Sermon: Thirsty Voices

John 4:5-42

It always amazes me how, with just a few words, Jesus can flip things on their heads. It was high noon, the hottest time of the day.  Jesus, weary from his long travels, stops at a cool spot to rest while his friends go off into town in search of food.  While he is sitting there, a woman with a clay jar approaches to draw water from the well.  Jesus made a simple request that would change her life forever, “will you give me a drink?”

Now in our 21st-century mind, there is nothing wrong with this question, but this is not the 21st century, this is the first century Palestine and Jesus is not only a man but a Jew and a rabbi. Jews were not supposed to speak to Samaritans. Men were not permitted to address women without their husbands present. Rabbis had no business talking to women such as the one before him. But, Jesus, once again, breaks the rules to speak with her.

We do not know much about her; John does not even give her a name in this story.  She is a total outsider, a woman in a man’s world, a stranger to Judaism. She comes at high noon, the hottest time of the day, to draw water, so she will not be seen by others; her reputation is well known around the town. She is a nobody, but not to Jesus.

With all of the societal issues facing him, Jesus does not turn away from the woman he engages her in conversation.  After he asks for a drink, she questions him about why he is asking for it. “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman,” she reminded him. “How can you ask me for a drink?” Although she is unfamiliar with most of the teachings of Judaism, she is well aware of her place in society, and it comes as a shock to her that Jesus would ask this question of her.

The conversation continues and takes a turn she was not expecting.

Jesus starts to share the Gospel with her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” But she is clever and thinks of things in practical terms and asks how he would draw water from such a deep well without a bucket.  He tells her, “Everyone who drinks of this water,” the water from the physical well, “will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them,” spiritual water, “with never be thirsty.”

Now she is interested, and she asks him for the water, then the tricky but happens.

Jesus asks her to go and call her husband and when she replies that she does not have a husband Jesus relates her entire life story to her.  Jesus, and following Jesus, can be challenging and requires us to face things we don’t want to face. He is honest with her and lays open her past but does not judge her; he shows her compassion and love.  She is not shamed by Jesus about her past, and so she is willing to continue the conversation and eventually comes to the point of confession about her past.  Because of this gentle, loving treatment, she is now free for discipleship and to become a witness for the Gospel.

But imagine if the story had gone another way. Imagine if Jesus just ignored her when she approaches.  Society would have said nothing, he was a man, and she was an unaccompanied woman.  What if he screamed at her that she was a sinner and she was going to hell if she did not change her ways.  What if he followed her home and set up a picket line outside of her house.  Or what if he just sneered at her and gave her that look.  If he had done any one of those things, this woman would have continued to be a nobody and disappeared back into the shadows of her life.

But that is not what happens, what we see here played out in the Gospel today is a dramatic transformation of this woman from and outsider to a witness, she has become a model for those of us who feel like outsiders and nobodies.  She is a model for those who are new to the faith and have questions but might be afraid to ask.  She is a model for those of us with a past that maybe feel like if we step foot inside of a church, we are going to be judged for that past and deemed not worthy of the kingdom.

But let’s get back to the conversation.  The conversation begins with a question, not from the woman, but from Jesus.  Jesus is the one who is thirsty in the story. “Can a little thing like a cup of cool water, offered in love, be the beginning of a salvation journey? Yes, and we will never know until we meet the stranger, and tend to the human needs first.”  Jesus had a human need, and it was that need that drew her into the conversation that would change her life.

This story can be a challenge to us because it reminds the church and us, that people who are nobodies to us are somebodies to Jesus.  Who are the nobodies? The people we ignore. We often prefer to leave out the nobodies, but Jesus does not do that, he welcomes the outsiders, as well as the insiders into discipleship and so must we.

The woman leaps up and runs off, back to the town she lives in, a town that barely tolerates her for the way she has been living her life.  A town that forces her to go to the well at high noon to draw water when no one else is around.  She returns to this place and exclaims, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did…” She does not complete that sentence, but we can, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did and loved me anyway.”  She does not say those words, but they are implied by the joy that she now has in her heart. For the first time, someone saw her as a person and not as a sinner, and loved her anyway.

For Jesus to know what she had done in her past, and still love and forgive her was new and radical for her. The man who told her everything she had ever done… and loved her anyway… is what saved her life. At that moment, she saw God, she received Christ and leaped up to tell everyone.

Jesus supports us as we move toward him and grow in faith. He wants us to deepen and extend our faith, to recognize and acknowledge him for who he is and for what he has done in our lives. Jesus encounters and welcomes many into the household of faith, and he does it with love.  He welcomes the outsiders and the insiders, the sinner and the saints and he welcomes the most unlikely, he even welcomes us.

Sermon: Abundant Grace

A Sermon on Matthew 4:1-11

It all starts in our minds, a little thought, a little idea that flies around inside our minds while we are doing something else. At first, it seems harmless, just one more of a million things that our minds try and come up with each day. But then, without warning, it comes back, a minute or an hour later. Now you feel as though it is something familiar, and perhaps even a little enticing. If I claim travel expenses for that trip, even though I had a ride from a friend… if I had a chance to say that really cutting remark to the man who’s always been mean to me… if I played my cards right, I might persuade my friend’s spouse to spend an evening with me, and then maybe…

We have all been there; we have all faced thoughts or ideas that tempted us in one way or another.  These are very human interactions we have with ourselves and in and of themselves are harmless, until we act upon them.  So how to do we resist them and where do they come from?

The Scripture lesson today places Jesus in the wilderness. This wilderness was between Jerusalem, on the central plateau which is the backbone of Palestine, and the Dead Sea. The Hebrew Scriptures calls it Jeshimmon, which means the Devastation, and it is a fitting name, It stretches over an area of thirty-five by fifteen miles.  It is an area of yellow sand, of crumbling limestone, and of scattered rocks. The hills are like dust heaps; the limestone blistered and peeling; rocks are bare and jagged; often the ground sounds hollow when a foot falls upon it. It glows and shimmers in the heat like some vast furnace. It runs out to the Dead Sea, and then there comes a drop of 1,200 feet, a drop of limestone, through crags and corries and precipices down to the Dead Sea.  This is the wilderness that Jesus chose to go to be alone prior to the start of his ministry.

All three Gospel writers that include this story place it right after the Baptism by John in the Jordan.  This is the time in Jesus’ life when he was going to start the mission he had come here to do, and he needed to be alone to plan out what he was going to do and how he was going to do it.  Jesus often retires, by himself, when he needs to think and to plan.  Advice is a good thing, but sometimes we just need to be alone with our thoughts and our mind where we can listen and ask God what we are to do next.

But, as the Scriptures also tell us, Jesus was not truly alone or was he.

The first clarification that has to be made is the phrase “to tempt.”  In English the word tempt usually has just one meaning, it means to entice to do wrong, to seek to seduce into sin, to try and persuade to take the wrong way. But in Greek this phrase has quite a different meaning, it means “to test” far more than it means “to tempt” as the English sense of the word.

One of the great stories in the Hebrew Scriptures is the story of Abraham narrowly escaping sacrificing his son Isaac.  In Genesis 22:1 we read, “And it came to pass after these things that God di tempt Abraham.” The word tempt here cannot mean, to seek to seduce in evil.  It is unthinkable that God should try to make anyone a wrongdoer. But the point is very clear when we understand that it means “After these things, God tested Abraham.”  The time had come for a supreme test of the loyalty of Abraham. Just as metal has to be tested beyond any stress and strain before it can be put to use, so people have to be tested before God can use them for his purpose.  A less extreme example of this is when I was called to the Ecclesiastical Council where I was tried and tested, in this very place, to ascertain my suitability for the ministry I was called too. God called me, but the Church verified and authorized that call.

Now here is the great uplifting truth, what we call temptation is not meant to make us sin, it is intended to enable us to conquer sin. It is not meant to make us wrong; it is intended to make us good. It is not meant to weaken us; it is meant to make us stronger and finer and purer from the ordeal. The temptation is not the penalty for being human; temptation is the glory of being human. It is the test to those that God wishes to use. So, we must think of this whole incident as being not so much the tempting as the testing of Jesus.

As I have already mentioned, the three Gospel writers that include this story has it taking place right after the Baptism in the Jordan by John.  It always seems in life that right after we experience a high moment, that moment on the mountain top as I mentioned last week, and our spiritual resistance is at its highest that suddenly, and without warning, it takes a nosedive and we are at our lowest. This is when the tempter comes in and attacks.

Now let me just say that I am a firm believer in the spiritual both with heavenly mountain top experience spiritual and the spiritual warfare kind when we wrestle with the evil one.  Make no mistake about this, evil exists in this world and is around us all the time.  When we profess we are Christians, when we experience the mountain top, the tempter is right there telling us we are not good enough and this is exactly what was going to happen to Jesus, but we know that is not the end of the story for Jesus conquered the tempter and so can we.

As we read the story we think of this as an outward experience of Jesus, but this was a struggle that went on in his own heart and mind and soul, and that is the same for us. The proof of this is found in the Scriptures itself; there is no possible mountain from which all the kingdoms of the earth could be seen, this was an inner struggle.

It is through our inmost thoughts and desires that the tempter comes to us. The attack is launched in our own minds. The very power of the tempter lies in the fact that our defenses get breached, and we are attacked from within. The tempter finds allies and the weapons used against us are our very own inmost thoughts and desires.

So how can we overcome this, well the first is by prayer.  We have to adopt a habit of prayer, not just on Sunday but every day.  I have said this before; we need to start and end every day with prayer.  It does not have to be some long and involved prayer that takes hours, start each day off with the Our Father, the very prayer our Savior taught us. This is the perfect prayer, and since Jesus taught it to us, it is all we really need.  Start and end each day with this prayer.

The second way is forgiveness.  Again, as I have said before; forgiveness, or the lack of forgiveness, will eat away at our very souls.  Not forgiving someone gives them power over us and allows them to control a portion of our lives, but when we forgive, we take that power back, and we regain control over our lives.  The tempter will tell us that we should not forgive the other person or persons that harmed us, that if we forgive they win.  But Jesus tells us that when we forgive, we are forgiven.  Again in the prayer that he taught us, forgive us our trespasses, sins, debts whatever word you wish to use, as we forgive those who, sin, trespass, against us.

The third way, and I think one of the most important, is to have a spiritual guide.  I don’t believe that we talk about this enough in our Reformed Protestant Theology, but a spiritual guide is critical in our lives.  I like to think of this in the sense that the ancient Celts used it as an Anamcara our Soul Friend.  Not a director but a guide, a fellow traveler on the spiritual road.  This is the person who we get to know, and they get to know us over time.  We share our inmost thoughts and desires with this person, so we are not alone with them, and in turn, they guide us along the path.

I have been blessed to have several Soul Friends in my life, and I have been doubly blessed to have been, and continue to be, Soul Friends with several people.  If you lean into the relationship, it can be an excellent experience.

But the message I want us to take away from all of this is that we are never alone.  Jesus never promised that our life would be easy.  He never promised his followers that if they followed him their life would be without temptation, persecution and all the rest, heck 10 of his 12 died in unspeakable ways.  But the one thing he does promise us, that he covenants with us, is that we will never be alone he will always walk with us, right beside us, and yes, sometimes he carries us.

I cannot say this enough; God loves each and every one of us in good times and bad, and there is nothing we can do that will ever cause God not to love us, nothing.  I am not sure about much, but I am confident about the absolute love of God for all of us.

Not Ashamed of the Gospel

For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith. Romans 1:16-17

I am not ashamed of the Gospel.  None of us should be ashamed of the Gospel.  I am however ashamed of how some Christians have used the Gospel more as a weapon than a healing balm for the people.  Sometimes we forget that we are all sinners and in need of God’s grace and that our mission is to make disciples or lead people to Christ, and then get out of the way and let God do what God does.

But this passage is even more remarkable because when Paul was writing this, he had been imprisoned in Philippi, chased out of Thessalonica, smuggled out of Beroea, laughed at in Athens and Corinth his message was foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews.  With all of that in his past, it is surprising that he would declare that he was not ashamed of the Gospel.  I don’t think anyone would blame him if he had said the opposite.

One thing we can learn from what Paul has written is that we cannot give up no matter how difficult things might get for us.  Jesus never promised us that we would be loved by everyone and that our lives would be perfect if we followed him, in fact, he preached the very opposite.  However, the one thing Jesus did promise, and the thing that Paul held on too as he was going through his trials, was that no matter what we are going through, not matter what desert we might be crossing, God will always be with us.

That is the promise I hold on too, and that is what allows me to proclaim in a loud voice that I am not ashamed of the Gospel.

Lent as Training in Resilience, Practice of Resistance

The Progressive Redneck Preacher has some good tips for his fellow Progressives about approaching Lent.  Here is a little sample:

This week begins the season of Lent.

For many in the progressive Christian world, Lent can feel a bit weird. It can feel like a return to the guilt-ridden life in churches of our childhood, as if we are being made to feel guilty for pleasure, for joy. We can ask ourselves “what is the point?”
As I reflect on the beginning of this year’s Lenten journey, a few ways of approaching this season stand out as positive ways to look at this season.

First, we can make this season focused on reordering our lives to better emulate Jesus. One often hears in progressive Christian circles that a problem in the wider Christian world is that we are so busy worshipping Jesus as God, we fail to pay any attention to how he says to live our lives. Progressive Christians, by and large, deeply identify with the human Jesus of Nazareth, a man like us who struggled to live out a life of compassion and justice. Beginning with focus on Jesus vulnerable in the desert, being tried by his own inner demons and the dark psychological forces at the heart of society, Lent calls us to deeply identify ourselves with the struggle and life of Jesus.

Read the Rest Here

Ash Wednesday a Time of Reflection

Ash Wednesday is not just a time to meditate on our mortality or to confess our individual sin and failings, but it is also a time when we should focus on our social sins and sins against other people in the things we have done and the things we should have done and the things we left undone.

Ash Wednesday is a time when we are reminded that in the Lenten Discipline God’s desires for us have nothing to do with what we “give up” but has everything to do with taking on a more disciplined concern for meeting the needs of the afflicted concretely.

Isiah makes it clear that the worship God desires is both inescapably social and compellingly personal. Lent calls us to “loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke… to share our bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless person into our homes…

“Authentic worship is not a matter of elegant ritual of self-congratulatory piety. It is a matter of both social justice and costly personal concern for the bruised and broken world.”

Psalm 51 reminds us that Lent is a time of self-reflection and penitence, a time to acknowledge our sinfulness and the constant need for God’s grace and mercy in our lives and the lives of others.

The Psalm reflects our reality as Christians. We are sinners. We do things that drive us away from God, and we do things that hurt others in our lives.

This time of Lent is to be a time of thoughtful reflection and penitence.  Although we practice this all throughout the year, Lent lends itself to a more careful examination. We are called to confess the ways we “have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” We need to come to the realization of our utter dependence on God.

The recitation of Psalm 51 is a central part of the service of Ash Wednesday as well as a Litany of Penitence or a Prayer of Confession. The Litany and Prayer are reminders to us of the ways we have separated ourselves from God and one another.

Almighty God, we confess that we are often swept up in the tide of our generation. We have failed in our calling to be your holy people, a people set apart for your divine purpose. We live more in apathy born of fatalism than in passion born of hope. We are moved more by private ambition than by social justice. We dream more of privilege and benefits than of service and sacrifice. We try to speak in your name without relinquishing our glories, without nourishing our souls, without relying wholly on your grace. Help us to make room in our hearts and lives for you. Forgive us, revive us, and reshape us in your image. Amen.

May the Almighty and merciful God, who desires not the death of a sinner but that we turn from wickedness and live, accept your repentance, forgive your sins, and restore you by the Holy Spirit to newness of life. Amen.

The culmination of the Service of Ash Wednesday is the imposition of ashes with the minister making the sign of the cross on each forehead with the words, “Remember thou art dust and to dust thou shall return.”

Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth. Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, so that we may remember that only by your gracious gift are we given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

As we begin this season of self-reflection let us follow the Psalmists example by focusing on how we are failing to live as God calls us to live and how we are in constant need of salvation and redemption that can only come from God.

Shrove Tuesday

 

The practice on the day before Lent begins is to use up all of the items that will be fasted from during the season of Lent.  This day is known as Shrove, coming from the word shrive meaning to absolve, falls just before Ash Wednesday.

The period prior to Ash Wednesday is referred to Shrovetide and prior to the Reformation lasted for an entire week. The practice of making and serving pancakes on this day dates to the 16th century and according to “Ecclesiastical Institutes” from around 1000 AD “In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive (absolve) him as he then may hear by his deeds what he is to do [in the way of penance]”.

Rich foods such as butter, milk, and eggs would often be given up for Lent and so these items needed to be used up prior to the start of Lent so they would not go bad during the time of the fast.  Making pancakes was the easiest way to use up all of these items.

But, like most everything in Christianity, these forbidden items also carried a spiritual significance to them. In a 2015 article in the International Business Times, Philip Ross writes that in addition to an easy way to use up rich food items such as butter, eggs, and milk, pancakes also represent the four pillars of Christianity, “four pillars of the Christian faith—eggs for creation, flour as the mainstay of the human diet, salt for wholesomeness and milk for purity.”

So when you are eating your pancakes today remember the spiritual side of each bite and enjoy it for tomorrow we fast.

Commentary: Living into Our Legacy

February 16, 2017
Written by John Dorhauer

Rev. John C. Dorhauer

Since the election of President Trump, the United Church of Christ has collectively engaged in an ongoing effort to maximize the impact of our agency. We have been, throughout our history, one of the most powerful agents for social transformation this country has ever known. There have been few times when that agency has been more necessary.

As I travel around, I am hearing the pain and fatigue of leaders from across this denomination who must endure daily assaults to our religious commitments, spiritual sensitivities, and justice orientation. An Executive Order banning refugees, preferring Christians and casting the Muslim as a terror threat; appointments of people to key positions who have strong ties to white supremacist organizations; a historic and blatant disregard for ethics and conflicts of interest; public humiliation of women and people with disabilities; and public speech from the highest office in the land designed to cast doubt and aspersions on the integrity of our judicial system all conspire to make religious leaders committed to a just world for all feel beleaguered, battered, and weary.

The temptation in these days is to adopt a defensive, reactionary posture. To be sure, we cannot refuse to react when an Executive Order is written that closes borders to seven countries. We cannot fail to respond when the President brags about his history of sexually assaulting women who, by his own words, want him to do it because of his celebrity. We cannot not speak out when religious freedom is threatened as a means of discrimination against women who exercise their reproductive choice options or to protect bigots and homophobes who don’t want to hire or sell to LGBT folk. In all these matters and more, we will respond, react, and speak out.

That cannot, however, be our default mode. There is a calculation to this that heavy hitters on the political right, including and especially the architects of this madness (Steve Bannon, Rex Tillerson, Betsy DeVos, Kellyanne Conway, et al), are using to wear down and distract their progressive antagonists. We play right into the hands of their machinations if every day we make note of what has happened and express our righteous anger and outrage. Again – we can’t not respond. But we soon must move from a defensive posture in which we expend our energy and resources articulating what we stand against; and start expending our precious time, effort and energy declaring what we stand for.

Let love of neighbor motivate us.

Let a commitment to build a just world for all catch us all feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and providing sanctuary to the immigrant and refugee among us.

Let a proclamation of a gospel of extravagant welcome recreate the world in the image and likeness of a God who shows no partiality.

Let clear, courageous, and passionate commitments to radical hospitality be as evident in this time as whatever rhetoric we develop to address the madness that issues forth from our nation’s leader.

In other words, let us be the United Church of Christ – a body built to love neighbor and create a just world for all.

John C. Dorhauer is General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ.

View this and other columns on the UCC’s Witness for Justice page.
Donate to support Witness for Justice through the Neighbors in Need offering. 

Click here to download the bulletin insert.

Sermon: Dazzling Reign

A Sermon on Matthew 17:1-9

Each year, during the time of Lent, I like to get away for a few days of retreat.  The first real retreat I ever participated in took place at the Jesuit retreat center at Eastern Point in Gloucester.  This place is fantastic; it is an old mansion house that sticks out into the ocean and is surrounded by water on all three sides.  Now I am not sure about you, but I love being near the water.  One of the things I missed most when I was in Worcester was not being near the ocean; there is something peaceful about watching the waves.

Eastern Point is a silent retreat house except during times of worship and when you meet with your retreat guide.  The silence is had to get used to when you first begin.  Up to this point in my life, I had never really been in a place where the only noise was natural or beyond my control.  No radio, no TV, no internet, just the sound of the ocean crashing against the rocks outside the building.

Silence gives you a lot of time to think about stuff and trusts me when I say this, all sorts of stuff come flooding into your mind.  The first few days of this five-day retreat was spent just trying to quiet my mind and slow my thoughts down.  Our brains run at 90 miles per hour all the time, and there are so many thoughts that always fly around, but retreat is a time to try and slow that down, and like the water crashing over the rocks outside the window, it is a time to let God wash over you with his love and his guidance.

You also tend to sleep a lot those first few days.  I remember saying to my retreat guide, “all I seem to do is sleep.  I try to read; I fall asleep, I try to pray, I fall asleep.”  He told me that it was normal, that this is my body slowing down and that sleep is restorative so let it happen.  I did, and after a day or two balance started to set in and was refreshed and ready to go.

One of the interesting parts of a silent retreat is meal time.  For me, meal time has always been a time when the conversation happens.  I look at Scripture, and most of Jesus ministry revolved around the table where he taught those who were with him.  But at Eastern Point, there is no conversation.  Soft music plays in the background, and there is this massive wall of windows.  The dining hall looks directly out on the ocean.  It was January, and the ocean was rather active.  Everyone sat on the side of the tables looking out at the glory of nature and sat in silence, music playing in the background and the crashing waves to look at.  The funniest thing was even at the evening meal when it was pitch black, we all still sat on the side of the table, looking out those massive windows, but now instead of seeing the majesty of God’s creation, we saw the mystery of the darkness.

The retreat continued, and I could feel the presence of God in a way that I had not felt before, and I wanted to stay right there forever, but, I had to leave and go back to the real world.

We see the same take place in the Scripture passage we heard read this morning.  The passage focuses on the Transfiguration of Christ on the top of the mountain. Very often, Jesus would retreat by himself especially after a time of intense ministry.  I think we often forget that Jesus was human like us and he needed his rest as well.  So he went off with two of his apostles to the top of the mountain.

While they were there an extraordinary event happened, and Jesus face shone like the Sun, and his garments became dazzling white, he was transfigured, or he was changed.  Moses and Elijah appeared to him, and they heard God’s voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him, I am well pleased; listen to him!”

Jesus was not the only one that was changed on that mountaintop, Peter and John were also transformed, and so powerful, so glorious was the event that they wanted to stay there, on that mountaintop, with Jesus forever.  Peter wanted to build three dwellings, or as some translations have it three altars, but Jesus told them they could not stay there for their mission was not on top of the mountain, but down in the valley.

I understand how Peter and John felt for during that retreat I was on the mountain top and all I wanted to do was to stay right there in the warmth of God surrounded by the majesty of his creation. But, the reality is we cannot only dwell on that mountain top, we eventually have to come down.

There is no mistake that this passage comes the Sunday before we start the liturgical season of Lent.  Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and is a reminder to us that we are mortal and that life is short, and we have much to do. But Lent is also a time for us to slow down just a little and settle our hearts and minds so we can begin to hear that still small voice of God.  That voice that we do not always hear when our world is racing at 90 miles per hour.

I am often asked if there is anything I miss from my time serving in the Orthodox Church and I often say that I miss Lent and by that, I miss the Liturgical services that would be held during this period of the year.  Like our schedule here at Bethany, we had one service each week on Sunday morning, but during Lent, we would add a midweek service to help us settle our hearts and minds.  The church would be almost in complete darkness, and we would hear from the Book of Genesis and the Prophesy of Isaiah.  These were mountaintop experiences that came in the middle of the week to help us get to the next one. But they were also times to slow down and listen, listen to God’s word and pray.

These moments of transfiguration, these moments of change are necessary for our lives, and we need to take every opportunity we can to have them.  Sure, I understand that our lives are super busy but how much time are we spending on the things of this world and how much time are we spending on the things of the world to come?  How much time do we spend in meaningless conversations that we do not care about, and how much time do we spend in conversations with God? How much time do we spend reading the latest book, or watching that television program and how much time do we spend with The Word or reading other spiritual books and publications.  We have time for just about everything, except for God!

We are living in a fracture mixed up world right now, and sometimes it ‘s hard to navigate the every changing landscape.  From one day to the next it seems that life is shifting and the harder we try to hold on to things the further away things get.  The story of the Transfiguration of Jesus that we heard this very morning is not about Jesus face and his clothing but a reminder to us that we need to focus on what matters and who matters in our lives.  It is also a reminder that no matter how much we wish to stay on that mountain top, we eventually have to come back down for this is where the mission is.  I wanted to stay at Eastern Point, but I knew that my mission was not there, but it was out with God’s people.  I was transfigured there, but now it was time for me to help transfigure someone else.

Just like our bodies need food and drink to keep us going; our souls need spiritual food and drink.  Not all of can take a week and go to a place like Eastern Point so we have to try and find those times when we can steal a few moments, and Lent is a perfect time to begin a new habit.

It has been said that if you do something every day for thirty days, it will become a habit.  Lent is forty days, so you will be left with a few days to spare.  Make this time a time for reading Scripture.  It does not have to be a large amount of time each day take five minutes.  Every few months we put a supply of little devotional booklets out at the entrance to the church and on the table outside the Allen Parlor.  These are great little books that you can carry in your pocket and pull out when you have a spare five minutes, and that is all it takes.  Take one with you today and each day, pull it out and read the page for the day.  If you have time, read it in the morning, and in the afternoon you will be amazed at how you start to see your life transformed.

There are many other resources available to you just ask Pastor Bill or me, and we will help you find what might work for you.  The idea is that the forty days of Lent need to be different than the forty days that come before it and the forty days that will come after it.

Another aspect of my time serving in the Orthodox Church I miss the Sunday before Lent begins is called Forgiveness Sunday, and this is the day that we ask for, and grant forgiveness to those we may have hurt during the past year.  In the congregation I served, we would line up and one by one we would look into each other’s eyes and ask for forgiveness.  The last time I stood here I talked about how important that forgiveness is to us and others.  We have all hurt people intentionally or unintentionally this past year; it is time for us all to forgive.  If you can approach the person and ask for their forgiveness that is great but if you cannot, the simply ask God to help you.  We also need to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt us, and this is a very good time to do it, forgiveness is transformative, and we need that change in our lives.

Midweek Meditation: The Nature of Christian Love

1 Corinthians 13

Much of my preaching and teaching is centered on the idea of showing love to everyone.  Love is at the very heart of Gospel, and it is a requirement of those who claim to follow Jesus.  The Saviors commands us, in several places in Scripture, to love God, love neighbor, and to love our enemies.  With those three commands, there is no one left who we are not supposed to love.  We are to love our God with our whole heart, mind, and spirit, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, and we are to love our enemies because it is easy to love those who love us back.  This is one of the most difficult parts of being a follower of Jesus Christ.

In the 13th Chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes specifically about what Christian love is supposed to look like.  Very often this is read at weddings as a reminder to the couple what sort of love they should be showing to one another, however important this is to the newly married couple, it is vitally important to followers of Jesus Christ.

In his commentary on the Letter’s to the Corinthians, William Barclay reminds his readers that Paul points out fifteen characteristics of Christian love, I will summarize over the next two Midweek Meditations.

Love is patient ~ The Greek word used here always describes patience with people and not patience with circumstances. It is used for people who are slow to anger, and it is used to describe God in his relationship with humanity, that he is slow to anger with us.

Love is kind ~ Origen the 3rd-century scholar wrote that this type of love means love is “sweet to all.”  There is so much about Christianity that is good, but there is also a lot that is bad.  Phillip II of Spain was one of the most Christian kings in Europe, but he launched the Spanish Inquisition because he felt that God wanted him to kill those who did not believe the same way the king did.

Love knows no envy ~ There are two types of envy, one that covets the possessions of others, and this type is very human and very hard to avoid, and the second is type is one that wishes that others did not receive what they received, in other words, this kind of envy cannot be happy for the success of others.  Christian love rejoices in the blessings of others and hopes in our blessings.

Love does not behave gracelessly ~ There is a graciousness in Christian love which never forgets that courtesy and tact and politeness are lovely things.

Love does not insist upon its rights ~ There are those who insist upon their privilege and those who always remember their responsibilities; those who always think that life owes them something and those who never forget what they owe life.  Barclay reminds us that “Whenever we start thinking about ‘our place,’ we are drifting away from Christian love.”

Love never flies into a temper ~ Christian love never become exasperated with people, when we lose our tempers we lose everything.

Love does not store up the memory of any wrong it has received ~ The Greek word for “Store Up” comes from an accountant entering things on a ledger so that they can be recalled later and not forgotten.  Many people hang on to their hurts and nurse their anger until they cannot forget. Christian love has learned the great lesson of forgetting.

Verse of the Day

Leviticus 19:9-10

 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:9-10