bring us close.

Just before my mom died, I prayed that she would be healed. Completely out of character, I laid prostrate on the floor, stretching my arms out wide, praying in tears that God would listen and heal her. It would have taken a miracle, but God is in the miracle business.

When I was exhausted and there were no more words, I knew that God heard my cries, that God knew my heart, that God knew better than I did. I believed that whatever the answer, it was in God's perfect plan because I felt God's love for me and, more importantly, God's love for my mother. It felt good to know that God was in control.

But! Sometimes God knows more about us than we are willing to share.
When we mess up - accidentally or intentionally - God knows.
When we speak hastily or rudely - God knows.
When we lose our compassion for others - God knows.
When we hold our pennies tight in our wallets - God knows.
When we pretend to be someone that we aren't - God knows.
When we speak all the right words, but our actions fail to match those words; or we try to "act" good when our hearts are cold - God knows before anyone else.
When we put ourselves first - God knows.
God knows our fears and our hurts and our bitterness and our arrogance.

I'm surprised that Luke 12 wasn't today's Gospel passage. Verses 1 - 3 read: Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousand, so that they trampled on one another, He (Jesus) began to speak first to His disciples, "Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.
God knew the Pharisees' hypocrisy and knew their plans.

At the beginning of the summer I planted a tomato plant. We love fresh, out-of-the-garden tomatoes, sliced thickly and placed on white toast with Miracle Whip. I had dreams of those tomatoes.
I had high hopes for that plant. I envisioned it needing a tomato cage because it was going to be so strong and tall. I envisioned its yield was going to be amazing - that's why I only planted one plant!
It was a pretty hot summer and we were away for two weeks and my plant didn't get much water. It survived, but didn't thrive.
My plant is a beautiful shade of green and sits in my front yard near my mailbox. It stands about 6 inches tall and has never given me a single tomato.
I'll never eat a sandwich with one of its juicy tomatoes. I knew this was going to be a rough summer so I knew I'd probably not get any tomatoes, but I love that tomato plant because it's mine.
Even when we don't produce the fruit God expects - God loves us. Our actions - - not so much … but we are God's children, and we are deeply loved.

We were stitched in our mother's womb by our Holy Creator. Our tears and the hairs on our head are numbered; in fact, our tears are held in a bottle. The Good Shepherd leads us and when we stray, the Shepherd searches for us to bring us back to the flock.

I was on the internet, on Trip Advisor, and came across this headline: "I read so many 'Unknown to people, known by God' it touched me so deeply." This person was reviewing the Taukkyan War Cemetery in Rangoon, Myanmar. I started wondering what other cemeteries contained these same words.
In Margaret Lane Cemetery, in Hillsborough, North Carolina, there are burial plots for slaves who had died. Several plaques read: "Known Only by God."
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission mark, record and maintain the graves of Commonwealth of Nations military service members who died in the two World Wars. Headstones have as much information as possible, but there are many graves of unidentified casualties that bear this epitaph developed by Rudyard Kipling: "A Soldier of the Great War Known Unto God."
When no one else knows us - God knows us and loves us.

How wonderful it is to confidently know that we are fully known and loved by God. Even when we don't know ourselves completely - God knows us! Even when we run from our reality or we hide from the world - God sees us and sends the Holy Spirit to give us courage and direction. When our trials seem to be more than we can bear - God's presence warms us. When we struggle with a decision - we can call on the presence of the Holy Spirit. When we think no one else understands the temptations we face, Jesus knows and has been tempted, too.

Psalm 139 isn't just a hymn of praise. It's also a lament - a passionate expression of grief and sorrow. David knows that he has been searched and is fully known - filthy sins and all. David cannot flee from God's Spirit. There is nowhere to go where he won't be found.

When we sin, we don't want anyone to know. Our first inclination is to pretend it didn't happen. We certainly don't want to broadcast it to our family and friends. And we would do anything to believe God doesn't know what happened. God knows.

We don't want everyone to know all there is to know about us. But God knows and loves us anyway. The Samaritan woman told everyone to come and see this man, Jesus, who told her everything she had done. I'm guessing there weren't many people that could comfortably look at Jesus, knowing that he knew their intentions, their history, their deepest being.

We can't escape God - but do we really want to? There is no reason to hide because God created you, God knows you and God loves you unconditionally, intimately and passionately.

Let us pray: Lord, thank you for searching me and knowing me. Thank you for knowing where I am, where I sit and where I stand. Thank you for discern my thoughts from far away. Thank you for searching out my path and knowing my ways. Thank you for knowing every word on my tongue, and thank you for loving me anyway.

 

 

Sunday, August 14, 2016
Presented by Kathleen Ordiway

Hard Words to Swallow and Hear
Luke 12:49-56

The simple understanding of the Gospel passage means that we have to decide. Do we choose Jesus or the world? At the time Jesus said these words, the people had to choose between following Him as the true Messiah or continuing to wait for their eventual Messiah - as they were being taught in the temple. Families were going to be divided in their belief. There would be no peace amongst a divided family.

If, today, our friends or family choose differently than we do, there's going to be division. That's easy to understand.

If we raise our children in the Christian faith, and when they are old enough to understand - if they choose to live in the world and not in Christ - often there's pain, sorrow, disappointment as we watch them make decisions based on greed, selfishness, desire.

But, sometimes, it's not that they are choosing to live a life that could even be described as bad - it's just not the life we have chosen.

I have a friend who was raised in a Catholic family. There was much she didn't agree with and she spent time searching. Eventually, she chose to call herself agnostic, which is defined as a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence of God; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.

This friend is a wonderful daughter, wife, mother and grandmother. She's very giving to both family, friends and strangers. She is kindhearted and compassionate. She is patient and loving and forgiving and honest and trustworthy. She is an encourager. She supports many worthwhile causes. She takes on projects with great dedication.

Sometimes I think she consistently lives the life of a Christian better than many of those who call themselves Christian. She is all of those things that Jesus calls us to be … accept she questions the existence of God.

When we say that someone chose the world over God, we usually mean it as someone who has put possessions and happiness and comfort first; someone who has made "idols" of their life and can't give them up.

But my friend hasn't chosen the world, the "good life," over God. She doesn't live in luxury. She doesn't think of herself first. She just didn't choose God.

Her sister is what we would call a born-again Christian. We, us Baptists, don't often use that phrase for what we are, even though Jesus said that we must be "born again" in Him to enter into Heaven. So, her sister is an exuberant Christian. Just a very little part of her is that Christian who gives us the "bad rap" as Christians - the one who puts acceptance of Jesus Christ (no matter how we live our lives) above everything else.

In other words, someone who is blind to the needs of this world, but believes in Jesus, is a better person than the one who questions God's existence, but lives as Christ lived every day.

So, there was division in their family - sister divided against sister - just as Jesus said there would be.

As an aside, I don't want to color your impression of my friend's sister - she is a good person and lives her life as Jesus taught us, but there's still division.

Going deeper into this passage, there's so much that's hard to hear. Last week Jesus said, "Do not be afraid" and this week He tells us: I'm not here to bring peace - I'm here to cause division! And then He calls those who are listening to Him "hypocrites!" They can interpret the sky, but not the present time.

Can you imagine? So many thought that the Messiah was going to bring peace and comfort to their lives - and Jesus tells them, you've got it all wrong!

We prefer comfort. We'll be careful of the words we choose so that everyone around is "comfortable." Toby and I were at my brother and sister-in-law's home several years ago. My brother was a little stressed for a moment and he said something to my sister-in-law that he probably regretted as soon as the words were out of his mouth.

It was out of character - and only lasted a moment, so we didn't give it any credit to our opinion of him.

When we got home that evening, my brother called to apologize and to tell us that he didn't mean to make us uncomfortable. We prefer comfort in our relationships.

Now if what he had said was meant to stir us up to action for our fellow person, to encourage us to see the injustices going on around us, to make a change in the world - that "uncomfortable" feeling, that lack of "peace" in the moment - would have been justified and would have been an example of the division that Jesus spoke about.

"Hyprocrites!" Don't you see that we sit here in comfort, with excessive food on the table, too many clothes in our closets, and we forget those who are hungry, who are wearing thread-bare clothes, who live a life of fear? Hyprocrites - see what is going on around you and live as I showed you how to live!

All of Jesus' teachings were radical - He called for social reversals that can make us uncomfortable!

John the Baptist said that if we have two coats, one should be given to the person who has none.
In Luke 18, Jesus told the rich man that one thing was lacking. He was to sell all he owned and distribute the money amongst the poor so that he might have treasures in Heaven.
In Luke 11:37, Jesus is dining with the Pharisee. Jesus calls him out for being filled inside with greed. Jesus told him that the Pharisees were tithing with herbs of all kinds, but neglecting justice. He told him that the people were being loaded with burdens and the Pharisees didn't lift a finger in comfort.
In Matthew 25:31, Jesus said that the goats and sheep will be divided, goats to the left and sheep to the right. All those on the right would inherit the kingdom because they had fed the hungry, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, visited the imprisoned.
And in James 2:14 we are asked what good is faith without works. If we tell someone who is hungry to "go in peace, keep warm and eat your fill," but don't give them what they need - what good is that? Faith without works is dead.

There's part of the dilemma, my agnostic friend has the works. Some who call themselves Christians have only faith. Within our hearts we struggle to understand this. How can a true Christian not live the life Jesus exemplified? An unrest, a lack of peace, is inside of us as we wonder how this can be!

Jesus said in Luke 18:27: What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.
That's why do all things through the Holy Spirit. What each of us does through God cannot compare to what we can accomplish through ourselves, through our own means.
This is what we need to know when we say to ourselves, "I don't have anything extra to give" or when we question why we could be called upon to be compassionate to someone who has gambled away all they own or when we are called to visit the person who sits in prison for their crimes.

When there is division within our own hearts, we call upon the Holy Spirit for understanding and direction. So often we are called to do things that we don't like and we don't understand - but we find peace in the doing.

And that can cause division within our families - as they see us doing things in Jesus' name that they just don't comprehend.

How many times have you forgiven someone for hurting you and those around you have shaken their heads and called you a fool?
How many times have you sent food to a shelter or handed a dollar to a stranger and had those closest to you questioning your choices?
How often have you stood up for someone else's rights when your friends thought it a waste of your time?
How many times have you loved someone because they are God's child, when others can't see their value?

Some people think that a personal relationship with Jesus is all they need - spending some time in prayer, reading the Bible and singing "How Great Thou Art" and they are all set.

Some people think that as long as they show up on Sunday - or even go a little further than that and make sure they attend some church meetings and some church activities - that's all they need. They're committed to God.

But to be Christ's disciple is to be also committed to the mission of the church - to be the love of Christ in all situations; to introduce Jesus to the world; to work for social justice and to be compassionate to all people.

In hearing these words, though - please understand that God does not call us to do everything or to be everything for all people - something that I'm still trying to learn and hope that I'm getting better at.
That is when we truly need to listen to the Holy Spirit, we need to get good counsel, good advice, from others that we trust. We are to really hear what we are being called to do and to be.

This passage is also not permission to start fires, to purposefully cause division within our circles when we judge others by what we consider to be God's standards, but may only be the standard to which we are called to live.

Back to today's passage - how many of you had to memorize "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! … Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!"

Do you have those words on a beautiful wall hanging in your living room?

Who wants to share this Jesus who seems to be pretty angry?

Back in the days when it was acceptable to punish your children with a firm hand or a bar of soap, I was threatened with that bar several times and tasted it only once. I don't remember any of us ever getting the belt from my dad, but I know there were times we made him angry enough to threaten it.
Anyone who has ever loved a child in their lives knows what it's like to think these words:
"Before that child, I never knew I could love so much, or that any one person could make me so angry."
Anger that comes in the midst of real love.

Jesus loves the people who are following Him. Jesus wants the best for those people. He wants them to open their eyes and see the world as He sees it. His anger is grounded in amazing love for each and every one of us.

Wake up! See what's going on! Just because your closest friend - a friend that has been there for you always, a friend that seems to see life as you see it, a friend that seems to have it all together - just because that friend tells you that God is asking something outrageous from you does not mean that your friend is right.

This is what Jesus is saying. There will be division. There will not always be peace! If you are going to follow Christ, not everyone is going to be happy about it.

Jesus wants a total commitment from us. We can't live in comfort six days a week, not being shook up by His words and then show up on Sunday praising God's Name.

While in the Adirondacks two weeks ago, we all looked forward to the much anticipated mountain pies that Toby promised us! Finally, Thursday arrived and Toby was up close to the very hot fire in the backyard, holding the cast iron pie maker, making mountain pies in the crazy heat. Jeremy loaded the pie maker, with sweat dripping down him. Without that intense heat, dinner would not be as good as it was meant to be.

I stood a few steps back, working at a makeshift table, forming the pizza mountain pies and the ham and turkey and cheese mountain pies, and the apple and peach and cherry pies. I was protected from the heat by distance.

I wasn't giving the commitment to that dinner that Toby and Jeremy were giving. I was doing my job, but theirs was so much more intense - it showed so much more dedication! And because of their commitment to the fire, they probably enjoyed those pies more than any of us.

Going through the flames of life makes us appreciate the other side so much more.

There is a fire on this earth, a fire that Jesus wished were already kindled at that time. There isn't to be a firewall between us and the fire. We aren't to be a distance from the fire. We aren't given any protective clothing to make the flames seem less hot. We aren't given a bucket of water to put out the fire.

It's a fire meant to cleanse each of us, a fire that kindles within us a desire to be more like Jesus - a fire put within us through the Holy Spirit, a fire that transforms us. We can't be at a safe, comfortable distance from that fire.

I worry that those of us who haven't felt much resistance in our lives, who haven't felt fire and division, can become complacent and forget what Jesus endured for us.

Jesus spoke of a baptism that He had to face, that put Him under stress until its completion. It was the baptism He faced upon the cross, the baptism that Jesus knew would ultimately allow the Holy Spirit to come amongst us; it would be the Holy Spirit that would call upon us to forgive - even when it's hard; to feed others - even when we're told that they should be able to feed themselves; to provide for others, to show compassion, and understanding and love; to support those who are fighting for justice; to allow God to work through us.

Our #1 loyalty is to be to Christ - not to our husbands nor wives, not to our children, not to our families, not to our friends, not to our animals - not even to this building - but to be fully committed to Jesus Christ and passionate to become all He taught us to be, bringing God's joy to the lives of all those around us because God has not forgotten or forsaken any of us.

 

July 3, 2016 - Independence Day Weekend
Presented by Kathleen Ordiway

Peace to This House
Luke 10:1-11; specifically verses 3 and 5

There is so much going on in today's Gospel passage. This has become another of my favorite passages. If this wasn't Independence Day weekend, we'd be singing "Here I Am, Lord" - you know the one - "I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if you lead me…"

Verse one in the NIV starts out by telling us that Jesus sent 72 people out to the towns He would soon visit. 72 people! Sometimes we forget that it wasn't just the 12 apostles and a few women following Jesus. 72 people were being sent out to prepare the towns for Jesus' visit.

Just as the Holy Spirit guides us and helps us mature in all God would have us be, helps us to understand God's Word and encourages us in our study - we can be certain that Jesus made sure that the 72 were also guided and equipped for their task. They weren't sent until they were ready. They were aware of Jesus' power and understood His vision to reach all people.

The 72 didn't go out alone; Jesus sent them in pairs. When kids go to camp, they are taught the buddy system - never go anywhere alone. I taught my kids that, too.

When you are with a buddy, if you fall and break your ankle, your buddy can run back for help. When you are with a buddy, if a bully decides to give you a hard time, your buddy can support you. When you are with a buddy and you get lost along the way, you give each other encouragement, you can try to find the path together, remembering the signs you've passed. A buddy tells you that you are doing well, tells you not to give up, and tells you when it's time to go home.

Jesus reminded them that there was much to do, and few people prepared to do it. He tells the 72 that they should be praying for more helpers in the harvest. They weren't being sent to harvest grain for bread. They were being sent to harvest people - to share the Good News of Jesus Christ amongst those that were willing to receive the Word. So we are reminded that before we approach any task - start with prayer.

In my study Bible, the footnotes for Luke 10:3 say: "Jesus said He was sending His disciples out 'like lambs among wolves.' They would have to be careful because they would surely meet with opposition. We too are sent into the world like lambs among wolves. Be alert, and remember to face your enemies, not with aggression, but with love and gentleness. A dangerous mission requires sincere commitment."

I will be circling back to that passage. Suffice it to say that the 72 would not always be welcome where they were sent.

In verse 4, Jesus tells them not bring anything with them.

Many of you know I'm an over-packer. When I head off to Rochester for school, I bring water and granola bars and my phone and my tablet and my Ipod and an extension cord and a notebook and pens and my purse and money. If it's winter, I bring a first aid kit, a blanket, emergency flares.

In a few weeks, 10 of us are heading out for the Adirondacks again. Besides my clothes (too many of them) and my shoes (at least 3 pair), I'll be bringing food, paper plates, plasticware, 5 rolls of paper towels, mountain pie irons; several bottles of bubbles, glow sticks, board games and coloring books - mine!; pancake mix and syrup; way too many marshmallows, chocolate bars and graham crackers; hot dogs and rolls - there is no possibility of a grocery store anywhere around, I'm sure.

I've packed a bag with every possible medication - I prefer ibuprofen, but Toby can't take it - so there's Tylenol, too. We can't have a vacation ruined by an upset stomach - so there's Tums, Phazyme and Pepto Bismal… and of course there are several different allergy meds. Toby can probably perform surgery with all the first aid items I've packed - including at least 4 different sizes of Band-aids, antiseptic wipes, antibiotic ointment, a thermometer, scissors and tweezers. In that bag are sunscreen, bug spray, itch cream and burn cream.

And Jesus told the 72 to pack nothing - not even sandals!!

Why? Because when they found a house that accepted their words of peace, all that was needed for them to exist would be provided to them!

That's a huge reminder that we need to be supporting all those who go out in the mission field. We support several missionaries directly through our church and through ABC-USA, including Carmella, who is very dear to our hearts. As they go out to spread God's message, we have to think about their needs.

As the teams approached a house, they were to say "Peace to this house." If their words were well-received, they were to stay there until it was time to leave the town.

We are often reminded not to overstay a friend's hospitality. I've been known to stay too long at my brother's house. Many years ago, my sister-in-law got up and put on her PJs … I didn't get the hint! Now I tell them that they have to remind me to go home - it's there responsibility.

But here Jesus tells the 72 to stay in one home until it's time to leave the village!

There were probably many reasons for that. If they stayed a few days at one home, and then went looking for another, maybe they wouldn't find another home that would welcome them.
Maybe the first homeowner would feel slighted, feel that their hospitality wasn't good enough; that maybe they weren't considered good enough to hear the message that was being brought to the village.
And maybe, if they jumped from home to home, the disciples would appear to not appreciate what was being given to them and the town might not accept Jesus when he arrived.

They needed to stay in one place, settle down and get about the work they were to be doing.

I also hear in this passage, the reminder that we have to allow people to do things for us once in awhile; we have to accept hospitality graciously, without being picky. We so often hear that it is better to give than it is to receive - and this is true. We are to be generous and kind-hearted and thoughtful.

But we also must allow that same generosity to be shown to us by others. I'm performing a wedding on Saturday - the wedding of my two daughters' sister. I would have been invited to the wedding anyway, so I told Julianne that my "service" was my gift to them, so there was no need to give anything back to me.

Julianne said, that of course they planned to give me a little something … and we "argued" back and forth before I realized that I had to graciously receive whatever they chose to give me.

We have to allow others the opportunity to show hospitality.

Further along in the passage in Luke, Jesus tells the 72 that if they are not welcomed in a town, they are to wipe the dust from their feet and leave town. Shaking the dust off the feet indicates that we've done all that can be done in a situation and our responsibility is at an end.

Jesus was telling the 72 that they were to preach the gospel to everyone. Where the Word was received with joy, they should stay and teach. Where the message was rejected, their responsibility was over and they were free to walk away in good conscience. They had done all they could do. Hopefully they would be a seed that would eventually take root, but for now - their work was done.

Shaking the dust from their feet said that those who rejected God would not be allowed to stop the sharing of God's Word. The 72 would go where they were welcomed.

Sometimes we're encouraged to stay put, sharing God's message - other times the Holy Spirit gives us discernment - an understanding of a situation - and we know that it is time to walk away.

As in verse 3, we may be walking like "lambs among the wolves"; we attempt to bring God's peace and salvation to everyone we meet. We will meet outright opposition and denial. We will meet wolves who sometimes wear the clothing of sheep - making us believe we are amongst friends when they are more like enemies.

We have to be careful and alert, but we have to have the commitment and the excitement and the joy that fills us when we share the story of Jesus Christ.

So, this passage is about sharing Jesus with all we meet, sharing the message of salvation - BUT! it's also about how we should be living our lives every day!

It's about prayer and preparation for every new day, for every new adventure or endeavor.

It's about not living life all alone - instead receiving encouragement and support from a buddy. Knowing that God put all of us on this earth for relationships - so that we can experience love.

It's about going outside of our comfort zone and letting others know how much Jesus loves them.

And this passage is about knowing that sometimes it's going to be okay to walk away from a situation. God doesn't expect us to be walked all over by those who hate us.
We are blessed to be in a country that offers freedom of religion. The concept means that there is an understanding of tolerance and acceptance of different religions, different beliefs - even tolerance of those who choose not to believe in anything. Our country's history, and present, though, is a seesaw of acceptance.

The concept of freedom of religion can be a dilemma for us. Jesus told us to share His message, to follow Him - as He is the only Way. So, we go out into the world and share salvation through Jesus Christ - and this sharing to those who don't believe can be viewed as an intolerance of their religion.

So what do we do?

Remember that the 72 were sent to share the Good News of Jesus Christ amongst those that were willing to receive the Word and they were told to shake the dust from their feet when they were not welcome. They were to share love and gentleness, not aggression.

Jesus said, give them peace; enter their house and say, "Peace to this house!" Wish them well, do what you can for them, see the goodness in them and offer the goodness in you. Be kind and generous.

By your actions, share Jesus. Love them as Jesus loves them. Pray that the message of love is accepted; that through you, others are introduced to Jesus. And when you have done all you can do, when anything further would push them away from Jesus, create walls and blinders to separate them from Jesus' love - pray for those people, wish them nothing but peace in their home, but shake the dust from your feet and walk away.

 

 

Sunday, June 19, 2016, Father's Day
Presented by Kathleen Ordiway

Healed
1 Kings 19:11-12, Luke 8:26-39

Two weeks ago I talked about the healing that was going to happen. I said that we have the responsibility to help the healing, to be present for God. First, we have to pay attention to what's going on around us. Then, we need to care about more than just ourselves. Next, we have to feel compassion and understanding. Lastly, we need to believe that healing can happen.

This morning we heard the story of Jesus healing the man filled with demons - a legion of demons. I wondered how many a "legion" could be. So I did a little research. I found out that a legion is a basic unit in the Roman military. Roman legions were divided into 60 "centuries," a century could have 100 soldiers. In theory, a Roman legion could have as many as 6000 men. In practice, Roman legions seldom had that many active soldiers, and it's thought that the typical Roman legion probably numbered around 4200.

In Mark chapter 5 verse 13, I read that the number of swine that rushed down to the sea and drowned, after the demons possessed them, was about 2000.

So, a legion of demons possessed this poor man; terrorized him; made him to live in the tombs and to wander around naked. I cannot even begin to imagine how horrible this must have been.

But what's worse, is I am so afraid that I know what I would do if I came across this man - talking to himself - probably arguing with the demons in his head, filthy dirty, naked, looking through the garbage for food, picking up a cigarette butt from the ground.

I'm afraid I'd turn away. I might pretend not to see him or hear him. If I don't look, I can pretend he's not there. If I don't look, I don't have to get involved. If I don't look, it's someone else's problem.

But Jesus came along and He paid attention to what was going on. He cared, He was filled with compassion. Jesus understood this poor man's suffering. And Jesus believed that he could be healed.

I hurt inside thinking that I might not allow God to show compassion and love through me. Tears ran down my cheeks as I typed these words and I hate those thoughts.

How many times have any of us turned away? Pretended not to see? Pretended not to hear? Didn't believe that God wants to do some healing through us?

This man, tormented by a legion of demons, demons who probably put all sorts of lies in his head - was healed by Jesus Christ, Son of God - Son of our Father, God - Jesus, who was God Himself. A great weight was lifted from the man. He became a changed man and wanted to serve Jesus, but Jesus told him to go home and testify to all that had happened to him.

So many times Jesus asked those He healed to be quiet about the healing, but this time Jesus tells the man to go and talk about what had happened. Jesus knew that this healing would be a great witness.

Please remember - there is no guarantee that there'll be an earthly healing for us, for our friends, for the sick, lost, poor, tormented. God has a special love for the people that are ignored in society - but sometimes there just isn't going to be a miracle. That does not give us the excuse to turn away though. I believe we need to make time to talk about the safe and effective ways we can show God's love.

But that's for another time.

Today, I want to think about Dad's. Some of us have or had great dads, the kind of dad you brag about to all your friends, the kind who can do no wrong - our heroes.

A dad that can fix our bikes, find our lost dog, sneak us a second piece of chocolate and can scare away all the boogie men, holding us close when we're scared. Dad's that let us know how great God must truly be!

 

Some of us never had that kind of a dad. Some of us have only bad memories of the person who had a part in creating us. Some of us hear the word "Father" and we cringe. If your dad wasn't much of a father - than what good could our Father, God be? That's why so many pastors are referring to God by names other than Father. We hear Healer, Lord, Comforter, Jehovah, Yahweh, King, Advocate, Deliverer, Creator, Almighty, El Shaddai, Redeemer.

Not having a loving father stinks. But this is the wonderful thing - our earthly dads are absolutely nothing compared to the Dad we all share - our Father, God.

I want to take three minutes to share a song by George Strait, Love Without End, Amen.

"I got set home from school one day with a shiner on my eye.
Fighting was against the rules and it didn't matter why.
When dad got home I told that story just like I rehearsed.
Then stood there on those trembling knees, and waited for the worst.
And he said, 'Let me tell you a secret, about a father's love.
'A secret that my daddy said was just between us.
He said, 'Daddies don't just love their children every now and then.
'It's a love without end, amen.
'It's a love without end, amen.'
When I became a father in the spring of '81,
There was no doubt that stubborn boy was just like my father's son.
And when I thought my patience had been tested to the end,
I took my daddy's secret and I passed it on to him.
I said, 'Let me tell you a secret, about a father's love.
'A secret that my daddy said was just between us
I said, 'Daddies don't just love their children every now and then.
'It's a love without end, amen.
'It's a love without end, amen.'
Last night I dreamed I'd died And stood outside those pearly gates.
When suddenly I realized there must be some mistake.
If they know half the things I've done, they'll never let me in.
Then somewhere from the other side, I heard these words again:
And they said, 'Let me tell you a secret about a Father's love;
'A secret that my daddy said was just between us.
You see daddy's don't just love their children every now and then.
'It's a love without end, amen.
'It's a love without end, amen.'"

That's the great thing about our Father, God. He loves us always, not just every now and then. The mistakes we make don't make God hate us. God hates the sin, but loves the sinner.

God calls to us always; let's us know of His great love. He not only knows "half the things" we've done - God knows them all… and God hears our prayers of repentance, of confession … and God forgives. God would never have sent His Son, Jesus, to this earth, if He didn't want our presence. God would have kept Jesus close and not allowed the pain Jesus suffered to ever happen, if God didn't love us. It's that great love, a love for all of us sinners, which saved us.

Our Father God loved the man filled with a legion of demons. Jesus healed him and knew that this healing would be a great witness. When God touches your life, don't be afraid to share the wonderful-ness with your family and friends. Speak of the joy that fills you. Feel the Holy Spirit's encouragement. Share how you've been blessed, the spiritual healing you've had, maybe even the bodily healing. Let people know what God has been doing in your life.

No matter if you your dad was your hero - like mine is; or if your dad ignored you, or belittled you, didn't believe in you or spat ugly lies at you - we all have a wonderful Father - a Father who is ever-present in our lives. We all have a Father who yearns to be in a relationship with us.

Maybe you feel it today. Maybe a little part of you realizes that God's love and forgiveness means something to you. In the sheer silence, a part of you hears Jesus knocking at your heart, asking to be let in. A part of you wants to know about the Holy Spirit. A part of you wants to be changed like the man filled with demons.

In the sheer silence, in the passing wind, in the flutter of a butterfly's wings, in the movement of a cloud - you feel the presence of God and you want more.

If you've never accepted Jesus as your Savior, if you've never acknowledge God as your Father - you can do so today. If you want to renew your relationship with Jesus - you can do so today.

Just pray silently with me now.

Lord Jesus, I confess that I am a sinner and I deserve to be punished, but I come today asking for your forgiveness. I want to thank you for loving me so much that You paid the price for my sins on Calvary's cross. I lay my life down before You and ask that You would come into my heart and make me complete in You. I accept your forgiveness for my sins and accept you as my personal Lord and Savior. I long to follow you and only you. Thank You that I am given new life through You. From this day forward, teach me to follow only You.

God loves you so much, loves you the way a Father should love his children. If you prayed these words for the first time, remember that it was Father's Day 2016 when you accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior and guaranteed your place at God's table. Today, you are healed!

 

June 5, 2016

There's Going to be a Healing
Psalm 30, Luke 7:11-17, 1 Kings 17:17-24

I usually like to start out a sermon with something lighthearted, maybe a story I've heard or maybe something from my own life. But if there's going to be a healing today, I figured I had to start at the bottom and move my way up.

Last night I went to Chloe and Nico's dance recital. One of the girls did a special solo in memory of her mom, who died very suddenly this past fall from an allergic reaction. Her mom, Amanda, was a strong presence at the studio as an involved and well-loved dance mom. She took an extremely active part in her daughter, Merissa's life. In fact, she touched everyone's lives. There wasn't a dry eye in the house as Merissa danced, holding a framed photograph of her mom.

One of the last lines in the song Amanda danced to was, "I'll see you again." She will.

Many of you know my cousin, Patsy. We've been praying for her for quite a while, her name is on our prayer list. Patsy has cerebral palsy and has never been able to walk. She uses all the strength she has to get around on crutches, with knees that don't bend. Up until two weeks ago, she lived independently in her own apartment.

Last year, Patsy was having problems with her toe. The doctors didn't identify the problem right away and treated it as maybe a skin condition. Come to find out, it was cancer and it spread into some of her lymph nodes. The doctors did what they could, but now it has spread up her legs and across her belly - and continues to spread. She can't take care of the wounds herself, she's less and less mobile and she finally accepted that she can no longer live alone. Patsy has moved into Our Lady of Peace.

Patsy has always had great faith. She would tell us that someday she will be able to throw away her crutches and dance on Heaven's streets of gold! She will.

We've all suffered at some point in our lives. We've all faced losses - lost our loved ones, maybe a job, a possession…

Three of this morning's passages talk about loss and healing.

Even when God has done a miracle in our lives, our troubles may not be over. In 1 Kings, through God's miraculous love and the widow's faith, Elijah provided continued sustenance for the widow and her son during a time of great drought. Some time later, the son dies anyway, but Elijah calls out to God for a healing, and God heals the child and Elijah gives him to his mother.

In Luke, Jesus comes upon a funeral procession and he is filled with great compassion for a widow who has now lost her only son - her son whom she loves, but who provided for her needs, too. Without her son, the widow may go hungry and homeless. Jesus called upon the son to rise from the dead, and he did, and Jesus gives him to his mother.

And in Psalm 30, we hear the words of David, praising God - who has heard his prayers for mercy and lifted him from the depths, who has brought him up from the grave and spared him from going down into the pit. He had to have been facing some sort of grave illness and was healed by God.

David's wailing has turned into dancing; his sackcloth has been removed and he is now clothed in joy; his heart sings to God and cannot be silenced. He promises to thank God forever.

Miracles happen - big ones and little ones - even today. Bodies are healed of diseases. Bones are mended. Those in medicine are able to do amazing things - things that wouldn't have been possible even 50 years ago. Scientists are discovering cures and reasons for illnesses. Our expected lifespan has been lengthened. There's been a lot of healing. God has given so much to us and we have reaped amazing benefits.

But, sorry, we are never promised an earthly, body healing. Merissa will see her mom again, but it will be in Heaven. Patsy will walk someday, but it won't be on this earth.

The worldly healing that happened was in the hearts of all those who loved and were touched by Amanda. Their faith reassures them that they will see her again. Amanda's joy and presence and giving heart continues within those she touched. They have become part of what she was.

Patsy's faith has given her the ability to live her life joyfully. She tells us that if it wasn't for her cerebral palsy, she may never have been introduced to her Savior, Jesus Christ. Because of her condition, she needed to attend an accessible school, which at the time meant a private school - a Christian school - where she met Jesus. A healing happened in that school! And she is able to share her faith with her family and her friends, a faith that sustains her even as she goes through still another trial - a trial that will eventually lead her to her Father, God.

So many healings happen that we do not even notice! In this world filled with self-centeredness - the me me me attitude; a world filled with violence and war, filled with hate, and anger, and injustice, and hunger, and homelessness, and oppression, and tragedy, and disease, and pain - it can be hard to see the healing. It can be hard to imagine being like David and dancing and singing and being clothed in joy. We sometimes even feel guilty if we have this great joy while so many suffer.

But our faith lets us know that we are not alone. The Holy Spirit is present with us no matter what we face. And we can AND MUST share this joy with everyone!

David praised God and danced with joy because he knew God was present in his life. Even if he suffers again, he has the HOPE of God in him. Wherever we are, no matter what we're going through, the LOVE of God is always with us. No matter our circumstances, God is present. We are not alone. A healing has happened in our souls.

Was David's joy used arrogantly? Used to make those around him feel inferior? Was he condescending in his joy?

No. That's not what God wants. Too often we see or hear of "Christians" going around as if they're better than everyone else. Those "Christians" act like the suffering of others was clearly brought upon them because they deserved it and they weren't right with God.

But over and over in the Bible we are told that even true believers suffered. My gosh, Jesus suffered! Our joy should never be shoved in the faces of others - accusing them of failing to be "good enough" for God's healing and joy!

There's going to be a healing - and we need to be a part of it! Is the Spirit guiding you? Listen!

Be the kind word, the gentle hand, the love-filled heart that heals a friendship gone wrong.
Be the steadfast courage a friend needs by her side to endure suffering and loss.
Be the guide that introduces someone to Jesus Christ.
Be the example of faith through trial that uplifts others.
Open your mouth and let others know that they are not alone. You have been there, you are with them. Let them know that through you, God is present.

Feel the Holy Spirit fill you and guide you - listen!

To be a part of the healing that's going to happen, we need to remember to do four things:

1. We need to pay attention. Jesus was walking along with his disciples, sees a funeral procession and notices the mother.
Do we, individually and as a church, notice when people are in pain? Do we look at the faces of those we love and see their hidden tears? Their anger? Their confusion? Their loss? … Their absence? Pay attention!
Do we see what's going on around us? The hungry? The lost? The tired? The struggling?

2. We need to care. Jesus could have just walked by the funeral procession. No one expected Him to heal every sick or dead person he encountered. But Jesus cared.
Do we care enough when someone hasn't been to church that we make a phone call? Are we so involved with what's going on in this building that we forget to look at the need for healing right outside of the doors?

3. We need to feel. Jesus' "heart went out to her." He was filled with compassion, He shared in her pain.
That's what we need to be able to do - understand and feel and share in the pain of others. Be compassionate and understanding.

4. We need to believe. We need to believe that healing can happen when we pay attention, care and feel.
It may not be the immediate healing they want - but there's going to be a healing when we walk with them, listen, care, hold and love them.

One of my cousins was recommended not to have a child because of her diabetes, but she badly wanted a child and decided to take the chance. Her son is healthy and beautiful, but her kidneys suffered because of her pregnancy.

She needed a miracle to survive. Her brother paid attention to her suffering; he cared for her; he felt her sorrow and the sorrow of his family; he believed it was possible to help her - even though he was a husband and a dad and risked not being there for his own young family. He was a match and my cousins got their miracle. Organ donation is one of God's miracles.

Sometimes we are healed in a way that is very evident.
Our energy is renewed. The insurance check comes through. Our marriages are revitalized. Our friendships are mended. We get new jobs. Our children find their way in this crazy world.

Sometimes those healings can't always be seen. Sometimes that healing is a calmness, a joy, within us while the world spins out of control around us.

David wanted his joy to be apparent. Psalm 30 verse 12 tells us that he wanted his soul to praise God and not be silent!

Our joy should be a witness to that "something" we can have in our hearts when the world around us seems to be falling apart. Our joy, our praise, expressed humbly, sensitive to the suffering of those around us - is a witness for God. Our joy should be a witness to the peace that is beyond understanding and can be grabbed onto by anyone - by allowing Jesus into their lives. Our joy should be the promise of a healing to all those we meet.

There are healings going on and we need to be a part of it!

 

Whose Name Is On Your Forehead?
Revelation 22:3-5
Presented by Kathleen Ordiway, May 1, 2016

Anyone who has a favorite sports team proudly wears a ball cap with the team's name emblazoned across the front. Have a favorite TV show, a favorite clothing brand? You may have a cap for that or possibly a t-shirt. We wear them with pride. Does your child or grandchild play on a ball team? Dance on a dance team? Attend college? We probably have one of their caps and t-shirts! We aren't afraid to tell everyone who we are cheering on, to what team we belong!

But do we proudly, confidently, happily tell everyone to whom we truly belong?

After the angel showed John the New Jerusalem - showed him the river of the water of life, showed him the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruits, showed him the leaves of that tree that would heal the nations - the angel lets John know that God's servants will worship Him. Revelation 22:4 tells us this about the New Jerusalem: "They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads."

Professor Gail O'Day, of the Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, GA says: "The only way to be excluded from the city" (this beautiful New Jerusalem) "is to CHOOSE to practice falsehood and deceit, practices which, by definition, do not belong to the city of God."

She references Revelation 21:27, "But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood," and Revelation 22:15, "Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood."

She says it's a choice. So do we live differently? Do we practice the things Jesus taught us? Do we live by the Golden Rule - to do unto others as you would have them do unto you? Do we choose Jesus? Is it His name across our foreheads?

Every time we pray the Lord's Prayer … this morning as we said those words, "Thy kingdom come, THY WILL BE DONE, on earth as it is in heaven…" do we realize that we are making a promise to God? Do we acknowledge that part of allowing God's will to be done here on earth is to be an active part of God's family, to be living life the way Jesus showed us to live?

Jesus showed us how to live a life of kindness - He healed the lepers, He was even kind to the unthankful lepers - the story says that Jesus healed 10 lepers, but only one returned to thank Him. Jesus didn't turn the other nine back into lepers when they didn't return to say thank you. He was kind.

All throughout the Bible we are told how we are to treat others with kindness - even those we don't particularly like; even those whom we "judge" to be below deserving our kindness.

We should show our love and kindness by our deeds, not just our words. We should be patient with others when we're feeling less than patient. We should be kind to those who are hungry, naked or in prison. We should show God's kindness to all of our neighbors, those far and near.

God shows us grace. John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." There's a whole lot of grace there! To know God's love is to know God's grace! Jesus came to reveal the grace of God who loves you like a Father. We are offered unconditional forgiveness and grace - well, there is one condition - we have to accept it.

The Old Testament taught that God's commandments had to be obeyed for righteousness' sake - obeyed perfectly, but we all fail to walk perfectly in the ways of God. Romans 3:23 says, "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God." That's where righteousness comes in.

Consider this: a father is the custodian of an office building which he cleans every night. He becomes sick and can't do his job. If he doesn't go to work, he loses his job and the bills don't get paid, but his adult son goes to the office and cleans for him, he becomes a substitute for his father, taking over his responsibilities until his father is well.
On pay day, the employer pays the father his full wage. Why? Because the work the son performed is ascribed or imputed to the father. The father reaps the benefits of the son's work.

Jesus lived a righteous life and when we believe in Him and accept Him as our Savior, we reap the benefits of His actions - His righteousness is ascribed to us.

So what does that have to do with how we live our lives? If God offers us the free gift of grace and righteousness, how should we be treating the rest of humankind? We don't deserve God's grace any more than anyone else. We aren't any more deserving of God's kindness than anyone else. It's only because of Jesus that we're offered this gift; it's only because we believe that we can accept it. We'd better be trying our best to exemplify Jesus.

So are you feeling less than Christian some days? Is the cashier a little slow; did she count out your change wrong? Does the driver behind you anger you because he's driving just a little too closely?
Does it frustrate you when someone doesn't understand what you want, even though you think you've explained it perfectly - whether it's a can of robin's egg blue paint; an omelet made with 2 eggs, pre-cooked onions, Swiss cheese and spinach; or a bang trimmed just overlapping your eyebrows - not above your brow, not in your eyes… just right there?

We all mess up. We all make mistakes. We all fail to walk the perfect walk some days, BUT people are watching us. They want to see proof of whom we belong! They want to see whose name is on our foreheads. Maybe they want to catch us up. Maybe they want to throw our faith back in our faces. "Ha! You Christians are all alike! You're all a bunch of hypocrites. You talk a big talk, but you sure don't walk it!"

Or, more importantly, maybe they want to see if the words we speak and the actions they witness match this God we declare as our loving and forgiving and healing and encouraging Father; so that they can confidently open their hearts and start believing themselves.
Maybe they are looking to be free of their fears and their anxieties and their hopelessness; maybe they yearn to be made whole, to be the person God envisions them to be - and you may be the one who lets them know it's okay to start trusting.

If you know the saving grace of Jesus Christ, if you believe that the words in this book are true, if you accept the loving kindness, grace and righteousness freely offered - than you need to be doing your best to live out that belief. The world needs to know the healing, saving grace of Jesus Christ and you can be the person to make a difference.

Look in the mirror and see if Jesus' name is written on your forehead. Is there any tangible and plain proof that God has moved into your life? We need to mirror God's love for all, even those who are sometimes difficult to love. Our neighborhoods are yearning for God's presence.

In Revelation 22, verse 5, it says, "And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light…" The Book of Revelation promises that love overcomes hate, good overcomes evil, hope overcomes despair, and life overcomes death. Believe this and live it. Let God's presence and glory shine from your actions; let your faith in God's Word light up the neighborhood. Let our church be a beacon of God's love, kindness, grace and righteousness.

Every day we must choose to show our love for Christ and for each other by our actions and our words - our patience, our love, our kindness, our sincerity, our hope.

How do you show God's name on your forehead?

 

Sunday, February 7, 2016 - Transfiguration Sunday
Kathleen Ordiway

Coming Down From the Mountaintop
Luke 9:28-36 (37-43)

Sometimes after leading a retreat, I have felt this crazy mix of excitement and promise; dread, fear and anxiety. The first few times I felt it, it made no sense to me at all, and then a good friend reminded me that Satan often attacks when you are closest to God.

How much closer to God could a person be than to be on a mountaintop with Jesus, hearing the voice of God? I'll get back to the mountain, but hear what happens when Jesus, Peter, John and James descend the mountain:
The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. A man in the crowd called out, "Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not."
"O unbelieving and perverse generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here."
Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at the greatness of God. (Luke 9:37-43)

After spending a time of beauty and promise, the men faced frightening evil. Too often this is our circumstance. Demons try to steal God's presence from our hearts, try to tear the joy from us, to crowd out the peace that fills us.

Back to the mountain: Jesus takes Peter, John and James to the top of the mountain - a place where the holy often happens - to pray and to experience the true identity of Jesus. As Jesus prayed, the appearance of His face changes and His clothes become as bright as a flash of lightning. The closest I can imagine to a face that changes so drastically would be a bride, as she looks into her groom's eyes and says, "I do."

Then two men appear, Moses and Elijah, and talk with Jesus. His friends witness Jesus' holiness shining through His humanity. Then a cloud encircles them and through their fear they hear a voice saying, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him." And they were silent, they were speechless.

Sometimes we want to fill the silence with words. We're uncomfortable with the silence, but this time there are no words that would be acceptable, nothing that would sufficiently explain what they had just witnessed. God says, "Listen!" Receive what Jesus will say. Be aware. Be attentive to Jesus. Be ready.

Before ascending the mountain, Jesus told His disciples, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life." (Luke 9:21-22)

While on the mountain, Moses and Elijah "spoke about His departure, which He was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem." (Luke 9:31) And after their descent, Jesus again predicted His death, "While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, He said to His disciples, 'Listen carefully (Remember, God told them to listen to what Jesus had to say!) Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.'" (Luke 9:44)

There are times in all of our lives when we come down from the mountain and see the crisis ahead. Whether it's the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, or an illness - we see the crisis ahead and we know we need to listen, we need to connect with God's power and presence. Can you imagine how Jesus felt, knowing the crisis that was before Him? He knew what was ahead and that time spent on the mountain was important - connecting with God in prayer. We all need those moments when we can connect with God. When God's calm presence leads us forward.
Where does Jesus speak to you? Certainly we feel God's presence atop the mountain - when things are wonderful; when God speaks to us in our silence and we feel the wonder and majesty of His presence. Breathtaking vacations, amazing accomplishments, unexpected blessings all bring us to that mountaintop experience. Our problems seem to disappear, anything seems possible and we are aware of God's presence. A birth of a child, the first words of love from a special someone, experiencing our baptism - all of these are mountaintop moments. But Jesus speaks to us in the everyday, too.

Just before going up to the mountain to encounter His Father, Jesus has been telling parables to His followers; He took His disciples across the lake and calmed the raging waters; He's healing the demon-possessed, the woman with the flow of blood and Jairus' dead daughter; He's fed five thousand people with just five loaves and two fish. When they go down the mountain, they encounter another demon - possessing a young boy - and Jesus healed the boy. The amazing is happening all around - it doesn't only happen on the mountain.

I love leading retreats. I love meeting new women, seeing friendships formed, old friends re-acquainting themselves, young girls singing alongside more seasoned women. I love it when all these women uplift each other through their trials and rejoice in their blessings. I love it when a Presbyterian woman realizes that the Baptist sitting next to her is a sister in Christ. I love the whole experience. And now, when I come down from the mountain, when I drive home from a Christ-filled day, I pray. I'm silent. I listen for God's encouragement and direction. I'm in awe of the Holy Spirit's continued presence. And I'm ready when Satan, when the demons try to attack.

Have you heard God's voice in the valleys and on the plains? Consider these moments:

You oversleep your alarm and rush off to work in a panic. Getting to the office, someone smiles and holds the door open for you.

You walk to the park, find a bench and open a book. You glance over to the swings and you see a dad pushing his child on a swing. The child giggles on the swing's descent and the dad laughs out loud.

It's grocery day, you walk into DiCamillo's (or … enter your favorite bakery here!) and you breathe the intoxicating smell of fresh baked bread, sweet glazed donuts and fresh ground coffee.

That smile, that giggle, that laugh, that aroma - those innocent, unexpected moments that remind us of our surroundings, of the pleasures of our lives, of God's presence. We come down from the mountain and we know that God is still with us, if we are silent for just a moment, if we open our eyes to all that is around us. We remember the big things, but are even more moved by the little, everyday joys. It is the constant knowledge of God's presence that encourages us to minister to the world.

Peter, James and John would never forget what they had seen on the mountaintop. They would never forget the voice of God declaring Jesus to be God's Son. They came down from the mountain, ready to minister to those in the valley. The mountaintop is an amazing place to be, and we all need that time on the mountain, but we can't stay there. We live in the valleys and on the plains.

Each of us has received a blessing from God that we've been directed to share with the world. Those mountaintop experiences give us needed rest, encouragement and renewal so that we can be God's feet and hands and arms and voice to those we encounter. We must be the presence of God for those who can't find God. We need to let them know that God is all around us - God is in each of us, God is in the morning sunrise, God is in a child's laughter, God is in the softly falling snow, God is in the stranger down the street and God is in a loved one's arms - if we can remain silent long enough to hear and open our eyes to all that surrounds us.

On the glorious mountains, down in the deepest, darkest, scariest valleys and on the plains of everyday life we can find the glory of God, the presence of Christ and the goodness of the Spirit.

The disciples realized that, indeed, God was on top of that mountain, but God was also present in the valley, too. In fact, God is probably easier to find in the valley and on the plain - because that's when we need God most.

The Scottish theologian Henry Drummond said, "God does not make the mountains in order to be inhabited. God does not make the mountaintops for us to live on the mountaintops. It is not God's desire that we live on the mountaintops. We only ascend to the heights to catch a broader vision of the earthly surrounds below. But we don't live there. We don't tarry there. The streams begin in the uplands, but these streams descend quickly to gladden the valleys below."

God is present in the valleys. God's hope and power and glory flow down from the mountaintops and fill us to overflowing so that our hearts can be gladdened even in the valleys when we stumble, when we are in pain, when our friends die too young, when our marriages go through tough spots, when we feel alone and Satan tries to sneak in and attack us.

God is present on the plains - those ordinary, everyday moments where we spend the most time: eating breakfast, drinking a cup of coffee, reading a book, walking the dog, doing a puzzle, calling a friend. God's encouragement and love surrounds us as we reach out to others, as we go about our everyday existence.

Peter and John and James were silent. No more grand schemes to build shelters on top of the mountain. Maybe no more misunderstanding of Jesus' kingdom. Maybe they are getting closer to understanding what would happen to Jesus. "Enveloped" in a cloud by God. Told to listen to Jesus, God's Son. Silence. For how can we truly listen if we cannot be silent first?

One of our members asked me to make sure I always allow enough time for her silent prayer at the beginning of the service. She felt that, with a few of our visiting ministers, the moment for us to pray silently was sometimes too rushed. She had too much to say to God and she needed the time to be silent, also. On the mountaintops, in the valleys, on the plains - be silent so that we can listen to the Voice of God and feel the wonder of God's presence all around us. We need to be silent so that we can hear God, to know God's presence, to know what God would have us to do in the world. We need to be silent so that when it is time to speak, we will know what to say, we will know how to share God's blessings - connecting with all those around us.

God is present - we need only to be silent and listen, open our eyes and see.

Would You Have Followed the Star?
Matthew 2:1-12
Kathleen Ordiway - January 3, 2016 - The Ephiphany

Epiphany: an appearance or manifestation, especially of a divine being.
A usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something.
A revealing scene or moment.
An illuminating discovery.
Based on the Latin for "revelation" - for something revealed. Something made known.

As in, "I had an epiphany and it all started to make sense to me!"
Would I have followed the star?

In this morning's scripture we find some wise men. Kings? Babylonian astrologers? Persian Zorastrians? Magi? They are mysterious visitors traveling from the east (scripture doesn't say where in the east). We don't know how many there were. We don't know their names. But they traveled, following the star to Jerusalem, so that they could worship the King of the Jews, this small Child.

On their way there, King Herod heard of the travelers and called them to him. Herod told these wise men that he, too, would like to worship this child, so please return and let him know where the child was found.

The men came to the house where they found Jesus and Mary. They became the first Gentiles to bow down. They were filled with great joy, falling down and worshipping the Child, and presenting him with the unusual gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

After seeing the Christ Child, the men were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so they went home another way.

Their visit was foretold in Isaiah 60, especially verse 6: And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

It was foretold in Psalm 72:10-11: May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts. May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.

We don't know how long the wise men had been traveling, but some say it could have been thousands of miles to see this Child. Can you imagine their excitement when they finally meet Jesus - Matthew says they are filled with exceeding joy! They knew they were following something important - they were certainly in great awe of this Child who would be King of the Jews.

We are equally in awe of the Christ Child - this gift of God's love, sent to earth for us. What gift is appropriate to give when we are given so much? The wise men give gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh - seemingly useless gifts for a child, but invaluable in their eyes.

We fall to our knees in reverent respect and can't find a gift worthy to give in return. But that's just it - the wise men fell to their knees and worshipped the Christ Child, we fall to our knees in worship.

"I had an epiphany and it all started to make sense to me!" Have I spent more time with God than I have with the world? Have I fallen to my knees? Have I followed the star?
We say we give the gift of ourselves - not adequate gifts, but all that we have, our very being, all the love we possess, every action, every thought - we give to the Christ Child, we give to our Savior, we give to God's glory.

This morning we give our gifts of worship - prayers, singing, the music from the organ, our voices praising our God. We give Jesus the gift of this building - so that we can come together in His name. We have given our offering - but it's almost embarrassing when we compare it to the gift of Jesus' life given for us.

We give ourselves - the best of what we have - and it just doesn't seem enough… but it's all God asks of us, to give ourselves to Jesus Christ, as He gave Himself to us.

But this is the question I want to ask you this morning: Would you have followed the star? If you had heard rumor of the birth of Jesus and the star shown above you, would you have climbed atop a camel and traveled for upwards of two or three years? Would you be a follower of Jesus if it required that much energy and determination?

How much time and effort do we spend with God? Are there weeks when we only worship for an hour on Sunday, or do we give God the best of our day, every day, every week, every month?
Do we start our day in God's presence? Or do we give God what's left at the end our the day, just before we fall asleep… if we manage to stay awake at all?

So many in our world today expect God to follow them, to find them, to come looking for them. So many expect Jesus to prove Himself and come bearing gifts. The Magi travelled a great distance to find Jesus, bearing Him great gifts and filled with great joy. They recognized Jesus as the Messiah when most of God's chosen people in Israel would not.

I challenge you this year - Follow the star.
Give what is best of yourself as the magi did.
Spread the Word throughout the land as the wise men did.
Give gifts of great value:
Share God's love with someone who is need of compassion, care and concern.
Be God's presence and offer hope to those who are lost.
Feed God's children with real food.
Give generously.

Let Christ rule your lives and let those around you know who you love most.
Give of your best, not your second best, not what's good enough - but is truly of your first fruits.

The wise men left Jesus and Mary and went home by another route. As we reflect on our past and think about we can give of our best, maybe we, too, will be called to walk a different route.

Prepare the Way
Luke 3:1-6
Sunday, November 29, 2015

When my sister, brother and I were little, Santa Claus gave us a cloth tunnel for Christmas. He made sure that we had to crawl through it to get to the living room, and the Christmas tree. Santa Claus prepared the way for us to see our presents, to hear the music playing and to be in awe of everything Christmas. It was a straight, flat way. The memory has stayed with me… or maybe it's just the photographs - I think they exist; or maybe it's the stories we tell each other about that morning.

What stands out even more about that Christmas morning - well actually about every Christmas morning as a child - was that before we could actually open any of our presents, we stood around the manger and sang Happy Birthday to the Baby Jesus.

Each of has Christmas memories, Christmas traditions that remind us of the joy of the season - that help prepare the way for the remembrance of Jesus' birth, for Jesus to touch our lives once again.

Advent is the time of year to prepare the way - to prepare a place in our hearts for Jesus. It's a state of mind, as well as a season, and it should be a reminder that we should live prepared.

Today's Gospel finds John the Baptist, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Now John wasn't the obvious choice to herald the coming of the Christ. He wasn't exactly appealing to look at - camel hair clothes, and all. He probably smelled a bit. His diet was unusual - locusts and wild honey. But he had a following - people from all over, and they were eager to hear what he had to say.

He quotes from Isaiah:
"A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
Prepare the way for the Lord, Make straight paths for Him.
Every valley shall be filled in, Every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight, The rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God's salvation."

So what are you doing this Advent to prepare the way? And I'm not talking about the shopping, baking and decorating. How are you preparing your hearts, making the way smooth and straight? How are you preparing yourselves for Jesus? Whether it be the reminder of Jesus' first coming - His birth; of his arrival to be baptized by John at the beginning of His ministry; or His second coming - on a date sometime in the future - John is reminding us to be prepared.

We are to be joyfully serving; we are to be loving those around us; we are to be sharing the Good News; we are to be celebrating the knowledge of Jesus.

At school yesterday, one of the women told us about her stepmother who is so sure that Jesus is returning soon that she has literally locked herself away in her home. It's not important for her to do anything, but wait. She doesn't care about the environment so she's not recycling - if the world is soon to end, what harm is she doing? She doesn't feed the hungry; clothe the naked; encourage those who struggle - Jesus is coming soon; He'll certainly fix all that.

Fellowship with friends? Visit the sick? Lend a hand to her neighbors? No, it's important to be ready for Jesus' arrival, so she can't be distracted by all that unimportant stuff.

That's just sad. There's no joy in her anticipation. There's no service while she sits alone, waiting. So what did Jesus tell us to do prepare ourselves for His arrival?

After telling us to love God with our whole hearts, souls and minds, Jesus tells us, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." In fact, He says, "You shall love one another as I have loved you." In Luke 14, Jesus tells us that when we have a feast, we should invite the poor, the lame, the blind. We should invite those who can't repay us. While we wait for Jesus' return, we should be doing all these amazing things for those around us, preparing a way in our hearts for Jesus' return and inviting them to be ready, too.

John the Baptist also tells us to repent of our sins in preparation for Jesus. We're in a contemplative season, preparing the way - we should be considering future possibilities, how we can live our lives more faithfully, closer to God's way. We should be considering how our sins separate us from God and from all that God wants us to be.

To repent we have to reflect on the direction we are traveling, both as individual persons of faith, and as the Body of Christ - the church. We have to be prepared to change course, when necessary. We have to leave behind the pride and realize when we've strayed from the way.

Our paths - while we wait, while we serve, while we live for Christ - may seem to be bumpy. There will be dark nights without stars to guide us. There will be rocks that trip us. There will be severe storms that blow us off track. We might be turned around and will have to make sure we're traveling in the right direction.

Some of these troubles will be caused by our sin - and we should repent so that our paths will be a little smoother.

Some of these troubles will be caused by Satan - trying to stop our good works, to stop us from becoming closer to God. The Imam we visited yesterday told us something very wise. He said that Jews, Muslim and Christians have many things in common - but we can all agree on the one sure thing we have in common - our enemy, Satan. He said that we can stop Satan dead in his tracks by loving each other, by helping each other, by finding the good in each other. We can fight our common enemy with love for each other.

If we do this, our paths will certainly be straight, the valley filled, the mountains made low, the rough ways smooth.

If we repent and love one another, we will be preparing the way, we will be preparing our hearts, for Christ, we will be living prepared this Advent.

Every Advent we have the opportunity to reflect on our journey, to make sure that we are traveling on the right path. We, as a congregation, have a unique opportunity to recommit ourselves to a vision of God's reign and then focus our attention on what we should be doing. What God intends for our future, might not be what we are planning, or even what we want - but it will be a future that benefits us and all those around us.

As we reflect on our personal lives as well as the life of this church, we will find reasons to repent and reasons to change. Change is hard though, if we think that we are already living completely faithful lives. Repentance begins with the realization that we aren't always perfect, that we aren't always on the path, we aren't always preparing the way - that sometimes we have to change.

How else can we prepare the way for Jesus, to be in His holy presence? Looking beyond the clutter in our lives - all those things that society tells us are important parts of Christmas, even those things that we tell ourselves we cannot do without - and making time for prayer, meditation, worship - for a quiet time with God. We might have to set aside things that are good so that we can have the best. Allow God to be in your days and in your moments; allow God room in your heart.

As we use this Advent season to reflect and to prepare the way for Jesus, we can also intentionally choose to keep the time holy by resisting the temptation to celebrate Christmas too soon. And that's not always easy. It can be a challenge.

Realize this and we'll be filled with hope and joy and forgiveness and God's infinite mercy and we'll be empowered to live faithfully by Divine guidance and the blessings of God.

Let us pray. Merciful God, who sent your messengers to preach repentance and to prepare the way for our salvation, for your Son and for your presence in our lives, give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 

Sunday, November 1, 2015: All Saints' Day & Communion Sunday
Reading of the Necrology and Memorials
Kathleen Ordiway

What We Will See
Revelation 21:3-4, John 11:40

I sometimes overthink things, just ask my husband. How do I look? Is my makeup okay? Do you like this outfit? Maybe I should change.
Who is going to be at the party? What am I going to talk about? I'm so boring, everyone is funnier than I am. I'm nervous about going. Maybe I should stay home.
What book should I buy? What if I don't like it? Should I really spend the money on it? I guess I'll just wait until next week.

   Mrs. Kathleen A. Ordiway   


We go on vacation and I have to pack extra outfits, extra shoes, extra jewelry… just in case. I overthink.

When it comes to Heaven, I think we all overthink it once in a while, too. We're concerned about where Heaven is actually going to exist - do you think it's up there on one of those clouds? We want to know if the streets are really going to be made of gold. What are we going to wear? What will we do? We want to know who we're going to see - will we see our relatives, friends and beloved pets? We have our #1 question ready to ask Jesus as soon as He has time for us.

Why can't we just keep it simple? What did we hear in today's readings? I want to look at 2 points: in John 11, Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?" and in Revelation 21, John heard a loud voice from the throne, saying "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain..."

"If you believe, you will see the glory of God." What is the glory of God? It's the beauty of God's spirit, the beauty of God's holiness; it's God's perfect character, all that God is; it's God's goodness and love revealed; it's the radiance of God's power and splendor. God's glory is eternal; it inspires awe; there is no equal. And some day we are going to see it. We are going to be in the presence of God's glory!

Why worry about what Heaven is going to be like? Try, instead, to imagine, if it is at all possible, what it is going to be like to be in the presence of God's infinite, amazing, awe inspiring, everlasting, unequaled glory! Just imagining what this will be like will keep us too busy to worry about all our other questions!

From Revelation: "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain..."

While we exist here on earth, we suffer; we are in fear; we hurt in our bodies and in our hearts; we are confused, lost, searching. We are troubled; we worry; we mourn those we have lost. We want to believe the promise that our "troubles will last but a moment" (2 Corinthians 4:17-18, King James), but sometimes it's hard to see that future free of pain.

What we can believe, and from which can be comforted, is that those saints, those believers that have gone before us in faith, have found the time and place of "no mourning." Those we miss and grieve are in God's presence and no longer face fear, troubles, pain or sorrow.

Today we acknowledge those whom we have lost this year, holding fast to the promise that we will also be in God's presence, experiencing the peace of God.

We can believe that we are saints on earth - being continually transformed by the Holy Spirit, allowing God's presence to be a transforming impact on our lives - how we live, how we love, how we believe, how we become more like Jesus every day.

One day, the tender, comforting hand of God will reach toward us, will gently place a finger below our eye and wipe away the tears, the very last remnant of our very last tear and God will smile at us and God will lift us up and reveal His glory - that all-encompassing, everlasting love and power that will remain with us forevermore. What could be better than that?

 

Sunday, October 18, 2015 (Kathleen Ordiway)

Shotgun!
Mark 10:35-45

The rules of "Shotgun" are that the first person to call "Shotgun," after actually seeing the car, gets to sit in the front seat with the driver. The game becomes extremely frustrating for those that don't realize a game is about to happen… and it is usually one person that always starts the game and, therefore, wins the game.

No matter the number of siblings we have had, the number of friends in our lives, the children we've raised, all of us have witnessed and probably even participated in some form of "I Call Shotgun!"

At some point in our lives we have wanted to sit in the front seat; we had the desire to be the favorite child; we wanted to keep a special friend all to ourselves; we wanted to be the favorite. Teacher's Pet may have been considered a derogatory name, but haven't we all wanted to be the Teacher's Pet at least one time? Or to be the favorite teacher of our students?

I'll admit, I wanted to be the child chosen to sit on my aunt's lap, I don't like sitting in the back seat of the car, I want to be known as the "Cool Grandma," and I like to be chosen! I have called "Shotgun!"

In today's Gospel passage, we find James and John coming to Jesus and calling "Shotgun!" They want the front seat of the car, they want to labeled: "Favorite." In fact, before even asking, they say to Jesus that they want Him to do whatever they ask.

Before we go much further, let me tell you what happened in chapter 9. Jesus took Peter, James and John on a little trip and didn't invite the rest of the disciples. He took them up a mountain and while they were there, something pretty amazing happened - Jesus was transfigured! And, as if that wasn't enough, Elijah and Moses appeared! And, oh yes, better not forget the cloud that surrounded them and the voice that came from the cloud and said, "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!" They heard the voice of GOD!

To give James and John the benefit of the doubt, they probably thought that Jesus had just chosen them "Teacher's Pets."

So James and John ask Jesus for places of honor - the opportunity to sit at Jesus' right and left when He comes in glory. They still don't get what Jesus is about to go through to get this glory and they are filled with ambition.

So Jesus says, "You don't know what you are asking." He asks them if they are willing to drink the cup that he's about to drink, to be baptized as He will be baptized.

As we sing our final hymn, really listen to the words. '"Are ye able," said the Master, "to be crucified with me?" "Are ye able" to remember when a thief lifts up his eyes, that his pardoned soul is worthy of a place in paradise. "Yes, Lord we are able." Our spirits are thine. Remold them, make us, like thee, divine.'

Not understanding what is to come, when Jesus asks if they are able, James and John say, "We are."

But Jesus says, "You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant."

Two weeks ago we heard Jesus telling the disciples to let the little children come forward, let them approach Him. He told them that we needed to receive the kingdom of God like these little children. We need to have childlike faith and acceptance. We don't need to understand all the mysteries to accept them. We shouldn't be filled with a selfish ambition that pushes everyone else out of the way.

I tell my kids and grandkids that they can ask me for anything. I love them enough to listen to what they want or need, but to realize that sometimes the answer is going to be no. In verse 40, Jesus tells James and John that the answer is no. He doesn't ridicule them, or punish them for asking, the answer is just "no". We have to have childlike faith that that it's for our own good, because God is going to say to no to His children once in a while.

James and John are proof that even followers of Jesus can get off track, can head in the wrong direction. Each of us has gotten caught up in blind ambition and selfishness at some point in our lives.

Ambition isn't wrong. It helps us strive towards a better education, work towards promotions in our career, struggle to reach our goals.

When our ambition causes us to be self-centered, ignoring those around us, we become blind to the direction God leads. We risk losing the sight of what it most important - our loved ones: friends, family and all of God's children. We can become so self-absorbed that we miss the opportunity to receive the blessings God has planned for us.

Forgetting those around them, forgetting those whom Jesus was already serving, James and John think they are important enough to be set apart from everyone else. My goodness, by invitation, they witnessed Jesus' transfiguration; before following Jesus, they were successful fisherman.

They believe that where they've been and where they came from make them more deserving. They aren't realizing that the opportunity to serve others, as Jesus served, was actually a blessing.

Do we ever expect special treatment because we're Christians? Sometimes the special treatment we're offered is the opportunity to serve those less fortunate than us. Sometimes the special treatment is the opportunity to follow Jesus on to roads of trial. It's a challenge to be willing to sacrifice ourselves - to ask what I can do for others, rather than what's in for me.

Back to the scripture, John and James have called, "Shotgun!" Jesus has said, "No, not this time," and the other disciples aren't very happy about it. They are indignant, probably a little resentful and they're probably starting to find faults in John and James.

Jesus calls everyone together and reminds them what's important. He tells them that the rulers of the Gentiles lord their authority over them, but it's not that way with those who follow Jesus.

Those who desired to be great, must be servant to all. Whoever wanted to be first, must be slave to all. He said, "Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many."

In John 13, Scripture tells us that on the night that He was betrayed, Jesus ate with the disciples and then he rose from the table, took off His robe, wrapped a towel around His waist, poured water into a basin and then, on His knees, washed the feet of His disciples. Jesus then told them that they were to wash one another's feet as He had set the example. Right up to His death, Jesus reminded the disciples that they were to serve others, put others before themselves.

Being refused their request, it would have been understandable if James and John had gotten upset and stopped following Jesus, but they remained with Him. John is believed to be the loved disciple that stood with Mary at the foot of the cross. They remained with Jesus and received the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Instead of becoming bitter, they were a part of sharing the Gospel with the world.

James became the first of the faithful eleven disciples to die - killed by one of Herod's soldiers.

Listen to 1 Peter 5:1-4: "To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ's sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, watching over them - not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And, when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away."

The greatest within the universal Church are those who help others, care for others and silently do all those things that need to be done, preparing food and cleaning the building, rolling bandages and collecting clothing, receiving no recognition for doing what needs to be done. Your reward is knowing that you follow the example of Jesus Christ, putting others before yourself.

Our challenge is to become the person God wants us to be, which might not be the person we want to become. We are to find our place of service within God's kingdom. As James and John learned, we to too must learn that if we truly listen, we will hear Jesus' command to love and serve one another, not expecting other to do for us. We will hear the challenge to seek, to serve, to give with no expectation of return.

The next time you want to yell, "Shotgun!", remember the acronym, JOY: Jesus, Others, Yourself. When James and John asked to be first, to receive places of honor at Jesus' left and right, they weren't thinking Jesus, Others, Yourself. Joy, though, is what they received when they accepted the order of JOY.

"Yes, Lord we are able. Our spirits are thine. Remold them, make us, like thee, divine."

 

Kathleen Ordiway
September 13, 2015

The Tongue
James 3:10, Mark 8:36, Revelation 21:1-4

So last week I told you that school was back in session for me. I began yesterday and the class was wonderful. We talked at length about Isaiah, Daniel and Revelation. What I found most amazing about the apocalyptic stories found in these books are the pictures the words painted.

You know the saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words." Well picture this, these are the words from John of Patmos, from the visions he saw and recorded and are now found in Revelation 21:1-4 -
"And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea."
We can let our minds go anywhere we want, picturing where God would choose to live with us forever. A perfect place. A beautiful place. A peaceful place. It would certainly be what the Garden of Eden was intended to be.

"And I, John, saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband."
How does a bride come to her husband? All in white? Veiled until ready to uncover the beauty of her face to her husband? Her makeup done just so; her hair beautifully upswept? Maybe a necklace of pearls or diamonds around her neck? Jewels on her ears, her nails painted a soft color? She looks her best, no matter what we picture. And everyone will be there to see her arrival.

"And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God."
Wow! No one has ever seen the face of God, but one day all of us that live in God's presence will see the face of God! We will fellowship with God! Can we even begin to imagine what the face of God will look like?

"And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away."
Can you imagine God's loving hand reaching toward you and wiping the last remnant of a tear from beneath your eye? All tears, all pain, all sorrow, all death will be gone.

Of course there are many pictures of destruction within the apocalyptic books, but these are the pictures of great promise that each of can accept as our own.

James tells us that there is power to the tongue. He speaks at great length about the evil the tongue can do, the hurt it can cause, the curses, the destruction, but there's another power the tongue possesses - the power to bless others. Verse 10 says, "From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so." Stop cursing and get to the blessing!

If every one of us were to change the words that come from our mouths, rid ourselves of the negative words, the hurtful words and replace them with positive words, uplifting words, words that paint pictures of the promises of God - imagine how this world would change. If we allowed our tongues to utter the blessings found in Revelation so all can hear, imagine everyone accepting Jesus as their Savior!

The first change will be how we feel individually. If I share compliments rather than snide words; if I praise instead of tearing down; if I encourage instead of discourage; if I welcome, rather than turn others away - if I speak of how God is moving in my life, rather than complaining when things don't go my way - well, I'll be filling myself with joy, rather than sourness. And then that joy will spread!

If we continually praise … both God and those around us - there's no room for the negative. Don't you want to hear good, true things about yourself? Well so does your neighbor, your friend, your child, and so does God.

False praise serves no purpose, but praising God for all creation, for being ever-present in our lives, for directing our paths, for making a new, eternal home for us - that is what God wants to hear.

Praising those around you for accomplishments, both small and large; for their compassion, their kind words, their presence when that's what we're needing most - those words can give a person the knowledge that they are indeed valued by us. Everyone can use a boost to their self-esteem.

If we continually pray - there's no room for gossip. If our minds are filled with God; if we speak to God always, we can't be spreading rumors, spreading hurtful words, spreading secrets entrusted to us, spreading stories of things we should never have seen, much less spoke of.

If we continually think of our responsibilities to God and to others - there's no room for evil in our mouths. If we remember that God hears every word that comes out of our mouths, hears the words as they are being formed - before they are uttered - then we are less apt to allow those careless, evil words to leave our mouths.

No matter how sorry we are, we cannot take back the words that come out of our mouths.

Today we installed our deacons, trustees and officers. Each of you has a responsibility to use your tongues wisely to praise God, to encourage those around you, to be inviting to all, and to uplift this church, allowing us to continue our good works. Reputations are so easily destroyed when we allow raised voices to be used; harsh and cruel words to be heard. Remember, our names, our reputations, are precious and should be protected so that we can continue to serve.

But the responsibility goes beyond the leaders of this church. Every single one of us needs to understand the importance and power of our tongues. God's reputation will be tarnished when we allow evil to leave our mouths.
"From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. Brothers and sisters, this should not be so." Make sure only blessings flow from your mouths. We are all of great value to God and can be used by the Holy Spirit.

Beyond all of these words, and of much more importance to share - are the words describing God's perfect plan - that all of us should be gathered to Him; that all of us will know Jesus Christ as our Savior; that all of us will be in God's presence one day. These are the words that are most important to come off the tips of our tongues.

Mark 8:36 says, "For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?"
We can be the big man on campus, we can follow the world and fill our pocketbooks, we can tear down those around us so that we feel more important - but what does that gain us? Do you really want to have a few good years on earth, and then an eternity of suffering and gnashing of teeth? Not me. I want to be with all of you when we see the Face of God - and I want everyone to know what's available freely for the asking.


 

Kathleen Ordiway - September 6, 2015

What's in a Name?
Proverbs 22:1

I go back to school on Saturday, after having the summer off. For those who don't know, I am starting my 2nd year of a 3 year certificate program at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. I'm looking forward to class with mixed emotions. Saturday's class is one of my least favorite subjects. I'm not sure if it's because of fear for myself, for my family and friends - especially fear of the unknown. I know that I fear for my friends that aren't saved. And this book can be so confusing.

As I'm doing my pre-class reading and writing, I feel this panic - knowing that if I'm going to truly live by the reputation of my name, I have a responsibility pertaining to the book we're studying. I have to find a way to understand the un-understandable. I have to find a way to quell my fear and share my joy in the knowledge of Christ. If anyone has that feeling, you know I'm talking about the book of Revelation.

"But, Kath, we didn't read anything from Revelation today!" I know, but listen to the first words of Proverbs 22:1 - "A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches…"

Carrying the name of "Christian", we have a responsibility to let everyone know about Jesus Christ. In Revelation we are told that there will be false teachers. Some will declare themselves Christians, but teach in opposition to Christ. Some will blatantly, knowingly, purposefully teach what isn't of Christ.

Others will unknowingly teach against Christ's ways, believing they teach correctly. I think this is why new believers are not to be teachers… they are so excited about their salvation and want to share the Gospel with everyone, but they haven't read enough of the Word of God yet to understand.

We bear the name, "Christian," but do we wear it well? Are we careful in our interpretation of Christ's Words so that we don't lead others away from God? It can be so easy to make the Word say what we want to hear - and we find ourselves labeled "False Teacher."

Our good name, our reputation, our character should be valued so much more than gold, or status or popularity. We should be more concerned about our Godly-worth than our self-worth.

What do you think of when you hear these names?

George Washington
Abraham Lincoln
Moses
Harriet Tubman
Adolph Hitler
Ron Bowser
Mother Theresa
Lou Gehrig
Billy Graham
Judas Iscariot
Eleanor Roosevelt
John F. Kennedy
Mary Magdalene
Hazel Baxter
Jezebel
Florence Nightingale
Beethoven
Martin Luther King Jr
James Cody
George Frederick Handel
Helen Keller
Jesus Christ

Most of these names are easily recognizable, and if I didn't select your name, no worries - it wasn't meant to be a slight in any way. Most give us an immediate response - some very good, and some very bad. Their names carry their reputation, their character.

When we consider the many names of God: Provider, Healer, Father, the Almighty; and of Jesus: Redeemer, Messiah, the Lamb, the Shepherd - we quickly know their character and we believe in their name.

When our own names are mentioned, what do you think comes to mind? Are we considered compassionate? Generous? Honest? Faithful? True to our word?
Or, instead are we considered lazy? Inconsiderate? Selfish? Sloppy? Not to be trusted?

I did one of those silly Facebook surveys that has you look at 6 sets of pictures and then supposedly tells you your character when you are done. I was just killing time - I don't recommend putting any kind of trust in something like that, but I like what it supposedly deduced from my choices.

It said that I am gentle. It said that when others see me, they know that I can do great things. It said that I have a modest demeanor, which makes others love me even more. It said I treat others just like I would like to be treated; that I love all living beings and try to do as much as possible for other people. It said that I am friendly and loyal… and there should be more people like me in this world.

Of course, this Facebook survey knows absolutely nothing about me - but I would love to be known as gentle, like our Gentle Savior.

My son, Tyler, said that "reputation" is just other people's perception of our character. Our character is what we truly are. Nico, my 15 year old grandson, said, "You can have all the money in the world, but it's your reputation that shines through."

My granddaughter, Chloe, said, "A good reputation is about our actions and what we do. We ruin our reputation by doing bad things. I feel that I have a good reputation because I try to do good things." She's 11, and she gets it.

It takes a lifetime to create our reputation. We're born a clean slate and develop our reputation by how we live our lives … and it reflects on Jesus Christ.

Has anyone ever put in a good word for you? Maybe to help you get a job, to volunteer somewhere, to join an organization, or maybe to introduce you to your future spouse? It gives us something to live up to. "If Betty recommended me, then I need to live up to all she said about me. I don't want to hurt her reputation. The person she talked to about me won't be very pleased if what she said about me seems to be a lie."

When we are known to be a child of God, it carries even more responsibility. Does what you do give God glory? Our lives have to be built on God's truth. That's how we become of good character, that's where we get the best reputation.

I've mentioned my atheist co-worker a few times. He frequently gives me things to dwell on. The other day he told me about a healing support group for new atheists - people who have turned to atheism because of the damage done by so-called Christians: harsh words heard from these Christians; threats made; compassion withheld; judgments made.

Didn't Christ eat with sinners? Welcomed the tax collectors? Christ met them where they were. He saw and met their needs. He saw them as people before passing judgment. He loved the sinner and encouraged them to turn away from their sin and accept what He had come to offer them. Is this the way we live? Or do we judge, push away, close doors? Our name, "Christian," carries so much responsibility.

Every word from our mouths, our every action, should glorify God. That thought should come before every decision we make, everything we ever do.

Our actions effect our families. I'm sure we've all heard comments about a misbehaving child: "Don't her parents correct her? Doesn't his parents teach him anything?"

Our actions effect our church, too. If we aren't welcoming all who enter those doors; if we are judging strangers before knowing their true character - what are we saying about Christ, who they come to meet in this sanctuary?

If we were the first reflection of Christ to a stranger, if we were the only Bible someone had to read, the only contact someone had with God, if our behavior were the only lesson to be learned about Christ … would we be leading others to Christ or turning them away? Would we deserve to be in God's family, to have the name "Christian?"

Next week is Rally Day and we are going to be installing our officers, our deacons and trustees. Each of us - whether you are on a board, have a title or worship within these walls - represent First Baptist Church, and our actions, our reputation, our character, our name effects our church and our ability to serve our community.

In Acts 6:1-3, many were complaining to the apostles because they believed the widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. The twelve called all the disciples together and said they couldn't neglect the ministry of God's Word in order to wait on tables. So the men and the women were told to select seven men to take on the responsibility of feeding the widows. The disciples said that these men should be known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. In other words, they should have a good reputation, be of good character, have a good name - they should be filled with the Holy Spirit and their lives should give God glory.

Who best to select these men than those who lived with them and knew them best? Nowadays, here at First Baptist, we women are included in those who can be chosen, too.

How we, as a church, behave toward others creates the reputation of the church, a reputation that we will pass on to all those who come after us. If we wish to continue in God's service and worship, we must consider our behavior. It takes years to create a good reputation, a good name, and moments to ruin it.

So back to my class on Saturday… In Revelation, chapters 2 and 3, we find seven churches; some are given encouragement because of their reputation; some are given a bit of encouragement, but are also reprimanded for a few ways they've gone astray; some are criticized because they have portrayed themselves as being what they are not - they have tried to hide behind a good reputation that was unjustly earned - but it can't be hidden from Christ.

Then we hear these promising words of Jesus, found in Revelation 3:5, "He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels."

And then again, in Revelation 3:12, "He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name."

We will be given a new name - His name - when we overcome the temptation of sin, the temptation to ruin God's good name - and we will be kept from the hour of trial, giving us eternal life. Verse 15 goes on to tell us that we cannot be lukewarm - neither cold nor hot for Christ. God knows our works - our reputation, our character.

Proverbs 22:1 - "A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches."

It's all in the name… in the Name of our Savior, who we should strive to be like every moment of every day.


 

Living Bread
John 6:51-58, Ephesians 5:15

Today's sermon should have been entitled: "Warning: Grossness Ahead." You are now forewarned!

My husband, Toby, and I watch a lot of crazy food shows, crazy travel shows, crazy survival shows. This past week we watched one program, "Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern," where Andrew went to Sardinia to try Casu Marzu - a traditional Sardinian sheep milk cheese, known for containing live, squirming maggots, and he ate the cheese and maggots, too.

Another episode had Andrew stopping at a food stand where the shop clerk recognized him. The clerk offered him a living crab, that he immediately killed and ate raw.

Then there's a show on the Weather Channel, "Fat Guys in the Woods," where 3 men are brought out into the wilderness, whether it be the desert, a swamp, the forest, hot weather, cold weather. This week the men ate a roasted scorpion - which they said was absolutely nasty; bugs - which at least contained protein; and cooked rat - which they said wasn't half bad.

Tyler told me about a few other horrible sounding foods. There's surstromming, Swedish fermented fish in a can which has an absolutely horrible smell. It's supposed to be opened under water, or at least covered, so that you don't smell it so strongly, and then it's diced up and eaten with mashed potatoes, onions and sour cream.

Then there's balut, a delicacy in the Philippines, a duck embryo, still in the shell, that's boiled alive and eaten whole. Followed by ortolan, probably the worst one - which is an old French custom that is, thankfully, no longer practiced. This tiny bird was force fed fatty food and then drowned in brandy. It was then roasted whole and eaten that way, bones and all. A person would cover their heads with a linen cloth to preserve the aromas and, some believed, to hide from God - to shield themselves from being seen in such a decadent and disgraceful act.

I warned you - grossness.

So now, we're going to my sister-in-law, Dawn, who raised a pet pig for her 4H project as a child - and it was indeed a pet! And then her dad says it's dinner time… and it's her pet pig!

Now imagine, you're sitting in a crowd, listening to a new prophet who has been doing some amazing things. He starts talking about this new way to live, in fact, it's the way to live if you want eternal life. He tells you that he wants you to eat your pet pig… or roasted scorpions, or maggot cheese, or rat. This is the only way to live. What goes through your mind?

"It's a disgusting thought." "There is no way I'm going to do that." "I'd rather die first." "I'll stick to fruits and vegetables."

So I think I've gotten everyone sufficiently grossed out - you've lost your appetite, you wonder why you allow me to be up here, and you can't imagine where I'm going…

John 6:51 - "I am the living bread that came down from Heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." And then the Jews start arguing amongst themselves, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"

So Jesus continues, and tells them, "Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink."

I don't care how gross eating a roasted rat is, there is no way I'm going to eat a man's flesh and blood. A cannibal I am not.

We have to think about Leviticus law, too. Chapter 7 verse 26: "And wherever you live, you must not eat the blood of any bird or animal." And there are numerous other references throughout the book of Leviticus.

Deuteronomy 12:23 says, "Only be sure not to eat the blood, for the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the flesh."
And in Genesis 9:4, "But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it."

This is what these people had been taught from infancy and Jesus wants them to throw all of this away and eat his flesh and blood. Now, we understand what was really going on here, but they did not. This was extremely offensive to them. This was forbidden.

In Zechariah 11:9, God tells Zechariah how evildoers will be treated - "The flock detested me, and I grew weary of them and said, "I will not be your shepherd. Let the dying die, and the perishing perish. Let those who are left, eat one another's flesh." The eating of human flesh was associated with evildoers.

This was blasphemy, a violation of their core beliefs. Just as the snake tempted Eve in the garden, so, too, did Jesus seem to be tempting them to eat a forbidden fruit.

This was so horrible to Jesus' listeners, that by the end of chapter 6, we will find that many of His followers abandoned Him.

Sometimes what Jesus has to tell us is difficult. Those listening to Him just couldn't grasp what He meant, and were repelled by His words. This wasn't Jesus' intent, but He also didn't want to mince words - He was simply telling the truth.

In a sermon on this passage, someone quoted George Barna, an author and the head of a research group. Barna conducted a survey asking, "What is the phrase you most long to hear?" The answers, No. 1: "I love you." No. 2: "I forgive you." … Both things that we long to hear from Jesus! No. 3… "Dinner is ready!" Love, forgiveness and food for our wellbeing. The 6th chapter of John repeatedly has Jesus telling us, "I am the Bread of Life." He is providing dinner.

George Barna also said, "Jesus didn't die so we could fill auditoriums, He died so that lives could be transformed."

Jesus told His followers that they must eat of the Living Bread to have eternal life. What's wonderful, though, is that it's not the actual bread that we eat when we commemorate the Last Supper that saves us; it's the juice or wine that we drink, representing His blood, that unites us.

It's all about accepting Jesus Christ into our lives - ingesting Him - and becoming united with Him; having a transformed life. We are truly united when we believe in Jesus' death - which is the sacrifice of His flesh - and His resurrection; and we devote ourselves to living as Jesus requires of us. Jesus' life has to become our own.

Three times within these verses Jesus says that when we eat this bread we will live forever. We will be like God, having eternal life. If we are to be like God, we are called to be God-like - we have to let go of those things in our lives that tie us to the humanity within us that would make us reject God's Son, and therefore lead us to an eternal death, rather than everlasting life in Christ.

We heard in Ephesians 5:15-16, "Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil."

We are what we eat, we become that which we allow into our lives. If we allow evil into our lives, we pick up those characteristics, and become like evil. When we allow good in our lives, when we "eat" all that is of Jesus Christ, we begin to resemble Him; our thoughts are like His thoughts, our actions are like His actions, our love is of Him.

Jesus offers Himself to us. We are invited to enter this new world, filled with God's gifts of love, of grace, of truth. It's scary sometimes. We're told that we have to give up what we've been eating - the immoral, the sinful - and fill our plates, to overflowing by the way, with the goodness that is Jesus Christ.

It's confusing. It requires a new language, a new way to communicate. Jesus' followers saw this when He said they were to eat of His flesh and drink of His blood.

We learn that sometimes what we read in our Bibles is to be taken literally - this really happened, this is what we are supposed to do, this is what will be our future.

We learn that sometimes it's a parable, a story - this didn't really happen, but I'll tell you something in a way that you will understand, using things of which you are familiar, so that you will know what I expect of you.

Sometimes what we read doesn't seem to fit in the Bible - and then we sit down with others and talk about the passages and we realize how they affected those of the time and how they affect us. A good example is Song of Songs, also known as the Book of Solomon - which talks of the love between King Solomon and his bride, but also teaches about the sanctity of marriage and God's love for us.

So this passage in John requires a new way communicate that which God wants us to understand. We are receiving an invitation from Jesus to enter this world where we will have eternal life; and we are hungry and we are thirsty for this new world.

What's wonderful is that we are continually fed this Living Bread, so that even while we are here in this life, we know that we are filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, filled with the love of God, led by Jesus Christ who came to call us to the Table.

So what's this food and drink that we are offered? It's the Word of God found in our Bibles; it's the Message of Salvation. The Gift of Salvation, given to us freely because of Jesus' sacrifice; it's the love offered to us by all those who surround us, who follow Jesus, lifting us up and encouraging us - just as we are to lift up and encourage others.

We've been invited to the table to eat the Living Bread and we must make sure that all those we encounter know that the invitation is for them, too - for many hunger and thirst for all that the Living Bread represents, but they don't know there is a seat for them; they don't know how simple it is to accept the invitation; they do not even know what is keeping them from the table.

There's enough room at the table for everyone; there's enough food to share. It's amazing what a person will do when hungry. Choose the Living Bread; choose Jesus Christ. Amen.


August 23, 2015

Called to the Armor
Ephesians 6:10-20

If anyone has watched the gossip portion of the news, the news that covers the lives of celebrities - we've heard this week that Christians sin. Surprise!

I'm sure that to most Christians this really isn't a surprise, it's not news, but to others, to those who want to attack us and point their fingers at what they call the absurdity of our faith, it's fuel for their fire, for their attack. A mob-mentality, a feeding frenzy, takes over. Another reason to despise Christians, and we find ourselves defending our faith rather than living it.

We sin. We stumble. We sometimes fall - flat on our faces. But what's wonderful about God, about our faith, about our salvation, is that when we fail we can turn to God and admit our failings and a hand is reached down to us and we are lifted back up … and we are forgiven. We all sin, but as we fight to become more and more like Jesus, those sins become fewer and farther apart.

We also have to remember the "awesome" responsibility of being a Christian, as in "the extremely daunting" responsibility. Others look to us and see God.

We've heard the stories of being looked at and judged because we call ourselves Christians. All that we do, both good and bad, reflects on God. We want people to look at our lives, to witness our joy, and want what we have. We want them to desire to "taste and see that the Lord is good." (Psalm 34:8) We pray that Jesus Christ will be seen in us. We must know that becoming a believer means that we will be judged and we have to be aware of our lives.

BUT, being a Christian means that we believe in forgiveness for all the terrible things we've thought and done, forgiveness for all the things we would never dream of doing ourselves; forgiveness, repentance and welcome. Jesus gave His life for us - all sinners - so that our lives could be transformed, lifted up and joined together in salvation.

Jesus didn't condemn the adulterous woman. He said, "Go and sin no more." He says the same to us. We also read in Matthew 7:1, in the King James Version, "Judge not, that ye be not judged." Continuing in the Revised Standard Version, verses 2 and 3: "For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?"

Okay, that speck that the news has shown us this week seems pretty big, and it's blinding, and it gets in the way of the Word of God and the works performed in God's Name, but Satan tries to use our sins to take God's glory away. We have to be ready to fight Satan, not attack our brothers and sisters. We have to uplift, encourage and forgive. We have to lead back to the fold those who have lost their way. We have to be Jesus to those who don't know God's Word. We have to be aware of the magnitude of our responsibility and follow Christ, treating others as He treated those around Him.

All of this makes this morning's message even more important.

The Holy Spirit gives life and strength. Strength to fight our enemy - and our enemy is Satan. He is shrewd. He is all evil. He attacks our faith. He uses people and ideas and things against us. He causes us to be divided in anger. He creates chasms in our churches. He causes true Christian fellowship to be attacked.

Before we can stand against him, we need to know how he works, how he divides brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, friends and neighbors. We need to know that flaming arrows are shot at us by all that is evil. We will be tempted by false doctrine and by the desires of the flesh. We will be called to battle against wickedness.

God has given us a perfect armor to protect ourselves against Satan. We have been given truth, righteousness, the Gospel of peace, faith, salvation and the Word of God. Paul tells us to arm ourselves and to stand firm, to stand strong, to stand our ground, to "stand against the devil's schemes." It's a spiritual battle. We stand, because Jesus has already won the battle! We stand on that promise.

In Ephesians, Paul tells us to be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power, not our own which sometimes fails us, putting on the full armor of God. If we truly understand the power that God gives us, we could do amazing things.

Faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains. We need to believe in that power! I read this example: I cannot run 65 miles per hour, but when I get into my car, I can drive 65 mph. When we put our faith in God, God's power becomes our power.

I so badly wanted to use a felt board up here, bringing memories of our Sunday School classes and those lasting truths that we were taught, but time just didn't allow - so instead I present you with a lovely work of art that I found. ( peggyapl.blogspot.com/2012_02_archive.html - peggy apl seeds)

So what is that armor?

First we are told to buckle the belt of truth around our waists. I think about the boys who believe wearing their pants below their butts is cool - they need a belt to hold up those pants, to prevent them tripping on their jeans!

What are these truths held close to us by the belt? Over simplified: God is real. God loves you. Jesus died for your sins. God is on your side.

When we hold on to truth, it will hold us up, keeping us strong against the attacks of Satan. Our decisions should be based on the truths found in God's Word. When we start our day filled with the truth of God's Word, we are prepared for every decision we face.

John 8:31-32 tells us, "So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, 'If you continue in My Word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.'" When we know God's truth, when we live by God's truth, we won't be tripped up by the battles of life. We are to tell the truth, being honest, always.

Next comes the breastplate of righteousness. The breastplate is a piece of leather armor meant to protect all the vital organs within our torso, most importantly - our hearts.

Simplified, we are to do what is right and good. We aren't righteous on our own - that's something given to us by God. Isaiah 64:6 says, "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags" and Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." That's why Romans 5:17 gives us such a wonderful promise, "For if, by the trespass of one man [Adam], death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ." We are not righteous by following the law, but by our faith in Jesus Christ.

With God's power, we are to live a life of righteousness. If we do not allow sin to creep into our lives, there will be nothing on which Satan can grab. We cannot be brought down by guilt. We can stand straight and tall, glorifying God.

What woman doesn't like a great pair of shoes? But they'd better be sturdy and able to support us. Our whole bodies depend on the health of our feet and the fit of our shoes. Roman soldiers had nails in the bottom of their sandals so they could stand firmly, with no worrying of slipping.

So next we fit our feet with the shoes of readiness, of the gospel of peace. We have to be ready to go wherever God sends us, and what we place on our feet determines our ability to go forth to tell the Good News of God's amazing love for each of us.

We must be ready to stand up for what we know is true; to flee from places we shouldn't be; to do anything to serve God; to share the truth of God's peace and love with all those God places in our path. We are to be well grounded in God's Word, in the foundation of our faith. We are to speak peace, not anger or arguments.

Tyler just received a fantastic bow from my dad. I know he'll never be shooting arrows at a person, but it helps me imagine a flaming arrow being shot from Satan's bow towards me.

The shield of faith will protect us from anything Satan shoots our way. Our faith, our belief in God, gives us God's power. God is our Protector. God's protection is perfect and permanent. It never fails. Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Our faith lets us stand in battle no matter the odds we face. Without faith - we cannot serve God.

Our faith saves us; it heals us; it becomes stronger and more beautiful as time goes by. Not only does our faith protect us from the flaming arrows flung our way by Satan, it also puts those arrows out.

We read in 1 Peter 3a-5, "by His great mercy (God's) we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you (each of us), who by God's power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." We are shielded by our faith in God.

Now, for many years, it's been the law that anyone under the age of 14 must wear a helmet when riding a bicycle and all motorcyclists must wear a helmet on NYS roads. Helmets protect our brains and save lives.

The helmet of salvation is what saves us from eternal death. In Romans 1:16, we hear, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes." Salvation is a gift from God. Revelation 7:10 tells us, "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne" and in 1 Peter 1:9, "For you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls."

When you believe in Jesus Christ - you are saved. You are a child of God. Satan has already lost the battle; death is defeated and nothing can ever take you away from God. This is the promise of our Savior.

When we have accepted Jesus Christ, we are assured of our salvation and Jesus lives within our hearts. The helmet of salvation protects our minds from the attack of Satan. He cannot worm within our minds and make us doubt.

Lastly, we are to take up the sword of the Spirit. Even if we are standing our ground, rather than going forward in battle, we still must have something to fight back against Satan's lies. The helmet protects, but the sword is strong, too. Our sword is God's Word - the Bible. When we know God's Word we can take the lies that Satan throws at us and slice them to pieces.

When Jesus was in the desert, being tempted by Satan, He used God's promises to fight back. So can we. In Matthew 4, we hear of Jesus' battle. Verses 3 and 4 read: "And the tempter (Satan) came and said to Him, 'If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.' But He (Jesus) answered, (quoting Deuteronomy 8:3) 'It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'"

We must learn and retain God's Word and we can do this by the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. If our memories aren't quite as good as they used to be, have your Bible handy.

Colossians 3:16 tells us to, "Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly." Satan knew Scripture, too - he just didn't obey it. If we believe in God's promises, if we live by God's Word, if we obey God's command - we are protected. Read God's Word. When Satan attacks, we will have just the right words to protect us because the Holy Spirit will bring those words back to our minds.

And we are to pray. Pray always. Pray for each other. Pray with all kinds of prayers and requests.

We are to continue our communication with God, continue to be connected. Prayer destroys our enemy. In Matthew 26:41, Jesus told us to "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."

Jesus told us to be persistent in our prayers, just as the widow was persistent in the parable found in Luke 18:1-8. The judge finally gave in because she wore him out.

Paul tells us to pray for all those with special needs (even if we don't know those needs), to pray for those who fight their own demons - for we all have our own demons, our personal struggles, addictions, obsessions or traumas - and to especially keep him in prayer, that whenever he opened his mouth, words would be given to him so that he could fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel. This is how should we should pray for each other and also for those who stand at this pulpit.

Be bold, be strong, for the Lord your God is with you and with God's power, we can stand firm against anything Satan might throw at us, against the forces of evil that try to divide and destroy us! May you stand on the promises of God. May you stand up for Jesus.

 

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