Sunday November 28th, 2021  ⤵

Sermon Prayer: Living God, help us to hear your Holy Word so that we may truly understand; then by understanding we may believe, and by believing we may follow in all faithfulness and obedience, seeking your honor and glory in all that we do; through Christ our Lord. Amen!

Here we are in the First Sunday of Advent. From our readings today, the Old Testament reading from Jeremiah talks about the advent of the coming of the Baby Jesus. However, in our Gospel reading from Luke this morning, we hear from an adult Jesus Christ, and he is no longer talking about the advent of his arrival as a baby, he is specifically speaking to his return, as the Son of Man. Now, think about which you would rather be waiting for. A baby is cute, cuddly, a baby melts our hearts, and a baby is non-threatening. All anyone has to do is attend a baby shower and you can see what the expectation of a baby brings. Smiles galore, hope filled hearts, optimistic dreams for tomorrow. If I asked any of you if you could go back to any ONE moment in time and serve as a witness, I wonder if any of you would choose the birth of the Baby Jesus. It was an extraordinary moment in time, when you consider the setting, when you consider the threat hanging over the child by Herod, when you consider the angels’ proclamation to the shepherds. What a very cool moment that would have been to be a part of!

As odd as the setting may be, after all have we EVER heard of any other child being born in a manger, the promise made that we hear in Jeremiah is short, to the point, and done when Jesus is born: “The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah. 15 “‘In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’” One should find joy and comfort from these verses. God made a very direct promise, and God saw that promise through. It is right for us to remember and acknowledge this. Our waiting for the Baby Jesus is a tradition and remembrance that God keeps his promises. It is good for us to remember that Jesus came for all of us, that despite the political climate at that time, Jesus was brought to us and survived a manger birth and a murderous king. The joy and celebration we feel on Christmas day SHOULD be kept alive year in and year out, because of what Jesus was sent here to do; indeed, the Lord our Righteous Savior!

As much as advent IS a time for watching and waiting for the baby Jesus to be born, our Gospel reading today paints a very different reason why we should be waiting and watching: “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” 29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.32 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” This is certainly a far cry from the feel good emotions we have anticipating the arrival of the Baby Jesus. These verses would almost give you whiplash. Advent for the arrival of the Baby Jesus and Advent waiting for the return of the Son of Man have two very different tones to them. The Baby Jesus is warm, joyful, the promise being kept, however these verses from Luke as Jesus alludes to the end of days are downright sobering. Many of us who love this time of year with Christmas music playing, decorations coming out, and plans to see family and friends, today’s message from Luke is about the farthest thing from our minds. People will faint from terror, the heavenly bodies will be shaken! That message doesn’t fit into what we are thinking about at this moment, our thoughts are going towards love, and good times, family and friends. How can THIS be part of the message at this time of year?

Well friends, let us return to the good news. The last verse I just read stated that this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. There has been MORE than a few generations come and go since Jesus said these words, thus, I wouldn’t be overly concerned. Cautious, yes, concerned, well, maybe that depends on each individual. It is good for EVERY one of us to make sure our house is in order for the day we stand before the Son of Man. Whether that happens on the day we die or upon the end of time on this planet, Jesus said; “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

We have all lived enough and have enough life experiences to know that even when everything seems to be going perfectly well a shocking event can occur and just the opposite, we know that there are times when we just can’t seem to shake that little black cloud over our heads, and suddenly, something extraordinary and wonderful happens. I think that was the point Jesus was trying to make. Be careful, be on watch, if you do that you are better prepared for whatever life throws your way…whether the anticipation of something beautiful like the birth of a child, OR the anticipation of something daunting and unfamiliar, like the end of days. Live your life so no matter what comes your way, you can face it, and you can have the confidence of whenever the moment arrives, you CAN stand before the Son of Man and say here I am! What do you need from me Lord Jesus? Here I am, with your help, I can do anything! Send me. Until that moment arrives in your life….. Watch! Amen!

Sunday November 21st, 2021  ⤵

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

In the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, the scene we hear part of from today’s Gospel reading of John is performed in song, and we hear this exchange between Pontius Pilate and Jesus Christ: Pilate opens the conversation with: Talk to me, Jesus Christ, You have been brought here, Manacled, beaten by your own people, Do you have the first idea; Why you deserve it? Listen, king of the Jews, Where is your kingdom? Look at me; Am I a Jew? Jesus responds: I have got no kingdom In this world I'm through, through, through There may be a kingdom for me, Somewhere if I only knew! Pilate asks; You're a king? Jesus answers: Yes you can see I am. I look for truthAnd find that I get damned! Pilate finishes this exchange with; What is truth? Is truth unchanging law? We both have truths; Are mine the same as yours? It is a very powerful exchange, and per what we will revisit shortly from the Bible, this back and forth exchange is different than what we find in the musical. But, I bring up this exchange because it isn’t far off from what could have been said between these two men, it isn’t at all farfetched.

Think about the questions Pilate is asking here; where is your Kingdom? Look at me, am I a Jew? Are you a King? What is truth? Are my truths the same as your truths? These are all reasonable questions, whether or not they were actually asked can be an argument for another time, however, for the moment, let us say these questions ARE asked. Jesus in the song responds that he looks for truth and he gets damned. Now, we will come back to this in a second, but in the entire song, it is the only answer Jesus gives. Now, with this response, we KNOW the musical has gone astray to serve its own purpose for drama and effect. Because any Christian will tell you, among the many things we can declare Jesus the king of, we can declare him the King of Truth.

Jesus is the Living Word, the Bible which we go to; as the Word of God gives a look into Jesus’ ministry and through that ministry Jesus led by example and taught through truthful and thoughtful parables. Truthful, because they accurately resembled how mankind reacts in different scenarios. But, before we get too far away from it, let me return us back to Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar: What is truth? Are mine the same as yours? The answer is no, they aren’t, yet those words are NEVER said. Again, we know that Jesus led by example, and Jesus taught us how to live by HIS examples, but also with his words. That is why the ending of Jesus’ ministry could be viewed as mystifying. Both in the musical, but much more importantly as per the Bible; Jesus goes silent. Pilate could have asked Jesus ten questions or Pilate could have asked Jesus one hundred and ten questions, Jesus’ answer was loud and clear by his SILENCE. Jesus COULDN’T answer, and you know why? The TRUTH would have set him free. Nothing but the truth came out of Jesus’ mouth, thus, if Jesus responded, if Jesus opened his mouth Jesus would have said words so truthful, so powerful that no matter what the crowd was calling for at this time, Pilate would have had to set him free. The ONE thing, Jesus could NOT allow at that moment.

We need to remember, Jesus was NEVER going to be a King… here. That wasn’t his role here. Jesus came to teach, Jesus came to remind us, Jesus came to show us the better way was through HIM, AND lastly but most importantly, Jesus came to take our sins with him to the cross AND LEAVE THEM THERE. Then, and only then would Jesus enter his Kingdom. The one God was already sitting in, and where Jesus would sit at the right hand of our Father in heaven. Jesus’ kingdom is heaven. It is the proper place for the

The irony today between the musical and the exchange we heard between Pilate and Jesus in that, to the exchange we heard today in our reading from the Gospel of John, we will find a very different exchange, with only some echoes between the musical and the actual Bible verse. By the way, I am going to add one more verse now to complete the exchange as it is written in the Gospel: “Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” 34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” 35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” 36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” 37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” “What is truth?” Pilate asked. This completes the conversation between Pilate and Jesus as Pilate then goes to address the crowd. Now, the two verses taken from the Bible and placed into the lyrics of the musical are: Are you the King of the Jews AND Am I a Jew? It is sad in retrospect, that the musical shows Jesus as weak and vulnerable during this exchange: I have got no kingdom In this world I'm through, through, through There may be a kingdom for me, Somewhere if I only knew! When, according to the Bible Jesus responded with this: “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” This is NOT a whiney oh feel sorry for myself Jesus as represented in the musical, this is a Jesus who very much knows that if he WERE a king here on this earth, the events transpiring as they are would certainly not be happening, in fact, my guess is the roles would very much be reversed and it would be Pilate needing to answer for himself, along with the so-called religious leaders behind the arrest and the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus absolutely has to go quiet here, or those he believes would come to prevent this event from happening would do EXACTLY that.

Think of the one irony which follows Jesus from his birth to his death. Jesus is falsely seen as a king by those in political power. Jesus NEVER declares himself as a king. My kingdom is NOT of this world, IF it were…my kingdom is from another place. A place Pilate couldn’t and wouldn’t understand because as I answered the question before: Are your truths the same as mine? The answer is no because the truths the human race would like to believe and God’s truths which actually exist very often conflict with one another. The reason why the King of Truths needed to come here in the first place, because we ARE sinners, and we continue to sin, even when we know sometimes consciously and at other times subconsciously that we are sinning at the time we are committing the sin. We will excuse ourselves with made-up truths so that we will feel better about ourselves. That ISN’T the truth. The truth is in the Bible. The truth was spoken by Jesus. The truth was LIVED by Jesus. The same Jesus we call the Carpenter King, the Shepherd King, the Fisher King, the King of Kings and yes, the King of Truth. The best and easiest path to the Kingdom of God is by doing our best to live in and accept the Kingdom of The Word and of Truth, as laid out not by our King, but our Savior; while here as our Messiah, and who NOW awaits us as the King of Kings, in the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen!

Sunday November 14th, 2021  ⤵

Sermon Prayer: 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.

My closest friends and I have reached that point in our lives when we should be preparing our end game. We have all reached sixty years old or are about to, and we should be living contented happy lives right now, knowing that SOON, we will all be able to retire. Funny, I see some of you smiling right now because you know for a good portion of my generation, those magical ages of 63 and 65 when most people were able to retire in the past, is not the same age most of us can retire today. Now granted, I know a few who have planned well, saved well, worked wonderful jobs with wonderful pensions, who happily announced their retirements on their 60th birthday, or close to it. I am very happy for them. For me, I will be happy if I can retire at 68 or 70 and I have a bad feeling that I have a much better chance of dying well before I retire. I hope I’m wrong, I would like to experience some time in my life where I don’t need to wake up knowing I have to go punch a clock somewhere.

The end game of our lives SHOULD be happy and peaceful. The end game of our lives should be filled with love and laughter. The end games of our lives should be lived relatively stress free. I watched my parents do the snowbird thing for years after they retired, I spent time at the Jersey shore with them not only renting a place like they had during my childhood, but now they were renting homes right on the beach and we would watch the ocean during breakfast and dinner from inside the home. Retirement the way it should be. Something tells me, for many, this is NOT how retirement is going to be in the years ahead. Again, I hope I’m wrong. I just saw a picture of one of my friends who is lucky enough to be retired already, and she is shopping for a home on the outer banks of North Carolina. So, I very much hope that is a sign that I AM wrong about retirement, and that there is still a lot to look forward to.

What we need to remember about the end game in just about anything, is how well you’ve done BEFORE reaching the end game. That applies to sports, it applies to business, and it applies to life. You may have a great game plan for the 4th Quarter of the football game but if you are losing 45 to 3 chances are the plays you had in mind for the 4th quarter are long gone. If you have plans to take your company public in two years you BETTER be showing a profit for those two years or you can forget about anyone wanting to invest in you or your company. If you haven’t saved any money and are living day to day, retirement is going to be difficult at best and more like to be impossible to achieve. The end game works only if everything leading up to it has ALSO worked.

To that point there is an end game for this planet and for all of us. Scientists will tell you the end of this planet will arrive one of two ways, either by a large meteor striking the planet or when the Sun finally dies. My guess is the latter is the most likely scenario, as this planet has already survived a large meteor strike, it ended the dinosaurs but it did NOT totally destroy the planet; we are living proof to that. The Bible also tells about the end. The entire Book of Revelations tells us about the end. But, we hear about the end of days in both our readings today; the end game God has planned. Before I get further into this, as negative as I may have sounded about retirement let me paint a sunnier picture about the end of the world: I don’t believe we are there yet. I know it can be easy to leap to that conclusion with Covid and all the weather related issue this planet is facing, but keep in mind that Covid and global warming are our issues, our failures. Efforts are in place to curb back both of these major issues which impact the entire world. Time will only tell if we acted soon enough to put all the right steps into place. We appear to be on the right track tackling Covid, as far as global warming and the environment is concerned, again, only time will tell. I believe we are still a couple of generations away to really see if we addressed global warming soon enough. But, I believe we are on the right track.

In our reading from Daniel today, we get a pre-cursor of what we will hear Jesus say again in the Gospel of Mark. First, we hear from Daniel: “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” There WILL be a day of deliverance, and for some everlasting life will be their reward, but for others shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise…will shine. How one lives their life will determine the end game. Were you wise, did you live a life of righteousness, or did you give in to sin and temptation? Let’s be clear….it matters!

In our reading from the Gospel of Mark, we hear Jesus talking with his disciples: “As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” 2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” 3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” 5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.”

If it happens as scientists predict; the end will NOT be pretty, the end will NOT be peaceful, the end WILL resemble just about any horrific picture you may have in your mind. When the Sun in the sky goes black, the Son of God will come again. But, science tells us that the Sun in our sky won’t go dark instantaneously, it will take some time. It is my guess that as that time is recognized, those here on earth will react, and one WILL see earth quakes and famines as well as nation going against nation and wars like we have never seen. Fear and the unknown will cause people to live like the entire world is being terrorized. The reason terrorism is so successful in the world is because the terrorists know that many will turn on one another if life is not going their way. Do you know where terrorism DOESN’T work? Where the people stand up united and say that there IS a better way, and it doesn’t involve violence, or terror, or intimidation, or fear. When people get UNITED for the right reasons it is a beautiful sight: when disaster hits and as long as there are still people who run in to help there IS hope for us. When we stop yelling and start listening there IS hope for us. Each time we look ahead and make wise decisions about the end game here on earth, there IS hope for us. God IS watching. God is judging us daily. Are we being wise or are we being selfish? That will be the bottom line for the human race; do we continue to care about all of us as a whole, or do we only care about what happens to us and our families? We are only two weeks away from the season of watching and waiting; but my friends don’t doubt for one minute that what we do ALL YEAR will impact God’s end game for each of us individually and all of us together. How would you like to see the end game play out? BE WISE! Amen!

Sunday November 7th, 2021  ⤵

Sermon Prayer: Gracious God, we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from your mouth. Make us hungry for this heavenly food, that it may nourish us today in the ways of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!

This past Wednesday, one of the football coaches I had my freshman year in high school, passed away. I’ve had a tough few weeks, with the former Bridgewater Chief of Police Richard Vorhees passing away a couple of weeks ago, and now the passing of Coach Richard Martin this marks two men from my childhood passing who meant a great deal to me and left lasting impressions on me. You see, I was NOT athletically gifted in any way prior to the 8th grade, when somehow and some way everything finally began to click. I wasn’t the slowest runner anymore, in the Babe Ruth baseball league I went from batting .001 with only one hit the entire season the year before, to a somewhat respectable .283 batting average my final year with eight home runs. Thus, with only one year of showing any athletic ability at all, me earning a starting position on the Freshman football team seemed like a long shot at best. The only reason I went out for the team was because Bridgewater East had a great Head Coach with the varsity named George Greiner and just before I started at East the teams had gone 44 straight games without a loss and had won three state championships. I had to try. Coach Richard Martin saw something in me and of the four years I played football in high school, the ONLY year I was a starter was for that freshman team.

In a game against an excellent football team in Phillpsburg that season I recovered a fumble and ran for twenty-two yards, a first down, while carrying nine Phillipsburg players on my back. During that run, I remembered hearing Coach Martin tell the running backs to keep moving your legs until you went down. I chugged my legs for all they were worth and never DID go down, the play was finally whistled dead because my forward progress had stopped. I can remember looking at the referee who blew the whistle with this thought of; “I’m not tackled, I’m not done yet!” Thank you coach, for an opportunity that stays with me to this day!

Thus, this got me to wondering how many times in our lives we may be counted as out when we aren’t. Sometimes it happens in a business environment, as just described, it can happen in a sports environment, and as many of us know, it can happen in a personal way, sometimes a health crisis and sometimes a crisis of faith. Sometimes, those last two can go hand in hand. Some of us have witnessed first-hand when someone’s health begins to deteriorate many times it impacts that person’s faith, and sometimes it impact’s a loved one’s faith. These are indeed the biggest challenges in our lives, watching someone we care about failing in health, and in our fear, anger and frustration, lashing out to God. Just about all of us have heard someone utter the words; “Why would God allow this to happen?” I touched on the answer to that question last week, it holds true again this week; there is a season for everything. Sometimes, that means happiness and joy, sometimes that means sadness and sorrow. There is sickness and disease in this world, some which is downright horrible, yet it exists. I think that one of the reasons illness and disease exist is to challenge us. The challenge to learn more about ourselves, the challenge to push ourselves to our limits, and the challenge to face whatever task is placed before us and for us to choose how we are going to face it.

As I stated before, I’ve had a tough few weeks. During this time, two long-time cherished friends of mine reached out to me to let me know they have cancer. As you know, cancer is the leading cause of death within my family, taking aunts, uncles, three cousins and my father-in-law. Both of my friends, though scared have both told me they are going to fight it with everything they have. They could have chosen to feel sorry for themselves and possibly let the cancer run its course, but both are doing everything they can to defeat this disease and they have chosen to be optimistic and face the challenge head-on. I keep them in my prayers, and I know they bravely go forward into the days ahead.

In our reading from 1 Kings today, we hear the story of a woman who had chosen to give up. That is, until Elijah entered her life: “Then the word of the Lord came to him: 9 “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” 10 So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” 11 As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.” 12 “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.” 13 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’” 15 She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16 For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.” I can’t even imagine this conversation, can you? . “I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die…” It tears at the heartstrings. This widow isn’t just seeing her demise but that of her son also. She is past hopeless, she has already conceded that she and her son are going to die. She may have been ready to die, but God wasn’t going to allow it, and sent Elijah to change the course of event, to say to this woman, “No, you are not done yet.”

Now, one could ask at this time; “Why doesn’t God do that more often?” My answer to that is; who says he doesn’t? Maybe, we only hear of those who don’t get the reprieve, the “miracle” from above, or maybe some of the inflicted just don’t hear the message, or see the way to recovery when it is presented before them. What if this woman who Elijah is trying to save along with her son just told Elijah to go away, that he didn’t know what he was talking about, to just leave her and her son alone and let them die? I know someone who recently passed that I thought I was pretty close to. I didn’t even know this person was ill. They just went into a shell and gave in. No one prayed for them, no one could offer help, because they took their diagnosis as a death sentence and didn’t fight at all. Maybe that isn’t fair, maybe they did fight, but I know one thing for sure, after reading their Facebook page after they passed, NO ONE knew they were sick, just a handful. I was told by one of those few that knew that I was NOT to be told. They were so afraid I was going to “spread the word” which I would NOT have done, but what I could have done and would have done was pray for this person, yet, this was not to be the case.

In our reading from the Gospel of Mark, we hear what happens when we trust in God, even when we apparently have nothing: “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” Do you think for one minute this woman will NOT be rewarded in heaven? Another example of Jesus pointing out that the first will be last and the last will be first. It is also a perfect example of someone who has nothing; yet showing that they are not done yet. She put in everything…all that she had to live on. Could you do that, would you do that? I know a church member here who was moved to tears when he saw one of our homeless guests one Sunday put in a few pennies into our offering plate. All that she had to live on. God bless those, who fight the fight, put their faith in God, and take on the battle cry; I’M NOT DONE YET!” Amen!

Sunday October 31st, 2021  ⤵

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

Soooo…. I may be playing with fire here as I am about to reference a Halloween movie if you will…. And Halloween in church shouldn’t really go together, but since today IS indeed Halloween, I am going to throw some caution to the wind. The movie I want to reference is the second Ghostbusters movie with the original cast including Dan Ackroyd, Bill Murray, and Harold Ramis. If you are unfamiliar with the movies it is about an organization formed to catch ghosts and evil spirits and remove them from wherever and whoever they are haunting. The movies are comedies thus, one could debate whether or not they are Halloween movies, but for the moment, let’s just say they are. In this case, these aren’t made to scare you but to make you laugh.

In the second Ghostbuster’s film, our hero’s learn about something they simply call slime. The best way to describe slime is it looks a lot like orange Jell-O just before becoming completely firm. They have collected samples of the slime and they run tests on it. The Ghostbusters discover that the slime can be influenced by mood. If there is happiness around the slime, the slime behaves in a positive way, however, if there is anger around the slime nastiness abounds. The Ghostbusters discover how to harness positive slime and they use it on a man who is possessed. Additionally, one of the Ghostbusters is slimed himself with the positively charged goo and when the two men face each other, they tell each other that they love the other one and they embrace.

Now, let me ask you; couldn’t a good portion of our world, our nation, and even our state use a good positive sliming right about now? Think of the possibilities; no more bullies, no more divorce, no more nastiness, no more hatred, no more war. Now, some of you who were at Barbara’s funeral last week might want to call me out right about now, because at her funeral, as I have done at several, I used Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 verses 1-15. I won’t read all of the verses but it does say: “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens…8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” Yet, in a few moments you are going to hear readings from Deuteronomy and from the Gospel of Mark which focus on love, God, love, and more love. Thus, with apologies to Ecclesiastes, let me ask: why do we need a time to hate and why do we need a time for war? If we were ever able to find a way to eliminate hate and discrimination, distrust and envy, would that be such a horrible thing?

Now, I have referenced the Oh God movies from the 70’s before and the one scene I have referenced over and over again is from the second movie starring George Burns. The young girl named Tracy who is our heroine in this movie is talking to God, played by Mr. Burns and she asks God why he lets bad things happen. The response has stayed with me since the first time I heard it: “Have you ever seen a front without a back, a top without a bottom, an up without a down?” To which Tracy responds no. God continues: “There can’t be good without bad, life without death, pleasure without pain; that’s how it is. If I take sad away, happy has to go with it….If anyone knows another way, I wish they would put it in the suggestion box.”

After giving this some consideration, and after revisiting this scene from the movie over and over again I have come to the conclusion that this is NOT a God problem, it is a people problem. A short while back, maybe a month now, I spoke to the Tenth Commandment: Thou Shall Not Covet. I stated at the time that it is in our make-up, our DNA. We can’t help ourselves, there is always something someone else has that WE WANT. This leads to bad decisions, bad intentions, and bad events. There IS a time to hate and a time for war because WE, the human race is perfectly fine with it. In fact, there are too many who thrive on hate, who feel that they are the only ones in the world who are right and everyone else is wrong. The hate mongers who exist are too many to be ignored. The bully’s exist because when one bully is finally knocked down there is someone else more than willing to take their place. This my friends is why God needed to send Jesus to us. This is why both Moses and Jesus talk about love as the number one commandment, and yet, even for those of us who would like nothing more but to embrace love always and forever, we are human, and we allow our weaknesses to take over, we give in to fighting back, to responding in anger, to allowing disappointment and discontent rule over us, and thus, though we know love IS the goal and should be the end game, we touch it but can’t find a way to permanently embrace it. In our worst moments, getting back to love is often the hardest thing to do.

So, though it may sound funny that love is discussed the way it is in our readings today; it is the reminder that we need to permanently park somewhere in our brains, and learn to unlock it faster than ever before. Let us revisit our reading from Deuteronomy: “These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. 3 Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you. 4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one] 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Have we impressed these commandments on our children? Did they with their own? I fear that the human race is distancing itself more and more from God, from God’s Commandments. If that is the case, can the human race ever get back to love?

God so loved the world that He sent his only Son to come save it. In our reading from Mark today, we hear from God’s Son and our Savior: “One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” 32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Well, isn’t that nice that the teacher approves of the answer the TEACHER named Jesus gave. But, you know, it is good for someone to reiterate what is said to make sure EVERYONE understands. The teacher of law and the teacher of how to live our lives were in full agreement. Wouldn’t it be nice if that were always the case?

As unrealistic as it apparently is, I for one would still love to see a world without hate and without war. But that would require a lot of people to change and I mean make a hard change. For as long as we go unaccepting, and unforgiving, there will certainly be war and hate. If only we could bottle some positively charged slime and spray everyone with it. If not that, maybe one person could tell us that there is no commandment greater than that of loving God and one another. Oh, that’s right, someone already did. How about we listen and do it? Amen!

Sunday October 17th, 2021  ⤵

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

No matter how much we try, and how much we deny, one of the human race’s many flaws is that we are judgmental. We place tags on everyone we meet, and sometimes those tags are wrong, and sometimes those tags are right. Yet, we continue to do it no matter how many times we have been wrong in the past. We meet someone new and within seconds we are forming our own opinion on what type of person this is before us. It has been said that first impressions count; that may be the ultimate understatement of all time.

We judge the way the person is dressed, we judge their hairstyle, we judge their hand shake or even if they offered their hand at all. Is the person smiling, is there eye contact, do they appear serious, happy, or nervous? When they speak is there authority in their voice or do they sound unsure? The evaluation process doesn’t take long but it CAN have everlasting effects.

I have a lifelong friend of mine who remembers the EXACT moment we met in the second grade. We met in the bathroom of the elementary school we attended of all places and struck up a conversation. Nine years after we met we would sit in the lunch room of now High School and would spend hours making each other laugh by retelling George Carlin bits over and over again. The funny thing is that the second grade Ricky LaFever and the tenth grade Rick LaFever were very different people and different personalities. In second grade I was horribly shy and quiet, by sophomore year I had found my voice, my self-respect, and with the exception of being around any girl I happened to have a crush on at the moment, I had overcome my shyness. My buddy and I were still friends, through it all.

But, I wonder how many people we have met that we misjudged in the moment, and thus, what could have been a friendship was nothing more than a brief acquaintance? How many times have we missed out on a friendship or maybe even a relationship because the person didn’t smile, or looked away or seemed distracted, thus we read that as they didn’t care to engage with us? We never have the opportunity for a second chance OR; in those times we do get a second chance we remember the first encounter and thus close down the opportunity to give someone a second chance to win us over. By the way, when we shut down on someone, what do you think they are probably doing with us? Now with both sides shut down any chance of a friendship is pretty much finished.

We have done this with friends, strangers, co-workers, visitors to our church, salespeople, the first time we meet a new doctor, we do it with EVERYONE we encounter, and if you don’t think so, then let me remind you of the hundreds of books published regarding first impressions; possibly the best-known one titled; How to Win Friends and Influence People written and designed to specifically teach us how to make not only good first impressions, but everlasting impressions also. We want to be seen as self-assured, we want to be seen as confident, smart, happy, nice, and positive. We want to be seen as likeable and we want people to think the best of us. Yet, in reality, we know that isn’t always the case.

Look back at a high school yearbook and if people wrote things in your yearbook, what did they say about you? Did your teachers say something different about you than your friends? What did the teacher see in you that your friends didn’t? Were you the class clown or most likely to succeed? Were you the party person or the plan for the future person? Were you the jock, the singer, the musician, the math wizard, the fix-it person? My brother hated sharing a phone line with me back in high school because it wrung all hours of the night with friends who needed advise from the guy they knew they could ALWAYS call; no matter when, no matter what. Who were you back then? Is there any resemblance of that person today?

Now for the biggest irony of all. The human race has tried to identify who Jesus was, and as Christians we have heard all of them: Teacher, Shepherd, Carpenter, Master, Messiah, Healer, Prophet, Son of Man, Son of God, King of the Jews and the list goes on. Isn’t it interesting that we could NOT define Jesus under one description? Maybe Son of God or Messiah does the trick, but for many they see Jesus as so much more. I suppose it is fair, when we think of God an extensive list of adjectives follow Him also. I am sure I will never be able to answer the question, but WHY….why must we place a label on everything AND everyone? That person is smart, that person is big, that person is loving, that person is evil, that person is caring, that person is mean-spirited. We know that list can go on and on also, but we try to pigeon-hole everyone into some type of descriptive term.

Getting back to Jesus, there was talk about Him and who he would be long before he was even born. When we listen to our reading from Isaiah today, we KNOW exactly who Isaiah is referring to, even though he hasn’t arrived yet. Let’s listen once more: “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Tell me you aren’t thinking about the final days of Jesus when you hear this. Jesus hasn’t been born yet, and Isaiah is talking about Jesus toward His end; he took up our pain, bore our suffering, pierced for our transgressions, by his wounds we are healed. There is a saying I’ve heard over and over again in police dramas like NCIS and Rizzoli and Isles; there is no such thing as a coincidence. What was one of the names we know are associated with Jesus; SHEPHERD. Isn’t it interesting that Isaiah says: He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” ONLY Jesus could be described as the Shepherd and as the lamb taken to slaughter.

Speaking of Jesus, in our reading today from the Gospel of Mark, we get a sense of how he sees himself: “Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” 36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. 37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” 38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” 39 “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Two takeaways from this exchange beginning with this one: “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” 39 “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. So, Jesus acknowledges that the Holy Communion and Baptism is for everyone who follows, but it is interesting that Jesus states the ones who will sit to his left or right in heaven is NOT up to him. Thus, a subtle reminder that Jesus is NOT God, but the Son of God.

Finally, Jesus adds one more word we can use to describe him, one that I don’t think any of us would normally think of; SERVANT. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” By taking the cross, Jesus serves us all with the greatest sacrifice. It only seems fair that we should serve him and his Father in return, doesn’t it? Amen!

Sunday October 3rd, 2021  ⤵

Sermon Prayer: Gracious God, we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from your mouth. Make us hungry for this heavenly food, that it may nourish us today in the ways of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!

I know three couples, one extremely well and the other two pretty well. These three couples are made up of three men who grew up in the Somerville area and three women who grew up in the Westfield area. The three men were all very close best friends and the same can be said for the three women. I can’t tell you who started the chain reaction, but the three men wound up meeting the three women and these two sets of three eventually became three sets of two. They are all in their nineties now, all still alive but in various degrees of health, and all three couples have been married 70 years.

I find this extraordinary, I really do. I find it romantic, I find it inspiring, and I treasure the fact that I know these three couples. I can tell you for certain, that although one of these couples certainly play a larger part; all three of these couples have a lot to do with the man I am today. All of them played a part in my foundation, and I will treasure the love and guidance I received from all for the rest of my life.

As I look out onto this congregation, I know many of you have had long relationships, and for some of you, those marriages continue. I also know that many of you have lost the love of your life, and I know my understanding of the loss you feel probably only barely scratches the surface. Ann and I are married just slightly longer than half of the years of the couples I have mentioned. And whenever the thought of living without Ann in my life even briefly enters my mind, I can’t bear the amount of sorrow I am engulfed with. That’s me just thinking about it, for those of you who are living it, my condolences are sincere and continual. As I know your grief will never fully disappear, neither will my empathy for you.

A loving companion is the greatest gift of all. For some, it is impossible to find, for others, they have a lifetime of love, trust, companionship, their best friend and in many cases the other parent to your child or children. Jesus talked about love, but we know that companionship was important right from the very beginning, just as we heard today from our reading 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 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.”

Let us go back to that moment in time. Imagine if you will, that you are Adam, or for it to be realistic for all of us in the room, the women can imagine for the sake of this exercise, that Eve was created first. Now, imagine the Garden of Eden now sits before you. Imagine every bird, every animal you can imagine surrounding you. You have named them all, and you ae responsible for all of them. None of them in the garden are here to do you harm. Well, we know there is one, but that one isn’t part of today’s story. You have a glorious garden as well as some cute, some fuzzy, some small, some large, some loyal, some protective animals by your side, but what are you missing? The Bible doesn’t indicate that Adam could communicate with bird or beast, thus, even surrounded by beauty and different wildlife for as far as one could see, one would think that loneliness would eventually creep in. As mentioned earlier, I know that some of you know that loneliness. God, the ALL-KNOWING looks at Adam and says: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” I asked you all to think about this moment and placing yourself there so you could consider this question: Would that be enough for you? You, the Garden of Eden, and the wildlife. Now, you could talk to all the wildlife but is any of it going to responding back to you? It seems like it is in our DNA to want to share, to want to talk to someone, to want someone to talk back to us. As perfect as the Garden of Eden was, God was absolutely right that Adam needed a companion, an equal partner, someone who he could communicate with.

Now, we fast forward to the time of Jesus. The human race has grown and done a lot since the days of Adam and Eve, a lot of what the human race has done hasn’t been welcome in God’s eyes. Thus, God has now sent his Only Son Jesus Christ to reset the clock if you will on the human race. The irony is, those who should be the pillars of the community, those who should be the most trusted, and those who have positions of authority and are also seen as leaders of the church certainly don’t seem like they are too keen on Jesus, or at least, see Jesus as a threat rather than the Messiah, thus, they continue to question Jesus, on a variety of subjects, in our reading today from the Gospel of Mark, they are questioning Jesus about marriage: “Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied. 4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” 5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’] So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

When I think about the three couples I spoke about earlier, what Jesus says makes perfect sense to me. When I look at my marriage, again what Jesus says makes perfect sense to me. I very much feel like I am one with my wife, and for those three 70 plus year couples, I can’t imagine any of them seeing themselves with anyone else but the one they are married to. That said, there is a “but” coming, and it is a “but” I am not certain I am wise enough to discuss to any length. Because Jesus continued his discussion on marriage and divorce with the following: “When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11 He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” The order of Jesus’ sentences is where the “but” comes into play. Jesus doesn’t say if the husband commits adultery THEN divorces his wife or the wife commits adultery THEN divorces her husband…. No Jesus says divorce first; then marries another, this becomes adultery. I know some of you are troubled by this and thus the “but” in the conversation.

Because we know marriages end for a variety of reasons, and several of those reasons have nothing to do with infidelity on either spouse’s part. Thus, if a couple divorce because they fight all the time, or they can’t agree on parenting styles, or they just realize they don’t love another anymore they can’t marry again ever in Jesus’ eyes? I understand the “but” in fact, I would say it too. That is why, I stated I may not be wise enough or educated enough to comment further to this. I will say this; it breaks my heart whenever I hear that a marriage has fallen apart. I am a romantic at heart and I believe in forever love. That said, I wouldn’t want to see two people who are miserable together STAY together. I simply have no other answer to this. But, I believe in a forgiving God. I believe if Moses saw a need for divorce than there is a possibility God and Jesus would consider each marriage on a case to case basis. Now, don’t take that as anything more than hopeful thinking on my part. God saw the importance of making sure Adam had a companion. Maybe, just maybe, God is a romantic also, and just wants to see all couples last, some for as long as seventy years. Wouldn’t it be lovely for all of us to be that lucky? Amen!

Sunday September 26th, 2021  ⤵

Sermon Prayer: Living God, help us to hear your Holy Word so that we may truly understand; then by understanding we may believe, and by believing we may follow in all faithfulness and obedience, seeking your honor and glory in all that we do; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

When driving alone in my car to work, here to the church or from either location returning home my mind goes into overdrive. I will either replay a conversation I had that day with someone and play it out over and over or I will wonder about things that I’m not entirely sure anyone else in the world wonders about. Here is an example: I wonder if God regrets giving us free will. I haven’t talked about free will for a while now but this week it entered my thoughts again. Free will is a gift, in some cases the argument can be made that it is a curse. Free will allows us to live our lives as we deem acceptable, but boy can that be scrutinized, and often throughout our lives our decisions are evaluated by someone, somewhere.

It begins when we are children. Our parents have a lot to say about the decisions we make and those observations by our parents lead right up to when we finally leave home and set out on our own. Oh, who am I kidding, parents have an opinion on their children’s decisions throughout their lives, age and distance don’t matter. If one plays on a team, the coach will have something to say about your decision making at some point. If you ever acted in a play or a skit and a director was involved, your take and the director’s take on your role may not always meet eye to eye. When you go to work, you will always have a supervisor or a manager scrutinizing your work, your thought-process. Free will is nice, but boy can it have its pitfalls!

Make a mistake driving, remember an item while already having half your shopping order rung up and deciding to run to get that item, overreact to something said to you, don’t immediately respond to a question posed to you and someone else will have something to say about your decision process. In many cases, it isn’t polite corrective criticism, it is often harsh. I don’t know if any of you will remember the book: I’m OK, Your OK which was big in the late seventies. The book was so popular and accepted that Pathmark used it as a training device for their new employees. When I went to work for them as a cashier, I went through an entire week of training based off that book. Part of that training was learning that how we treat someone can have a domino effect and visa-versa. What they taught was that if you are nasty to someone that day, they will carry that and become nasty to someone else and so on and so forth. However, if you are pleasant to that person, that pleasantness will be extended onward and forward. There must be something similar going on now, as three times over a six month period, the customer before me at a Dunkin drive-through paid for my order. Of course, because they were in front of me by the time the cashier told me this they were long gone, so I couldn’t thank them. Did this random act of kindness make my day a little brighter, ABSOLUTELY it did. Much in the same manner when a customer I called a few days ago called me a liar and went off on me when I told him I never received his e-mail. The day didn’t get any better after that, and I just wanted to go home. We have free will! It is a gift, it is a curse, but it is also something else: a responsibility. How we choose to act toward one another is definitely a responsibility we should ALWAYS be mindful of.

Just as much, we need to be mindful of when we sin. Some sins may be in our DNA and despite our best efforts we can’t help ourselves. You want an example, ok, here is one I know I am guilty of; a homeless person comes to you and asks for some money for food, or you drive by someone holding a sign. You know you have a few bucks but your mind goes to reasons why you shouldn’t give them money. Jesus said, when you saw me hungry you fed me, when you saw me thirsty you gave me drink…but when this person was standing before you your mind said that they were going to use your money for alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs and not for food. Thus, that money never came out of your pocket. I’ve done it, and felt guilty as all get-out afterwards. How about you?

Our reading today from Psalm 19 gives us a vision of how God’s laws are meant to be viewed and received: “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. 9 The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous.” The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. Do you feel that way? It IS a lovely thought. In a world we sometimes view as chaotic and sometimes view as frustrating and disappointing wouldn’t it be nice if we could all take a collective breath and remember the law of the Lord is perfect? If one gives it any thought at all, it really IS perfect. I don’t believe any of us could argue that neither God nor Jesus EVER asked us to do something or behave in a way we would deem as unreasonable. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. Another way to read this would be; the commands of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. Again, in a world that often engulfs us in its drama, isn’t it nice to know that our anchor is firm and we can find clarity within God’s commands and laws, thus, with clarity we should find peace and with peace, we should find joy.

In our reading today from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus makes it clear why we all need to do our very best to stay on the straight and narrow: “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where “‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.” Now, all of this sounds very harsh doesn’t it? It would be better to be maimed, crippled or half blind doesn’t sound good to ANY of us. But, Jesus wants to be VERY clear; as hard and as horrible any of these situations would be, eternity in Hell is phenomenally worse.

There really should be no thought process here should there? Peace and joy found in the security of God’s laws and commands, or an eternity of suffering. God gives us the free will to choose. By the way, I opened this with talking about others who pay attention to what we do and the decisions we make; I didn’t mention God as one of the examples. Did I need to? I didn’t think so. But yes, life does continue to challenge us, and our free will is often tested, thus, when in doubt, turn to God: But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. 13 Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. Amen!

Sunday September 19th, 2021  ⤵

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

At some point last year, I don’t remember exactly when, I admitted to all of you that I had been hearing the term G.OA.T. getting thrown around a lot on sports radio and when I heard the person describe it; it sounded like a contradiction. As for many of you as well as I grew up hearing “goat” applied in a negative sense when referring to an athlete. A goat was someone who let the team down in a BIG way. A batter strikes out with the bases loaded; a kicker misses a field goal in the last seconds of a football game, a hockey player misses a wide open net and so on and so forth. Who knew we would one day have a goat, one word, all in lower case, and we would have a G.O.A.T. all in upper case separated by periods an acronym for GREATEST OF ALL TIME?

The funny thing about someone being named a G.O.A.T. is that it is purely subjective. If I asked ten of you who is the greatest baseball player of all time, chances are pretty good that I will get ten different answers. It doesn’t only apply to sports so for you non-sports fans out there I won’t elaborate just in the sports field. Who is the Greatest Author of all time? Who is the Greatest Actor of All Time? Who is the greatest singer, the greatest violin player, the greatest piano player, the greatest comedian of all time?

We could go on and on but I think I’ve made my point. But, just for fun, here is one to discuss just a little further. I don’t think I would be wrong if I surveyed let’s say one hundred people aged 60 and older and I asked them to name the top fifty songs of all time; I believe a majority of them would have My Way somewhere on that list. Now for fun; which version is the greatest, absolute best version? Let’s say sixty out of one hundred named My Way on their list. How close would the 50-50 split be between Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley? Now, for the reason I chose this as the one to elaborate on. I love all three versions I’ve heard; yes, I said three. Sinatra, Elvis, and the guy who wrote the song in the first place; Mr. Paul Anka. Out of the three, and I love ALL the versions of My Way, but for me; Paul Anka sings it the best. I told you this was subjective!

Now, let me ask you, do you think Moses, David, Joseph, Isaiah, John the Baptist all sit around heaven and argue which one of them was the Greatest Servant to God? Or, do you think the question gets posed and they all just look over to Jesus? It would be a silly argument as all those called by God were and ARE important to God, and what God needed at the time he called on them, as well as Noah, Samuel and of course Mary. It would be a silly conversation wouldn’t it? They were all needed for different purposes at different times.

So, don’t you think it is funny to hear that the disciples were having that VERY argument while Jesus was still alive and among them? Let’s return to our reading from the Gospel of Mark once again: “They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. 35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” The irony here is that they were all called to be disciples to the true Greatest Of All Time, but we will come back to that in a moment. What difference does it make and by what criteria could they possibly have been measuring themselves? Who listens the most? Who asks the most questions? Who does the most favors for the group? Who has what responsibilities? Let us look at that one for a brief moment. Do you know who was in charge of their purse, their money? Some of you got it; it was Judas. YES, THAT Judas, the same one who betrays Jesus. The one who is trusted with the money one would think has to be considered pretty trustworthy by those he or she is with; yet in this case, forget about betraying all by doing something illegal or unethical with the money, no, he is just going to turn over their teacher, leader and savior, right over to those who want to do him harm! Judas was part of the argument of who among Jesus’ chosen was the greatest. Let that digest for a moment.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to know if any of them changed their minds when Jesus responded: “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Wait, I am the greatest of the twelve but now I am servant to the remaining eleven? How did THAT happen? But, Jesus doesn’t stop there he continues as always, with an example: “He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” Earlier that day twelve adults were arguing amongst themselves who was the greatest of the twelve. Now, Jesus has a little child before them and says welcome the child, welcome me. An innocent child with little to no life experience, not yet making any contribution to society or to those around them just beginning to learn; this is who Jesus tells the disciples to welcome.

It may be very fitting as these disciples are still babes themselves as disciples. Jesus is still teaching them, and if they are arguing earlier in the day who amongst them is the greatest well then they haven’t understood anything yet. When one is serving God or serving Jesus, it ISN’T about YOU! There is still one more irony when it comes to being the lead person, the go-to person, a position normally given to the greatest one, as we hear from today’s reading in Jeremiah and as Jeremiah learns, there is often a bullseye on your back: “Because the Lord revealed their plot to me, I knew it, for at that time he showed me what they were doing. 19 I had been like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; I did not realize that they had plotted against me, saying,“Let us destroy the tree and its fruit; let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.” 20 But you, Lord Almighty, who judge righteously and test the heart and mind, let me see your vengeance on them, for to you I have committed my cause.” Let us destroy the tree and its fruit; let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more. That was being said about Jeremiah by those around him. Some say it is lonely at the top, I say it is often very dangerous at the top.

Here’s the thing; when one is named the Greatest of All Time, there immediately begins a plan to dethrone you. There will ALWAYS be someone who wants that title, even if, as in Jeremiah’s case, someone is looking to destroy you and remove you from the history books. Remember, Jesus kept telling his disciples not to talk about him, because Jesus needed to control the when and where he would be REVEALED as the Son of God, the Messiah, and our Savior. Anything sooner could have and would have changed everything. The true G.O.A.T is the one who came for all of us, to save all of us, and lead us to God’s kingdom in heaven. Maybe, just maybe, we should change G.O.A.T. to mean God Of All Time. I don’t know about you, but I think I like that better! Amen!

Sunday September 12th, 2021  ⤵

Sermon Prayer: 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.

It is different for each of us. The reason may be similar, but the age and the antagonist is different for each of us. I am speaking to that moment when something inside of you says; OK, that is enough. We stand up for ourselves for the very first time, and in that moment, our life will change forever. For some of us, it may happen way before we should HAVE to deal with that kind of mature decision of saying; “This is the line that DOESN’T get crossed again or ever.” For some children, as young as five to eight years old, who may have to deal with an abusive parent, they finally stand up for themselves, and for too many, that result can become even harsher yet, as the bigger and stronger adult may go from verbally abusive to physically abusive. No child should EVER have to go through that, and for those who do, I can’t even find the words to say; as there is NOTHING which makes this okay.

Almost all of us have been bullied at some time in our lives. Even those who are now bullies themselves became that way in a sense of self-preservation from the person or people who bullied them. It becomes a very nasty cycle, and for many of us, we know this from first-hand knowledge. We have seen it within our own families, or through a friend, but almost every one of us knows there are abusers and bullies, and too often we know the victim or victims of the abuse. For us on the outside looking in, it can make our blood boil. How many times do we see a battered spouse return to their abuser over and over again because somehow they believe the abuse is justified? It turns our stomachs, it frustrates and angers us, yet, for all of us in this room, we are all old enough and wise enough to know that it may not matter what we say to the abused, they are the ones who will have to make the decision that it is time to stand up for themselves, and never go through the abuse again.

Please don’t misunderstand me. This is NOT an easy process, and many times there are truly valid reasons to be concerned about the repercussions of standing up for one’s self. Sometimes, the best an outsider can do is suggest where the abused and the bullied can seek help and hope that they find their way there. We can hope that if enough people are standing behind the abused or the bullied, that they will find the strength they need to finally stand-up for themselves.

There is always strength in numbers. In fact, when people present a united front, it is often something to behold. Yesterday, marked the 20th anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history, as terrorists hijacked four planes destined to be crashed into four buildings, the Twin Towers in New York, the Pentagon and either the Capitol building or the White House in Washington, DC. Three of those commercial jets found their intended targets, but an extraordinary event took place on the fourth plane, one the terrorists never counted on, because terrorists ARE bullies. Bullies never count on their victim or victims fighting back. Thus, even though they realized that this was probably going to be their last act alive, the passengers on that final jet stormed the terrorists, and left an impressive and sober reminder to the rest of this country that we WILL NOT be bullied. The lasting visual impressions of the towers falling and the Pentagon burning never completely leave our memory banks, BUT on a day when this country was blindsided, as soon as the passengers on flight 93 knew what the terrorist intentions were, they stood up as one and said, “No, this ends right here.”

So, here is my question today; Do we stand up for our faith like that? I’m not suggesting we all go out looking for altercations with non-Christians and non-believers however, when someone is bold enough to say to any of us that they don’t believe that God exists, or they don’t believe in a higher power, or they don’t believe that Jesus Christ was anything more than an ordinary man, if he even existed at all; do we stand up and stand for our God, our Savior and our faith? Or do we merely say to that person you have a right to your opinion but I feel differently and let it go at that? Again, I am NOT saying to get into a verbal argument or raise your voice, but do you let it go or do you try to give reasons for your faith and why?

Well, Rick, Jesus did say to turn the other cheek, and I won’t disagree with that. But Jesus never went meekly into the night, Jesus taught by parable and by example and in the end, Jesus took the cross when he didn’t have to. Would you do that? Now, we live in a world where for the most part, and I will underline the words most part, we do NOT need to defend our faith and our beliefs to our deaths. Thus, wouldn’t that make it even easier to speak for God, to stand up and be accounted for in our faith?

Today, we hear from Isaiah, and let’s listen to what he has endured to stay true to his faith: “The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed. 5 The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears; I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away. 6 I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. 7 Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. 8 He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against me? Let us face each other! Who is my accuser? Let him confront me! 9 It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me. Who will condemn me?” I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard, I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Let those words sink in for a moment. Again, I am NOT asking any of you to do this, all I am asking is when someone challenges you a little bit and says that there is “No God” what is YOUR response?

Isn’t it curious that Jesus asks his disciples what people were saying about him, Then, even more pointedly, he asked the disciples themselves what they thought of him, let’s listen once more: “Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” 28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” 30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.” I know, that last verse sounds like a contradiction doesn’t it? Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. At that moment, it would have been disastrous, it would have prevented Jesus from accomplishing what he needed to. He wasn’t done teaching yet, the disciples were just beginning to get an idea as to who he was, and if you notice, only Peter had an answer; “You are the Messiah.” Others in Jesus’ inner circle at that moment may still have had some doubts. The timing was not right, Jesus still had more to do, and even if Peter was the only one who said that Jesus was the Messiah, his conviction may NOT have stood up yet to any scrutiny.

We all have times in our lives when we need to stand up for ourselves, for a family member, for a friend, sometimes, we even need to stand up for a stranger. We do this because we feel very strongly about defending ourselves and/or another person. We stand up because we strongly stand for a purpose, our pride, our self-respect, someone’s honor. We stand up because it is the right thing to do. So, allow me to ask once more; the next time someone says to you that there is no God, that Jesus is NOT our Savior; what are you going to do or say? Isaiah said; 9 It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me. Who will condemn me?” Who…..indeed? Amen!

Sunday September 5th, 2021  ⤵

Sermon Prayer: Let us pray: Gracious God, we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from your mouth. Make us hungry for this heavenly food, that it may nourish us today in the ways of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!

I didn’t take it as lightly this time as I did back in the end of July. This time, as the flood warnings and the tornado warnings from the remnants of Hurricane Ida started coming over my phone and television, I paid a little closer attention, and I looked outside more than once. The warning that came in July cost me a car, and I wasn’t about to go down that same road just one month later. Yes, the Trailblazer sits higher than the Malibu does, but I wasn’t about to ignore the warnings a second time. This time, for the area I live in, the results were better.

Thursday morning, after the devastation from the storms had long subsided, I went outside to run an errand. I have to admit, I am as fascinated today as the first time I made this observation as a teenager; have you ever noticed the sky and the air after a hurricane or the remnants of a hurricane roll through? The sky looks bluer, the air is crisper, humidity gone and in many cases, such as Thursday, a beautiful breeze blowing. It is like the hurricane cleans up the atmosphere and takes all the bad with it for a little while. As bad as Wednesday got, was as beautiful as Thursday was; weather wise.

I am certain that there are many who didn’t notice how nice it was on Thursday. As they looked at homes ripped apart, as others go without power, as others are left wondering what they will find when they do get the opportunity to return back home, the current weather is the least of their concerns, and I understand that. As one of the lucky ones this time who didn’t incur any loss, I am thankful, and I am mindful that others were not so lucky, just as I was at the end of July. But, I do feel that the weather that usually seems to follow a hurricane is a gift from God. God’s way of saying to many of us, I know you are suffering right now here is a chance for you to take a breath, here is a chance for you to know that for the next day or so the last thing you now need to worry about is the weather.

There will be bad days in our lives. There will be challenging times in our lives, there will be sad days, frustrating days, excruciating days, and many other days which will test us and continue to test us. Many of those days we will be able to navigate on our own, but on the days when we have had enough, when we are at a loss for answers, when we feel like we are alone, those are the days we need to stop, pray, and turn ourselves over to God. We need to humble ourselves and stop everything else and just say, OK God, I’m out of answers, please help me. I wonder how many of you have felt during those moments when you turn yourself over to God like that; almost immediately afterwards you feel some of the weight lifted off your shoulders, and suddenly the burden doesn’t seem so insurmountable. I believe every servant God ever approached felt that way, that is why even the most cautious eventually said yes to God’s requests and demands.

One of those servants God approached was Isaiah, and we hear from him today: say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.”

5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. 6 Then will the lame leap like a deer and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. 7 The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs.” Think about your extreme day when you have needed God to come save you, and listen to the extremes Isaiah uses here: the blind eyes will be opened…the deaf ears unstopped….the lame will leap like dear and the mute will shout for joy! How can we NOT turn ourselves over to a God like that? What fear would prevent us from approaching God? The fear that we are unworthy? Well, if we are unworthy, who remains that IS worthy? Do we fear that we are asking for too much? Who defines where that line is that we can’t or shouldn’t cross? Isaiah said to us; “Be strong, do not fear, your God will come.” Why should any of us think otherwise?

In our reading from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus the Living Word, does EXACTLY what Isaiah talks about today; let’s listen once more: “Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis.[b] 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him. 33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.” Why should any of us fear turning to God. God sent Jesus to us for many reasons, and I believe one of those reasons was to show us that many things discussed in the Old Testament CAN be done. Just as Isaiah stated that the ears of the deaf could be cleared and the mute can have their voice returned to them, here is Jesus PROVING IT. Does anyone here think that is an accident or a coincidence? Do you also think it is a coincidence when someone’s health gets better after people pray for that person?

God nor Jesus need a big billboard anywhere to say that they exist, evidence is all over the place and no one has that far to look. It can be in the calming weather which follows a storm, it can be good news on someone who has been ill and God can be seen in the waves of an ocean, in a bird flying overhead, in the warmth of the sun, in the love of a friend or family member. For every Good Samaritan God is there, for every soup kitchen, God is there, for every prisoner who knew nothing in their life but greed or hate and yet still turn themselves over to God, God is there. We saw the Living God when Jesus was here and all we should need to hear is how the common folk saw him: “Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” How could you NOT talk about the wondrous things Jesus was doing? How could you NOT be amazed when seeing someone who “does everything well?”

In the world today, with as crazy as everything seems to have gotten, shouldn’t we have that same level of amazement? Should we not cast away our fears and lay anchor into the Rock of our faith? Instead of embracing our insecurities, we need to release them, and if you still have fear approaching God than you need to have an honest moment with yourself, and even if you don’t feel this way you need to know deep down that God is here for you, you only need to turn yourself over to Him and do not fear,… He does everything well! Amen!

Sunday August 15th, 2021  ⤵

Sermon Prayer: 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 have already spoken several times from this pulpit in reference to our family and friends who seem very addicted to their smart phones or tablets just waiting for the next text, e-mail, or tweet to arrive. Four people sitting at a dinner table and no eye contact what-so-ever. Watch people walking down sidewalks and through stores with their eyes fixated on their phones, never once looking where they are going and expecting the rest of the world to get out of their way. If their batteries get too low, watch them go into dry heaves, and watch their body twitch as if the entire world will end if they miss one message, one new tweet.

I know that most of you don’t get it either. We grew up playing outside, and on rainy days we played card or board games. We could always find ways to amuse ourselves, and if everything else failed, there was always the radio and then of course; the television. For some reason, I have been reminiscing a lot over the past two weeks about summers in my neighborhood when I was a teenager. Most nights, if it was nice, you would find a bunch of us playing softball in a large field belonging to a neighbor two homes east of my parents. My father attached a cow size bell to the post of our patio, and when that bell was rung, my brother and I knew it was time to head home. The neighborhood was safe, fun, and everyone looked out for each other. I wish the teenagers these days would get to experience days like those. I am certain, many of you have similar memories from your childhoods. I believe God meant for us to enjoy the great outdoors, and when I think summer, I think of camping, fishing, and my favorite days at the Jersey Shore. I find it amazing that years later it is a common theme among my classmates and I. What I find most amazing is that so many of us shared many days on the same stretch of beach from Seaside north to Point Pleasant, many of us never knowing how close we were to each other during the summer.

Beautiful and wonderful days that now make up my history, and always brings a smile to my face. I truly believe I have always marveled at God’s handiwork when I am at the shore, or in the mountains, or sitting peacefully on a dock or on a boat at some lake. God’s world indeed. Yet, today, there are way too many other gods (small “g”) which we let interfere with our lives. We already covered electronics, but for many who live paycheck by paycheck, our job or jobs in plural become a god we need to tend to, a god which for better or worse impacts our lives, in many ways even controls our lives. Many of our brothers and sisters need to work late on Saturday nights, or need to work in some retail position on Sundays, thus, the Sabbath no longer exists, and just to survive, church becomes a casualty. For many, who work six days a week, the thought of getting up on Sunday morning is just too imposing and difficult, it gets way too easy to reach for the snooze button on a day you aren’t getting paid to be somewhere.

I never thought I would be one to succumb to a lesser god, yet I have to admit that is what I just went through when my car was flooded and I suddenly found myself needing to replace that car when I was in no position to really do so. Yet, as I had to face the fact that I had driven the Malibu for the last time, I was being contacted by my insurance company and being reminded that they were not going to pay for my rental forever. As many of you are aware, there is currently a car shortage, and even with me working at a car dealership I was getting dangerously close to not having a vehicle. I have to admit, I have never felt so vulnerable in my life, and I never felt so out of control of my own life as I did realizing I was just days away from not having my own transportation. How was I going to get to my full time job? How was I going to get here on Sundays? I started wondering how much money I would pour through needing taxis, or Uber, or Lyft to get around. I realized that transportation was a god which controlled me, and fear began to grip me.

Once I realized that much of this was out of my control, it occurred to me that I only had one direction I could go in. I had a very lengthy and humbling conversation with the only God any of us ever need and turned it all over to him. I threw myself on his grace and his mercy, and as many of you entered the church today, you may have noticed the shiny black new Trailblazer sitting in the driveway. With literally one day left on my rental, that wonderful vehicle was delivered to the car dealership, and eight hours after it arrived at the dealership, it went home with me. The next morning, when I sat in it for just the second time, I had another lengthy and humbling conversation with God. This time thanking him for grace far above and beyond any I thought I had earned. I knew, this was my reminder that when we feel like we are being controlled by the other gods that try to rule our lives, we ALWAYS NEED to remember to go to the ONLY GOD that counts.

In our reading today from Joshua, we see others getting that same reminder. Let’s revisit shall we? “Joshua said to all the people, 14 “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” 16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods!” How many of our brothers and sisters would say that today? How many would say; “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods!” That person who can’t put down their phone? The person who has to work two jobs? The person who is too deep in debt? The person with an addiction? The person who doesn’t believe in one God, our heavenly Father, and thus lives alone, in fear, in frustration, and with a continued feeling of hopelessness? These people don’t realize what comes with faith!

Our God provides. Our God rewards our faith as we heard today from our reading in Ephesians: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” Allow the idea that it is okay to turn yourself over to God. It is okay to feel vulnerable, it is ok to feel lonely, and it is okay to turn yourself over to God. God will give you his full armor and God will protect you. Acknowledge that God has powers and wisdom we can’t begin to grasp, but know that your faith will place the belt of truth around your waist and the breastplate of righteousness on your chest. Step away from all the gods who have placed a heavy yolk on you, and stand up and say: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord!” Then watch how God responds to you with love, and with grace. Stand tall and strong, when God sees that you come to Him and no other, God will protect you with the armor only he can provide. Now, go serve the Lord! Amen!

Sunday August 8th, 2021  ⤵

Sermon Prayer: 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.

I read online this past week that there are concerns that safety measures regarding Covid-19 will once again be put into effect. There are currently locations such as drug stores and Wawa’s who are requesting that masks be worn inside their locations whether you have been vaccinated or not. You saw me enter wearing a mask and as I greet all of you today as you leave I will be wearing the mask. Some might call me paranoid, others may call me ultraconservative, and yet others might say that I am buying into a big political lie. For the record, I am wearing the mask because I currently have an infection in two bad teeth; that infection went into my jaw and cheek. Though I am on antibiotics, the first one prescribed to me I had an allergic reaction to it. Thus, I am not at all certain right now at this moment in time, what my body can fend off or not. It is compromised, thus why not take a little extra precaution?

Maybe the current issue is we were returning back to what we identify as normal. Maybe that is why the push-back right now; we want our lives back, especially after seeing how we were living during the initial months of the break-out of the disease. Maybe more of us are willing to be less careful in order to continue to see family, maybe we want to risk exposure because the idea of quarantine again is too much to bear. The bottom line is I don’t know how many of us understand this virus any better today than we did fifteen months ago. There’s a lot to digest here, and I could be wrong, but I think people are scared because there still seems to be a lot of questions and no clear answers.

Thus, if we are having issues understanding something that is here NOW, and right before us, wouldn’t it go to reason that something from the past would be even harder to understand, harder to acknowledge, and harder to defend? I have often wondered why so many people, many of them very well educated and knowledgeable would have issues with Jesus Christ. Few people seem to question that Jesus walked the earth, but the issues and questions begin when one talks about who Jesus was, and whether or not he was the Son of God. Digesting all the information about Jesus was hard in his time, let alone two thousand years later, in a world which demands PROOF, and if none can be provided then it isn’t real. Jesus may as well be Bigfoot or an alien from space, we want actual facts and data, and we want evidence.

You see, when it comes to the naysayers about Jesus, there are too many times in the Bible they can point to and say: “Look, even those in Jesus’ time had problems believing who he was. Our reading from the Gospel of John today gives us one of those moments: “Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?” Those with Jesus as he LIVED had a hard time digesting the idea that he was the bread of life; this unfortunately is fuel for the doubters and the non-believers. The trouble this group has is that they know Jesus’s parents as Joseph and Mary. At this point in time no one OUTSIDE of the inner circle of Jesus knows that Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus. Jesus for all those who have known him for some time have only seen him as a son of a carpenter, and Jesus himself has been a carpenter. Jesus is now asking them to believe something else. It is almost like they have been lied to for years and years, and now you want them to believe a truth that doesn’t match what they have been witness to for so many years.

I get that. I became a pastor very late in life, do you think the people I grew up with see me as a pastor? They see me as Ricky LaFever, son of George and Rosely, older brother to David. There is a forty year journey between Ricky LaFever and Pastor Rick. Hey, don’t get me wrong, I now have lifelong friends who will greet me and call me Pastor Rick because they love that I answered the call many of them saw in me years ago, but that is a select few! All others who knew me back then still call me Rick and some family and friends who go all the way back still call me Ricky. The point is, the boy then isn’t the man now. I transformed mostly out of site from those of my past, Jesus is standing before those who have watched him grow and now he is saying: “I am the bread of life.” They are having a tough time digesting this new information, it will be a process.

So, Jesus isn’t standing before us right now. All of you sitting before me believe that Jesus is indeed the Bread of Life you all have completely bought into the notion that: Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But, don’t all of us know someone who will never believe that, who scoffs at the idea, some who will even go as far as trying to poke holes in the story, and make light of our belief’s? Do you know why I think they are cynical and disbelieve so easily? I think that it could possibly be that they are at the end of their rope when it comes to faith. They have digested all the information and they have considered everything before them, but you see, they can’t get past the friend or family member who died at way too early an age. They can’t get past someone they love being inflicted with a hideous and/or painful disease or physical ailment and that person will never get well. They can’t believe that the God everyone in here believes in would permit pain and suffering. Faithfully, these people are dead or dying inside, and it will most likely take a defibrillator moment of faith to jumpstart them into believing again.

They would need a moment in their lives such as the one Elijah receives in our reading today from First Kings: “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. 7 The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.” Interesting that Elijah doesn’t get what he prays for yet it turns out pretty well; don’t you think? I have had enough Lord, take my life; is about as harsh and as hard of a prayer as one can imagine. Yet God’s answer is food and water, not once but twice, to give him the stamina he needs to complete his quest.

You know what else can be said about Elijah’s prayer? It was as humbling as one can get. I am through, take me. The Lord, instead, says back to Elijah in actions: no, you are not through, here is the food and water your body needs, you still have more to do! God will know when we are through. Until that day God has provided to us and continues to provide to us. Part of that provision was sending to us the Bread of Life. Continue to digest all you can about this Bread, and just as God provided Elijah and it carried him for forty days and forty nights, let’s see how far the Bread of Life carries each of us. Amen!

Sunday August 1st, 2021  ⤵

Sermon Prayer: Gracious God, we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from your mouth. Make us hungry for this heavenly food, that it may nourish us today in the ways of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!

As we continue to get closer and closer to life returning to how we lived it BEFORE Covid entered our world and disrupted everything, I am beginning to see more smiles, more happy moments, more loving moments. The pictures flooding the social pages on the computer are filled with families and friends reuniting, social gatherings with love and laughter, grandparents holding their grandchildren for the first time, and grown children hugging and holding their parents for the first time in months. Isn’t it funny that all we ever need always seems to be the things we always had: family, friends, love and laughter. It is hard to believe that something as serious and as deadly as Covid still did one very positive thing; it reminded us and continues to remind us that we need each other.

Just as we need water and food to nourish us, air to breathe, and healthy hearts to push the blood through our veins, we need love to feed our souls. Now, I know some will say that it felt good to stay at home and work from home, knowing that one was safe where we usually feel the safest and most content, however, I am certain for many they have never felt so alone. I am certain that there were many who longed for the touch of another, for the loving embrace of a family member, for the laughter one can only share with certain friends, because those friends have just been through too many crazy, wild, and fun times to count. We missed the love. We missed the laughter. Doing it from a distance is a poor substitute, yet for a while, it was all we had and the best we could do.

Thursday night, when the horrible storms came through, something was happening outside that I didn’t even know was happening. So much water was falling at so fast a pace that the parking lot in front of my condo flooded, deep enough for water to reach the bottom of the doors to my car AND the water got inside my car on the passenger side. Friday morning, hours after the storms had ended, I went to the laundromat I use a few miles from my home. On the way there my horn suddenly began blowing, my headlights began blinking on and off, the four-way flashers turned on, and the windshield wipers came on all on their own. It was like a scene out of a horror movie, I found it somewhat surreal, I almost wanted to laugh at the fact that this was happening to me. I got the car safely to the laundromat and even after turning the engine off, the car seemed to have a mind of its own. Because of the blaring horn I became very unpopular with some people very quickly, while others looked upon me with pity. But, for a few hours I had only one thought on my mind; how would I survive without simple transportation. Ann and I made the decision a few years ago that we really only needed one vehicle. On Friday I began questioning how wise a move that may have been!

A family member came to the rescue and got me home and then off to work at the dealership, but my focus became one thing and one thing only; how was I going to get around? Thank goodness for good insurance, as our insurance company got me set up with a car rental late on Friday afternoon, and a co-worker drove me over to the rental agency. Once I had keys and a safe mode of transportation I began to relax a little. It never dawned on me how much we need to be able to get around and how many places we need to go.

It got me to thinking about all the things throughout life we ask for but we don’t really need. Just like that pony I spoke about a few weeks ago, how is it that we continue to ask for and actually expect to get unrealistic things or set expectations that are unrealistic. Here is the perfect example, in the midst of the chaos of the storms Thursday night which by the way required my co-workers who were still at the dealership to seek cover, and Friday morning when I was trying my best to get to work any way I could, I had one voicemail waiting for me when I got to my desk and here is what a male voice said: “Like I really want to work with a dealership where people don’t answer their phones.” Really? There can be NO good reason why you got my voicemail? At that moment in time, I was supposed to know you Mr. Anonymous was going to call me so I needed to be at my desk doing NOTHING else but waiting on YOUR call?

But we all know people are like that; don’t we? This isn’t anything new; people have been forgetting for quite some time all we really need we already have. Today, we hear that in Exodus: “In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’” 10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud. 11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’” 13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat.” Now, before you remind me that a few moments ago I stated we need food for nourishment so what the Israelites were asking for was NOT unreasonable, I understand that, but they were whining about it, instead of simply asking for it. God gave them what they needed anyway, however, I am certain that God would have appreciated a simple ask as opposed to all the grumbling. What’s the old saying; you get more with honey than you do with vinegar?

Hundreds of years after God fed the Israelites in the desert, Jesus will be reminding others of this event as we heard today from the Gospel of John: “Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” 28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” 30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’]”32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.” Smart bunch Jesus was talking to that day: “Always give us this bread.”

Do we still ask for that bread? In a few moments, we will be sharing the Lord’s Supper, Jesus’ reminder that HE is the bread of eternal life, thus the bread we eat sustains us here, but the Bread of Life will sustain us for all of eternity. It is too easy to overlook the fact that ALL WE NEED, we ALREADY HAVE. All we need, we already have. When all of us can sincerely and faithfully acknowledge this truth then maybe one day the world in unison can look to the heavens, and say with one voice: Always give us this bread. Amen!

Sunday July 18th, 2021  ⤵

Sermon Prayer: Living God, help us to hear your Holy Word so that we may truly understand; then by understanding we may believe, and by believing we may follow in all faithfulness and obedience, seeking your honor and glory in all that we do; through Christ our Lord. Amen!

Have you ever wondered why it was shepherds that the Angels came to with the great announcement that the Messiah had arrived and how to find him? Shepherds were common folk, wouldn’t one think that news of this magnitude would require something like the Wisemen. Why not just leave it to them? Let’s face it, the announcement coming to the shepherds would be like the announcement coming today to any blue collar worker one can think of; construction workers, a group of farmers, or fast food servers, or maybe even landscape workers. Every day people who would be questioned and scrutinized to the point of them being quieted down and laughed at. No one would believe the everyday Joe these days, if they came forward and said angels had come to them and they saw the Messiah. Wouldn’t the shepherds have been treated the same way back in the time of Jesus’ birth?

Well, if the shepherds appear to be a poor choice, then who? I already suggested that maybe we could have just left it with the Wisemen but let us remember their story and WHO sent them. Herod sent the Wisemen because he wanted to KILL this baby. He saw the Messiah as a threat to his throne, he was told this was the birth of a KING, not the Messiah, not the Christ, thus this fragile king wanted to remove a threat to HIS kingdom before the baby could become anyone who had a voice, who could command attention. The Wisemen came, brought gifts, and then moved on, never returning to their homeland, never returning back to Herod. The Wisemen satisfied their own curiosity but were not going to do much more than that for the sake of their own safety. So we needed better witnesses.

In the Book of Isiah, we hear who should be the ones to spread the Good News. Let’s listen once again: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”8 Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes. 9 Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. 10 The Lord will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. What is another word for shepherds? You are correct; WATCMEN!

So, the question still before us is why the shepherds or the watchmen? One might say it is because Jesus will sometimes be referred to as the Good Shepherd, but I think we are getting ahead of ourselves there. Who else is going to be up in the middle of the night when the baby Jesus is born? Who is going to have a clear head and a clear vision at that moment? Alert and watching, alert and listening, alert and ready for any trouble which could endanger their herd, or vigilant to watching the one which may go astray, the shepherds are ready and will prove to be excellent witnesses to the good news. Additionally, who did Jesus come here to save? We have spoken to the first will be last and the last will be first very recently. Jesus came for the everyday people, the ones with needs, NOT the ones who had plenty.

Here is the other reason to reveal Jesus to the shepherds. They WILL tell each other, will share with their families, and tell anyone who will listen. The story will be remembered because the shepherds will keep the story going probably from generation to generation. Simple folk who were gifted with a phenomenal event one evening…a story for the ages. They are a humble group who will recognize that they were let in on something extraordinary. Never in their wildest dreams would the Watchmen ever think that they were in the perfect position to be witnesses to the birth of the Messiah.

A couple of weeks ago we heard about the horrible way John the Baptist died. But, before Jesus’ ministry begins, John had another responsibility, as we hear today from the Gospel of John: “There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God….”John got to pave the road for Jesus. John got to be the ADVANCE MAN…letting everyone know that Jesus was coming and coming soon. As John and Jesus were born just months apart, it is interesting that John had voice BEFORE Jesus, but once again, God needed a humble servant with a message people wouldn’t only listen to,,,but they would believe that message also.

It is worth repeating that Jesus came for the everyday people. In many ways it is ironic that both kings and religious leaders feared Jesus, as he was never going to be a threat to either. Well, unless you consider that not only was Jesus the Living Word but also the TRUTH. You want to shut down someone who is a little too full of themselves? Hit them with the truth. You want to instill fear in someone who thirsts for fame and power, hit them with someone humble yet respected. Someone with riches and powers truly believe respect is bought with that fortune and power. It is not. Respect is earned. Those who tell you how to live your lives but live their own lives however they want will NEVER be respected and can NOT be trusted. Jesus, just by being here, served as a human mirror that those in power could NOT look into, because the reflection back was anything but pleasing.

I would like to add that the need for watchmen has not ended. God our Father, and Jesus our Lord and Savior continue to look for watchmen (and women) here on earth who will share the Good News. They continue to look for their faithful servants here on earth who will feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked and tend to those in need without being asked to. The first will be last and the last will be first. Watchmen are still needed to provide whenever and however we can, even if it just bringing comfort to an old friend who has had a tough time of it and feels hopelessly lost. All of us have tools in each of our own tool belts designed specifically to fit our strengths: compassion, love, prayer, clothes we no longer need, an extra $5 we can give to a charity, knowing a friend or an organization we can recommend to someone in need. All of us can be the watchmen of TODAY, and who knows, maybe sometime, when we least expect it, the heavens will open up, angels will rejoice in song, and we will be told that Jesus once again is among us. Wouldn’t that be something……Amen!

Sunday July 11th, 2021  ⤵

Sermon Prayer: 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.

I want everyone to head into their memory banks and go back, way back to a pre-teen birthday or an early Christmas, and more specifically, I want you to remember that time you absolutely asked for the WRONG GIFT. I see perplexed looks on your faces right now, so let me give you a few examples: a pony, a snake, a baby brother or sister, or possibly a B-B gun. You asked, maybe even begged for this gift, it was the ONLY thing you wanted, so much so that you promised that you would NEVER ask for ANYTHING ever again as long as you got that one gift! Do you also remember your response when you DIDN’T get that gift! Did you hold your breath until you turned blue? Did you throw a hissy fit? Did you lock yourself in your room and threatened to NEVER come out? Did you really go to the extreme and threatened to run away? You asked for the WRONG GIFT, but you had no idea that is what you had done. Chances are, you received wonderful gifts on that Christmas or for your birthday; gifts that at any other time you would have taken great joy in receiving; just not THIS time.

Some of you may have been persistent, and you asked for it time and time again, but never got that most treasured request. Chances are; when you asked for this gift, you were probably too young to understand why you didn’t receive it. You got apologies from your parents, or they blamed it on a lost note to Santa, but none-the-less, you didn’t get what you wanted, and it would be years before you were old enough to understand the dangers in the gift, or that there was no room in your back yard for a pony, or you didn’t understand what you would need to feed to a snake, thus your parents’ didn’t want to put you through that. You didn’t know how much it would cost to have pony, you didn’t understand the dangers of a BB gun, all you knew is you wanted one because your cousin who is five or six years older than you has one and told you how cool it is.

On the flip side, when we are older but not always wiser, sometimes we GIVE the wrong gift. We have all been there before also! We give the bride and groom a gift they already have three of, because we forgot to check the registry. We give a toy or game to a child that really doesn’t match their age. Here’s what could be the WORST gift ever, giving a repurposed present BACK to the person or people who originally gave it to YOU! Yes, I am guilty of that last one and there is not a hole deep enough or a place far enough to run to once that blunder comes to light. It may be weeks or months before you can look that person in the eye again. The irony is; that person didn’t know you well and really gave YOU the wrong gift to begin with, otherwise, you would be using that gift instead of re-gifting it! Well, that’s my defense, as weak and thin as it really is!

In our reading from the Gospel of Mark today, we hear the doozy of the wrong gift being asked for. As we will see: so wrong on several different levels: “For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled[b]; yet he liked to listen to him. 21 Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of[ Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” 23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”24 She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” “The head of John the Baptist,” she answered. 25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother.” First, let me say that this has got to be the absolute WORST reason for one of God’s servants to die. Before you argue that Christ on the Cross is worse than this, let us remember that there was a reason, a purpose behind the crucifixion of Jesus, and although dying on the cross is barbaric, it was part of God’s plan, and Jesus, though he had his moments of angst, still saw it through. John was most likely sitting in his jail cell with no inkling that he was going to be executed that day, and for what?

I am not certain who is more cold and callous: Herodias or her daughter. Herodias doesn’t like that John told Herod it is not lawful for him to marry his brother’s wife; thus this set’s her on a path of personal redemption. This man does not approve of my relationship, thus he must die. Yet, Herod, for a King, may not be the brightest candle on the planet at that time. He liked Herodias’ daughter’s dancing sooo much that he was willing to offer ANYTHING as a gift, right up to half his kingdom!! Let’s think about this for a moment, and let’s say one of today’s richest men or women who are worth BILLIONS, owns countless homes, cars, yachts, and planes comes to you and offers you up half of their worth and possessions….think about it…think about it…. Okay…think about it a little longer….now you know….instead of ALL of that; bring me the head of someone who disapproves of me!! What actually makes the request all the more troublesome, is that the person whom has received the offer has NO beef with the person’s head they are asking for, the conflict lies between their mother and this other person. “Mother, what gift should I ask for?” “Be a murderer my dear sweet daughter, and ask for the head of my adversary!” “Oh, OK Mom, sounds like a SWELL gift!” As I said earlier, I’m not sure which one is more callous, mother or daughter. And you thought your in-laws were rough!!!

There is a Garth Brooks hit song titled Unanswered Prayers. It is a favorite of mine but I have had spirited conversations in the past regarding this song. Here are the words to the chorus: Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers Remember when you're talkin' to the man upstairs That just because he doesn't answer doesn't mean he don't care Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers. So, why have I had spirited conversations regarding these verses. Well, the primary discussion point is that God answers ALL prayers, but sometimes the answer is NO or not yet. I agree with this sentiment, and in a way I just think it is a matter of semantics. You say the answer is no and I say the prayer is unanswered. The result is really the same, isn’t it?

We have sometimes in our lives asked for the wrong gifts. On other occasions, we have given the wrong gifts. I want to include one other look at gifts, the one’s we get that we don’t acknowledge, but are exactly the right gift at the right time, and these gifts usually come from God. Sometimes, the gifts go unappreciated because they may seem small or unspectacular at that moment. You know, they certainly AREN’T the pony you still secretively want. But you know what they are; they are the same as the gifts you received INSTEAD of that pony or BB gun. They are the gifts that you REALLY needed at that moment in time, and they were given to you by people just a little wiser and less emotionally motivated at that moment. In the long run, we get the right gifts at the right time, especially, if the gift comes from our Father. You see, he NEVER gives the wrong gift….Amen!

Sunday July 4th, 2021  ⤵

Sermon Prayer: Let us pray: Gracious God, we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from your mouth. Make us hungry for this heavenly food, that it may nourish us today in the ways of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!

OK history buffs, it seemed only right on this 4th of July Sunday to open with this: When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Of course these are the opening lines to this nation’s Declaration of Independence. A Declaration that seemed inconceivable years before it was written, as the thirteen colonies here felt that they were part of the greatest country in the world at that time, Great Britain. Yet, England and especially it’s King found ways to push the people here to their limits. England, with possibly the greatest military in the world at that time never dreamed of getting pushed back from it’s colonies across the pond. But as we have seen historically on this planet, BIG changes take place when the weak become strong.

I learned at a relatively young age what happens when one stands up to a bully. Whether it is a neighborhood bully, a city gang, an abusive parent or spouse, or a political leader drunk on power, when someone stands up to them, the dynamics changes and they don’t seem so fearsome any longer. Tell a bully they can’t bully you anymore and many times you will see confusion like you have never seen before. They thirst on fear and perceived weakness. Let me repeat that; PERCEIVED weakness. That is because the bully has bullied for so long that their perception is that they can walk all over someone without any fear of repercussion. But here’s what they NEVER count on, they NEVER count on the moment when the weak become strong.

When I was ten years ago, there was a kid in my neighborhood who bullied me like there was no tomorrow. Half my size but very quick and very dirty he cleaned the floor with me. I never stood up for myself. But, you see, this bully made two mistakes in front of me. The first was that he went after one of my closest friends, and before he knew it, he had a tiger tearing after him that he never saw coming in the form of ME. You see, I never got mad enough to defend myself when I was young, but something took over when you went after someone I cared about. The second mistake this bully made was about four years later, when he began to whip my younger brother with a stick. As soon as my brother screamed out in pain, this bully got run over by a human tank he never saw coming. I believe all of us have it within ourselves to turn our weaknesses….let me check that….our PERCEIVED weaknesses and turn them into strengths.

Now, I understand, that Jesus said when someone slaps your cheek, offer them the other one. Well, friends, that may not be you physically defending yourself, but it WILL make the point that you no longer fear that person. Inner strength will always defeat physical strength. If that were not the case, then there would not be upsets in sports, or in military battles, or in other competitions. Out manned, out gunned, out trained the Continental Army that stood up to the Redcoats should have NEVER stood a chance, and yet, when the Revolutionary War was over, the Continental US colonies were truly the United States of America. Push someone long enough and hard enough and more times than not they will become strong enough to fight back, they will take on the bully and often change the outcome. Yes, it took a war for the colonies to finally break free, but the course of history began with the words I opened with from the Declaration of Independence, where the founding fathers of this nation said to England we are no longer going to tolerate this.

It has been said that God will never give us more than we can handle. We have also heard both God and Jesus tell us it is better to be humble, for they will humble the conceited and those among us who believe they are special because they have more money or power than everyone else. The first will be last and the last will be first. If those who bully here on earth do NOT change their ways, do NOT learn their lessons, they will indeed find themselves among those WITHOUT in God’s heaven. We hear Paul allude to appreciating God humbling him HERE on earth, and learning to be strong through God in his second letter to the Corinthians: “Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. the whole truth.” I was given a thorn in my flesh, and three times I pleaded from the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” God will never give us more than we can handle, especially if we remember to get our strength through him.

We don’t think of that do we? When faced with a challenge, when faced with an injury or an illness, or when faced with any trial whether physical, mental or emotional, it is God we need to turn to. The weak become strong when they trust in God. Even the Founding Fathers saw that, as they concluded the Declaration of Independence with an eye toward God: And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor. With a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence; the Founding Fathers turned this country over to God, and trusted that God would see us through. Today, we celebrate that this was indeed the case, as we ARE the United States of America.

We live in scary times. But, we are coming out of a world-wide issue and we are slowly and steadily returning to what many would consider NORMAL. Family and friends are once again joining together for social events, and going out in public isn’t as daunting as it was a year ago. There is STILL a daunting and nasty virus out there and we still need to be cautious, but we are further along today then we were last week, last month and especially last year. Record travel was expected this weekend, if a month from now we don’t see a spike in the Virus, I believe we will relax even more, and life as we knew it, will almost be completely back. But we have to get past that IF first. Maybe, just maybe, that should be the National prayer over the days ahead, and we pray to God that we come out of this travel weekend WITHOUT significant consequences. While the nation is at it, maybe as a NATION we should all recognize that we still rely on the protection of divine Providence, and it is indeed through God, that the weak become strong! Amen!

Sunday June 27th, 2021  ⤵

Sermon Prayer: Living God, help us to hear your Holy Word so that we may truly understand; then by understanding we may believe, and by believing we may follow in all faithfulness and obedience, seeking your honor and glory in all that we do; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

I wonder if anyone knows why some of our memories last over our lifetimes while others fade away very quickly. How many of you have shared in the joke about growing older; you know the one; where you can remember clearly an event which happened years ago, maybe even decades ago, and retell it in precise fashion, however if someone asked you what you had for lunch yesterday, you wouldn’t get it right with three hints and the evidence in front of you! I can understand suppressing unhappy moments, or sad moments, or horrendous moments. However, I am certain there are many happy times and good moments we cannot remember. I bring this up is because for the five years I was a first aider I am certain I rode on at least 700 calls between Glassboro State First Aid Squad and Green Knoll Rescue Squad. Many of the calls had positive results but some did not. Do you want to guess how many of those I still remember? I am going to say about a dozen, and I might get that up to twenty if I really try. Seems like a small number doesn’t it?

One of the calls I DO remember is a woman who had a massive heart attack after grocery shopping. She was found next to her car. When we got to her we began CPR. During the course of trying to revive her, I became suddenly aware of a priest standing over us giving this woman last rites. I have no idea why he was there, I have no idea if this woman was even Catholic, but there he was standing next to us as we were trying to bring her back. I remember the very first thought in my head was; really, it is hard enough bringing someone back on their own, but now you have me working against GOD also? Why should I bother? Somehow, my training stayed with me and we continued our efforts all the way to the hospital where unfortunately, the woman was pronounced. Not that it surprised me any, I kind of felt like we lost the battle the moment the priest got involved.

How many times in our lives have we encountered those moments when we felt like there was no rhyme or reason to what we were doing? How many times have we tried to do something that we were totally incapable of doing? How many times have we had that defeated feeling of “why bother” enter our thought process? It’s a horrible feeling isn’t it? None of us ever want to feel that way, yet I am fairly certain every one of us have been there at least once in our life. It could have been all the way back to your school days when you forgot to study for a test. You show up for class and as soon as you entered the room it hits you. As the teacher begins handing out the test your mind goes to: well, my name on top will be the only thing right on this test! It is an empty pit in your stomach feeling and none of us ever want to have that feeling more than once, however, sometimes life just gets in the way.

In the Gospel reading from Mark today, we hear a why bother story. However, this one doesn’t have the ending one would suspect under normal conditions. Let’s listen once more: “When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him…. While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?” 36 Overhearing[a] what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” 37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished.” Unlike the story I shared with you, this outcome is very much the opposite. Don’t be afraid…BELIEVE. I wonder what might have happened if I stopped doing CPR and said to the Priest: “INSTEAD of giving last rites, pray to God that our rescue efforts will be successful.” I wonder if that would have changed the outcome. Or maybe, I could have gone into prayer inside my mind, and had my own conversation with God. Maybe, if I demonstrated my own faith, maybe the result might have been different. We will never know, because neither was done, merely speculation.

This WASN’T the entire series of events from today’ Gospel reading was it? On the way to the house of Jairus, something else happens that I just skipped through, but let us return to it now: “A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. 30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” TWELVE YEARS this woman suffered. Most people would have reached the WHY BOTHER looking for any more help; many years prior. Yet, this woman, desperate to improve her condition, desperate for healing, tried ONE MORE TIME! “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” A simple and very brave touch, yet this woman had the faith that Jesus was her last hope, in fact Jesus was her ONLY hope! “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”

Two EXTRAODINARY events happening minutes apart but they both have one thing in common: A demonstrated faith in Jesus Christ as the Messiah, as our Lord and Savior. Jairus demonstrated faith in coming to Jesus, humbled himself before Jesus and asked for Jesus to help his dying daughter. This brave and nameless woman, who had nothing left to lose but felt strongly enough that all she needed to do was just touch the clothing on Jesus, and everything would be all right. Immediately following, when Jesus realized what had happened, this woman too humbled herself by also falling to her knees, and admitting what she had done.

Faith and courage were demonstrated by both Jairus and this woman. Because of that, they were rewarded. It is very easy to fall into the why bother trap. It is too easy to give up. It is too easy to concede defeat. One could say to me right now that it was easier then; Jesus was alive, he was right there with these two. We don’t have Jesus here to touch, we don’t have Jesus here to ask in person to help a sick friend or relative. I get that. But, once a month we share in the Holy Communion and we remember that Jesus came here for all of us. Every Sunday I tell all of you at the beginning of the service that where two or more are gathered in God’s name God is also present. I truly believe that, and I know that you do too. Thus, we don’t need the physical Jesus to be standing before us. We just need the same faith that Jairus and the woman demonstrated…and never again say to ourselves; Why Bother? Why bother our Lord and Master…here’s why… to our Lord Jesus and to our God and Father us asking for help is no bother at all, in fact… it is encouraged! Thus, don’t be afraid…..BELIEVE! Amen!

Sunday June 20th, 2021  ⤵

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

In the past I have tried to be consistent with both the Mother’s Day message and the Father’s Day message, including opening each with a funny anecdote. This year, I felt this well-known poem would be more appropriate and I believe many of you will recognize it: One night I had a dream…I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord, and Across the sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand; One belonged to me, and the other to the Lord. When the last scene of my life flashed before us, I looked back at the footprints in the sand. I noticed that many times along the path of my life, There was only one set of footprints. I also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in my life This really bothered me, and I questioned the Lord about it. “Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you, You would walk with me all the way; But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, There is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why in times when I needed you the most, you should leave me. The Lord replied, “My precious, precious child. I love you, and I would never, never leave you during your times of trial and suffering. When you saw only one set of footprints, It was then that I carried you. Of course you know this poem, it is called Footprints or sometimes Footprints in the Sand, but it is pretty well-known, and when I thought about what I would say today for Father’s Day, this poem came straight into my mind.

I find the world a curious and sometimes a frustrating place these days. I don’t know if I have clear understanding about the roles we play anymore. What I mean is the roles of men and women. I am all for EQUALITY, and I absolutely believe a woman should be paid exactly the same as a man for the same job. I cheer for the women who have broken through the ceilings in business and in politics and I hope that trend continues. However, my confusion lies within the home. Again, I believe parents should be equal partners but I wonder why everything we think of in regards to the traditional roles of mother and father seems to be questioned and tested. I realized that the message I gave for Mother’s Day was about love and compassion and the message I am going to give for Father’s Day is about guidance and strength. They are very much “traditional roles” of mothers and fathers as I was told they were and more time than not witnessed on my own.

This is not to say that mothers cannot be strong and wise or fathers cannot be loving and compassionate, I believe those traits DO exist within each. Speaking strictly for myself and the observations I’ve made through my life, I know I seek comfort from my mother and strength from my father. I will concede that it is possible I am “old-fashioned” and maybe I am slow to change. But in my defense, I am slow to change when I don’t SEE the need for change. Again, I am going to continue on a message today that may soon be outdated, but for the moment, I don’t believe it is.

I do believe father’s try to teach us and guide us through our life’s to walk alone. I also believe that those same father’s hope and pray that we WON’T have to. But, in reality, there are times all of us have had those moments where we felt like we were walking alone. Those times may come after the loss of a loved one or after losing a job. Those times may come after a divorce, or a long friendship suddenly ends. Those times may come when we feel like we have been betrayed, or lied to. Those moments in our lives when we begin to question ourselves, and we let way too many doubts enter our thoughts, and let them grip us, then tear us apart from the inside out. These are the moments when we are vulnerable, and very much look back at the beach and only see one set of footprints.

But, I see father’s giving guidance and teaching all the time. Possibly, what I was trying to say earlier is that a mother and a father can give the very same message such is; “All is Well” and when we hear our mothers say it, we get a sense of compassion and warmth then when we hear our father’s say it, it comes out more like; “All WILL be Well” leaving us with the feelings of strength and promise. Basically the same message but with different take-a-ways from both.

In both our readings today, we basically hear the same story of stormy weather and rough seas. We also hear how God calms those seas and brings comfort. First, from the Book of Psalms: “Some went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters. 24 They saw the works of the Lord, his wonderful deeds in the deep. 25 For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. 26 They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. 27 They reeled and staggered like drunkards; they were at their wits’ end. 28 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. 29 He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.” Now, let us hear from the Gospel of Mark: “Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.” Very much the same tale but one has God calming the Seas and the other has Jesus calming the seas. Do you think this is just a coincidence? Neither do I!

I very much believe our fathers or in some cases father figures do the same things for us. When we find those moments in our lives when we feel like we are in rough seas and life seems very much out of our control; it is our fathers who come and calm the storm and the rough seas around us, and it is our fathers who help us regain our confidence and secure footing underneath, stabilizing our lives and bringing us back to calm.

I opened up with Footprints today and although that is supposed to be a conversation between the Lord and this lone person, can we also see it as a conversation between ourselves and our fathers? With apologies to the original author, please allow me to rewrite the conclusion to this poem, and see if you agree to the sentiment: “Dad, you said that once I decided to listen to you, You would walk with me all the way; But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, There is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why in times when I needed you the most, you should leave me. My father replied, “My precious, precious child. I love you, and I would never, never leave you during your times of trial and suffering. When you saw only one set of footprints, It was then that I carried you.” Is it that far a stretch for any of us NOT to hear our father’s voices saying those words right now?

For all of you who have been blessed with the wisdom and guidance of your father, for those times where he was the one you found strength in and brought you to a sense of peace I hope you embrace today. For all of you fathers and father figures out there who have stood tall and provided when your child needed you, may God bless you today and every day. Thank you Dads for providing the guidance we have needed and ensuring that we NEVER have to walk alone. Happy Father’s Day. Amen!

Sunday June 13th, 2021  ⤵

Sermon Prayer: 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 much as I wanted to this past week, I couldn’t remember. I am certain that by this time of year the vegetable garden in my parent’s back yard would have been planted, and possibly producing some vegetables ready to be picked by now, but I honestly can’t remember. I haven’t planted a vegetable garden in a very long time; not since my late teenage years, now some forty-plus years in my rear-view mirror. The funny thing is; I can tell you exactly what was in the LaFever vegetable garden every year: tomatoes, green bell peppers, string beans, carrots and radishes. The tomatoes were a family favorite, while still green they would get fried up, when fully ripe, they made themselves into salads, mom’s tomato glop, and mom’s spaghetti sauce. Mom would make stuffed green peppers with rice and ground meat, absolutely one of my favorite summer dishes, and the string beans would make the dinner table three or four times a week. I can REMEMBER all that, but for the life of me, I cannot remember exactly when we would plant, although I want to say Memorial Day weekend possibly, but not certainly. Anyway, by now, we would certainly be well into the season of growth.

I also remember that there were two chores during the spring and summer months I took a lot of joy in; cutting the lawn and caring for the vegetable garden. Cutting the lawn because there is an INSTANT satisfaction to seeing a well-groomed freshly cut lawn. The garden for me was always intriguing. I remember watching many a garden filled with one question in my mind continually: WHY? Why does one tomato plant have three red tomatoes on it while another doesn’t have any? Why do we get three perfect carrots followed by some malformed twisted and crooked carrots you would only know as a carrot because of its color? Why would some green peppers be short and wide while others would be long and slim? Why would some of the vegetables never quite get ripe, and in turn would begin to go bad before they were ever perfect for picking? Those questions would sometimes get me in a little trouble as my mother would be calling to me to bring up what I had so that she could get them ready for dinner. Quite often my mother’s voice would shake me out of my day dreams filled with so many questions. But, on the years that it was my responsibility to plant the garden, it would give me a great sense of pride when the vegetables were ready to be harvested.

It is a little funny to think that we take credit for the vegetables isn’t it? Without the sun or the water we have nothing. I made sure I included the hymn: We Plow the Fields today because the verses within remind us who is really behind the success of a good garden: “We plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the land, but it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand, he sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain, the breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain.”

You know what else has seasons of growth? We do! We have growth spurts from the time we are born right up into our teenage years. But, we grow emotionally, mentally, AND spiritually throughout the journey of our lives. We are moved, and taught by all we encounter through our lives; some good, some bad, some happy and some sad. But, we are continually shaped throughout our lives. Our season of growth doesn’t end until the day God brings us home to him. Until then, we are influenced, educated, and inspired by life events no matter how old we are. We hear Jesus tell us this very thing in our reading from the Gospel of Mark today: He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” God watches us just as we watch the vegetable garden during the season of growth.

Now, one might look at this thought process and be sad. When we are ripe as Jesus suggests, God will take the sickle to us because our time has come. Maybe this image is a little scary to us because of what we think of when we see what the grim reaper is carrying whenever we see an illustration: right, he is carrying a sickle. But, I want to try to remove the fear from that image. Every illustration I have ever seen of the grim reaper there is either no face or a skull. What if we replaced that with the face of Jesus, would that change the image of the grim reaper for you? I know it would for me. Now, I also suggested that some might read this verse and be sad. One could read this as when we ripen doesn’t that mean we are at our best? Why would God take us then? Well, remember, when the harvest is ripe, that is the time for it to be used as food, it is no longer a plant, it has become nourishment, it has become food vital to our survival. When God comes for us, that just means our time here is complete, and now we need to move on to be something else, as part of God’s Kingdom in heaven.

None of us should forget who is in charge here. If we have faith in God, we need to trust that God will be ready for us when we arrive at heaven’s gates. Thus, we hear in today’s reading of Ezekiel that it is very much God who is in charge: This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23 On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. 24 All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. God very much watches us throughout our season of growth, and just as God will come with the sickle when we are complete, God will also give us opportunities to grow when we need to, but also has the power to disrupt our growth when we become a little too full of ourselves. We should thirst for God’s grace and gifts, and never take too much credit for the things we do, as it is God who allows us to move throughout our season of growth as long as we don’t allow arrogance and pride to interfere for any length of time. We may plant the seeds throughout our lives, but it is God who feeds and waters those seeds as we go along.

I don’t remember exactly when we would plant our vegetable garden growing up. But I do know that we are all in our own season of growth. Some of us are still at our stalk stage, some of us in the head stage and some of us are at the full kernel within the head stage of our own seasons of growth. Wherever we may be, I truly hope that you are finding the sun and warmth, the water and the inner spirit you require for your growth to be full and complete. Embrace all that is around you, never stop asking why, and embrace the thought that one day, your life will very much be complete, and it will be time for God to call you home. Don’t fear that day, just know that God knows you are ready. Amen!

Sunday June 6th, 2021  ⤵

Sermon prayer: Gracious God, we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from your mouth. Make us hungry for this heavenly food, that it may nourish us today in the ways of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!

Over the past twenty years or so in my other life within the business world I have made a disturbing observation which continues to grow: no one wants to take responsibility when they are wrong. Even when the evidence is overwhelming, no one wants to admit when they are wrong; I find that fascinating AND disturbing at the same time. I don’t get it. Listen, I’m not speaking to those who committed a crime and are standing trial trying to confess their innocence that’s different. I am talking about the day to day mistakes we as the human race make on a regular basis. I don’t understand why very few OWN UP to their errors. Do they think it makes them appear weak or incompetent? Are we afraid we will be thought less of if we own up to and admit a mistake? Again, I am not referring to BIG mistakes here, though that term is obviously open to interpretation as what I think is a big mistake you may not view as such. Thus, let me give some examples: a missed ingredient in a recipe thus dinner doesn’t taste quite right; an omitted number or inverted number which accidentally changed a report at work, or placing an appointment on the wrong day of your calendar; these are the types of mistakes I am referring to. Why do more and more of us want to find a way to deflect the blame, and not just admit we made a mistake?

Whenever I have held a supervisory position in the business world, I tell my staff that I have only ONE RULE. That rule is simply to tell me when you have made a mistake. Period! I remember telling this to a new team I had just taken over and I watched their eyes roll and some of them looked away. I could see that several of these team members were uncomfortable with this rule, so I let them digest this for a moment. Then I explained the rule to them: If you tell me you made a mistake, I can fix it. If one of MY superiors tells me YOU made a mistake, I can no longer fix it. Some still weren’t convinced and I finished by telling them that if someone comes to me and tells me they messed up, I can go over the mistake with them, make sure they understand and agree that they will learn from this mistake and never do it again. NOW, if a superior comes to me about the mistake, I can tell them it has already been addressed and won’t happen again. The superior is always happy with this response and will move on to other pressing matters, and this issue is closed with no further fuss. Thus, if I understand this simple concept, I don’t understand why it seems to be pretty much lost in the world today.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so lost. When we have had people of authority unable to admit to their mistakes, how can we turn to underlings and everyday people and ask them to behave better than their supposed leaders. When a past President tells the country he had no relations with a woman with indisputable evidence refuting his claim, or a past Governor is photographed on a beach which is closed to the rest of the citizens of his state, and he see’s nothing wrong with that, well friends, how are any of the rest of supposed to behave? Are we supposed to take the higher road even when those above us fail to do so? The answer SHOULD be yes, but one can see that many will say; “If so and so can do it, so can I!” What ever happened to the wise and sage advice of “If Billy jumps off the bridge, that doesn’t mean you have to also?”

If it was so difficult for us to admit when we are wrong, why does every Christian denomination have a moment during their church service to confess our sins? Every Sunday we confess our sins out loud together, and also in quiet meditation. EVERY Sunday! Catholics not only confess their sins during the church service they can also do one on one confessionals with their priests! We ARE supposed to own up to our mistakes, why then do we only seem to do it when we are in church? Maybe, somehow and someway, it is a flaw within us. Right from the very beginning; just as we heard today from our reading in Genesis: “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” 10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” 11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” 12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Immediately we hear both the man and the woman deflect the blame: Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” 12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” The man immediately deflects the blame to the woman and in turn, the woman immediately deflects the blame to the serpent. Though it is true, the serpent coerced the woman, and in turn the woman coerced the man, both the man and the woman were given one simple rule; do NOT eat from that lone tree. Thus, one must think that from this moment on the precedent is set, and the human race will forever look to deflect the blame than admit when we are wrong. So, why can we do it on Sunday’s here at church? Is it because we feel safe here? Is it because of habit? Is it because we blindly follow the church service and it says now we will confess our sins and we just do it? Or is it, as we heard last week; that Jesus came here not to condemn the world but to save it and in our hearts and souls we believe that?

You would think that the one place where the truth should be prevalent and righteousness should abound is within the church. Yet, even with Jesus here and walking the earth, there were church leaders who wanted to deflect the blame for their own wrong-doings, and to try to demonstrate that even Jesus had faults. They would often test Jesus and try to bait Jesus into saying or doing the wrong thing, yet, Jesus never fell into their fruitless traps, just as we heard today from Mark: “Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” 22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul. By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” It is amazing how quickly Jesus could turn the tide. How can Satan drive out Satan? Every time the church leaders tried to steer the narrative and make Jesus look weak, Jesus calmly turned the tide and showed consistently that he was wiser and superior in every way. He would disarm those trying to test him so quickly, they had no choice but to go quiet and lick their wounds.

Now, for you historians out there, no, your mind is NOT playing tricks on you, you HAVE heard the final verse I just read outside of the Bible. Both Abraham Lincoln and Sam Houston used this verse or a similar verse in very famous speeches, with Lincoln using the exact words; a house divided against itself cannot stand, and Sam Houston stating a Country divided against itself cannot stand. Well friends, you have heard me suggesting for months now that I fear our country is very much divided amongst itself. We are still standing but I am not certain for how much longer.

A good step forward would be for someone to finally admit when they are wrong. Unfortunately, it can’t be just any someone, it will need to be a well-known figure. Even better would be for a group of authority to stand up and say they were wrong. But, what I am suggesting here is probably fool’s gold. Until the day comes when one sees the strength it takes to admit a mistake rather than fear the appearance of looking weak, deflecting the blame will always be the go-to as opposed to owning the blame. I get it, though, sadly enough, because no one is going to own the blame, until the rest of the human race can follow Jesus ONE HUNDRED PERCENT, and just as Jesus came to save the world and NOT to condemn it; we too must be able to rush to understanding and forgiveness instead of our own condemnation and rush to place blame. After all, NONE of us are perfect. If you think you are, than let me re-introduce you to Jesus. Just as the religious leaders of Jesus’ day came to learn, Jesus is the ONLY blameless person to ever walk this planet, and yet he never condemned the rest of us! Why then, do we stand in judgement of each other? Let us all stop…just stop…deflecting the blame. Amen!

Sunday May 30th, 2021  ⤵

Sermon Prayer: 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.

So, you all know me pretty well by now, and you know I wonder about all of you. There are so many of you I would have enjoyed meeting when you were at a different phase in your life. Not that I don’t enjoy hearing about the grandparent and for some of you, great-grandparent stage you are now in, but there are times I think I would have liked to see you at other times of your lives while you were still trying to figure things out, as opposed to the sage and wise group I have before me today. For example, how did you respond when one of your children asked you to be a part of something, possibly volunteer you for something? The thought that always comes to my mind is my mother needing to sew my costume in 8th grade as Samuel Chase from Maryland in the play 1776. I think at some point my mother’s mother, my father’s mother, my aunt and of course my own mother had something to do with putting that costume together. I can’t even imagine the hours of work which went into that costume, and the irony is, it was going to be worn three or four times and then never again. A lot of love, blood, sweat and tears, for a short-lived project. Thus, I wonder how many of you volunteered throughout your lives, and I also wonder how many of you found yourself volunteered from time to time.

How long did it take for you NOT to raise your hand when someone asked for volunteers? Was it after the first time, the second time, or did you just learn to bite your lip, grimace a little and raise your hand? How often did you raise your hand because you wanted to do it, or you realized you may be the only one with the skills to do whatever was being asked? Many of us were asked well into our forties and fifties to volunteer to do something, for some even older. Just about half this congregation serve as elders and deacons. You are still volunteering probably well past the time you thought when you were younger. I hope you all know you are as appreciated today as you have ever been.

You have heard me talk from this pulpit about God’s servants. Many of God’s servants were VOLUNTEERED by God. Not that God ever really made any of his chosen servants to do what they were asked, but really…how many are going to say NO to God with any conviction? Most suggest to God that he had the wrong person in mind, that there were other candidates who were much more suitable to do the tasks God was asking of them. If you are currently or you have ever served in the role of deacon or elder, YOU have already been approached by and answered God. Oh, it may have come from a member on the nominating committee or even possibly as in my case, a pastor approached you and asked, but don’t doubt for one minute that God was behind that request. So much so, that when the request came to me via a written letter from my pastor asking me to serve as an elder, the power and meaning behind that request immediately humbled me and sent me downward to a chair, and very close to my knees. When we are asked to do something for the church we are aware that consciously or subconsciously it is actually God doing the asking.

In our reading today from Isaiah, Isaiah is approached by God; and we hear about an incredibly powerful event which just precedes Isaiah being asked which moves him in a very real and powerful way: In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” This is extraordinary; first of all these Seraphim would scare the daylights out of me as I have never seen anything with six wings, have you? God knows how to get one’s attention doesn’t he? In this case, it works as planned because we hear Isaiah’s response: Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Now, I wonder if you would agree with me that Isaiah’s answer may be different if just prior, this HADN’T happened: Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” God removes Isaiah’s objection before he can object. Isaiah, believing he is ruined, is anything but! The day I received the letter from my pastor asking me to be an Elder, I honestly believed the letter was going to tell me that the church was done with me and it was time for me to move on. When one can no longer find an objection, it makes it much harder to say; NO!

Now, in our reading from the Gospel of John today, we see the Trinity of God at work. It may be hard to spot at first, thus let’s listen once more: “Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” 3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.]” 4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” The Holy Trinity is God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. All three are named here: 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Thus, Nicodemus recognizes God and that Jesus comes from God. Then Jesus says to Nicodemus: “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” This is what separates us from every other living being on this planet, flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. We receive the spirit on the day we are baptized, as we learned from John the Baptist; “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Therefore, we very much hear all three parts of the Holy Trinity being mentioned here. We hear that Nicodemus is still not clear about things as Jesus is explaining them: “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. 10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? That is an excellent question. It is often hard for us to understand the earthly things, as too often we want to place our own spin on everything and refuse to allow things to take place by God’s will as opposed to us trying to impose our own will on everything. We fear, we are confused, we all want to tell God he has the wrong person when he comes to us, there MUST be someone better suited. Yet, we can’t and don’t say no, because deep down inside we know that if God is asking, we need to be responding with Here I am God, send me. We can respond with grace and confidence because we also know one more thing: Jesus didn’t come here to condemn the world, he came here to save it! Amen!

Sunday May 23rd, 2021  ⤵

Sermon Prayer: Living God, help us to hear your Holy Word so that we may truly understand; then by understanding we may believe, and by believing we may follow in all faithfulness and obedience, seeking your honor and glory in all that we do; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Just before Easter I referred to the Soundtrack from Jesus Christ Superstar and stated that I listened to it this year like I was hearing it for the very first time. I’ve dug into some verses this year that I heard quite differently than I have in the past. However, today, I want to speak today about a verse I’ve heard many times over but have never really given it much thought. When Jesus stands before Pilate for the second time and Pilate is begging Jesus to tell him ANYTHING in his own defense, Jesus says he searches for truth but finds that he gets damned and Pilate responds aren’t truths nothing more than changing laws, then Pilate asks Jesus; “Are my truths the same as yours?” That’s an intriguing question, and I wonder how many of us have had similar thoughts over the past few years.

I have said from time to time in recent months that I have distanced myself further and further from Facebook. The primary reason is me witnessing lifelong friendships getting destroyed by politics. Boy, does the question; are my truths the same as yours resound loudly here with a big fat NO. I am lost to how far the gap has grown around the country and within my various friends whether or not I’ve known them for fifty years or six months. The battle lines have been drawn in this country on many different fronts; including political, but it doesn’t end there, Covid 19 has split our country in two on many fronts. Should businesses have been closed for as long as they were? Should we still be wearing masks? Who should get shots and who shouldn’t? Why do we need these cards after we get the shots? Will we really need to show proof of our vaccinations when attending public events and going into public venues? Ask 100 people if they trust and believe Dr. Fauci and you will most like get 50 say yes and 50 say no. Ask 100 New Jersians if they approve of how the State has handled the Covid crisis and again you will most likely get a split right down the middle. Are my truths the same as yours? We aren’t even close on ANY of the questions I just posed.

For the record, I am NOT going to choose a side, and I am not going to tell you who is right and who is wrong. Because I am finding that I am standing with a smaller and smaller minority: those of us who see some truth from BOTH points of view. Does anyone here remember the word: Compromise? I fear that word is growing more and more obsolete. We can’t even seem to agree to disagree any longer. You either see it my way or move on. Our brothers and sisters across the country are becoming more and more like the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s, with no room to negotiate, no chance to find common ground, and neither side listening to the other.

I wonder; really wonder, no I mean it now when I say that I wonder how often Jesus and/or God look down on all of these days and grimace. Not long ago I spoke to the one commandment Jesus left us with: Love one another as you yourself would like to be loved. I just described our country as the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s; does THAT sound like loving one another as we ourselves would want to be loved? Yes, very much a rhetorical question these days, and yes, that frustrates me and makes me very sad.

Today we hear Jesus talking about truth to his disciples in our reading from the Gospel of John: “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning….12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” There are two take-a-ways I would like to speak to. The first is the use of the word TRUTH here. We know of the many references to Jesus, one of them is the LIVING WORD. If Jesus is returning to the Father, does that mean the Word leaves WITH Jesus? Well, we often refer to the Bible as the Word also. With this in mind, maybe the Truth serves as the bridge between the LIVING Word and the WRITTEN Word. Let’s listen again: “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. Are you hearing it? The Living Word in Jesus tells his disciples that he has more to tell them; but it is more than they can comprehend at this time. Thus, the Spirit of Truth will be sent to them from Jesus himself, with the message and the words he needs them to hear at that time. Thus, the Living Word tells the Spirit of Truth who in turn will tell the disciples, several of which will be the source of the Gospels…the WRITTEN WORD.

On this day of Pentecost, we hear those words which have come from Spirit of Truth and shared with others by Peter as we heard today from Acts: “Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.19 I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

So, do you think Peter spoke like that BEFORE being filled with the Holy Spirit? I believe I have told you this in the past and it is worth repeating; from time to time I have gone back and arbitrarily picked a sermon I wrote years ago and I will come across a section of the sermon where I think to myself…those words are NOT mine! Yes I wrote them, but they are written in a way that doesn’t feel familiar…and it is in those moments that I know the Holy Spirit was speaking to AND through me. Thus, when we hear Peter quoting the prophet Joel, I would dare say that Peter is speaking with help from Jesus, who promised, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.” It is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. Is it that far a leap to think that Jesus tells the Holy Spirit to tell Peter to quote Joel here?

One could say that in the world today we need to hear more from the Holy Spirit. I say that we DO hear from the Holy Spirit, but too many of us choose not to heed the message being sent. Too many of us want so much to prove that we are RIGHT about something, we shut down anyone or anything that dares to challenge our beliefs and thoughts. We shout down the challenge because it is more important for us to believe we are right than to actually and factually be right. Are your truths the same as mine? Are your truths the same as mine? Are your truths the same as mine…. Chances are they would be, if we just listened to the Spirit of Truth…and heeded the message. Amen!

Sunday May 16th, 2021  ⤵

Sermon Prayer: 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 the Mother’s Day service last week, I referred a few times to the tools available to Mom’s which they are able to use to better do their job as a mother. Truth is, ALL of us have been given tools over our lifetimes that we are able to use when needed. Last week, we talked about love, compassion and forgiveness, and although I indicated that these are all powerful and well-used tools by women, the truth is, all of us have those tools available to us, it is up to each individual on whether or not those tools are handy and should be used. As we grow older, and in most cases, WISER, it is because of the tools we have been given which allow us to demonstrate our wisdom, our common sense,

Every week, at the car dealership, I see this truck show up usually on Thursdays, and it is filled with different mechanic’s tools for sale, right out of the truck. I used to think it was pretty funny that this truck would show up from week to week, as I wondered how many tools a mechanic might need. I am certain Art would tell me that the number is limitless. Different vehicles made by different manufacturers, and I would gather as automobiles become more and more sophisticated and technical, the tools required will need to be also. Thus, a tool never needed by a mechanic before, may be the EXACT tool he or she requires this week.

As each of us go through our lives, we too need to gather and locate new tools we may need NOW, which we never required BEFORE. After all, we don’t always need to share wisdom with one of our children or grandchild unless it is called upon. We don’t always need to find the right words to say to a friend who is going through a hard time until that friend calls on us. We don’t always need to be the rock, to be the companion, to be the friend, to be the confidante, or to be the sounding board, until someone is standing before us and needing us to be exactly one or more of those things.

Sometimes, we need to tend to ourselves. Sometimes, we need to find the right tool for us to carry on. Sometimes we need to find patience, sometimes we need to find strength, sometimes we need to find a way to calm our mind, organize our thoughts, sometimes we need to rely on ourselves, and sometimes we need to know when to reach out to someone else, just as we would want them to reach out to us. For many of you, you have learned over the years that more often than not, it is best to turn things over to God. The prayer army which exists within this congregation knows very well that prayer works, and when we need something to help us in times of frustration, in times of need, in times of disappointment, in times of doubt, the FIRST tool we should reach for and turn to is prayer and ask God with humility and faith for what we need to be given so that we can move forward and carry on. Wit

h that in mind, it makes perfect sense for all of us to turn to God, but do we ever think about Jesus turning to God. We know that Jesus prayed to God, we know that Jesus talks to his Father while on the Cross, but did it ever cross our minds that throughout Jesus’ life, he too may have turned to God and asked for help? Jesus taught us all to pray. Jesus prays a lot throughout the Gospels. Jesus needed tools also to accomplish his ministry. Some of his most important tools are the twelve chosen. We hear Jesus talking to God about them in our Gospel reading today: “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8 For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. 9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. I believe it is very important to listen to how Jesus is describing HIS disciples: They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. We know from the Bible that Jesus chose his disciples and yet here is Jesus saying; They were yours, you gave them to me… Jesus is saying to God, I may have chosen them but you placed them before me. They were yours…you gave them to me. Then, Jesus tells God that the disciples will need God, especially as Jesus prepares to go to God’s heavenly kingdom: For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. 9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. Jesus is saying to God: my disciples who you gave me, I now give back to you, because they are yours.

But, why does Jesus want to make sure God has accepted the Apostles as Jesus has? Once again, because Jesus is preparing to join his Father in heaven. Jesus is praying to God to continue to be with those who are about to carry on WITHOUT Jesus. Several weeks ago now I mentioned that the work Jesus needed to complete here on earth was just about finished. Well, today he is reiterating that his chosen are the ones who will need to carry his message forward. While doing this they are going to need God’s help.

In today’s reading from Acts, we hear the first step the Apostles need to take, they need to get their number back to twelve: In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.” Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas [BAHR-suh-buhs] (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles. Thus, Judas is replaced by Matthias and the disciples number twelve once again.

From here, those who were given to Jesus from God to carry on his message will do exactly that. They will do so using the tools they were given by Jesus. Jesus leading by word and by example will help them carry forward and in many ways, move from disciples to gardeners; planting the seeds of Christianity wherever they go. Without them even knowing it, they will do so with God giving them what they need, as they need it, just as Jesus asked.

What is your GO-TO tool in life? Is it prayer? Do you turn to God and admit that you don’t have all the answers, you don’t always have the patience you need, or the compassion, or the wisdom? Recently, I shared with my wife something which was burdening me. What she told me was profound, filled with love and wisdom. As she was responding to me, a thought crossed my mind that the message coming from her was not all of her doing. I listened with joy and relief as what she said to me made a lot of sense. Later that evening, I thanked her again for her words of wisdom, and to my delight Ann said, “I don’t think those words were of my doing, they all just came to me.” I needed to hear from God, God knew that, and spoke to me by sending the Holy Spirit through Ann. Do you hear God when he is speaking to you? Do you see when God has sent you the right tool, so that you can carry on? Even Jesus recognized gifts sent from God. May the Gifts from God continue to serve you well…. Amen!

Sunday May 9th, 2021  ⤵

Sermon prayer: 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.

Several years back I began a Mother’s Day tradition by opening the sermon with a joke or anecdote and thus, I do not wish to disappoint so here we go: Today we find ourselves listening in on a conversation between a son and his mother early one morning as a mother went in to wake up her son. "Wake up, son. It's time to go to school!" Her son responds: "But why Mom? I don't want to go." This mother is patient and firmly responds diplomatically: "Give me two reasons why you don't want to go." Her son is frustrated and downcast: "Well, the kids hate me for one, and the teachers hate me, too!" Remaining cool and firm the mom responds: "Oh, that's no reason to not to go to school. Come on now and get ready." The son, seeing how well it worked for his mother tries to use her words against her: "Give me two reasons why I should go to school." However, this mom, being a mother of experience was ready for this and responded immediately; "Well, for one, you're 52 years old. And for another, you're the Principal!"..... Now, I don’t know about you but I’m not sure if this mother is the most loving and patient in the world or the one who failed miserably because who wants their 52 year old son still living with them? Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed the laugh.

I just mentioned patience, and boy, if there is one thing mother’s need to have and demonstrate, it is patience. One can usually measure how much patience a mother has by this one yard stick: How deep into a back and forth with a stubborn child before “because I said so” is used to end the argument! Mother’s and mother figures actually have a lot of tools they are able to use to help them emphasize and extol their wisdom. Mothers have compassion, love, forgiveness, patience, faith, kindness, and experience to draw from as their tools of the trade. It is what makes mothers; MOM’S!

Now, before I continue, I do want to recognize today as what it is; a day dedicated to mothers. But, I have said this in the past and I will say it again today; there are many women who are NOT mother’s but have within them and demonstrate maternal instincts and motherly wisdom and compassion. Thus, later in today’s service, one of the prayers I am using for today, I chose to substitute the word mother for the word woman. I do want ALL WOMEN to feel included in today’s message. I don’t want anyone to feel slighted, I am aware that some of you chose not to have children, or could not have children. But, that doesn’t mean you have not demonstrated maternal and motherly instincts, and I am certain many if not all of you have reached someone at some point in your life with the love and wisdom which God gifted each and every one of you with.

In fact, I dare say that there are many women I know who are childless yet seem to go out of their way to “mother” others when called upon. Many teachers, nurses, and female clergy are childless, yet, those they have nurtured and loved can reach into the dozens, in some cases the hundreds. God gifted all of you with that compassion, that love, and that gift of caring for someone when that person feels like they have NO ONE!

This is why I think it will be the women in the world that will be the catalyst of returning us to normal from this pandemic. It will be the women who will lead the charge to a return of love and joy. When we are finally able to hug our loved ones again, when we can finally remove the masks and see the smiles on our mother’s faces, when a woman you care about kisses you and tells you everything is going to be all right and you believe her because every other time she has said it to you it turned out to be true; that is the day joy will return to all of us, the day when we once again will feel “normal.” The good news is it appears we are getting closer and closer to that day, as more and more people are immunized, and as more and more people demonstrate common sense over the days and weeks ahead. If you still don’t feel all that confident things are turning around, let me remind you that last year at this time, this worship service was done over the internet. We ARE together today, and many of you will be seeing loved ones later today.

I have mentioned before that my mother had a decade’s long complaint with the minister of my parent’s church who would not acknowledge Mother’s Day. I also mentioned about five years ago now a conversation I had with other new pastors who reminded me that Mother’s Day does NOT appear on the church calendar, thus does NOT need to be recognized. My friends, I don’t need something on a church calendar to tell me that a day dedicated to women should not be honored. After all, I have mentioned that one of your greatest gifts is that of love, and my friends, we hear none other than Jesus talk about love in our reading today from the Gospel of John: As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. I don’t know about you, but I think most women take this command very seriously, and they passionately embrace it; Love each other as I have loved you. I wonder how many mothers have said that to their own children.

Although today’s reading from Psalms is written as a tribute to God, I couldn’t help myself, I could see much of what was being said about God could also apply to many women and mothers. Listen once again, and tell me if I’m wrong: He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; 5 make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, 6 with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn— shout for joy before the Lord, the King. Please don’t get me wrong; I am not saying that we should give women and mothers the same praise we give to God. However, and again let me say this as a LOUD however, I don’t think the praise should be too far behind, thus allow me to rewrite those verses I just read for a moment; again, not placing women on the same level of God, just saying they deserve their own praise: She remembered her love and her faithfulness to her family. All the ends of the earth have seen the love and compassion of women everywhere! Shout for joy to women and mothers everywhere! Burst into jubilant song with music; dedicate loving and warm songs to the women who have impacted you, loved you and guided you. NEVER let the women in your life think for one moment that you don’t appreciate everything they have done for you, and that you love them back!

Over the past 15 months this congregation has lost Virginia Rauth, Edith Decker, and Dorothy Kinney. These three saints served this church and their families very well! Our loss is heaven’s gain. We remember all of you today; with love and with joy. Thank you God for these women, and all the women who have impacted our lives in so many positive ways. Alleluia….and Amen!

Sunday May 2nd, 2021  ⤵

Sermon prayer: Gracious God, we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from your mouth. Make us hungry for this heavenly food, that it may nourish us today in the ways of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!

We are now wonderfully embedded into the season of Spring. This is the time for rebirth and hope. The grey of Winter has gone and we have already seen the vibrant and glorious yellows, pinks, and whites announce that Spring is here and the earth is once again awakening. This past week, a new color stood out, as the green in the grass and the green in the new leaves made their presence known.

Those of us with spring allergies may NOT be fully happy, but I tend to believe that even through watery eyes and sniffles, somehow we embrace the beauty which surrounds us. I remember the days as a teenager that I would look forward to the first time the lawn mower was needed and the scent of fresh cut lawn would always bring a smile to my face. This is the time to start planning the gardens for summer whether it be flower gardens or vegetable gardens or both. The LaFever household ALWAYS had both… at least until my father decided he couldn’t fight the deer any longer who would eventually make short work of his vegetable garden.

But, this isn’t only the season for the plants. There are many nests with eggs, we should start seeing fawns soon, yes, for many animals this is a very special time of year also, during the time of rebirth, we also have birth, and newness all around. When one looks around, I wonder how many of you would agree with me that this is also the season for tranquility, reflection, and as mentioned before; HOPE. I wonder if you look at this time of year the same way I often do, as this is God fully in His glory; showcasing his very best work. Thus, this should be a season where we give thanks for all the good gifts which now surround us.

Yet, as beautiful as this time of year is, currently in my town I am watching a rebirth of a different kind. For many weeks now I have been watching the razing of several buildings which once were occupied by McGraw-Hill in East Windsor. I have watched as slowly and deliberately parts of each building were shredded and knocked down to make way for a new office and industrial park to be built on this land. Now, I didn’t mind so much the tearing down of the buildings as being empty for as long as they were they had become an eyesore. What I did mind, and still do mind, is the tearing down and removal of dozens and dozens of trees from around the property. Now, I don’t fancy myself a tree-hugger but I have to admit that the blatant disregard for how these trees and plants were discarded really got to me, and it broke my heart. You can bet that when the new buildings are built I am also going to be paying close attention to how many of those trees get replaced. It IS important, to the environment, to the wildlife, and I believe in many ways, to God himself. He made us the caretakers of this planet. We should never lose sight of the awesome responsibility which comes with that!

Last week, we found ourselves being compared to sheep by Jesus, with Jesus describing himself as the Good Shepherd. This week, Jesus describes us as branches, and Jesus is the Vine. Let’s listen once more: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Have you ever heard someone say to you: “Let me put this in terms you will understand?” It should probably come as no surprise, but Jesus is a MASTER at it. The really nice part is when he teaches, he DOESN’T precede it with that sentence, and thus one does not feel like he is dumbing down the lesson to us. Jesus teaches with examples we can all relate to. Jesus is doing that here: I am the true vine and my father is the Gardner…. I am the vine and you are the branches. We can relate to this because we can picture this.

Then Jesus challenges us. We can be fruitful, or we can be fruitless. What is so wonderful and extraordinary is that Jesus doesn’t make us guess to how we can be fruitful. Jesus makes it very clear: “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” The lesson couldn’t be any more straightforward, live through me and be fruitful, without me you will wither and die. What makes this even more glorious is that most of us already have a desire and a need to be successful. None of us like to fail. Thus, Jesus is giving us the answer as to how we CAN’T fail; If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; yet the possibility of failure DOES exist thus Jesus also reminds us; apart from me you can do nothing.

Now, we know what happens when we prune off a branch, that branch dies. As we have just heard, it will bear no fruit. So too, if the branch remains on the vine, the branch looks for the vine to provide water and nutrients to it so it will remain vital and fruit bearing. We as humans, though, even when we know we need more, whether it is nutrition or knowledge, there are times when it is not readily available, and we need to ask for it. In our reading from Acts today, we hear of someone who is thirsty for knowledge, but needs help in getting that knowledge: This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. 31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now we know that an angel of the Lord guides Phillip to the location where this man is reading but NOT comprehending, the Lord places Phillip at the right spot at the right time, and thus, what this man is having trouble comprehending, Phillip is able to explain further: The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

Then, a true gift comes from this knowledge. We hear about an immediate response and desire from this man, now filled with Good News: As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. Now, let me ask you; is there ANY doubt in your mind that this man just made himself FRUITFUL? He absolutely did, and one can only imagine what this man did and accomplished over the rest of his life, knowing that he was now a branch attached to the vine of Jesus! You and I are branches attached to that Vine. It is a time of rebirth and of hope. We all have the desire within us to be fruitful. NOW is the time. Turn yourself over to Jesus and make sure you are securely attached to his Vine. Trust and have faith that the Vine will give you all you need. Embrace the Word and the teachings of Jesus Christ our Lord. The Good News is still here, it has NEVER left: 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. Alleluia….and Amen!.

Sunday April 25th, 2021  ⤵

Sermon prayer: Sermon prayer: Living God, help us to hear your Holy Word so that we may truly understand; then by understanding we may believe, and by believing we may follow in all faithfulness and obedience, seeking your honor and glory in all that we do; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

In current and real time we are now three weeks from Easter. Three weeks since the tomb was found empty, and then slowly and sporadically, appearances by Jesus to Mary and his Apostles. Over the past couple of weeks we have discussed that this is really the beginning of Christianity. Why now, and not at Jesus’ birth? Because of everything Jesus needed to do BEFORE his crucifixion. Jesus needed to complete tasks that were foretold as far back as Moses and Jesus would need to take the cross to take our sins with him. Thus, now that Christ HAS risen, EVERYTHING has now changed. Jesus said I am the way and now the path to him will begin to come clear. Last week we discussed that the disciples have already begun the process, as they have spoken to the crowds. They have called out the people in the crowd by reminding them: “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.”

Now, let us understand that this is fragile ground the disciples are standing on. We are NOT years or even months removed from the people turning on Jesus and rapidly going from singing Hosanna’s to crying out “Crucify Him!” We don’t have to go too far back in time to the days when Jesus was returning to the disciples locked away in a secret room in fear for themselves being arrested and possibly facing the same fate as Jesus. What the disciples are being asked to do is going to place a big bullseye on them, especially if they get a little too loud, a little too uncontrollable for the same religious leaders who got Jesus arrested, tried, and crucified.

Let us keep in mind that just as Jesus needed to accomplish certain things while he was alive, the disciples need to teach and get the message spread. Thus they can’t complete that if they have also been crucified. As I said, the ground is fragile, the atmosphere is tense, they are still trying to talk to and teach the Jews who at this moment are very much under Roman rule. A fact the religious leaders have well in mind while trying to keep self-preservation a priority. They want to operate their way but quietly, without alerting the Romans. Perhaps, if the relationship with the Romans wasn’t so volatile the thought of crucifying Jesus would have never even transpired. But, that is not the case, and the crowds on Palm Sunday when Jesus arrived into Jerusalem had caused a little too much commotion to the church leader’s liking.

Now, they have arrested Peter and John after they healed a lame beggar who was well known in the area. You see, they were teaching to a large crowd and they were teaching under the authority of Jesus Christ, and thus the Sadducees (Sad-do-sees) and the priests got nervous again that word would get to the Romans and there would be trouble. So, they arrest Peter and John which leads us to where we are in today’s reading from Acts: The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. 7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?” Do any of these names sound familiar; Annas and Caiaphas perhaps? Yes, they were primary culprits behind Jesus’ arrest and eventually his Crucifixion. Don’t place too much of the blame on Pontius Pilate, between the pressure initiated by Annas and Caiaphas as well as Jesus’ refusing to really defend himself, then throw in thousands yelling Crucify Him, Pilate was left with no alternatives. Now, Peter and John stand before Annas and Caiaphas as well as other religious leaders and history could repeat itself here. But, unlike Jesus, Peter and John DO speak, and have a defense: Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.

I think it is brilliant that Peter states: If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed… because who in their right mind would challenge this? We performed an act of kindness, this man was lame but is now healed. There are NO other questions which can realistically be asked here. A man was lame, we healed him, because we were demonstrating an act of kindness. Go ahead, find fault in that, we are waiting. It is a defense which cannot be challenged in any way and in turn, shortly afterwards, Peter and John will NOT find themselves following Jesus’s path to the Cross, but rather, they will find themselves free and therefore, will continue Jesus’s teachings on how we can all find redemption though Christ. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit responded. That is the same Holy Spirit that speaks to us when we choose to listen.

Peter and John have cleared a huge hurdle. Now, they can continue the work of teaching that Jesus was one shepherd, for one flock. The beauty is, this shepherd can handle many in the flock, in fact, the numbers are still growing even today. Yet, even though the flock continues to grow, we still only need one shepherd. Why do we define Jesus as a shepherd? Well,… Jesus did that himself as we heard today from the Gospel of John: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd…” Jesus not only identifies himself as that of a shepherd here, but takes it one step further; he identifies himself as the Good Shepherd as he will lay down his life for his sheep. When Jesus took the cross, he knew EXACTLY what he was doing; laying down HIS life, for all of ours.

It may be hard to hear ourselves being associated to an animal. But, in this case, Jesus is explaining to a group so they can easily understand. You or I may NEVER meet a shepherd, but Jesus in that area and at that time was surrounded by shepherds. We know they have been associated with Jesus since his birth, as the Angels announced this news to none other than shepherds watching their flocks. Once Jesus defeated death, and was raised from the dead, his last task was to begin gathering his flock. It began with the Apostles, and getting them all on the same page, removing their fear, and filling them with the Holy Spirit. Now, they have begun the process of telling others that there is only one voice, one shepherd they need to pay heed to, as we all belong to his one flock. The Good Shepherd’s name is Jesus, his flock is ANYONE who hears his voice, and knows his teachings, and has the faith to follow this shepherd where he will eventually lead us. When that time comes, all we need to do is say; Yes Jesus is my Lord and my Shepherd. I am a part of his flock. We go willingly; as we also know: Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Amen!.

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