“Now What?”

Romans 10:5-11

Matthew 14:22-33

Rev. Dr. Frederick A. Young

Pastor of Youth, Education and Outreach

 

Prayer:  God, Give us courage, strength, peace and Faith.  Amen. 

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            When I arrived in Cape Cod in July with a friend of ours, Michael to meet up with Kara and Michael’s husband, Scott, it was mid-day and after settling in, the four of us went to dinner, and then off to evening worship at the Craigville Colloquy where Kara and Scott had spent their week.  The theme for their gathering of pastors and theologians surrounded the leap of faith of Martin Luther, celebrating the 500th Anniversary of a Rebellion that would turn into a Reformation. 

            Later, the four of us returned to the cottage we shared together, tea was set on the stove to steep, and we sat talking about their experiences.  The conversation turned to Kara and Scott’s own brush within an impending watery grave earlier that week.  While on the beach, both decided to swim out to a small platform about 25 yards from shore.  It seemed close enough.  The waters seemed calm enough.  As they ventured out, the waves began to get stronger and the force of the water kept them from reaching their short destination.  What appeared to be a brief swim to a relaxing sunbathing spot, turned into a battle to survive.  When they reached the platform, both clung to it, out of breath and barely able to move.  The jerky movement of platform on the water only added to their nausea and exhaustion.  They eventually made it back to the shoreline, bruised and spent. 

            Artist and Theologian, Jan Richardson beautifully depicts our Gospel, especially within verse 31, “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him,” within her poem entitled:  Blessing that Bears the Wind, the Wave

That we will risk the drenching
by which we are drawn
toward the voice that calls us,
the love that catches us,
the faith that carries us
beyond the wind, the wave.

            What rocks your world?  What in life leaves you asking, “Now what?”  Often it is in the midst of the most challenging times that we see God’s presence most clearly.  Why is that?  Do we only seek God when we need the Divine’s touch or help?  Perhaps these moments of distress remind us that our faith is built on knowing, no matter what, God is there.  That our God not only wants to be in relationship with us, but invites us, draws us closer with every breath we take. 

            The first disciples, those tossed about passengers, knew all too well that it was not always easy to be in relationship with Jesus.  When we define our faith as being in relationship with Christ we too, like those early followers, aren’t’ certain where things are headed, and are often confused and unsure about the future.  One of my heroes in ministry, Pastor Mark Yaconelli, has shared:

If this was the experience of those closet to Jesus, why should we assume our experience of the Christian life would be any less ambiguous?  In response to the disciples’ misinterpretations and doubts, Jesus continually told them to “listen.” Repeatedly Jesus told his friends and followers to turn their attention away from their own fears and plans in order to focus on what he was saying and doing. 

            So it is with our scriptures today which point to chaos in some way.  Paul informs the Romans that they have dismissed Christ all together as the ultimate law, and Jesus defies the laws of nature, gliding his way across the stormy sea.  Both passages speak of faith as a verb, not a possession to acquire.  Faith is an action, not a jewel to be worn around the neck. 

            Within the handbook for the mentors of our confirmation program, here at Christ Church I have written the following:

The church is the place where we come to a realization that we are not traveling through life all alone.  Young people need the chance and a time and place to be able to investigate the mysterious territory of faith, but before they don detective hats, youth need to be able to express what they believe right now.  A wonderful place to begin this research is to take a closer look at what their congregation claims they believe. 

What is that we claim we believe as a church?  What is that we claim about our faith?  We would all like to believe that faith lives and breathes in the community that encompasses us.  Right here.  Right now.  But in order for that to happen, we need to own what we believe. 

That we will risk the drenching
by which we are drawn
toward the voice that calls us,
the love that catches us,
the faith that carries us
beyond the wind, the wave.

What is it that leaves us standing in this sanctuary, dripping wet from that which draws us?  What do we claim as we walk out the door and into the streets, that changes not only us, but also the community around us?  Do you hear the voice calling?  Are you listening? 

            You know, it is true that God is with us in the difficulties, responding to our fears and cries for help.  God’s presence is there offering reassurance, hope, and grace.  But just as Jesus called Peter out of the boat, hoping his faith would keep him afloat, God has hopes and dreams for us and for this community of faith.  God calls us to whole-hearted lives of courage and hope. 

            I asked you last week to take home the image of the loves and fish.  I hope that you were able to identify all of the ways you witnessed God using you or someone else to care for the needs of another.  If you remembered to bring them back today, I invite you to place them in the baskets during our time of offering.  What were some of the things you discovered about how God is using you? 

            (Allow time for sharing)

 I would imagine that these were moments in all of our lives when we needed to step out in faith and up for someone else.  These examples and our scripture passages today do not only speak about ourselves, but tells us a little bit about our God.  No matter what it is that reminds us of our need for God, God still responds with compassion and support. 

            Consider these words from Pastor and Teacher, Matthew Skinner who once said:

When Peter steps out of this boat, he enters a tumult.  His motive isn’t to escape from threat, for he goes into a situation where the threats will now look different, into a place where Jesus is defying and reordering the assumed boundaries.  Isn’t this what history’s most faithful people have demonstrated?  Sometimes the most turbulent places are also “thin places” where God breaks through.  

            My friends, we are here because God called us here!  If the disciples were in the boat in the first place because of a Jesus’ plea, then we in Christ Church because God has called us to be here.  Have you ever thought about it like that?  You are a part of this congregation not because you shopped for us, and found that Christ Church meets your needs, but because God has called you into ministry with Christ Church. 

            Do you remember what I shared last week about the identity of Christ?  That Jesus is Emmanuel, “God with us!”  Jesus’ compassion emulates God’s love for us.  That Christ’s healing and miraculous deeds represent the character of God.  This story about Jesus un-conventionally joining his companions is no different and indeed highlights what kind of God he represents. 

            English Author A.A. Milne best known for creating the Winnie The Pooh series, wrote of two favorite characters…

“Piglet crept up to Pooh from behind.  “Pooh?” he whispered.  ‘Yes, Piglet?’ ‘Nothing,’ said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand.  ‘I just wanted to be sure it was you.’” 

As the Messiah, Christ is charged and empowered by God to shepherd and care for God’s people.  What is it then that makes us turn our attention and our hopes to other things and other assurances?  Perhaps you feel caught at times, between faith and doubt.  This story reminds us that FAITH speaks of realities that are beyond what we can see and touch.

            Again, I ask, what is it that we as a church believe?  What is Jesus asking us to do?  How is the Still Speaking God gathering disciples together in the life of this congregation, to have faith with a focus on Christ? 

That we will risk the drenching
by which we are drawn
toward the voice that calls us,
the love that catches us,
the faith that carries us
beyond the wind, the wave.

Amen.  

 

 

Prayer for Peace….

Gracious God.  At times, we lose track of who we are.  We forget that you are the God of everyone!  Our church buildings are a comfortable place for us to worship you, but like Peter, there are times that, you motion us to come nearer to you, to leave our own security for the sake of another. 

This is one of those times, God!  We want to stay within the familiar, but hatred and violence has erupted, and once again, you beckon us to respond. 

This is 2017, and in our time and place, there is no room for intolerance, injustice, or inconceivable hatred toward anyone of your children.  What gives us the right? Certainly not you, and definitely not your Son, Jesus, who you sent to us once before to put an end to such separation. 

We pray God for those in Charlottesville who had the courage to stand in opposition of hatred and we pray for those who felt to need protest.  Where do we go from here, God?  How can your Realm be seen through us as we are called to action in your world. 

Remind us who and whose we are! 

Amen. 

 

 

An Abundance of Left-Overs

“An Abundance of Left-Overs”

Isaiah 55:1-5

Matthew 14:13-21

Rev. Dr. Frederick A. Young

Pastor of Youth, Education and Outreach

 

Prayer:  Generous and Compassionate God, melt us, mold us, fill us, use us.  Amen. 

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            As summer continues to surround us with its warmth and beauty, its carefree gentle breezes as well as powerful burst of electricity and rushing water, the reality the busyness of the fall can bring has begun to cloud over our “to do lists” and back yard picnics.  Summer celebrations and gatherings are indeed a time of lavish abundance, plenty of food and drink, and warm hospitality.  Both the Isaiah and Matthew texts speak of the Divine’s ability to make from nothing, a feast with plenty of leftovers… a reality that no money in the world can buy.

             Many meetings and conversations here at Christ Church have turned toward abundance and the proper use of our own.  Should we continue to hold on to what we have been so graciously given, or should we share our wealth with others, gifts given today out of the generosity of past generations who sat in the seats we currently occupy?  Is our church’s Endowment Fund a blessing or a curse?  Tough questions.  Perhaps not so hard to answer when considering today’s scripture lessons. 

            The disciples were willing to send thousands of people away to find their own supper, a task next to impossible considering most had no money, not to mention they were out in the middle of nowhere.  Jesus said to them, “No, You Feed Them!”  And then, our Teacher, took meager gifts and provided enough for all to be filled.  No one went away wanting. 

            It is important to mention what transpired before this scene.  Matthew’s text begins with “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.”  Jesus had just learned that King Herod, murdered his cousin, John the Baptist; ironically, at a feast celebrating the King’s birthday.  Upon hearing this news, Jesus retreated.  So what compelled him to leave the solitude?  Compassion.  Not just, love, but Divine unconditional love.  The Gospel of Matthew opens claiming that Jesus is Emmanuel, “God with us,” so the compassion, which drew Jesus from his seclusion, is the very same character of God, whose presence Jesus bears. 

            So, out of compassion, Jesus healed the sick, tended to their needs and simply shared his presence.  When evening approached, he feed them… all the while knowing that Herod, surrounded by riches and the wealthy, arranged the head of a great man on a platter overflowing with more food than he had to feed thousands.  Matthew is indicating by these conflicting scenes just what kind of God Jesus represents.  Jesus used the disciples, ordinary people like us, to tend to the needs of thousands of men, women and children and in so doing, depicts what happens when you move from a worldview of scarcity to one of abundance; “Thank you God, for these loaves and fishes.”  All ate and were filled! 

            Recently, I have been having trouble sleeping.  Mainly a result of not being able to turn off my thoughts when my head hits the pillow.  These past few months have been a whirlwind to say the least.  When I go to bed, I am physically exhausted, but my mind is wide-awake.  It is hard to turn off the events of the day, the conversations had, the work to completed, the hope of tomorrow’s accomplishments.

            I can understand the need for a retreat away from it all, and just as much can see how compassion can lead to continued presence and service.  I find myself asking, “What do I hunger for?”   Even though I have gained weight over the past year, I am still not satisfied.  Not filled.  But remaining in this community of faith helps me to stay connected with Jesus and with all of you as we work together to help with the needs of others.  This feeds me.  I hope it feeds you too.  However, I am still going to ask, “What do You hunger for?”  Are we present at the banquet for the powerful that results in death or sitting on the picnic blanket for the needy that results in overflowing abundance? 

            In her piece entitled, Blessed, Broken and Given for Service, our Penn Central Conference minister, The Rev. Dr. Monica Dawkins-Smith laments:

Like the disciples, we want unmet needs to go away but Jesus tends to draw near to them. When Jesus looked at the crowd he responded with compassion, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat."  Jesus changed the focus from what the disciples wanted to do, to what he wanted them to do.

 

Food, and sharing our food, are powerful in many ways.  Nourishing our bodies as well as spirits.  At the core of hospitality lies in sharing what little we have with another.  Whether it be food, or shelter or simply our companionship.  A sense of community nourishes us in many ways.  Jesus is there, meeting our most basic human needs, our deepest hungers.  Pastor Monica continues… 

When Jesus gave bread to the disciples to feed the crowd, it was a foreshadowing of what can happen when we participate. As followers of Jesus, we too are called into active ministry to meet human needs.  May it be so.

            Today we can remember the story of the Israelites feasting on manna from heaven, and we continue to gather around the table and remember what Jesus did with the bread on that hillside, as well as on boats, walking by the sea, and sitting with children.  The words, take, bless, break and give are simple but powerful and apply to our lives just as they apply to the bread we share with one another.  

            Most church communities would say that their church “needs” more money, more members, and more people willing to help.  Christ Church is no different.  As we continue to talk about our own Journey to Generosity and what that looks like for us, we continue to wrestle with similar concerns.  But our culture here is beginning to shift from an attitude of need into a broader scope of generosity.  How we might be able to offer more mission and outreach.  How we might be able to invite more by assuring everyone can access all areas of our church in spite of their own personal or physical needs.  We are in conversation about how we can open our doors even wider to include all of God’s children. 

            My friends, the only way we can see all these things through to fruition is by taking up Jesus’ assumption that beyond a shadow of a doubt… wherever there is plenty of God there will be plenty of everything else.  Still abundance is there, and somewhere, so is the generosity. 

            One thing is for sure, all we have to do is compare the story of two very different meals.  One, a Birthday Party thrown by the birthday boy himself, a feast for his cronies, ending with a murder.  The other, on a hillside where many gathered not expecting food, but encouragement and hope.  A meal with different hungers fed and a much different experience of power and community.  What is that draws people to Herod, and what attracts them into the company of Jesus?  The answer to this question can change the world, even today.

            You all should have been given a sheet of paper with an image of loaves and fishes.  I would like for you to take this home with you.  As

you go about your week, consider all of the ways you witness God using you or someone else to care for the needs of another.  Bring these images back with you next week, and place them in the baskets provided during our time of offering. 

            Our summer time gatherings do indeed provide us with an abundance of food and people to share it with.  How will you make sure that others know they too are welcome around the table?  What will you do for yourself to ensure that you too are fed?  How can we take these two very different stories about food and turn them both into sustenance for all?  Amen.   

 

 

Fixings for Faith

“Fixings For Faith”

Romans 8:26-28

Matthew 13 (selected verses)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rev. Dr. Frederick A. Young

Pastor of Youth, Education and Outreach

 

 

 

 

 

129Your decrees are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them.

130The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.

131With open mouth I pant, because I long for your commandments.

132Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your custom toward those who love your name.

133Keep my steps steady according to your promise, and never let   iniquity have dominion over me.

134Redeem me from human oppression, that I may keep you precepts.

135Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes.

136My eyes shed streams of tears because your law is not kept.                                                                                                                                                                     Psalm 119

 

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            If it is true that God is in all things and all things are within God, then we do not have to wait to meet our Creator in heaven, because our Creator is all around us right here.  The word from the ancient text read today all point to our relationship with God.  Not just mere communication, but transforming conversations.  They also invite us to consider how we might be in conversation with others of our own community of faith about the nature of God and how God is identified in the world.

 

            Paul invites the Roman Christians into a hope of a way of life that

they do not yet see or understand but will acquire if they are patient.  All creation is connected and we are heirs to its beauty, and when we live our lives in prayer to God, such beauty is acquired even in the midst of encompassing oppression.  Jesus, in Matthew’s remembrance, promotes the hope attained through a unity, which happens through diversity.

            I started this message reading the timeless and beautiful words of the ancient Psalmist and now I invite you to listen to the excluded verses of the Gospel lesson read earlier. 

Matthew 13:36-40

36Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.

 

            Nestled within Matthew’s parable describing God’s Realm, the writer reminds the reader of the rest of the world.  Even though at times it may seem the world around us excludes the church and her principles, God encourages us to look with eyes full of hope.  Not much has changed in this respect for thousands of years.  Our ancestors struggled to see God in the midst of the oppressive dominate culture.  As they struggled to build a church and their faith, they did so, engulfed by immoral seed sown by powers at odds with God’s vision for the world. 

            The message I want us to take home today is the reality that throughout our own lives, there are moments when we are the wheat and when we are indeed the weeds of discontent.  Contention not meant to separate but to draw us closer together as children of God.  Christ’s words are an assurance that we are in this life together, that God is a God of every living thing.

 

         Listen to this beautiful poem written by a young teenager from Canada,  Daniela Luna.     

 

Uprooted

I was a young but strong tree in my home,

growing sturdy.

Taking the vitamins from the dark rich soil

to bear fruit of the sweetest type.

Until I was transplanted,

told to leave.

I grabbed the soil harder with my roots

saying this is my home,

my only home.

But even a strong tree like me can be moved.

I took one last look at the place I knew so well,

getting farther away every second

until I was no longer home.

I wanted to stay,

I had no choice,

I was uprooted.

 

            These words remind me of the picture on this morning’s bulletin cover.  I remember when Kara painted it, still grieving the passing of her Father, and my Mother.  It depicted for her, the words of the hymn, “In the Bulb, There Is a Flower”, which we sang at my Mother’s funeral and have sung together here at Christ Church on many occasions.  Today, it becomes a visual for our imaginations.  It depicts possibilities that lie within each one us.  The rich and warm hues, tell our story.  Portray how with every turn of life, we too can be uprooted, misplaced, yet with

patience, faith and hope, can continue to flourish no matter where our roots take hold. 

 

            Think of all of the different ways in which Jesus described God’s Realm… The mustard seed, the yeast mixed with wheat, treasure hidden in a field, pearls in the ocean and caught fish of many kinds in a net.  All were common elements of the ancient world’s daily routine.  All of these parable stories are used to speak of a faith so real, and so full of possibility. 

 

         As a child I remember thinking that parables were a bit strange. Looking back, I realize that it was probably because I did not understand the makeup and culture of Jesus’ time.  Parables are mysterious...left alone, they can teach us something different every time we hear them, speaking across great distances of time and place and understanding.  If we think, we understand the parable we are probably mistaken.  However, if hearing what Jesus tells in this story makes us a little uncomfortable or challenges us to transform our norm, then ,maybe we are getting closer to the owning the truth. 

 

            Theologian and friend, Bruce Epperly once claimed:

“Life is ambiguous and so are we.  We are holy, but also wholly ambivalent at times.  We are saints who also are sinners. Faith stems from recognizing the interdependence of life, and seeking to embrace the whole of our lives in light of God’s grace.” 

 

            We are the seed of God.  At times, this is the mantle we wear proudly around our necks, other times we brush it under something large hoping others will turn a blind eye.  But no matter the circumstance, God is in that place and it is sacred.  This is our hope whether we own it or not. 

 

            Have you ever been on a hike in the woods and come upon a pile of rocks along the path?  Rocks, obviously carefully selected stacked one on another.  These rock piles are referred to as, Cairns.  Mostly used as markers along our journey.  But they can also be used as temporary markers of Thanksgiving to God.  Tributes erected with the intent to be added to and if you stumble upon one that has fallen, makers to be rebuilt.  All throughout the Bible, we hear about piles of rock that are used to exemplify the presence of a focused God.  A prime example is when the Israelites were instructed by Joshua to pick up a stone as they left the Jordan River and then instructed them to make a pile as the passed into the Promised Land.  This was their thanksgiving altar to the Lord upon the end of their dessert wandering. 

 

            Worship Team C has been talking a lot about Cairns.  It is our intention to use these rock markers to represent our various life journeys throughout the church and in the sanctuary beginning in September.  One has already appeared in my office.  As I look at, I am reminded of the many possibilities that continue to turn into ministries here at Christ Church. 

 

            The pile of rocks with flowing water outside my office window may not be an altar built to God, but it is a place of remembrance and of envisioning new hope.  Many stand gazing upon our church’s Memorial Garden throughout the week.  People will park their car and enter the garden or walk in off the street.  I will forever remember one little boy who told his mother, “Wow, this is pretty.  I like all the bubbles, but where are the free coins?” 

 

            All of God’s children need our care.  Some ask questions about what they want… while others seek solutions to having their needs met.  Whether it be coins or food or even weed or wheat, our power and wisdom comes from embracing the whole, not denying the parts.  In what way is God revealed to you?  How do you experience the Creator’s presence?  What image speaks to you about God’s realm?

 

            God is in this place, at this moment.  Our faith is built on this hope.   God is in the mixture of wheat and tares; flowers and weeds.  The Divine appears in the ordinary. Wherever we are, God is present.  This is what our texts tells us today, and our prayers should come from this truth.    

 

130The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.

131With open mouth I pant, because I long for your commandments.

132Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your custom toward those who love your name.

 

I grabbed the soil harder with my roots

saying this is my home,

my only home.

But even a strong tree like me can be moved.

 

“Wow, this is pretty.  I like all the bubbles, but where are the free coins?”                                                                                                              Amen!

 

 

 

Is it Still Good?

In the darkness, something was happening at last.  A voice had begun to sing.  Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself.  There were no words.  There was hardly even a tune.  But it was beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. 

It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it. 

 

         Then two wonders happened at the same time.  One, was that the voice was suddenly joined by other voices.  More voices then you could possibly count.  They were in harmony with it but far higher up the scale: cold, tingling, silvery voices.  The second wonder was that the blackness overhead: all at once, was blazing with stars.  They didn’t come out gently, one by one, as they do on a summer evening.  One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out – single stars, constellations, and planets brighter and bigger than any in our world.  There were no clouds.  The new stars and the new voices began at exactly the same time. 

 

         Far away and down near the horizon the sky began to turn grey.  A light wind, very fresh, began to stir.  The sky, in that one place, grew slowly and steadily paler.  You could see shapes of hills standing up dark against it.  All the time the voice went on singing.  The eastern sky changed from white to pink and from pink to gold.  The voice rose and rose, till all the air was shaking with it.  And just as it swelled to the mightiest and most glorious sound it had yet produced, the sun arose. 

 

An origin story written by C.S. Lewis in his book, The Magician’s Nephew. 

 

         In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. 

 

         I love a good story, but every good story needs a great introduction to entice the bibliophile to want to continue reading.  I cannot think of a better introduction to the entire Bible then the opening words of Genesis.  This one sentence has many characteristics of a great book:  A strong main character, a statement about life, originality, power, redemption out of chaos, and the ability to leave the reader forever changed.  And let’s not forget, intrigue.  Everybody loves a little intrigue. 

 

         The great 20th Century theologian, Karl Barth once said, "The miracle is not that there is a God.  The miracle is that there is a world."  When we read and hear the Creation story in the book of Genesis, how our world and the Universe which contains it was created from nothing, it is indeed miraculous that we exist.  Yet we do, and our faith rests in the knowledge that the universe and all its inhabitants exist because God spoke us into existence.  Creation is a gift from God, and it is good!  We are good!  

 

         In 1985, Carl Daw, Jr. entered a hymn competition held to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Women’s Missionary Union of the Southern Baptist Convention.  His award winning text is now a familiar hymn in our New Century Hymnal.  Listen now to the first verse of, “God Our Author and Creator”

God our Author and Creator, in whose life we find our own

Make our daily witness greater, by our lives make your love known.

Help us show how love embraces those whom fear and greed down-trod;

In all yearning hearts and faces let us see a child of God.


         When I hear the story of how the world came into existence, I am both humbled and scared.  Proud, because God thought to include the likes of me alongside the great mountains, whales and camels, and red wood trees; and frightened, because God trusts that I will be able to care for the whole of the Divine Vision.  In the center of creation, God placed a garden and then tenderly put human beings there too, deeming us the caretakers and stewards of God’s work.  That’s a lot of responsibility, and I am not sure I am up to it?  How about you?  

         But wait, there’s more… when God was finished, God proclaimed that all of creation was good!  Has there ever been anything more beautiful, more inspiring then this ancient story about creation, us, and more importantly, about who God truly is? 

 

         Today, the first Sunday following Pentecost, is Trinity Sunday.  The day when we celebrate God in three persons… The Father/Mother, the Son, and the Holy Ghost… The Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.  So you might ask yourself, “Why focus on the Genesis text on Trinity Sunday?”  This text was chosen to be read on this particular Sunday in large part because some have found traces of the Trinity within Genesis 1:26, Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness”  Perhaps this language suggests the plurality of God’s nature.  We see Jesus as the Word, and the Holy Spirit in the image of the wind across the water.  In Proverbs 8 we hear about Lady Wisdom, Sophia, and the presence of Wisdom in creation. “Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth—when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil. When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command,

when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.” In any case, as representatives of God, who creates all things and deems them good, it is our responsibility to steward God’s good creation with wisdom and compassion.  

 

Annie Dillard, in her book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, laments:

"In nature, improbabilities are the one stock in trade. The whole creation is one lunatic fringe. If creation had been left up to me, I'm sure I wouldn't have had the imagination or courage to do more than shape a single, reasonably sized atom, smooth as a snowball, and let it go at that."


          But God did not stop with the atom, and as a result we have been given the best gift!  The Genesis story is a story of the birth of life itself and that life comes forth at the command of a God who creates it all out of sheer joy and delight.  I invite you to think about how this world came into being and how we were birthed into it.    We all carry individual origin stories passed on from our parents about how we came to be, what kind of chaos we caused coming into this world, and how we changed their lives forever.

 

         There have been many who have written papers and books on the chaos of creation’s beginnings; how the swirling bits of the universe settled into existence.  I can only imagine.  But I can see how time and humanity have returned us to such chaos.  Dare I go there…why not, Climate Change!  We all know about how our world is physically changing around us, so I am not going to delve into the how and whys, but I will ask:  Does God care that we are altering the planet that God created and loves and sent the divine son to make whole once again?

Within the Book, The Healing Wisdom of Africa, Malidoma Some’ writes this intriguing introduction to the healing power of nature: 

 

Nature is the foundation of indigenous life.  Without nature, concepts of community, purpose, and healing would be meaningless.  The idea of a person born with a purpose, a purpose that needs to be supported by an active community presence, and the idea of working with subtle energies’ for balance and healing would be only grandiose notions in the absence of nature as the playground, as the school where the children can play and study.  Our relationship to the natural world and its natural laws determines whether or not we are healed. 

 

Yes, God does care.  And I picture that God mourns every time the natural balance of life is broken.  Our belief that humankind is at the center of creation, that anything and everything occurs because of our human needs and comforts have brought us to this time and place in a world that seems broken.  

Genesis 1:26, Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness”

 

         What a powerful image.  Humans are created in the image of the Creator.  But if our faith is based on this thought then this means that our actions mirror those of God’s if we truly are the stewards of creation.  So as caretakers how can we help the earth heal?  This is a loaded question these days.  Just about every culture has its own creation narrative.  A story of their existence.  As those who believe in the creation story and those who feel drawn to more scientific approach, we all can agree that something miraculous took place at our beginning.  Whether you identity as a creationist or a big bang theorist, getting caught in the how of our being is not the point as much as it is about how we are treating that Creation. 

         Within the book, The Gift, a, collection of poetry from The 14th Century Persian Poet, Hafiz, we hear…

Only that illuminated One

who keeps seducing the formless into form

Had the charm to win my heart.

Only a Perfect One.

Who is always laughing at the word two

Can make you know of Love.

 

         The world and all of its splendid creation is not separate, but in fact, one.   Amen. 

 

_______________________________________

 

Works Cited: 

Ladinsky, Daniel.  The Gift:  Poems by Hafiz. Penguin Compass.  England.  1999.

Some’, Malidoma.  The healing Wisdom of Africa.  Penguin Putmann Inc.  New York.  1999.

Daw, Carl.  The New Centaury Hymnal.  The United Church Press.  Cleveland.  1995.

Dillard, Annie.   Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  1975.

Pentecost

PRAYER:  Come Holy Spirit come, and fill our lives with the message and mission of Pentecost.  Amen. 

        Most of you know that Pentecost is one of my favorite times of the church year.  I love to see the Red Paraments adorn our sanctury.  The balloons and banners help to highlight the presence of the Holy Spirit in our worship and throughout our lives.  And, I always look forward to the Rite of Confirmation, a culmination of the last two years of the spirit filled journey of our teens and mentors.  It is truly a time of joyous celebration. 

        Pentecost is the day that we celebrate the birthday of the Christen Church.   The outpouring of the Holy Spirit, made evident by the tongues of flame and rushing wind, creates a community of believers empowered to share the Good News of Jesus with the world.  Pentecost is the anniversary of a time when the disciples went forward and preached and Jews from all over the world, gathered in Jerusalem for a great party and when they heard the disciples preaching in their own language, many came to believe that Jesus was and is God’s chosen Messiah.  Amid our festive red and white, we celebrate the coming of the Spirit and the Birthday of the church.

        The Confirmation journey at Christ Church is designed around a journey of transformation it is a walk that claims confirmation is a repeatable rite of the church; that there are multiple times in a person’s life in which they would like to re-affirm their faith.  In other words, the laying on of hands, inviting the Spirit into our hearts does not happen once, but can occur over and over again along our spiritual journeys.  These are the moments when we find ourselves back at the font of life.  Therefore we shouldn’t be surprised that the Season of Pentecost is never over!

        A Pastor friend of mine once shared a memory he holds dear from his own confirmation.  “I will always remember what was shared during the sermon” He continued, the Pastor offered: ‘Remember the Pentecost message is really about maintaining our connections to our brothers and sisters from the churches of the past while nurturing our relationship within our current family of God.’”  His point, the church is connected by the generations which preceded it as well as those which will continue its mission well into the future.

        Listen to the words of a hymn from our New Century Hymnal, God, When I Came into this Life

God, when I came into this life, you called me by name;

Today I come, commit myself, responding to your claim.

 

You give me freedom to believe; today I make my choice,

And to the worship of the church I add my learning voice.

 

Within the circle of the faith, as member of your cast, I

Take my place with all the saints of the future, present, past.

 

In all the tensions of my life, between my faith and doubt, let Your great Spirit give me hope, sustain me, lead me out

 

So help me in my unbelief and let my life be true; Feet firmly planted on the earth, my sights set high on you. 

        The confirmation journey of our teens and mentors have been scrolling the screen since our time together today.  I’m sure you have been touched by the physical transformation of our confirmands over the years.  Perhaps you have been blessed by reading their statement of faith, at this point along their journey. 

        The author of the hymn we just heard, talks about owning what we believe today in order to recognize the impact of those who have gone before us, and those who continue to travel with us on our journeys.  But the composer also talks about accepting our place among all God’s people.  Listen to some of what our teens, who are to be confirmed claim they believe.

I believe that Jesus is always there with us in any situation.

Holding grudges on others is not Christian-like and we should forgive the sins of others who have sinned against us. Forgiveness is not always easy, but it is possible with the help of God.

We believe that God is the loving creator of all things that we know in life.  God is present in all living beings. Through God’s eyes everyone is equal and through God’s love those struggling will find strength. 

Jesus Christ is the head of the church, which is his body, composed of all, living and dead, who have been joined to him through saving faith.

I believe that no matter what happens, Jesus will always love me and everyone.  I believe that the power of God is unlimited.  I will look for the presence of God in every person.  As a Christian, I will do my best to accept people as they are and to help others. 

        Our connections run deep with those from Christ Church’s past, and if we are sincere about being a Pentecost People, our outreach and relationships will continue to strengthen future generations at Christ Church. 

        Jesus has sent us the Spirit to advocate for Him in his absence.  What does Jesus… the way he lived his life, his death, his resurrection… tell us about God?  Through our Birthday celebrations of the Church we acknowledge that the breath of God is at work, here and now.  Through scripture and prayer, music and proclamation, experience and relationship, in service and mission:  God’s holy breath challenges us, comforts, clarifies, and even scares us at times. 

        Pentecost reassures us that God’s Spirit is still at work.  Whether the original followers or the next generation of disciples, Christ’s mission continues in this world.  What part will you play?  As people of Pentecost, God invites us to experience the fullness of life intended for everyone.  To breathe deeply, take in the Spirit, and be changed. 

Fire, wind, and humble Galileans speaking persuasively in many tongues were dramatic signs that God was doing a new thing that would transform the lives of all those present and far beyond, in time and place.  Maybe it was a little frightening, something people would want to explain away, or to contain with cynical comments that blamed it all on drunkenness.  But this much is true, many lives were changed on that first Pentecost. God IS still speaking, how will this community of faith respond to God’s call and, empowered by the Holy Spirit, how will we live out such a covenant?  Amen.  

 

 

The Advocate

When folks I meet discover I am a Pastor, often, I can guess their reply, “Oh, that’s nice!  I find I’m more spiritual than religious.” It is either that or my favorite, “Did you become a Pastor, Online?”  Conversations are developing throughout our society about the difference between being religious and being spiritual.  Many staking no claim to a particular sacred tradition.  Instead, identifying as spiritual. 
          What is the difference?  “On first glance, it may seem like the terms are similar, but in the view of religious traditionalists and spiritual seekers the words describe opposing points of view.  The term “religious” typically refers to a loyalty to a particular faith, its doctrine, and system of beliefs, like the United Church of Christ.  Following the rules or rituals, participating joyfully in the leadership and body of the church.  Worship is a corporate celebration.  While “spiritual” allows for more freedom and can include ideas and practices from various faith traditions, finding God alone or in small groups connecting to the spirit through

meditation or prayer.  Worship may be silent and solitary. 

          One common characteristic of someone who identifies as “spiritual”, at some point in their lives they have likely experienced negativity or even oppression from a religious body that claimed to be their community of faith.  Just like the views of a particular religious tradition, the views we adopt as our own become very important to us.  They shape who we are, they give us stability and a foundation.  But even the strongest of us needs a community in which to share our strength.  The church is where the religious and the spiritual come together to worship, each bringing their gifts, passions, and love to the table.  The church is where the spirit touches everyone. 

          Although, millions of people claim to be a part of the community of Christ, within the Gospel lesson we hear about only handful who surrounded Jesus and called each other friend.  Theirs’ was a community of sojourners.  Their intimacy, a result of routine and constant contact with one another.  After all, these companions had left life and family and blindly followed a man they hardly knew, but trusted tremendously.  Therefore, you can imagine when Jesus told them in the upper room on the eve of his crucifixion, that he would be leaving them, they were horrified. 

          Philip Sheldrake, in his book, Spirituality, claims:  “Our ultimate guide to goodness is not abstract codes of behavior or moral rule books but the presence within us of God’s Spirit.”  Jesus shared with his friends that he was not going to leave them orphaned and alone, but explained he would be sending an Advocate to be within and around them. The Spirit of God would now be their companion along the way.  But this did not dull the sting of Christ’s departure.  How would they live?  Who would lead them?  Where would they go? 
          Through their fear of being left behind by the man who was their teacher and friend, the disciples struggled, once again, to understand what Jesus was saying.  “Look, I am going to die, but you are not going to be without me.  Someone else will be sent to be with you.”  Hearing this from Jesus was as foreign to them as the multiple other times their Teacher tried to explain his impending death.  In hindsight, we understand that Jesus is referring to the Holy Spirit.  That the same spirit that is within Him, that is Him, will now dwell within them.  Jesus, who is with them now in the flesh, will always be with them, will always be within us.  In other words, Christ’s disciples,   which includes us, need not fear loneliness because this Advocate is the key to community. 

          Theologically candid, Henri Nouwen has said:

Community springs forth from solitude, and without a community, communion with God is impossible.  We are called to God’s table together, not by ourselves.  Spiritual formation, therefore, always includes formation to life in community.  We all have to find our way home to God in solitude and in community with others.  

The word advocate means to come alongside another.  So, the word community is an action word, meaning to take the time to walk with another on their journey. 

Jesus equipped his early followers with everything they needed to walk alongside each other, while he walked another way. 

          Just yesterday in Quarryville, Lancaster County, the KKK, driven by fear and hatred, held a demonstration.  In response, coming alongside their neighbors, the local chapter of the NAACP and folks from all across Lancaster County gathered at the Lancaster Court House in a prayerful vigil of peace and neighborly love. 

Lancaster Rabbi, Jack Paskoff wrote this letter to his congregation and members of the Lancaster community.  Here are a few of his words:

Dear Friends:

Yes, this weekly message is very early and very urgent. Aside from timing, I cannot see ending this week, as I always do, wishing you only a Shabbat of peace and blessing, because it is truly a request that we make this a Shabbat of activism and solidarity, a Shabbat to raise our voices and to stand together, as we defy racism and hatred.

As they periodically do, the KKK will be gathering in Quarryville for a cross burning on Saturday. Working with experts in the field of developing appropriate responses, our local chapter of the NAACP has decided against an approach that confronts directly—the Klan thrives on the media attention that such confrontations create. Instead, we will be gathering with people of good will, of all faiths, races, and beliefs, at a Day of Unity titled "Rise! Embrace, Envision, Empower." This event is a call to the Lancaster community to stand for a whole and just multiracial community.”

Our voices must be included in a resounding statement that there is no place for hatred here—in our county, in our country, or in the world. (pause…)

Blessed are those who know their need,

For theirs is the grace of heaven.

Blessed are the humble,

For they are close to the sacred earth.

Blessed are those who weep,

For their tears will be wiped away.

Blessed are the forgiving, for they are free.

Blessed are those who hunger for the earth’s oneness,

For they will be satisfied.

Blessed are the clear in heart,

For they see the Living Presence.

Blessed are those who suffer for what is right,

For theirs is the strength of heaven.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

For they are born of God!

          For me, accessing the Spirit does not come easily.  Because from a young age, I had been taught that you need to work for anything and everything.  Nothing comes to you in life, free.  This makes it extremely difficult to accept things like free grace, and the unconditional love of God.  Yet, this is the message we hear from scripture.  This is the message that I have often shared with you. Being in this place, this safe space with all of you helps ground me enough to let go and let God be God!  To let the Spirit take my hand and lead me for a change.  Being alive in the Spirit to me means accepting my part in God’s story.  No matter how hard it may be, showing up to receive God’s love in order to share that love with another.  For my faith

should be based on such love and grace.   Jesus claims, “If you love me, follow my commandments!”  Rabbi Jack invited an entire community to show forth the love of God!  To be a community of love and grace. 

          At this time in my own life, hearing the term, orphaned, has taken on a new meaning.  Having lost three of the four of our parents over the past two years has left both Kara and I feeling a little abandoned.  I can relate with the disciples and their feeling of abandonment.   How about you?  What in life or death has made you question God’s presence?  What challenges have kept you from following Christ’s commandments?  Do you open yourself up to allow the Spirit to touch you? 

          I recently read a blog by the Rev. Dr. Anna Hosemann-Butler, simply titled, Orphaned?

Interesting that Jesus uses the word "orphaned" in this week's text, as it is such a potent metaphor for what he was about to do, which was to leave his beloved disciples. 

He surely knew that his death would—and rightly so—strike fear and terror in those who loved him, those he loved so closely and so well, so sacrificially.

He surely knew they would be left vulnerable.

He surely knew they would panic.

He surely suspected they would turn and run for their own lives, abandoning him the very moment things got rough.

He surely knew all of these things but loved them anyway.

Yet his words in this passage reveal none of his own sense of loss and panic, his own sense of being orphaned. He speaks only of love of God, the coming of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who will never leave. 

Whether they heard him or not, he only speaks words of hope.

Jesus made a promise then that is still alive today. We get from him—straight from the horse's mouth as it were—what it means to live faithfully in the midst of life, and that is to live as though we know with full assurance that we are loved, no matter what.

          My friends, what is your voice?  How will you let the Spirit stir you to action?  Whether you are religious or spiritual, or a little bit of both now is the time to put what you believe into action.  Now is the time for all of us to love Jesus, by keeping his commandments.  Now is the time to allow God’s Holy Spirit to touch us, change us, and love us.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they are born of God!  We are not alone… thanks be to God!  Amen.

___________________

Sources Cited:

Sheldrake, Philip.  Spirituality:  A Brief History.  Wiley-Blackwell.  2013.

Nouwen, Henri.  Spiritual Direction:  Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith.  HarperOne.  2006.

Newell, J. Phillip.  Casa de Sol Blessing of Jesus. 

Paskoff, Jack.  Letter to his Congregation.  Lancaster, PA.  2017.