Sermons

  1. The Unsavable [sic]

    9/25/2016


  2. When It's Gone

    9/18/2016


  3. Lost

    9/11/2016


  4. The Journey Of Our Faith

     


  5. The Journeys We Take With Others

     


  6. The Journeys Which Surprise Us

     


  7. The Journeys We Don't Want To Take

     


  8. When The Smoke Clears


  9. OUR TREASURES

    Psalm 126

     


  10. EARNING FORGIVENESS

    Psalm 32, Luke 15:

     


  11. ALL IN

    Joel 2: 1 – 2, 12 – 17; 2

     


     

  12. Enveloped in Grace

    Jeremiah 31: 7 – 14, John 1: 10 - 18

     


     

  13. Walking With the Light

    Isaiah 61: 1 – 4, 8 – 11; John 1: 6 – 8, 19 - 28

     


     

  14. Where You Least Expect It

    2 Samuel 7: 1 – 11, Luke 1: 26 - 38

     


     

  15. Yesterday, Today, And Tomorrow

    Christmas Eve 2014

     


     

  16. Seen vs Unseen


  17. Wrestling With God


  18. Refuse To Separate


  19. Closed Windows, Open Doors
    Hosea 1: 2 - 10, Luke 11: 1 - 13


  20. Truly Ready
    Isaiah 1: 1, 10 - 20, Luke 12: 32 - 40


  21. WHAT WE DON’T SEE
    Acts 2: 14a, 22 – 32; John 20: 19 - 31


  22. Looking Up While Being Grounded
    Acts 1: 1 – 11, Luke 24: 44 - 53


  23. SHAKEN AND STIRRED
    Colossians 3: 1 – 4; Mathew 28: 1 - 10


  24. ONLY ONE CELEBRATION?
    Psalm 118: 1 – 2, 19 – 29: Mathew 21: 1 - 11



  1. The Unsavable [sic]

    9/25/2016



    Since I know I have some retired teachers among you, and I am aware how smart all the members of this church are, I will come clean immediately and admit that I have apparently created a new word: unsavable.  I will admit that this was completely by accident, and it wasn’t until I wrote the word on my computer and saw it underlined in red that I realized my mistake.  So, once seeing my mistake I needed to make a decision; should I change it?  Should I let it slide and see if anyone noticed?  Or should I keep it in place.  As you know, when you looked at today’s sermon title in the bulletin, I kept it.  So, since I’ve added this new word to the English language, what does the word mean?  It means simply: someone or something which cannot or should not be saved.  Month old egg salad is probably unsavable.  Milk two weeks past its expiration date is likely unsavable.  Dress pants with worn holes in the thigh area are unsavable.  A letter written in ink and the letter is left in the rain is unsavable.  A picture thrown into a burning  fireplace in a state of anger or frustration is unsavable.  Apparently the marriage between Brad Pitt and Angelina Joile is now unsavable.  Have I sold any of you on my new word yet?
     
    You may have noticed that in the examples I used of my new word in using them in a sentence, everything used was a THING which was unsavable; from food to clothes, to a letter, to a photo, even a relationship could be unsavable.  But, when I gave the meaning of the word I said SOMEONE or something which can’t be saved.  So far, I didn’t use a someone in any of my examples.
     
    Part of the reason for that is because we are Christians, and by definition, we believe as Christians that EVERYONE can be saved through the love and belief of Jesus Christ.  But is that totally accurate?  Is there no such thing as an unsavable person?  Well, that may depend on your thought process, so let’s explore shall we?  This church is literally and figuratively surrounded by a Jewish population.  The Jews in most cases do not accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  Does that mean they can’t be saved, that when they die they will be turned away from heaven’s gates?  Many people in the world today think that people who are gay or lesbian are unsavable as the Bible says it is wrong.  Yet, if it was so wrong wouldn’t it have shown up under one of the eleven commandments, and by eleven I include Jesus’ one commandment to all of us that we need to love one another.  There is no commandment which says: Thou shall not be a homosexual.  So, if someone is gay or lesbian or any deviation of such does this mean they are unsavable?  Though I have beat him up a little over the past couple of weeks is Colin Kaepernick unsavable?  Maybe the 20 year old suspect out in Washington who shot five people in a mall is unsavable.  But, let’s take it one step further and ask this question; who determines the people who are unsavable and those who can be or who are already saved?  Do YOU have that power?  Do I?

    You and I can look at a worn pair of pants and determine whether or not they have seen their last days of wear.  You and I can look at a relationship and decide whether or not it has a future.  You and I can taste or even smell a couple of drops of milk and know whether or not it is digestible, but here is what you and I are NOT capable of doing, we are NOT capable of stating who among us is savable or not?  That said, we CAN stack the deck for one person and only one person, and THAT PERSON is the one who looks back at you when you are looking in the mirror.  If you think you have power among anyone else, then my friend you are going to be frustrated, because we cannot impose our will on anyone any more than God can impose HIS will on anyone.  Like God, we can guide, we can hope, we can pray, we can try to lead someone in a certain direction but in the end, that person is responsible for themselves, In our reading from Luke today, Jesus spells that out pretty clearly: “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.”  This is not a good time for the rich man to learn he had it all wrong while he was on earth, that by living the good life and by being selfish and not caring for others he was slated to spend all of eternity in Hades.  But, I will give him credit as he does show concern for someone other than himself: He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’  Now, one could argue that in a way this is a selfish move on the rich man’s part as he is only demonstrating concern for his own family, and I agree, that is a valid argument, but he could have kept the mindset of just trying to figure out a way to save himself from an eternity in anguish.  But, the most revealing part of this parable Jesus gives has not yet been said, but Jesus finishes with it:  Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”  One cannot emphasize what is being said here; there are people who weren’t paying attention to Moses and the Prophets, who were these people listening to?

    The only one we can stack the deck for is ourselves.  Period.  When everything is said and done, when the day comes for each of us to be standing before God, there is only one person who can speak on our behalf.  You can guide your children, you can beg your spouse or significant other, you can make suggestions to your friends, but in the end your life is going to be judged on how YOU lived it.  Moses and the Prophets still speak to us through the Bible.  JESUS still speaks to us through the Bible.  Are we listening?  Do you apply your faith through your knowledge or are you ignoring how it applies to your own life and instead are trying to impose it on someone else?  Remember that faith is NOT one size fits all.  We all get our faith and retain our faith through our own experiences.  We all demonstrate whether or not we can be saved by how we live our lives here.  Are we ignoring the hungry living at our doorstep?  Do we look at them as unsavable?  As we see with the rich man in Jesus’ parable this would prove  to be a big mistake.

    Again, let us be clear, in the end we are responsible for ourselves.  But, that doesn’t mean we don’t share our love, it doesn’t mean we don’t share our compassion or our forgiveness, no my friends it means quite the opposite, we open ourselves up in a giving and loving manner whenever we can.  But, understand, we can only suggest, we can only try to guide.  The minute you try to impose YOUR will on someone else, or the moment you try to fit someone else into YOUR conditions, YOUR parameters, YOUR faith you are begging for failure and frustration.  Share, forgive, and love.  If you can do those three things, then today’s Psalm should speak to you: “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,  my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you  from the fowler’s snare
        and from the deadly pestilence.He will cover you with his feathers,  and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night,  nor the arrow that flies by day,nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;    I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. 15 He will call on me, and I will answer him;    I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. 16 With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation
    .”

    I know that it is your instinct to share with family and friends Good News like we see here in this Psalm when we hear: “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him…”  We know that really reads; because he or she loves me, I their Lord and God, will rescue them.  We as Christians know it’s true, and as Christians we embrace this and share this.  Just keep in mind that the one you share the Good News with is their own person.  If they haven’t listened to Moses or the Prophets, and if they haven’t listened to Jesus doesn’t necessarily mean they are unsavable.  Maybe, just maybe, they needed to hear it from you.  Let God decide who is saved and who isn’t.  You listen!  You forgive!  You love!  You believe!  You…..will be saved!  Amen!



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  2. When It's Gone

    9/18/2016



    It has been said that once a moment is gone, it is lost forever.  How many of you have noticed the truth in that statement?  How many times in our lives have we recognized that we had just experienced one of THOSE moments, where this was a moment we were supposed to ACT on?  When we were younger, how many dates did we miss out on, or that right moment for that first kiss, or knowing when a friend really needed us, or if we liked getting into a little bit of trouble, those moments when we said to ourselves: oh boy, I’m in trouble?  Just as quickly, we recognize pretty early on when we had a BIG moment where we did well.  Country singer Brad Paisely has a song about sending a letter to himself when he was younger, so that he would KNOW those moments when they came along. When a moment is gone, it’s gone! Wouldn’t it be great for a head’s up to let us know when one of those special once in a lifetime moments was coming?
     
    As we got older, did you ever see a job you wanted to apply for, but you got busy, or something happened and when you got around to applying for that job, it had already been filled?  The moment was gone!  As you know, these days my other job is at a car dealership, and it always bothers me when someone comes in a week, a day, sometimes just an hour too late to purchase the car they really wanted, as someone beat them to it.  Another moment lost.  The Eggo commercials on television are famous for losing the moment as two people arguing about the waffle about to pop up from the toaster gets snatched away by a third party taking advantage of their distraction.  The third party seized the moment, while the other two lost that moment.
     
    Last week was the 15th anniversary of the attacks of 9/11.  I dwelled on what happened long enough last Sunday, but when one thinks about seeing a moment clearly, and what the ramifications were if action wasn’t taken, all we have to do is remember the passengers on flight 93 out of Newark. Once learning that other hijacked planes had been used as missiles on buildings they decided on their own fate, and saved others on the ground. On the flip side of this, there is US Airways Flight 1549 out of LaGuardia and headed for Charlotte, North Carolina.  That flight wouldn’t last longer than six minutes, piloted by Captain Chesley Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles; as the plane flew through a flock of geese while taking off which knocked out both engines and forced a water landing on the Hudson River.  This Captain recognized the moment, and acted on it, saving all 155 people on board.  What happens if he doesn’t recognize and seize the moment?  Does anyone doubt a different outcome?

    When a moment is gone, it’s gone, and rarely do we get second chances.  Yet, today in our reading from Luke, Jesus gives a parable where someone seizes the moment granted, which in turn gives him another opportunity:  The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’“‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’“‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”  We have several takeaways from this passage and some of them are surprising, but the first one is probably obvious: When facing survival we can get creative out of desperation in a hurry.  This manager got real shrewd real fast in order to protect his own skin.  So why is Jesus telling us this parable, it almost seems to be about cheating doesn’t it?  Yet, we hear a different result: “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”  Well, the fired manager trying to save his skin IS cheating but his former and it appears his once again boss is impressed.  This seems like a strange lesson from Jesus, but what we need to do is go deeper.

    Jesus is telling us to associate with people who are like us.  That isn’t a totally foreign idea to us.  Christians associate with other Christians.  Moms associate with other Moms.  Football fans associate with other football fans.  The rich associate with the rich.  We can go on and on.  The point is we have a common interest and a similar point of view.  For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”  We do gravitate towards people we have things in common with.  I’m sure that you noticed throughout your lives the times we drift apart from those we have less and less in common with.  I can tell you right now, that when my friends began having children, I was quickly left to the outside looking in.  Those friends began associating with new friends who had children in the same school and were doing the same activities.  Why is graduating from high school such an emotional day?  Because we all go off to do different things, and make new friends.  We go into the military, or to college, or to trade school, or we stay at home and go to work.  Our older friendships are left to summer get-togethers and then as we all begin to graduate, we move.  We begin to lose touch with our friends from the old neighborhood and now become friends with the new one.  But you know, a funny thing happens over time: as we become empty nesters long the way, we find ourselves trying to reconnect to our past, and we begin searching for the friends we left behind.

    It even happens within the church.  We have members here who have left and returned to the church they call home.  We have some members who lost their way for a while with their faith, but have now found their way to this church.  What’s the unifying factor?  We all share similar beliefs, we all share the same faith, we all believe in the power of prayer.  I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”  Isn’t part of our worldly wealth our faith?  Isn’t that what we do at the church? We share our faith and we welcome our time together, whether it is during a church service, the coffee hour afterwards, or attending a baseball game together.  We enjoy the company of each other.

    I stated in a sermon earlier in the summer that people need to return to the church, Jesus gives some insight into why: For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”  It isn’t that we CAN’T pray on our own, or be alone with our faith, but isn’t it nice to know that you are with others which share that faith, that deal with their OWN KIND.  Here are two trigger words that can stir up emotion: when used improperly they can create anger, distrust, and trepidation: own kind.  We don’t want those people here they should stay with their own kind!  Usually, this sentence stirs up a ton of emotion and right now it is serving as a catalyst of what we are witnessing around this country.  But here’s the problem, we like putting things in smaller groups. We LIKE segregating everything! It seems to be in our nature but I have a suggestion before things really get out of hand: let us put EVERYONE under those two words: OWN KIND.  But, instead of it meaning a race, or a sexual orientation, or a religion, or an ethnic background, or even a level of wealth, let us place EVERYONE under the umbrella of OWN KIND and call us what we ALL ARE: SINNERS! Listen to Jesus once more: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.  If you take money and invest it wisely, what happens?  You make more money!  When you die, how much money do you get to take with you?  If you take your faith and invest it in a church, with others who are investing their faith what happens?  Wonderful things happen!  Our faith grows, we look for ways in helping each other, in helping others in need!  We pray TOGETHER! We share our faith TOGETHER. We stand TOGETHER in peace! When we are at church are we serving God or money? At the church shouldn’t we be looking for THOSE moments where we need to act?  We should be living our lives HOPING that we get an opportunity for a moment we don’t miss out on!

    When we get to heaven how will we be measured?  Will it be by our bank accounts or by knowing that when God presented a moment to us we reacted and did the right thing immediately, because we know, when the moment is gone….. well…..Amen


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  3. Lost

    9/11/2016



    It is hard to believe, but fifteen years have passed, and I don’t know about you, but I find the events which occurred that day just as surreal today as I did then.  The events which unfolded weren’t supposed to happen.  Not here, not in this country.  How devious and evil must someone be to come up with this plan of attack?  A state of war was declared on our country with horrific results, and possibly the worst of it all, was that not one military weapon was used.  As well, out of the buildings which were targets, only one was military based.
     
    The speed of how fast everything happens is terrifying.  If the events were happening today and not 15 years ago, think about what you were doing this morning.  By the time most if not all of you had your morning coffee and breakfast, all four commercial planes were in the air.  The time is 8:41am and the last flight just took off from New Jersey’s own Newark International Airport.  As that plane is ascending into the air, at least two of the other jets are already under the hijackers’ control, and one of those jets is DESCENDING toward New York City.  Five minutes later, the loss of life begins as American Airlines flight 11 flies directly into the North Tower at almost 500 miles per hour.
     
    As you finished getting dressed, at 9:03 the South Tower is hit.  As you parked your car outside the church the Pentagon has now been hit and by now, everyone knows who is watching or listening to the news that this nation is under attack.  Emergency First Responders are in route to the World Trade Center now, with the first that arrived already inside the buildings.  As you all got settled into the pews and I came in to begin the service with announcements, the South Tower is collapsing and by the time we sang today’s first hymn, heroes were born in Shanksville Pennsylvania as the passengers on the flight which left Newark tried desperately to retake control of the plane.  By the time I complete today’s message, the North Tower will collapse.  In under two hours, the United States has on its hands our second Pearl Harbor, but, as I stated earlier, this time the targets were not just military, and the weapons used were certainly NOT jets from any other nation’s air force.
     
    What was lost 15 years ago today has been measured in lives, innocent lives of our brothers and sisters, our friends and neighbors.  But, we lost even more!  We lost the idea that this country could never experience something like this.  We lost our way of seeing flying, we lost our trust in groups of people that were just as horrified as everyone else.  Some people have never stepped into New York City again.  Some people have never looked at the rest of the world in the same way again.  Some people lost their way, and going back to loss of life, we continue to lose people who responded to an area now known as Ground Zero, because of the toxic air they were breathing, and thus, Cancer took even more lives, cancer which originated right there.
     
    But, in the days, weeks and months which followed something amazing in this country happened.  This country got its swagger back, and for a short while we didn’t see each other by our sex, or by our race, or by our sexual orientation, or by our heritage.  We were all AMERICANS and that was all that mattered.  Police, Firemen, Paramedics and all first responders were considered heroes and had all our respect.  EVERYONE stood and saluted our flag, EVERYONE sang the Star Spangled Banner!  EVERYONE!  So, let’s fast forward the script, because fifteen years passes quickly, how did we let ourselves lose everything which was gained in our unification back then?  How did this country backtrack so quickly?  Backtrack is being kind, as we have come very close to returning back to the race riots of the sixties.  It’s only been fifteen years since we were all standing in harmony?  How did we get back here?
     
    Is it how we are built?  Is the human race forever cursed to living the same circle over and over and over again?  BEFORE Jesus walked the earth, God had to be asking the same questions I just posed and in today’s reading from Jeremiah, we HEAR HIS frustration: My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil;  they know not how to do good.”  Are we back there again?  One could pose a very good argument that we are, and that word; ARGUMENT, could be the biggest issue of all.  As it appears the smallest of arguments these days leads directly to nightmarish results.  An estranged couple argue about the way their child or children should be raised, and the next thing we know the entire family is getting wiped out by one or the other parent because they couldn’t part ways peacefully.  Don’t even get started on the current Presidential race, as I fear this will become much more heated long before we find where these candidates stand on just about anything.  The church certainly isn’t immune as one denomination after another struggled and in some cases continues to struggle over the gay and lesbian debate.  Many churches broke away from their denominations over this, and again the question has to be asked: How can this be?  My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil;  they know not how to do good.”  Are we really that lost?  When we can’t get along with one another, when some areas of the country look upon our heroes as villains then the answer just might be YES, we ARE that lost.  When arguments too readily get out of hand and tragic results occur then yes, we ARE that lost.  When the first instinct appears to be anger and hatred INSTEAD of compassion and understanding, then yes, we ARE that lost.
     
    So, how do we find ourselves again?  It can’t be another blindside attack taking hundreds if not thousands of innocent lives, it can’t come to that as being the ONLY way.  We as Christians know who to turn to.  We as Christians know where to find the light in the storm around us, the anchor to tie ourselves to.  We know WHO to walk next to, because He certainly knows WHEN to walk next to us.  In our reading from Luke today, Jesus tells us two tales about the lost: “Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.  Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins[a] and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. We have to keep this in mind!  We have to remember: that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent…”  We also need to remember this; we all have a responsibility which extends past ourselves, our family, and our friends.  Let us look at the shepherd who looks for the one lost sheep, wouldn’t it be easier if we knew that shepherd was looking that we join in the search?  When a child or an elderly person goes missing we don’t send one person to search for them we send out dozens. 
     
    Last week, a video was shown of a NJ transit officer trying to wrestle a man off the train tracks as a fast moving train was approaching.  The man who obviously was a very lost soul and wanted to end it all, fought this hero with everything he had, but with literally a few seconds to spare the officer got the man to safety.  Wouldn’t it be nice if by seeing that video, the next time someone crawls onto the tracks that several people come to his aide as opposed to just one?  Thank God for that officer being in the right place at the right time and may he serve as a lesson learned.  On the other side of the coin we have a well known athlete who doesn’t want to salute the flag, or stand for our National Anthem, and he wears socks depicting police officers as pigs.  I wonder if he would feel the same way if the person that was on those tracks that day was a family member or a team-mate or even a friend.  I have no doubt that for every police officer who demonstrates questionable judgment; we could show 10,000 who use proper judgment.  That athlete is lost, and someone somewhere needs to help him find his way.  Maybe we ALL have to try harder in seeing the bigger picture.  Instead of PROTESTING the few, why don’t we take more time CELEBRATING the many!
     
    Fifteen years ago today everything changed.  In the short fifteen years since; it changed back.  We need to find our way back and it begins with one voice, it begins with a small group, it begins with remembering not only everything which still tore us apart 15 years ago, today, but how we unified in the days which followed.  If we can do that, we CAN celebrate, and with any luck, we grow from the foundation we rebuild.  We remember to reach out, we remember to show compassion, we remember the joy in finding something we’ve lost!  Amen!


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  4. The Journey Of Our Faith

     




    For most of us, our faith journey begins with the help of someone else, at our Baptism.  I don’t think many of us remember our baptism, as for most of us that took place before the age of two.  What we will remember is our confirmation, usually in our early to mid-teens.  That is when we actively learn about, and really begin to build our faith.  After that, is there really any other way to publicly demonstrate our faith and our desire to be Christians?
     
     
    Well, one way, as we saw last week when Karen and Kyle rejoined our church family, they were asked to reaffirm their faith.  Thus, when joining or rejoining a church, we are publicly declaring our faith, we are showing the world we ARE and wish to be seen as Christians.  But, is there anything else?  How do we walk the walk of a Christian?  How do we talk the talk of a Christian? 
     
     
    The most obvious answer is to attend church.  There are people who will disagree with me here.  They feel the organized church has outlived its’ usefulness and I respectfully say to that; baloney.  They couldn’t be more wrong.  Here’s why; YOUR faith gets its nourishment here!  This is where your faith rebuilds itself, this is where your faith repairs itself, this is where your faith is rejuvenated and this is where your faith is restored EVERY time you walk through the door!  To tell me or anyone else who will listen that you have a great relationship with God, that you don’t need organized religion, that you are perfectly fine to do this on your own is a slap in the face to your own faith.  Why?  Look at the news!  Look at what we are bombarded with every single day.  The awful flooding in West Virginia, the fires out west, terrorist bombings around the world, a story out of California this week about two husbands and fathers who were involved in a motor vehicle accident pulled over to the side of the road, got out of the van to view the damage and then watched in horror as the van got rear-ended by a truck, and burst into flames, trapping their wives and children inside.  Everyone inside the van perished, despite the efforts of the two men to save their families.  In Texas this week, we hear about a mother who shot and killed her two daughters in front of their father, to punish the father.  We are assaulted on a daily basis with this kind of news and I’m sorry, you can’t tell me you don’t need a time-out at whatever church you attend. Last week we spoke to the journeys we take with others.  There are times where your faith journey needs a healthy dose of support from other loving, caring Christians who are feeling the same pain and frustrations YOU ARE!  As stated last week, we are NOT meant to walk through our lives alone.  When alone for too long, we get ourselves into trouble.  Here at the church, you can mourn with others, you can pray with others, you can search for answers with others who have the same questions, the same frustrations but how?  How do we find the answers, how do we move forward in a world gone mad, how do we navigate our way through so much despair, so much hurt, so much evil and hate?  The answer is your faith.  Your faith in God, your faith in Jesus Christ, your faith in other Christians, your faith in yourself.  That’s right, it’s not just about you and God, it’s about you and other people you interact with, it is about you and how you feel about yourself.  Do we give in to hating and being disappointed in the world or do we still see the good in the world?  Do we throw our hands up in the air giving up on the human race, or do we have some fight left inside of us?  Do we let the negativity run us over and run us down or do we reach down into our faith and let it help us get back up and face the world again?
     
     
    Maybe, the answer lies in how and when your faith began.  I mentioned earlier that most of us were baptized as infants and confirmed as teenagers.  There are a lot of years in between.  What influenced your faith during those years?  Many of you were fortunate enough to attend Sunday school, maybe some of you even remember having a favorite teacher.  Don’t you think your faith began building during that time? Very early on, one of my family members gave me my first Bible, it was a children’s Bible and I cherished it.  It had great illustrations throughout it to help show me the stories being told inside.  The first story from the Bible I remember having a huge impact in my life, was the story of Noah and the Ark:So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.14 So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out… I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish.18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you.20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive.”
     
     
      It is a fascinating story.  Most children love animals so there is a draw right away for those who are young.  For many of us at such a young age when our minds are still filled with wonder and curiosity we try to imagine a boat big enough to carry two of every animal.  Has any child heard the story of the Ark and said, “No that couldn’t happen!”  We believe, and our faith begins to take shape.  As we grow older, and hopefully wiser, when we revisit the story of Noah and the Ark, our faith once again gets restored, and grows.  We see an angry God in the story, yet despite his disappointment and frustration doesn’t punish everyone.  Much like we see with God and Adam and Eve, we see again here; God could have chosen just to eliminate the human race, but chose not to.  Would you or I have made the same decision?  Let’s take it a step further, and see what God says to Noah later AFTER the flooding and the destruction: “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. 22 “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter,day and night will never cease.” God isn’t about destroying, though we are told there is a time for everything, don’t you think God would rather create? He let everything start anew, and we found our way to forgiveness through God’s Only Son, Christ Jesus.
     
     
    It is Jesus who taught, taught some more and never stopped teaching.  One of Jesus’ favorite ways to teach was the use of parables.  Today, we hear a favorite among many, is it one of yours?  Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.”  When the master returns the first two servants who doubled the amount of gold they were given are rewarded: “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!  However, the one who did nothing with what he was given, returns it, and then gets a harsh response from the master: “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. 28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” 
     
     
    My friends, Jesus is talking about our faith.  Every one of us along our faith journeys have been given opportunities.  Did we take those opportunities and BUILD on them, or did we bury what we already had, and let it idle, never growing, never expanding, never improving.  Those who attend church, those who pray daily, those who see the gift’s in their lives, those who act in a Christian manner when presented with an opportunity to help a fellow brother or sister, you will be like the first two servants, you will be rewarded.  For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”  Do you have faith?  Do you put your faith in a position to grow?  For whoever has, WILL be given more!  Well done, good and faithful servant!  Amen!


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  5. The Journeys We Take With Others

     




    In my job at the auto dealership, I am the old man in the department.  Two women I work with are in their thirties, everyone else is in their twenties.  The twenty-something’s are quite inquisitive, and when thinking about life lessons they usually choose to come to me first for advice.  One of these young adults came to me this past week and asked me what my favorite memory was in my life so far.  I thought about it for a few seconds and realized how truly blessed I am.  I told her that I had many, but I started listing the ones which came to mind first.  Those memories included my wedding day, camping with my family as a child and teenager, a vacation Ann and I took to Niagara Falls, fishing trips with my father and brother, playing on my high school football team.  It dawned on me as I was sharing these memories that there was one common thread among them; I was NEVER ALONE in any of those memories.  So, I wonder as I stand before you what your favorite memories are.  I would be curious to see if you come to the same conclusion as I, that your best memories are those you shared with others. 
     
     
    God made an incredible, loving, and insightful decision very early in the creation process.  We hear about it in the second chapter of Genesis: “The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” 19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’    for she was taken out of man.” 24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”  We are not meant to go through our lives alone.  Beginning at birth, we aren’t hatched from eggs, we are formed within our mother.  As opposed to many of the other living species on this planet who begin to thrive on their own in weeks and even on occasion days, we need to develop over years.  Thus, we require others to nurture us for some time, and for most of us, that begins with our parents.  But, the bottom line is, that we are NOT supposed to go through our lives alone.  We are to share this journey with family, with friends, with co-workers, with our church family.  Too many times we hear that when a person has inflicted horrific damage to other people, we find that this person will often be described as a “loner.”  We aren’t meant to be alone.  We are meant to share this journey, our individual journey with others.  For some, we will share those journeys for a lifetime, for others, we may only share the journey for a few minutes.  Has it ever occurred to you that a person who seems to have randomly joined you on your life journey may not have been so random at all?  Suddenly, you are learning lessons from that person, OR they are learning lessons from you, maybe, if you are both lucky, you learn something from each other.   
     
     
    In preparation for my bi-pass surgery I needed several doctors, many different nurses, love and support from my family and friends. Prayers from all of you as well as others, but the one person I needed the most was a volunteer the hospital called a patient advocate who came to me a couple of times prior to the procedure, a few hours after the procedure as well as the first day and second day following the procedure.  He told me exactly what to expect and he didn’t sugar-coat a single thing.  Thus, every step along the way, I knew what to expect before it happened, there were no surprises, he prepared me well.  He was the last person I expected to meet during this, yet for five or six days, he was everything in the world to me.
    Sometimes, we send others on journeys.  Today, we hear about a journey Moses sends 12 men on.  Yes, I said twelve, interesting how many times certain numbers re-appear in the Bible; here is another that should ring a bell; they would be away for 40 days.  The journey is a scouting mission. Let’s listen once more: “When Moses sent them to explore Canaan, he said, “Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country. 18 See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. 19 What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? 20 How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees in it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land.” (It was the season for the first ripe grapes.)  Now, I think it is important to note one of the observations Moses asks these men to make: “18 See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many.”  Moses is about to take his people into this land if he likes what he hears.  What do you think he wanted to hear regarding the people who already lived there?  Believe it or not, I’m fairly positive he wanted to hear that they were strong people AND great in number, so that they could work the land TOGETHER side by side.  If the scouts who had been sent out found a land with a few weak people in it, then Moses knows he has a challenge ahead, they need to help those who are too weak to help themselves.  It could influence the decision to move into this land and possibly scout elsewhere.  The journey between the Canaanites who are already there as well as the Israelites who are travelling with Moses are about to be joined together.  One hopes that they can all live in peaceful harmony.  That should ALWAYS be the goal. 
     
     
    We know it isn’t.  We see it right here in Lakewood.  Those who have moved in over the past thirty years or so, turned the world upside down for those of you already living here.  It is hard to co-exist with someone when it is apparent they don’t wish to co-exist with you.  It is hard to be respectful when you don’t feel respected.  It works against everything we are taught in the Bible, by our Lord Jesus Christ, it even works against what we learned from our parents.  For those of you who still live in Lakewood, every day is a challenge.  I wish I could tell you it will get better, I wish I could tell you there is a way, but I am only speaking to one side of the equation and in regards to pure numbers, I’m speaking to the minority here, and I know it hasn’t always been that way.  As I’ve mentioned before, all the journeys we take aren’t happy ones, there are just too many variables to make everything perfect all the time.
     
     
    Yet, Jesus asks us to take difficult journeys through our lives.  Sometimes, we get tested along the way.  Today we hear a very familiar parable from Jesus, one which speaks volumes: On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”  Have you ever noticed that Jesus doesn’t put in the caveat of what that same person would do for you?  This isn’t a; ‘you do for me I do for you’ story, there are journeys we will encounter, when all that matters are your actions and your actions alone.  When people talk about you do they say you play well with others?
     
     
    From the very beginning, God intended for us to take journeys with others.  In a few moments, we are welcoming back into the fold Karen and Kyle Davis, mother and son. They are returning to this church to be members, to take this part of their faith journeys together.  That is just so right, so wonderful.  It is the perfect tribute to what Jesus said:For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Alleluia! Amen!


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  6. The Journeys Which Surprise Us

     




    Today we continue our series of Journeys with the ones which surprise us.  As we explore this, we will see that often the journeys which surprise us surprise others as well. Many times the surprises are wonderful and positive, but occasionally the surprises are disappointing.  Most of the time the surprising journeys we take are learning experiences, and sometimes that alone is the surprise.  So, what are some surprising journeys?  Let us begin with this one: Some years back, a young boy named George struggled while he attended Junior High.  He was painfully shy, he found it difficult to make new friends.  He was not athletic, he was klutzy, and was always the last one chosen for a sports team.  George was often the target of teasing and pranks.  It is easy to say his morale was often low, and while at school George often felt alone.  He was a joy for the teachers because he certainly wasn’t a problem child but he was never popular among his peers.  The journey he was on certainly seemed marked for misery and frustration and the future for George wouldn’t be considered bright by anyone’s expectations. 
     
     
    But, no matter how much he struggled, George kept trying.  He kept setting goals for himself and worked hard to meet those goals.  From the outside George was a young teen with no promise, but what George had you can’t always see.  George had heart.  George didn’t have an ounce of quit in him.  While many of the other kids were taking their shots at George, George had set a plan in his own mind.  Over fifth and sixth grades, George struggled more than succeeded.  Even running laps during gym class, George was always the last one completing his laps.  But, George kept setting goals.  The goals were always modest, and not impossible, thus, George’s journey would soon take a turn many didn’t see coming.  Well, one person at the school did, George’s guidance counselor Mr. Frost saw to it that George had someone he could talk to anytime, and Mr. Frost encouraged George’s goals.  When seventh grade came around, George’s journey through junior high was about to begin taking surprising turns.  It began with track during gym class.  George’s first goal was not to be last on the track any longer and very early in the school year, George did something he had never done before; he passed another student.  In fact, he passed three and from that day forward would never be the last one to finish laps again.  The next event which would change the direction of George’s journey was through Mr. Frost.  George was placed on the school’s safety patrol, and suddenly, George had a position of responsibility.  The next surprise along this journey would happen next; George developed confidence.  So much so, that at the first school dance of the year, previously shy George actually asked a girl to dance with him, and to George’s surprise, she actually said yes.  They shared their first kiss by the end of the evening, and this journey which two years earlier looked so hopeless and frustrating, had turned the corner.  On graduation day, George was awarded the Progress Award by the school and that would become the first of many proud days ahead for this young man.  His fellow classmates never looked at him the same way again.
     
     
    In our reading from Luke today, we hear a very familiar parable from Jesus; the parable of the Lost Son.  Now, we could look at this journey taken by the young son as self-inflicted, so why would we find it surprising?  Let’s explore further: “…the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.” What is surprising about this, one might ask?  It seems straight forward, the young man took a gift of wealth, squandered it, and now was paying for it; film at eleven.  But, we might be judging harshly if that is all we see happening here.  After losing it all, let us return to these verses: “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son….’ He had it all. He lost it.  But, I think the first surprise in this parable is that he “came to his senses.”  He could have felt sorry for himself; he could have kept up a rebellious attitude and maybe even turn to a life of crime.  That isn’t what happens here though, he going to humble himself in a very big way: “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”  Can anyone of us relate to this?  Has anyone of us felt like we so disappointed one or both of our parents to the point of saying; “I’m not worthy to be your child.”  What a horrible and harsh opinion to have on one’s self, whether it is deserved or not.  If we can’t show ourselves compassion, how are any of us expected to be able to show someone else compassion.  “I am not worthy to be your child!” What an incredibly tough sentence to give to one’s self in light of the decisions you made.
    Once the young son decides to humble himself and return to his father, the surprises keep coming don’t they? But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.  Do you think this young man thought for one minute that this was going to be the greeting he got?  The answer is no, because once his father had hugged and kissed him if this young son had expected this, the story would end here.  But the son continues to humble himself before his father, and his father responds with love and kindness. But, not everyone feels this way do they?
     
     
    Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.”  Should we be surprised by the older son’s response, or is this the first time during this story that we shouldn’t be surprised? Obviously, the older son is surprised by his father’s response to his brother.  How many of us have had siblings we thought got away with everything while we were held responsible for those same things?   As stated earlier, sometimes the surprises aren’t pleasant.  This should be a happy time for all, as the younger son learned a very hard lesson, but maybe the biggest surprise is the older brother is going to learn from this also.  It may not be obvious to begin with, and it will probably take time, but the two brothers are going to need to learn how to love and trust one another again.  If they accomplish that over time, that too may turn out to be a surprising journey toward forgiveness.
     
     
    Sometimes, the surprise comes to us.  We hear that today in our reading from Exodus: “Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”  I’m never sure which is most surprising here; the fact that Moses is hearing someone speak to him from a burning bush OR that the voice didn’t send Moses running in the opposite direction.  God is calling on Moses to be His servant, not surprisingly Moses has a few questions first: “But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”  Legitimate questions from Moses, questions stemming from his surprise of being the one asked.  More surprising yet may be that Moses doesn’t flinch; he does as he is asked.  But, then, maybe none of us should be surprised, as I’m sure when God comes and asks us to do something we may ask for a moment if God means us, but once that is established, then I don’t believe any of us would turn God down.  You wouldn’t, right?  These journeys which surprise us; sometimes they happen all on their own, sometimes God himself is placing us on that journey.  Take the journey, embrace it, and though there may be surprises all along the journey know this: God is there on the journey and often, as was the case of Mr. Frost with George, God sent a servant to take the journey with you!  Amen!


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  7. The Journeys We Don't Want To Take

     



    At this stage of your life you have probably observed that your life has had many journeys.  In fact, life itself is one long journey beginning at birth and ending in our death.  Throughout that one journey called life, we encounter many other journeys.  Some of these journeys are short, some are long.  There are many journeys we want to take, and many journeys we don’t want to take.  Some journeys we don’t even know we are on.  Some journeys we are forced to take, whether we wanted to or not.  Some journeys we take alone, and some journeys we take with others.  Some of those journeys are with friends and family, and some are with complete strangers.  All the journeys can have different lengths, some can be counted in seconds, some over our lifetimes.  But, make no mistake about it, every journey you or I take, God is on that journey also.  If there is one thing we should know by now with Pentecost and Trinity Sunday just recently being celebrated, the Holy Spirit is often guiding us along these journeys. 
     
     
    This past week we learned of four journeys none of us would want to take.  We heard about a plane crashing in the Hudson River not far from where the US Airways flight flown by Captain Sulley back in January of 2009 also crashed, but this time with more tragic results.  We heard about a three or four year old child falling into a Gorilla’s cage out in Cincinnati, and though the child survived, the gorilla named Harambe would not be so lucky.  Once again this week we hear of an unstable person with a gun causing the University of California Los Angeles to shut down, and two people killed at the University, as well as the gunman killing his wife in Minnesota just days earlier before killing a professor and himself at the University.  Lastly, the world mourns an icon, Mohammad Ali, as we learn of his passing.  So, who of us would have wanted to be a part of any of these journeys?  Let us begin with one which you may think doesn’t belong with the others. Let us talk about Mohammad Ali for a minute. If you didn’t know anything about Mohammad Ali before yesterday, I’m sure you got caught up. In his later years, Mohammad Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.  This was blamed on the punishment he took as a boxer, though that may just be a guess.  When the different TV channels were reporting on his death, CBS ran an interview with Ed Bradley and Mohammad some years after being diagnosed with this disabling disease.  Mohammad would not talk to Ed Bradley that day, he didn’t like the fact that his words were beginning to slur.  A proud and powerful man didn’t want to be seen as weak, he didn’t want people to feel sorry for him.  Many of us can relate to that, as we have seen proud people placed in impossible situations which make them feel less than they are.  A journey no one wants to take. 
    Can any of us even imagine for a moment what a pilot must be thinking when know for certain that their plane is doomed?  There are very few “Miracles on the Hudson” just look at the second time in the last 7 years this happened, with a pilot almost as experienced as Captain Sullenberger landed in the same stretch of water, but did not live to tell the tale.  Did you cry out in horror the first time you saw the footage of the boy being dragged around the gorilla cage like a rag doll.  I’m not going to get into the blame game here and I’m certainly not going to debate whether or not the Gorilla should have been shot.  That was a decision made in the moment by someone who was weighing the safety of a child verses an animal outweighing him by some 550 pounds.  That child didn’t want to be part of this journey, the mother who took her eyes off her son didn’t want to be part of this journey, and the official holding the rifle didn’t want to be part of this journey.
     
     
    What goes through a person’s mind when they get so angry that they can’t see straight?  Is that really a journey any of us want to take?  Since, in most cases, the event usually ends in a suicide, one could make a strong argument that the answer is no, this wasn’t a journey that person really wanted to take.  But, this is certainly nothing new.  Suicide has been around forever, we hear about it today as Mathew explores what happens with Judas after he betrays Jesus: When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. Should we cry for Judas?  When we hear of a person who commits unthinkable acts and then kills themselves should we pray for them?  The answer may surprise you but  Jesus challenged us didn’t he:A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Jesus chose Judas to be one of the twelve.  One could argue that Jesus had more faith in Judas than Judas had in himself.  Which do you think was the real Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus, or the one who was so filled with remorse he took his own life?  How did Judas get to the point of betraying Jesus?  Did he have loftier goals in mind?  It is hinted that Judas thought that Jesus could rescue the Jews from their persecutors, thus, when he saw this was not the journey Jesus was taking; in his disillusionment it was easy for him to betray Jesus, because Judas felt Jesus betrayed his followers first.  You talk about a journey none of us would want to take! When the people we trust the most let us down we are crushed.  Our world turns upside down.  We are lost, and often we get depressed because we feel so betrayed.  These are tough journeys to take indeed.
     
     
    But, the toughest journey any one of us could be asked to take is the journey we heard a short while ago regarding what God was asking of Abraham, let’s listen once more: “God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him.  This was a test by God to see how strong a faith Abraham  had.  Could you do it? Would you or could you have gotten as far in this journey as Abraham did or would you have fallen to your knees and begged God to take your life over that of your child?  Would you have refused altogether?  In your faith, in your relationship with God, where would be your point of no return?  Would you have enough faith in God that you would believe God would grant you the same last minute reprieve?  We all say we believe, we all repeat the Apostle’s Creed and the Lord’s Prayer every week, but when God is asking you for the impossible?  In both our readings today, something positive comes out of each journey we examined. Since we are currently talking about Abraham let’s hear how this journey ends: “The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.”  Certainly not the ending one would suspect earlier in the journey.
    We even see something positive come out of the end of Judas’ life.  His payment, actually goes toward something positive: “The chief priests picked up the coins and said, “It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day.  Well, this certainly isn’t the same as being promised numerous descendants, but the high priests could have just as easily pocketed the money for themselves.
    In our lives we take journeys we don’t want to take.  But look at those journeys once more, you just might find that the journey ended with a positive outcome even though throughout that journey, you hated every minute of it.  Amen!


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  8. When The Smoke Clears




    Beginning on June 10th a foul stench entered the air surrounding Orlando, of all places, a town thought of for entertainment and family fun yet over a five day period some kind of invisible almost undetectable smoke lingered for five days.  When the smoke cleared, three separate attacks would claim over 52 human lives and five alligators would be euthanized. This smoke was filled with rage, filled with evil, filled with the unthinkable.    It began with what should have been an innocent and harmless meet and greet affair, when a young singer from New Jersey was signing autographs after a concert she just performed in, and a young man decided to shoot and kill this young woman, who right up to the moment before her death, had never met this man.  Once caught after doing his harm, he turned the gun on himself.  This cloud of smoke then headed to a nightclub there in Orlando, and afterwards we learn that 49 are dead and another 50 are shot and injured.  Lastly, on Tuesday we hear of a horrific attack, a two year old boy playing on a beach at the Walt Disney Resort is snatched by an alligator and killed.  Orlando, known as a location of fun, of happy memories, has been reduced to horror and shock.   
     
    Almost as shocking, was all the blame being thrown around after the first two events;  Donald Trump, the NRA, President Obama, right wing extremists, gun laws, even Christians were being blamed, more specifically, Christians who support the right to bear arms.  I’m one of those Christians who believes in that right, but I will get back to that in a moment.  After everyone I just named, did you notice who wasn’t blamed? The shooters themselves, the “fan” in Orlando and we will use that term here very loosely, and this angry young man at the club who was killing in the name of what?  How is it that we as a society want to place blame EVERYWHERE EXCEPT where it belongs?  If you walked into a McDonalds and ordered a Fillet of Fish and got a cheeseburger instead are you mad at who’s behind the counter or the guy in the clown suit out front?  If a friend is taking your picture while at the beach and doesn’t bother to warn you about the wave which is about to knock you down, are you mad at the friend or at the lifeguard one hundred yards away?  If a doctor puts a cast on your leg after telling you that you broke your arm are you mad at him or the receptionist?  Why then, when someone goes out and does the unthinkable would we blame everyone else but the person involved? 
     
    Now, I mentioned a moment ago that I fall under the Christians who support the right to bear arms group.  I do and here is why.  From the time I was a young boy I was taught two very important lessons about guns: they are NOT toys, AND if you aim it at something it better be because you intend to shoot it.  Thus, you don’t point guns at people unless that person presents themselves as a threat.  This said, do I think anyone who does NOT belong in the military or is a member of a S.W.A.T. team could or should own an AK-47 or a sniper rifle of any sort, no I do not. Why own any guns at all?  Well, the original thinking behind this law was to allow any citizen a fighting chance to protect themselves if the government ran amuck.  The second reason I have I can sum up in this way: We don’t take away cars from everyone because some people out there drive while intoxicated or high do we?  Then why take away guns from those who are responsible enough to own them? 
     
    Let’s face something else here also.  If someone WANTS to do harm, they will.  Cain killed Abel with a rock. It doesn’t take much, if the rage is strong enough, all it would take is a weapon of opportunity.  I read an interesting comment through all of this which said it isn’t a gun problem, it’s a heart problem.  What is in our hearts, is what we should be concerned about.  Once again, our hearts are being tested.  Once again we need to find our way after the smoke clears.  But, there appears to be a common theme behind what we would think is senseless and thoughtless killing.  FEAR, seems to be the motivation.  Fear, whether real or imagined is incredibly powerful.  You might be thinking I have this backwards, that terrorists are trying to spread fear.  You are right, they are, because of the fear they themselves have.  But, before we look at the grander scale, let us look at the first two killings in Orlando.  The first is a “fan” and again I use the term loosely, who kills the young singer for apparently no reason.  Many times, a fan becomes obsessed, and in that obsession they become so lost that they fear rejection from the person they cherish.  The fear becomes so real for them that they become angry and thus they act out, in this case, in a deadly manner.  Well then, what about the man responsible for all those deaths and all the harm he created in that nightclub.  It has come out after the fact that his first wife believes he has gay tendencies.  If he did, it scared him; thus, he lashed out at it.  We have been told that it is in our nature that when cornered and scared, there are two ways out, fight or flight.  In both these instances,
    fight was the way out.
     
    When I heard and read the outpouring of responses after these events, most specifically the 50 killed at the nightclub, one thought kept repeating itself over and over again in my head; we need to get back to basics.  Don’t misunderstand me, as simple as that sounds I know it won’t be simple at all.  But, that should be our goal, and we will need time as it took time for us to get to this point in humanity.  But, we need to reverse the trend.  So, let’s get back to the Bible, and let’s get back to the original TEN. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.“You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. 12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. 13 “You shall not murder.14 “You shall not commit adultery.15 “You shall not steal.16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Let’s remember to make these the foundation toward everything else.  Let’s begin with the first commandment and keep it foremost in our minds: I am the Lord your God you shall have no other gods before me.  Let us trust in God, let us remain humble before our God and let us remember that God rules the day.  Also, let us remember that God will have final judgment, and I don’t mean the judgment the nightclub killer’s father said God would have when he said that it is “up to God to punish the homosexuals.”  Notice he didn’t say anything about God punishing the murderer of homosexuals.
    Today, in our reading from the Gospel of Mathew, we find Jesus in teaching mode: What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.”  I think this speaks directly to these events.  These two men were lost, and no one went to help them find their way.  In the case of the nightclub shooter we have learned in the days which followed that his current wife was aware of his intentions, and she did nothing.  We know he was under the radar of authorities for awhile, and yet they did nothing.  We have heard from those who knew this troubled young man and they claim he had anger issues, yet no one addressed them.  Any of these people could have been and should have been a “shepherd” yet no one accepted the role and thus a lost sheep went and did unspeakable damage.
     
    Lastly, I need to address why I mentioned the alligators in the death toll numbers.  Not knowing which alligator took the boy, the response was to capture all five in those waters and kill them all.  I’m not sure what the purpose was.  Once captured, why not release the alligators back into the wild somewhere safe.  I am NOT minimizing the attack, I just don’t understand the response.  Nothing was going to bring this boy back, but these were five of God’s creatures put to death for the acts of one.  Again, I believe this was response based in fear, and fear clearly causes us to act irrationally.  We need to remember where to gain our strength from, and when the smoke clears from any tragedy we need to remember what Jesus told his disciples: Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” I think, now more than ever we should gather and ask for greater love, greater patience, and we need to request from God insight into making us all…. better shepherds.  Amen!       


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  9. OUR TREASURES

    Psalm 126

     



    Loving and Merciful Lord, burn your words and wishes into our everyday thoughts.  Let us see your intentions and hear your words of wisdom and guidance so that we may fulfill the life you want us to lead today and every day.  Amen.

     

    The country singer Trace Adkins put out a song a few years back titled You're Going to Miss This and I thought with today's baptism that the lyrics could have a little more meaning, especially considering the thought that many of our church members here can recall when Baptisms occurred here more than once every three years.  That said, here are some of those lyrics:

     

    Before she knows it she's a brand new bride In a one-bedroom apartment, and her daddy stops by, He tells her It's a nice place,She says It'll do for now, Starts talking about babies and buying a house, Daddy shakes his head and says Baby, just slow down

    [Chorus]
    You're gonna miss this, You're gonna want this back
    You're gonna wish these days hadn't gone by so fast
    These Are Some Good Times, So take a good look around
    You may not know it now, But you're gonna miss this

    Five years later there's a plumber workin' on the water heater
    Dog's barkin', phone's ringin', One kid's cryin', one kid's screamin'
    She keeps apologizin'
    He says They don't bother me. I've got 2 babies of my own.
    One's 36, one's 23. Huh, it's hard to believe, but ...

    [Chorus]
    You're gonna miss this, You're gonna want this back
    You're gonna wish these days hadn't gone by so fast
    These Are Some Good Times, So take a good look around
    You may not know it now, But you're gonna miss this.......

     

    What treasures in your life do YOU miss?  Maybe I should have asked this question first; what ARE the treasures in your life.  Are the treasures in your life your home, your car, your bank account or are the treasures in your life your family, your friends, and your memories.  For how many of you do some of those lyrics ring true, rushing though our lives without enjoying the moments of our lives.  Today, we have a moment which won't be remembered by Koralie, but will certainly be remembered by her parents.  Today will be remembered as the day Koralie  began her spiritual and Christian life.  She will be baptized with water and the sign of the cross will be placed on her forehead placing her under the divine protection of Christ Jesus.  The Holy Spirit will be a part of her life.  Today, we hope that when Koralie can do so under her own free will that she embraces her faith and her love for God and Christ Jesus.

     

    Do you remember the day you really took Jesus into your heart, when you sincerely embraced your Christian life?  Is that a day you treasure?  Before we begin every church service upon the completion of the announcements you hear the same thing from this pulpit: "We are told that when two or more of us are gathered in God's name God is also present.  Unburden your hearts, and I also ask you to share your joys.  YOU know you appreciate the gifts in your life, the treasures God has surrounded you with, but do you thank God?  It's easy to pray to God when we are scared, when we are sick, we need a job, we need a miracle, or we know of someone else who has needs and thus we come to God.  But, what about the treasures in our lives?  Do we thank God for the roof over our heads, for surrounding us with loved ones, with providing us with the means to meet our day to day needs?  Do we recognize those days when God gently nudged us in the right direction, put a thought in our heads that really didn't come from our own thought process, do we say thank you to God for even the small gifts and treasures in our lives?  When trouble is brewing, when our fear rises, when things look hopeless, we turn to God in a heartbeat.  When things are good, when our lives are peaceful, when we are calm, do we pray then?  If the answer is no, then the question has to be; "Why not?"  If God is always present, then why are we so selective for when we feel we need to speak to Him?

     

    Our Psalm reading today talks about joyous things: "When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed.Our mouths were filled with laughter,
        our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations,"The Lord has done great things for them." The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.
    " The Lord has done great things for us and we are filled with joy.  What would some of those things be?  We celebrate birthdays, we celebrate vacations, we celebrate a raise at work, we celebrate an anniversary, we celebrate success.  The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.  Did we take a moment and give God his due?  Did we say thank you God for these gifts in our life or do we just talk to God when things aren't so good?  When we look at Koralie today is she a gift or is she a concern?  Well, of course she is a gift.  Today, she isn't just a treasure to her parents and her family, but today her family grows as she gets a church family also.  Thus, she becomes a treasure to this church.  You know who else sees her as a treasure today?  Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  But let me take that one step further, if you are in this room right at this moment then our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ also treasures you.  Is the feeling mutual?

    We have a very interesting exchange today in our reading from John.  Two different views on the gifts or treasures in our lives: " Here a dinner was given in Jesus' honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages." He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it."Leave her alone," Jesus replied. "It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me."  This exchange is very telling, and the author's commentary about the exchange could be even more noteworthy.  Judas, who we know is about to betray Jesus in a very big way at first glance seems to be wanting to do the right thing....take the money from this perfume and give it to the poor.  What a good soul, what a wonderful thought, let us help others who are actually poor and in need.  Yet, in order for us to remember that Judas is actually a scoundrel, the author reminds us: "He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it."  A few weeks ago, I suggested to all of you that we needed to be ALL IN this Lenten season, meaning that if we are going to talk the talk we better walk the walk.  I am equally proud AND ashamed to say that what I gave up for Lent I did indeed give up.  I have not had a cup of coffee since the day before Ash Wednesday.  My next cup of coffee will be on Easter Sunday.  I'm proud that I said I would give something up that I love and stay away from it.  I have certainly given a lot of thought to my faith and Christ's journey during this Lenten season.  I'm ashamed to say that it is the first time in my life I'm going to make it through the entire Lenten season.  Judas talked the talk but as the author indicated, he certainly wasn't going to walk the walk.  Judas wasn't even partially in, as when the church leaders dangled the bag of silver in front of Judas he couldn't give up Jesus fast enough.

    But, did anyone else get the other takeaway from this exchange?  It almost appears as a throw away comment because no one seems to react to it: "Leave her alone," Jesus replied. "It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me."  Apparently no one reacts to this, or, if they did the author didn't find it noteworthy.  The very next verse begins with; "Meanwhile..."  Wait a minute!  Jesus just said that the perfume being placed on him was meant for the day of his burial and NO ONE reacts to this?  If that statement wasn't enough how about the very next words which leave Jesus' mouth: "You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me."  Is everyone there sleepwalking?  How does this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me... NOT prompt some kind of response?  How about from Judas himself like; "Wait, how did you know?"  If you are one of Jesus' other disciples in the room or even Mary, if you aren't questioning the burial comment, wouldn't you at least engage Jesus in a conversation about: "there will always be poor among you..."?

    Even today, shouldn't that statement bother us right to the core?  Shouldn't it bother us to think that there will always be poor among us?  Yes, it should!  What can we do then?  We do what we can but we can't lose our minds over this, we can't get so frustrated that we just stop.  There WILL be poor always, just as there WILL always be shoes stricken with illness, there WILL be those who suffer always.  Why?  Can't we do anything?  Again, you do as you can, but you and I can NOT save everyone.  Why?  That truth is that some people just don't want to be saved.  They treasure their lot in life for whatever reason.  Shouldn't that then drive you to your knees and thank God for all the treasures in your life?  Shouldn't we see that The Lord has done great things for us, and we should be  filled with joy.You're gonna miss this, You're gonna want this back You're gonna wish these days hadn't gone by so fast These Are Some Good Times, So take a good look around
    You may not know it now, But you're gonna miss this....
    The treasures in our lives God has already provided.....don't miss it!   Alleluia! Amen!

    LENT   Lakewood  March 13, 2016



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  10. EARNING FORGIVENESS

    Psalm 32, Luke 15:

     



    Loving and Merciful Lord, burn your words and wishes into our everyday thoughts.  Let us see your intentions and hear your words of wisdom and guidance so that we may fulfill the life you want us to lead today and every day.  Amen.

     

    As we move through our lives we find that we earn things along the way.  We earn friendships, we earn trust, and we earn forgiveness.   Sometimes, we earn opportunities, though harder to do these days, many of us can remember earning interest on how much money we saved.  As we grow older we earn rights along the way, from the right to vote, to the right to serve in the military, the right to drive, the right to walk onto a casino floor, the right to have an "adult" beverage.  We even earn our reputations along the way.  Some of us have reputations of being kind, some of us being a giving soul, some of us have earned reputations as good listeners, others as a friend anyone would want to have.  Our reputations are built over time, and the reputation we may have had as a child could very well be different as an adult.  Just as a reputation takes time, so too, does trust.  How well we trust someone usually is dictated by how long we have known them.  Surely, we don't trust a total stranger the same way we trust a family member or a lifelong friend.  Trust is earned over time.

     

    But, what about forgiveness?  Isn't that one a little tougher to earn?  Maybe, it depends on what someone needs to be forgiven for.  If you step into a crowded elevator and accidentally bump into someone and immediately say; "Excuse me" or "Pardon me" 99.9% of the time the person you bumped will forgive you on the spot.  That one is easy, let's say instead you accidentally hit another car, no injuries, minor damage, you stop and share your insurance info and all that comes with it, the person you hit may be a little more upset with you only due to the inconvenience, but again, forgiveness should come rather easily.  But, now, let's explore those instances when earning forgiveness is a little harder to come by. 

     

    The big story following this year's Academy Awards was the song which Lady Gaga performed about those who have been sexually abused.  It is interesting to note that those found guilty of rape or molestation of children are shunned and sometimes even attacked in prison by other inmates.  Even criminals have a line they put in the sand where forgiveness can NOT be earned under any circumstance.  Closely following that is the abuse of animals.  There is little or no forgiveness being expressed in these cases either.  So, these are the extremes, but where in the earned forgiveness chain do we place these as opposed to cheating on one's spouse, cheating on our taxes, lying, saying or doing something despicable?  Will anyone forgive the mother in North Jersey who decided last week to leave her two or three year old child alone at home while she went out for a couple of drinks, only to come home and find her home fully engulfed in flames, and the child perished while hiding under her bed? Will that mother ever earn forgiveness?  How about the troubled friend or family member who takes their own life?  How quickly do we forgive them?  How does one go about earning forgiveness?  Any addict will tell you that one of the steps is to have the desire to make amends and seek forgiveness.  How easily that comes depends on too many circumstances to list right now.

     

    So, in the process of earning forgiveness, maybe what plays the key role is whom one is seeking forgiveness from.  Mothers tend to be the most forgiving when it comes to their children, are fathers as easy to get to forgiveness?  Would we forgive a friend faster than a stranger, or would the opposite be true as we have higher expectations from our friend?  At its most basic common core, the bottom line is that earning forgiveness is often complicated. That said, do you think it is easier or harder to earn forgiveness from God.  The author of our Psalm reading from today may give us some insight: "Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord. "And you forgave the guilt of my sin."  There are volumes being spoken here.  What an incredible way to demonstrate how not seeking for and earning forgiveness can literally gnaw at one's self: When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.  Think back to a time in your life that you knew you would need to seek and earn forgiveness and how you were feeling just before you came clean.  Guilt WILL sap your strength like the heat of summer.

    This author also indicates what it is like when we DO earn that forgiveness through God: Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord. "And you forgave the guilt of my sin."  It is a whole different feeling, many of us can relate to it, often described as feeling like the weight of the entire world was lifted from your shoulders, one begins to stand a little straighter, walk with more purpose, and understands the relief of earning one's forgiveness.

    In our second reading today, we hear a familiar parable, a favorite to many. 



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  11. ALL IN

    Joel 2: 1 – 2, 12 – 17; 2

     


     


    We are in the midst of 40 days, that we as Christians, need to go “all in” with our faith and with God.  Recently, I’ve talked about being the part of something bigger, that we are all part of the body of Christ and that God has known each of us before we were even formed in the womb.  Now is the time for us to examine exactly what our relationship is and to be very analytical to how we are performing.  We need to take a good honest look at ourselves and we need to do a self-examination of our faith.  This is the hardest time during the church year, because it is the time we are asked to genuflect, to self-examine, to give up things we enjoy to be hard on ourselves, at least on our souls, on our faith, and on our intentions.  As we listen to our first reading today we get a sense of the tough, honest and sincere examination we need to put ourselves through:the day of the Lord is coming. It is close at hand— a day of darkness and gloom,  a day of clouds and blackness’” But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Before we get to that point we can do something about it: Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”13 Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God,  for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.14 Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing”Rend your hearts…in other words, this should be tearing you apart from the inside out.  The first thing we all need to recognize during Lent is that we can do better.  We begin this process by being honest about all the BUT’s we conveniently discard during our thought process, because there is something, and more likely many things we CAN do better and the only reason we don’t is because we ignore the BUT in the evaluation we are now conducting on ourselves.  Here are some examples: “I pray a lot… but I’m slow to forgive.”  “I attend church regularly…but I don’t put a dime in the collection plate.”  “I always reach out to those in need…but then I talk trash about them afterwards.”  “I take away something from every church service… but I fail to apply what I’ve learned the minute I step off the church grounds.”  “I love the people at this church…but I have never visited a shut-in.”  These are just a few examples, it is up to us to be honest with ourselves and as we evaluate our faith and our Christian lives, we need to pay more attention to what follows the BUT in each sentence and less attention to what precedes it.

    For us to go all in during this Lenten season we need to be as honest with ourselves as we have ever been.  We need to recognize the moments when we are hypocrites, we need to acknowledge the times we behave more as sinner and less than Christian.  When are those times, you ask?  When you want to say something negative about your neighbor, when you respond with a hateful or revengeful heart as opposed to one loving and forgiving.  The next time you walk past someone in need, the next time you hear about someone having troubles but you are sure someone else will take care of them, but just in case, you will pray for them.  That SHOULD cover it.  Right?

    “As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you. “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”  How do we dare approach God with half-truths?  Do we think God doesn’t know the BUTS in our evaluations?  Do we think God uses BUTs in His evaluation of us while we breathe air and walk on this planet?  Do you think you can stand up to God’s scrutiny?  How about comparing how YOU put your faith to the test as opposed to Paul’s:as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness… Is the suggestion here that you need to go to those lengths to prove your worth, to secure your faith, to demonstrate your love of God? NO! But, the question becomes: when things get tough, do you turn to God?  If the answer is yes because I pray to him, then you need to recognize that there is a BUT in this response.  I pray, but I do nothing else.  I turn it all over to God, but I do nothing else.  I ask for forgiveness… but I do nothing else.

    Friends, this is the time to do something more.  This is the time to remove the buts from your responses and your thought process or you are only half way in.  That is NOT what Lent is all about, it is about being ALL IN.  No short cuts, no half-ways, no excuses.  Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”  Fasting… to remember the sacrifices made for us, it is our turn to sacrifice to stop taking God’s gifts for granted.  Weeping… for wasted time when we put the emphasis on what precedes the BUT in our self-evaluations and didn’t care one iota about what follows… and mourning all the missed opportunities we have had throughout our lives to do the right thing yet failed to do so.

    If you are looking for the Good News right now, you are missing the point.  Yes, it is true, five weeks from now Christ WILL rise from the dead.  But, we can’t go straight to how this time ends even though we already know it.  We need to take the journey with Jesus, or what happens in the end is only half-earned.  By going straight to the ending you are just adding another BUT to the conversation. “I know I’m saved, Jesus rises from the dead; yes, BUT why did he have to die in the first place?”    Amen!                           

    Ash Wednesday 2016  Repeated 02/28



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  12. Enveloped in Grace

    Jeremiah 31: 7 – 14, John 1: 10 - 18

     


     


    Let us pray: Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our rock and redeemer.  AMEN!

     

    For many, it has always been easier to say; “Bah, humbug!” to New Year’s Day than Christmas Day.  After all, Christmas is about tradition, about family, about giving and sharing.  Christmas is about the birth of our Savior!  Christmas is about love, about finding forgiveness within ourselves.  Only the Scrooge’s of the world look down upon Christmas Day and find only negative aspects of it.  On the other hand, what does New Year’s Day stand for?  For those of us who look at the world with a hardness in our hearts and high scrutiny through our eyes, New Year’s Day is just another empty promise.  For those of us who look at the world with a caring and loving heart, as well as eyes filled with hope and wonder, then we see New Year’s Day as the opportunity to start fresh, to see all that is possible, we see a world filled with promise.  The truth is, New Year’s Day probably comes somewhere in-between! For if we are true to ourselves, sincere and honest, we all know that 2015 is going to bring some pain, some hard times, some frustration.  It will also bring days filled with joy, filled with love, filled with promise.  The bottom line will be that the New Year will not be fully negative, nor fully positive.  There will be highs and lows, good days and bad, wonderful moments and tragic moments.  So, what exactly are we celebrating on New Year’s Day? Nothing has changed but the last four digits on the calendar.

    Well, if we take the message I gave Christmas Eve about taking one day at a time and embracing it, can’t we also do the same for a year?  We can all look at the year 2015 and say this is the year I’m going to do this, or this is the year I’m going to finish this, or this is the year I’m finally going to… and you can finish that sentence.  But, you know why so many people look at New Year’s as a negative as opposed to a positive?  Because it is too easy to trip up so early in the year and mark the year as a failure.  “Three days into the New Year, I’ve already broken my diet.” “Two weeks into the new year and no new job, oh boy!” “One day into the New Year and a fender bender.  This year is going to be awful!”  “Look, the month isn’t even over and I haven’t made it to church once.  So much for that!”  We set ourselves up for failure, do you see that?  But, Rick, I can hear your argument already, you started this with take the year and make it something special.  That’s RIGHT, I said the YEAR and make it special!  Who says one set back has to ruin the whole year, especially when we are just a few days in?  You came off your diet get right back on it, no one responded to your resume yet hit the street harder, you had a small accident no one was hurt get the car fixed and get back with it, you didn’t make church in January means you won’t make it the rest of the year?  Why?  Because that is the choice YOU made.  What happens today shouldn’t dictate what happens tomorrow, what happens this week should not dictate what happens next week, and what happens this month should not dictate what happens next month.  Here is the first resolution you need to make immediately and by no means should you break this resolution: Be easier on yourself! Find it easy to forgive yourself because the faster one can forgive themselves the faster they can move forward. 

    Today, we have heard two readings which should make it easier for us to forgive ourselves, because of what we have been promised.  Jeremiah tells us: Hear the word of the Lord, you nations;  proclaim it in distant coastlands: ‘He who scattered(O) Israel will gather(P) them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.’11 For the Lord will deliver Jacob  and redeem(R) them from the hand of those stronger(S) than they. 12 They will come and shout for joy(T) on the heights(U) of Zion; they will rejoice in the bounty(V) of the Lord—the grain, the new wine and the olive oil, the young of the flocks(X) and herds. They will be like a well-watered garden, and they will sorrow(Z) no more.
    13 Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning(
    AA) into gladness; I will give them comfort(AB) and joy(AC) instead of sorrow. 14 I will satisfy(AD) the priests(AE) with abundance, and my people will be filled with my bounty, “declares the Lord.” 

    Now, you may be wondering what any of this has to do with giving yourself the ability to forgive yourself.  Here is the answer: do you think for one moment that God provides to those who are not deserving?  That is what is being said here that God will provide, not only will God provide but God will provide wonderful things: The Lord will redeem us, the Lord will watch over us, the Lord will provide food and drink, the Lord will provide us with many gifts to rejoice.  If we embrace these gifts, embrace the notion that God has provided us all we need, then why should we put ourselves in a position of saying we don’t deserve it?  God has enveloped us within his Grace, why should we fight that?  The answer is: we shouldn’t!  No more than us failing to forgive ourselves for our mistakes, should we fight all the gifts surrounding us!  God says; “my people will be filled with my bounty.”  We are God’s people. Thus, embrace the bounty at hand!

    Our Gospel reading from John, today, continues the good news: He was in the world, and though the world was made through him,(A) the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.(B) 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed(C) in his name,(D) he gave the right to become children of God(E)13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.(F)

    14 The Word became flesh(G) and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory,(H) the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace(I) and truth.  Sometimes, we look right past what we need to see.  I said earlier that for many it is easy to look at New Year’s Day with skepticism, caution, maybe even a touch of disdain.  We see New Years as a promise just waiting to be broken.  With that thought in mind let us listen to the first two verses I just read once more: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”  Why?  Why wasn’t Jesus recognized right from the very beginning?  I think it is because we all wear glasses and don’t even realize it. 

    We all put on glasses to allow us to see what we want to see and not what is truly there.  We want to see failure, we want to see disappointment we want to see frustration, because if we see all the negative right away then we can point at it and say; “See, told you so.”  When Christ arrived, and even after he was crucified many pointed at him and said; “See, he couldn’t have been the Messiah.” Yet, in our heart of hearts we know he was.  We make it too easy to accept failure and too hard to accept success.  All the while we are enveloped in God’s grace, God’s love, God’s forgiveness.  But, we don’t see the good, because the glasses we have put on prevents us from seeing it.  We need to take those glasses off, and we need to see more clearly what lies before us.  When we take the negative, doubtful, disappointed tinted glasses off you know what we see?  Exactly what John tells us we see: The Word became flesh(G) and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory,(H) the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace(I) and truth.  The Word came to us in the form of Jesus Christ, who walked among us.  Jesus came to us from our Father in Heaven, a Father full of grace, full of truth, full of love for His children.  A Father, who wants you to embrace yet another gift, the gift of a new year, the gift to pursue your dreams, the gift to find someone to love, the gift of time to forgive, the opportunity to do something more, something different, something new, and be able to do so, knowing that if nothing else happens in the New Year, these miraculous wonderful things WILL remain the same, God loves you, forgives you, and watches out for you.  Alleluia! Amen!

    Lakewood 01/04/2015

     



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  13. Walking With the Light

    Isaiah 61: 1 – 4, 8 – 11; John 1: 6 – 8, 19 - 28

     


     


    Loving and Merciful Lord, burn your words and wishes into our everyday thoughts.  Let us see your intentions and hear your words of wisdom and guidance so that we may fulfill the life you want us to lead today and every day.  Amen.

     

    As we go on through our lives we learn to stay safe in a variety of situations which we face on a day to day basis.  Do you remember the first time you were taught to walk with the light?  Have you noticed the transformation of these signs through the years, from just a red light to a green light, to lit signs which say WALK or DON’T WALK, and now since political correctness has taken over the world we now see symbols either a red hand signaling stop, or a stick figure in white pictured walking?  Well, whatever works and if what I’ve witnessed at Newark Airport the past seven years at the crosswalk I needed to use daily, the walk don’t walk signs don’t seem to work at all!  I, for one, don’t understand the risks some people take as they are weighed down with luggage and running across a busy three lane road with no apparent concern for their safety at all.  Did no one teach these people that walking with the light is the safe way to cross the road?  Watching people risk their safety has made me wonder how often we just take our safety for granted and we don’t follow simple instructions in ways to keep ourselves safe.

     

    How many times have we rushed through the yellow light while driving, how many times do we push the gas needle so low that the lit gas pump light comes on in our car, how many times do we wait to see the blinking light on our cell phones before remembering to charge them?  Now for the most important one of all; how many times have we ignored the light God provides to us to illuminate our way through our lives?  Is it because we don’t want to see what lies ahead?  That fear is understandable, right up until my last day this past Friday at the airport my boss was concerned about me and my future.  I will admit to you what I couldn’t admit to her, the future more times than not concerns me, I’m not a big fan of the unknown.  I don’t know what my next job is going to be in the aspect of full-time employment as I believe I’ve found the job I always wanted in the role of serving as your pastor.  Everything else I look at or think of pales in comparison.  But, I have also learned one other important facet of my life over the past eight years, and that is to place my trust in God, and with that trust I have faith that I’m going to find something I enjoy and will coincide with this wonderful position of Pastor.  I have also learned that with this trust and this faith work IS required.  We ARE responsible to help ourselves find our own way.  The phrase: “God helps those, whom help themselves” is real and honest and I respect the message behind it.  God doesn’t just give, Santa might, God, however, wants to see some effort on our part.

    Thus, we have to find ways to walk with God, to walk with the Light which only God provides to us.  This is a light which comes from within, a light which illuminates our way from inside out.  Again, we have responsibilities and need to tend to tasks God presents before us; we hear about that in our first reading today from Isaiah: The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,     to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve…  

    There should be an echo of other verses  we have heard a just a few weeks back with our reading from Mathew: 
    “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  We are called on to respond to those who are in need, to help build them up, to help them find their way, to shelter them from within.  Wait, what do you mean shelter them from within?  Within these walls?  If necessary, yes, but no, that isn’t what I’m saying now.  When we provide food, when we provide shelter, or clothing, or water, or a blanket, we are also providing hope, maybe moments of trust, instilling thoughts of opportunity and better days ahead.  Goodness grows, faith grows, love grows and thus when we proclaim good news to the poor it isn’t met with distrust or resentment or worse, someone without any faith at all.  It is easy to see someone cold and place a blanket on them, or see someone who is hungry and walk them into a restaurant.  The trick is to get them thinking differently from the inside out, to get them to feel something again, to build up their morale… their courage… their faith.  The blanket fixes the short term; the person is cold but now they are warm.  But, if that is all we provide then we didn’t do enough.  God sends us to the brokenhearted to “proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…”  Don’t you see, the poor and those in need feel like prisoners and captives of their own making, they don’t see a path out, they are very much in the dark?  They don’t see God because no one has brought them to the Light.  They need assistance, just as one who has misplaced a flashlight or a candle in order to see during a power failure, these unfortunate souls seek someone to help them find the light from within!

    We can learn from John the Baptist on how to tell of the Light, we can learn on how best to serve as witnesses.  Let’s listen once more: There was a man sent from God whose name was John.  He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.  Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.  He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.”  Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”  John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ 

    We see in the world today how easy one can become obsessed with themselves.  All we have to do is turn on the television and see the REALITY shows, which are probably more scripted then our made for TV dramas.  Reality shows are usually about people we have never heard of before, though we now have reality shows featuring B list stars at home.  It doesn’t take long for stardom to take control of one’s life does it?  Star power is awesome and dangerous, we have talked in the past on how quickly that power has led superstar singers, actors and athletes into making very bad decisions.  But, that is today.  Did you listen to this exchange between John and the Jewish leadership?  John is the biggest thing on the planet at that time, he is the equivalent of Lebron James, Taylor Swift, and all the Kardashian’s put together.  He is Elvis AND the Beatles, he is all anyone can talk about. Yet, when he could have easily taken it up another full notch, John stayed true, and responded accordingly:
    He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.”  Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those   prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’

    There are so many struggles in the world today, so much distrust, amazingly enough race and equal treatment of those with color now is at the forefront of the news every day, how can that be, why haven’t we progressed?  We need more than ever to light up this world, to get everyone to walk WITH the Light and not AGAINST the Light.  We need to remind everyone that not only did the one whom John said was coming, already came, but that He will come again.

    “For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”

     All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed.  We have been blessed with the covenant sent to us in the form of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Did you share that news with anyone lately?  Isn’t it time to do so?   Amen!

    Lakewood December 14, 2014



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  14. Where You Least Expect It

    2 Samuel 7: 1 – 11, Luke 1: 26 - 38

     


     


    Let us pray: Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our rock and redeemer.  AMEN!

     

    Is there anything more frustrating than when you misplace something, usually something you just had in your hands or was within your eyesight just moments ago, and now that you need it or want it, you can’t find it anywhere?  You need to retrace your steps, if anyone else is with you at the moment you ask them if they remember seeing it, and usually you get one of two answers, neither of which will be helpful: they didn’t see what you are looking for or worse they send you on a wild goose chase telling you they saw it somewhere it isn’t.  I’ve got a few friends of mine who are currently or were once Catholic you have never seen anything like these three women calling each other when something goes missing.  If you have a Catholic background, you know what these three are all doing:  that’s right, they are all praying to Saint Anthony, patron saint of lost things.  I remember one time misplacing something important and telling one of these three friends about it.  The next morning, I woke, showered and immediately found what I had been looking for, without much effort at all.  I called my friend and told her about it.  She told me how relieved she was for me, and told me that the three friends had all decided to pray to St Anthony on my behalf earlier that morning.  I never asked for that help, and in the future will never turn it down either!

     

    Sometimes, items aren’t the only things we can lose, I’ve been telling you about my company coming to a close at the airport.  I watched as my boss would sob saying she just couldn’t believe we had lost the contract.  It was inconceivable, even though there was always a chance, she just wouldn’t face that possibility until it became official.  I understand why she felt that way, we had all put so much into what we had done there that it was impossible to think that it all went for naught.  Yet, here we were, on the outside looking in.  The irony for me is that for the better part of the past eight years I was in a place doing a job I would have never dreamed of doing prior to my arrival.

     

    In our first reading from 2 Samuel today, we see again, how expectations don’t always line up with reality.  Let’s review: After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.” But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:“Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar.”   In many ways this can be viewed as a surprising exchange.  First, let’s consider the Kings of that time period, they were all ego driven, power driven, self-centered, and most of them were faithless.  But, this isn’t just any king, this is David, who is described in the Reader’s Digest book; Who’s Who in the Bible in this manner: “Shepherd, Warrior, musician, outlaw, faithful friend, empire builder, sinner, saint, failed father, ideal king!  Who in the Bible but David appears in so many roles?  His name occurs more than 1000 times in the Old and New Testaments…..”  Thus, David didn’t come from royalty, coming up from very modest beginnings, but chosen by God through the prophet Samuel.

    So, David obviously has God’s blessing and grace with him.  With that understanding and history maybe this exchange becomes more evident: “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.” But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:“Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt…”

     

    Do you think David should have known that the Ark didn’t require a more suitable shelter or do you praise David for even considering the need for shelter or at least, what he perceived as the need for one?  If we think back to our readings from two weeks ago doesn’t John the Baptist’s voice come echoing through right about now: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.”  Isn’t David showing that same kind of respect and honor?  I’m living in a better situation than this Ark, a tool of God’s, a significant holy artifact.

    Again this past week we watch in horror as terrorists in Pakistan and in Australia as well as a distraught estranged father in Pennsylvania went on violent and unthinkable killing sprees.  We see now halfway around the world that schools aren’t safe, this time from terrorists, and yet sadly this should come as no surprise to us, as right here in the United States we have kids going in to schools and killing other kids.  Do any of us find this the least bit fathomable, as schools would seem to be the last place on earth where this type of horrific violence should break out?  Does the suicide bombers killing over one hundred and thirty children equate to the killings we have had in our schools here in the States, no, they are different; but that isn’t my point, the point is; where now can the children be safe?  Not in school any longer, here or abroad.  That my friends is a terrifying reality.  One would think that we have progressed.  One would think that as a race we would have become more loving, more understanding, more civil, and yet, how far removed are we really from King Herod ordering the deaths of all male children under the age of two at the time of Jesus’ birth? The sad reality is we haven’t progressed at all, and once again evidence of that was presented in nightmarish form for all the world to see.

    But, we need to hold on to our faith, we need to hold on to what has been promised to us through God, and with the arrival of Jesus as we celebrate his birth once again this week.  As much as there are horrendous and unspeakable monsters out there in the world posing as humans, we know that there are angels and saints who walk among us, some who get called on and have no idea why.  Mary was one of those people; she was called on to be an extraordinary servant to God, and though fearful and unsure to begin with, Mary accepts the responsibility God has bestowed unto her with courage, faith and love.  Luke walks us through it: God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.  The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

     Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”  “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”  The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” 

    A virgin woman engaged to be married living a very unassuming life, and in this exchange, her life will change for all of eternity.  I’ve wondered how long God searched for this woman, searched for a woman of substance, a woman who would welcome this responsibility with her response:  “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.”

    If any of us were given the impossible task of finding the woman who would give birth to God’s only Son, I wonder how many of us would have chosen Mary.  As I said, prior to the evening of the exchange we just heard, Mary wouldn’t have stood out to anyone.  Do not be afraid Mary, you have found favor with God.  It’s a far cry from the world we know today.  With Mary, a virgin was needed.  But look at some of the more popular reality TV shows we have had in recent years: Kate Plus 8 or how about 19 Kids and Counting.  My wife read a recent TV title to me called: My Teen is Pregnant and So Am I.  Now, I’m not criticizing or judging I’m just pointing out it is a different time.  Would one choose a woman like one of those woman today, or would you choose possibly a Hillary Clinton or how about a Princess Kate if we needed to find a mother to Jesus Christ today?  Maybe you would play the safe route and pick a Nun?  But, that is what separates God from the rest of us, as God is patient, God is wise, God hasn’t gone wrong with any servant He has ever chosen.  Here’s the really cool part, when one thinks of Moses, or Noah, or David, or John the Baptist, or now, the virgin known as Mary, we see a history of people who didn’t even see it in themselves what they were capable of, until God interjected and not one of them let God down, not one.

    When we lose things, many times we find them where we least expect them.  God finds us when we least expect to be found.  A few months ago I spoke to a letter from a Pastor which changed my life, and then again, a different Pastor who asked me how many servants did God need to send my way.  I was lost and didn’t even know it.  Has that happened to you?  Did it happen where and when you least expected it?  Do you feel lost now, for if you do, don’t.  God has plans for you, you just aren’t aware of them yet. As for now, we’ve spent the past four weeks waiting and watching.  For Mary, she just got the news.  When looking back at history, some 2000 years later, time really flies, because Mary hears this news today, and in just four days, she will deliver not just a baby, but the One who changes everything.  Alleluia! Amen!

     

    Lakewood 12/21/14

     



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  15. Yesterday, Today, And Tomorrow

    Christmas Eve 2014

     


     


    Let us pray: Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our rock and redeemer.  AMEN!

    I’d like to begin with a poem I was unfamiliar with until recently when I came across it online.  I was looking for a phrase that I heard once in a movie which echoes in my mind but I do not remember it clearly.  This poem however, will more than suffice, I have been informed that many 12 step programs open their meetings with this poem:

    There are two days in every week about which we should not worry,
    Two days which should be kept free of fear and apprehension. One of these days is YESTERDAY, With its mistakes and cares, Its faults and blunders, Its aches and pains. YESTERDAY has passed forever beyond our control.

    All the money in the world cannot bring back YESTERDAY.
    We cannot undo a single act we performed; We cannot erase a single word we said. YESTERDAY is gone.

    The other day we should not worry about is TOMORROW With its possible adversities, its burdens, its larger promise. TOMORROW is also beyond our immediate control. TOMORROW, the sun will rise, Either in splendor or behind a mask of clouds, But it will rise. Until it does, we have no stake in TOMORROW
    For it is as yet unborn.

    This leaves only one day - TODAY.
    Any man can fight the battles of just one day.
    It is only when you and I add the burdens of those two awful eternities
    - YESTERDAY and TOMORROW -
    That we break down.

    It is not the experience of TODAY that drives men mad.
    It is remorse or bitterness for something which happened YESTERDAY
    And the dread of what TOMORROW may bring.

    Let us, therefore, live but ONE day at a time.

    We have seen in recent weeks how poorly many of us respond to our yesterdays.  Worse yet, someone responds to somebody else’s yesterday, with their own take on how yesterday should have gone.  We put our twist on something and try to make it right.  The reality is: nothing makes yesterday right.  We can apologize for our yesterdays, but we cannot undo any pain, any hurt, any damage, we created.  As the poem states, yesterday is forever out of our control.  The best we can hope for is to learn from our yesterday, to try our best never to make the same mistake twice, if we are able to do that, then we can at least say that we have honored our yesterday in the only way we can.

    Clint Eastwood has said: “Tomorrow is a promise to no one.”  That is true, and as I just read in the poem; “Tomorrow the sun will rise, either in splendor or behind a mask of clouds, but it will rise.”  Well, that seems to conflict with Mr. Eastwood’s quote doesn’t it?  But, as we know, the sun WILL rise tomorrow, it just may not rise for some of us, for one day, we all run out of our tomorrows here on earth.

    So, that does leave us with today.  What we each do with our todays is usually up to us.  We can dwell on our yesterdays and as the poem indicates, that is just wasted time, or we can waste time fearing tomorrow.  For some people, they fear tomorrow so much it makes them stagnant, frozen in time, there is no today because all they do is fear tomorrow, and that my friends is a shame, because you know what today truly is; today is a gift.  Every today is a gift.  Forget what is waiting for you under the Christmas tree, and think about the gift known as TODAY.  That gift is worth more than money, fame, or property.  Today is a gift because one you embrace today it is up to YOU what you want to do with it.  So what do you really want to do with your todays?

    Hebrews 13:8 tells us: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Think about the readings we are hearing this evening.  For four weeks now we have been anticipating tonight, we were told that Jesus was coming.  Now, he is here, in the form of a baby, born under circumstances that were foretold prior to His arrival.  Now that he is here, what’s next?  For all of us, our tomorrows have NOT been written yet.  Jesus was sent here with an agenda, Jesus came to save us, to teach us, to lead us, and he accomplished ALL those tasks plus too many others to include here.  Prophets told us what would happen when Jesus arrived, the Apostles tell us what Jesus did while he was here, and the Bible tells us everything else.

    Yesterday is gone and no longer within your control.  Tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet, and it too is out of your control.  Embrace your TODAY!  May your every today be filled with joy, laughter, love, and peace.  May God smile down on your every today and may you recognize it as the gift it truly is.  Our yesterdays are history, our tomorrows are a blank canvass, embrace today, now and always.   Amen!



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  16. Seen vs Unseen



    I wonder how many of you have taken the Rorschach Test otherwise known as the ink blot test?  Was it fun or frustrating for you?  I have a vague recollection of taking this test around the 7th grade and I have to tell you, I remember being frustrated.  It may have only been one or two in reality as time has skewed the memory, but as I remember it felt like half the ink blots they showed me all I saw was….. an ink blot.  Additionally, my memory again may be off here, but I remember taking the test with another person near-by who was seeing all sorts of wonderful things; they saw a herd of buffalo in one, Canadian Geese flying south in another and I remember thinking to myself; why didn’t I get those cool ink blots, and then the stark reality hit me that I HAD seen those ink blots, and I had come up with nothing.  I remember wondering if that meant I had no imagination, or if that meant I was a boring person, and I remember a sense of frustration and some fear creeping in.  Why didn’t I see what the other person was seeing?

    The reason that memory came back to me this past week is because a friend of mine posted a picture of a cloud formation.  Now, before I describe the picture let me apologize to Meghan and Leslie as the picture could have been posted by one of them, I honestly don’t remember who posted it, I was still in ‘recovery mode’ from my latest health issue so I wasn’t fully alert.  But, this picture caught my eye and according to those who posted it, the cloud formation in the picture was supposed to be God with an angel blowing a trumpet at his feet.  Now, I will tell you, I saw immediately the angel blowing the trumpet, that was pretty clear, as for the giant cloud in the formation of a man in a robe….well, that one I didn’t see as clearly, though, I understood as why someone else would see that image.  But, it made me think that God will reveal himself to us in a variety of ways, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to think that some of us would see God or something God-related, while others of us would (as in this case), just see a cloud.  That revelation wasn’t for them at that moment.  But, this all got me to thinking and wondering about a few things, where answers seemed to come almost as quickly as the question itself. 

    The first question which popped into my head is why doesn’t God reveal himself to all of us at the same time?  The immediate thought I had following this question was that God HAS revealed himself to all of us in a very useful tool known as THE BIBLE.  Next thought, and yes, it was one of those rapid-fire outbursts I get every now and then, if that WAS God revealing himself in that cloud, why not appear to more people in a much larger cloud?  The answer I believe is; because someone took a photograph of this cloud formation and posted it on at least one social media site, thus many more people WERE going to see this image, but then again, maybe the image was seen by those whom God wanted to see it, and they were really the only ones God had ever intended to see it.  Why a cloud formation?  Well, God has certainly used clouds before and we will hear about that in a moment, but also, the clouds were outdoors, in the sky, where they can be seen for miles by hundreds if not thousands of people.  Again, a photo was taken and posted, thus seen by hundreds and thousands of more people.  If God wanted this to be a reminder of; “Yes, I’m still here!” it wasn’t a bad way of getting the point across.  As I said, God has used clouds before: When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it,  and the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from within the cloud. To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.  What an interesting contrast here; Moses sees and enters a cloud, but to those watching from below they see a consuming fire.  Was that God’s way of ensuring only Moses would be interacting with him?  You or I wouldn’t be afraid to enter a cloud, but we wouldn’t race to enter into a consuming fire now would we?  In this case, God had everyone see what they were intended to see.

    Sometimes, we get lost in a moment.  Earlier this year we heard the story about the stoning death of Stephen.  Just before Stephen dies he looks toward the sky and he sees the heavens open up: Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."  At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him,  dragged him out of the city and began to stone himThink about this for a moment.  Do you think the outcome changes any here if any of those people looked up and saw the same thing Stephen sees?  Their hatred and emotion had gotten to all of them so badly that not only don’t they see they cover their ears because they don’t even want to hear.

    In the news over the past few weeks we have been bombarded with a series of very public and very sad deaths.  Three of these deaths have that same kind of raw emotion going through them, with anger and frustration coming into play and intensifying an already fragile event.  In the first incident, race car driver Tony Stewart hits a driver who has left his damaged car and is on the racetrack.  Stewart’s car strikes him and kills him.  This occurs on the very next lap Stewart took after being the one who sideswiped this other car to begin with.  Many who have seen footage of this accident believe Stewart struck the other driver on purpose, but from what I saw I have no idea how you could leap to that conclusion.  But, I’m not a racing fan, and what I see may not be what an experienced fan sees.

    The shooting death of an unarmed black teen in Ferguson, Missouri has the entire country looking at their TV screens glued to the aftermath.  I wonder how many people feel like we have stepped into a time machine and whisked ourselves back to the nineteen sixties’ race riots.  The reason for the outrage is not only was the teenager unarmed, according to witnesses he was putting up his arms in the same manner police ask suspects to do, thus why did the officer feel it was necessary to shoot?  Sometimes, what we see is impacted by our point of view, meaning our state of mind.  I wasn’t there, and in no way do I want what I’m about to say reflect that I have an opinion one way or the other on why this happened.  I’m speaking to the witness accounts, and let me tell you from experience, you show four people the same crime and you will get four different recollections of what happened.  I recall hearing a story once about a Criminal Justice professor who staged a “shooting” within his classroom.  He had a stranger enter the classroom, pull out a banana, yell bang three times and ran back out the door as the professor fell to the floor in a heap.  As the stunned students looked on the professor jumped to his feet and said now, write down everything you saw.  No one saw a banana, but many gave clear descriptions of the pistol they saw in the suspect’s hand.  Again, please don’t think this is my way of making an excuse for this horrific incident, it is not.  But, I do say we need to proceed with caution. We need to look at it through caring eyes.

    Closer to home, in Lakewood this past week a woman was stuck by a motor vehicle while crossing the road near her house.  The person who was driving the car stopped and went to check on her condition.  Friends and relatives of the injured woman who witnessed the accident began to beat on the driver, knocking him to the ground.  The woman would succumb to her injuries in the hospital a short while later.  Emotions running high after seeing something horrific;  What was going through these people’s minds right then, did they not think the driver showed enough remorse?  Did they think the accident was on purpose?  Was their way of doling out an immediate sentence to this driver, vigilante style?

    The most public death this week was also the only one which was self-inflicted.  The death of Robin Williams came as a shock to many, and I’ll be honest, I was totally taken back by how some people responded.  Shepard Smith of Fox News called him a coward, but he wasn’t alone, when I returned back to work at the airport this week one of my coworkers asked me to explain how a husband does that to his wife and a father does that to his children.  Here is what we need to understand, at that moment  Robin Williams was not seeing life with the eyes of a husband or the eyes of a father, he was looking at life with sad, extremely painful eyes which were showing him a life better for everyone else if he were dead.  As sad as that statement is, I know many people can’t comprehend it.  There is a reason we don’t understand, we aren’t depressed, we aren’t Robin Williams, we don’t know for sure how depressed he really was.  How could we know unless we were experiencing the same thing ourselves?

    In each of these deaths there has been outrage.  Each one of us has looked at these deaths with our own eyes, from our own point of view.  Did Tony Stewart run that other driver over on purpose, well; with what point of view are you watching that video?  Are you watching it as a spectator, as a competitor, as a parent, as a brother, what influences in YOUR life are you accessing as you watch that video?  What did the police officer see just before he pulled the trigger?  What was influencing his decisions that day?  Does the fact that this incident occurred in the south increase the emotion surrounding it?  I watched CNN the other day, people from that town said they haven’t been fond of the police department for some time now, how much does that come into play?  I can’t imagine witnessing a loved one getting run over, I have no idea how I would treat the driver who was responsible, do you?  Robin Williams may have been the funniest man of his generation, yet as a fan I wonder if he knew the gift he had? 

    There is an Indian saying which states: Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins!  That holds true here, we shouldn’t make ANY judgments until we see what someone else sees! In those cases where we can’t see in the same manner as someone else then we need to make sure that we take the time to look at that incident through Christian eyes!  Through Christian eyes we may see things very differently.  We may see things with a little more patience, a little more love, a little more understanding.  Through Christian eyes we may realize that what we see isn’t the same thing other people see, we may gain insight into understanding that how we are looking at something may differ greatly from how someone else views it.

    We also need to note that sometimes we don’t see it at all: Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him."  Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us."  Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.  What do you see?  How do you see it?  Does everyone see it that way?  Are you seeing clouds while others are seeing fire?  Do you see a butterfly or do you just see an inkblot? Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Before we look at an event only through our eyes, why don’t we try looking at them through the way, the truth, and the life?  Alleluia! Amen!



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  17. Wrestling With God



    Throughout our lives we wrestle with many different things; we wrestle with a sibling, we wrestle with our thoughts, we wrestle with our feelings, we wrestle with our choices, we wrestle with a decision, and sometimes, we wrestle with our faith.  That last one can create havoc within ourselves, as we usually stand strong in our faith, we go to church, we pray, and then, what sometimes happens is an event occurs which is so horrible, so disturbing, so upsetting, that everything we thought we knew, we thought we had unshakable faith, now seems suddenly vulnerable.  For many, this usually occurs after the sudden death of a loved one, and immediately life seems so unfair.  Many of us have heard the anguished cry from someone we know uttering out; “Why?  Why now?  Why them?  Why not me, instead of…?” 

    Many times we have heard people say that life isn’t fair.  I don’t know about that, but I do know it’s random.  I don’t know why I had a heart attack and lived, yet the quarterback from my football team just about a year ago now, died immediately when he had his.  I don’t know why cancer found my cousin and took his life just months after Illness took his estranged wife, thus leaving their son an orphan at just 13 years old.  I don’t know why we have SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and yet we have people who live to their 80’s, 90’s and some even cross the century mark.  I remember my lifelong best friend giving the Eulogy at his mother’s funeral less than a year after his father passed.  He could have been angry, he could have been disappointed, he could have been enraged, he could have been emotionally spent; and yet at his mother’s funeral he said that when it came to his parents, both who died in their sixties, that God had granted them early admission into heaven.  That day I thought about all my lifelong buddies, and I couldn’t think of another who had both his parent’s still with us.  I was thinking this as I looked down the pew and saw both my parent’s there, and knew how lucky I was. I also knew, my friend’s take was not the same as many other children who have been put through losing both parents at a young age, and close together, sometimes, through real tragedy, at the very same time. 

    Tragic and sudden death can induce some people to shake their fist up at God.  We want answers where there are no answers.  We want to see that there is a reason, when everything seems unreasonable.  We want to find solace in God, but we can’t because at the moment all we feel is anger.  I wish I had an easy answer to why my best friend responded to his parent’s earlydeaths from a viewpoint of sheer and unshakable faith, yet under the same conditions some others would just as soon walk away from God altogether, because of the rage within their souls!  Many times, those impacted aren’t falling on one side or the other, they are simply in limbo, wrestling with their faith, trying to silence the question of why and suppress the frustration which comes from not knowing. 

    I can’t imagine being in that position, where I am wrestling with my faith, wrestling with God.  Would you ever want to be in that position? Maybe some of you have been there.  I mourn strangers who take their own lives because they lost that wrestling match somehow, they lost their faith, they lost their relationship with God, and thus, they take their own lives.  The moments before they do the unthinkable those moments must be unbearable, impossible, excruciating.  The thing is, I truly believe God weeps with them because He realizes they don’t feel him, they don’t hear him, they don’t see him.  I believe those moments for God are just as heart wrenching, just as troublesome.  Life is one of, if NOT God’s greatest gift to us.  God certainly doesn’t want us to end this gift before we were meant to.

    Today’s first reading from Genesis is a curious one.  To be honest, I almost passed on it.  But, the story drew me in, and the story as it is written leaves many questions.  Before we get to those questions, let’s hear it once more: So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.  When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.  Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak." But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."  The man asked him, "What is your name?" "Jacob," he answered.  Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome."  Jacob said, "Please tell me your name." But he replied, "Why do you ask my name?" Then he blessed him there.  So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared."  Now, how many of you have questions regarding this story?  You may be wondering why I was going to pass on this, or now after hearing it, you may understand why I had trepidation regarding this reading.  Let’s break it down starting at the very beginning: Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.  Well, obviously Jacob ISN’T alone as there is another man who wrestles with him.  Where did this stranger come from and why do they feel they need to wrestle with one another? It seems odd doesn’t it? But, we go from odd to bizarre, as this nameless stranger then purposely injures Jacob, by compromising his hip.  Now, let’s give Jacob props here, as anyone here can attest to if you have ever had any type of hip injury, this can be extremely painful, yet Jacob holds onto the stranger.  In fact, Jacob refuses to let go unless the stranger blesses him.  So, the next question has to be: who does Jacob think this stranger is, why ask for a blessing from him.  Now, let us expand on that thought; does Jacob believe this is God? As we continue reading the story, it seems to indicate that: .  So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared."  Now, I know many of you have very good knowledge of the Bible.  Does this verse bother you?  It bothers me, and here is the reason: let me read to you from Exodus chapter 33: 19 And the LORD said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live." 21 Then the LORD said, "There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen."    By the way, this is God speaking to Moses.  Jacob can see God’s face, but Moses can’t?  If this is true, and I can’t say one way or the other, but then what changed in the timeframe between Jacob’s time and Moses’?  So, with all these questions, the story as it stands, doesn’t make sense as it is written, meaning, if we take it in its literal form.  But, what if that isn’t what we are supposed to be doing, maybe, we are supposed to be reading this figuratively.  So, let’s do that, let me re-read the story in a figurative way and see if makes more sense.  Let’s try this version on for size: So even when we think we are all alone, we really aren’t, as God is always present. Sometimes we ponder our faith and we wrestle with it.  In those times when subtle doesn’t work, God makes himself known in a big way.  When God see’s that our faith IS strong, God blesses us.  In turn, we then need to humbly acknowledge God and recognize all the gifts and grace He surrounds us with.  Does this work better for you?  The story almost has a parable feel to it, we just don’t know who is telling it. With no other information to go off of, we really are left to our own interpretations.  I don’t know if the one I gave you is completely correct, but I think it could be close.

    We have seen the power of prayer; we have seen the power of faith.  In those rare weak moments where we wrestle with our faith, God has found a way to speak to us through the Holy Spirit.  We all know deep down inside ourselves that there is no need to wrestle with our faith, to wrestle with God.  We know because we serve as witness to all of God’s glory, and we humbly acknowledge all of God’s gifts.  On those rare occasions where we may entertain doubt, God has found a way to get our attention; LOUDLY!  What’s the old line: If you want to make God laugh; tell Him what YOUR plans are.  We all know how that usually turns out, go wrestle with that!   Alleluia! Amen!



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  18. Refuse To Separate



    What would it take to separate you from something you really loved?  How about something you always wanted, and finally got, maybe an heirloom which was passed down to you, something which reminds you of a relative who has long passed, but every time you look at it; it reminds you of that person; could anyone or anything tear that away from you?

    When we see a home which has totally burned to the ground or if we recall all those homes along the shore which were lost to Sandy, we can feel our hearts ripping apart, we get extremely emotional and we can easily mourn the loss.  It isn’t the home we mourn, for a home can be rebuilt, but it is the contents of that home, that is why we mourn.  There are pictures and possessions within the home that if lost to catastrophic reasons could never be replaced.  More than that, could the memories?  I dread the day my parents say they need to move out of their house, and if my brother doesn’t purchase it, then I will need to let go of a place I still call home, even though I haven’t lived there in almost 30 years.

    Ann has told me through the years that if our home ever catches fire I’m responsible for bringing out our wedding album.  Does anyone else have that kind of game-plan?  Honestly, would you even think of it?  Save the people and the pets first, everything else is on its own!    That said, I certainly understand why Ann would want the wedding album saved, and it made me wonder; if your house were on fire; and you knew all living beings within the house were safe, what would you choose to save? Can we put any worth or measure on the people and things we cherish the most?

    Of the things we hold onto no matter what where do we stand when it comes to  our faith, our beliefs, our religion?  Many faiths right now are dealing with major numbers departing as they fall on one side of the gay/lesbian debate or the other.  Of all things in our lives shouldn’t our faith be one of those things we hold onto for all it’s worth?  Just because church A has a gay minister doesn’t mean that church B is going to have a gay minister and just because church F allows same sex marriages doesn’t mean that church H is going to allow same sex marriages, so even though all these churches belong to the same faith, why does church B and church H feel that they have to leave their denomination?  If they feel that strongly about it they should stick around and make their point.  But, that said, I just don’t get it.  I understand this is a hot button issue, I understand people feel strongly about it but I don’t understand the separation.  To me it’s like saying you won’t swim in the Atlantic Ocean because you know gay people swim in the ocean, yet you are in Point Pleasant and the ones you KNOW are gay are on a beach and in the water 30 miles away.  Will the water turn you gay?  Did it turn whites into black in the sixties, did it turn men into women in the 1920’s? Did the world stop spinning when the slaves in America were released? Do you stop going to your grocery store, or your clothing store or your bank, or your favorite restaurant because Gay people frequent those locations?  You don’t?  Then why are people leaving the church because of changes in how gays are now perceived?  Because the Bible speaks out against it!  That’s a solid argument, and I do NOT question it.  However, from the Book of Leviticus from which that verse is taken, let me read two verses, which are found prior to it, because they play directly into today’s first reading from Genesis.  Here from Leviticus: " 'No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the LORD. 'Do not take your wife's sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living.  Yet, in today’s reading from Genesis that is EXACTLY what is happening!

    Jacob is marrying two first cousins, not one but two!  Are first cousins considered close relatives?  If the answer is no then the second verse is still in play as they are sisters.  Do not take your wife’s sister as a rival wife, yet this is exactly what Jacob does: When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, "What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn't I? Why have you deceived me?"  Laban replied, "It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one.  Finish this daughter's bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work."  Jacob isn’t a nobody by the way, remember our reading from last week?  Let’s refresh our memories to whom Jacob is: "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you (Jacob) and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.    This is the same Jacob we are talking about, so here is my question: Jacob, who is very much in God’s favor, is married to sisters, which later on in the Bible we are told NOT to do, that God would NOT look on this favorably. 'Do not take your wife's sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living.  Should there be a disclaimer here: Unless your name is Jacob?

    In one Presbytery in Western Pennsylvania, 17 churches have left to affiliate elsewhere. People are leaving the church and churches are leaving their denominations over these two verses in the Bible:  " 'Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.  " 'If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.  Well, here is my first question: How many of these people who left their church and how many of these churches who left their denominations have asked for all Homosexuals to be killed?  I’m sorry, why do I now hear silence?  Is it because we would need to revisit other passages in the Bible which read like these: " 'Keep my decrees. " 'Do not mate different kinds of animals. " 'Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. " 'Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material. "If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as menservants do, servant by the way in this should be read as slave. For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it must be put to death.  Does that include priests, pastors, ministers, deacons, organists, church choir directors and Christian Educators?  Oh, and I’m going to stand right here behind this candle for this last one:  Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day." 

    I am NOT making fun of the Bible, I’m NOT questioning the Word of God, I am using these verses to ask the question of why people don’t seem so worked up about these issues yet they have drawn a line in the sand regarding homo-sexuality.  I want to say that again, I’m NOT questioning the Bible, I’m questioning why when it comes to a person being gay or not, THAT is where our tolerance level ends.  I wonder how many Giant, Jet, Eagles, or Patriots would be surprised to find out it is considered a sin to touch the skin of a pig.  Some of you non-sports fans out there may be wondering why I’m bringing this up. The nickname for a football is: Pigskin.  That is what they are made of, and they are being used every Sunday from September through January.  Will you stop watching football because of that?  Why not?  Did you consider selling your daughter into slavery?  Why not?  Did you stone to death your next door neighbor because they planted tomatoes next to cucumbers?  But, a church in another state, another town, another county, is going to marry two gay men and thus we have to leave the church?  The church has to leave their denomination? 

    Our reading from Romans is very fitting to all of this: Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.  Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.  Christ Jesus and God decide, not us. One last note on homosexuality: nowhere in the Bible do we see Jesus condemning it, but Jesus very much leaves us one directive: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."   Do we demonstrate loving one another if we shut out any part of our society?  Are we saying that God loves everyone as long as they aren’t gay?  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Nothing else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is Christ Jesus our Lord.  So why are some people trying to separate themselves?  More than ever we need to have a refusal to separate mentality, especially when there are too many people who still want to see IN GOD WE TRUST removed from our money, removed from our government buildings.  There are still too many people who want to remove prayer from too many places, because it might offend someone.  There are too many people who want to remove “one nation under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. As Christians we need to stand firmer than ever, we need to be more tolerant, more loving, more forgiving.  We should be finding ways to come together and not ways for us to tear apart.

    And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.    Do you love God?  Do you feel it when the Spirit intercedes in your life in accordance with God’s will? Now let me repeat one more time the two questions I began with: What would it take to separate you from something you really loved?  How about something you always wanted, and finally got, would anyone or anything be able to tear you apart from that?  Now, let me add this last one: Of all the thingsns I began with:  your life in accordance with God'rgiving. word is might, not wi you’ve always wanted, isn’t one of them being called on by God to do his good works and to do so with love?  Don’t let anything separate you from that!    Alleluia! Amen!


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  19. Closed Windows, Open Doors
    Hosea 1: 2 - 10, Luke 11: 1 - 13



    Loving and Merciful Lord, burn your words and wishes into our everyday thoughts. Let us see your intentions and hear your words of wisdom and guidance so that we may fulfill the life you want us to lead today and everyday. Amen.


    I can remember the day like it was yesterday. It was the day that was going to change everything for me. For many, it was a day they dreamed of for me years and years ago. In fact, some of those who could see this day happening for me unfortunately, did not live to see the day in person. I was sitting in Reverend Bryan Franzen's office, and I was lamenting about being out of work. It was mid-July in 2007. The year 2007 would have an incredible roller coaster effect on my life as I experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. At the end of May into the beginning of June, my wife and I joined her parents in Las Vegas for six days. One day we went to Hoover Dam, another day was spent out at Red Rock Canyon National Park, the rest of the days were spent going to shows and restaurants in Vegas. One of my all time favorite vacations, I had a blast. Three weeks later I'm in my boss's office. He was letting me go. Three weeks after that, I'm sitting in front of Bryan.

    I was primarily using him as a sounding board, just a tool I could vent with. I heard from him and others that when God closes a door he opens up a window, or when he closes a window he opens up a door. All we need to do is go through it. Well, that phrase is well used and well intended but when you are the one with the closed window and/ or door behind you and you have yet to come across what's opening in front of you that phrase though meant to be motivational and uplifting is often just frustrating for the individual who suddenly feels trapped and see's no exit. Bryan said to me that though this wouldn't satisfy my immediate needs for employment, and though I would never get rich doing it, he felt it was time for me to seriously consider becoming a Lay Minister. The rest, as is often said, is history, and here I am today.

    This is more than I ever dreamed of, this extraordinary church and all of you wonderful souls out there. But, let me tell you, it took a while before I saw the open door. Yes, it's true, within weeks of Bryan's suggestion I was enrolled in Dubuque Theological Seminary and I was on my way, but for a few years I had a real dislike for my former boss. It would be eight months before I found a job, and any nest egg Ann and I had built was now being eaten away at slowly but surely, just to make sure we could meet our bills. I was offered and accepted a job offer the same week my unemployment ran out, and a week shy of us having any savings at all. Yet, as disappointing and frustrating as that time was for me, these last few months have been the most uplifting, most joyous months of my life. I can see much more clearly now that God needed to remove every obstacle I had placed before me, to get me back on the path I was always intended for. This church and this congregation is God's miracle for me. What is God's miracle for you? Many of you have already shared miracle stories with me. Some of them you may not even have recognized as miracles, but they are. What miracles lie ahead for all of us?

    We see the beginnings of a miracle in today's reading from Hosea. It's a tough read, and at first glance you may be thinking to yourself that I've lost my mind to even suggest anything positive out of this reading. I will admit that I had a difficult time understanding where this reading was going, and it sent me to three different interpreter's and teaching Bible's for me to get the clear picture of what is going on here. If you think your ears were deceiving you they weren't. It's worse than that. Yes, the bottom line is God directed Hosea to take a wife who in the cleanest version I came up with was easy to get into the bedroom. She wasn't particular. Some scholars believe that there is a slight possibility that she was true to Hosea at first, but did not remain faithful. We get a truer understanding of this as we look at the names God directs Hosea to call his children. The first son born is named for the land for which God is not pleased, that of Jezreel (Jez ree uhl). The daughter is named Lo-ruhamah meaning no more mercy. The third child, another son is called Lo-ammi which means not mine. Where from all of this, can good come? The answer is, this is exactly where good can come from, because lets face it, this may be as bad as it gets, a husband married to an unfaithful wife, three children and at least for one there appears to be some question as to the paternity. If this doesn't sounds like current mid-day talk shows I don't know what does? Where was Maury Povich when Hosea needed him? All kidding aside, there isn't a lot of happy, happy, joy, joy in this lesson.

    But, let's look at the final two verses once more: Then the LORD said, "Call him Lo-Ammi, for you are not my people, and I am not your God. "Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' they will be called 'sons of the living God.
    So, though God appears to be closing a door here he does leave the window cracked a bit so it can be opened. The way you are acting now, no, I am NOT your God. However, there is a time coming where it will change from ‘You are not my people' to being called the children of the Living God. So, let's be clear, God doesn't place us in a no way out situation. We can do that to ourselves and we'll be hearing more about that in the weeks to come, but God will always give us an opening. I think it is important to be clear that God, nor Hosea are cruel. Daughter Lo-ruhamah meaning no mercy is renamed Ruhamah meaning pitied or mercy and son Lo-Ammi meaning not mine is renamed Ammi which means now you ARE mine.
    What do we need to do to see to it that God continues to open windows and doors for us? It's really very simple, God wants to hear from us. God wants us to pray. In the movie Bruce Almighty, Jim Carrey plays a frustrated TV reporter who gets God's attention in a big way. God is played by Morgan Freeman. The movie is much more than this, but really a theme which runs through it is to pray. Period. Bruce eventually gets what he wanted all along, but he needed to be sincere, honest with himself, and loving. Then, he needed to do one more thing; he needed to pray.

    In today's New Testament reading we hear the beginning of the Lord's Prayer as we know it. It is Jesus' followers asking the question of what needs to be done and how: One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray, say: " 'Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.' Well, we all recognize this prayer now don't we? Of course it's part of the Lord's Prayer. In this prayer, we ask for an opportunity to open some doors don't we? Let's slow it down for a moment, as by now, for many of us saying the Lord's Prayer is like breathing. We don't give much thought to it, we just do it. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation. Do you see it, do you see the open doors? We open the door of forgiveness from God toward us. We know that through Jesus Christ our Savior we are indeed forgiven. Jesus is the door to heaven we go through. We open the doors of better relationships with each other: for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. Of course, here in the Presbyterian Church today this verse actually goes, forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. I think that shows the open door even more clearly. Those who owe me, I now forgive. This may be one of the most powerful and Christian things we can do, and admittedly, it can also be the hardest. I opened this with a recollection of a boss who after months of me begging to meet with him because I could sense something wasn't right, when he finally did call me into his office, it was to let me go. I will tell you friends it took me years to forgive him, so I know how difficult this can be. But, if we hold on to anger, if we hold on to frustration, if we hold on to negative things my friends, we close all the doors to our soul. That is NOT what God wants us to do and definitely NOT what our Savior Jesus Christ teaches us to do. Let's listen one more time to today's lesson from Luke: "So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened."Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" The message is simple, the message is clear, and it's good news for all of us: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. So friends, forgive those debtors, love your friends and neighbors, be true to yourself, and turn yourself over to God, and when times are tougher than others, when forgiving doesn't come as easily as you had hoped, when frustration is outlasting your patience, God has this wish and Jesus has this message for all of us, pray. When you pray you WILL find that when you knock the door will be opened and when you ask you will receive. Life is filled with windows which close behind us, God promises us that if we ask, doors will be opened. So, what are you waiting for, go open some doors!! Amen.

    Lakewood July 28, 2013




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  20. Truly Ready
    Isaiah 1: 1, 10 - 20, Luke 12: 32 - 40



    Loving and Merciful Lord, burn your words and wishes into our everyday thoughts. Let us see your intentions and hear your words of wisdom and guidance so that we may fulfill the life you want us to lead today and everyday. Amen.

    Last Sunday, hours before we all assembled here for worship, our Government was ensuring that our embassies overseas were closed for at least the day. There was a credible threat, and thus the embassies were told to shut down for the protection of all who visit and or work at those locations. Last Sunday, sports fans waited to hear who was going to be suspended for PED use. If you are wondering what PED stands for it is Performance Enhancing Drugs, and Major League Baseball has banned them from the sport. While waiting for the announcement of who was going to be suspended, there was one superstar which was already known to be part of the targeted list, Alex Rodriquez or as he may be better known: A-Rod.Him being suspended wasn't at question, how long he would be suspended for was going to be the question. Last Sunday, you may have heard the story of a two year old infant who was fighting for his life, and served as the best man to his parent's wedding in western Pennsylvania. His parent's got their wish, and for less then 48 hours, they were all a family. Early Monday morning, two year old Logan lost his battle. The wedding which included him two days prior, was put together in a week's time and with a whole lot of help from family, friends, and strangers alike.

    In an Ocean County Hospital is a man recuperating from a crash on the Parkway. Just a short drive from here you can see the skid marks of a car-deer accident which caused the driver to lose control so badly that after striking the deer he hit a tree head on and was killed instantly. So here is the question, are we ready? Have we all seen by now that our lives, our fortunes our health, our emotions can be turned upside down in the blink of an eye? The Scouting motto is to Be Prepared, but can we really be prepared for anything which can happen? What have we done in preparation for the day we get called home? Will we know when it is going to happen? We are going to hear an answer to that question in a few moments, but the question which is clearly being placed before us today is are we truly ready?

    Last week we heard the parable of the Rich Fool. It is a perfect lead in to this week so let's hear it once more: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." ' "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself ?' "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."

    I know, it sounds like a contradiction doesn't it? Be ready but not too ready is what this begins to sound like. But that isn't what is being said at all. Are we ready? Have we done enough here? When we get called home will we hear the words we want to hear; " Well done good and faithful servant." We are measured every day on how we are living our lives. What we need to strive for, what our daily goal needs to be is to be leading a life as close to how the Bible directs us to live our lives. The good news is that we are. Though not perfect, we all strive to live our lives as we've been taught. We certainly aren't living like those we hear about in today's Old Testament Reading: Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah! "The multitude of your sacrifices-- what are they to me?" says the LORD. "I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations-- I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood;
    God doesn't want us going through the motions. Stop bringing meaningless offerings. Be true to yourself and sincere to God. I mentioned Alex Rodriquez at the beginning. His suspension is much harsher than anyone else included; as every one else got 50 game suspensions. They are trying to suspend Alex for an entire season and possibly part of another one. Why? No one believes Alex when he speaks. In his news conference everything sounded well rehearsed, informal, and worst of all, insincere. Many point at A-Rod and say he isn't sorry for what he did, he's sorry he got caught. Just as God did with the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, fans and other athletes have stopped listening to A-Rod, he has very much made this process weary.

    I don't know if there is a graceful and acceptable way for Alex Rodriquez to move on from this point of his public appearance. I hope Alex finds it. As for the rest of us, God gives us our good news, our escape plan from the unacceptable and in the second part of today's reading from Isaiah God lays out the blueprint of what He desires from us: learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. "Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land..."

    Thus, we hear clearly that God forgives, and God continues to provide. History has shown that the human race doesn't always deserve this kind of treatment, there have been too many times when we've been doing a lot which was wrong, yet, God also saw it as something which He could get past, he could forgive us. I wonder though, how many of us will be ready when it comes our time to go home.

    One month after my Father-In-Law was diagnosed with a terminal and very aggressive cancer, Ann went out to help her mother with his care and to say goodbye. He had been given three to six months to live upon his diagnosis. Within two weeks of Ann's arrival, he was gone. Three thousand miles away here in New Jersey, Ann's sister-in-law was wide awake from midnight on. Two miles away from her, I awoke and felt very restless. At five minutes before 2 in the morning, I went out to my living room and felt the presence of my Father-In-Law just to my left. I was too scared and confused to look that way, and after a minute passed the feeling went away. He died at five minutes before 11pm West Coast time, the exact minute I could feel his presence in my living room. A few days earlier, in my last conversation with him, all he said to me was; "I'm good." At the time I took that as he was feeling fine and that we would talk again. Now I know, he was telling me he had accepted what was coming.

    Though he didn't know the exact minute, he knew it was becoming imminent. I believe he made peace with himself and with the Lord before he died. I am confident I will see him again in God's glorious home for all of us. But, we need to make sure that before we get there, we have earned the welcoming phrase of: "Well done, good and faithful servant." As we hear clearly today from Luke, we don't know when we will get called home: "like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him.It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them.It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night.But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him."

    Like those waiting for their master to return so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him, this is how ready we are asked to be. At the beginning of this, I mentioned a man who was killed immediately in a deer, tree, car accident. When he woke that morning, do you think he thought that was the day he was going to die? Do you think he thought his death was imminent when he turned on the ignition? If he did know the outcome of that trip, do you think he even gets into the car? Of course he wouldn't and thus, we don't know. If we knew, wouldn't we make sure we were on our best behavior beforehand? We'd pray a little more, make sure we've been attending church, maybe put a little more in the offering plate. We'd be kinder, more loving, more patient, more forgiving.

    The wonderful comedian; Bill Cosby, recalled how his parents acted with him and then seeing how they interacted with his children he came to a realization. Bill told his kids that these were not the same people he had grown up with, that they were old now and trying to get into heaven.

    What we have heard today is this, our age doesn't matter, how healthy we are doesn't matter, what matters is that we make ourselves truly ready. For when we do, God has made his own promise to us: "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom."
    Will you be ready? Amen.

    Lakewood 08/11/13



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  21. WHAT WE DON’T SEE
    Acts 2: 14a, 22 – 32; John 20: 19 - 31



    Let us pray: Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our rock and redeemer.  AMEN!

     

    Last Sunday, today, and next Sunday, we are going to hear about people who not only see Jesus but interact with Jesus, and yet don’t realize it is Jesus they are seeing and speaking to.  The question quickly becomes: how can that be?  The people who are seeing Jesus and interacting with Jesus are NOT strangers to him, and it isn’t like Jesus has been gone for years, months, or even weeks.  Jesus has been dead for just a few days.  So, how can these friends and followers of Jesus, not even recognize him?  If you didn’t see your very best friend for three days I suspect you would recognize them when they appeared before you.

     

    So, again, the question becomes; how does one NOT recognize Jesus when he reappears?  I believe there is an easy answer to this question, but I also believe there is a more complicated answer also.  Additionally, I believe both answers are equally correct.  So, the first answer is the most obvious, and one we have briefly touched on before; that everyone is currently in a state of disbelief.  As we just heard and will delve into further in just a few moments, Thomas is the epitome of one who is fully in a state of disbelief.  How can we be hard on these followers and disciples of Jesus when we take into account all they have seen?  Let us all consider the fact that a week went by in a whirlwind!  A week by the way, which started and ended about as far apart as a week can?  To put the week in perspective, try to imagine this: On Sunday you are watching a close friend celebrate a huge milestone, let’s say a wedding; with all the pomp and circumstance.  On Thursday that friend is arrested, and on Friday that same friend is tried for a crime you know they didn’t commit, and punishment is death.  We went from honeymoon to funeral in the span of less than a week. 

     

    What is scary about the scenario I just laid out for you, I will lay out a true story of friends of mine I grew up with who went from that joy to that sorrow in just about the same time frame.  A neighbor of mine in Bridgewater married the son of a well-known and beloved Veterinarian from the area, in fact, he was the Vet for my pets while growing up.  Thus, my entire family was at the wedding.  My neighbor and her new husband head away for their honeymoon.  Wednesday night that week, the rescue squad my father and I belonged to was summoned to the Veterinarian’s home.  As I went through the front door, I found a police officer administering CPR to the Vet.  He did didn’t make it despite our best efforts.  At his viewing I got to the newly-weds and broke down, as it hit me that while in the happiest of days they would get the news of his father passing.  I grieved for weeks, and it wasn’t even my blood relative.  But someone I knew very well.

     

    I don’t know how anyone could go from the joy of joys like a wedding day, or Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem to a very sudden death, and be expected to be thinking clearly. When we are in a state of mourning, we are in a haze aren’t we?  It’s hard to see clearly through bloodshot eyes!  So, can we really be hard on the disciples and the close followers of Jesus?  Really, how can we be, we have all been there, we have all grieved.  Do we really trust anything we think, do, see or say when we are at our lowest points of grief?  So, the easy answer to why people weren’t recognizing Jesus is because they were blinded by grief.  It is understandable, and everyone can relate.  Thus, if we put ourselves into their shoes, we now probably understand a little better!

    But, I said there were two answers to the question as to why people weren’t recognizing Jesus.  I said the second one is more complicated and here is why: this answer is more subjective than the easy answer.  It has to do with how one see’s themselves.  It has to do with what we allow ourselves to see and what we prevent ourselves from seeing.  Thomas gives us perfect insight into what I am referring to:  “Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”  Thomas, is in a state of denial.  Many of us have experienced that while we have been in mourning: “This person can’t be dead, I was just with them a few days ago!”  I will admit to all of you that I have been in a state of denial twice.  The first was when the quarterback of my high school football team passed away a few years back, and just before Christmas last year when Wendy Bailey suddenly died.  Why do I know I am in a state of denial? I have not taken Wendy’s phone number out of my saved numbers in my cell phone.  I can’t bring myself to do it.

    But, what if this is MORE than a state of denial?  A state of denial would be easy, but we have already addressed that denial is often part of the grieving process.  What if this is more a reflection unto ourselves?  What if this is us looking into a mirror and really not liking what we see?  What if we have to look deeper into ourselves than we are willing to explore?  What if this has more with how we are responding to the person who passed then about the fact that they passed.  What if Thomas is doubting everyone else seeing Jesus, because he himself can’t bring himself to believe it?  This isn’t about Thomas grieving or mourning, this is about Thomas’ faith, and Jesus is going to call him out on it: “Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Let’s face it, this is faith at the lowest common denominator; do YOU believe in that which you do NOT see?  This question is NOT as easy as it would appear at first glance.  We, as Christians, are taught to believe, we have heard countless sermons, gone through Sunday School, some of us have gone through confirmation classes, and we have been told that we are supposed to believe.  But, when you dig down deep, when you placed yourself under the most powerful of microscopes would you see yourself as a true believer, or would you see yourself closer to Thomas than you really care to admit?

    You see, I think the way we would answer that question has a lot to do with the period of time we are all walking this planet.  Why do I say that?  Because I think there are too many questions out there we do NOT have definitive answers to, thus I believe it clouds our judgement, in turn, clouding our faith a bit in the process.  What do I mean?  I’m glad you asked.  Look at some of the things currently trying to be proven right now.  Let us begin with Big Foot or Sasquatch.  There are currently I believe four television shows depicting Big Foot researchers.  Some of these are unrealistic and silly but there are a one or two with sincere people trying to prove OR disprove the existence of Big Foot.  The other big one is ghost hunting which now has eight, ten, maybe even twelve shows following researchers trying to chase the paranormal.  Why is there so much interest? There seems to be some evidence out there to both, but has either been truly proven?  I told you, the second answer to today’s question was purely subjective, just as trying to prove ghosts exist or Sasquatch!  Some people believe without actually having to see the evidence, others won’t believe until a Big Foot comes knocking on their front door.

    Why would I bring these into the mix?  Because conversations about Jesus returning from the dead can be as polarizing for us today as the discussion of paranormal or Big Foot activity.  Could the doubts raised by the other two impact the thinking of many today?  What we don’t see and why has a lot to say about our faith.  How deeply do you want to look into yours?  Would you like what you see?  Last question; if Jesus was standing before YOU today, would YOU see him? “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Are you blessed….or not?  Amen!

    Lakewood April 23,2017



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  22. Looking Up While Being Grounded
    Acts 1: 1 – 11, Luke 24: 44 - 53



    Loving and Merciful Lord, burn your words and wishes into our everyday thoughts.  Let us see your intentions and hear your words of wisdom and guidance so that we may fulfill the life you want us to lead today and every day.  Amen.

     

    As I sat down to write today’s message, the news regarding the bombing in Manchester England was still extremely fresh.  I remember reading a friend’s post who asked the question: Why target teenage girls? Teenagers were the majority of who was in attendance at this concert featuring a 23 year old female pop singer from America.  It’s an excellent question, one which only has one answer which is that this is EVIL in its truest and purest form.  It is the act of cowards, and the fact that ISIS couldn’t wait to claim responsibility makes this even more inexplicable. I cannot imagine that no one within this radical group has enough humanity in them to say to the others that maybe they need to rethink this?  One cannot argue that this is a political statement because most of these concert goers have no political ties, no thoughts towards what is right or wrong with the world, most of these victims biggest concern is making sure their grades are good and their homework is complete.  For many of these victims an evening which was a highlight of their young lives had now turned into a nightmare much worse than any child or teen could ever dream on their own.  How does one justify killing an eight year old girl?  What motivation can there possibly be?

     

    Worse yet, there will be many who will question why the police didn’t prevent this.  There will be many others who will take it even further and question why God didn’t prevent this?  For those of us who believe in a forgiving God, our question becomes how can anyone, including God possibly forgive this?  While we ponder all this, Satan is somewhere dancing a jig, he wins this round.  Evil is in its glory, terrorism has raised the stakes.  A stunned, saddened world mourns, and the boomerang will come back around once more for evil, because at some point the sadness and the horror will be replaced with rage and thoughts of revenge.  At some point too many people will realize that innocent and trusting children and teenagers were targeted, murdered because they were easy prey.  Adults are now more cautious, more careful, we have heard since 9-11-2001 that if you see something, say something.  This bomb came at the end of the concert, with the fans of Ariana Grande in a euphoric state, blissfully happy, delirious in joy.  Evil decided these people should be the next target.  When that thought takes over the world, which it will, evil wins again because anger will take hold of many, and a brutal manhunt  has begun for EVERYONE who is responsible.  Chances are good that there will be more killing, and a fragile world will once again see anger and hatred escalate.

     

    I saw an interesting exchange between two people commenting on this attack.  One asked when unprovoked terrorist attacks will end.  The other responded with the answer: when they allow prayer back into the classrooms. An interesting exchange, but this is a different argument and has little to do with a terrorist attack.  This attack makes no more sense than the Sandy Hook Elementary School killings.  Although ISIS is claiming responsibility, it is almost like killing just to see how many one can kill is the reasoning behind it, or should we say, LACK of reasoning behind it.

     

    The problem for too many of us to even count, is that when we are looking at this event and the perpetrators; we can’t see what they see or think like they think.  Honestly, we should all give thanks for that alone, because these killers are coming from a very dark, very scary place, that would terrify most of us, yet they seem to embrace it. We can’t see what they see because while we are looking up, they are looking down.  While we seek out compassion and the joy and love of heaven, they want to see how much damage they can do here before they head into Hades. We are one race, the human race but we have learned over the years how to separate ourselves by sex, age, nationality, faith, class, and education.  We too easily find and emphasize the ways we are different and spend too little time on what makes us the same.  What is scary is that this isn’t anything new.  The Bible tells us about Cain and Abel, it tells us that Moses was in fear of his life as the Israelites become less and less patient, and do we really need to revisit how quickly the crowd of supporters on Palm Sunday became an angry mob yelling out for the crucifixion of Christ mere days later?  This is ongoing, and shows us clearly why we should view the human race as a race of sinners.

     

    Yet, with all that said, this horrific event still shows us both sides to us.  As poorly as some of us can behave, we see the better side of ourselves also.  CNN found a homeless man who stays near the arena where the attack took place by the name of Stephen Jones.  Stephen said he began running away from the building when he saw the others running, but upon realizing what happened, stopped and RAN BACK to help.  Stephen told the CNN reporter: “They needed the help. I’d like to think someone would come help me if I needed the help.  It was just one of them things.  It was just instinct, to go and help if someone needs your help…It had to be done, you had to help.  If I didn’t help, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”  This is a homeless man who has almost nothing.  This is a man who could easily say that the world has given him nothing, why does he need to give anything to the world.  BUT, that ISN’T what he said.  Stephen said that it had to be done, and if he hadn’t helped, he wouldn’t have been able to live with himself.  I hope this man is gifted with everything he needs for the rest of his life!  As bad as his life is, HE responded, he went to help!  One can’t help but think of the GOOD SAMARITAN story right now!  This is a real life example.  I will tell you now friends, that as much as the terrorist(s) who were behind this attack were inspired by Satan, this man was inspired by GOD!

    Inspired by God much like the disciples as we heard earlier: “Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  How many of you believe we have a new witness in Manchester in the form of Stephen Jones?  Stephen may not realize it, but I get the sense that the Holy Spirit was the voice inside of him that said, no, don’t run away, run back and help!  No matter what happens with Stephen for the rest of his life here on earth, one can be certain of one thing, his spot in heaven is set, and one day he WILL HEAR; “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  The Bible tells us the first will be the last and the last will be the first.  When one asks; where was God during this horror, we can answer that God showed himself though Stephen Jones!

    In our reading from the Gospel of Luke today we heard about Jesus’ final moments with the disciples:  “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.”  The verse I want to focus on for a moment is this one: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations…” Specifically, I want to focus on: “47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations…” With that thought I want to reiterate something else I said earlier: For those of us who believe in a forgiving God, our question becomes how can anyone, including God possibly forgive this?  I am NOT the first pastor who has preached FORGIVENESS to you.  You have heard it your whole lives.  So, in this case, how DOES one forgive?  Well, I think you begin with the idea that it isn’t automatic.  I think the one who needs forgiveness HAS to ask for it.  I don’t believe it is assumed.  Every Sunday we confess our sins here as part of our church service.  It is followed by an Assurance of Pardon.  But, let’s be clear of the order, the assurance isn’t given BEFORE we first confess and ask for forgiveness.  How many of these terrorists do you think asked for forgiveness?  Many of them die thinking that it is God’s will, thus there is no need for forgiveness, as they feel they are doing the work of whatever god they believe in.  There is the difference!

    We look upwards to look at something flying overhead, or to look at the clouds, the moon, the stars, and we sometimes look upwards to speak to God.  We do this while standing on this planet, our temporary home.  While we are grounded here, we will have good days and bad days, extraordinary moments… and terrifying moments.  This past Monday, we had a terrifying moment and a bad day.  But, we ARE still here, and though we mourn, though we are confused as to why this happened, and though we will get angry at the people responsible for this, we are reminded that God is never far away: “They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back…”  On a Monday immediately following a horrific event, we saw God come back to us, not in the form of Jesus, but in the form of Stephen Jones: It had to be done, you had to help.  If I didn’t help, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself… God bless you Stephen Jones!  Amen!           Lakewood May 28, 2017  Ascension Sunday



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  23. SHAKEN AND STIRRED
    Colossians 3: 1 – 4; Mathew 28: 1 - 10



    Loving and Merciful Lord, burn your words and wishes into our everyday thoughts.  Let us see your intentions and hear your words of wisdom and guidance so that we may fulfill the life you want us to lead today and every day.  Amen.

     

    Long before the current parade of superheroes made it to the movies we had the likes of John Wayne, Charleston Heston, Clint Eastwood, and a Scottish fellow by the name of Sean Connery who played a man named Bond, James Bond who liked his vodka martinis shaken; not stirred.  These are just a handful of men who have played heroes in the movies.  These were men who played cowboys and soldiers, they played spies trying to make things right in the world, always trying to save the world from total catastrophe, trying to prevent mad men from taking over, or the world being destructed in some weird way.  These are men who are larger than life and give us the feeling after we leave the movie theater that we are safe.  We begin to believe there are real men who exist who do the same thing, protect us from the worst of the worst, many times without us even knowing it.  After all, the identities must be kept secret so that these men can do what they do.  Today, we can go to the southern end of Manhattan where two skyscrapers stood, and we can read the names of heroes most of us never knew.  We do know that there are men AND women who run towards danger, when every instinct is telling them otherwise.  This knowledge allows us to sleep a little better at night.

     

    This said, it occurred to me that I’m not sure I understand why we continue to look for the heroes, many times making these heroes up with names like; Superman, Batman, the Hulk, Wonder Woman, Storm, Mystique, and so many others.  I realize that a good action movie is a nice adrenalin rush and is often entertaining.  I also get the fact that we love a good guys verses bad guys story, especially when the good guy wins.  I just wonder if these stories need to be made.  Hasn’t the ultimate good over evil story already been told?  Hasn’t the best person to EVER walk on this earth already done so?  Haven’t we already been told the GOOD NEWS?  In fact, didn’t the man I’m talking about do everything he did to save all of us from ourselves? In fact, even though this man did all he did two thousand years ago, doesn’t his accomplishments still impact us today?

     

    Christ Jesus did something no one else is capable of doing, Jesus rose from the dead.  Doesn’t that place him in a class all by himself?  Doesn’t his story TRUMP any other story we could create or imagine?  Why do we look for a Superman or a Wonder Woman, when long before people dreamed these two up we had a man from Nazareth who came here to right all the wrongs?  In fact, Jesus did much more than anything a super hero could do, as he gave himself up to get the job done.  Many of our made up heroes wouldn’t do that, but we do know of real-life heroes who would and do place their lives in danger daily. But here is the difference, our soldiers, police and firefighters head toward danger counting on their experience, their training, their fellow soldiers, police, and firefighters to be there to give the advantage, to ensure that they all do LIVE to fight another day.  That is NOT what Jesus Christ did.

     

    Jesus heads to the cross willingly, with the sole purpose of dying.  When one of our real-life heroes die today, we mourn.  Every one of them knows every single day that there could be a threat or emergency that they will respond to today that they will NOT return from.  In Jesus, we have a man who needs to die, in order to show that death is NOT the end. In Jesus’ death we do not mourn because of TODAY.  Today changes everything.  But, don’t think for one minute that Jesus dies and raises from the dead is the whole story, as we know better.  Jesus doesn’t just go to the cross willingly, Jesus allows himself to be betrayed, arrested, tried, beaten, insulted, spit on, have a crown placed around his head filled with thorns, mocked, and then he is nailed to a cross.  That would be more than any one person should ever have to endure, yet while on the cross Jesus continues to be insulted and verbally abused, even by one man going through the same fate as he, hanging on a cross.

     

    Why would anyone put themselves through that?  Well, we know the answer to that question also.  In fact, those who have been participating in the Lenten Bible Study know the answer very well by now.  Jesus is taking our sins with him.  Jesus is giving us all a clean slate, no matter how often we sin, if we find our way back to Jesus that slate is wiped clean.  It is wiped clean with the blood of Jesus.  These acts leading up to today should shake us to our core and stir within us a reflection into ourselves to see how we can be better people.  We need to react in a righteous manner so that Jesus didn’t do any of this in vain.  And, as if the moments leading to Jesus’ death wasn’t enough to warrant our eternal gratitude Jesus still has one task remaining.  That task brings us to what we celebrate today.

     

    “ The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee.”  It would be easy for us, as we know the story.  It would be easy for us to wonder why these women were surprised.  Jesus said he was coming back, he said he would come back in three days, so we could be hard on his followers and ask why they doubted.  Next Sunday, we will talk about Thomas, who even after being told not once but twice that Jesus had returned from the dead, still needed some convincing.  We can stand here some 2000 years later and say foolish people, why would you even doubt?  But, it isn’t fair, as I said we know the ending.  But, let’s face it; if you saw this man beaten, nailed to a cross, hung fully exposed to the mid-day sun, bleeding from hands and feet, in pain none of us can imagine, thirsty and tired, and lastly pierced by a sword, if you or I witnessed that, we too would think we’ve seen the last of Jesus.

     

    It is interesting how today’s Gospel reading begins: “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.”  For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it….The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.  If you are on the wrong side of how this was supposed to turn out, wouldn’t you too be so afraid that you would be paralyzed in fear, much like a dead man?  It is worthy to note that these two women didn’t run away, or become paralyzed in fear.  Somewhere within them they must have known they were going to get unbelievable and incredible news; “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.  This is news that should resonate with us today, it should shake us to our knees and stir our souls with joy.  Christ HAS risen!

    With that, Jesus on Good Friday took our sins with him.  Today he rises with an equally extraordinary and fulfilling message: Death is NOT the end.  Jesus conquered death, and because of that we know that when our time is finished here, it doesn’t mean we are.  It just means we go to our eternal home, and we can do so without reservation as we know we go but we leave our sins behind.  They remain on the cross, we too will rise again in the afterlife.  With that thought in mind, let us finish with our reading from the letter to the Colossians: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  Just as Christ appears to the women, just as Christ appears to the disciples, Christ will one day appear to each of us, and on that day, you will rejoice in the Glory only Christ and our Father can provide.  O Blessed Easter!  O Blessed Christ Jesus.  O blessed day!  CHRIST IS RISEN! ALELLUIA! AMEN!

    Easter 2017 First Lakewood

     

     



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  24. ONLY ONE CELEBRATION?
    Psalm 118: 1 – 2, 19 – 29: Mathew 21: 1 - 11



    Loving and Merciful Lord, burn your words and wishes into our everyday thoughts.  Let us see your intentions and hear your words of wisdom and guidance so that we may fulfill the life you want us to lead today and every day.  Amen.

     

    We love our celebrations don’t we?  We celebrate holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, we celebrate weddings and pregnancies, we celebrate champions in sports, with some companies we celebrate good and or great efforts when goals are achieved. Yes, we love our celebrations.

     

    Sometimes, depending on the event, the celebration can last a while.  Some times on our birthdays, we get a party with the family, one with friends and one at work.  If a couple is getting married, well, then we have a real celebration, don’t we?  First we have an engagement party, then we have a wedding shower, a bachelor’s party, a bachelorette’s party, a rehearsal dinner and then the wedding reception itself!  This past month we had St. Patrick’s Day, and if you planned well, you could stretch out St. Patrick’s DAY to two maybe even three weeks between different bar and restaurant events, not to mention the parades!

     

    Sometimes, we don’t know how to temper our celebrations.  Look at some cities when one of their sport’s teams wins a championship, and look at the aftermath.  Some celebrations create more damage than a riot.  I never understood the point in either scenario.  We set this car on fire to show how happy we are we won!  We looted this store to show how upset we are at the injustice!  WHAT?  How and when either of these “traditions” came about I don’t have a clue, but I do know one thing for sure: out of control celebrations and violent riots show us at our very worse.  Someday, someone will need to explain it to me.  How about you?  Even at a college level, North Carolina won the collegiate men’s basketball championship this year, and fires were set, severely burning four people in the process. 

     

    Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not against celebrations, in fact, in many ways I think EVERY DAY should be a celebration, but as in everything else we do, celebrations should be enjoyed in moderation.  Well, that just sounded like an immediate contradiction didn’t it?  First, I said there should be a celebration EVERY day then I quickly said we should celebrate in moderation.  I DO think every day should be a celebration, but I think the celebration ITSELF should be done in moderation. 

     

    We celebrate with gifts.  I will go out on a short limb here and say that you would all agree with me that every day is a GIFT!  Thus every day we should celebrate.  What has been said about yesterday, today, and tomorrow? Oh yes, I remember: yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift that is why they call it the present!   There is another good and meaningful saying about yesterday, today, and tomorrow which states: learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.  Both quotes are useful and good to remember.  We have been told there is no promise for tomorrow, so that is indeed why we should consider today the gift it truly is, and celebrate it!  How do you celebrate today?  You LIVE it!

     

    So, why am I obsessed with a celebration today?  Well, isn’t that what Palm Sunday is?  This IS a festival, a joyous thunderous celebration of Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem.  It is lovely and deserved.  But, as I gave Palm Sunday some thought, and cheating by looking ahead because we all know what is about to follow, but as we celebrate today with lovely uplifting music and as we hear the hosannas ring in verse and in song, does it bother anyone else that Jesus only got this one celebration?  Think about it.  Jesus spends most of his time during his ministry teaching and healing.  Jesus doesn’t stop to receive praise or thanks, he has a message, he needs to get that message out there, he needs to teach and lead by example, Jesus is indeed a busy man.  Jesus doesn’t slow down taking care of the tasks at hand until he knows he has reached the time when the rest of this week is going to take place, exactly as it needs to happen!

     

    We get that.  We understand for the most part what Jesus’ purpose was here on earth, and we already know that Jesus tells us the real reward awaits us in heaven.  Jesus also tells us to keep our minds on heavenly things and NOT earthly things.  Yet, when we consider all Jesus did for us, it feels like he really got short-changed.  When Derek Jeter announced he was retiring from baseball there was a season long farewell and celebration for him.  Jesus got one day.  One!

    They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”  Now, before we break down this scripture, let us center on one word which is forever tied into our Palm Sunday celebration: Hosanna.  I wonder how many of you, like myself, thought the word hosanna was a celebratory cheer of some sort, much as we would yell hooray today?  This word is defined in the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary: “Hosanna” is a Hebrew or Aramaic word that is best translated as a prayer: “Save now,” or “Save, we beseech Thee.” When the residents of Jerusalem, carrying palm branches, met Jesus and hailed him as the One who comes in the name of the Lord, they included in their acclamation a plea for salvation.”  Now, let what I just read to you simmer for a minute.  We think this is a celebration for Jesus, yet in actuality, in a way, it’s a beg-fest!   It’s almost like you can now hear: “Yes, yes, yes, you come in the name of God, great, now SAVE US!”  How many of you find irony in this plea?  If you think about everything which is about to transpire, you can’t help but see the irony.

    Let us hear what is being said when we remove “Hosanna” from the cries of the crowd: “Save, we beseech thee Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Save us now in the highest heaven!”  What these people are asking for they are about to get, but not like they think.  They are in the mindset that they can be saved here on earth, and when they find out that isn’t what Jesus means, they are going to turn their chants of “Hosanna” to “Crucify him” in the blink of an eye.  The irony is that those chants of “Crucify Him” are going to lead to an eternal “Hosanna” they cannot begin to fathom.  Now, I am getting slightly ahead of myself, and I’m not being totally fair to those who have greeted Jesus today.  They are indeed happy to see him, and they do understand there is something special about him, but the problem lies in that they do not think for one minute that they are looking at the Son of God.  Listen to how Jesus is described; “When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”  They don’t call Jesus; the Christ or the Messiah, and certainly not the Son of God, They simply announce him as a prophet.

    Only a one day celebration, and the crowd wants more.  Glad you are here, nice to see you Jesus, now how about saving us…. Is that how we sometimes see Jesus?  Do we forget to celebrate Jesus?  Last Sunday, we celebrated the night of the Last Supper a little bit out of order on the chain of events.  I said last week that Jesus gave us the Last Supper, celebrated today as Holy Communion in a way to “REMEMBER HIM.”  Could it be possible that after Jesus saw and heard what was being said to him as he triumphantly enters the city that he needed a celebration that was in moderation?  Do this in memory of me meant much more than Hosanna, because Hosanna to Jesus was a cry of redundancy.  It was ALWAYS the goal at the end that Jesus was here to save us.  Thus, what is shouted out today, in love, in hope, in glory, is why there IS a one day celebration, because though those who were shouting it then didn’t know how, we do.  Jesus responded to Hosanna in a permanent and extraordinary way, and to that we can all say: GLORY TO YOU O LORD! HALLELUIA! Amen!          Palm Sunday 2017



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