Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Psalm 34, Matthew 15 Even You and Me (Canaanite Woman)

March 15, 2020    Even You and Me Pastor Carol P. Taylor

Psalm 34:15-21

15 The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,

And His ears are open to their cry.

16 The face of the Lord is against those who do evil,

To [c]cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.

17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears,

And delivers them out of all their troubles.

18 The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart,

And saves such as [d]have a contrite spirit.

19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous,

But the Lord delivers him out of them all.

20 He guards all his bones;

Not one of them is broken.

21 Evil shall slay the wicked,

And those who hate the righteous shall be [e]condemned.

22 The Lord redeems the soul of His servants,

And none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned.

Matthew 15:21-28   

The Faith of a Canaanite Woman

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Our Psalm is lovely, isn’t it?  And so appropriate for these Unusual times in which we find ourselves! 
THe Lord is against evil..and hears the cries of the people...and is near the broken hearted…these are words of hope and promise, words that everyone needs to hear and remember!! 
Did you catch that “none of his bones will be broken”..

It is a prophecy of the crucifixion of Jesus. 
It’s also a promise of God’s protection,..
But stuff does happen to god’s people.. Illness, injuries, awful things can happen in just the blink of an eye. But God is with us thru everything. I wish i could say that once we take Jesus as lord we will have wonderful, prosperous, happy, lives with no issues...but that is not the case. I was deeply disappointed when i learned that for myself! But God, hears us, and is compassionate, and cares deeply. And even weeps… remember John 11.34, Jesus Wept...I think that is one of the most powerful sentences ever written. 

Our NT lesson contines this promise of GOd’s care for us...all of us!! 


TYre and Sidon were Gentile territory. Remember in these times Jews would sometimes go way long distance out of their way to not enter unfamiliar places. This is mostly due to the ROman Empire dislike of Jews ..they worship their One True God NOT the roman emperor!! The Jewish people felt oppressed by Rome and by the local governors who carried out the Emperors decrees and demands. THe Jewish rules of cleanliness and to not associate with other religions also applied here. But Jesus (how often do we say that? BUT JESUS  chose more than once to go on thru these other towns and had interesting things happen when He did! 

This encounter challenges us. Jesus seems to be harsh with this woman!! SHe just wants her daughter to be made well!! Why would she come to him, being a canaanite herself? 
This story comes after a series of tales of Jesus’ traveling, teaching in parables, healing many, many people, feeding thousands at one time! Walking on water!! These stories got out! People were starting to come from MILES around to hear him and to be healed. The woman even calls him Son of David!! She is familiar with the Jewish teachings! 
But Jesus says he is come for the people of Isaral first...
But author NT Wright-one of the premier NT scholars of our time-- puts it into perspective. Wright explains that in Jewish tradition, Jesus' message was for the Jewish people first.. Wright: The prophet Isaiah, in line with several psalms and other biblical passages, had spoken of God’s coming kingdom as the time when (a) God’s promises and purposes would be fulfilled, (b) Israel would be rescued from pagan oppression, (c) evil (particularly the evil of oppressive empires) would be judged, and (d) God would usher in a new reign of justice and peace.

We see those messages in our Psalm don't we! 

SO Jesus initially says he can't help her...he can not go to her home and heal her daughter.  But she is persistent isn't she! 

The use of the term “dog” here is disturbing. It was a derogatory word for gentiles. (hes not calling her the b word)  it goes against the grain to think of Jesus saying this to her! 

But she replies...saying even dogs eat the crumbs from the children's table.

 And Jesus is familiar with gentiles way of life too. He grew up learning the trade of a carpenter, and would have done some traveling around to work. If a tradesman was very good at his job, he’d get work from other folks, not just his immediate circle. So Jesus may well have done carpentry for Gentile business or even their homes. (and well, he’s the son of God, he would know stuff anyway) 

SO Jesus knew that Gentiles sometimes kept small dogs as pets. Jews didn't at this time in history. I suspect it was all those cleanliness laws.. Dogs are fun but they are NOT clean…

So she replies that even dogs eat crumbs. EVEN a Canaanite can get a crumb of healing from the Son of David!! 

 ..and Jesus marvels at her faith
He says your request is granted and her daughter was healed at that moment. Even tho it was ahead of schedule...this healing happened, and tells us that even an ‘outsider” is worthy of the love of Christ! 

The message of Jesus is a bringing together of heaven and earth. That hope, and compassion are for all of God's children.  (even you and me)

Jesus came first to the Jewish people, to share this message, and then spread it to all ‘nations and peoples.” heaven and earth came together in Jesus, to share a message of love and unity. 
This is a message we need to hear today and need to share!! 

I wish i could say we’ll pray this virus and all viruses away from us. I believe in the power of prayer, BUT I've also taken a lot of science classes and know that viruses just do their own thing. But we DO pray and we will continue to do so!! God hears prayers. 

I admit this virus stuff is scary. Older adults, which is most all of us, are vulnerable. But we will take care of ourselves and those around us. We’ll stay informed, and use common sense. 

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers, you will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers ― so many caring people in this world." - Fred Rogers

WE Can be those helpers!! We can help others, and this is a powerful means of helping to keep ourselves on an even keel. 

We’ll check on neighbors and friends. We can offer to run an errand for a senior, or make sandwiches for the children next door who are home all week. We can order a gift card to a local restaurant or business, to help their income stream now, and use the card later on. We will pray for our community and the world, even if we aren’t sure of what to say, because the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. 

A lot is uncertain. but we have hope because of Jesus! no matter what the next couple months brings we know the Love of God and have Jesus Christ as Lord and savior. Jesus died on the cross for each of us! And on that beautiful Easter morning the women found the tomb was empty. Jesus has risen from the grave to defeat death and sin. We have hope because of this. Heaven and Earth came together in Jesus and come together again when we live and share our faith with others. Amen

Friday, May 8, 2020

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Gathered and Grateful

 November 24 2019    Gathered and Grateful     Pastor Carol P. Taylor

Psalm 67

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A psalm. A song.

1 May God be gracious to us and bless us
    and make his face shine on us—[b]
2 so that your ways may be known on earth,
    your salvation among all nations.
3 May the peoples praise you, God;
    may all the peoples praise you.
4 May the nations be glad and sing for joy,
    for you rule the peoples with equity
    and guide the nations of the earth.
5 May the peoples praise you, God;
    may all the peoples praise you.
6 The land yields its harvest;
    God, our God, blesses us.
7 May God bless us still,
    so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.

This is most likely composed by David the great king of the Hebrew people, ancestor of Jesus. It was a hymn of deep praise..remember the Psalms were written to be sung! 
Note that it begins and ends with “Us” God Bless US...then moves to addressing God. it’s gathering the thoughts of the assembled people to remember their purpose..to worship and praise. “We gather together…” 
Then we worship! The focus is now on God--The God of justice, mercy, and kindness, and bountiful harvest! Nations in the Psalm...means all people...it’s sometimes translated gathered nations...peoples brought together. 

This is a recurring theme in the bible..one of the reasons that some of us pastors here in Beloit work to bring other churches together, through our work with organizations, and with our Community thanksgiving services that we began 5 or 6 years ago, and through the Lenten worship services. Real community happens when we begin to build relationships. We build relationships when we remember that each of us is a child of God. Sometimes on the surface we may not seem to be alike, but once we begin to get to know each other, we do have more in common than not. 

This week some of us were talking about how one can feel close to God in nature. Seeing the beauty and variety of nature is deeply inspiring. 

God loves and cares for all of God's creation, and provides abundantly!! To love means to give! 

And so we remember and honor..and revere God so that all the peoples of the world may know, and worship God as well! 

Psalms are also a model of prayer for us today :D  

In our Sunday morning bible study we’ve been studying the Lord’s prayer, which Jesus taught us to pray.. This came about because in our discussions for several weeks in a row the topic of prayer came up. Over the years I have done many types of Bible study and discussion, including studies on prayer… and it’s a topic that nearly everyone can use more of! We all need prayer, we all can pray, and -if we’re honest with ourselves, we all feel that we could pray more effectively, more deeply. The Lords’ prayer, that we pray every Sunday is indeed a model prayer. Jesus modeled prayer in other ways too, especially in the Gospel of John chapter 17. I commend you to read this whole chapter...jesus prays first for himself, then for his disciples, then for all believers. Let’s look at that prayer for all….

John 17  Jesus Prays for All Believers
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

You see how Jesus’ prayer ‘spreads out?” himself, then the disciples, then those who come to believe through the message shared by the disciples! “That all may be one”  

Jesus, God’s own son, God personified, here on earth in the flesh (Incarnate) prays for all believers throughout the world be ONE. to be united...the apostle paul likened the body of believers to the human body, that each of us is an essential part...a hand, an eye, an ear, each serving their very own purpose and working together with all the other parts. 

Community and prayer--major themes in Scripture..

THis week some of us were talking about feeling close to God in nature…We seem to feel more connected...there’s science behind that...we actually do feel better due to fresh air, chemicals released by plants & trees into the air, the effect of natural light and even the scents of flowers, grass and so on. The sights of sky, patterns in clouds and water also stimulate areas of the brain in beneficial ways. 

Nature inspires us, helps us to be one with God. 

with the inspiration of nature, how God creates so much variety and it all works together. Variety-diversity in creation is important and necessary! When we look at the big picture of nature, we begin to understand that diversity is essential to God’s plan. God always sees the big picture! 

God’s creative expression and love of variety extends to humans too. 

But over history, we humans have struggled with that variety. 

that was a self protection back when humans were first on the earth! But now with better understanding, we are learning that it takes diversity to make up a whole--in nature and in people!

So all peoples...all gathered nations are to be brought to know and love God through Jesus.  And Jesus prays for us to be united--to be ONE as he and God are one.   

This weekend is the debut of the new movie about Mr Rogers, starring Tom Hanks. Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister, and collaborated with child psychologist Margaret McFarland. The program Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, was critically acclaimed for focusing on emphasized young children's social and emotional needs, handling topics such as death, sibling rivalry, school enrollment, and divorce.
Rogers TV work was his pulpit! he once said his ministry was the "broadcasting of grace throughout the land." He taught children (and the grownups who watched) that you are loved just the way you are. and that so is everyone else. He celebrated cultural diversity. 

Rogers seldom spoke about his faith on air. He believed that teaching through example could be just as powerful as preaching.
I personally think it may be MORE powerful! Sharing gratitude, finding even one little thing we have in common at this moment..is building relationships, sharing love and compassion, that is a part of living out our faith.
Rogers also used the medium of television very well, speaking directly into the camera, so that he came across speaking directly to his young audience. Never speaking down to them, never proseltyzing, just saying ‘Isn’t this something special to share right now?” reaching out nicely, to make a connection, even thru the camera. He shared his values of kindness, and empathy and caring for others. 
Actor Tom Hanks, who portrays Mr Rogers, is also widely known as a nice person, he readily admits to not being perfect, but says…”I feel as though I am a joyful person. And I think if I'm nice, it's because I am trying to share a sense of joy that I find a natural commodity. And why not? Why not have a good time? Why not bring a little bit of joy from anything from a long plane ride, to a short elevator ride, to an exchange over an extra-large, venti-sized latte in line at your local coffee place? To me, it's the natural order of things”
Sharing Joy, by just being nice, can be a way of praising God, who is the source of our joy. It’s a way of connecting and sharing our faith...of telling others that they are accepted and even loved just as they are--through the Love of the God of all creation. We know this because of Jesus, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. 
As we gather together, at our Community service this evening, or to assist with family promise, at our Thanksgiving tables...let us remember God’s love and beauty, for all of creation, and that God’s own son prays that we might be One.

In our Psalm, did you hear at the beginning the echo of the ‘blessing” or benediction? From the book of Numbers, chap 6..
Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,
24  The Lord bless you and keep you;
25  the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
26  the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. 
The Psalm echoes this deliberately, this is a prayer of blessing from the time of Moses...Psalmist is sharing the history of the Hebrew people, reminding them that God ishas been with them always!  And here’s a tidbit...the phrase translated ‘lift up his countenance..” has an image associated with it...of holding a baby up in the air with joy!! 
We are ALL --every human on earth, every age, size, ethnicity, ability, every single one of us...God’s children, being held with joy! Let us remember, savor, and pray this love, so that we LIVE it, every day. 
Let’s sing together For the Beauty of the Earth

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Bread of Heaven Sermon at United Church of Beloit 8/4/19

Isaiah 55 New International Version (NIV)
Invitation to the Thirsty
“Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
2 Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
3 Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
4 See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.
5 Surely you will summon nations you know not,
    and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has endowed you with splendor.”
6 Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

Isaiah 55,
Words of prophecy 700 years before Christ. Using images of ordinary things like bread, milk, to convey the presence of God! This was written to those in exile, they likely had nothing that was free at that time!
Wine and milk and bread available without cost!

To pay attention to God, to discern God’s presence even in people who were exiled-basically prisoners of war-- far from their homeland. That even in the midst of suffering God’s love is right there with them! Despite their homeland, their holy city of Jerusalem, and the Temple all being destroyed, God was present.

And to prophecy the coming Messiah, the savior! The gift of the messiah would bring them eternal life--the covenant of God’s promises thru out millennia. Specifically that a descendant of King David would bring them to freedom, for all eternity! Jesus, a direct descendant of King David was the fulfillment of this prophecy.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake their ways  and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

God requires living faith, as indicated in repentance and change of behavior 
And God has unlimited  compassion . . . will abundantly pardon. 

This is a reminder to keep God foremost in thoughts and in our hearts. 
A reminder that unrighteousness is anything that turns us away from God. Turn TOWARD God, and God will have mercy, and freely pardon. 

As elsewhere in scripture...all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of GOd, but The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 
Which brings us to our Gospel lesson… 

Mark 14 New International Version (NIV)
22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”
23 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.
24 “This is my blood of the[c] covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. 25 “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
26 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

During our trip to our national meeting in Cleveland...one of the first nights, part of our merry band were gathering for supper, and one of the folks, not a pastor, a lay leader in her congregation, told about being a camp leader,  on the last night of camp serving communion. And how special and meaningful that was for her. Years later, she cherishes that memory! And my friend Pastor Dawn shared about the first time she served communion to her son, her grown son who has autism and rarely would come forward to receive, he takes it afterwards. But one day he walked forward, hands out. And how beautiful that moment was for her. And then i shared about my favorite service here, Maundy Thursday. The night before Good Friday, When we share the story of Jesus’ last supper, the beginning of the tradition of holy communion. And what is so precious to me, is that Pastor Steve and i get to serve each of you ourselves, that we come to each of you, saying the Body of Christ, the blood of Christ-for you, It’s so personal. 

Rachel Held Evans, in Searching for Sunday.
 "The sacraments ...reminded me that Christianity isn’t meant to simply be believed; it’s meant to be lived, shared, eaten, spoken, and enacted in the presence of other people. … I can’t be a Christian on my own. I need a community. I need the church."

The Table of Lord goes by many names, The Eucharist (from the word for Giving thanks!) the Lord’s supper. Holy Communion. All these are correct. All convey aspects of the depth of meaning of this sacrament. 

We call it Communion--from the root word that also gives us “Community”, being together. 

I especially love this meaning.. Because it is what we were created for. We discussed this before.. That God, created us to be together with God and each other. And Jesus who came to embody that perfect community and to show us how it’s done and to give us the gift of the holy spirit to make it happen; 

Also RHE: Church is a moment in time when the kingdom of God draws near, when a meal, a story, a song, an apology, and even a failure is made holy by the presence of Jesus among us and within us

Yes Jesus is present always, among us and within us. Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk wrote of cherishing the presence of God even in the mundane tasks of kitchen duty! I confess, I almost never think of the presence of God while I’m cleaning the kitchen.. But if somehow i do, i know that Brother Lawrence is right. That God is there even in the very mundane. Recognizing that God is present in the most ordinary of moments, can help us to live out our faith more completely. 

In the Gospel lesson, note the sequence there… Jesus gives, teaches, they worship, then go out. 

In our pastors’ discussions, I have said that church isn’t just here in these 4 walls. The “real Church” if you will, is afterwards, at coffee hour, in the lunch after, in the taking of flowers or a treat to a shut in. helping serve meals on wheels, volunteering or giving to Caritas and other organizations. Helping provide school supplies to needy families!! A brief, Friendly chat with the clerk at Woodman's or Walmart….it’s sharing a bit of time and self, during the rest of the week. That’s the real church. It’s the relationships. Spending time together, having a bite together, serving others together. 

author Jean Vanier...Unity....Unity does not come from the acceptance of exterior structures or laws, dogmas or ways of worship. It surges up from a life that flows within us and through us all together. It is hearts and minds bonded together because they are bonded in communion with Jesus.

Did you ever notice in the gospels how often Jesus is depicted at a meal with others? And of course, it’s mostly not with the people you’d expect. Jesus said believe in me, but the way he showed to do that, is to spend time and often, a meal together! 

Henri Nouwen says that when we have a meal together with others, A spiritual bond grows, and we become food and drink for one another. In the most complete and perfect way, this happens when Jesus gives himself to us in the Eucharist -in Holy Communion.

We work and live and love with other people. We laugh and cry with others. We celebrate births and mourn losses, and a lot of the time we do it over a meal. Jesus knew how important it is to enjoy a meal together and turned His very last meal on Earth into one that His followers could have together to completely and perfectly remember Him.

Jesus gave us the gift of this meal...his Self to share together. Jesus gives, teaches, we worship, then go out. 

At the table, we
Remember Christ’s sacrifice, 
It joins us into one body..
We confess, 
We’re forgiven…
We give thanks
We go out -together- to serve.

The table is set for each of us. Let us come to it-together :)

Friday, March 15, 2019

Relationships, sermon at Lenten Prayer service March 13, 2019

March 13, 2019       Relationships        Pastor Carol P. Taylor

Ephesians 2 New International Version (NIV)

Made Alive in Christ

2 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time,gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace,expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
In our Ash Wed service last week, Pastor Dave Ewing spoke about Reconciliation. Tonight i’m sharing about Relationship. We can not have true reconciliation with God or others without effective relationship.

These Beloit area Lenten services have been going on for decades. As with most things, there’s been an ebb and flow to the churches participating. Over the last few years, we’ve been able to expand the number of churches and pastors who speak so we have a broader spectrum of the community. It’s a nice way for us to see other churches, experience other styles of worship, and to hear different musicians and pastors. Thru our offerings we support two valuable local organizations. And then we get to have some nice conversation over refreshments!  
Lent being a time of 40 days which remembers Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. In the early church, it was a time of repentance and preparation for new believers, who would be baptized into the Christian faith on Easter Sunday morning! And is a time for those of us who’ve been Christians for some time, to repent of wrongdoing and to search for ways God is calling to deeper faithfulness.
My scripture lesson for this evening is from the Epistle to the church in Ephesus.  I came across Ephesians 2:10 a few weeks ago in my devotional reading.. And it just spoke so deeply to me. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Let’s look at the beginning of this chapter.. It’s a very Lenten chapter, isn’t it? The Bible over and over reminds us that humans are flawed and we fail in our relationship with God. We are dead in our sin….BUT GOD!! Rich in grace and mercy, LOVES us even tho we fail over and over…… And redeems us...thru faith in Jesus Christ our Lord. This is Grace.
Found a nice explanation of Grace in my study bible..
"Grace is God's unmerited love, favor, mercy, and action in our lives.
It's by this grace that we receive new life in Christ. God's Grace is pardon for the things we did wrong and power to grow day by day in the image of Christ . by Grace we are forgiven, healed, redeemed, restored, transformed, and Made Alive. by Grace we are saved!
We may sometimes think that we are not good enough to be saved- or we need to prove our worthiness... Ephesians 2 reminds us that God's merciful action in our lives does not happen because we deserve it or earn it we are saved by grace because God deeply loves us.
as recipients of this lavish gift let US in turn be bold in extending Grace to those around us." {CEB Women's Bible}
Grace is the story of Lent. We finite humans, created in the image of God but never managing to be anywhere near as good as God, that silly free will, after all, have the benefit of Grace.
We’re created in Christ Jesus (he was present In the Beginning, was part of the creation of all things AND is the body of the church in whom we live and move and have our being! (acts 17:28)

Ephesians 2:10 The Message (MSG) Paraphrase by Eugene Peterson

God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.

We created for Good works! We’re created to live our faith. To love God and Love each other. (of course that is much more easily said than done!)
Someone said “You are a child of God, and so is that other jerk you are arguing with!”

Jesus set the example. Jesus, One with God, present In the beginning, came to earth, as a human, to live as we do. Came as a baby, completely vulnerable and dependent. As an adult, Knew the aches and pains of a long day’s work...as a carpenter, not an easy job by any means! Lived and worked and traveled with ordinary people and even those not accepted by their own society...purely out of Love, to Be ONE with us, and to show us how to be in that perfect relationships for which we’re created.
I believe with all my heart that people living as Jesus did, caring for one another, promoting compassion, and equality-- The Shalom of God for everyone--will prevail. And the WAY it is will be every single person knowing they are a child of God, created and beloved exactly the way they are, the way God wanted them.

One of the main reasons we do these Lenten services is to help two local Ministries, Caritas Food pantry/Diaper bank and Family Promise homeless ministry. I’ve worked closely with both as many of us here have!
This past fall, I had a wake up call about homelessness… we know there is a perception of addictions or just poor decision making being the reasons for homeless, but we’ve heard the statistics, that many homeless are veterans, which is a travesty, that medical expenses are a leading cause of homelessness. The expenses incurred by a devastating diagnosis or disabling accident can bankrupt a family in a heartbeat.

My wake up call came from a pastor I know, who is from KC, about a year ago took a call in Northern California. Andrew’s a great guy, for a KC Chiefs and Royals fan…
One day last fall, within a matter of minutes, his church, his home, and most of his town, burned to the ground. He lived in Paradise Calif.

He posted one day on Facebook, “Never judge the homeless or the refugee, you don’t know how quickly it could happen to you.”

Came across a story about one person living as Jesus did.. A man in Ohio named Keith Wasserman who works with homeless. He periodically becomes “homeless by choice’ as he puts it, to better understand the situation of the homeless in our society. Every few years, he spends several days at a time on the streets and in shelters, in various cities.  His story is fascinating. {good-works.net}

He wrote “I believe that since Christ incarnated himself into our world in order to be a bridge for {people} to have a relationship with their maker, we too then, must incarnate ourselves into the world of those whom we care about in order to understand how they think and how they feel in order to really love and help them.”

He is striving to understand and re-evaluate the experience and treatments of homelessness, to serve in ways that are safe, meaningful and truly helpful.

He has, in these various stays, found that he may be treated as an alcoholic or drug addict. Staff may assume he is lying. He has witnessed staff being verbally abusive to clients. He has been made to sign long lists of rules without being given time to read them. He has experienced an utter loss of privacy and loss of identity. He wrote that "living in these situations, and the constant hopelessness and Fear changes one’s personality and affects a person’s life choices. Prolonged fear can turn you into someone you don’t like and don’t want to be with. Could it be fear that prompts some people to lie in order to survive?"

"I am aware more than ever before how these experiences have helped me to more fully understand that those who experience homelessness are people; human beings made in the image of God; people who in many ways are not much different from myself. Over the years, I have learned that for any of us to understand and help people who are suffering, we must learn how to leave the comfort of our own security and reach out, perhaps incurring some personal risk and pain. As a Christian, I now more fully understand what Christ Jesus has done for me. I am grateful and I want to continue to turn my gratitude into a godly activism."

Eph 2 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Now i am not saying that we all need to go live in a shelter for a while. But we can determine to prayerfully serve better, with more compassion than judgement, and to spend time with our neighbors in need in a grace-filled way. You know, sometimes the best talk you can have with someone is not to talk.. But to listen. To say only, “thank you for telling me. I care for you. We’re praying for you.”  This is living in grace.

Grace is God's unmerited love, favor, mercy, and action in our lives.
Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other. (John 15)
Shall we pray! Holy Lord God, this Lenten season, draw us ever closer to you, so that we recognize your powerful Grace. Let us take action to more completely live out the relationships chosen for us, to share that unmerited love, favor, mercy, and action with our all of our neighbors, especially those in need. Thru the Name and Spirit of our Lord Jesus we pray, Amen.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Meeting Jesus, the Prequel Sermon at United Church of Beloit March 3, 2019

Meeting Jesus, the Prequel           

Proverbs 8: 22-31 NIV
“The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works,
He began, In the beginning… to be absolutely clear that Jesus was indeed God, the Son of God, one with God and yet “Dwelling with us” also fully human.

    before his deeds of old;
23 I was formed long ages ago,
    at the very beginning, when the world came to be.
24 When there were no watery depths, I was given birth,
    when there were no springs overflowing with water;
25 before the mountains were settled in place,
    before the hills, I was given birth,
26 before he made the world or its fields
    or any of the dust of the earth.
27 I was there when he set the heavens in place,
    when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
28 when he established the clouds above
    and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
29 when he gave the sea its boundary
    so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
30     Then I was constantly at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
    rejoicing always in his presence,
31 rejoicing in his whole world
    and delighting in mankind.

Sermon Series “Meeting Jesus Up Close”
So why should we need to meet Jesus? We come to church, we give, we volunteer here at church and for other organizations. We are nice people who say please and thank you!
But… we can always do better. We can always be better. Our faith can always be deeper, stronger. And for that to happen, we need to be up close and personal with Jesus. Jesus is and was and ever shall be..the embodiment of God, who lived among his very own creation, died and was raised from the dead, to give us eternal life.
And by spending time examining the life of Jesus, we can live as He did, sharing, caring, being even more kind, more generous and nicer…as He was.

The various stories in the bible tell us about the life and love of Jesus. How he interacted with the disciples, and everyone he met. And no one who met him was the same afterwards!
The Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) Book of Proverbs, written by Solomon, the great and wise king, son of King David. Proverbs is a compilation of teachings, called “lady wisdom”  Yes wisdom is female.

(Author Warren Wiersbe) -- book of Proverbs, we are given access to a perspective similar to that of a brilliant teacher, offering her insights on a wide range of subjects from relationships to wealth to spirituality. Proverbs shows us that there is an aspect of God, wisdom, that can guide us through our lives. Proverbs personifies this wisdom as "lady wisdom" and attempts to show us that anyone can access this wisdom and make an incredible life for themselves out of the gifts that it freely offers, so long as they are careful to respect the source of this wisdom—God.  Through hundreds of short pieces of insight, the book of Proverbs distinguishes wisdom from foolishness.

Our text from Proverbs, read by Stephanie, echoes Genesis 1, the creation of heaven and earth.   

Wiersbe: One of the lessons of this paragraph is that the power and splendor of God, seen all around us in creation, are evidence of what God’s wisdom can do.
Many of us find we catch a glimpse of God in the beauty of nature, in a sunrise, in the V shaped flight of geese overhead, in the stars and moon shining brightly on a clear night. When we take a moment to enjoy this natural beauty, we are enjoying God! Next time you see beauty in nature, whisper a ‘thank you” to God!
(This passage) is an explanation of the wisdom of God at work in the creation of the universe. While it isn’t a description of Jesus Christ, for the eternal Son of God was never created, it does foreshadow Christ as the creative Word that brought everything into being.

The same God who worked in the “old creation” also wants to work in our lives in the “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:10; 4:24; Col. 3:10). The Lord Jesus Christ, who holds the universe together and causes it to fulfill His will, can hold our lives together and accomplish His purposes for His glory.

Let’s look at another beautiful passage that tells us of Jesus being present with God…
John 1 New International Version (NIV)
The Word Became Flesh
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all HUmankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

 This is called the Prologue.. John’s gospel was written several years after the other gospels. Mark’s was first, written roughly 30 years after the death of Jesus. Matthew and Luke wrote about 10 years or so later than Mark, and John’s gospel came probably 20 years after them.

Why were these written so many years later?  They initially believed that Jesus’ coming back to take all believers to heaven once and for all, would be very soon after his death and resurrection. When it got to be a few decades, and the original disciples and followers were getting old, and being martyred, they began to compile and write down all these amazing stories. There was also beginning to be false teachings that the original followers wanted to be sure to correct. John’s gospel in particular was written to correct many wrong ideas. 
Gospel writer John tells of another John—John the Baptist. The forerunner of Jesus who proclaimed that he would be followed by one for whom he himself was not fit to unlace his sandals! John baptized Jesus in the Jordan river, God spoke, this is my beloved Son, and the Holy Spirit (present with God at the beginning hovering over the waters of the deep) descended upon Jesus like a dove.

Writer John then explains his use of the imagery of Light, (in the beginning God said let there be light) saying that the darkness could not understand..
This is one of those words in the original Greek that has several layers of meaning. It means to Understand, comprehend, to hold onto..as we hold onto an idea or concept, or to overcome or extinguish,..to put out the light.
The darkness can not fathom, nor extinguish it! Or as the epistle to the Romans states, NOTHING in all creation can separate us from the Love of God that is in Christ Jesus!

In the Proverbs text, did you notice the verbs? Lady Wisdom, coexisting with God
I was filled with delight day after day,
    rejoicing always in his presence,
31 rejoicing in his whole world
    and delighting in mankind.

Wisdom, created by God, sharing with God and delighting, rejoicing, celebrating all of creation, including humans!

Now if all you know of humans is what’s on the news, there may not seem to be much that’s worth celebrating?! Humanity as a whole would seem to be less like a beautiful ocean shoreline and a lot more like a road filled with debris and potholes! But there must be hope for us, because Wisdom delights in us!

And that hope is of course the one who lived, died, was raised from the dead and will indeed come back for us…and we will be together for all time in heaven, the New Jerusalem, the holy city, where there will be no suffering nor pain, and God’s very own self will wipe every tear from our eyes!

Author James K. Smith
In Jesus we hear God saying to us, “What you cannot do for yourself, I myself will do. Your sin stands between us, and you cannot remove it, so I will do it for you. {I} will cleanse your sins, and I will remember them no more. Nothing will stand between us. I will rise from the dead so you can live. My love is too strong for death to conquer. Once alive, I will invite you to die and rise with me. Eternal life is now available. It is in my Son.”

This is why we meet Jesus again, up close, in the Bible, in prayer, in community, and at the table. In the Lord’s Supper, Holy communion, we unite with God and each other exactly as we were created to From the beginning!