Excerpt from the sermon on July 9, 2017 with scriptures Genesis 24:34-67.
“The verses we just read seem very straightforward. The servant found the one he was looking for and lavished gifts upon her when she identified herself as the daughter of Behuel, Nabor’s son whom Milcah bore him. Nabor was Abraham’s brother so Rebekah is Abraham’s great-niece. Isaac and Bethuel (Rebekah’s father) were first cousins. The servant is excited so he bows, worships God, and speaks with Rachel. Now we might pass over this exchange but in this moment the servant and Rebekah have an honest conversation about loyalty and faithfulness so that even though the servant believes he has found the person for Isaac they must still be honest about who they are. How often in our stories when we want something to be a particular way are we honest about who we are and and where we stand? It’s interesting to think here of how hard it is to take an honest look at Rebekah’s/our lives and who she is/who we are.
How often did we wish our stories were different, or something about us was different?
Now there is debate about how old Rebekah is since she is traveling with her nurse but we do know she was at least old enough to carry water from the well but what comes up in this section that is intriguing is that Rebekah was asked, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will go.” She had some agency in this situation, it may not have been much but she could somewhat choose what to do so she chose and her family blessed her.
How often in our stories do we offer words, a blessing on others? Not for ourselves but others?
The story ends with Isaac meeting Rebekah, with Isaac loving Rebekah, with Rebekah being a comfort to Isaac, with a new life being made. Together they begin a new chapter, which is certainly going to have it’s challenges just like Abraham and Sarah but that is life, that is their story. On the front of the bulletin is a picture of a kayaker who has turned over in the water and has a choice of whether to go under or struggle to right themselves once again. In the photo they are in the process of righting themselves out of the water. We all have challenges in our lives, throughout the stories of lives and we make choices of the things we do, the paths we take, the elements that we hold onto, the pieces that we learn from, the things we try to never repeat.
In the story we read this morning that even though it feels so far removed from today and maybe it’s because at least four thousand years separate us this story is trying to give us guidance in our own lives, in the paths that we take. Whether or not we are like the servant, whether or not we have those honest moments, whether or not we are given the opportunity to choose, whether or not we bless others, whether or not we love, whether or not we provide comfort. Our challenge this morning is what do we see as relevant from this story and how will we live our own stories recognizing that we are somehow over generations and distances we are connected. What will our story be that others will tell, what story do we want told about how we live?”
Excerpt from the sermon on July 2, 2017 with scriptures: Genesis 22:1-14
“The messenger calls out thankfully at the right moment and the brakes are slammed on this atrocious act. It’s interesting that the Lord’s messenger is the one who says, “whoa,” not God. Some Jewish scholars have interpreted this moment as that Abraham went through with the sacrifice then the ashes of Isaac were taken back to the garden of Eden where Isaac was reconstituted. That is a theory an interesting one and with it we can see how troubling this story is because of what we hear God asking Abraham to do, when we’ve read so many other things about how God gives us life and mercy, how God saved the people, how God brings the people out of Egypt even when they grumble and complain, how God promised descendants through Isaac..
So often we jump into this test without looking through the lens of a loving God. Maybe that’s because we’ve all had tests in our lives and those tests weren’t compassionate, maybe we’ve been tested by bosses or friends or family members in ways that are unhealthy and harmful. How often have we wondered what someone’s agenda is in a situation? How often have we been asked to do something that we couldn’t see a good or easy outcome happening from doing it? So what would this story look like through a lens of a loving God instead of our boss trying to trick us so that we get fired?
Sometimes this portion of the story is interpreted as saying now the people are to sacrifice animals instead of humans or what faith is but what if something much deeper is happening here, something much more significant.
As you all know I don’t have any children but I’ve often heard parents talk about their children in terms of a deep love that is like one’s heart walking outside of their bodies, their hopes, dreams, fears, worries all wrapped up in this human that is part of them but separate. So what if Isaac in this story is actually a metaphor, an image for talking about Abraham’s heart?
Abraham failed a lot, Abraham lied a lot, Abraham really struggled with giving himself - all of it to God - all that love, worries, anxieties, fears - his heart to God. Abraham would get fearful and he would lie. Abraham would get impatient/wouldn’t like how God was doing things so Abraham would take matters into his own hands with disastrous results. Here God is asking for Abraham’s heart - all of his hopes, fears, worries, anxieties, dreams, love, everything he is, to give it over, to let go, and to give to God so that he could finally be free - free to live in God, free to love beyond fear.
Abraham worships God for freeing him and then names the place “the Lord Sees”, which continues to suggest that the Lord sees us for who we really are and asks for our hearts. Isaac is a symbol for Abraham’s heart. How hard is it for us to give our heart - our hopes, our fears, our dreams, our love to God? How often do we realize that “the Lord Sees” all of us and still wants us, still wants our heart, still loves us, and still wants us to be free?
So how might we give our hearts, our hopes, fears dreams, love to God? Maybe it’s not as dramatic as the story of Abraham and Isaac but it begins with us everyday in small moments of recognizing that God is in the moment with us, that God sees us for who we are and still loves us. Sometimes it’s as small as saying outloud “I give it to you God.” Sometimes it sounds like us reassuring ourselves that God hasn’t left/that God can handle who we are and what we do whether it is joyous or sorrowful. Does it mean that we will get it every time. Certainly not because with the story of Abraham this was the tenth time God was like come on Abraham but we try.
Our challenge this morning is how will we give our hearts to God?”
Excerpt from the sermon on June 25, 2017 with scriptures: Genesis 21:8-21; Psalm 86
“This event in Abraham’s family is disturbing. Hagar and Ishmael are removed but they are now free to live peacefully and to prosper. This narrative ends by saying that “God remained with the boy; he grew up, lived in the desert, and became an expert archer. He lived in the Paran desert, and his mother found him an Egyptian wife.” God never left Hagar and Ishmael through the greatest challenge they faced in life, nor did God leave them after. God remained and Ishmael grew up and moved on. This is probably the second most important part of this entire story after God never leaves. Ishmael who was already 16 and a man grew up, he grew in wisdom and understanding, he took what had happened and he grew from it. Ishmael did not turn angry or bitter, he didn’t give up, he didn’t go about feeling slighted but instead he grew from the life experience and created a new life, a richer life, where he had to discover what he was good at and how to live without what he had known at an earlier age, what some would have said he was entitled to receive.
We’ve all had difficult experiences in our lives and we know how those experiences have changed us, we know how we navigated through, we know what worked and what didn’t, we know what we held onto, and what we let go. Ishmael had a choice about how this moment would change him and how he would go forward. We might think that he would hate his brother Isaac or his father but we read further in Genesis that when Abraham died he and Isaac came together to bury their father. We all have a choice but we shouldn’t discount how others help us to come through those times. Hagar was always there helping, directing, participating in how to move forward. Can we think of those who have helped us?
Now who have we helped, who have we stood by trying to help them when things were falling apart, when they had a choice of how an event, a situation would shape whom they would become. Hagar was there to help Ishmael even when things weren’t so great for her. This story of Hagar and Ishmael contains so many interesting aspects of life and it shows the difficulties and lays them bare. So how will we allow our experiences to shape us and who do we need to stand with, to support, to help.”
Excerpt from the sermon on June 18, 2017 with scriptures: Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-2, 5-7
“Now we find out why the Lord visited Abraham, why these three have shown up, and do they have news. Abraham and Sarah are not young like they once were, they are human, they have aged, they are beyond the age of having children and now they are informed by their guests that guess what - “Sarah will have a son.” and Sarah laughed. Let’s think about this for a moment. If someone, especially a stranger told us something about ourselves that is absurd and impossible what would our reaction be????? We might laugh because we think it is ridiculous or we might laugh because otherwise we would cry or we might laugh because we don’t know what else to do and sometimes we naturally laugh to lower our stress levels. So Sarah laughing is natural.
Now this is the interaction where we need to pay special attention. We’ve often jumped to the conclusion that the problem comes when the Lord says, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Me give birth? At my age?’ Is anything too difficult for the Lord? Of course, we could question here did Sarah know that it was a message from the Lord that said she would give birth. The strangers showed up but it only says that the Lord appeared to Abraham. So instead of seeing this as a negative on Sarah this moment is really more of a challenge in what do we think God is capable of doing, how do we think God works in our lives, what does it mean in our lives when God works in unexpected ways?
The problem for Sarah doesn’t come in the laugh it comes when she lies, which is a common marker in the Abraham and Sarah story. More than once they will be caught lying to others but the Hebrew here doesn’t suggest a scolding it actually turns the laughter back on Sarah. Think of this moment like a kid who just got caught with cookie crumbs and chocolate smeared all over their face and we ask, “did you just eat a cookie?” and the response is “no I didn’t eat a cookie.” as their mouth is full and crumbs fall out. And as the one who caught the kid we try not to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation. This is a moment not of scolding, not of how dare you but a moment of showing Sarah the ridiculousness/the amusement of the lie because what is unexpected is about to happen, the absurd is about to come true, and we can’t count out what God can do. We don’t know what God is capable of doing and the moment we think we are all knowing….. When we think it is impossible for God to work in our lives we become amusing. Now maybe the way God works in our lives is not how we planned it, or how we exactly wanted it. Sarah probably would have preferred having a child when she was a few years younger but that is not what happened.
Throughout the stories of the Old Testament if we were to look closely at what ties all these varied stories together we would find that God works in the most unexpected of ways, when we think something is impossible to do or bear that’s where we should be looking for God, when we fully believe that there is nothing God can do in a situation we are shown the opposite, when we look through the stories we find that God works in the most absurd situations, which should make us smile, make us laugh in the sense of amazement and we see Sarah coming to the point of laughing out of amazement in what God can do after she gives birth to Isaac.
“Sarah said, “God has given me laughter. Everyone who hears about it will laugh with me.” Let’s think about that for a moment: “God has given me laughter. Everyone who hears about it will laugh with me.” God has given Sarah/us laughter and everyone who hears this story will laugh with her. Laughter here is a vital part of the enduring story of life with God.
In some ways it is odd to talk about laughter on this particular Sunday. The last week has seen some rather awful things happen in our country and in the world. We’ve had the safety of a baseball game shattered and everyone asking what do we need to do differently. We’ve watched the loss of life happen on a scale that it shouldn’t because it could have been prevented in a modern city like London. We’ve heard of stories where lives were lost, damaged, or changed in ways that we just don’t want to think about so what about the laughter being described in the story of Sarah and Abraham then?
When we read through all the stories of Abraham and Sarah things were anything but easy. More than once their lives were in question, more than once they dealt with pain, more than once did they see lives destroyed. Ecclesiastes 3 says, “there is a time for crying and a time for laughing.” There is a time to grieve, to be horrified, to hurt, when we think that God could not possibly be at work/ a time where we think nothing will ever change/ BUT then a time will come where the impossible becomes reality, where we will be able to laugh in relief/in the absurdity of how our world has changed into something more than what we could have imagined.
Laughing in this story doesn’t make lite of the situation, it does not make fun of the trials and difficulties that Sarah or any of us experience in this life. Laughter here is relief, relief in knowing, relief in experiencing a God who is still working in our lives and others.
What do we need relief from in our lives? How do our friends, neighbors, families, our community need relief and how might we join in that relief - laughter just as we are to join in Sarah’s? How will we laugh today, tomorrow, and everyday?”
Excerpt from the sermon on June 11, 2017 with scriptures: Genesis 1:25-31; 2:1-3
“I now give to you all the plants on the earth that yield seeds and all the trees whose fruit produces its seeds within it. These will be your food.” “How we care for creation, for each other, how we see God all around us and in us but there is also the indication that creation provides and cares for us. Plants, seeds, trees, fruit - these will be our food. How often when we sit down to eat do we consider what creation/what God has provided for us. The tradition of praying before a meal is a moment of being grateful for what we have but it is also a pause meant for us to recognize God in this moment, how God/creation has provided for us.
How often do we see the connections to God as we look at the world around us? How often do we see the importance of grass beyond the beauty of the green and it being soft? How often do we pause to think of how God is part of everything, including us, how everything is connected? Recently I was reading about how dandelions are one of the first sources of food in spring for bees. I know we often see dandelions as a pesky weed that comes up in our yards but dandelions feed the bee population after hibernating through the winter and make it possible for them to live longer in order pollinate the flowers we love or the food we eat. More is happening when we look beyond the surface. God is part of everything we see and that connection runs deeper than - “well, that’s a beautiful flower or a pesky weed.” But will we pause to notice?
The creation story is one way of showing how God cares for every element, how we are made in the image of God so that we can care/take charge/take responsibility for that creation, but it is also a story in caring for ourselves. On the seventh day God rested and made that day holy. The first six days were filled with work and creation but on the seventh is rest. We are charged with caring/for being responsible but we are also charged with taking time to rest. No matter how busy, how crazy life may get sometimes we must rest. Now maybe we can’t carve out an entire day but if we are serious about being created in the image of God to care for all of creation then we have to seriously consider how to rest so that we may continue caring, taking charge, being responsible for all of creation. So how will we begin to care for all of creation? How will we understand being created in the image of God? What will we discover?”
Excerpt from the sermon on May 28, 2017 with scriptures John 17:1-11; 1 Peter 6:6-8a; Psalm 47:1-2, 4-9; Acts 1:9-11
How do we get to know God, how do we get to know Jesus when we don’t see God sitting across from us especially since this is what it means to have eternal life? Jesus words here in John are a prayer. A debate has existed as to whether or not Jesus is exclusionary in this prayer or not but instead of wading into that debate today I would like us to see this moment of prayer as a clue for how we may get to know God. Prayer is a conversation with God, it is a time for speaking and listening. Prayer draws us deeper into a relationship with God. A few weeks ago we talked about how if we are to know more of God we must study the stories of the bible, those of Jesus, those of the Hebrew scriptures/Old Testament, but if we are looking for more we must consider the element of prayer/of conversing with God. Not a conversation when we only want or need something but a conversation that asks questions, that seeks guidance, that laments, that expresses joy, that cares for others, that shares our deepest griefs, and unspoken yearnings. A conversation that looks like what we may have with a close friend. AND A conversation that might require us to be silent after we’ve spoken.
Jesus ends with, “they will be one just as we are one.” The knowing, the deeper connection between us and God is how eternal life is defined in this scripture in John. Eternal life is not something that we have to wait for but is something that we live into now. In this moment eternal life is something that we can begin to access now instead of waiting. So what might it mean now?
As we grow closer to God, as we connect deeper with the life of Jesus, as we learn and converse with God we find more to this life, we find more meaning in our actions, we move beyond our anxieties and busyness, we see that there is more to life than our fears, we see how our actions/our words are connected to everyone and everything. Eternal life is a richer living and being in the world and beyond only breathing, surviving, consuming, and wishing it away.
Now we may not fully know God, fully know Jesus in this moment because it is really a journey but Jesus is challenging us here if we are wanting more out of life, if we are wanting a richer life, if we are wanting something eternal/unending than what steps will we take to know God/to know Christ? What steps will we take or will we have someone say, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven?”
Excerpt from the sermon on May 14, 2017 with scriptures: John 14:1-14; Acts 7:55-56, 59-60; Psalm 31:1, 4-5, 15-16
Jesus has set the disciples/us up for understanding the connection between him and God the creator. We are to study his life, his words, his actions for in them we get glimpses of God, in fact, we get one of the clearest pictures. We wonder how God works - let’s look at Jesus life. Not only do we have the scriptures of the Old Testament to help us along in trying to understand God but we have the stories and teachings of Jesus. I want us to think about those stories for a moment. What is your favorite story about Jesus? Whatever that story is what do we learn about who Jesus is and what he does?
We learn of his compassion, of helping, of healing, of feeding, of building relationships, of standing up for what is right even when it means death, of being near those whom society has considered unacceptable, of challenging the status quo, of checking power and greed, of hanging out with lepers and tax collectors, of standing up for those we judge “sinners” (think woman at well and whoever is without sin cast the first stone), of teaching and learning from others no matter one’s age or station in life (think Jesus in the temple at the age of 12 of teaching the priests), of pushing the limits of what we think we know or how to act (think the parables). No matter what story we read in the bible of Jesus it not only teaches us something of Jesus but it teaches us something of God and Jesus is trying his best to help the disciples/us understand it today. If we wonder about God then we have to take these stories of Jesus and go through them with a fine tooth comb because we will find some answers. But Jesus doesn’t stop there with his disciples/with us.
He makes this rather powerful and intriguing statement “I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father.” Jesus is challenging us to mimic him in good works and to do even greater works. Now before we all start down a path of embracing having a “messiah complex” of we can save the world we have to remember that none of us are Jesus so then what might this mean “they will do even greater works than these” for the disciples/for us.
Jesus was only with the disciples physically for a period of time. We can look at the historical Jesus and we can know certain things over those three decades of his life and how he impacted many people, we can look at those stories and what he did. Now each one of those that he impacted had a choice of what they could do. Whether or not that moment with Jesus would ultimately change how they lived and interacted with others. And many of them did, which is why 2000 years later we are still telling these stories, we are still trying to figure out how to live. We all have abilities - some of us are gifted with caring for others, healing, teaching, serving, etc….. Now think about how when we help one person that can mean many others are impacted by what we do. Today we can spread kindness, love, service, justice, peace, further because one interaction can turn into many more. We are kind to one who in turn is kind to four more and it spreads. What if that is what Jesus means by “they will do even greater works than these”.
Here is the really crazy thing - the more we understand of Jesus, the more we understand of God - the likelihood of us doing good in small and large ways begins to increase but it doesn’t always mean that our lives will become easier.
As we have been delving into Jesus words in John we’ve been reading the story of Stephen becoming the first martyr. He preached, he taught, and he was killed for it. Sometimes the more we understand of Jesus, the more we understand of God, the more we begin to do good works - life may not become any easier in some ways but we may begin to find that deeper connection with the divine, that connection that allows Stephen to say with his last breath - “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them!” - Rev. Kara
Excerpt from sermon on May 7, 2017 with scriptures: John 10:1-10; Psalm 23; Acts 2:42-46
“The shepherd and the sheep know each other, they know the sound of one another, they can account for each others. The sheep know who will keep them safe and the shepherd knows where to lead them. The shepherd knows when they need rest, when they need to eat, when they need to walk, and when they need protecting. And the sheep would give their wool, their milk, and sometimes their life.
The shepherd gives life - because we need a little help with it.
The shepherd provides rest - because we are a people who need rest - we can’t go 60mph, packing our schedules and expect everything to go smoothly
The shepherd provides nourishment - because we need more than getting up, going to work, eating, watching tv, sleeping. We are in need of something deeper in our lives to ground us.
The shepherd guides us in proper paths - because we don’t have all the answers.
And that is where the passage in Acts come into the picture. The identity of the shepherd, of Jesus begins to move the disciples/us in our own identity. The disciples devote themselves just as the sheep are devoted to following the shepherd. They share their meals as the sheep in the pasture give of their milk. They dedicate themselves to prayer as the sheep stayed in constant connection with the shepherd.
If we are the sheep who do we listen to? Do we listen to voices that agree with us, do we listen to the internal voices that are so critical, do we listen to friends, to family, to strangers, to bosses - what are the voices that we listen to that determine how we act, react, how we feel, that try to decide who we are? If we listen for God then what does that voice tell us? Let me be clear not that we are necessarily hearing voices, but when we study the Bible, when we read the stories, when we sense God is with us what do we hear about who God is and who we are?
How do we know when we are hearing God and not just ourselves? We get a sense of it in the psalm and in Acts. God tries to fill us with contentment, with hope, with joy, so much so that we no longer need to rely upon possessions but are able to find meaning in the simplest things of life. If we are hearing consume, we must do more, we aren’t good enough, we need to fear others/our enemies --- then we might question whether or not we are truly hearing God. Who we think God is, who we understand Jesus to be - influences what we hear and who we are.” – Rev. Kara
Excerpt from sermon on April 30, 2017, scripture: Luke 24:13-25
“The gospel of Luke is known as the gospel where Jesus is always eating. In Luke things are always happening around a meal, around the table with Jesus, and it is in this moment of breaking bread, of sharing in a meal where the disciples finally see Jesus but he immediately disappears when they finally are like “ohhhhhh”. Sitting around a table, eating a meal, which requires us to truly engage, a time when conversation can happen (if we set our phones aside), sitting around a table with others also requires a certain amount of vulnerability. Around a table we address one of our most basic needs (hunger) while looking at one another. Around a table we are more likely to see our connections. Often some of our best memories are sitting around a table sharing a meal and telling stories. Think back to some of your favorite moments and how often do they involve sitting around a table? And it is around the table that the disciples finally recognize Jesus sitting right in front of them. How often when we’ve sat talking with others, sharing in a meal have we learned something, or understood something new, how often have we come away with - “hmmmmm, I didn’t know that.” Sharing a meal, sitting around a table can bring new possibilities to our lives but the story doesn’t even end there.
In this moment the story turns from one where we are unable to recognize God on our journey of life even when God is standing right in front of us, teaching us, showing us, walking with us - to a story that asks us so what do we do when the realization does hit? What happens when we do recognize God sitting next to us, when God is talking to us, when God is trying to get through to us? What are we going to do when we recognize God? How will we allow that to change our lives? Will we become more compassionate? Will we become more loving? Will we search more for God? Will we tell others about our experience? Will we keep it to ourselves? How will our lives be impacted when we recognize God?
Think about it like this, think of the most amazing thing you have ever witnessed or experienced, think of the thing that makes you say wow and fills you with joy. Now how did that change you, how did you talk about that moment with others? The disciples finally recognize Jesus and are changed by that moment, they are wowed and they can’t help but share it with others.
Our challenge this morning is how do we recognize God in our own lives, how is God working, and how does that change us, how do we talk about it, how do we share it, how do we go forward after such a moment.” – Rev. Kara
Excerpt from the Sermon on April 23, 2017, with scriptures: 1 Peter 1:3-9; Psalm 16:9-11; John 20:19-23, 27-29, 31
“You are receiving the goal of your faith: your salvation.” The goal of being confident in the presence of God with us is salvation and once again we have a term that is complex. Often if we hear the word salvation we may hear it in terms of an afterlife but the term is much more complex than that. Salvation is also about the here and now. The English word salvation comes from the latin word for salve/a healing ointment. And we see the word often throughout the Old Testament and the New. In the psalm it is used in reference to being delivered from a situation or even from yourself (think we are delivered from our anger) and salvation is used in the context of being transformed. The New Testament professor, Marcus Borg, says this “to be saved is to enter into a new kind of life - a life covenanted with God, the central theme of both the Old and New Testaments.” So as we are discovering, searching, doubting, questioning how God is present with us/growing our faith we are moving towards transformation, towards healing, towards a life in relationship with God, towards a new kind of life. However, the complexity of salvation doesn’t stop with discussion of being transformed personally but also carries over into the community for as each one of us enters into new life we affect things/others outside of ourselves. Salvation is personal and communal.
Just as faith is more than belief so is salvation more than an afterlife but how are we contemplating faith and salvation daily and how is it impacting what we do, what we say, how do we maneuver through our jobs, our homes, our relationships - family/friends, how we raise our children - grandchildren -great-grandchildren. 1 Peter is addressed to all who are struggling with their faith, with being transformed and especially when things aren’t easy. Now we may not have the exact challenges of early Christians but we still have challenges. We have things that demand our time, our energy, we are constantly being pulled in multiple directions. Our challenges come in what to do when our lives fall apart, in how to unbind ourselves from unhealthy habits, how to get perspective in a polarized society, how to navigate the uncertainty before us, how to find contentment when we are constantly pushed to consume, how to be grateful when things aren’t going according to our plans, how to find inspiration when we are drained, and how to hear God when everything else is blaring in our ears. Our challenges are different, our lives not exactly the same journey as the early Christians yet 1 Peter was for a larger community and the message is still relevant today in trying to understand after Easter what is faith, what is salvation, how do they impact us?
Think of it this way. We are not going to have it all figured out as we go out of here today but the things we do, the things we ingest begin to build our faith, begin to show us what it means to be saved. It’s like a garden, where we begin to plant seeds, we plant seeds that may take a little time to bloom, to be fully realized, to sense transformation is afoot, that our lives are on a different path but we have to plant the seeds of what we fill ourselves with that speaks of God, that reminds us of the stories where Jesus heals and loves, that cultivates a confidence in that God is still with us. The seeds we plant may come in the form of studying the Bible, in praying, in having conversations, in reminding ourselves that we belong to God, in worship, and in meditating. We plant seeds of all types in all sorts of ways but our challenge today is how, when, and where will we begin to plant the seeds in our lives, in others lives so that our faith grows and will know salvation.” – Rev. Kara
Excerpt from sermon on April 16, 2017, with scriptures: Matthew 28:1-10; John 20:1-18; Colossians 3:2-4
"Several months ago I had some pottery and I stood before you breaking it with a hammer. I talked about how we are all broken, we all have chips, we’ve all had something, and that no matter what, no matter if we try to glue all the pieces back together of ourselves we still have seams and we may still carry a few chips and here the resurrection story is giving us a chance to discern how we put those pieces of our lives back together and help others?
In what we read this morning we heard a few clues about how the disciples began to put their lives back together after a life changing moment. First, they grieved - we have to be able to grieve the loss of what could have been, of what we wanted, of how we wish things were. Second, they continued to care about one another. Third, what they found at the empty tomb was unexpected, and certainly not what they planned. Fourth, Jesus told them to not be afraid. Now fear is a really powerful element and it can be helpful when it keeps us from harming ourselves, but Jesus is talking about a fear that keeps us from moving forward. Fifth, Jesus tells Mary to not hold on to him. Don’t cling to what was or wasn’t of the ideal because something new is happening and Mary/us will need help from others.
Maybe we have an ideal vision of what our lives should look like, maybe our friends/our families have talked about such things. This is what we want (whatever this is) but what happens when a wrench is thrown into the whole thing, when our best friend is crucified, when our plans fall apart, when our traditions take a drastic turn, when our future is murky, when our expectations fall flat? Think about it like this. I’ve got four very different puzzles in these bowls. In fact, two of them are 100 piece and two are 24 piece and they are of four different images. And what the resurrection is trying to convey is that all these pieces of life may be mixed up together, and we may be missing a few pieces but we can begin to reconstruct --- it just may not be the image that we expect and the pieces may not fit perfectly like we think they should but we can reconstruct and we can help others do the same. As we put pieces together we may end up with a frog headed kitten that can fly and taking dips in the ocean, but we can put the pieces together because darkness/death/destruction/violence, did not stop the love, light, freedom, care, of God. Resurrection is about putting our lives together with a God who loves us and does not leave us. Resurrection is a hope that no matter how crazy life may be - we can put it together (even if it isn’t what we expect). Resurrection is this moment when we can run to others for help or be that help in the world. Resurrection is that challenge of piecing together a life that grieves, that is not paralyzed by fear, that moves forward into the unknown, and that releases us from clinging to what was or what could have been.
So how will we let the resurrection lead us in putting the pieces of our lives back together and in helping others? How will the resurrection be part of us today and everyday?" -Rev. Kara
Excerpt from the sermon on April 9th, 2017 with scriptures: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Isaiah 50:4-5; Philippians 2:5a-11; Matthew 21:1-11
“When Jesus enters the city everyone wants to know what’s going on, who is this, what’s happening. A fervor begins to spread, much to the fear of the temple authorities, and the Romans. The people begin to inquire and it is easy to see this as a moment that as people inquire they want to know more. Part of being awakened isn’t like the night before the test and we put the textbook underneath our heads as we fall asleep hoping that it will sink in by osmosis and all will be well the next morning as we take that test but we know that really we should have cracked open the book, we should have inquired, we should have asked more questions. Being awakened to where God is, to how God is working takes us being curious even when we may not completely understand what is being said, being awakened means searching and studying, seeking out God. The disciples didn’t completely understand who Jesus was, what Jesus was doing and they lived with him.
Philippians gives us even another perspective on being awakened - we have a choice. Jesus chose to “When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” We may find ourselves in some difficult circumstances, we may find ourselves in spots where we don’t have the power, but we can still choose to search out for God, we can choose whether or not we want to be awakened to God or whether or not we want to just go about our business as usual.
So what does it mean to then be awakened to God? In the Psalm we read of gratitude and recognizing God’s faithful love lasts forever. Being awakened to God translates into gratitude and knowing God’s faithful love lasts forever, being awakened to God means seeing the world - everything around us, others, situations, ourselves through the lens of gratitude and love. Being awakened to God is only about our journey but is also about how are we talking about it with others, how are we teaching others about this experience. How do we share being awakened to God?
Jesus life is about to end, the lives of the disciples are about to be turned upside down, they are about to witness and experience heinous crimes yet they do not turn bitter, they do not retaliate, they do not stay locked in a room for 40 years (maybe a couple days) but they recalibrate how they see life, how they live, how they view their lives, and others. They are awakened to God, they are awakened to a new reality and they couldn’t wait to tell everyone. So what would it mean for us to be awakened to God?” - Rev. Kara
Excerpt from the sermon on Apr 2, 2017, Scriptures: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130:6-7; John 11:23-26, 40, 43-44
“In Ezekiel we heard “I will put my breath in you, and you will live. I will plant you on your fertile land, and you will know that I am the Lord.” But the story of Lazarus pushes us even further when we hear, “The dead man came out, his feet bound and his hands tied, and his face covered with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.” When Jesus says, “untie him and let him go.” that should make us pause because sometimes as we are trying to figure out what kind of life we want, as we are trying to figure out how God is giving us life, as we are trying to figure out what it means to partner with God in the work of joy and love, we may have to ask ourselves is there anything that holds us back from this, is there anything that we need to be untied from, is there anything that we need to let go of, is there anything that we continue to bind us in unhealthy ways.
Think of it like this. We bind ourselves and others in many ways. Some are healthy and some are draining the life out of us. We could think of unbinding in the sense of being completely free - of breaking bad habits, it might mean deep self reflection and this could be anything whether we bind ourselves to anger, suffering, contempt, jealousy; or on a completely different side of too much self-sacrifice, guilt, shame, striving for perfection. We can bind ourselves in all kinds of ways whether it is through emotions, habits, outlooks on life, judgment, being too comfortable or being too miserable. We can bind ourselves in unhealthy ways through things we do and things we don’t do. And maybe we even feel like it is impossible to unbind ourselves, to loosen those things that hold us but Ezekiel and Jesus is saying it is possible but we may need some help from others.
These scriptures are challenging us to be receivers and givers in order to loosen those things that stifle a life of joy and love with God. So what do we need to loosen in our lives and how can we help others?” – Rev. Kara
Excerpt from the sermon on March 26, 2017, with scriptures: 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Ephesians 5:8-11, 13-14; Psalm 23:4-6
"Samuel kept searching, kept asking, and kept going and then it happens he finds the one whom God has chosen to be king in the most unexpected of places with not the most prestigious of families; but Samuel also embodies something else - perseverance. Samuel perseveres in the face of some difficult challenges and after he anoints David he leaves. Bethlehem is only 7 miles from Jerusalem, it is only 2-3 hours walking distance and now others have witnessed a priest, a prophet, an individual connected to the royal court of Saul - anoint a new king; and he is walking away not knowing what will happen. Samuel perseveres in the face of daunting, unknown, life threatening challenges. Samuel perseveres because God is guiding him.
Now my guess is that all of us have had challenges, have had experiences where we have had a choice we can either persevere or give up. We have probably had bosses, co-workers, relationships, children, health challenges, situations we have created/and those we did not and we could choose to put one foot in front of the other or not; and maybe we have different definitions of what it means to persevere but the story of Samuel here with the reading of Ephesians and the Psalm is challenging us to persevere in the light, to persevere in trying to see the world as God sees it, trying to persevere in how we face difficulties by knowing that God is walking with us. Persevering doesn’t make life any easier, it doesn’t make things fair, or mean that we get exactly what we want but instead it means we keep striving to know that God is with us, that we keep trying to figure out how God is guiding us; and that as we figure it out, as we persevere we share that knowledge with others, we stand with others, we encourage each other. Samuel in the way he conducted himself showed himself to David as someone who perseveres in the face of difficulty, in the unknown and soon David will need to persevere as well.
So our challenge no matter where we find ourselves in life, no matter the difficulties we face, no matter the assumptions we have made, no matter how hard it is to find the light, how do we persevere with God and how are we sharing/encouraging others as we all try to persevere while walking this path of life."
Excerpt from the sermon on March 19, 2017 with scriptures: Exodus 17:1-7, John4:5-14, Romans 5:2-5, Psalm 95:6-9
“When the Israelites were threatened or so they perceived by not having enough water to drink, when they believed their lives were in jeopardy, their children’s lives threatened, their livestock vulnerable they turned and threatened Moses, they lashed out, they didn’t show reverence for life. So how do we have/show reverence for life. A communal element exists in respecting life - in how we care for others who are poor, who are homeless, who are hungry. A communal element in how we care for the environment. Do you remember in the 90s when we saw the report about the plastic bottle rings getting caught around a ducks neck and so there was an initiative to cut our six-pack rings so that they didn’t cause pain to the ducks, turtles, and fish. We may not think of it this way but when we consider our actions like this upon others we are trying to answer how do we show reverence for life; but it doesn’t stop there.
As I was thinking about this reverence for life I couldn’t get a song out of my head and this one is not a typical one for me to hum because it is country; but as I was contemplating what does it mean to have reverence/to show a deep respect for life the song Live Like You are Dying by Tim McGraw kept at me.
The chorus and the second verse of the song really stick out because it shows us certain things about a deep respect for life -
Freedom - Joy - “I went skydiving, rocky mountain climbing”
Love - “I loved deeper, spoke sweeter”
Forgiveness - “I gave forgiveness I’d been denying”
Taking stock of our actions with others - “I was finally the husband that most of the time I wasn’t, And I became a friend a friend would like to have.”
Having a little fun - “all of a sudden going fishin’ wasn’t such an imposition”
Studying and taking stock of who we are and who we should be - “I finally read the good Book, and I took a good, long, hard look”
Gratitude - “Like tomorrow was a gift”
Seeing Beauty - “I watched an eagle as it was flying”
As the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, as they were facing the difficulties of life they forgot to have reverence for it and Jesus talking with the Samaritan woman at the well is trying to show it, give life to her and all so that we might experience that spring that bubbles up inside of us. How will we have/show a reverence- a deep respect for life?”
From the sermon on February 19, Scriptures: 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-20; Psalm 119:33-35; Matthew 5:38-448; Leviticus 19:9-18
“Sometimes Matthew 5 has been interpreted in terms of not reacting to what others may do to us. If someone calls us a name we walk away. Sometimes it has been seen as a straight call for us to not take revenge no matter what has been done to us. But sometimes Matthew 5 has been used as justification for staying in abusive, unhealthy situations, just keep taking it no matter what, which is not good and excludes how the people surrounding Jesus would have heard the passage it also excludes what 1 Corinthians says, “If someone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person, because God’s temple is holy, which is what you are.”
The ancient people would have heard Jesus words not just as “don’t take revenge” but they would have also heard a subversive element. When it talks about turning the other cheek if someone turned their left cheek to another it would require the other to either use the back of their right hand or to use their left. To do this would be an insult to the one slapping. So one responds in such a way that it is neither violent, vengeful, or humiliating. The same thing goes for the shirt. In the ancient world the people had only two garments (an inner and an outer one). To take someone’s garment and then for them to give the second would leave them naked, which makes the person taking becoming the creator of a judiciary injustice. The person taking the shirt is now in the wrong under law. Under Roman rule the soldiers could require someone walking along the road to carry the gear of the soldier for a mile but they could not carry it further so when Jesus makes this statement of carry the second mile he is encouraging nonviolent resistance because then a Roman soldier could face punishment. The last thing here that Jesus says that should give us pause is “Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you.” It’s the last part of the sentence that becomes subversive because according to Jewish law interest could not be charged on a loan. Giving/charity was required under Jewish law but if someone was looking to borrow than it becomes a completely different matter because now they are asking for something that can’t be given, they are asking for someone to break the law.
Matthew reminds us that revenge/violence/hatred is never the answer to a moment where we’ve been mistreated but is challenging us to react in a way that is more loving. That rises above our base instincts, that requires us to be thoughtful, that requires us to engage in such a way that is subversive.”
An excerpt from the sermon on Feb 12th: scriptures Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Matthew 5:21-26, 33-37; Psalm 119:1-8; 1 Corinthians 3:6-9
Deuteronomy and Matthew are hitting on what are actions that we take that can give us life. What are some things that we might do so that we aren’t purposely throwing off our balance as we walk the tightrope of life? Deuteronomy makes it sound simple. Everything will be fine - life will be good if you love God, obey God, and cling to God. All we have to do is choose that path and all will be well. I’m going to guess that all of us want to choose things that are good, that we all want a good life, that we aren’t out to make bad decisions like - “I really hope today my actions make others hate me.” - “I really hope that I am mistreated today and react in a manner that will get me fired.” - “I really hope tonight I’m miserable.” My guess is that we don’t want any of those things, we really do want life, we want to choose life, we want our actions to speak of loving/obeying/clinging to God. Or in the context of Matthew making things right with others whether it’s brothers, sisters, neighbors, friends, family. Deep down we truly want life yet there are times when we find ourselves on that tightrope of life wondering how to stay upright and not wanting to take another step forward because we are exhausted. And Matthew challenges us forward - in urgency - put down the gift at the altar and go make things right/change direction/do what we have to do so that we are choosing life.
The line in scripture “Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no.” Is the ultimate challenge of following through as we are inching our way across the tightrope of life. If we are wanting the life of Deuteronomy and Matthew, if we are going to make the first move, if we are going to say, “love our neighbor”, if we are going to try to mend relationships, then we must follow through. We must not waver in saying a yes or a no about choosing life and trying with every fiber of who we are to accomplish it no matter who is throwing water on us, no matter what hurdle lies in front of us we choose to face it as people who walk with God. So will we say yes and what will that look like for each of us?
From the sermon on Feb 5th. Scriptures include Matthew 5:13-20; Isaiah 58:3-4, 6-8; Psalm 112:1, 4-9
“Verse 20 of Matthew should provide a chuckle for us. We’ve been talking about keeping the law, how none of it is to pass away and then Jesus makes this statement about the pharisees and legal experts that we are to be more righteous. We should chuckle at this because the pharisees and legal experts were notorious for keeping the law perfectly. They were the ones who were reminding everyone else - do this, don’t do that, no-no-no-no that’s right it needs to be done a different way. If posters had been invented they would have lined their walls with all 700+ of them and making sure to not only hold themselves to it but everyone else. However, the pharisees and legal experts would sometimes get so caught up in making sure there was no shrimp cocktail before dinner or not plucking wheat as one was hungry that they wouldn’t notice who was famished and needed some wheat to eat or who needed healing even if it was on the sabbath (on the day of rest). They would get so caught in the details that they would miss where they needed to be that light, that salt, that love in the world. Have we ever gotten so caught in the details that we missed something important? Have we ever been so worried with what is or is not getting done that we may not have been the most kind or patient? Have we ever been so focused on doing something just right/perfect that we don’t realize who may be left out or hurt in the process? Have we ever been so consumed by what someone has or has not done to us that we forget we are all God’s creation? Jesus words are not meant to be a burden but a challenge in how are we a light, how are we the salt not just for our own peace, for our own joy, but for others.”
From the Sermon on January 29, 2017. Scriptures: Matthew 5:1-12; Psalm 15:1-3; 1 Corinthians 1:21, 25-31; Micah 6:8
(“Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad.”)
-Happy are people whose hope is no longer placed on material goods, powerful people, or in things that will disappear; because God is their hope.
-Happy are people who have lost everything that they thought was important to them yet who have not been destroyed because their joy comes from God.
(“Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth. Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full.”)
-Happy are people who use their strengths to help others instead of only for themselves because all of creation comes from God.
-Happy are people who try to make the right decisions, who try to seek out wisdom, who try to love others instead of filling themselves with things, with fear, with despair because they will find more satisfaction in life.
(“Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy. Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God. Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children.”)
-Happy are people who pause in judgment in order to understand another’s pain so that others might show them the same courtesy when in a difficult situation.
-Happy are people who try to lead with honesty, sincerity, straightforwardness, because they will recognize God in the creation, in the people, in the moments around them.
-Happy are people who strive to make peace in their own relationships and with others, because they will know what it is like to be following in the footsteps of God.
(“Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Happy are you when people insult you and harass you and speak all kinds of bad and false things about you, all because of me.”)
-Happy are people who feel like they are attacked by others, by the situations of life, by events, yet stand firm in not taking revenge, because they know that God is in charge.
-Happy are you when no matter what people have said about you to your face, behind your back, or on social media; and you have chosen to not react in the same manner because your self worth comes from God, not others.
From January 22nd Sermon over scriptures: Matthew 4:12-23; Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 4-9
Notice what Jesus does as this perfect light that is driving out of darkness, as one who is working from wisdom instead of fear, as one we are to emulate. Notice a few things that are said in what we just read in Matthew: “I’ll show you how to fish for people.” and then in Isaiah:
“ you have increased its joy”
“you’ve shattered the yoke that burdened them”
Jesus is going to teach us how to build relationships - not destroy, increasing others joy, and easing of burdens. We have three characteristics here of what light driving out of the darkness is, of how to discern wisdom from fear - Are we building relationships, are we increasing another’s joy, are we easing another’s burdens? And when we find our own selves feeling that darkness/fear - despair, pain, struggle, do we search for the light, do we search for people who build up relationships, who increase our joy, who help us with our burdens; or do we listen to those who increase our fear, anger, despair, the darkness. Deep down we know this and we already do things that speak to building relationships, to increasing joy in others, to easing one another’s burdens. We see it when people ask for prayer, when we call and check on each other, when we look for ways to sit with each other in pain and to celebrate when things are good. BUT where else is the light needed, in other people’s lives, in our own?
From the sermon on Sunday, January 15th. Scriptures Isaiah 49:1-7 and John 1:31-42.
"Moments often present themselves in life that challenges us to answer “what are we going to do about it?” and it ranges from the simplest - to the more difficult; the ref gives the touchdown to the other team that wasn’t really a touchdown so as a team who loses the game what are they going to do about it? Get mad, walk away, complain, or work harder and show themselves to rise above? Someone is cruel to us - do we return that tit for tat or do we rise above it? We receive a health report, do we allow it to stop us or do we take steps/change course? We find ourselves in challenging situations, do we become discouraged or do we learn from it? We find ourselves in a difficult relationship, do we try to understand and move forward with whatever that may look like? We find ourselves not in our dream job, do we let that slow us down or do we make the best of the situation? Often we have to ask ourselves - - now that X has happened “what are we going to do about it?” John the Baptist friends have a decision to make so what are they going to do about about recognizing God in their lives because they can easily just continue on the current path, they can continue to listen to John and not do anything."
From the sermon Dec 11th over the Christmas Carol "Joy to the World"
"Psalm 98 is a psalm of joy and exultation, it describes how to embody joy and that joy is extended to all of creation. Now joy is easy when things are going well. Clap our hands, shout for joy, sing out, all of that is easy when life is running along perfectly, when we are getting everything we want, and there are no bumps in the road; BUT that is more happiness instead of joy. Joy doesn’t come from whether or not our lives are running along smoothly. Joy comes from our lives being rooted in God no matter our circumstances. And we hear this in the words we sing. "
"Joy is possible in the midst of challenges if our joy is grounded in God, in what God does, in God’s love. Joy is this thing that flows through us when life is wonderful and when we are ready for a break from life. Joy is what keeps us from giving up, from giving in, from throwing up our hands that all is lost. Joy is an announcement of God when happiness is scarce. Joy is that proclamation we make in word, in song, in tone, in living that God always has the last word."
From the sermon Dec 4th over the Christmas Carol "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and a variety of scripture.
"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing quotes Malachi and Isaiah when it says, “Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail the sun of righteousness! The entire carol is full of exultations, of rejoicing, of singing what God has done, does, and will do. A singing out of what is good. A singing out of what could be and what is. We sing, we make music in all types of situations, at all types of events, to soothe our souls, to rejoice, and even for peace.
Singing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” does not only embolden ourselves with the story of the Christ child into the world but we are sharing it with one another. How often do we share what is good, how often do we share in the peace of God for ourselves and others? How difficult is it to share in the good, in the peace, in hope because of our lives, our society, our world? How often do we want to but seem to fall short, how often have we wanted to share in hope/peace/joy/and love but feel that circumstances, events, life steps in the way, throws down a challenge and those intentions of sharing in hope/peace/joy/and love disintegrates quickly?"
From the Sermon on Nov 27th
Over the Christmas Carol "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear" and the scripture Isaiah 11:9 and Matthew 11:30: "Edmund Sears wrote a carol about peace coming into the world and touching every part of our lives. A peace that only God could bring to those places that seem impossible but there is another side of this carol. It is a carol that is sung in hope of a peace that is possible. When we sing it every year we are kindling in us a hope that peace is possible. Part of the season of Advent is being hopeful that peace really is possible, that joy is for everyone, and that love has entered into the world; and every day we wake up, every day that we live we can choose to be part of that story.... So how will we embody Isaiah, the carol, a hopeful peace throughout this Advent season?"
Over the last couple of months the format of the sermons has changed in worship to be more participatory with the congregation by weaving the message, scripture, and music in new ways. Many of those sermons can be found on our Facebook Page and were recorded using Facebook Live.
It is the intention that this webpage will now change somewhat as to try and convey the sermon in the midst of the more participatory format on Sunday mornings.
Questions in the bulletin
What do we think we need to the point of bargaining everything for it? What needs do we cry out to God for help?
What has been our own reaction to something that we think we need desperately and then have been told no? What is our reaction?
What lengths are willing to go to when we are in need and has that been the best course for us to take?
Have we ever attained something and then weren’t satisfied once we got it?
How has being driven to suffice our own needs impacted others and ultimately ourselves?
Links for the April 10th, 2016 sermon