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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