Sunday November 20th, 2022  ⤵

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! 

Over the years here I’ve shared with you many of the television shows that are favorites to Ann and myself. Among the shows I have referenced are M*A*S*H*, the West Wing and one of our current favorites; Blue Bloods. Today, I want to use a real and true storyline from a television show we just recently binge-watched called 911 Crisis Center. This is a reality show which follows real 911 dispatchers from the Chagrin Valley Dispatch Center just outside Cleveland, Ohio. In one of the episodes, they receive a call from a woman who is terrified because she is in a car being driven by her under the influence husband who is driving out of control and refuses to pull over. Not only is the wife inside the car but so are their two children both under the age of five. Just moments before the police catch up with their vehicle, the driver becomes even more reckless and increases his speed, losing control of the vehicle and crashes. Over the next few moments you hear all the incoming calls from witnesses to the accident and the reports are terrifying. There is a report that one of the victims of this horrific accident was ejected from the car. We come to find out that it is indeed the wife whom was ejected and would soon succumb to her injuries at the hospital. The husband and the children survive, but they put a note up that the husband is found guilty of many charges and for all intents and purposes will spend the remainder of his life in jail. I am sure many of you have gone to thinking about those two young children who are now parentless due to their father’s horrendous judgment.

I know, this story is horrible and under any other circumstance I wouldn’t have shared it. However, today’s sermon is about forgiveness. Quite frankly, I couldn’t think of a much worse scenario. So, here is my question; can this man ever be forgiven? Would you; could you forgive this man? Listen, for the record, I don’t know anything more than what I just told you, up to that particular day this man could have been someone who would have been voted husband and father of the year. What triggered the series of events that led to such a horrible outcome one can only guess? Will his children ever find forgiveness in their hearts? Can this man ever forgive himself?

It is easy for any pastor to stand before a congregation and say; forgive one another. How realistic is the request? Where do each of us draw the line between what IS forgivable and what is not? We as a country never forgave those who hijacked the planes and flew them into buildings. We hunted down all of those responsible and the identified “master-mind” of the attack we watched as our elected leaders watched him get killed by one of our elite forces. As recently as last year, could have been earlier this year, our armed forces killed a known threat to this country. I’m not taking a side here and maybe I’m playing with fire and this is EXACTLY why politics and religion don’t mesh. Again, it is easy for a pastor to say; FORGIVE, it isn’t a message though which is always heard and/or followed.

For all the times I’ve told you to forgive, I too have had difficulty as I know one scenario which haunted me for years. I worked for a company run and owned by one man who had questionable ethics at best. I became the Director of Human Resources for this company and while I was in this position I tried very hard to get the company operating in a more ethical and professional manner. For about a year I felt like I had achieved my goals but suddenly, I found myself shut out of important meetings and left-off of management memos. I tried for five months to get a one on one meeting with the owner to clear the air and fix whatever he saw as an issue and he found one excuse after another NOT to meet with me. When he finally did meet with me it lasted less than one minute and I was sent packing with the words that I was “costing him too much money.” To this day I have no idea what he was talking about, and for at least three years I was filled with anger like I’ve never felt for anyone before. It wasn’t until I was with a different company for over four years which treated me with respect and professionalism that I could finally rid myself of the angst, frustration and anger I had been harboring. I don’t know if I can say I honestly have forgiven him, but I did finally move on.

In our reading today from Jeremiah, God is once again frustrated with what he sees. But, instead of getting angry, God makes a promise; let’s listen once again: Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord. 3 “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. 4 I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord.5 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. That King had many other titles given to him also; Teacher, Healer, and Shepherd to name just a few. God saw those he trusted scatter his flock; we know that Jesus came to regain control of the flock and bring us all back together. God said; “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. 4 I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord.” Can we not say that is EXACTLY what Jesus did? He gathered his flock and he sent his disciples out as shepherds to continue to do so. 

Thus, isn’t it amazing what we hear today in our reading from Luke? This man, sent to us to save us from ourselves, to gather us and to once again place us under God’s care, and yet although Jesus was sent to us to do nothing but wonderful things and make right our relationship with God those he came to save turned against him in what is arguably the worst betrayal in the history of the human race. With not just those who had always feared and loathed Jesus but even the ones who had once praised him were now turning against God’s only Son. Let’s not forget that having him crucified wasn’t good enough, as we revisit once again: “When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”[a] And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews. 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” Killing Jesus wasn’t enough, they needed to humiliate and mock him also.  I told a horrendous story at the beginning of today’s message. I just told another. In the first we heard about an innocent woman being killed in an event which for most of us just makes no sense. With what we just heard from Luke, couldn’t we say the same thing here? I said a couple of times it is easy for a pastor to stand before you and say forgive. I told a story in the beginning where forgiveness is hard to fathom. Now, keep that in mind and join Jesus on that cross and remember he was sent here to save us from ourselves. He is dying on the cross he has no business being on, watching as others around him mock him and divide his clothing amongst themselves like he isn’t even there. While all this is happening, Jesus says to his Father, OUR Father in heaven and says: “Father, forgive them…” It is YOU hanging on that Cross; are you saying the same thing? One of the criminals looks over at Jesus and says; “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” Have you spotted the irony yet? That is EXACTLY what Jesus is doing. Amen!

Sunday November 13th, 2022  ⤵

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.

Just over a week ago Ann and I were home, she sneezed I said, “Bless you,” she said thank you and we went on with our day. Well, Ann went on with HER day as I froze for a moment in time, with all sorts of bells and whistles going off in my head. The word; HYPOCRITE was SCREAMING inside my brain, and for all intents and purposes, my day froze. Because, right after the word hypocrite sounded all the alarms and whistles, the next word which came to mind was…GOD. You and I were raised on “God bless you” when someone sneezes. When do we become lazy and leave GOD out of it, and just say; “Bless you.”

Listen, I get it, the implication is there, we all know that when you say to someone; “Bless you” most of us understand that is the same as God bless you, because, who else would you mean? Thus, you may be wondering why I beat myself up over it. If Bless You is understood by most as meaning God bless you than what’s the problem? The problem is removing the word God out of the blessing itself. The alarms and bells going off in my head wasn’t because I thought I had just committed the worst sin of all time, no friends, the bells and whistles went off because if it is THAT easy to remove God from a simple gesture toward someone, then how easy is it for us to remove God from everything else, including those things in our lives which should REALLY matter?

From this pulpit, you have heard me comment in frustration about all the times the human race seems to leave God out of the equation, and here I was doing the SAME thing, short cutting the phrase from God Bless You to just Bless You. We have talked about removing God from the schools and removing God from public places. We have addressed in the past the thought that the minority of those who have no faith in God seem to have a louder voice than everyone else who does believe in God or at least in some kind of Higher Power. Thus, God gets removed from this place and this time and suddenly God is no longer in the front of our thoughts but God becomes an afterthought. It shouldn’t be.

The arrogance or blind spot those with no faith seem to carry makes no sense to me. Usually, the cry from the non-believer is SHOW ME A MIRACLE. You have heard me say it before but it bears repeating, if anyone were to say to me; “show me a miracle” I would simply say to that person; “Look into a mirror.” You WILL see a miracle staring right back at you. Life can NOT be an accident. Think about our senses alone; sight, hearing, taste, smell, and feel. Think about the organs in a living and breathing being. The functions of each and how necessary each organ is. If one can’t see the miracle of heart, lungs, kidneys and stomach then I can’t offer any other argument which would strike a chord. When one of those fails, by the way, watch how fast the rest of the body deteriorates. Think about all of the functions a brain does. It should blow one away. To close one’s eyes and yet still be able to see in your mind what you were just looking at, or even more phenomenal, to be able to remember something or someone you saw years ago and still remember what they look like.

The bottom line is that God has blessed us and continues to bless us. Every Sunday you have heard me say to you that God is in this room and to acknowledge the gifts in your life. Make sure one of the gifts you include is the gift of YOUR life. There are many reasons each of us are here, some are very apparent and some don’t become apparent for years. We are meant to interact, we are meant to care for one another, we are meant to test each other, we are meant to challenge each other, we are meant to support each other, and we all know that we are meant to love and care for one another. God bless you for every time you made a difference, for every time you changed someone’s life for the better, for every time you listened to someone who was in a bad place in their minds and in their life. I read this week on a social media site a friend of mind sharing that he was hurting. The outpouring of love and support he got from others was extraordinary and uplifting. I realized that not only was I watching human nature and nurturing at work but I was also very much witnessing God at work. You can be a miracle for someone else on a daily basis. That is God’s blessing working through you.

Let us revisit Psalm 98 from earlier. Because God HAS blessed each of us in so many ways, we should have a similar response to what we hear from this Psalm: Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. 2 The Lord has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations. 3 He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. 4 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. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. How can we say we haven’t? Even when challenges and struggles come before us, we are either given the strength and wisdom to handle it ourselves, or the tools and the support are sent to us and we can face each challenge no matter how hard or insurmountable it may appear. God will bless you with solutions as long as you keep God in the forefront, in your heart and in your mind.

The human race has a responsibility here though and don’t doubt it for a moment. We need to remember that it is God who sends his blessings to us, it is God who sends help when we need it, sends compassion when we are hurting, and let’s not forget that God so loved the world that he sent his Only Son to us, to teach us, to rescue us from ourselves and to remove our sin by taking the Cross. God blessed each of us with the gift of His Son.

Our friends and loved ones who wake each new day and see it as a gift are truly blessed. Those who see the possibilities in each new day, the opportunities to right the wrongs to improve on one’s weaknesses and make one’s strengths even stronger are truly blessed by God. Those who don’t can learn from those who do. When we recognize that we have support teams in the form of family, or friends, or our church family, or any combination of the above then we should see we have indeed been blessed in wonderful and miraculous ways.

When Reverend Franzen asked me fourteen years ago; “How many messengers does God need to send your way before you hear what he is trying to say to you?” I didn’t have a rebuttal, because prior to that Reverend Franzen had named quite a few to me, and I could NOT deny how they had all played a part in my life and especially the faith journey portion of my life. Then, God sent me Wendy Bailey, God sent me a Committee of Ministry willing to try something new, and then God sent me all of you. The First Presbyterian Church of Lakewood will forever be a part of my life, a huge part of my faith journey, an everlasting part of my ministry. A ministry God saw for me, and blessed me with. My dear friends, know that long after the doors here are closed, I will cherish each and every one of you, and I hope and I know you will continue to cherish each other. God bless each of you, God bless all the saints who have had anything to do with the First Presbyterian Church of Lakewood, and may God bless you and your families now and forever. God bless you…indeed! Amen!

Sunday November 6th, 2022  ⤵

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 can remember the conversation like it was five minutes ago. I am sitting before the pastoral search committee here in fellowship hall, being interviewed to be your next pastor. Inez looks straight at me and says: “If we hire you here is what we expect from you; lead the worship services and serve as moderator for the Session, visitations when we are sick, and bury us when we die.” Inez was always a straight shooter and didn’t mince words. I have often said she made me a better pastor because we didn’t always agree, but we would hash it out politely and civilly and would always end our disagreement in a reasonable manner. The last time I saw Inez was in the hospital just a day or two before she passed and she was as blunt and straight with me that day as the first day we met. I asked her how she was doing and her answer to me was” apparently, I’m trying to die.” No one will ever be able to accuse Inez of over stating something or being subtle. I have missed her presence here a lot since she passed.

After being hired, my very first visit was with Bob Wilhelmsen. The first visit with Bob I was sure was going to be my last. He wasn’t doing well at all, and the conversation didn’t last all that long. Yet, as it turned out, over my time here; I had more visits with Bob then everyone else put together. The irony for me has always been that just as surprised as I was after my first visit with Bob on how long he lived on, my last visit with him I had no inkling would be my last and he would return home to God just ten days later. I was reminded by Bob that you just never know. When I thought he was heading toward dying he hung around, and when I was sure I was going to see him again I didn’t, he was gone just like that.

We all know the saying: there are two things for certain in this world; death and taxes. I stated a little over a month ago that we had entered a season of mourning; with Edith and Marsha, my father, and of course the closing of the church feels like a death also. Just as hard as it is for us to watch a loved one dying over time, I know for many of you the weeks ahead are going to feel very similar. As we discussed last week, the mourning process will take you to tears and will take you to joy. Some days you may be swept up in frustration, and some days you may find yourself disappointed. Remember that God is walking with us, just as we all know from the poem Footprints in The Sand. For many of us over the remainder of this month and possibly the rest of the year, there will be many days when we will need God to carry us. It is ok and please allow it to happen. Don’t fight it, feel it as it is happening, and absolutely turn yourselves over to God. Just as in many cases where there is no one to blame for someone dying, there is no one to blame for the dissolution of this congregation and church. Let God carry you on the hardest days.

We are all familiar with the phrase; When one door closes a window opens. There will be windows open for all of you at Hope, at Toms River, at Brick, at Farmingdale, at Point Pleasant, and at Lakehurst. I’ve heard some of you say that you are going to “shop around’ and I think that is a wonderful idea. You will know when you find your new house of worship. If it is truly right, you should feel a sense of a rebirth, a time to be born once again spiritually. Know that my heart will cheer for each one of you when you have reached that time. Make it fun. Instead of taking the thought process that you are being forced to do this, take a different tact. Remember when you were younger and you were about to go someplace you had never been before, or even better yet, you were going someplace you ALWAYS wanted go to; think Disney World, or Key West, or the Grand Canyon, in other words a place you were excited to go to. Go visit these other churches with that sense of adventure in your heart. You may be surprised with what you find. But, at minimum, give your faith journey an opportunity to discover something new, and hopefully, feel the sense of rebirth within you.

Today, in our reading from the Gospel of Luke, we hear Jesus talk about death and resurrection, let’s listen once more: Some of the Sadducees (sad – doo- sees), who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. 28 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. 30 The second 31 and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

34 Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. 37 But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ 38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” It is important to note that Jesus is talking about resurrection to a group who do NOT believe in resurrection. Jesus mentions Moses, someone long gone, who in turn named three others who were long gone before Moses: :The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. The same God whom all these men interacted with and served during their lifetimes, is the same God all of us answer to and serve today.

Our births and our lives ARE indeed gifts my friends. What waits for us on the other side, in our own rebirth’s which have been promised to us may be very different than what we experience here, so let’s live our lives with as few regrets as possible, with taking on as many tasks and opportunities which come our way and giving our best effort. Enjoy the challenges and yes, know that there will be time to weep, but after those moments of weeping, gather all your love, all your strength, and face every day gifted to you here. Jesus’ final line is very telling: He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive. So, my friends….LIVE YOUR LIVES! For a number of you, you have had generations of your family be a part of this church, a part of this town and/or surrounding towns. Just as other family members have moved on either through death or relocation, their memories and their time here IS ingrained in the pews, in the Christian Education wings, and in Fellowship Hall. The friends and the family members who have been through this building are very much still a part of it. By keeping the doors open as long as all of you have, just kept all of that ALIVE.

I said several weeks ago that I was going to make this a four part sermon series from Ecclesiastes. We have talked about a time to keep and a time to throw away; a time to weep and a time to laugh, and today a time to be born and a time to die. I am going to add one directed straight at me…there is a time to talk and a time to be silent. I believe I have said all I have wanted to say to you through Ecclesiastes, so next week I will change course. It is my sincere hope that these verses from Ecclesiastes has opened you to new possibilities, given you strength and hope, and some sense of closure you find acceptable. Thus, what we heard a few moments ago is worth repeating: Our God is NOT the God of the dead, but of the LIVING, for to him, our God and our Father, ALL ARE ALIVE. Amen!

Sunday October 30th, 2022  ⤵

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 I was 21 years old someone I was very close to was going through the worst time of their life. The details are not important but they were at the point of being very troubled and depressed, and very much at their wits end. I didn’t know what I could do for this person whom I care for very deeply. Then suddenly I had many thoughts running through my head so I sat down and wrote them down in a poem I called Learn To Laugh, Before You Cry. Now, I don’t know if a poem is the right thing to call this, but I hoped the words of encouragement would strike a chord with this cherished friend. Now, it is rather long, so I am not going to read all of it. But, when I thought about the theme for today: A Time to Weep, A Time to Laugh, I couldn’t help but include this for today. Yes, I said I wrote this 41 years ago, (I told you last week I never throw anything out), and I think you may find parts of my message from back then, will serve some if not all of you today. So here is Learn to Laugh, Before You Cry.

There are things I’ve learned recently, that I want to share with you, for you are one whom I wish to share everything with. As you know, I am a first aider and I’m a security officer. I am many other things and everything I am has taught me one lesson; you have to learn to laugh before you cry, because if you do, you will find the pain isn’t so bad, nor does it last so long.

On a recent first aid call, I had someone die. Although I did my best to prevent it, the people on the crew with me and I couldn’t save that life. In the middle of working on this lifeless form, one crew member was standing on another’s hand, and THAT crew member made a joke about it. You see, the situation was nearly hopeless, yet in the face of this tragedy, where frustration was our own worst enemy; we laughed instead.

Additionally, I’ve been guarding a plant which recently closed their doors forever. Watching these people lose their jobs was very unsettling. Yet, as the numbers dwindled down to less and few, jokes around the building were numerous, and frequently laughter could be heard from wall to wall. In the face of dismissal and hopelessness, these people were smiling and brave, for it wasn’t their lives which were over, to them, it was just their jobs.

They learned to laugh before they cried, counting their blessings instead of their downfalls, they loved what they had, and they chose to forget what they didn’t have. Yes, dear friend, in each of these two incidents I used as examples for you the tears eventually flowed, but the LAUGHTER pre-empted the crying. Because of this, I observed that the in both cases the pain seemed to bet much more tolerable as the waterworks didn’t flow so freely, yet the laughter seemed to.

In the midst of tears in both of these sobering events, the smiles kept returning to those who were shedding or near shedding some tears. Those brave smiles I doubt I will ever forget. They provide symbols, symbols I want you to remember also, symbols of HOPE and NOT of despair. To every end there is a new beginning. Every new day has fresh opportunities. What today or tomorrow brings can be a flip of a coin, sometimes good, sometimes bad, just remember to take what comes and do your best with it.

And, dear friend, please remember this; laugh and laugh some more, although tears will always invade our lives at some point and time, don’t allow yourself to drown in those tears. Depression and negativity will only breed more of the same. So, my treasured friend, learn to laugh, learn to laugh before you cry.

For our congregation over the days and weeks ahead, I know there will be tears. I understand and please know that I’m NOT telling you that you shouldn’t cry. Thousands of memories were made within these walls. At our 150th Anniversary service I said that the pews were full, and the reporter from the Asbury Park Press didn’t understand or missed my point, as she stated the obvious, these pews haven’t been full for quite some time. But, I believed then as I believe now, that we may not see a PHYSICAL being in a particular pew, but that doesn’t mean one of the saints who may have occupied that pew in the past isn’t there. There are countless times I’ve stood in the pulpit and looked out and for a fleeting moment, I have seen John Molnar, or Edith, or Virginia, Emil or Doris and so many others. As I’m sure many of you can look at a pew and picture a friend or loved one sitting there. There is a presence in this Sanctuary, and it is filled with love and compassion.

I believe just about everyone in this room right now has attended a funeral I have presided over. You know that at every one of them I speak to the mourning process and I specifically point out that there will be times where someone is enveloped in grief while two or more who may be just a few feet away unsuccessfully stifling laughter or just giving in and laughing out loud. The grieving process is not the same for any of us, thus, while one laughs…another cries. Both are reasonable, both are appropriate, and both need to be tolerant of the other. The reason I make it a point of discussion at funerals is because I have, as I would think many of also have witnessed someone getting annoyed that someone is laughing during what is typically a somber moment. Sometimes the laughter is nervous, a defense mechanism, and at other times it is genuine, a funny moment which has been relived or reiterated. We’ve also seen the opposite where people are having an adverse response to someone who is crying uncontrollably. That is when our compassion needs to be at its best. My friends, we were told in the Bible, that even Jesus wept. The point is, in what may seem like a cruel joke in a manner of speaking, sometimes a time to weep occurs at EXACTLY the same time for others it is a time to laugh.

Now, just to be clear, there ARE times when laughter is NOT appropriate. Let us visit these verses from the Gospel of Mark: 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.

We can also visit readings from Genesis: Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.” Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?” 13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” 15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.” But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

Laughing at the Lord or laughing at God is NOT encouraged as in these examples it is considered mocking and disrespectful. Laughter should always be WITH someone and not AT someone especially in a sarcastic or negative way. Arrogance and bullying are ALWAYS viewed in a negative light, and when directed at God, you are literally taking your own life in your hands. Over the days ahead, there will be a time to weep and a time to laugh. My hope is that the laughter lasts longer than the weeping. When you do weep, I hope you feel God wrap his loving arms around you and during that time; you feel His peace. Amen!

Sunday October 23rd, 2022  ⤵

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!

Well, my friends, we are in the final stretch. I have been thinking about these last six weeks together for some time with the same thought going on over and over in my head: how do I as your pastor; get you to the finish line; that no one here wants to cross? I read an exchange between our wonderful guest pastors from last Sunday as they exchanged their thoughts on being a part of such a bittersweet service. The prayer-chain army from First Presbyterian-Lakewood now has several allies abroad. They were touched by all of you, they saw how brave you are all being, yet could hear the pain and the hurt when you spoke with them. Thus, all of them now pray for all of you until we reach the end, and then they will pray that your faith journeys continue in a positive and new way. As I read their comments, I felt the burden get heavier on me yet. But, as we got closer and closer to this time, it became clearer and clearer to me where to turn to for us to find our way over these final weeks. Where should we turn when our hearts are breaking, when the mourning process begins to sweep over us like a wave, when we know that very soon, our lives will change yet again? It is too soon after the world was changed by Covid, and I know many you are like me, we resist change as long as possible. So, it occurred to me just as we do at other times in our lives, we turn to an old friend. The old friend I chose was Ecclesiastes. Today and for the next three weeks we are going to lean on four of those verses, beginning today with: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to keep and a time to throw away…

This verse came to me first out of the different seasons listed in Ecclesiastes because I am absolutely living this right now as I have begun clearing out the pastor’s study. When I return to the office today, I am going to begin the task of going through the horizontal three drawer file cabinet, which, after nine years has gotten pretty full. I have an unfortunate flaw in my character; I AM a pack-rat. I hold on to EVERYTHING! The irony for me is that I have a hard copy of just about everything I have written since I got here; most of which is also kept right here; on this flash-drive or now I believe they are called a key drive. I also think they go by the name thumb-drive because this is literally the same length as my thumb. Three drawers of paper-work and files versus this thumb drive. This will hold probably ten of those file cabinets worth of reports and sermons. Now, I’m going to make some of you laugh, I don’t know if I can part with the hard copies. Yet, where I would keep the boxes of files this would create is a major issue. Talk about someone who needs to learn what to keep and what to throw away; my friends you may be looking at the worst offender!

Yet, in the hopes of not looking like a TOTAL hypocrite, let us explore further the idea of what to keep and what to throw away over the weeks ahead. Many of you have taken some keepsakes in the form of pictures, hymnals and Bibles. Those are wonderful things to keep. They will keep memories fresh, they will serve as reminders to this church as well as the family and friends who attended here with all of you. Memories, period, should be kept. Especially the fond, happy, joyous memories you take with you from here. Some of you were married here, many of you had your children baptized here, a few of you yourselves were baptized here. I have heard of plays, and of many wonderful memories shared by those who attended Sunday school here. Some of you have wonderful and happy memories of former pastors here and many of you were involved with the food pantry while it was here, and the Soup Kitchens we used to host. There are Easter breakfasts to remember, bowling teams and adult Bible study. I know I’m only scratching the surface. But you get the point; KEEP THE MEMORIES.

Make sure you stay in touch with each other after we close the doors. You will all go off to different churches with new faces, but you may spot a familiar and friendly face also. New friendships lie ahead but, KEEP THE FRIENDSHIPS you formed here.

I have told you countless times that when I came here, I saw a congregation with a faith which need to be shared. You will have the opportunity soon to share that faith with others. Let them see the faith you have, and don’t doubt it for one minute, it is strong, it is fearless, and it will see you through until you are called home to God. The prayer army from this church has been so strong over the years because it is based on your unshakable faith. Just because this building will be closed and the congregation of First Presbyterian Lakewood will be dissolved DOES NOT mean your faith or your faith journey ends. No, dear friends, KEEP YOUR FAITH, because it has served you well, and I assure you, it will continue to do so.

Keep the music in your head. Your favorite hymns that you have sung, that you have heard sung. Keep the songs you heard the choir sing for so many years in your head, and keep the music ministry of Ron Howell with you. One day you will find yourself humming or maybe even singing a familiar verse, let it warm you, let it embrace you, allow it to bring a knowing smile to your face. KEEP THE MUSIC.

Now, allow me to address that which you should lose. Lose the idea of who’s to blame. Lose the feeling of regret. Lose the feeling that you let someone down. Throw all the negativity away, PLEASE. I can’t begin to tell you how many people from outside the church admire all of you for how long you held on, for how long the congregation of First Presbyterian of Lakewood was able to continue to worship with impossible odds to overcome. We were always going to have friends who were going to pass on. We were always going to have friends who needed to move on, to be closer to family, to retire just a little too far away, because of a career change. With the well of those who could replace all we lost completely dried up, the fate of the church was written and there was nothing ANY of us could do to change it. So here is what you throw away, you throw away the frustration, the angst, the disappointment, the anger, and the thought that you could have done more. When I interviewed here in 2012 to be your pastor, I thought creating a website would do the trick. That was before I learned how Jewish this area truly was, and although the website served us in other ways, it never accomplished the goal I originally had for it, because of what Lakewood has become.

Back to what to keep. Keep the sight of the cross burned into your memory banks. Keep the beauty of Easter Lillie’s and Christmas Poinsettias right there before you when you close your eyes during upcoming Lent’s and Advents. Keep attending church somewhere and especially when it is a Sunday they are serving Holy Communion. Keep the teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ close to your heart, just like the one we heard earlier from the Gospel of Luke: To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Remain humble, remain loving, remain forgiving, remain vigilant to the Lord, remain prayerful and hopeful, and keep every good lesson and loving memory God gifted you while you have been a member here. For it has never been more true; on God’s earth, there IS a season for everything. Amen.

Sunday October 9th, 2022  ⤵

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.

This past week a young female co-worker of mine said to me that she feels like Satan has taken over the world. She thinks the world has literally gone to hell. She doesn’t like how most people treat each other these days, and she just doesn’t see Christianity at work in the world today. She thinks we are desperately losing the battle between righteousness and sin, and she fears that God’s current Christian soldiers are getting their butts handed to them.

Now, we were at work, and I understood her frustration, but just as politics are not supposed to be discussed in church, neither is religion supposed to be discussed at work, thus, me getting into a deep spiritual conversation would need to wait for a better time and place. What I did say to her was that I had hope, and I still see righteousness within the world, thus all is NOT lost. But, she did get me to thinking about it for a few moments.

For the record, I do NOT believe we are losing the battle. I think we are in a strange time where everything happens in an instant, and most communications come in the form of a text, an e-mail, or written in some public social media platform. Here is where I believe we are failing; in the one on one personal conversations which up until very recently transpired EVERY day, by EVERYONE. You have heard me discuss that from this pulpit before, so this is not news to any of you. Yet, go to the airport, go to a restaurant, heck, walk into almost any place of work and all you will see are people looking at computers, cell phones, I-Pads, or computer note-books. We should run a test and walk into a public area wearing clothes that don’t match, or a hair color of florescent green and see how many people notice.

Thus, I wonder if more people these days would talk to God if they thought they could text God. What would happen if God created an app for cell phones or created a web page titled: I EXIST. I wonder how many followers GOD would get? Let’s go down that road for a moment, shall we? What would one say to God through their cell phone or computer? How would one interact? Would they pray to God via the internet? Would the haters and disbelievers take over the page and point out all which is wrong in the world and blame it on God? Would they tell God to reveal Himself even more? Would there be anyone bold enough, arrogant enough to try to bully God over the internet? One might think I’m crazy for even suggesting such a thing, but believe me friends, there are such things in the world as BEER MUSCLES and CYBER BULLIES. Cyber bullies come in all ages, in all forms, both men and women, from all kinds of lifestyles. Just ask someone who reveals they have a broken heart, or someone who didn’t make a team they were trying out for, or someone that most of society views as “different.” They will tell you in chapter and verse about cyber bullies, some of which are people they consider friends, operating under being anonymous or posing as someone else which is so easy to do in the world we live in now, run by the INTERNET. If some are so heartless to do that to another human being, then it is not all that much of a stretch to think they would take a shot or two at God, test the waters, see what they could say before someone tried to stop them. Some people actually thrive on discourse. They love to see others miserable because they are miserable themselves. They feel powerful because they can say something which get many people going back and forth, and they sit back with joy in all the havoc they created.

But, back to God’s page on the internet for a moment. Do you think there would be thanks or praise? The fast answer for all of you here would be OF COURSE! But, remember the cyber bully out there. The cyber bully isn’t Satan, it is someone who is misguided in their way of trying to be important. But, just the idea of them out their lurking…waiting to pounce,,,could very well give pause to the man or woman who wants to sing God’s praises and give thanks to God. I think pastors and many different church leaders would go to God’s page and make comments of praise and thanks. As well, I believe they would get a lot of thumbs-up and heart emoji’s but again, comments from John Q. Public might be scarce.

If you think I’m being a little hard on our race right now, let’s revisit what we heard today in our reading from the Gospel of Luke earlier: Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. 15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Did you do the math? Ten percent of those Jesus had healed came back to him to offer praise and thanks. ONE out of TEN. The baseball playoffs are going on right now, how many players do you think are getting the chance to start for a playoff team batting .100? Ten men were bold enough to ask Jesus for help but only one of the ten could be bothered to take the time to offer praise and thanks. Jesus certainly noticed: “Where are the other nine?” The next thing Jesus says should NOT be overlooked; “Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Jesus is NOT looking for the praise for himself, he is looking for the praise to go to God. Yet, only one out of ten considered it important enough.

Too many times in our lives we let arrogance and pride stand in our way. Naaman (Nay-a-man)is the perfect example of this as we heard from our reading in 2Kings: When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” 9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage. 13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy. Can you imagine not doing something because you think the RIVERS in your country are BETTER than the rivers in another? Do this and do it here, yet Naaman almost blows it. Good thing his servants were smarter than him!! We’ve lost the art of conversation. Well, some might say we converse differently than ever before, so let’s say this instead, we have lost the personal connection. We can’t read another’s body language and we can’t hear hurt in their voice if we are just communicating in written form over the internet and/or cyberspace. Maybe, just maybe, too many of us have also lost the art of interacting with God, because God does NOT have a web page. Yet God is ever present. God still created all which surrounds us and every now and then, we need to give God our praise and thanks. In fact, we should be doing that EVERY DAY! Oh, and one other thing, ten percent, one out of ten, isn’t nearly enough. Let’s get our heads out of the cyber-clouds and into what is real and what is important. Just by drawing breath that alone should be enough to give God praise and thanks. Then, just imagine what God would give back in return. Amen.

Sunday October 2nd, 2022  ⤵

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!

There was a television series my wife and I used to watch that we really, really enjoyed called; Inside the Actor’s Studio. It was filmed at Pace University and featured James Lipton interviewing very well-known and respected actors and actresses through the years. The list is extra-ordinary on who appeared, including the likes of: Lauren Bacall, Bryan Cranston, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, Jessica Lange, Al Pacino and Barbara Streisand. During the course of the interview, Mr. Lipton would ask different questions relating to the person being interviewed, but everyone at some point would get ten questions exactly the same. The 10th of these questions is: “If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say to you when you arrive at the pearly gates?” I’ve found the answers to be interesting and sometimes fascinating. But, somewhere during the course of watching the show, I began to wonder how I would want to answer that question.

It didn’t take long for me to come up with the answer; “Well-done, good and faithful servant.” That is indeed what I would like to hear, but, as I’ve discussed from this pulpit before, I am, as many of you are also, our toughest critic. At least here on earth. I know for some if not many of you will agree that you have met no one tougher on you than you yourself. I get that as I just stated, I feel the same way. Thus, there are many times when I will think about those words and the sentiment behind those words and I say to myself that there is no chance I will hear them said to me. Yet, I’ve also had fleeting moments where immediately after I say to myself; “NO CHANCE!” I immediately hear a voice in my head ask, “WHY NOT?” Then the real conversation begins in my head as I begin to list my faults against my strengths. Somewhere in the middle of that my brain usually explodes and I’m left with; “Well, there’s still time to right the wrongs.” I’m left with hoping that I indeed do have time to do more that is right, than what is wrong.

For those of you who came to my father’s memorial service yesterday, I give you a heartfelt thank you from my entire family. For the rest of you who I know were there in prayers and in spirit, I personally want to thank you. You all mean the world to me, and your loving support lifts me more than you will ever know. For those of you who were in Somerville yesterday, forgive me, but I’m going to summarize a moment about my father, who, unlike how I view myself, I have no doubt about dad hearing the words; “Well-done good and faithful servant when he reached Heaven’s gates,” because that was who my dad was, and he made it look easy. My father served his country by serving in the Marines. My father served God and his faith by being one of the charter members, along with my mother, of the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Somerville. Pretty cool when one considers that my dad lived in the Somerville - Bridgewater area from the age of 14 until the day he died at age 94. Dad served his family and dad served his community by being a charter member of the Green Knoll Rescue Squad. No, there is no doubt in my mind that my father, along with all of you in this sanctuary, will hear the words well done, good and faithful servant.

The reason I truly believe my dad heard these words is because of what we hear today from our Gospel reading of Luke. Let’s listen once again: The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”6 He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.7 “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8 Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9 Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” I have to be completely transparent here, the very first time I read these verses in preparing for today’s service I didn’t like them. When you have done everything you were told to do, one should say, “We are unworthy servants, we have only done our duty.” If you do what is required of you, how then can one turn around and say that you are unworthy?

It reminds me of bosses in business who criticize employees when they haven’t done what they are supposed to do, or continue to make mistakes. Yet, when the employee does what they are suppose do and complete their tasks, and accomplish their goals the boss says nothing to them at all. Why? Because they did what was expected. Why should one look for praise when they have done what they were asked to do? Now, allow me to once again go back to what I said a few moments ago; If you do what is required of you, how can one turn around and say you are unworthy? But, listen to how Jesus said it; “We are unworthy servants, we have only done our duty.” One word changes this sentence immediately; ONLY.

You see; our bosses at work aren’t going to compliment us for doing our jobs, however, they WILL praise us when we go above and beyond what is expected of us. We ARE unworthy servants when we are satisfied with JUST doing what is expected. It won’t get us yelled at, it won’t get us negative reviews, yet, it won’t earn us glowing praises either. My friends, it is so simple to change the narrative and remove the word ONLY from the sentence; “we have only done our duty.” We are expected to help when we are asked to help, but we go above and beyond when we offer help BEFORE it is requested. When you see something which needs to be done then DO IT, before someone else tells you to do it. It is wonderful that you pray for a friend or call a friend when they are down and/or troubled, but do you call them just to say hello and check on them even when everything appears to be well? Earlier in the week this past week I had people hold doors open for me because they saw me using my cane. That is always a lovely and welcomed gesture. But on back to back occasions, as I thanked the person holding the door, they wished me a lovely day, instantly lifting and improving my spirits. Another example is coming to the aid of someone stuck on the side of the road who may have already called for help, but you staying with them until the help arrives may give them a greater sense of security.

But, don’t forget that you are doing these things because it is the right thing to do. NOT, because you are trying to score points in your favor with God. We have heard Jesus comment plenty on that, but today we actually hear a bit about it in our reading from Psalms: Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.4 Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. 5 Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this:6 He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. 7 Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. 8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. 9 For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land. Do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. When they are doing things to shine the light on themselves, but not on the act itself. When the ulterior motive really is: “Look at me and how wonderful I am.” We are all servants in some way. Who do we serve and how we serve is what will come into consideration when we reach those pearly gates. So…let me ask you… “What would YOU like to hear God say when you reach the pearly gates? What you do now, will impact what you hear…then. Amen!

Sunday September 25th, 2022  ⤵

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.

There’s a running joke that goes: “My wife tells me I have only two faults; I don’t listen and some other thing.” Have you ever noticed that the funniest jokes are the ones with a ring of truth within them? When preparing this sermon, my mind also went to all the Peanuts cartoons on television. Did you ever notice that only the children speak clearly? When an adult speaks, all you hear is “wah wah,,,wah wah wah wah.” No clear words. I wonder how many of you parents out there have had that same fear when speaking to your children, where you are certain all they hear is the “wah wah’s?”

This led me to wondering; when do we bring what is being said to us into focus? Is it what is being said to us or how it is being said to us? Is it the subject matter or who is speaking to us? Do we trust that person speaking to us? Does the person who is speaking command respect? Does age or experience come into play? I remember visiting with my wife’s Great Aunt Ellen. She was one of the first women journalists in this country, and she had a lot of respect. I know she interviewed many famous people, but the one which always impressed me the most was that she once interviewed John F Kennedy. I could listen to Aunt Ellen tell stories all day long. She was engaging, funny, and smart as all get-out. Listening to her talk was a privilege and a pleasure. She was a joy in every sense of the word.

My dad would let the way he lived his life do the talking for him. But, when he wanted to make a point, he would be concise and wouldn’t mince any words. I have shared from this pulpit before, that dad was a charter member for the Green Knoll Rescue Squad. In 1980, I too joined the squad, against dad’s best wishes. I know what you are thinking, he should have been happy and proud that I joined. Deep down, I’m certain he was. But, you see, my father was the protective type. Dad had seen the worse you could see when responding to a call; including just about every type of ugly motor vehicle accident you can imagine. Dad didn’t want me to have to go through any of that. But a headstrong 19 year old would not be denied and I joined. On my very FIRST call with Green Knoll I was on a crew that responded to such an awful call, I can’t and won’t give you any of the details. Suffice it to say, it was horrible, and it changed me in many ways. Everything dad didn’t want me to experience, I did my first time out of the chute.

One day, a few years later, I had reached what they call Crew Chief status. Someone who takes point on the call. I had come home from work and the squad’s pagers were sounding off in our home, a third request for a crew chief needed for a CPR call. I flew back out of the house and headed to the squad building with a little speed. Also coming home from work at that moment was my father as we passed each other on the road. Well, as I stated earlier, dad kept messages short and brief. When I got home from that call, it was dinner time and I could just feel dad had something he wanted to say to me, so I looked at him and asked; “What?” He said he never thought he would see the under carriage of my car. You see, I responded to the call so fast that when I hit a crest between the house and the squad building….at EXACTLY the same time my father was coming the other way, I sent my car airborne. Yes, a Dukes of Hazzard moment, Dad was less than impressed. Though I tried to defend myself, Dad had the final word with; “If you had lost control of your car and wrecked, then the squad not only still needs a crew chief, they need an entire second crew.” I told you he was short and to the point, and he was always right.

But, many of us have real issues listening don’t we? Sometimes, because we think we are smarter, because we have more experience, or because we have little trust or faith in the person we are listening to. Maybe we think we’ve heard the message before, thus we don’t have to listen this time. I wonder, if we get that way with God. A next verse same as the first type of attitude toward God. Jesus shares an interesting cautionary tale in our reading from Luke today; let’s listen to part of that: “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ 25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ 27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ 30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead. Let that verse sink in for a little bit, won’t you?

There were people who didn’t like Jesus. They didn’t like the way he taught, they didn’t like the way he went about things, he always seemed to bend rules and laws in his favor. Remember a few weeks ago when we heard that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath and what an uproar that caused? The Pharisees and the church leaders who were observing Jesus did not like his style at all, because what he had to say they didn’t want to hear. They were NEVER going to listen to Jesus, which was probably fine with Jesus, because he was here for the everyday person, the everyday sinner, who was indeed the lost sheep which needed to be found. Jesus knew who his true audience was then and don’t doubt for a minute that Jesus knows who his true audience is today. When do we begin to listen?

In our reading from Amos today, we hear about those who SHOULD be listening to God, but are so happy with what they have here, they don’t realize all that which they do NOT have: Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, You lie on beds adorned with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves.5 You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments.6 You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph. 7 Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile; your feasting and lounging will end. My friends, we too can become complacent, we too can get a little too comfortable, a little too self-assured. We begin to drift from God and we begin to stop listening to the teachings of Jesus. Where do we go for help if we stop listening to the one who died for all of us? Who could possibly replace Jesus Christ as the one we should always listen to? When we stop listening, when we get just a little too full of ourselves, that is when we step off the path of righteousness, and grow deaf to the only voice which ever made sense all of the time. If Jesus is indeed the Truth and the Way, should we not be listening? It has been said we were given two ears and one mouth for a reason. Let’s listen more….and say less. It has been said that the Truth will set us free. Free from guilt, free from sin, free from the sentence which could come from death. Jesus said, “Follow Me!” Sounds like excellent advice, don’t you think we should listen to it? Amen!

Sunday September 11th, 2022  ⤵

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.

Over the last few weeks I kept coming across a Yogi Berra quote where he said, “When you get to the fork in the road….Take it.” Good advice Yogi, though you didn’t specify which fork to take. When one gets to the fork in the road, you WILL need to take one or the other, unless you choose to turn around and not take either.

I’ve addressed this before from this pulpit; life is full of choices. Every day we face a fork in the road. Sometimes, we take the correct fork and sometimes we take the wrong one. Sometimes we know right away when we made the right choice, sometimes it takes a little while for the results of our choice to become clear. Sometimes the choice is easy sometimes not. Sometimes when we come to the fork in the road it would help if we got advice from someone we trusted before making the decision on which one to take. Some choices we make only have immediate consequences, others can be long-term. I have been stating for weeks what we do here counts when we get to heaven. There is a score card and it does get reviewed.

That may be tough to hear, especially as an adult. You are all long past worrying about grades for school, or pleasing your parents and/or other people of authority. Life should be getting easier, and the truth is we all face forks in the road no matter our age, wealth, or lifestyle. There will always be road blocks we have to navigate around, challenges which will test us, and hurdles to get past. Sometimes we are going to feel too tired, or too frustrated to deal with them, but my friends, that doesn’t mean they simply go away.

I worry about the human race, and how it currently faces challenges. I worry because it feels like more and more times we go to extremes in one direction or the other. Recently I’ve seen conversations and debates regarding the January 6 attack on the Capitol building where millions of dollars of damage was done, several people died, others were looking for Vice President Mike Pence and had a gallows set up outside of the capitol with hundreds chanting to hang the Vice President. We were on the brink of a civil war here and those who defend the attack on the Capitol Building are very wrong. Listen, the reasons can be debated from here until forever but the actions were extreme, and those who don’t see those actions as extreme need to get back to their Bibles and especially back to God. Let me be clear, I’m not taking a political stand here, I am standing up against unnecessary violence and extreme acts. To me, the attack on the Capitol building was the most extreme act taken on America since 9/11. Yes, my friends, today marks the 21st Anniversary of that God-awful day.

Yet, I find some irony here. After 9/11 this country became more united, more loving, more forgiving, at least for a little while. You couldn’t drive ten feet without seeing an American flag. Neighbors who didn’t know each other before welcomed each other afterwards. Eight to ten songs came out after 9/11 singing about American Patriotism and being pro-American. Friends, I am fairly sure that no songs were written about January 6, 2021. Allow me to ask what I feel is a rhetorical question here: our actions after 9/11 or our actions on January 6 which do you think God had a better reaction to?

Listen, we know the human race has had a sometimes difficult relationship with God. More times than we are probably even aware of I am sure that God seriously looks at this planet and says to himself: this human race experiment just isn’t working out. In our reading today from Exodus, we hear about a time where we were very much on the brink of facing God’s wrath: Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. 8 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’9 “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”11 But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” 14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

God himself is at a fork in the road, God is leaning heavily on taking one path, but get’s talked out of it. Think about this for a moment. First, the extraordinary courage it took for Moses to basically say to God: “Hold on I think you are making a mistake here.” Not to mention Moses ability to negotiate with none other than God: “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” 14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened. Now, I don’t think I know many people who like having their own words used against them, so again, I think Moses is being very courageous here. I also believe that Moses has great faith in himself. I believe Moses is saying all this to God because he knows deep inside himself that he can turn these people around and get them back on the straight and narrow.

Sometimes in life we aren’t on the brink of something disastrous. Sometimes we are simply on the brink of change. England and its colonies have known no other Sovereign Ruler than Queen Elizabeth for a very long time. It will be interesting to see how Great Britain and indeed the world takes to the new King. Everyone in this room is on the brink of change as we are in our twelfth to last Sunday together. All of us are going to go through the changes ahead in a different way.

There were many times the Pharisees and other religious leaders thought they had Jesus on the brink of making a mistake or saying the wrong thing. They were apparently slow learners because Jesus came out of each instance saying and/or doing the right thing. Today we heard two parables Jesus gives to once again silence his critics. Let’s hear just the first one, because I believe that one alone makes the point: Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Jesus speaks clearly and simply. The message cannot be debated because of the plain common sense behind it. Jesus never falters, Jesus never fails.

We, the human race however fail more times than one can count. But I have Good News about that, when you come to that fork in the road and you take the wrong fork learn from your mistake, and if your mistake impacts someone else in a negative way ask that person for forgiveness, and repent to God and our Lord and Savior; because Jesus said: I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent…. Amen!

Sunday August 28th, 2022  ⤵

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.

Season 13 of the television series Blue Bloods will begin the first Friday in October, Ann and I can’t wait. It is one of our favorite television shows, if not our number one favorite. Among the other stars in the show, this show features Tom Selleck as the Police Commissioner for New York City. His character’s name is Frank Regan and the Regan family is filled with police officers or former police officers, with the exception of Frank’s only daughter who is a prosecutor. Thus, enforcing the law is a staple among the family. The reason I’m mentioning the show is because in EVERY single episode they have a scene with the family gathering around the dinner table together. Being a good Catholic family Grace is always said before any eating begins. An old-fashioned tradition not many shows would take the time to emphasize, in a time where it feels like more and more families can’t find the dinner table, and certainly don’t take the time to pray before eating.

Over the years, there have been special guests brought to the Regan dinner table, it is at the dinner table where the youngest son introduces his family to his new fiancé and it is at the table where the long-diseased oldest son’s own son the family never knew about is also introduced to most of the family, he met Frank at a different time, because he too, has chosen the police as his career path. There are often four generations seated at the table, which is extraordinary at any time, not to mention every week. When one watches this part of the television show, one should get the sense of family tradition, family togetherness, and one sees a faithful and loving family.

I wonder how many of you grew up that way. God bless you if you still have those times, even if it isn’t weekly where the family gathers around the table. Since Covid hit, my family can’t even sit at the same table for Thanksgiving. It is sad to think those days are gone. It was always fun and interesting to watch while growing up who would be seated at the children’s table and who would sit with the adults during an extended family dinner. Over the years many conversations took place and announcements made at the dinner table. Very much like the scene I mentioned in Blue Bloods where the youngest son announced his engagement, I too announced my engagement to Ann at my Grandparent’s dinner table. There was also many a funny story and sometimes a little fiction shared at the dinner table, but there were two things you could always count on when you were seated at the table; the food would be wonderful and sincere love would be felt and shared by all sitting there.

In our reading today from Luke we hear Jesus talking about being seated at the table. It is a thought provoking discussion to say the least: One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. Now, in the world today at formal gatherings where dinner is being served, usually there are place settings with the names of all the guests and one just goes to the seat where there name is. But, imagine for a moment this not being the case, or better yet, here’s an example some of you may know a little something about. I recall going to a high school reunion where none of my closest friends from high school could attend. The time came for dinner and suddenly I found myself scrambling to find a table to sit at where I at least knew some of the people at the table. Because, you know, all the old friends sit together, and if your friends aren’t there well…As luck would have it, I actually got to sit with a few class mates whom were in the same homeroom as me, thus we got to reminisce a little bit about the things we would do before the actual classes would begin for the day.

Getting back to Jesus’ parable, can you even imagine the humility in being told to move from a table? I think one would almost want the ground to open up at that moment and swallow them up. No sir or madam, this is NOT your seat you are at the table WAYYYY over there. With no place to run and no place to hide the walk over to the correct seat will take just 30 seconds in real time but will take an hour and a half in imagined time. Everything will become slow motion, and even though it probably ISN’T the case, you will feel like EVERY eye is on you.

If the theme in Jesus’ parable sounds ultra-familiar you aren’t wrong. Jesus again is telling us the first will be last and the last will be first when we get to heaven. Again Jesus tells us that whatever rewards we seek here will be nothing as compared to the rewards waiting for us in heaven. As has been the running theme for weeks now, Jesus tells us that how we behave and what we do while we are here on this planet COUNTS, and will be taken into consideration when we arrive in God’s Kingdom. My friends if we are seated at the head of the table here chances are good we will NOT be seated at the head of the table once we have passed on. Between the two, I would much rather have someone here tell me I have made a mistake and that I need to take a lesser seat, then for me to get to heaven and have God tell me my seat is further away.

It is also interesting to hear how Jesus continues from this parable: Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” There is a running game which begins with someone asking another about who their ideal dinner table would include. How many people do you think would answer with the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind? Answers on this fantasy game often include well known athletes, past presidents, actors and singers, comedians, and other well-known people. Yet, Jesus makes it clear that as intriguing as these people would be, we forget about those who could use a very good meal, and for an hour or so, feel vital in a lifetime of humbled existence. If we surround ourselves with important people, maybe we feel important also, or at least worthy to be among them. But if we humble ourselves, if we take that homeless person begging on a corner and take them into an air conditioned diner or in the winter a heated diner, and fill them with nourishing food, it might not be life changing for them but for a few moments life is tolerable, and they can sit across the table from someone looking at them and know that this person isn’t judging but caring, that they aren’t afraid but supportive, and that they took the time to make a difference, even if it is for a short time.

My friends, those short times count. Who we choose to associate with counts. Where we see ourselves in our lives counts. Are we walking by or reaching out? Are we surrounding ourselves with riches or are we looking for someone to help? Where are we seated at the table and who are we looking to sit next to us? Don’t we one day want to be seated among the righteous? We can begin putting in our reservation for that table by what we do….TODAY! Amen.

Sunday August 21th, 2022  ⤵

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!

There is currently a commercial on television which I really enjoy where a well-known Rap singer and this relatively unknown nerd of a man are sitting on a beautiful beach somewhere and the nerdy guy just can’t get it through his thick skull about what it means to be on vacation and to just put one’s cares away. He asks the Rapper what they are going to do that day and the Rapper responds that they are going to “Just live the fine life.” The nerd while holding his smart phone responds with; “Great, let me just check that off my calendar.” The Rapper asks him to hand over his telephone which he does and the Rapper promptly drops it in a bucket of ice water filled with cold beer. I love this commercial because quite frankly; I think I would respond the same way!

In the same manner, I fondly remember summers at the shore when my father, uncle and I would go out deep sea fishing. Usually right around 9am the first beer would be opening up, and I can still remember my uncle seeing the surprise on my face saying to me: “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.” Then he and my dad would toast with me and my Mountain Dew toward a good day of fishing! There’s little wonder to why the song of the same title “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere” put out by Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffet over a dozen years ago is one of my all-time favorite songs.

When my parents were doing the snow-bird thing going to Florida for the winter months I still enjoy reminiscing about the first time I went down and spent a week with them. I worked a half-day that Friday and headed straight to Atlantic City to catch my 2:30 flight to West Palm Beach. Arriving there between 4:30 and 5pm my parents took me straight to this restaurant which was located under the bridge leading into Singer Island where they were staying. We were told by the hostess that there would be approximately a half hour wait, and we could have a drink at the Tiki Bar outside until our table was ready. My friends, I will never forget sitting at a table sipping one of those cold beers the Rapper has a bucket full of in the commercial I mentioned earlier, with a singer covering Jimmy Buffet songs and watching a yacht heading south toward Fort Lauderdale and Miami cruising along the intercostal waterway. The memory is vivid because I actually had a physical reaction I had never experienced before, I could literally feel the stress and tightness get lifted from my neck and shoulders, like the weight of the world had been lifted from me and yes, I could indeed enjoy the fine life for just a little while…and no, neither my mother or father needed to watch me try to check it off my calendar, because I had already put it far away.

I love visiting with retired people. As many of you already know, on most days if you ask someone who is retired what day it is they couldn’t tell you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down with someone who was retired and the first question that usually comes out of their mouth to me is; “What day is it?” I certainly hope there comes a time in my life where I won’t need to keep track of the days and where I need to be and when. For the most part, with a few exceptions, we can simply put the calendar away. Always knowing that the day doesn’t matter and to always have the mind-set that it is indeed five o’clock somewhere, thus, it is okay to relax, to enjoy life, and to soak in the day.

In our reading from the Gospel of Luke today, Jesus puts the calendar away but for a very different reason; let us listen once more: On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. 14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” Let that soak in for a moment. Let us imagine instead of this being a synagogue in Jesus’ time that this is a hospital in our time. Can you imagine going to the Emergency room on a Sunday and having the nurse or a doctor there tell you that because it is the Sabbath they can’t treat you? “I’m sorry sir that you chose today to have your heart attack but if you live through the day we will be happy to assist you any time after midnight tonight.” How about the firefighters and the police deciding that they cannot work on Sunday’s or for our Jewish brothers and sisters, they can’t work on Saturdays. That would certainly put a big twist on weekends wouldn’t it?

The biggest irony to me is the synagogue leader IS working isn’t he? A religious leader leading a faith service IS working. None of you have to be here on any given Sunday but you can be sure that Ron and I or a suitable substitute is expected to be here to lead the church service. We are serving the Lord and we are serving you, but we are also being compensated for being here thus, yes, we are working, and not only that we are working on the Sabbath. Now, let us return to that day where Jesus did his healing, and listen to what he has to say about it: 15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

Sometimes, work ISN’T compensated but still needs to be done. Many of us say that we do chores around the house but you and I have heard that phrasing being said as one needing to WORK around the house. Some of us cut the lawn, prepare meals for the day, do laundry, maybe clean the house and many times that is done on a Sunday. Jesus simply said to his opponents about needing to care for their livestock, yet I’m sure they had other tasks to tend to on the Sabbath which Jesus doesn’t mention.

In our reading from Jeremiah, though not specified, the calendar comes into play yet again: “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” Now, I see that perplexed look among you: “Rick, where was the calendar mentioned in what you just read to us?” It is being said in very broad terms: If you do away with the yoke of oppression EVERY DAY, if you do away with the pointing finger and the malicious talk EVERY DAY, and if you tend to the hungry and the oppressed EVERY DAY, then your light will rise in the darkness EVERY DAY.

Just as easy as it is for us to slide into a carefree life while away on vacation or upon us reaching our retirement, it is just as easy for us to slide OUT OF the yoke of oppression and negativity and slide into tending to our brothers and sisters in need. Jesus has often been referred to as the LIGHT who came to take us out of the darkness. Now, just imagine using your positive energy and adding to that light, and as each of share our own light, then we can push the darkness away forever. The wonderful thing is by doing this, the Lord will see it and guide you… always, you will no longer need to keep track of days or moments, and instead you can just enjoy light as bright as the noonday, and then sit back and truly enjoy the fine life….YOUR fine life. Amen.

Sunday August 14th, 2022  ⤵

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.

Do you remember the last time we had weeks in the ninety’s temperature wise? We have had runs of days together, but even though I lost count, I don’t think I am exaggerating that we went a good ten days minimum of 90 plus temperatures. We were barely into August, and the lawn mowers have been silent for some time. The grass so green and promising in the spring, has long been dead and brown for a good portion of the summer. Global warming seems more real to me than ever before, and I wonder if everything being put in place to try to save our planet is going to happen too late. The surface of our country from coast to coast is one which is dry, dryer, and driest. In 2007, when Ann and I met her parents in Las Vegas, we took one of our days there and went to the Hoover Dam. Walking out on the dam and looking out toward Lake Meade, the reservoir which was formed when the dam was built I remember taking pictures of the lake. The pictures I took then were scary as you could see by where the lime deposits were on the canyon walls how low the lake had gotten. I remember thinking back then that this couldn’t possibly keep going, the drought they suffer in that area of the country. Yet, today, the lake is even lower then when I saw it, and if you have paid attention to the national news over the past few weeks, they are finding things that were supposed to stay at the lake’s bottom forever. They have even found some bodies, and who knows how long they were at the bottom of the lake.

This had led me to wonder… What do you suppose God sees when he looks at this earth today, this extraordinary creation he made? We are living in crazy times, with the recent introduction of the Lantern fly to our country in just the last two or three years. On the radio, on the television, on the internet all one hears about this insect is to report where you see it, and then kill it. That feels like an all too familiar theme. We aren’t treating each other well, and if we are truly supposed to be the custodians of this planet, this temporary home, well friends, we have not done a good job caring for it. We are finding too many ways to kill this planet, and in the long run, to kill ourselves.

The naysayers and the non-believers in the world will tell you that if there is a God then God should and will fix it. God left us in charge. Would you tell your boss that he needs to clean up every mistake and mess you make or create at work? You know what your boss’s solution would be, don’t you? That is right, to get rid of the problem thus, adios to you and your job with that company. We are doing a poor job here, do we want to try to fix it ourselves or do we really want to say; if God cares so much about this planet, then let God fix it? That doesn’t work out so well in a job situation; do you think that would change if too many of us adopted the attitude of: our problem, but let God fix it?

I spoke last week about doing things to look good in front of God. Believe me, caring for this planet should be simultaneous to caring for one another. We can’t close our eyes to what is going on around us and believe that everything will change on its own. We can’t go through our lives here casually and then hope and pray that everything will be okay. With too many of us thinking; I have faith that God won’t let everything get too far out of hand. That my friends is faith on the surface and no deeper. You have just enough faith in God that you believe God won’t let anything BAD happen, and then when something does, you actually have the arrogance to be surprised. We are told over and over again in the Bible NOT to put God to the test, and yet, by saying to ourselves that God will tend to it is being naïve at best, or being totally ignorant at worst. I don’t know which is worse: pretending to be spiritual and faithful in front of others just to look good; or to have such a simple faith that your faith journey has been a short trip; beginning and ending with “I believe,” and nothing more.

Listen to the final part of our reading from Luke today. Jesus makes it clear, there is always MORE expected from us: He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time? We can’t just look at what is before us and say to ourselves; “This is all I need to know.” My friends, it is not. More times than not, we take baby steps. We see what is wrong, we say that needs to be fixed, and then more times than not, we wait for someone else to fix it. Now, before I continue, I don’t think reacting to an issue in a harsh and extreme manner is the answer either. We need to be smart, we need some patience but we also need to understand there is some sense of urgency in this world today to make it better….to make it right.

52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” I would rank these amongst the harshest words Jesus eve spoke. They are tough to hear, tougher to believe. Yet, friends, when we look around, we see great divides. I keep seeing comparisons of your generation and mine, to the generations between us. A friend posted the other day about our childhood, about summers riding bicycles and staying out until the street lights came on then knowing it was time to skedaddle home or face an unhappy parent, possibly even two. The point was we knew how to create and find fun, we didn’t need to find it on the television or a computer screen or even a telephone which doubles as a mini-computer. The world needs everything in an instant right now; instant coffee, instant information, instant banking, heck Ann and I have had two recent doctor visits over our phones. We didn’t leave the house. Recently I had my groceries delivered right to my front door… do you remember the three things which were delivered during our childhoods; MILK and butter, and the newspaper. The last newspaper I read had the story of our church’s 150th anniversary in it, and that is now four years ago.

Faith CAN NOT be instant. Faith and your relationship with God cannot be five minutes here and there. Just as we are committed to a spouse, we too need to be committed to our faith. Faith at the surface, just to say that one HAS faith is NOT what is needed now or expected from us. If we believe that God walks with us every day, shouldn’t we ALSO be along for that walk? That reminds me of a well-known poem: One night a man had a dream. He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the Lord. Across the sky flashed scenes from his life. For each scene, he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand: one belonging to him, and the other to the Lord. When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life. This really bothered him and he questioned the Lord about it. "Lord, You said that once I decided to follow you, You'd 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, when I needed you most, you would leave me." The Lord replied, "My son, My precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I Carried You." My friends there is only one reason and one reason only where the relationship between God and one of us would NOT be exactly like this: that is when we decide to remove ourselves completely, and then my friends, we would go from one set of footprints, to NO set of footprints. Keep your relationship with God deeper, and keep God closer to you, because we all need God in our lives and you never know when you might need to be carried… for a while. Amen!

Sunday July 31st, 2022  ⤵

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.

One BILLION, three hundred and forty million dollars. One stutters when they say that amount; one BILLION with a “B”, three hundred and forty million dollars. That is what the Mega Millions lottery grand prize was Friday night and one winning ticket was sold; one. That ISN’T a life changing amount; that is a generations to come changing amount. Now, we may come to find out that the winning ticket is owned by a company with fifty employees or a bowling team, or like I was once a part of a Jury that while we were involved in a months’ long trial purchased tickets together; thus the winnings will need to be split X number of ways. But, for the sake of argument, let’s just say one person and/or family has the winning ticket. If they are smart and invest well, this money will change this family forever.

Before the drawing, I saw the question posed that ALWAYS gets posed when the numbers get very large with a lottery; what would you do if you won? I have to tell you; when I saw the question I couldn’t answer it. I think many of us, when there is no pressure, no stress will answer with the politically correct answers; I’d buy a nice house for so and so, I would give to charity, I would make sure my parents or my children were taken care of. Those are all lovely and wonderful answers; but let me tell you; when I saw that the number had climbed over one BILLION dollars, my mind went numb. I have often thought I would be just fine with one MILLION dollars however when you substitute the “M” with a “B” your stress level has just gone into hyper-drive. First of all, most people can’t process that number and I will freely admit that I am one of those people. Secondly, you will suddenly find yourself surrounded by family and friends you never heard of before, and dozens of others who haven’t been a part of your lives for a very long time. That will just be the beginning of the stress this money could create.

I have spoken from this pulpit to something Jesus once said to the disciples. The exchange is found from the Gospel of Mathew: “While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

8 When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. 9 “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” 10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” Now, I am sharing this exchange to go back to my point of why one can get stressed out over a very large amount of money. With a very large amount of MONEY comes a very large amount of RESPONSIBILITY. It’s a lovely thought to say one would give to their church, or to the needy, or to other organizations and charities, but where does one draw the line? Let’s say, for an example, the winner chooses twenty charities he or she feels are worthy and gives equally to each. The person feels pretty good about themselves right up to the time a close friend or family member gets sick or even worse…dies from a disease that person hadn’t heard of prior to that moment. Then they give again. Then another person is inflicted, or a reason comes up that they feel they need to tend to. The point is, even when talking a Billion dollars, the amount IS finite, and eventually there will be no more. We will always have poor…we will always have those in need.

So, one might think the right direction to go is to hold onto what you have for as long as you have it. But, we hear Jesus address that today in our reading from Luke, let’s listen once again: “And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” We didn’t factor that into the thought process did we? If we did have more than we would ever need for ourselves, would we have a game plan for it once we are gone? We used to hear the term gold-digger an awful lot until someone got smart and created the pre-nuptial agreement. But, if we can’t give it all away because there will never be enough and we can’t hold onto it because we could be gone in an instant; then what is the answer here?

It has been said that you can make some people happy some of the time but you can’t make all people happy all of the time, and my friends, truer words have never been spoken. In our discussion today about becoming a lottery winner overnight, I promise you that the lottery winner will one day find that they have more people unhappy with them then happy. Someone, somewhere is going to be left out and in fact, there will be more people left out then people helped. Very possibly, the best answer on how to look at your gifts, and look at your surplus is to ask yourself: What is for me and what is for God? Start there, and eventually, hopefully, everything else will work out. But, I also had those questions reversed; it should be; what is for God, THEN, what is for me?

At this point of the conversation, we may be very confused. I can’t give it all away because I can’t help everybody and I can’t save it because I can’t take it with me when God calls me home. Let’s see if we can relieve some of the confusion; let’s begin with what your honest and sincere intentions are. God isn’t interested in you doing what’s right just so you can reach the gates of heaven and say to God; “Look, look at all the charities I gave to and look at all the people I helped. I did that for you!” Wrong! You did that for YOU so you could look good before God. Choose who you want to help because you SINCERELY want to help them, NOT to score points with God. “I’ve had three relatives die of cancer so I’m giving to this charity or this hospital for cancer research because I never want to see anyone go through that again.” THAT’S a reason, a sincere reason. God was nowhere in that statement, but I will tell you now, by giving in the way you did what you did was for you AND for God. You are walking down the street to a diner, and someone comes up and ask you for money so they can get a bite to eat. Instead of giving them the money you invite them into the diner with you and you learn a little bit about this person. You are so touched by this person’s story, you walk them across the street from the diner, walk into a store and buy them socks and a new t-shirt they desperately need. Again my friends, you did that for yourself, and you did it for God. Yet, the entire time you were with this stranger, the only time God came into the equation was when you shared a prayer with this stranger before eating.

None of us won this huge lottery. That may be a gift all by itself. But, that doesn’t mean we don’t have gifts to share, ways to give to those in need. The mindset we need to get ourselves to is the next time we do come into some money or any other kind of surplus, instead of saying to ourselves how can this help me, the real question we should ask is; how can this help someone else? When more of us get to that kind of thought process.. oh my what a world we would then be living in…. and what a happy God we would meet when we arrive at his kingdom. Amen!

Sunday July 24th, 2022  ⤵

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 would like to go back to the typical family I introduced you to last week. A husband and wife, two daughters ages 12 and 10, lastly, a four year old son. Last week, I gave you a scenario of a very busy and active family, doing things together and very supportive of each other. The biggest thing missing from their lives was time to worship; time for God. Other than that, we will presume the family to be very loving and for the most part, happy day in and day out. You know, just like most of the families we grew up with on television; the Brady Bunch, Eight is Enough, Happy Days, Leave it to Beaver, or whomever else you may have watched, or knew that your children watched.

This week, I want to throw a giant curveball into the mix. For the sake of argument, let’s say that ALL is NOT well within our typical family, and it begins with the fact that the daughters do not like, nor have they ever accepted their little brother into the family because he is a boy. They love their daddy but for these two sisters, the idea of a brother is more than they care to bear. You see, they were perfectly happy with the family dynamic as it was until their little brother made the scene, then, EVERTHING changed. Because the girls are only two years apart, the oldest daughter doesn’t remember that much about her little’s sister’s time when she was born, and how much time an infant requires. No, most of the time, when the baby was put down for a nap so was older sister, thus, for the most part, they were on the same schedule. When their brother arrived, both girls were already in school, with the oldest in third grade and the youngest in first. When they came home from school they would want to share their day with their mother but she was often too busy with their brother, and thus the girls began to form some resentment toward him, and although he was their little brother, they often would not acknowledge that fact. Now, let me ask you; is the scenario I just laid out to you completely unheard of?

What if we really upped the ante on this family? Let’s say the son was born with some health issues or that one of his limbs is disfigured. He requires even MORE attention and care than a healthy four year old requires, and the girls are feeling even MORE left-out, to the point where they often feel that they totally need to fend for themselves, that they in a way have been removed from the family structure they long for and know that many of their friends have. Even worse, the time, the money, and the care the four year old require has stressed the husband and wife to their breaking points, and that family we discussed last week and the family we are discussing now are about as far apart as two families can be. This poor four year old, through no fault of his own has become a subject who is not recognized or accepted by his own sisters as one of their own, a member of their family. Again, I ask, do none of us know a family like this, or have known one in the past?

Right about now I sense that many of you are saying to yourself that this is NOT a Christmas related story and might be wondering if I forgot when I wrote this that today was our Christmas in July service. Right now, you are thinking this is about as far away from Christmas as this message and story can get, but I beg to differ. First, let us remember where Jesus was born. He was born where calves, lambs, chicks and other livestock were born, NOT humans. The very place Jesus is born should be considered unacceptable and the setting certainly was not recognized as a place a human baby would be born. But, if you think I’m reaching here to tie together the birth of Christ with the family of the four year old we have been talking about for two weeks, let us go to today’s Gospel reading from John. We will hear some disturbing news here also: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.6 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. I know, you are saying to yourselves right now that these verses are harmless. Here are the verses which should give us pause: 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. The world was made through him yet the world did NOT recognize him. He came to that which was his own but his own did NOT receive him.

My guess is that if I told the story of the four year old and his family to 200 strangers and then read this passage from the Bible they would have more empathy and compassion for the made-up family than they would for the baby Jesus. Which, if I am correct with that theory, would make John’s verses as relevant TODAY as they were when they were first written. 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. Let’s put all the pieces together of the birth of Jesus for a moment, and while we do this keep those verses rolling over in your mind. God did NOT just send Jesus here, he had Jesus born to a woman just as you and I were. OK, granted, this woman was a virgin, but she was still a woman. Jesus is born in a MANGER. No special treatment here, in fact, one could make the argument that this was more than a humble way for Jesus to enter the world. There is no time warp, we don’t go from Jesus being born to Jesus being an adult. OK, you have me again, in the Bible there is only one reference to Jesus as a child in the temple, but, at least we hear that he was a child and there are references to him growing up with Joseph and Mary. My point is, God could have just as easily placed a full grown Jesus among us. Then Jesus could have begun his ministry without the complications and unknowns we all go through during childhood. But, if you give any thought to Jesus suddenly appearing then the verses we have been discussing regarding being unrecognized and unaccepted would probably be even further into play probably to the point where Jesus would have been viewed as either an alien or some might have seen him as a demon if he had just suddenly appeared. The good news comes with the verse which follow those we have emphasized here today. Let’s listen further: Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. Some did recognize him during his life, and saw who he was and gave him his due praises and recognition. Over the years since Jesus walked the earth millions if not billions have recognized Jesus as the Son of God and have accepted him as their Savior. To all who have done so, Jesus has given us the right to be children of God. As children of God we appreciate and welcome these final verses: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. And to that we can forever say….Amen!

Sunday July 10th, 2022  ⤵

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.

In the book: To Kill a Mockingbird, we get this quote which has been repeated in various versions since but the original says; “You can choose your friends but you sho' can't choose your family, an' they're still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge 'em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don't.” There is a lot of truth in this observation. We can’t choose our parents, our siblings, our aunts and uncles, nor our cousins. Thus, our family is our family. Most of the time, we are born into that family, at other times we are adopted into that family, but none-the-less, either way, we didn’t get a say into the matter. As I have made aware in the past to all of you, I was adopted into mine, and I will tell you, I have wondered what my life would have turned out like if I had been adopted by anyone else other than Rosely and George LaFever. NOT, because of anything negative, no quite the opposite, I often consider myself the luckiest adopted child ever. I grew up in a great neighborhood, with extremely loving parents and even better yet, loving and caring grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. I lacked from nothing. But, I know from talking with others that not all adopted children are that fortunate. You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family. Adopted into or born into, the statement holds equally true.

The statement you can’t choose your family got me to thinking about the other things in life we can’t choose. For instance; we CAN choose the job we want and the company we want to work for well, that is half-true. Those who do the hiring for that company do have to choose us also. But, once you begin working for the company, you can’t choose those you will be working with. Think about the co-workers you have had in the past. Did any become close friends? Are there some you barely knew and others you wish you NEVER knew? There is a major change coming in my life this week in regards to my full-time job. Beginning later this week, I will report for the same company, but to a different dealership. This past Friday was my last day at the Chevrolet store in Princeton. Ann asked me before I went in on Friday whether or not it was a sad day for me. The truth was; no, it really wasn’t. I have been there four years and there are many co-workers I enjoyed working with, but truth be told, through promotions or other opportunities, those I liked the most and had any level of concern for had already moved on to their other ventures before me. Thus, for the most part, with only a few exceptions, I was leaving relative strangers anyway. Most of my current co-workers were so new that I know their names but precious little else. Thus, there were no feelings, I simply packed up my desk, gave a hug to the one guy left in the building who started at the same time as me, we exchanged cell phone numbers and… I simply walked out of the place onto my new professional adventure. Where I am going, I don’t get to choose who I am working with, nor did any of them have a choice in my arrival. Will we like each other and will we be accepting of each other is yet to be written, but I go in hopeful and with gleeful anticipation.

You know who else we don’t get to choose? Our neighbors! When you looked at where you wanted to live you looked at the proximity of how close it was to your job, if your children were school age you probably looked at the school system, you may have looked at the taxes for the town. You chose a house which had everything you wanted in it, or most everything. But, chances are; you didn’t look to see who your neighbors would be. Did any become friends with you or do you see them on occasion? I have spoken of the neighborhood I grew up in, for the most part it was close knit and we definitely looked out for one another. The neighborhood I live in now…I couldn’t tell you any of their names. We wave at each other and say hello as we pass one another and that is it. As far apart as the neighborhood I grew up in as one can get. But, I will say this, we DO look out for one another. When a stranger was eyeing my car a few years back one of my neighbors alerted me to the fact. So, there is that.

Last week, we discussed a comment about our country acting like itself, Americans acting like Americans, and what that could mean. This week, let me pose this question to you; what makes a good neighbor? We have heard for years; “Like a good neighbor, State Farm Insurance is there.” So, what does that mean? Is a good neighbor someone who keeps to themselves and thus, they are no bother to the rest of the neighborhood? Does a good neighbor keep their property well maintained, thus, aesthetically pleasing to the rest of the neighborhood? Is a good neighbor the one you can run next door to for a cup of sugar? The one who hosts the July 4th neighborhood bash? Who or what makes a good neighbor?

We hear that question posed today in our reading from the Gospel of Luke. We learn who Jesus thinks a good neighbor is in one of the most well-known and liked parables in the Bible; let’s listen once more: 25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” I have to be honest, as a pastor, what used to be one of my two favorite parables is now hard for me to read. Especially because the very first person Jesus uses as a POOR example is a priest. That said, it is an excellent reminder that we are ALL flawed, no matter the wealth, or what position we hold in life. Now, the remaining two are identified by where they come from. The first is a Levite, and the Levites were known for their great compassion and faith in God, thus they served as aides to priests, yet, the Levite too offers no assistance to the man in need. The one who DOES offer assistance, and I would dare say, goes above and beyond assistance to the man in need is a Samaritan. The Samaritans were despised and considered outcasts, yet this is the one Jesus chose to use as an example of doing the RIGHT THING. Again, just as stature doesn’t mean one will do the right thing, stature doesn’t mean one will do the wrong thing either. A priest, a King, a Governor, a tax collector, a shepherd, a rich man a poor man, a woman, any race, any age, could have walked past this man in need and done nothing, OR any of them could have done the right thing. Jesus makes it clear, we WILL be measured by what we do and not who we are.

We can’t choose our family. We can’t choose our co-workers and we certainly can’t choose our neighbors. What we CAN choose, is how we interact with them, how we treat them, and how we respond to them. Are you a GOOD NEIGHBOR? If the answer is no or you aren’t sure then I’ve got good news! There’s still time for you to become one! Amen!

Sunday July 3rd, 2022  ⤵

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 read a comment this past week that said we as Americans should NOT celebrate Independence Day again until we begin acting again like Americans. I’m not entirely sure what that means because I didn’t see any other comments after that. Although the comment confused me, it did get me to thinking, first; what does acting like an American mean, and second; what prompted this comment to begin with? Let’s begin with the second, what may have prompted this comment to begin with, and I think that it is directed to the controversial ruling recently from the Supreme Court and the investigation into what transpired on January 6, when American citizens stormed the Capitol building. Now, before anyone here gets too nervous, I am NOT going to go into taking sides one way or the other on the Supreme Court ruling. What I will say is this country is getting passionate about what is happening, what decisions are being made, and I know that the two extremely hot button conversations going on right now pertain to the woman’s right to choose, and gun control. These two topics have initiated intense conversations from both sides of the argument in each of these heated issues.

The concern I have is this; how much listening is done during these types of conflicts. When one side is so strongly opinionated and passionate about making sure they are heard do they take ANY time at all to listen to the other side? I think the answer is NO. This is where we get into trouble. This is why tempers flare and communications end. The conversation ends being a conversation when both sides of the argument are saying; “I’m right, and here’s why but refuses to listen to what the other side has to say. At the beginning of the musical “1776” we find John Adams proclaiming that the colonies needed to defend themselves from England and become our own country. The Congress responds to Adams by telling him that they have “heard it all before.” But did they? Many at first disagreed with him, and it wasn’t until the Declaration of Independence was written when Congress finally begins to listen and has their own say on the document. Too often we run to an opinion based off what we think we hear as opposed to what is actually being said. Too often we race to our mind set, without ever first opening our minds to all the possibilities. The best decisions in life are when cool, thought out thought-processes are applied and not just a gut reaction. Even if that gut reaction is right, to turn others to accepting it as correct often requires a calm but firm voice, as opposed to an angry and demanding one. All of us have seen what usually happens when we place a demand on someone they will almost always recoil and rebel. Explain to that person in a calm and reasonable manner why something needs to be done and more times than not you will get the result you are looking for. The phrase; “You catch more with honey than you do with vinegar” is said often because it is true. July 4th exists in the United States because England kept placing more and more demands on the colonies. We became rebels, and a new country because of it.

Thus, is that what the person meant when they said we should act like Americans? The rebels ARE out there, the defiant ones ARE protesting. In fact, they are protesting loud enough that on January 6 people died. Most recently many protestors have been arrested while trying to make their point. Or, was the comment meant to mean that we as a country usually respond more civilly, especially toward one another, and those we disagree with, we try to disagree respectfully. If that was the point behind the comment, then yes, I would agree; we haven’t acted that way in a very long time. Since Covid broke out, all of us here as others around the world have gotten used to something on a pretty regular basis; someone somewhere wants to take our temperature. They literally want to know how we are feeling. I think, it is time for us to figuratively take our temperature, because it doesn’t appear that we ARE acting like we should; whether that means acting like an American, acting like a Christian, acting like a human being or all of the above, it does appear we are drifting off-course. I wonder if we all could slow down long enough, take a breath, and STOP wanting to make sure our point is heard while NOT listening to the opposite point of view, what would happen? Two people or two groups of people facing each other saying I’m right and here’s why at the same exact time is now and always will be a stalemate. But, if we can get back to; you go first and I’ll listen, then I’ll go and you listen I think we would get very positive results more times than not. But, we have to TRY.

Let’s listen once again to our reading today from Luke, and while you listen to the reading this time, imagine Jesus asking the same thing today; and let’s see where our thoughts take us: “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.” “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. How many towns do you think this group would be welcomed in today? Jesus sent out the seventy-two so they could take the temperature of the towns they were entering. If Jesus sent out seventy-two today what do you think the results would be? How many times do you think those who are sent would need to say to the town they are visiting; “Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet…?”

The seventy-two returned to Jesus with wonderful news: “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” 18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” That is an interesting response: Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven. Jesus gave them a directive, they took the temperature of these towns and they came back basically saying the towns were healthy, yet Jesus says; don’t rejoice because of that. Rejoice that “your names are written in heaven.” THAT my friends is the end game, and until we as a race recognize that the rewards here mean little but how we act and what we do means EVERYTHING we are nothing more than dust God is wiping from his feet. We need to recognize that it is indeed time for us to take our temperature, and see that we ARE sick. It has been said that one can NOT fix an issue until first identifying that there is INDEED an issue. We have issues; the good news is, we still have time to fix them. Let’s work at getting our names written in heaven. Amen!

Sunday June 26th, 2022  ⤵

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.

Growing up in Good Shepherd Lutheran Church I found my favorite service of the year to be Easter. There was something truly special about the Easter service which always made it more astounding to me. Listen, anyone of a Christian faith has to rank Easter services among their favorites if for no other reason than all the reasons behind Easter itself. Christ defeated death. Christ HAS risen. By doing so, Jesus Christ shows us that death is NOT the end. Jesus leaves our sins up on the Cross and never turns back. A promise of a new life, eternal life awaits those who accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. What could possibly make the Easter service any better?

For me, the answer was easy. It was the music. The music was happy, the music was uplifting, the music could and very often WOULD move me to tears. You see, just like we have here in Ron Howell, Good Shepherd was blessed with a wonderful organist. On Easter Sunday, he would have that organ playing at a different level, or at least that is how it seemed. But, Good Shepherd would do something else on Easter they didn’t do or at least I don’t remember them doing at any other time of the year. They had three or four brass players who would play on their own as well as in unison of the organist. Their music would lift you ten feet off the ground and as the church members would head into the first verse of Christ is Risen, Alleluia, tears would come down my face, my body would convulse, my emotions would reach levels that I couldn’t comprehend. It was here I discovered the power behind the ministry of music.

When Ann and I moved to East Windsor and decided to look into what local church we would attend, Ann asked if I would consider the church she and I got married in; First Presbyterian of Hightstown. I said yes and one Sunday we went. I was checking off different things on my wish list during the service but the final selling point came immediately following the sermon. Reverend Fred Doscher came down off the pulpit and took a tambourine in his hand and led the congregation in a hymn. I’ll be honest, for the life of me I CAN’T tell you what that hymn was, but I CAN tell you that I felt the energy inside the sanctuary change. I could feel us being lifted like an Eagle floating in an up current. There were many factors why Ann and I joined First Presbyterian, but I will tell you, for me the decision became very easy when I saw the power of the ministry of music once again at work, and how much it contributed to the church service.

Think about your favorite hymn or hymns. What do hymns like In the Garden, The Old Rugged Cross, How Great Thou Art, Nearer My God to Thee, or What A Friend we have in Jesus, do for you when you hear them played, or we sing them during the church service. I know I barely scratched the surface there of favorite hymns, but I think you get my point. How about listening to a choir and/or a congregation singing Handel’s Messiah? How can anyone NOT be moved by Onward Christian Soldiers, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, or When the Saints Come Marching In? The music during a church service is there to be a celebration, to be motivational, to be uplifting, to be mood setting, to be thought provoking, and sometimes it is there to lift you up while at other times it is there to calm you down, to remove the stress away and allow you to commune with God in a personal and intimate way.

First Presbyterian Church of Lakewood has been blessed by a wonderful musical ministry throughout its’ history. It was obviously important to this congregation as the pictures in Fellowship Hall depict different choirs through the years. You had a bell choir, I believe I heard about youth choirs during the church’s heyday, and there were musicals performed within the church. Shortly after my arrival, there was a choir night held here with several local church choirs performing. The ministry of music was kept alive here right up to a few years ago, until Virginia could physically no longer lead the “mighty mites.” Ron Howell and his extraordinary talents on the keyboards and the organ have been a lovely continuation of the music ministry here. It is only right for us to give thanks to Ron today, and consider the gift of his music ministry he has shared with all of us.

As we heard today from our reading from Exodus, music ministry dates all the way back to Moses: “Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord: “I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea. 2 “The Lord is my strength and my defense]; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. 3 The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name.” Of all the ways I described how hymns can impact us, what Moses and the Israelites were singing is very different. The first sentence sounds like something we would sing: I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Sounds reasonable for the way a hymn may begin, but immediately after this, it becomes something very different: Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea. Why would we sing about this? We can’t say it’s a mistake because it continues: 4 Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he has hurled into the sea. The best of Pharaoh’s officers are drowned in the Red Sea. 5 The deep waters have covered them; they sank to the depths like a stone. 6 Your right hand, Lord, was majestic in power. Your right hand, Lord, shattered the enemy. “In the greatness of your majesty you threw down those who opposed you. You unleashed your burning anger; it consumed them like stubble. It comes across as being a little harsh doesn’t it? Pharaoh’s officers are drowned in the Red Sea… They were SINGING this? At first glance it sounds cold, it sounds inhuman. Yes, it’s true, these were the people who were enslaving and trying to destroy the Israelites. But, this song in return almost sounds like they were mocking what happened. That is at first glance, but let us now take a second look and include these verses they were also singing: “The Lord is my strength and my defense]; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. 3 The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name….” Your right hand, Lord, was majestic in power. Your right hand, Lord, shattered the enemy. “In the greatness of your majesty you threw down those who opposed you. When one looks at these verses, it has a different feel to it. It sounds like the Israelites were in awe, and they were praising what they witnessed in their God, and in that awe, in that praise they could also rejoice, because their mortal enemy had been defeated, and God demonstrated why they should remain true to him. Thus, they turned their praise and all they witnessed into a song of thanks and glory to God. They sang to what they witnessed, both the horrible results of battle but also the incredible weapon they had on their side. GOD himself.

Nothing like this would ever be found in a hymnal today. Listen; Onward Christian Soldiers is nearly impossible to find in any contemporary Christian hymnal. Why? Because it doesn’t sound Christian at all; Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war, with the Cross of Jesus, marching on before. As good Christians, we should be about peace, about forgiveness. Yet, it has been said that the spoils go to the victors. In our reading today we hear familiar verses from Palm Sunday: When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”[“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” 40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” A usually very subdued and humble Jesus speaks volumes here: If my disciples went quiet, the stones themselves would cry out. Jesus saw the power behind the ministry of music, it could move even those without voice to sing out in praise. Today we recognize the power and the ministry of music. To that, we also recognize the wonderful music ministry of Ron Howell. Whom, I am certain with very little effort, could get stones to sing. Amen!

Sunday June 19th, 2022  ⤵

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!

When I began thinking about today’s Father’s Day message a song popped into my head almost immediately. Now, I know that historically I usually open my Mother’s Day and my Father’s Day messages with a funny anecdote, but I am going to go slightly off tradition today by reciting some of the lyrics from that song I couldn’t stop thinking about. Now, before I recite these lyrics, I will tell you these two items which help make this song pertinent for today: let’s begin with me sharing with you that the first few times I heard this song, it made me laugh. Thus, although not a traditional anecdote several of the verses can be seen as amusing. The second thing I want to tell you is this; the very first time I heard this song, I was with my dad, and we were watching it get performed on television by none other than the man in black; Johnny Cash. Now, I will NOT be sharing all the verses from this song because several are not safe for a church environment. But I will give you enough of the verses to show you why this song came flooding into my head!

"A Boy Named Sue" by Johnny Cash (1969)

Well, my daddy left home when I was three, And he didn't leave much to ma and me Just this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze.

Now, I don't blame him 'cause he run and hid. But the meanest thing that he ever did; Was before he left, he went and named me "Sue"

Well, it was Gatlinburg in mid-July, And I just hit town and my throat was dry, I thought I'd stop and have myself a brew. ,At an old saloon on a street of mud; there at a table dealing stud, Sat the dirty, mangy dog that named me "Sue."

Well, I knew that snake was my own sweet dad, from a worn-out picture that my mother had And I knew that scar on his cheek and his evil eye. He was big and bent and gray and old And I looked at him and my blood ran cold; And I said, "My name is Sue! How do you do? And he said, “Son, this world is rough, and if a man’s gonna make it, he’s gotta be tough and I knew I wouldn’t be there to help you along. So I gave you that name and I said goodbye. I knew you’d have to get tough or die and it’s that name that helped make you strong…

Now, I believe there are a lot of you out there who might be able to relate to this song in a way. Not that your father’s named any of you men out there; SUE, or any of you women out there; Frank. But, I am guessing that somewhere along the line your Dad taught you a tough hard lesson that at the moment he was teaching it to you; you found it less than inspiring. In fact, depending on how hard the lesson was, maybe you too had to get tough or die. But, that does take the lesson to the extreme, or maybe your Dad helped you find your way when you were either too scared or too uncertain on how to do it. Maybe, your father refused to help you one time where you felt abandoned by your own father, yet after that time was done, you realized he had chosen this as the time for YOU to realize there WERE going to be times when you would be all alone, and the only one you would have available to help you get through whatever crisis you were facing, was going to be you alone.

Now, don’t get me wrong; sometimes it is the mother who needs to teach this lesson, especially in a single-parent household. But, many times it is the father who is the one that draws the line in the sand; the one that knocks you down on purpose just to see if you have it within yourself, to GET BACK UP. If your father did it right, you hold no animosity toward him, in fact, if he did it right you respect and cherish him even more. Because I don’t need to remind anyone here that no one promised us a wonderful and beautiful life which from cradle to grave would be lived WITHOUT some angst, WITHOUT some drama, WITHOUT some self-doubt. If your father did it right, he watched how you would respond, and as I mentioned before, both figuratively AND literally, your father was there to make sure you got back up and if for whatever reason, the moment was just too much for you, he would indeed help you up.

Don’t you think that is how our relationship with God is? In our reading today from the first Book of Kings, listen to how God responds to Elijah: “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.” 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. 9 There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” 11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by….”Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” 15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came…” Now, it should be noted that we do skip an important part of the story. Right after Elijah basically gives up and asks the Lord to take his life, instead he falls asleep only to wake up to an Angel asking him to eat and drink, and he finds he has bread and water. Strengthened by what was provided, he was able to travel yet another forty days. Think about this for a moment. Think about a time in your life when you felt like you were at the end of your rope, but suddenly, what you needed most, like in Elijah’s case, the need for nourishment; suddenly presented itself. Sometimes, what is needed and provided for comes from a loved one; like our fathers. At other times it is provided by a much higher power; like our Father in heaven.

That said, we still have a very frightened Elijah running away from those meant to do him harm. While on the run, God gets involved. Who thinks that Elijah heard what he wanted to hear: And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” 11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by….”Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” 15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came…” What are you doing here; a questioned asked not once but twice from the Lord. That is NOT insignificant. Think back to conversations you may have had with your father and he asked you the same question a few times. It isn’t that he forgot what you said, but it is asked several times so that YOU hear the question. The question gets repeated because you either didn’t provide an answer OR you provided the WRONG answer. Who thinks that the words Elijah heard were the hardest ones to hear: They are trying to kill me Lord. Yes, now go back the way you came…. How many of us got taught THAT lesson sometime in our lives: If you run away now, you will just keep running forever. The alternative, the hard choice is to stop and face the issue head on. In most cases it WILL make you stronger and wiser. You WILL learn to stand on your own.

Yes, there will always be hard times in our lives. It is usually our father’s job to be the one to make sure we have the strength and the ability to face those times. Yes, each of us has had that lesson taught to us and we hated it the entire time the lesson was being taught. Yet, it got us through the times we had no choice but to fight through. Tough love that helped us when we needed it most. If you don’t thinks so, just go find yourself a boy named Sue. He will probably give you… the right point of view! Amen.

Sunday June 12th, 2022  ⤵

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.

The stand-up comedian Lewis Black in one of his routines makes an observation about God and how God is presented in the Old Testament and how God is presented in the New Testament. Now, I’m going to clean up what he says but basically his observation is that God is portrayed as nasty and angry throughout the Old Testament but is portrayed as more loving and forgiving in the New Testament. He isn’t completely wrong, in fact one might say his observation is fairly accurate. Because we know that God was NOT pleased with Adam and Eve, and we know that God was disappointed to say the least when Cain killed Abel. It wasn’t all that long ago that we talked about Noah and God flooding the world to start over because of how unhappy God was with the human race, and we know that Moses had to reason with God to prevent him from destroying mankind yet again. By the way, to be fair to Mr. Black, he DOES admit during his monologue that God had every right to be angry and disappointed, because we would often act the fool and as I mentioned last week while discussing the Tower of Babel, too often we got a little full of ourselves and would get ourselves just shy of the line where we could say; “We don’t need God. We can do it all ourselves.” God knows, what you and I today hate to admit; we don’t do well when left to our own devices.

Lewis Black also states that he isn’t sure why God seems to soften up in the New Testament. I believe it is because Jesus could tell us about God in terms we understand and just as we discussed last week about talking the same language, I believe it is Jesus who finds the way for God and us to talk the same language, and understand each other a little more. But, I also want to point out a few things that should make us all reconsider how we may be viewing God throughout the Old Testament. Because I know that more than once I have stated from this pulpit that on several occasions God could have and one could argue possibly SHOULD have stopped this experiment called the human race, and allow the other creatures who roam this planet to own it and make it theirs. But, God didn’t do that, in fact, God very often responded by doing something for our continued benefit.

God could have ended everything with Adam and Eve. He didn’t. He banned them from the Garden of Eden but he allowed them to live, and to procreate, and thus the human race was started for better or worse, and today my friends we exist because God DIDN’T stop everything before it could get started. Yes, God flooded the earth and destroyed most living beings during the flood. But, there was Noah, there was Noah’s son’s with their spouses, and there was a ship filled with two of every species. Thus, when the flood waters subsided and the earth was returned to itself again, life on this planet COULD continue, and God gave us a continual reminder with rainbows that he would NEVER destroy this planet again. Rainbows for our continual benefit that God not only makes promises to us, God keeps them. God gave us the Ten Commandments through Moses and throughout the Old Testament God found suitable and extraordinary servants and messengers he could use, and they were chosen for our continued benefit, to build many bridges between us and God, bridges used by and welcomed by the truly righteous and faithful among us.

I find it interesting in our reading today from Proverbs that Wisdom is described almost as a living being. Let’s listen once more: “Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice? 2 At the highest point along the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand;3 beside the gate leading into the city, at the entrance, she cries aloud:4 “To you, O people, I call out; I raise my voice to all mankind. “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; 23 I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. 24 When there were no watery depths, I was given birth, when there were no springs overflowing with water; 25 before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth,26 before he made the world or its fields or any of the dust of the earth…. Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence,31 rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” Wisdom is referred to as SHE, and then as if wisdom itself speaks to us; Then I was constantly at his side I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind. This is extraordinary. Wisdom humanizing itself by using I in it’s’ description: I was constantly at God’s side…I was filled with delight day after day…I rejoiced in God’s presence and in the world God created, and I delighted in mankind. When it comes to our continued benefit, do you think God trusted in Wisdom enough to help guide him, so that God could and WOULD go out to find the Noah’s, Moses’, Abraham’s, Isaiah’s and David’s of the world. How could any of us possibly say “NO?”

While we are on the subject of the Old Testament, let us also acknowledge the number one tool left to us for our benefit. Those that wrote the Books of the Bible. It is believed, by the way, that the first five books of the Bible were written by Moses. Moses didn’t only serve the people he lived with during their time, Moses gave us God’s blueprint as well as the Ten Commandments. But yes, my friends, this should come as no surprise to any of you, but the Bible is in place for our continued benefit, as it was for our forefathers, and as it will be for the generations which are yet to follow us.

Now, we turn ourselves over to the New Testament, and a more loving and forgiving God as Mr. Black pointed out. Arguably the most recognized and popular verse of the New Testament and possibly the entire Bible itself comes from the Gospel of John, Chapter 3, verse 16: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Now this is entirely a rhetorical question but is there anyone here that DOESN’T believe Jesus was sent to us for our continued benefit. Whoever believes in Jesus Christ shall NOT perish but have eternal life. Jesus comes to us AND takes the Cross for our continued benefit. But, while here, Jesus teaches, teaches some more and then teaches us what he already taught us. While here, Jesus showed us how to live our lives. While here, Jesus called out those who were NOT sincere in their faith and he called out those who were using their positions for selfish reason and NOT the reason originally intended. Jesus also left for our continued benefit a lovely way to remember him by and to renew our faith in him, by leaving us Holy Communion; “Do this, in memory of me.” Again, Jesus didn’t come for just those he spent time with. Before taking the Cross, Jesus also tells his disciples that although he won’t be with them any longer, he IS going to send them help, and in the long run, send that same help to each and every one of us: “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.” The Spirit of Truth will guide all of us into all the truth. The Spirit will glorify Jesus because it is from Jesus what is to be made known to us. My friends, don’t doubt for one minute that what Jesus wants us to know when the Holy Spirit comes to us has one purpose; it is for our continued benefit, and we should listen. Amen!

Sunday June 5th, 2022  ⤵

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.

When we look at the difficulties the human race has I wonder how many could be fixed and if not fixed at least IMPROVED if we could all speak the same language. It has been said that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. We know that isn’t true, but when a couple is speaking to each other it very well could feel that way as the two individuals may feel like they ARE planets apart from one another. If you ever wonder why congress can’t agree on anything it’s because they can look at the same issue and even have the same opinion on that issue, but something will get “lost in the translation” because one side comes at it from a conservative point of view and the other side comes at it from a liberal point of view. Even when we speak the same language, often we don’t understand one another.

We let too many outside interferences disrupt the communication process. Thus, we don’t see what someone else sees or hear what someone else hears. One would think it would be getting easier with the internet and with so much mass media, but the truth is, we often find ourselves not talking the same language. Someone might develop romantic feelings for another because they misread something in body language or in something that was said. Even the written word can be misinterpreted because there is no emotion behind it. Emoji’s which are used over text and the internet seemed to be quickly put into place so something written isn’t misinterpreted; like when someone makes a joke they follow what they say with a smiling or laughing face. This is show the other person: look, this is joke, don’t take it seriously. Without the emoji, feelings can get hurt, and friendships can quickly dissolve.

Part of the problem may be that we give up too easily. We fail to seek common ground. A co-worker recently had a big blow-out with her live-in boyfriend. She was terrified that the relationship might abruptly end, and she shared her concerns with me. She told me she loved him and still wanted to be with him, but she was afraid that they had reached a moment in their relationship where it could no longer be salvaged. I told her to rely on their history together, to trust in the fact that they had gotten through hard times before. She said she didn’t know what to say to him. I told her to trust her gut; that the right words would come. A couple of days later she came to me and told me everything was resolved. She told me that they talked for a long time, mostly because he wasn’t seeing her point of view with things. But, she told me she kept saying how she felt, but using different ways to say it, until she said it in a way where she could see the light bulb go off in his eyes; where he finally got what she was saying. It was important enough for her to keep coming up with a way for him to understand, she needed to find a way where they were talking the same language.

Our reading today from Genesis can be a little unsettling. But, remember this is coming from early on in the process between God and us, thus, our relationship at this point is very much a work in progress. Let’s listen once again: “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. 3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” 5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” 8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.” Now, when we look at this at first glance it would appear to be self-defeating. Wouldn’t it be better for God and the world if we all were talking the same language? As I earlier alluded to, EVEN when we ARE speaking the same language we have difficulty relating to one another. If we can’t comprehend what the other person is saying it’s impossible.

But, God saw that with this knowledge we were also beginning to grow an arrogance amongst ourselves. This verse speaks volumes: “Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves;”… A tower that reaches to the heavens…so that we may make a name for ourselves. My friends, we get in trouble when we get cocky, and thinking we could build a tower to the heavens so that we can look at it and say; “Look what WE did!” This is about as cocky as one can get. We build a tower which reaches to the heavens. We think that’s worthy of bragging. We think we are pretty special. The next thing being said here, and though it isn’t said in the Bible but you just know that God is aware that the next thing coming out of the people’s mouth is; “Look what we can do. We don’t NEED God!” That, my friends is why God did what he did. A little humble pie because we could build a tower, while forgetting that tower is built on a planet GOD created, with materials which GOD created, and built with the abilities GOD gave to us when CREATING us! God said, “Go ahead cocky ones, go build your tower. Then WATCH what happens next!

Some two thousand years later, after the arrival of Jesus, we see a reversal of sorts; so that the message which needs to be delivered can be understood by all; as we hear today from our reading of Acts: “5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” That is the question here, isn’t it; what does this mean? My friends this is a reminder that Jesus came for all of us. This is a reminder that God loves all of us. Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to spread the Good News about him just to the Galileans. Jesus didn’t say to his disciples to spread the word and preach to just a few selected. No, and Jesus DID say that he would send the Holy Spirit to them, and today as the fire danced on their tongues it came with the ability to speak in other languages. The SAME message for ALL.

Today we heard God respond to the Tower of Babel by reminding us that there is only ONE God, who deserves our respect, and our praise. No matter what the human race creates it will NEVER equal that to what God has created. Today we also heard the disciples given the gift to speak in foreign tongues, so that NO ONE missed out on the teachings and the ministry of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. On this temporary home we call earth we will probably never again talk the same language. But, no matter what language we hear it in, if we have faith in the Triune God, if we believe Jesus is our Lord and Savior, it won’t matter what language we speak when we arrive at Heaven’s Door. Because I am fairly certain that once you cross THAT threshold….EVERYONE speaks the same language. Amen!

Sunday May 22nd, 2022  ⤵

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. One of the first things you are taught in scouts is to leave a place you visit nicer and better than how you found it. That meant at minimum, when you left that place there should be little to no evidence left behind that you were even there. But sometimes, it meant that you were going to be part of a large clean-up, or in some cases, you were going to build something or repair something that had been damaged or weathered beyond safe usage. I remember repairing a bridge, cleaning up a section of hiking trail which had been washed out, and repairing a lean-to. What the scoutmasters don’t teach you or prepare you for is how good you feel AFTERWARDS. Not only do you feel successful in completing the task at hand, but having the knowledge that a complete stranger, or many strangers you are never going to meet are going to appreciate your efforts and that could place a smile on one’s face for days at a time.

When I got to my senior year in high school I took a responsibility for my high school choir with the freshman and the sophomores especially. I remembered that I was the target of bullies and practical jokers for the first two years of high school. Despite my size I was pushed around especially by the seniors, and especially those who played football. I was hazed regularly, as I wasn’t wanted on the football team by many of the older players. But, I loved football, and I got through all the gruff sent my way. Senior year, I saw to it that the freshman and sophomores I was associated with didn’t get bullied or abused. So much so that those who wrote in my yearbook began with dear dad or Uncle Rick. I wanted to leave behind an attitude toward the younger classmates that was much nicer and better than the one shown to me.

Four years ago I was invited to the 40th Anniversary of the Rowan University Emergency Medical Services Squad which I knew as the Glassboro State First Aid Squad. I got to see several friends I served with I hadn’t seen for a while , who had a lot more to do with the Squad’s beginnings than I did, however I do play a role in the history of the squad by responding to and saving the life of a female student who decided to respond to her Dear Jane letter by taking sleeping pills with alcohol. It was the first life and death call the squad responded to. Now 44 years later I get to follow what the squad does through the internet. Those original members I got to serve with see it also, and I know there is a lot of pride knowing what we left behind.

It is almost unfair to see how much Moses and Jesus did while they were here, and yet they really didn’t have the opportunity to appreciate what they left behind which made this world a better place. After wandering in the desert for 40 years and after all the trials and tribulations, we hear today that Moses has brought his people to the Promised Land, yet there is a catch: Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, 2 all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, 3 the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. 4 Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”5 And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. 6 He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. As I said, it is almost unfair that Moses doesn’t get to enjoy the fruits of his labor. But, the important word I said there was “almost.” Because it wasn’t as if the Lord said to Moses; “OK, now that you have seen it, turn around and you go back to where you started.” No, Moses dies there, at the foot of everything that was promised. Moses is taken to heaven, where if Jesus sits at the right hand of God, it may not be all that unreasonable to think that Moses sits to God’s left.

Moses accomplished all he was supposed to do. Moses left behind the Ten Commandments and thus, Moses left behind the blueprint God gave him for how we are supposed to live our lives. As I mentioned last week, we are no good on our own, but with proper guidelines in place, we know what is acceptable or not, we know when we are working within God’s laws and when we aren’t. As I also stated last week, even with the horrendous news of the shooting up in Buffalo and the attack on a Presbyterian church in Laguna Woods California; there are more of us abiding by God’s rules and expectations, than not. Moses left the world a better place.

We have four Gospels in the Bible to tell us everything Jesus did for us while he was here. The lessons we didn’t get from Moses we got from Jesus. The parables Jesus gave are as true and as pertinent today as they were when Jesus first gave them. Today, in our reading from one of those four Gospels, the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus setting the foundation for what is expected after he is gone: Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. 25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. There are several take-aways from these passages. The first is Jesus says that anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. Again, this alludes to the thought that everything Jesus said and did was NOT just for the benefit of those who got to see it and hear it in person, but for generations to come. Our ancestor’s followed Jesus’ teachings; the generations which follow us will follow Jesus’ teachings. His teachings were NOT meant for a few, they were supposed to be for everyone, and as I alluded to before, the teaching of Jesus stand the test of time.

Jesus says he leave peace with us; and although we have gotten away from it during Covid, it has been a part of hundreds of thousands if not millions of church services worldwide that there is the Passing of the Peace during the church service. The other part of this reading I wish to address is these verses: “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. Very much as I indicated before when I said that Moses didn’t get to go into the Promised Land, but Moses did get taken to heaven, Jesus affirms that he too is “going to the Father” and we should be glad about that. We certainly should be, because Jesus also said that where he was going he would prepare a room for us. Jesus left a lot behind for us to absorb and learn, but Jesus still does for us today in the Kingdom of God.

I haven’t said much since the church voted to close. I know this is a sad, maybe scary time for some of you. But, though we have now entered the twilight of the history of this church, we can be proud of what was accomplished here, and we still have opportunities to direct the narrative of what we leave behind. The core of this church is still here. You all have a lot to be proud of. No matter what happens next, know that this church and all of you have left wonderful and loving lasting impressions to many; not the least of which is me. Until the day comes when we lock the doors one last time, we still have work to do, and a legacy to leave behind. Our Lord Jesus said; “ Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” We can do that, because of everything that Jesus and Moses left behind; all we have to do is live by those guidelines and those teachings. Oh, and this; May the Peace of the Lord be with you always. Amen.

Sunday May 15th, 2022  ⤵

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! Imagine there's no heaven, It's easy if you try. No hell below us Above us only sky Imagine all the people living for today Imagine there's no countries It isn't hard to do Nothing to kill or die for And no religion too. Imagine all the people living life in peace, you may say I'm a dreamer; But I'm not the only one, I hope some day you'll join us And the world will be as one. Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can No need for greed or hunger A brotherhood of man Imagine all the people sharing all the world, You may say I'm a dreamer, But I'm not the only one , I hope some day you'll join us; And the world will be as one.

Many of you may recognize these words. They are indeed the lyrics from John Lennon’s monster hit song titled Imagine. Now, although there are many parts to this song and the thought process behind the song is well intended with peace being the theme, imagining no heaven and imagining no religion feels like a contradiction to me. God wanted a loving and peaceful planet when he created it. Why talk about a planet without God being a part of it? I’m no dummy. I know that Mr. Lennon will point to all the religious wars this world has incurred and he isn’t wrong. There may be more wars regarding religious beliefs than there has been over property and political issues. Mr. Lennon wants a peaceful world without ANY reason for us to fight or disagree. A world where we all live as one. Thus, I can’t imagine how Mr. Lennon would have felt if he had been alive to see the riots after the George Floyd killing, or after President Trump riled up his supporters to storm the Capitol building, and four people lost their lives, while American citizens had their government officials literally running for their lives.

So, let’s take this in the opposite direction. Let’s imagine a world with no laws, no rules, no restrictions, everyone able to do whatever they want whenever they want. Where one human can kill another just because they didn’t like the way they looked. When rape is common place and theft is rampant. Mr. Lennon was indeed a dreamer because the human race requires boundaries, requires laws, requires someone in place to enforce what is right, and what is acceptable. I am sorry folks, but we as a race would not function well without structure, and without divine guidance. Adam and Eve could not follow one simple directive, and one of their offspring killed his only brother. Very early on in the process of man walking the earth we had gotten so out of hand that God instructed Noah to build the Ark. We should all thank God every day for Noah, because if God hadn’t found favor with Noah, if Noah hadn’t been as righteous as he was; you and I would not be here today. While we are at it, we need to thank God for Moses also, because God was close to once again wiping us all off the face of the earth if it hadn’t been for Moses standing up to God. No my friends, we are NOT good on our own.

Yet, maybe that isn’t a truly fair statement on my part. We ARE here, and we DO continue to exist, and we do so under the watchful eye of God. Yet, we have had riots, we currently have a war between Russia and the Ukraine. We have global warming issues, and mankind has caused the extinction of many species whom once shared this world with us. Why hasn’t God just removed us fully from the equation? I believe the answer to that question belongs to the two men I have already mentioned; Noah and Moses. But, it doesn’t end with them. Many have followed; both before Jesus was sent to us and since. There are still righteous men and women who walk among us. I truly believe there are more of us who want to do the right thing most of the time as opposed to those who don’t. I believe there are more people on this planet who are filled with love and forgiving than there are filled with hate and contempt. T

hat said, I also believe it is important for us to still have laws and regulations in place. Listen, I get that Covid-19 has opened up many conversations on what should be regulated and what shouldn’t. I am certain we haven’t heard the last of the mask debates. I am certain we haven’t seen the last of hoarding, and the conversation definitely continues on whether or not it should be a choice whether or not to get the shots available to deter Covid-19 and lessen the chance of getting it, and if one gets it like I did in November, that the symptoms are minimized. I just mentioned that word CHOICE didn’t I, and we hear recently that Roe vs Wade is once again a major topic and I am sorry Mr. Lennon but battle lines are being drawn up again. Mankind cannot find the peace John Lennon sang about, because there are too many differences among us.

Thus, we require rules and regulations. We need guidelines. God saw this and in his great design of what he sees for all of us here, God put laws in to place as we heard today in our reading from Leviticus: 11 “‘Do not steal. “‘Do not lie. “‘Do not deceive one another. 12 “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord. 13 “‘Do not defraud or rob your neighbor. “‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.14 “‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord. 15 “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. 16 “‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people. “‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord. 17 “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt. 18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. Now, I am fairly certain I’ve stated this before from this pulpit but do ANY of these guidelines and laws seem unreasonable? In fact, one COULD argue that they are common sense rules which shouldn’t be named, yet we have proven over and over again that even common sense doesn’t always come to us when it should. Do not steal, do not lie, do not deceive, do not defraud, and do not rob; in the year 2022 shouldn’t these all be commonplace by now? As we listen further, if we followed THESE rules, I promise you, we would have a world much closer to the one John Lennon could imagine: judge fairly, don’t slander, don’t endanger the well-being of another, and do not have hatred in your heart. Laws by design to bring us a better planet, a more peaceful planet, and a more loving planet.

After living with us, walking with us, and observing us, Jesus gave one new law; just one. I think in many ways Jesus saw the same thing in us that John Lennon saw nearly 2000 years later; that we are so close to getting to the world that God envisioned when he created this planet Earth, yet we keep letting the differences divide us, because we simply don’t follow Jesus’ law as often as we should: Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” If we lived like this, wouldn’t we be more likely to live in a world of peace? Can you imagine? It IS easy if one tries! Amen!

Sunday May 8th, 2022  ⤵

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. Traditionally I open the mother’s day message with an anecdote. Today I am going to open with a Far Side Cartoon. Thus, since a cartoon is usually a visual, I will describe this cartoon to you and I think you will find it amusing, and for many if not all of the moms out there, you may find it striking VERY close to home: Two children are pictured on the front stoop of their home speaking to their mother – “Mom we hired a few people to fill in for you while you relax on Mother’s Day.” The people they hired are standing in the driveway and they include: a taxi driver, a fortune teller, a teacher, a nurse, a maid a chef, a clown and a pastor or priest. I told you it would strike a little close to home! Now, some of these were very obvious to me because we all know the term: Mom’s Taxi. All of us have a favorite dish from our favorite chef; OUR MOTHER and lastly, if mom doesn’t clean the house, NO ONE cleans the house. Thus, the taxi driver, the maid and the chef were all obvious selections when it came to those who needed to be hired to give mom a break.

The one’s which got me in this cartoon were the nurse, although a mother’s kiss on a boo-boo beat ANY Band-Aid anywhere. So maybe after more thought I should include that one as obvious. The ones which are left are the fortune teller, the clown and the pastor/priest. I don’t believe we REALLY appreciate those parts of mom’s job description until we get older and can look back at our childhoods with a more mature point of view. Now, before I address the other two, some of you moms out there may be a little disturbed by the clown. I get why you feel that way. A clown is silly, a clown is sometimes scary, a clown isn’t really taken seriously, and thus, none of those are really nice or useful traits. But, I believe they used a clown as it was easy to depict and I think the clown represents when you were there to entertain us. On rainy days when no one is going outside, more times than not it is mom who pulls out the board game or the card game and gathers all the siblings around the table. On the long drives it is usually mom who begins the car sing-along or the best car game of all time: “I spy with my little eye…”

This leaves us with the fortune teller and the pastor/priest. There are many things a young girl will “confess” to her mother because it would traumatize her if her father ever found out. Yes, some boys too would rather go to their mother on certain things, especially the first time a young girl has broken his heart for the very first time. Additionally, especially in those homes where the father may have been the disciplinarian between the two parents, it was usually mom the children went to ummm… confess their sins if you will. Because mothers seem to be able to forgive with the love only a mother can give. Now, as far as the fortune telling part, how many of us have had that a-ha moment when it strikes us: wow, mom WAS RIGHT all along!

Last week, I listened to a conversation between now very experienced parents about the times early on with their children and those first times all of you encounter, especially when the children get into the early stages of elementary school where all those tattle tale kids go to school and suddenly moms are faced with questions about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. That moment when a mother realizes her child or children grow up way too fast, and their innocence and bliss is going to be tested for the rest of their lives. With the possible exception of Dr. Spock, there is no real how-to book, mothers and fathers do their jobs mostly by how they were raised, and daughters who are now mothers themselves go back in their memory banks and try to remember what their mom did when this event happened in their childhood.

The irony is, I thought the Bible would help some. But, when I looked at what was written about Eve, and Noah’s wife, parenting 101 was nowhere to be found. Poor Eve, talk about someone who doesn’t have a clue how to do this, with absolutely nothing to reference and coming from Adam’s rib, Eve is very much out on an island by herself and winging it as she goes. I thought there would be something in the Bible as to how Eve handled her son Cain killing her other son Abel, but Eve is not mentioned at all, the reaction all comes from God. We don’t hear another thing about Eve until these final verse in Genesis Chapter 4: “Adam made love to his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, “God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.” 26 Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh….” Not a lot to be learned from here, or is there? Eve could have quit. Eve could have considered herself a total failure, after all, she gave in to temptation and got her and Adam banished from the Garden of Eden. Then, she is the mother of two sons, and the first known murder takes place between the two. Eve must have questioned her choices. Yet, with only the love a mother can have and can give, Eve gives birth to another son. That son had a son of his own, and maybe Eve felt some kind of vindication.

Believe it or not, there is even less said about the next mother we really hear about in the Bible. She doesn’t even get named, just referred to as the wife of Noah who gave birth to three sons. So, one would think the Bible doesn’t help much at all as a reference to how to be a mother. Yet, possibly the greatest of all mothers, the most improbable of all mothers IS found in the New Testament of the Bible, with Mary, the Virgin Mother of Jesus. Mary needed to accept the impossible, and then be a mother to the Son of God. No pressure there, right? Yet, she did it with grace, wisdom, faith, dignity, and yes, with the love only a mother can give. And so, I think some of you may have learned some from Mary.

So, where in the Bible do we get any sense about this love? I believe it is stated very clearly in our reading today from 1 Corinthians. Though, many of you will recognize these verses as those often used at weddings, I think today in recognition of mothers, these verses are just as appropriate: If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. One more time for those last few verses: Love IS patient… with the exception of God, is there anyone more patient than a mother? I mean you have to wait nine months just to have the child to begin with. Love IS kind. Those three words spell MOM to me! It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It ALWAYS protects, ALWAYS TRUSTS, ALWAYS HOPES, ALWAYS PERSEVERES. If this isn’t the very definition of the love only a mother (and God) can give, well then, I don’t know what else can be added. May God smile down on all you moms out there, and from this son who had a birth mother who loved him so much she gave me a life she knew she couldn’t, and to the only mother I have ever known, I say this to you both and to all the moms and aunts and women out there who have loved a child and/or children; thank you for the love that always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always, always, always perseveres. The love of a mother. Amen!

Sunday May 1st, 2022  ⤵

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! The number 3 has been a fascinating number to me for as long as I can remember and it has had some significance in my life. One of my favorite books of all time was written by football great; Gayle Sayers. The title of the book was called: “I Am Third.” Mr. Sayers based it off the notion he truly believed; God is first, family and friends are second, and I am third. I quickly related to the book because I realized that even in my teenage years when I first read it, that I too very much lived my life that way; or at least, saw life’s priorities in that way: God first, family and friends second, and myself as third. It always made sense to me, and I have never regretted a moment in my life seeing that as the ‘pecking order’ if you will.

When I joined the Green Knoll Rescue Squad, my assigned number was the number three. Squad members were each assigned a number, as it was easier in some of our record keeping on who attended a call by just giving the numbers instead of listing everyone by name. Thus, at the end of the report, you would see members on the call; 3, 11, 20 and 24. When I joined, the Captain of the Squad who was a charter member along with my father remembered that his original number was three. Dad left for a few years to focus his free time with my brother and I while we were in Boy Scouts, and after I received my Eagle award, dad went back to the rescue squad but his original number had been re-assigned. But, when I joined, the number had become available again, and the Captain was gracious enough to give it to me.

The number three kept showing up in every address I have ever lived at and if any of you have ever called my cell phone you will notice that there are actually three, 3’s in my number. I consider three one of my lucky numbers, including the fact that my wife and two of my very best friends were born on the third. As I said, sometimes a number is hard to ignore. To that end, there are several numbers which appear in the Bible often; since we are freshly out of the Lenten season, the number 40 may be very fresh in all of your minds. But, yes, my friends, the number three is indeed one of those numbers with the most obvious being that we believe in the Triune God, 3 in 1, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. But, the number 3 shows up over 400 times in the Bible and if you include multiples of three, well one would just lose count.

Most recently and again the obvious: Jesus raises from the dead on the third day. Peter denied knowing Jesus during his trial three times. Satan tempted Jesus three times in the wilderness. There were three fathers of Israel; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The very nature of God as we see in the Book of Revelations stating: “who is, who was, and who is to come.” Thus, we see that the number three serves a significant role throughout the Bible. Even when God called out to his servants, the number three would come into play. In the first book of Samuel, Chapter 3, no I am NOT kidding it IS Chapter 3, we hear God call out to Samuel: “The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions. 2 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the Lord called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 5 And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down. 6 Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8 A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel! “Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” It took 3 times before Eli caught on, but what God needed came to fruition; Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

When I attended Glassboro State College I have told you all in the past and I will reiterate that I was as lost as one could be. I went to college because I was expected to. I hadn’t found my passion although as has also been previously discussed from this pulpit many others saw what my true passion and calling was long before I did. My thick brick of a noggin needed many more than three times for the message to sink in. But, I digress. Back in college the courses I DID excel at were anything which required public speaking. Even when I spoke to my counselor and asked if I had what it took for Public Relations- the course study I settled on, he said my strength was my public speaking, that when I spoke; people listened. It was in one those public speaking classes where I learned that it has been discovered that people will more likely remember things said to them if it is said to them at least three times. Thus, some of you may have wondered over the years that I have been here why I will often reread to you sections of the Bible readings during my sermons, which I had just read to you only a few minutes prior. Well, friends, that is the second time through, and whatever verse or verses I really want to emphasize will then be repeated a couple of more times at least. So yes, I am revealing a trick to the trade; it has been said; “Build it and they will come.” Now I am adding; say it three times and they will HEAR!

So, in our reading from the Gospel of John today you will hear an exchange which sounds a little bit like God calling on Samuel, however this one is between Jesus and Peter; let’s listen once more: When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” Jesus asks Peter not once but 3 times if he loves Jesus. Though as we hear that Peter is hurt because the Lord asks him three times, do you think for one minute that Peter forgot the lesson? Feed my lambs, care for my sheep, and feed my sheep may sound like three different directives but they are all saying the same thing: In my absence, you are responsible to feed those who come to you with the knowledge I have shared with you. Jesus finished with Peter saying; follow me. Though hurt, do you doubt for minute that Peter did anything else but follow Jesus?

God called on Samuel three times. Jesus asked Peter if he loved him three times and followed with the same message; care for my flock. That same message applies to the rest of us; follow Jesus and care for his flock. Jesus gave one command; love one another. Follow Jesus and tend to his flock; feed the lambs, care for the sheep, feed the sheep. I said last week to all of you that there have been many times over your lives where you performed a random act of kindness that didn’t register with you when you did it, yet it meant the world to someone else. Do you know why you did it but you don’t remember? Because at one point in your life and maybe even several times over your life you responded in the same manner as Samuel; “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” Listen, follow, and feed. Listen, follow, and feed. Listen, follow, and feed. Just three things to remember. Well, well; there’s that number again. Amen!

Sunday April 24th, 2022  ⤵

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!

Many of us have heard this said; “If you want to make God laugh; tell him what YOUR plans are.” By this stage in most of our lives we know that life is just full of surprises; some of them good and some of them bad. As prepared as many of us would like to think we are, some of those surprises come so far out of the blue that we are more than surprised, and depending on what the change is that we have now come across, we could be ecstatic at this moment, or devastated. I have a cherished friend of mine who was diagnosed with breast cancer and very soon thereafter learned she was going to become a grandmother for the first time. She recently told me the news of her daughter’s pregnancy overrode the news of her own infliction, and it brought her “renewed hope and encouragement.” What an extraordinary blessing, to be given hard to take news and follow it with the most joyful of news.

We see this often; the circle of life in rapid motion. We learn of someone who experiences the loss of an elder relative, only to turn around within months, sometimes weeks and on some occasions; days, where they get to celebrate the birth of a grandchild, niece or nephew. On some occasions, it isn’t the loss of life but the loss of a job when suddenly a company closes. We saw a lot of small companies close during the Covid crisis. People suddenly out of work. But, for some, it led them into a job and or a career they had never thought of before and they are more happy and satisfied than they have been for quite some time.

Sometimes, an individual can be lost, can be frustrated, depressed, lonely beyond belief, and as they are driving home one day a kitten crosses in front of them, they save the kitten and bring the kitten home. For you dog lovers out there feel free to substitute kitten with puppy. But, the loneliness is about to go away, and a new sense of purpose literally ran straight in front of you.

We just discussed the change of fortune the last two weeks, where Jesus went from the cheers of Halleluiah to “Crucify Him” in just a matter of days. In rapid fashion we went from happy to unthinkable and last week at this time we had reached the unbelievable as the tomb with the body of Christ in it has been discovered EMPTY. This just can’t be and even though two angels have reminded the women who had come to the tomb what Jesus had said to them about his death and resurrection, they are not comforted by this because Jesus is still missing. Even Peter, one of the eleven comes to look, but upon seeing the empty tomb he wanders off dazed, wondering what could have happened.

What happened is we are about to be placed on the world’s longest relay race, where those who have been sent, will do the sending. I’ll get back to this again in a moment. But first, let us get to today’s reading from the Gospel of John, and we find we have wonderful and extraordinary news: JESUS HAS BEEN FOUND. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that Jesus finds his disciples; let’s listen once again: 19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Now, it is subtle, but there is a LOT being said in this one verse: 19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” I have chronicled for you some of what was going on behind the scenes which got us to this point. We can blame Pilate all we want and make him the bad guy here, but remember as I stated last week. Pilate gave Jesus EVERY opportunity to help himself escape the crucifixion which was staring him in the face, yet Jesus remained silent. That said, the REAL puppet masters here are the Jewish leaders, and you can be certain they are looking for the remaining Eleven, thus; with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders cannot be overlooked. These men have been through the ringer, with one of their own being the one to betray Jesus, and then they watched helplessly as Jesus was humiliated, tried, beaten and crucified. How much more could ANY person take, and now they are hiding for their lives inside a locked room. Yet, in the very next breath we hear this; Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you! Friends, this DOESN’T say there was a knock on the door or someone climbed through a window, it just simply says Jesus came and stood among them. Jesus came into a locked room. Even more so, Jesus enters and acts like nothing significant has happened; Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Really? I mean the eleven must have been frozen in disbelief. Just like that; you are in the room with us, and after everything we just witnessed all you have to say is “Peace be with you?” If you knew I was arrested and found guilty and was immediately killed yet showed up next Sunday and led worship like nothing happened, where would YOUR mind be at? Well, friends, you can bet the disciples are at that point right about now and Jesus says; “Peace be with you.” Now, the next verse is interesting also; After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. He showed them his hands and side. As this was his way of having them confirm, yes, it is Jesus in the room with us right now. See the wounds, you get it, this is me. The ten currently in the room with him, then become overjoyed.

What happens next I already alluded to. Jesus is about to begin the endless relay race: Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” As my Father has sent me, I am sending you. If you forgive anyone else’s sins their sins are forgiven. If you do NOT forgive them then they are NOT forgiven. God handed the baton to me, which I have now handed to all of you, and all of you are expected to continue this hand off again and again. You see, Jesus coming was to remove the sins committed to that time. But, others would have to follow to remove the sins by forgiving them. Thus, that is what the pastor’s do when they tell you that you are forgiven after the weekly confession. The priest’s do it in confession and during Mass. But, you have that power also. Christ gave each of us the power to forgive, it is right in the prayer he taught all of us to pray: “forgive us our debt’s as we forgive our debtor’s.”

God sent Jesus to us and Jesus said to his disciples I am sending you. Not just to forgive, but to teach, to share, to lead. All of us can lead and we can do so in the best way; we can lead by example. Every day that we go out into the world and give the best part of ourselves then we are leading by example. We ARE continuing Christ’s work here by every small good gesture, by every time we reach out to someone in need. God sent Jesus, Jesus sent out the disciples, and the disciples sent out the everyday person.

Today’s reading ends different than most, it almost sounds like an apology, and not worth noting but I beg to differ: 30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. Written as if the author is almost apologetic that he didn’t include EVERYTHING Jesus did in the presence of his disciples. We are asked to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and on that we all agree. But, I am going to ask you to believe something else also. Just as the author did not include every act Jesus performed know that you have probably forgotten dozens if not hundreds of times when you did something that MEANT something, which at that moment may have meant little to you but meant the world to someone else. Like forgiving them, answering the phone when no one else would. For a hug they needed from you more than you knew. You have that power to lift someone else up, just by being compassionate and loving. Always remember: Jesus said; As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. The baton is in your hands….GO! Amen.

Sunday April 17th, 2022  ⤵

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.

Over the past week we have gone from gloriously happy to experiencing the unthinkable. Last week we were in the midst of a celebration, with cries of Halleluiah and with palms waving in the air as Jesus enters Jerusalem with the Jews ready to crown him king, ready to follow Jesus anywhere and wait with wild expectation that Jesus is about to free them from the Romans, and they are going to get their country back. Jesus is going to lead them to greater heights than they have ever known, and Jesus will rule like no other.

What they didn’t know, what they could not perceive, is that Jesus was on a very different mission. Jesus wasn’t here to save them from the Romans, Jesus was here to save us from ourselves. When they began to realize that their expectations and Jesus’ intentions were much different, Jesus quickly began to lose his following. The twelve are with Jesus; correction, eleven of the twelve are with Jesus and he has others in his corner, but he has lost the crowd. Those who were shouting Hosanna quickly became the same to shout Crucify Him! If Jesus wasn’t there to save them from the Romans, then they had no further use for him and without Jesus they had no one else willing to stand up against the Romans. Thus, they could no longer support Jesus for their fear of the Romans, and if Jesus wasn’t going to fight for himself well then….why would they?

Thus Jesus is going to go through the ringer, he is going to be abused in every way, beaten and humiliated, and he is indeed going to be crucified. If his life were a movie, we would be waiting for the hero moment, we would be looking for that moment when we see the genius in Jesus’ plan, and we would be ready to cheer when Jesus turns the table, and indeed does take the throne those around him want him to take. He has had the religious leader’s number right up to this moment, obviously he will win yet again in the battle of wits. Yet, as I closed out last week’s message, I reiterate that Jesus does the unthinkable; when he needed to be at his best, when he needed to deliver one more lesson-teaching parable, when Jesus needed to show that he was not just any man….J ESUS WENT QUIET. Time and time again Jesus has had an answer for everything thrown his way, but with his life on the line; Jesus barely speaks at all. It frustrated Pilate, who tried in every way to give Jesus a way out, and I’m sure those who were yelling “crucify him” would have quickly turned if Jesus had said anything in his own defense, but Jesus remained silent. Even for us today, even though we know the motivation behind it, it is hard for us to imagine and hear everything that Jesus went through, up to and including taking the cross.

I have sometimes wondered where everything changed. Because everything seems to transpire with lightning speed when you consider the mood from joyous to murderous. I believe that moment is when Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane. Let’s visit the Gospel of Luke a little earlier than our reading from today: “Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. What we have here is a very human moment from Jesus: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. I don’t think it gets any more human than this. Jesus has doubts, Jesus filled with anguish, so much so that an angel from heaven appears to him to help strengthen him, and I believe it is at this moment that God answers Jesus prayer by saying; NO, I’m sorry, I won’t take the cup from you, but yes, it WILL be my will which is done. Thus, Jesus submits to days of anguish, pain, and humiliation, right up to carrying his own instrument of death and allowing himself to be crucified.

Which brings us to today. The remaining eleven and other’s in Jesus’ immediate circle are in shock and in mourning. Despite Jesus trying to tell them what needed to happen they still can’t believe it has gotten to this. Jesus has been dead for three days now, and his friends and loved ones are probably walking through a surrealistic cloud. But, everything is going to change; just as we hear from today’s reading of Luke: On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” 8 Then they remembered his words. In the midst of sorrow, in the midst of witnessing the unthinkable, you go to the tomb to find it EMPTY. The unthinkable continues, this just can’t be. Where is the body of Jesus? But, before panic can really take control two men appear; “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ Interesting that the women needed to be reminded of Jesus’ words, yet, probably the only thing that can shake them out of the haze they have been in. Thus, this should be the greatest news ever; right? Not so fast.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened. The unthinkable has become the unbelievable. Jesus’ chosen have doubts. Even though they saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead how can a dead person raise himself from the dead? I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt here because if ANYONE should believe that Jesus rose from the dead, it should be the Eleven. At least Peter acts on the information and goes to see for himself. One would think the evidence would be all anyone needs. Yet the Bible tells us; he went away, wondering to himself what happened.

Last week; I referred to Psalm 118 and asked if it could possibly be talking about the quiet man who stood trial and was crucified. This week we hear much of the same Psalm once again, but today, it sounds much different: 17 I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.18 The Lord has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death.19 Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.20 This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter.21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation. This time, the actions were more important than words. Jesus needed to die. Jesus needed to show that death was NOT the end. Jesus needed to show that we DO have a forgiving and loving God, and he needed to show this by going through the worst scenario possible, so that his return would be even more glorious, and more memorable. Jesus’ death and resurrection could NOT be only for those alive then to witness it; no, this needed to be something told over and over again for thousands of years. Because Jesus did not come just to save those around him in that time. Jesus came for them and EVERY GENERATION to follow them. Believe it! The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;23 the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.24 The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad. The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;23 the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.24 The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad. Let us indeed rejoice and be glad; we do NOT need to seek the living among the dead. Christ HAS risen, he has risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen!

Sunday April 10th, 2022  ⤵

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.

We have entered into that celebration time of year. In the last month we have had the Critic’s Choice Awards, the Academy Awards and the Grammy Awards. Which of course leads us into the Monday morning quarterbacking but not for the men, no, this is for the women; as the various gowns and dresses worn to these events are evaluated and discussed. But, as we see all the pomp and circumstance at the highest level of stardom, many parents out there are preparing for upcoming proms and graduations. In my household we are just beginning BIRTHDAY season with all three of my nephews, my niece, my wife, my brother and my brother-in-law all having birthdays over a six week period. Yes, this the celebration time of year; and all of you thought that came between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Doesn’t even come close. Because we haven’t even mentioned that wedding season is amongst us also, as many will be celebrating weddings and wedding anniversaries over the next three months including this month of April. You can’t swing a helium balloon around without hitting some reason for a celebration right now.

Believe it or not, the season of celebration will find its’ way into the church right now also. Today is Palm Sunday, and if any man who ever walked the earth deserves some kind of celebration, one would think that Jesus should be at the top of the list. Thus, today marks a happy day filled with wonderful expectations and joyous sounds coming from every direction. Today IS a day filled with song and Halleluiah’s. Today Jesus marches into Jerusalem triumphantly with hundreds if not thousands of people shouting for joy and waving palms to the man they want to be their King. Today is glorious and we knew this day was going to happen, as there were promises made for some time, and hints we could go to, like that of what we heard in today’s reading from Psalm 118: Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.20 This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter.21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation. 22 The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;23 the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. 24 The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.25 Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success! 26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you, 27 The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine on us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession u] to the horns of the altar. We know the gates of Jerusalem are being opened to Jesus just as we heard: Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.20 This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter. Those around Jesus right now will follow him through any gate, including the gates around the city of Jerusalem. If Jesus is entering that gate, it is a gate of righteousness in their eyes. Of course, how can we ignore the verse: With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar. This IS Palm Sunday, Jesus is indeed entering into the city in a procession surrounded by many with boughs in hand.

We get that confirmation in our reading from the Gospel of Mark: 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna!]” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”[10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. Throughout the ministry of Jesus we see a joyous and giddy scene around Jesus just once, and that is TODAY. Hundreds if not thousands of people shouting their Hosanna’s. Remember, the Jewish people are occupied, they are under the scrutiny of the Roman Empire, and thus in many ways for the Jews to survive, they have been reduced to slave-like status. Thus, these people believe they have found the person who is going to save them from Roman rule. WE KNOW, Jesus was sent to save us from ourselves and our sins, but that is the farthest thing from this crowd’s thoughts right now, they don’t see a Savior, they see the new King of Jerusalem. Today is going to be their Independence Day, and they are beside themselves with joy, Jesus Christ is going to give them their country back, and he is going to send the Roman’s packing. Happy days ahead, nothing but promise to look forward to.

Yet, as happy as today is, things are going to get ugly very fast, right to the unthinkable… Over the days ahead Jesus is going to lose this crowd, lose his support, and he is going to eventually be arrested, tried, beaten, and hung on a cross. At this moment in time, how could anyone even predict this as, everything is going so well.

When we began the season of Lent, I said that there were discussions and meetings going on in the background. While Jesus was away in the desert and even before that journey away from everyone and everything, Caiaphas the High Priest, the other religious leaders and the Pharisees have been scheming and planning. Over and over and over again, Jesus has been challenged by these supposed experts and religious royalty, only to be humiliated and schooled by Jesus each and every time. Never once does Jesus show a sign of weakness, never once does Jesus demonstrate any flaws. Thus, they have a real problem on their hands, because people are listening to THEM less, and listening to Jesus more, so much so that the Romans are beginning to take notice, and thus, what precious little the Jewish religious leaders have they fear that the Romans will crush what remains. Out of anger, out of frustration, out of fear and out of not comprehending who Jesus truly is, they decide they must act, partially to save Jerusalem and its people, but even more so to protect themselves. This is self-preservation…plain and simple.

But, they are going to need help to pull this off. The first place they find help is through Judas, who will betray Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas was easy, he came to them. As we identified last week, Judas holds the groups wallet and manages the money. But, Judas likes whatever may be in the purse for his own gain whenever he can use it. Judas is also breaking away from what Jesus stands for, and he too is among those who thought Jesus would rescue them from the Romans. Once Judas realized that Jesus being King of Jerusalem was NOT in the plans, Judas went for one more payday, and gives Jesus up for 30 silver pieces.

Ironically, I am not certain even that would have been enough. No, for all of this to go the way it does, one other person is the key, and to think that he is on board with what needs to happen is unthinkable in its own right…Jesus himself needs to be okay with all of this. Jesus tells Judas to go betray him, Jesus places himself in a vulnerable spot, and during the trials and the accusations, Jesus does something he hasn’t done up to this point…Jesus goes quiet. Jesus barely puts up any fight at all. Jesus knows the looming destination through all of this is taking the Cross and Jesus doesn’t do one thing to even slow this process down. In a matter of days we go from the sweet sounds of Hosanna to the gut wrenching sounds of nails being hammered through hands and feet. Let’s go back to Psalm 118 again and tell me where you hear the part of the Cross taking place: The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;23 the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.24 The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.25 Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success! 26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you, 27 The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine on us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up] to the horns of the altar. Lord save us! Lord, grant us success! Blessed is he… he who isn’t raising a finger to save himself, yet alone saving US. That he? NOTHING is happening as it should be. Or is it? As we have often heard in many a television and radio advertisement; “But wait, there’s more.” For that, we will return NEXT Sunday, as we go from what the people presumed, to God’s actual plan. Amen!

Sunday April 3rd, 2022  ⤵

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!

Well, EVERYONE else is talking about it this week, so maybe I would be remiss not to add my two cents worth; the slap heard around the world from of all places; the Academy Awards when Chris Rock apparently crossed the line as he made a joke about how short Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair is, and Jada’s husband, Will Smith made a beeline to Chris and without any other provocation, slapped him across the face. Now, there are many directions the conversation has gone since that moment, but before we get to the slap itself; let us first address that Jada Pinkett Smith is wearing her hair short because she has a disease which causes hair loss. Now, with that in mind, one needs to wonder how many people were aware that Jada suffered from this condition. Until this incident, I don’t believe I knew about it, and if I did, it wasn’t a fact I remembered. I have heard many discussions this week on the radio and have heard many different people say they were not aware of Mrs. Smith’s condition, thus, should we assume that Chris Rock was NOT aware of this also? If he WAS aware, in my humble opinion, making a joke about ANY ailment is in incredibly bad taste. However, if he wasn’t aware, even taking a shot at how someone looks though trying to be funny, can come off as bullying at worst or degrading at the least.

So, for the moment let’s say it was a tasteless joke. Let’s give Mr. Rock the benefit of the doubt and say he didn’t know. Now, we need to measure the response in how Jada’s husband handled it. Will Smith got up from his seat, knowing cameras were on him, knowing this was being televised live and surrounded by hundreds of people at an award show, still proceeded to Chris Rock and slapped him. He has since publicly apologized but it seems like it may be too little too late. There were so many other ways to handle this that DIDN’T include physical contact. But, before I continue, let me say this; during his acceptance speech later for winning the best actor award, Mr. Smith said something which struck me; he said, “I know to do what we do, you gotta be able to take abuse, and you gotta be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business, you gotta be able to have people disrespecting you and you gotta smile and you gotta pretend like that‘s OK.” So, since I gave Mr Rock the benefit of the doubt, I will do so for Mr. Smith also. I truly believe he reached the point where he didn’t want to pretend any longer, and that it was no longer okay to be disrespected. However, did it warrant a physical confrontation? I believe most would say NO.

Now, I have heard in defense for Chris Rock, many people name other comedians who would use insults as a source of humor, and the one comedian I heard referred to most often was Don Rickles. Now, there have been many others. I stopped watching the comedy roasts on the Comedy Network because I didn’t find them funny and I thought way too often the line got crossed between funny and insulting. Thus, another can of worms was opened this week, with the thought that we have become too soft, and we should let more go and not be so sensitive. I think there are very funny comedians out there that make us laugh without having to make fun of someone else for that laugh. Let me finish with this; I am NOT for making fun of someone, it IS demeaning even if it is meant to be funny, but I am also NOT for a physical response to something like this it just wasn’t warranted. I’m not saying you ignore the incident, I’m just saying you don’t escalate the incident further.

I heard one person say that this event may change the comic’s stage forever. That comedian’s will now be looking for anyone from John Q. Public to charge the stage if they think you have insulted them or someone they care about. There IS a place for humor in this world, and I hope we find our way back to laughter sooner than later. The one thing this event seems to have also reminded us is the thought that things will ALWAYS be this way or that. We will always have people who position themselves to be the straight man and the other to poke fun at them. We will always have someone who crosses the line when it comes to humor. We will always have someone who doesn’t find the humor in a joke. What we know is that ALWAYS is a long, long time, and what we thought would ALWAYS happen, sometimes changes, and thus sometimes; ALWAYS becomes NEVER AGAIN.

In our reading today from the Gospel of John, we have a similar event occurring but it doesn’t involve comedy. Yet one person is going to take offense to what is happening, and it seems to come out of nowhere, much like the slap at an award ceremony, Judas’ response today during a casual setting also seems to come out of nowhere: Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” Mary is caring for a tired and spent Jesus. Mary is treating him with kindness and love. Everyone is together for a nice dinner and are probably unwinding for the first time in days. Judas’ objection seems to come out of nowhere, and for many in the room I am sure they found his reaction surprising. But, the Bible tells us where his motivation is coming from in the very next verse: He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. Thus, at least we know why he reacted in this way; pure greed and selfishness. We know how Will Smith responded in his altercation, let us now hear how Jesus responds to Judas: “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” No physical violence, no threat of violence. There was a purpose for this perfume, and it was always intended to be used on Jesus, Mary just chose to treat him early with it.

Yet, there are troubling words Jesus uses in his response. Those words are these: You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” Those are tough words to hear, especially over two thousand years after they were spoken and knowing that they still hold true: You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me. Now, the troubling part of this sentence is not what one might think. When Jesus states that; “you will not always have me.” I believe Jesus means that we will not always have him physically in this world with us, in fact, at the moment Jesus says this he knows his time here on earth is very limited. No, the words that are troubling come in the first half of the sentence: “You will always have the poor among you…” As faithful Christians, should that statement NOT bother us, even if we know it’s true? After all, didn’t Jesus tell us in the Gospel of Mathew: For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Thus, as good Christians haven’t we all tried to do this at some point, and if we have all tried, why are there still poor among us?

Because there are too many who either can’t be helped or don’t want to be helped. Jesus knew this; and as much as we have changed many things over time, we can’t change those who don’t want to change, or may not even be aware that they can change. I’ve had several running themes with all of you over the years, and one of those is that of free will. Some lose their way in life and some get dealt bad hands and out of these poor souls some just can’t find their way back EVEN when help is staring them in the face. Thus, even though many of us have good intentions and we want to help, there will always be those who can’t accept it, or even ignore it.

ALWAYS is a very long time. Many things we know we think will always be, yet all it takes is one surprising event, and everything changes. So, let us lean on what we can ALWAYS lean on; the WORD given to us in the form of the Bible, and the LIVING WORD who came down to save us. We can find comfort here, we can find peace, and we can find the better way that should always work, the way to Christ our Savior, the way to God our Father. Amen.

Sunday March 27th, 2022  ⤵

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.

We just can’t seem to shake the ball and chain tied around our ankles can we? Covid-19 with yet another variant refuses to go away despite our best efforts and Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine impacting us at the gas pumps. War anywhere in the world always makes us concerned especially when a good portion of the world looks toward the United States for guidance and help during these times. Negativity and frustration continues to dominate our lives and we just want to feel like we can take a breath for minute, to feel unthreatened and to live our lives free from the negative, and free from concern. But, unfortunately, our world has changed, and the way we live has changed, and changing back to what once was seems more improbable than ever.

So now is a time where we need to create our own good news. We will need to encourage each other in the positive. We need more stories like that of St Peter’s College from Jersey City making a historic run in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. We are now in the season of Spring, where new life abounds around us. This IS the time for rejuvenation, for rebirth, and for hope. A glorious time of year indeed if we embrace the good and the positive,

But, as stated, there are times in our lives when this can be difficult if not impossible. As much as we can see the beauty of the earth reopening before our eyes we are blind to its beauty and deaf to the song birds now singing with all their might. We are blind and deaf to all that is positive around us, because we are listening to the bad news, and we are seeing every negative story shooting across mass media, whether it is on the television, or in front of us on our computer screens and smart phones. One could argue that it is impossible not to see the worst in us, and not to hear all the negativity, yet our readings from the Bible today tells us there ARE possibilities and without much effort at all we can be blind to the negative and deaf to everything that we fear or frustrates us.

The funny thing is, many of you already know how to do this as parents. You NEVER want to see the worst in your children, and if anyone said anything negative about one of your children you wouldn’t believe it for a moment, you would be deaf to anything of the contrary; “Not my child. No, my child would never do anything like that.” Because you love your children, and you only see the best in each of them. Which is why today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke and the parable we hear today is a favorite among many; because it is as true and relatable today as it was when Jesus first told it: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” This son has done EVERYTHING wrong, yet his father sees him in the distance, runs to him, throws his arms around him and kisses him. Whatever his son’s failures were, this father doesn’t see them. Even when this son tries to tell his father of his faults, his father is deaf to the confession: “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ No anger, no disappointment, just pure joy that his son is back and safe; this is all the father sees and all the father needs to know.

I know a young man who would go to this lake on vacation or for long weekends with his family for many years. Close to the place where they would reside was a dead end road he would walk along. One summer, he befriended another boy who lived along this road and they came across this boat which looked abandoned, and hadn’t been moved for many years. At this point along the road it had gone from paved to dirt. There were plenty of rocks along the road, and these two boys began throwing the rocks at the boat, causing damage. A couple of days later this boy was approached by his parents who inquired about the boat. As it turns out, the owner of that boat witnessed the two boys throwing the rocks at it, and approached both boys’ sets of parents. The boy I know immediately came clean with his parents, and said the only reason he threw the rocks at the boat was because he assumed it was abandoned. It never crossed his mind it night still belong to someone. Now, this boy was terrified of how mad his parents would be with him, and he was filled with remorse. But his parents saw the best in him, and showed compassion and forgiveness. That boy cried himself to sleep that night, in part because of the love and compassion his parents had shown him. The parents through the remorse this boy showed though not blind to what he had done, still showed compassion by seeing there was no ill will or bad intention, it was just a boy being a boy. Just like the father in Jesus’ parable he too saw the honest remorse in HIS son, and chose to forgive.

Being humble and remorseful goes a long way with our Father in Heaven also. When we are, we get similar results as those I just shared. Let us return to our reading from Psalm 32 today and we get a little more insight into how God see’s us: Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 2 Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. 3 When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.[5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin.” Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. Worth repeating one more time: Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin.

God sees all and God hears all; God knows all. But, God too will turn a blind eye to our faults and deaf to our poor choices when we in turn confess our transgressions and humble ourselves before the Lord. Now…if more of us could only do that with each other. Amen!

Sunday March 20th, 2022  ⤵

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 come to all of you today filled with emotion. After nine years you have all learned one thing about me, I do NOT hide my emotions well. Yesterday, I felt like I stepped into a time tunnel. Yesterday I was at the First Presbyterian Church of Hightstown, my home church, for the memorial service of a man I stood next to and sang in the choir with, a man I proudly served as an Elder with. Yesterday the choir sang a song from the pulpit and for a few moments I felt like I was supposed to be up there singing with them, just as I had for years while I attended in Hightstown. The thing that really transported me back in time, was one of the guest speakers who came and spoke on this man’s behalf, was one of the pastors you have heard me reference in the past, the Reverend Fred Doscher. Fred was big on music, in fact, served as both pastor and choir director for a while during my time at First Hightstown. Reverend Doscher has as much to do with my being here as your pastor right now as anyone else who God sent to me as one of his messengers. I will get back to this in a moment.

But first, I want to have one of those Rick’s honest moments with you, that I am certain more educated and more experienced pastors would frown upon and tell me that this is NOT a good idea, but as you also know by now, many times I dance to the beat of a different drummer. Thus, here it is; you as a congregation can be very difficult and a real challenge for me to write a sermon for. Here’s why; I stated upon my arrival nine years ago that I immediately saw the faith this congregation shares. I believe you are all very good people, with very good intentions, and I believe you are all compassionate and spiritual. Thus, there are many times where I have written a sermon, which I sense may NOT have been for you. Thus, I feel guilty and even a little frustrated, as you are my flock as it is, and thus, if I have a message to deliver, that message SHOULD be for you. Yet, I know there are times where I am figuratively “preaching to the choir.” I know that most if not all of you know the message I am giving, and you live the message I am giving on a regular basis. Well then, if the message isn’t for you, then who is it for? That is an excellent question, and the answer is simple: it’s for someone else.

Well Pastor Rick, we are NOT paying you to give sermons for other people. No, you are not. But, I want you to keep in mind these two factors; First – my sermons are posted every week online in both Facebook and our church’s website. Over the past four Sunday’s I know that on average 35 people read my sermon on Facebook and yes, some of them are some of you who have heard the sermon earlier but I am guessing go back and re-read it for yourself for any number of reasons. We average 15 in the pews on Sundays, thus there are twenty others who are getting that message for the very first time. Secondly- sometimes the message I am giving is NOT for you but for YOU to share with someone else. Thus, as I said, sometimes the messages given are not for you. More times than not, however, even if I think the message I am giving is one you are all well-versed in, the sermon is meant to be a reminder and a gentle nudge that even though you may know it, you may have buried it under other concerns and considerations you are currently facing.

Now to address our message for today. As I stated earlier Reverend Doscher is a vital person to my current ministry, because if it wasn’t for him, chances are none of you would have ever heard of me. Reverend Doscher is the one who saved me from the brink, who came to me when I was at my own spiritual cross-roads, when I had begun questioning my own faith. With ONE letter, Reverend Doscher reeled me in, a true fisherman in every sense of the word, he hooked me as I was swimming away and brought me back from the abyss. Little did I know at that moment what was still to come, because I was in a barren and dry part of my faith journey. I felt empty, I felt incomplete, and I felt like it was possible that church was not the same place I had always thought it was meant to be, a sanctuary and not only a place of worship, but a place of hope, a place of love, a place of peace and understanding. In one letter to me, Reverend Doscher not only got me out of my horrible state of mind, he rejuvenated me, he restored me in a way only a true servant of God can.

You see, there are moments in all our lives when we begin to have doubts, where we begin to give in to frustrations, where we tune out everything good and only pay attention to that which can harm us, hurt us, and frustrate us. As we heard in Isaiah today these are the times when we are experiencing barren and dry times in our lives that we need to turn to God. Let us return to Isaiah now: Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare….6 Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. When we are hungry when we thirst when our stomachs are barren and our throats are dry, we need not seek water or bread, we need to turn to the Lord, who will renew us from the inside out much better and much longer than a glass of water will or a slice of bread. When we feed our spirit our bodies will follow. When we feed and nourish our Spirit we will feel fulfilled and we will be satisfied. Then, in right spirit and in right mind ANYTHING is possible, because we know all things possible come from the Lord.

I haven’t asked this question yet, but what did you give up for lent this year? Do you miss it or have you found that, although it may be something you desire you have found that you are functioning just fine? God will not leave us barren and dry, God will find a way to get us what we need, thus if we are surviving without something, we don’t need it. We might miss it, but we don’t need it. Oh, and for those moments we aren’t sure what we need, or if we need anything at all let us return to this day’s reading from the Gospel of Luke: Then Jesus told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” Sometimes, we don’t even realize we are barren and dry. Sometimes, it takes a keen eye or an intuitive person such as this vineyard caregiver who knows this fig tree isn’t barren, it simply needs some assistance, a little housekeeping and some fertilizer. Where one man saw a tree wasting space in his vineyard, another saw hope and promise with just a little bit of encouragement. Much like Reverend Doscher saw in me.

At one point in my life, my faith journey was becoming barren and dry. One man saw what could be and turned my journey around. Sometimes the message from me isn’t for you specifically, but if you share it with someone else it may be EXACTLY what they need to hear. 6 Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. 8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. My friends listen to the Good News: God sees what we do not. God hears our cries for help when we are mute. God sends us all we need when we are barren and dry and think we have no other place to turn. God restores us even when we believe we are not worthy. God is the living water, God is everything we need. Amen!

Sunday March 13th, 2022  ⤵

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.

The timing may sound odd if one gives any thought to the matter. Jesus is in the midst of his ministry, the time is ticking toward his end game, and he chooses to disappear for forty days in the desert. As we heard last week; Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. While we know what Jesus was doing, it might be interesting to know what was happening in his absence. Was the timing off? Were things heating up more quickly than anticipated and thus God, through the Holy Spirit led Jesus AWAY from those wishing to do him harm? Had Jesus completed all his tasks by then which needed to be completed, thus Jesus is led into the desert to cool his heels, to ensure everything was in place for his final acts here on earth? Maybe, just as we hear, Jesus is sent into the desert by the Holy Spirit because there is unfinished business between God and the devil.

It may be a little of two things; that everything WAS heating up faster than anticipated AND there was unfinished business between God and the devil. Thus, we heard last week how Jesus dispatched the devil, now this week in Luke we get a hint that maybe indeed the heat is coming: At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! Herod wants to kill Jesus. We’ve heard this before, oh right, Herod wanted Jesus dead when Jesus was born. Herod has feared Jesus and misunderstood who Jesus was and is for a very long time. We do spot one irony here; Herod will NOT be the one who kills Jesus. But, we are getting ahead of ourselves. Additionally, Jesus certainly doesn’t do himself any favors with Herod here does he? “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’

What feels equally odd as we listen to today’s reading is that it gives us an idea that we are once again waiting. Even in Jesus’ response to Herod, he tells the “fox” that he needs to wait three days until Jesus is done doing what he needs to do. One thing is certain, Jesus seems to be completely aware and in control. He may have been ‘led’ out to the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, but do any of us think that he went there against his will?

It is the second half of today’s reading from Luke which may give us more pause for thought; let’s listen once more; it actually begins with the final verse we just heard: In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ As we hear these words we know that Jesus is offering a pretext of what is yet to come: for surely no prophet can die outside of Jerusalem and later with. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ Jesus clearly gives odes toward his crucifixion here AND his arrival into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

What gives us pause here is how Jesus looks at Jerusalem at this moment: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. Again, this leads me to wonder about the timing of Jesus heading out to the desert. He appears to be frustrated with the people of Jerusalem at this time, could it be that another forty days wouldn’t make a difference? We are in the year 2022. How do the Jews view Jesus today? Jesus longs to gather them together yet he knows that they are not willing. Those final words may hurt Jesus the most: Look, your house is left to you desolate. The house of Jerusalem empty of a Savior because they refuse to see.

Do we also refuse to see or is it more that in the year 2022 we let the world in and allow it to push God out? I saw a posting this week with an Electric Car crushed by a tree. The caption said that this was the ultimate irony: Someone purchased an electric car to save the planet but the car is killed by a tree it was designed to save. Doesn’t this kind of sound like the relationship we have with God? God created this beautiful planet and gave us countless wonderful gifts to enjoy, and one of those gifts God gave to all of us was that of free will, and we have turned around and used that free will to tend to the many other things which happen in our lives and thus we leave ourselves little time with God, and for the generations following us, they dedicate even less time toward God.

In reverse, we are an impatient race. The Jews are still waiting for the Messiah. We know that the Messiah has already come, but we heard that Jesus would come again. Have we tired of waiting? Have the Jews? Have we reached that point where we no longer want to wait for the Lord? Does Jesus now look at the entire world in the same way that he looked at Jerusalem; “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. We may not kill the prophets but have we stopped listening to the message? I have heard for years conversations about what kind of world we are leaving for our children, does that include a world where too many of us have said we no longer have time for God, that God now needs to… wait for us?

If that it is indeed the direction the human race is heading, then we are surely in more trouble than we think. We need God more today than yesterday, we need to turn to God now and ask for his guidance as we continue to hear about the Ukraine, and now this week I saw that there may be tensions increasing between Greece and Turkey which may be leading to war. The human race can’t survive on our own. We ARE our own worst enemies and this is NOT a time for us to say we don’t have time for the Lord. We need to return to the Bible and listen to verses like those we heard today from Psalm 27: The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?2 When the wicked advance against me to devour] me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. 3 Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident. 4 One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

The human race acts irrationally when it fears something. When we turn to God we have nothing left to fear. When we turn to God we find peace, especially within ourselves. When we turn to God, we see what is possible and we can cherish everything positive. We know this deep inside ourselves. You know how I know this? Look at what I just read in this Psalm: One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. We know the house of the Lord is not here. If we want to live in the house of the Lord then how can we say we don’t have time for the Lord now? We need to change our priorities and really see what is important. Jesus saw a desolate Jerusalem, and possibly today he looks at a desolate world. We see God in his house surrounded by grace and beauty. That my friends is polar opposites. God is waiting for us to turn to him; what can we possibly be waiting for? It’s time! Amen!

Sunday March 6th, 2022  ⤵

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!

When we read about Jesus, when we think about Jesus, when we go into our memory banks and think about Sunday school teachings about Jesus, or discussions regarding Jesus for those of us who went through a Confirmation process and lastly any of us who participated in adult Bible Studies regarding Jesus; in any of these examples did we learn or hear that Jesus was annoying, Jesus was difficult, or that Jesus was arrogant? Rhetorical question; and yes, I see puzzled looks in some of your faces. But, before I continue on this thought process let us first reiterate how most Christians view Jesus.

As those who come from a Christian background, we see Jesus as a teacher. We see Jesus as a Shepherd. We see Jesus as a healer. We see much more than Jesus the Carpenter from Nazareth. We know and we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and as we heard last week, three of Jesus’ disciples heard a voice in a cloud say to them: “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” We believe Jesus Christ to be our Savior, we believe that Jesus took our sins with him when he took the cross, we remember Jesus as we will in a few moments by celebrating the Sacrament of Holy Communion when we eat and drink in memory of Him. This is the Jesus we know, the Jesus that wept for his friend Lazarus, the Jesus that told the first of his disciples that would now fish for people, on behalf of Jesus. We know Jesus performed miracles, we know Jesus as a healer. We see and we know all the wonderful and positive reasons why Jesus was sent to us, walked with us, and lived with us. We know and we believe and say as much every week when we recite the Apostle’s Creed.

Thus, why would I suggest that anyone would have found Jesus annoying, difficult or arrogant? Throughout Jesus’ ministry, there was a group mostly working behind the scenes but occasionally coming out of the shadows to challenge Jesus, to ask Jesus questions positioned in a way to trip him up, to expose some hidden flaw, to demonstrate that Jesus wasn’t all that and a bag of chips. Yet, despite the best efforts of the church leaders and the Pharisees, every time they posed a challenge to Jesus he had an answer for it. So good an answer usually, that they could only sulk away with their tail between their legs, and the knowledge that they were NOT dealing with just any man here, even if none of them did see Jesus for who he truly was. Thus, they were not happy with Jesus, they saw Jesus as a threat, and after repeatedly being rebuffed by Jesus, they put together a murderous plan, even as Jesus enters the desert for forty days and nights where he will be dealing with an entirely different challenge with stakes much higher. The wheels are in motion to begin to take Jesus down, if necessary to kill him, because if there is one constant in the human race it is this one: no one really likes a know-it-all, and most of us feel threatened by those who make us look stupid, or let me correct that, those we perceive are making us look stupid.

Over and over again through the Gospels we heard about challenges made to Jesus, and over and over again Jesus showed that he had an answer for everything. Jesus responded to the challenges by reciting between 42 and 46 parables depending on whose count you believe, all told in the Gospels of Mathew, Mark, and Luke. Over and over again Jesus had a teaching to respond to his challengers, his doubters.

I am NOT a fan of the game show Jeopardy because quite frankly, it makes me feel pretty dumb most of the time. Oh, I know some of the answers but I wouldn’t presume to know all of the answers, and I will watch in awe of those who do very well on this game-show. But, would you like to hear an observation I have made, as well as many others I’m sure. People I believe tire of the Champions who stick around for a while. I’m not sure where the time line takes us from impressed to oh please not another day of him or her, but I would think maybe around day four or five. Just as teachers and students alike hate seeing the same hand or hands raised to answer every question in class, I think we tire of those who have an answer for everything. None of us like the feeling of inferiority, especially if it is blatantly obvious.

Today, in our reading from Luke, we hear about Jesus being challenged yet once again. But as mentioned earlier, the stakes are a little higher because of who is posing the questions before Jesus: Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’[” 5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:” ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; 11 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. We see an interesting change in strategy used by Jesus in responding to the devil. Instead of using parables, Jesus uses the Word of the Lord in this battle of wits: Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’…8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”… Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Jesus wasn’t about to use the subtle learn on your own approach of a parable with the devil, Jesus went straight for the jugular, answering each question or challenge with the written laws of God. To these responses, the devil could provide no follow-up or counter response. The laws of God are simple to understand, and clearly stated. Thus, when the devil ran out of challenges he left Jesus for an “opportune time.”

An opportune time sounds ominous doesn’t it? Why do we not hear of this opportune time again? I believe we do. I believe the devil thought he would have his best shot at Jesus when Jesus is killed. I mentioned the Apostle’s Creed earlier: He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again from the dead. Jesus defeats the devil yet again, when he is resurrected. By being resurrected Jesus not only defeats the devil but defeats death also. This should come to no surprise to any of us. Jesus demonstrated over and over again that he had an answer for everything…including the devil… including death. Amen!

Sunday February 27th, 2022  ⤵

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.

If you have never been at the top of a mountain, I don’t know if words alone can adequately describe how nature takes over, and the incredible feeling of peace one gets. The irony is, even if you are on the mountaintop alone, you feel anything BUT lonely. As you literally stand on top of the world and look out to the other mountaintops nearby and the valley below, you get the full sense of nature and all of its’ possibilities. If you are lucky, you may see a river or stream down below which has cut its’ path into the earth for hundreds if not thousands of years. You may see birds fly overhead, and if you are really lucky and climbed a mountain high enough, you may even see clouds below you and that will give you a sense of being even higher.

If you allow yourself to, you can see all the possibilities this world has to offer. You will see nothing but goodness, you will see Mother Nature at her best and you will better understand what God saw in this planet. But, you don’t have to take my word for it, in one of his signature songs, John Denver sings about the Rocky Mountain High: He climbed cathedral mountains, he saw silver clouds below. He saw everything as far as you can see. And they say that he got crazy once and he tried to touch the sun and he lost a friend but kept the memory. Now he walks in quiet solitude, the forest and the streams, seeking grace in every step he takes. His sight is turned inside himself, to try and understand the serenity of a clear blue mountain lake. And the Colorado Rocky Mountain high, I’ve seen it rain and fire in the sky, you can talk to God and listen to the casual reply… He saw everything as far as you can see. What is everything? Trees, birds, sky and what else? Beautiful scenery and that’s it, and I will tell you now friends, that’s NOT it. On top of a mountain, whether you are alone or not, you feel for those moments that the possibilities are endless and we are gifted with being a part of this creation, where one can talk to God and listen to his casual reply. Then walk along and seek grace in every step you take. If you still can’t relate to what I’m trying to describe to you, then the next best thing is for me to suggest that you watch Julie Andrews in the opening sequence of the Sound of Music. The hills are very definitely alive in many ways, including being alive with the sound of music.

Thus, is there any wonder that we hear about mountaintop radiance today in both of our readings? Let us return to our reading from Exodus: When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai. 33 When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 34 But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord. Can you imagine having such a radiance coming from you that you are actually making others afraid of you? Moses may have been the most brilliant man who ever lived no pun intended. I say that, because he recognized right away how the radiance he was emanating could be a detriment to what he was trying to do by leading the Israelites and thus immediately made sure that he wore a veil so that they could hear his directives from God, and not lose his audience to their fears and trepidations. Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.

Let me go back to the John Denver verse again: You can talk to God and listen to the casual reply. Moses got an even better setting than that on Mount Sinai, he got to not only talk to God but have God answer immediately, face to face if you will. If heaven is God’s kingdom than I would like to think that a mountaintop is God’s driveway, leading you to that kingdom before actually entering it. Thus, it is here, away from all the others and in a solitude fitting for both God and Moses to interact, they meet at the top of the mountain. Additionally, so there is absolutely NO DOUBT whom Moses was meeting with, he returns with a radiance which can only come from one source.

Yet, this is only the precursor, as we heard from our Gospel reading today in Luke: About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)

34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen. Interesting to note that like Moses, the appearance of Jesus’ face changed, but in Jesus’ case his clothes too changed as they became bright as lightning, or in short, all of Jesus glowed with radiance. Now we have the pure Jesus, the transfiguration of Jesus being more than just any man. This is a visible sign to all that Jesus is indeed the Son of God. At least, it should be, but just in case anyone should question who Jesus is, a voice from a cloud is going to clear all that up: While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” Pure as the driven snow and now as pure white as one can be, endorsed by Elijah, Moses and God, Jesus is now ready for the most difficult part of his ministry, he is about to go one on one with Satan in the desert for 40 days, and then, soon after, Jesus is going into the final stretch ending with him hanging from a cross. Jesus will leave this mountain fully armed, and ready to finish his tasks ahead, filled with mountaintop radiance and a directive from God; this is MY Son, listen to him.

It has been said that the view is pretty good from the top. I wouldn’t even begin to argue that statement. I’ve seen the view from there, and let me say this, time stops. You feel like you can see forever, and everything looks beautiful, yet daunting. You don’t feel alone because you can just feel God sitting right next to you saying; “Welcome to my day!” I can’t imagine what Moses was feeling while interacting with God on top of the mountain, nor can I even try to come close to understanding what was happening to Jesus while he was on the mountaintop. But I do know that both Moses and Jesus left with radiance, because the Bible tells me so. Both men also left the mountaintops fully endorsed by God, God told the Israelites to listen to Moses through the Ten Commandments, and God told Peter, John and James that they need to listen to Jesus.

John Denver said to go to the mountains to talk with God and listen for the casual reply. Since none of us make it to mountains all that often, I have a different idea. Let all of us listen to the men who not only spoke to God on a mountaintop, but did so and came off the mountain filled with radiance. They also came off those mountains with important messages and lessons we should heed. If we do that, we too will one day enter a kingdom filled with radiance, one promised to all of us. Amen!

Sunday February 20th, 2022  ⤵

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!

It is no secret to anyone here that I like sports; especially football and baseball. That said, I am finding my love for professional sports currently being tested to the point where I am finding that I don’t enjoy it all that much anymore. With the current baseball strike and how pro basketball players currently behave by pouting and NOT doing what is expected of them so they force a trade, I have had every bit of my love for sports at the professional level squeezed out of me. Pro football gets no pass from me either as I completely understand why Brian Flores has filed a racial suit against the NFL, with only one pro team currently has a man of color as their head coach. Other allegations against the NFL and most recently the Dallas Cowboys have left a bitter taste in my mouth.

I heard a conversation on the radio where a pro athlete turned down a contract for 350 million dollars. You heard me right. Now, I want to put that number in perspective for you: I based this number on 15 people which is what we average roughly in attendance here on Sundays. If all 15 people worked for 40 years and all 15 earned $100,000 a year over the 40 years the grand total earned for all 15 people at the end of those 40 years would be 60 million dollars. The average fan who goes to the ball park to see a game is earning much closer to the $100,000 per year than what a pro athlete makes and we’re supposed to feel for them because they feel they aren’t being compensated enough? The amount we spend to go to the ball game places a huge dent in our wallets, yet would be spare change for most athletes.

Listen, I have heard their side of the story. They are blessed with athletic ability and put their bodies at risk throughout their careers. I get it. I get that this is supposed to be entertainment, but if you want to entertain me, let’s begin with you having the same work ethic as most any blue collar person does. You see, if we don’t do what is expected of us we DON’T continue to earn our income and just get traded to another company, many times we get fired and we have to begin again at a lower salary. Oh by the way mister athlete and I can say mister because women athletes don’t make anywhere near what the men do, we haven’t even taken into consideration that in most cases if you do get hurt the team pays for your medical help, we pay for our own insurance and for many of us, that equals half our income.

Those who are blessed athletically are handsomely rewarded. Those who can act, sing or entertain are handsomely rewarded. Those who are blessed with brilliant minds, those who are blessed with great sales skills, those who are blessed with great management skills are all handsomely rewarded. But, what about those of us who work paycheck to paycheck and will never see our name in the sports pages, or on the movie screen, or on the cover of Business Weekly. Where do our blessings come from and how are we blessed? Many times our day to day struggles are very real, as we wonder how to put food on the table, or pay for expensive medicine. It is hard to feel blessed when one needs to work a second job or even work a primary job in a field they don’t even like just to make sure the bills are met and to pay for benefits just in case someone in the family gets sick or injured.

Today, though, we heard two readings from the Bible that should speak loudly to the average person and fill them with hope and joy. Let us begin with the Gospel of Luke where we hear those who have here on earth have gotten their due, but those who struggle, their reward still may lie ahead: Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. 24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. 25 Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.” Difficult to hear, difficult to believe and difficult to understand, yet these words are meant to fill most of with hope; “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. So, allow me to pose these questions to you; when you are low on funds, do you feel blessed? When you are hungry, do you feel satisfied? When you are weeping, do you feel happy? Yet, Jesus tells us that those times do await us, that there are better times ahead. We have heard Jesus say the first will be last and the last will be first, this is him giving that very same message again. Blessed are you who are poor, and not just poor in income. Those of you poor in spirit, those of you who are poor in trust, those of you who are poor in confidence, yours IS the kingdom of God. Jesus did NOT come for those who already have, because they already believe they have everything they will EVER need thus they don’t need to believe in God or in Jesus, but those of us who don’t have, we need to have two things and two things only: the belief that Jesus IS our Lord and Savior and the faith that he is the way to our eternal life which will be far better than the life we have here on earth.

But, it isn’t easy. No one ever promised easy street on earth and our reading from Jeremiah today tells us what God is looking for in each of us: This is what the Lord says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord.6 That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. 7 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.8 They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Trust in the Lord and you will be blessed. Trust in the Lord and yours is the kingdom of God. All good things come from the Lord. If we focus on that, if we truly believe that, if we put our faith in that thought process then we are indeed like a plant which is forever green and always has plenty of water.

It is hard to count one’s blessings when one is hurting. It is hard to count one’s blessings when bills are piling up. It is hard to count one’s blessings when friends or family turn against us and when our bodies betray us and begin to fail. But God so loved the world that he sent his only Son to us, to save us and to remind us that if we believe, if we stick to our faith especially when times are at their hardest then we will indeed one day be rewarded: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God… Great is your reward in heaven.” Sounds like something worth waiting for, doesn’t it? Amen!

Sunday February 13th, 2022  ⤵

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.

Last week I touched upon a subject I’ve discussed before from the pulpit; that of the human race being a very judgmental bunch. In the very nature of us being judgmental, it also makes us hypocrites. None of us want to be judged, yet we are more than happy to judge others. When we were children many of us hear some version of an old Indian proverb which has been attributed to this Native American prayer: “Great Spirit — Grant that I may not criticize my neighbor until I have walked a mile in his moccasins.” I have seen an extension of this which reads: Walk a mile in my shoes…See what I see, Hear what I hear, Feel what I feel…Then maybe you’ll understand why I do what I do…Until then, don’t judge me. If any of us gave that saying more than a nod acknowledgment just think what this world could be. But, here’s the thing, we hear something and acknowledge the wisdom behind words such as walk a mile in my shoes but then we turn around and almost immediately forget the wisdom and validity of such words and how much better our lives would be. Why is that?

I think part of the answer comes with how hard we are on ourselves, especially those of us who are brutally honest with ourselves and let me emphasize the word: brutally. I believe that many of us will see our faults before we look at our strengths, we will remember when we hurt someone before we remember something nice we did for someone, and we will look at all our negatives long before recognizing any of our positives. I have referred to this scene from the movie Pretty Woman before, but I do it because of the honesty behind it. Vivian the hooker and Edward the business mogul are having an honest conversation about how Vivian has gotten to this point where she needed to be a prostitute and Edward says to her: “You could be so much more.” Vivian responds that it is easier to believe the bad stuff about yourself, and asks Edward, “Have you ever noticed that?”

Too many of us have real trouble finding any sort of balance in our lives. This holds true with how we view ourselves. Just as Vivian tells Edward, most of us would believe the worst things said about us over the best things. It is why cyber bullying is so rampant and so effective. It is why a few years ago a teenage girl was able to tell her boyfriend over the internet to go ahead and kill himself after he threatened suicide. If your own girlfriend doesn’t believe in you, well then, what’s left? It’s easier to believe the bad stuff, rings of too much truth, and should be a loud warning we should all pay heed to.

So, should we be surprised with either of our readings today from the Bible, when the first words out of men being asked to be servants to God give an immediate response of recoil, and “no, no, you’ve got the wrong man.” Let’s revisit our reading from Isaiah once again: 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.” How would any of us act if we were in such a scenario as this one? Standing before the Lord where he is seated high and exalted, wouldn’t we immediately go into an ‘I’m being judged’ mode. God, sitting in a high position looking down, much as a judge does in a court room, elevated up above everyone else. I think most of us would feel intimidated, AND I think most of us would immediately go to the guilty and unworthy side of ourselves, much as Isiah did: “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.” God hasn’t said a word to this point, but Isiah is immediately humbled as the seraphim in the room began calling out: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” If that wasn’t enough to get Isaiah’s full attention then the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. Is there any wonder to why Isaiah responded the way he did; Woe to me! I don’t know about you but I would be wondering about what was going to happen next and I might be taking responsibility for everything at that moment including being the other shooter on the grassy knoll even though I was only three at the time.

But, Isiah is about to get a pleasant surprise he didn’t see coming: 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.” This is a powerful and life changing moment. You know what they say, there is no better time than the present thus God immediately asks a question: 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!” In a heartbeat, Isaiah goes from thinking he is unworthy to stand before the Lord to immediately responding to the Lord’s request; “Whom shall I send?” “Here am I, send me!”

Isaiah wouldn’t be the only one who has felt unworthy among those called by the Lord, whether it is God himself or Jesus. In our reading from Luke today, we once again hear of someone who did not feel worthy of being called: When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” Simon Peter recognizing right away that he was standing before the Lord after such a huge haul of fish from an area that all day prior had produced nothing leads Simon Peter to respond much as Isaiah did: 8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. In this moment of shock and amazed at what has transpired from no fish to two fully loaded boats filled with fish, Simon Peter falls to his knees and declares to Jesus that he is a sinful man. Yet, although Simon Peter sees himself as unworthy before Jesus, Jesus STILL calls on him; “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”

For many if not all of you, there is going to be times when God calls on you. You may immediately consider yourself unworthy and declare that God should seek out someone else. But, you can’t be afraid at that moment. You may see yourself as unworthy but God sees more in you and me than we will ever see in ourselves. Upon accepting that; we should answer God exactly as Isaiah did: “Here am I. Send me!” Amen.

Sunday February 6th, 2022  ⤵

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!

When Ann and I were isolating ourselves last month while we had Covid-19, we watched a lot of television. The challenge every day was finding TV shows that perked our interest but shows we hadn’t seen before. One of the shows we came across featured friends and associates of infamous convicted murderers who spoke about the person they knew, or at least thought they knew before that person was accused of, arrested and convicted of murder. You would hear the same thing over and over again, that before the evidence was presented, these friends and associates would tell you that there was NO WAY the accused could have done what they did. Yet, once all the evidence came in, they found out how wrong they were about that person.

Before I became a pastor a very good friend of mine came to me and asked if he could talk to me in confidence. I told him he could and he told me about a two year affair he was having. Up to that point, everything about his marriage seemed great, he was very active with his two children, he was very well respected in his job, and he was very loving toward his wife, and on her end, he was her EVERYTHING. He had told me about family events and vacations and seemed to be living an idyllic life. When he came clean with me about the affair you could have knocked me over with a feather. Apparently EVERYTHING was wonderful in the marriage, but after the children had been born according to him, their love life became less and less frequent. I say according to him because I never heard HER side of the story, as they remained married for about ten more years after that, and as I had promised confidentiality in our conversation, I never said anything to her, and anytime I asked her how everything was she was always upbeat and positive.

How many times have you heard of a couple having a fight and one of them says to the other; “I don’t even know you anymore?” How many times have you had a friend or family member share something with YOU that you just never saw coming? How many friendships have been lost over ONE THING that both sides just couldn’t get past because one side wasn’t understanding enough and the other side felt betrayed, believing their friendship could withstand ANYTHING?

We THINK we know our family. We THINK we know our friends. But here’s the thing; do we REALLY know them, or do we know what we perceive is the truth about that person or those people. Maybe, it is what they allow us to see. Maybe the person in question doesn’t even know themselves. Some of our family members and friends may wrestle with personal issues for years before revealing their TRUE SELF. Depending on how we respond is usually the MAIN reason they kept their secret to themselves for as long as they did and do. I have mentioned more than once from this pulpit over the years how judgmental out society can be. Too many times in our lives when a friend or loved one comes to us and needs us to be open minded and understanding we respond completely in the opposite manner. Maybe we respond the way we do because our illusion of our friend or family member has been shattered and betrayed. Maybe we respond the way we do because subconsciously we can’t help ourselves but be judgmental. Maybe, it’s a little of both, or possibly it changes on a case to case basis; but the bottom line is more times than not we do NOT respond as our friend or family member desires or needs at that moment. We as a society, need to get better at that, and although there seems to be some movement in the right direction, we still have some work to do.

In the Gospel of Luke today, we find Jesus in a very precarious position, with people who BELIEVE they know him: He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. 23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” 24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown…. All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

The first verse we need to examine is this one: All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. Do you hear the pre-conceived acknowledgement that the group Jesus is speaking to believe they know him? Isn’t this Joseph’s son? A carpenter’s son and a carpenter himself, thus we hear their reaction; All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. THEY WERE AMAZED at the GRACIOUS WORDS that came from HIS lips! In other words, this can’t be possible, this carpenter’s son who we have known speaking this well. It just can’t be. Because they ALL know Jesus so well now, don’t they? The next thing we need to look at is how Jesus responds: Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” 24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown…” Jesus says; no prophet is accepted in his hometown BECAUSE of the reaction they already have of him; they were amazed at his gracious words. Jesus CAN’T be Jesus Christ the Son of God in his hometown, because they ONLY see Jesus the carpenter’s son. Jesus CAN be who he truly and really is elsewhere because strangers don’t know him as a carpenter, they WILL see him as a teacher, as a miracle worker, and eventually as their Lord and Savior. Here is the perfect way to understand this: let’s look at Superman. How many of us have laughed and poked fun at the idea that just by adding a pair of glasses all anyone sees is Clark Kent and NOT Superman wearing glasses. But, those who only see Clark Kent behave THAT way because that is how they were introduced to the man. Clark Kent is Clark at the Daily Planet and in his two hometowns, but everywhere else he IS Superman. Jesus is a carpenter in Nazareth, everywhere else he is a prophet and a teacher.

So, the question remains; who truly and honestly know us? Who knows the good, the bad, and the ugly side of who we really are? There is an answer to that, and we find that answer today in our reading from Jeremiah: The word of the Lord came to me, saying,5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” 6 “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. Before I formed you in the womb I knew you… does NOT only apply to Jeremiah. God knows all of like that. In that thought, we should find comfort yet be humbled. For there is nothing we can hide from God. God knows our strengths and God knows our weaknesses. God sees our perfections and God sees our flaws and here is the really GOOD NEWS, through it all God still loves us. God still walks with us, and the Holy Spirit of God still speaks to us. That is as AWESOME as it sounds. Listen further; do not be afraid, for I am with you. We are NEVER alone, whether we are at our best or at our worst. God is there with us.

Our friends and family may think they know us, and though it may be true that some of them may even know us better than we know ourselves, there is only one being who truly knows us, whom we can hold no secrets from, and that is God and God makes it very clear where he stands with each of us; Before you were formed in the womb I knew you…do not be afraid, for I am with you, and always will be. Amen!

Sunday January 23rd, 2022  ⤵

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 used a word in the title of today’s message that one doesn’t hear used all that often any longer outside of the church. That word is: sacred. There was a time in this world when that word was used a lot and not just when one worshipped. When I gave it even further thought, I wondered if the word sacred is as easily dismissed as the word Amen during the church service. We all grew up hearing these two words used in the church, and of the two, Amen probably at least makes it home with us when we say grace or have our own private moments of prayer. But, let’s get back to the word; sacred once again. I would be hard pressed to tell you when I’ve heard the word used lately OUTSIDE of the church. Possibly, I’ve heard it used when at or near a cemetery, someone might say; “Be careful, this is sacred ground.” Other than around a church or a cemetery, I for one haven’t heard the word used that often. Oh, I did think of one other place; a battlefield like Gettysburg comes to mind, and anyone who has ever visited Pearl Harbor. I’m sure people refer to the footprints where the Twin Towers once stood is also considered sacred.

I know, you are all wondering why I have this sudden interest in the word; sacred. It has a lot to do with two different themes I had running through my head over the past five or six years for one thought process and over the past three weeks for the other. From time to time, I have spoken to and reflected on why the numbers attending church have dwindled over the years, and not just here at this church but at all churches in most Christian and Catholic faiths. Even the day we should consider sacred has lost its meaning as there are just so many other things to do on Sunday, that this day being one set aside for church and prayer has lost any sense of importance, any sense of need.

The argument one might receive is that Sunday morning is when the children have their sports, Sunday morning is the only day one gets to sleep in during the week or that it is the only time to get the laundry done, or go shopping. Some can get up at four or five in the morning on a Saturday to go hunting, or fishing, or even to go play golf, but getting up at eight in the morning on a Sunday to go to church is just out of the question. We are losing sacred days and sacred moments because too many of us don’t hold ANYTHING sacred any longer.

Yet, that wasn’t always the case. Let’s revisit our reading today from Nehemiah, and listen closely to what is happening: all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel. 2 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. 6 Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Can you imagine this scene today? Let’s go to the very first verse; all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses… The PEOPLE came to the TEACHER and basically said; “Teach us!” That’s worth repeating; the PEOPLE came to the TEACHER and said; “Teach us!”.

I’ve had people tell me that they don’t come to church any longer because the service being an hour long just takes too much of their time. I wonder what they would think of this group who are listening to Ezra sticking around for a little bit: He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. From daybreak…from daybreak until noon!!

In just a few minutes from now, we will be celebrating the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. There are two Sacraments celebrated in the Protestant church which includes the reformed Faiths such as we, who are as Presbyterians. The other is Holy Communion. Now I know I have some transplanted Catholics among you. Do you remember what the third Sacrament is in the Catholic and Orthodox Church? That’s correct, a Wedding is considered a Sacrament. I wonder if all faiths considered weddings a Sacrament if there would be fewer divorces. Well, that’s a thought for another day. Back to our Baptism today, it IS a Sacrament which makes it sacred also.

Sacred because it begins a faith journey. Today Ava Michele is beginning her faith journey although she doesn’t know it yet. But, her parents do, and all the family and friends who are here today to witness her Baptism know. Everyone in the room today is going to be asked some questions pertaining to Ava Michele’s faith journey. You see, our faith journeys are NOT taken alone. They require encouragement from time to time, they require teaching from time to time, they require seeing others lead by example; which INCLUDES but is not limited to acknowledging and partaking in sacred days and sacred moments. Sacred days like the birth of Jesus Christ’s part of Christmas as opposed to the Santa part of Christmas. Sacred days like Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Palm Sunday, the Sundays of Lent and Advent, and Easter. In regards to sacred moments, prayer time, grace, and taking the time to teach the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed. Without acknowledging these sacred days and sacred moments then Ava Michele is going to have a very short and unfulfilling faith journey. Our individual faith journeys are sacred by their own merit unless we stop the journey. Down the road Ava Michele is going to be invited to the Communion Table, hopefully she will have the opportunity to attend confirmation class and she will reach the day when she will be guided more by the Holy Spirit on her faith journey and it is my fervent hope that when the Holy Spirit does begin to speak to her she is able to hear and acknowledge how she is being guided. But, make no mistake, all those who stand with her today, it is YOUR job to guide her now. We ALL need to be reminded daily about our own faith journeys. We all need to hear the Word spoken to us, or take time from our busy days and read the Word from the Holy Bible. We need the reminders so that the faithful part of our lives can help us when we face the day to day trials and tribulations. We need to be reminded about Jesus, just as we heard today from the Gospel of Luke: Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. 16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. We need that reminder that while Jesus was here he was indeed a teacher, that he too was guided by the Holy Spirit, and that everyone praised him. AND, we need to remember that Jesus led by example, and we SHOULD follow those examples such as; He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. Let’s reach out to all those who have gotten away from sacred days and sacred moments and remind them that they have faith journeys they have moved away from, and that the things they used to hold sacred are still available to them, you know, like the Sabbath… Jesus…, and going to church. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Ava Michele’s generation turn things back to as it should be, and as a whole says to their parents, guardians and elders; TEACH US! Now that would be some sacred moment in time wouldn’t it…. Amen!

Sunday January 16th, 2022  ⤵

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!

Last week we spoke about the Path’s beginning. We looked at the Baptism of Jesus as the start of his ministry. Jesus said to his disciples: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Thus I substituted the words the way and referred to Jesus as the Path. I said that his Baptism was the beginning of his ministry because Jesus led by his words but also very much by example, and thus, for us too, our faith journeys begin with that first step of baptism. First steps are important throughout our lives as whenever we take that FIRST STEP we usually need to be careful, often there is planning ahead, many times there is a thought process taken before we pursue taking that first step. Now, none of us can remember when we actually walked for the very first time, and I am not certain how developed our young minds are at that age, so I am not certain how much we process and give thought to taking that first actual physical step, but one can be sure it came at some great encouragement from a loved one, who was also there to make sure there was no harm done if we miss-stepped.

In other facets of our lives we have taken care on that first step, many times with a loved one there for encouragement or to fall back on if that first step is accidental or doesn’t meet the expectations we have when we decided to take it. It’s always nice to know someone is there with love and support. Even when Jesus was Baptized we heard that God made his presence known: “And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” In many ways that is a lovely reminder that NONE of us walk alone; not even Jesus.

As important as the first step is, the next step can often be just as important, sometimes even more so. If all of us gave up the first time we fell or wobbled and got caught by a loved one and we gave up, than none of us would be walking, we would all be getting around still on our hands and knees. If the first time we failed in school, or at work, or in anything we do throughout our lives makes us decide to give up and never try again where does that leave us? That next step is going to define us each and every time. Many if not all of us know that if we go into that next step timid and unsure we are most certainly going to fail once again. But, if we learn from the first step, and we define what went wrong, we can make the necessary corrections for when we decide to take that next step, we do so with courage and wisdom, and more times than not, we get the desired result.

The funny thing is that many times the next step we take IS actually our first step. Sometimes the first step is taken away from us and thus, the next step which falls to us becomes very important. Here is an example of what I am talking about; I know someone who was driving though the town he lives in on a Saturday morning. The town he lives in is quaint and quiet, especially on the weekends. He was driving with his windows open in his vehicle running errands and enjoying a beautiful day when he came to an intersection where someone who was obviously lost had blocked some traffic while trying to decide their next course of action. Another car which was now being blocked decided to beep their horn, but not just beep their horn they chose to lay into the horn for what felt like forever. This friend of mine observing everything became very agitated very quickly and shouted out his window at the agitated driver that he had made his point. That driver decided in return to let his horn do the talking again. My friend, who had been in a very lovely mood up to this moment now was getting angry; in fact angry enough that he reached for the door handle of his car and considered going to speak with the agitator one on one. But, something happened in that moment when he reached for the handle, he realized that the next step he was considering taking was only going to escalate the situation and not resolve it. Thus, instead, he simply stayed in his car and drove away.

I think he made a wise decision, as who knows how poorly the situation could have gotten if he had gotten out of his car. Sometimes the next step we take in our lives is just as important as any first step we have ever taken. As stated, sometimes the next step is forced upon us, and in our reading today from the Gospel of John, who of all people do we find being placed in a delicate situation is Jesus being placed in a position he initially was hesitant to address: On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” 4 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” This situation falls under the worst case scenario doesn’t it? I would dare say that all of us at some time in our lives had a loved one, whether a mother, father, grandparent or sibling put us in an uncomfortable position. For me, it was an Aunt who at one family get together at her house slowly and thoughtfully removed all my other relatives from the TV room leaving just a young lady my age and I alone in the room. When I figured out what was happening, I asked this girl out on a date, she said yes, and I went out to the living room to announce that my cousins could re-enter the room, much to my Aunt’s joy, and thanks to me taking the next step I had been manipulated into.

For Jesus, it was his own mother: When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” 4 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” Let’s pause for a moment here, because the response from Jesus doesn’t sound like a response we would expect from him, yet we are told that is how he responded. Why do you involve me sounds a little curt doesn’t it? But, I think we get the reason why Jesus responded this way with the next thing he says: My hour has not yet come. I think it would be safe to say that Jesus had a plan in mind and Jesus knew he had to do things in a certain order because if it was discovered too soon; on who he truly was, then chances were good that his purpose for being here could go sideways, and possibly not be seen all the way through. Thus, Jesus was being presented with a problem by his mother that she suspected he could resolve knowing who he was, yet he was concerned with the timing to this. I am certain this was NOT the next step Jesus had in mind in how he was going to reveal himself: Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. 8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Jesus was able to regain some control of the situation with only the servants knowing where the wine had come from, the servants and his disciples. For Jesus, at this moment in time, this was the best he could do and hope for considering the circumstances. No one else could know yet, as Jesus had stated, it wasn’t time yet.

As we go through our lives, we will take many first steps. But, we will also be presented with many opportunities where the next step which needs to be taken is completely up to us; sometimes by our own actions, sometimes by someone else’s actions. May God grant all of you the wisdom and the ability needed to accomplish those next steps, wherever and whenever they may appear. Amen!

Sunday January 9th, 2022  ⤵

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.

Have you ever thought about the different path’s we take throughout our lives? If you have ever hiked anywhere, what kind of path were you on? Most established and popular hiking trails are well marked and often provide information along the trail. Possibly the most popular hiking trail in this area could be the Appalachian Trail which is actually 2180 miles long stretching from Georgia all the way north to Maine, and yes, it finds its way into New Jersey. Ann and I just a short while ago saw a movie starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte called “A Walk in the Woods” where a couple of senior gentlemen decide they are going to hike the entire trail over a six month span. Now, without giving away too much about the movie, think about what kind of shape and condition one would need to be in to take on such an endeavor. Let’s just say that the character’s Redford and Nolte play are NOT in that condition. The movie is based off a true story, and if you get the chance, yes, I recommend it.

They start their hike in Georgia, and it is fascinating to see the way this historic and glorious path begins. Yes, if you are wondering, I have hiked the Appalachian Trail, though not the entire length, I am proud to tell you that in scouting at least when I was in Scouts, if you completed the entire trail that travels through Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York you do earn a special patch and recognition. I know that because I have that! Yes, bragging a little. But, as I watched the movie, I thought about different locations where we would begin a section of the trail. I also remember hiking it one April weekend and waking up to four inches of snow. Since this was BEFORE cell phones, several mothers were losing their minds when they heard about the surprise storm which came through. Little did they know, their boys were having the time of their lives.

Of course, there are other paths we take throughout our lives. We have all walked through large garden paths and sidewalk paths. Of course, we have all heard about our career paths. How did your career path begin? Did it end in the way you thought when you began it? I know my career path took many forks and turns along the way. Ironically, when I look back I see that I actually took two paths at the same time, one was my full-time career and the other my part-time career. The funny thing is my full-time career path hit the most forks and had the most turns in it. My part-time career path only had one fork in it, when I left my days as a party disc jockey and began my days as a lay pastor. Eighteen years as a party disc jockey and at this point going into my twelfth year as a pastor. The disc jockey path had a beginning of me wanting to earn a little spare cash and an expectation of doing it for two or three years. My path’s beginning as a pastor? I have often said it began in Reverend Bryan Franzen’s office in 2008, but truth be told, the foundation and that path’s beginning absolutely began while the teenager Rick was attending Good Shepherd Lutheran in Somerville. Sometimes, we are at the beginning of a path and we aren’t even aware of it.

Today, we heard about a path beginning for a path. That’s right, a path’s beginning for THE PATH. I’ll explain further in a moment, but let us first return to today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke: The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”…When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. Have you figured it out yet? Of course we are talking about Jesus, and with this one act of being baptized, we see the beginning of the path for Jesus. This will be his first step in becoming the Path for all of us to follow. Jesus’ ministry was with well-spoken and thought proving lessons, but even more powerful than that was Jesus leading by example.

Jesus knew that if you want to follow a path it must be clear and well defined. Now, along many paths are challenges, along many paths are twists and turns, along many paths we may come across new and wondrous things as well as coming across places which feel familiar and comfortable. Jesus demonstrated all of that throughout his ministry and life here on earth, Jesus showed us and even told us that he was the Path we should follow when he spoke to his disciples as we have heard over the years from the Gospel of John Chapter 14: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God a ; believe also in me. 2My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 6Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is indeed the Path when he identifies himself as the way.

So, why would I say that today is the path’s beginning for the Path? It is Jesus’s first showing of leading by example. If you want to follow me it begins with you getting baptized. If I can be baptized then so can you. Thus, let me take this a step further and ask when most of us got baptized? Sure, when we were infants or young children. Our FAITH JOURNEYS begin with our baptism. Jesus didn’t just tell us to follow him to heaven, Jesus taught us over and over again that if we follow HIS examples we will live a righteous and faithful path throughout our lives, one which indeed will one day lead us straight to Jesus as well as our God in Heaven. Jesus’ entire ministry was building for all of us the path which leads right back to him.

God recognized what Jesus was doing and how he was beginning his ministry, his life as the Messiah thus we hear how God responds to this first act of Jesus leading by example and setting the tone of living a righteous life: When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Now, very much with his Father’s blessing Jesus can get started on everything he came here to do. Just as Jesus’ baptism begins his ministry path, so too, does our baptism begin our path of faith and Christianity. Can you think of any better beginning to any path you may have travelled in your life? I can’t. Sealed with the cross of Jesus during our baptism, and even though we may not hear the words, I am certain for every one of us who has been baptized there is a voice in heaven is saying; with you, I am well pleased.

Throughout our lives many of us have taken unexpected paths, and for some their beginnings may be murky and unclear. Some paths we have taken have come as a complete surprise, and some paths we have taken it took a while for us to even find that path. Here’s the Good News. There is one path we can trust, and the wonderful part is we are told EXACTLY where we can find that path: Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Amen!

Sunday January 2nd, 2022  ⤵

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!

In honor of us being in the middle of the college football bowl season, I called an audible. For those of you who may not be football fans, an audible is defined as the quarterback changing the play which was called in the huddle to something else. When he got to the line of scrimmage, he saw something he either didn’t like or really liked and knows that a different play will work better here. I’d say that 99% of the time I stick to the lectionary calendar of the church year and use the suggested Bible passages for each particular Sunday and then create that week’s message to match the reading and I had originally planned to do that this week. But, as the week went on, I heard from many friends and co-workers about the tough times many if not all of us have faced since the arrival of Covid-19, and how happy they were to kick 2021 to the curb. But, the funny thing is, I kind of remember many of us saying the same thing at the end of 2020 also. With that in my head, I couldn’t escape the idea that I needed to give a different message today, and as many of you heard, and as many if not all of you know, one of the Bible passages I changed to is one of my favorites, and one you have heard me go to at several funerals; Ecclesiastes 3: 1-15, otherwise known as for everything there is a season.

The passage fits the message I wanted to give today, but more than that, I wanted to use this passage for more than a funeral, although one could argue I am using it at the death of the year 2021. Of course, I could counter that with I am using it for the BIRTH of the year 2022. None the less, the feeling I really had was that I wanted to start this year off with a message of hope, a message of love, a message of patience, forgiveness and hopefully a message that gives you the feeling of confidence as we embrace the New Year.

Because yes, Covid -19 and wearing masks, and social distancing, and people still dying from Covid are all bad and depressing things. The year ended on a horrible note with the passing of Betty White, who, just by saying her name would bring a smile to one’s face, and for many right now they are frustrated, maybe scared, disappointed, and depressed. I understand, but I will say this, we DO have the birth of a New Year, and with that, my friends, ALL THE POSSIBILITIES which can happen throughout a year STILL EXIST! In three weeks we are celebrating a baptism here, later this year we are expected to have a wedding in this church, the first one in at least nine years, and yes, there is every possibility we will have a funeral to tend to also.

But, just as people died from Covid, many more survived Covid, and you are all looking at one of the survivors. Just as people died last year, there were still babies being born, there were still couples being married, there were still celebrations of wonderful events, there were still people returning home from illness and the world kept spinning. Last year was the perfect example of what we hear from Ecclesiastes, and as we enter this new year, we know that all the possibilities exist: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. We have all lived long enough and gone through enough experiences that we know how much truth is behind these verses. Last year was the perfect year for a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. We could take that a step further and make it contemporary by saying there is a time to mask and a time to free yourself from the mask. As much as we hate the idea that we EVEN have to mask at all as well as being disappointed that the very threat of Covid kept some of our church family away what we need to remember is that things continually change, and with the exception of our God in heaven NOTHING lasts forever. There is indeed a time for everything and a season for every activity, which includes frustration but also includes relief, missing someone to reuniting with someone, and times of isolation to times of being surrounded by friends and loved ones.

We have to go into this year armed with the wisdom that for every negative there IS a positive, for every bad moment there IS a good moment, for all the times we weep, there WILL BE time to laugh. Life IS a roller coaster, and we just need to remember for every up there is a down. We only get in trouble when we let our thinking go to the negative and let it STAY there. We can’t allow that to happen. Embrace the ones who love you, remember the good times especially when your mind goes to sad or bad times. Remember the positive and if you aren’t certain what the positive is, let me start you with this one: as long as you are taking a breath, all the possibilities life has to offer are available to you, including love and laughter, hope and joy, time with friends and family. One other thing, remember you never walk alone; God walks with you.

To that thought, let us remember what we hear today in Ephesians: 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. Praise we should give every day, as we are also told why God does indeed surround us with his love and grace: In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation.

A world of possibilities always exists for us because God did NOT present us with a boring world. God gave us a temporary home filled with life, filled with beauty, filled with possibilities. God gave us nature, and God gave us each other. As we go into this New Year, let us make sure we DO take time every now and then to slow down and absolutely both figuratively and literally take time to smell the roses. Go out during this winter and catch a snowflake on your tongue, during the summer feel the sand between your toes and the warmth on your face. Take a drive during the autumn and see the beauty in the changing colors. Take a minute and look at the pure and honest joy in a child’s face. Yes, the world and life itself will give us hard moments this year also, but that is when you MOST have to remember that there is a time to KEEP AND there is a time to THROW AWAY. Throw away the negative as quickly as you can and keep the positives in your life for as long as possible.

Lastly, remember this: When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. That knowledge should bring you comfort, we are indeed God’s possessions, which God loves and cherishes. God has gifted us with a New Year; what are you going to do with all the possibilities? May God smile down on all of you throughout the year ahead, and may many blessings come your way! Amen!

Sunday December 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!

What makes a house a home? Is it the time spent there? Is the family members we live with? Is it the memories we make there? Is it really a little of all of the above? I grew up in Bridgewater but felt just as home in Westfield where all the relatives on my mother’s side lived. I spent enough time in Westfield that I made friends with the neighbors of both my grandparents and about ten blocks over my Aunt and Uncle’s home. Maybe feeling safe and being comfortable makes where you are a “home.” I always felt right at home whenever my family stayed at the shore, yet we never had a permanent residence there. Is it the feeling of familiarity? What makes where you are a home? I heard a line once from the TV series M*A*S*H* that maybe says it all: It doesn’t matter where you are, because where you are is home. Maybe there is some truth to that.

We have all either heard someone say this to us or said ourselves to someone else; “Please, make yourself at home.” Is that really a license for someone to take over your home? When does one cross the line? When they help themselves to the refrigerator? When they put their feet up on your coffee table? When they take over your home office for hours to get their work done? When they take over your bathroom and use everything which is yours; shampoo, soap, toothbrush and comb? Do some guests overstay their welcome, and make you uncomfortable because they made themselves a little too much at home?

In our reading today from the Gospel of Luke, we hear about twelve year old Jesus making himself at home in an unusual place. Boy, we have said that time flies as we get older, but time really moves in the Bible, as two days ago we celebrated the arrival of the baby Jesus and today he is already twelve years old! Yet here we are, and what we find is that Jesus has been separated from his parents: Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. We are going to stop here for a moment. One could be very upset with Mary and Joseph when they hear this story. How are they unaware that Jesus is NOT with them? Let’s keep in mind that we are talking about life over two thousand years ago, in a different part of the world. It wasn’t just the three of them traveling together, as we heard they were traveling with family and friends. It was easy to assume that Jesus was with someone else, possibly even someone close to his own age. To Mary and Joseph’s credit, as soon as they discovered Jesus was NOT among the group they back tracked and immediately began looking for him.

Can you imagine their concern and fears growing as they searched and could not locate him? Three days must have felt like an eternity! They probably searched everywhere they thought a normal twelve year old would go. Where would you look? Where would any parent look? How many people did they ask? How many places did they search? Minute by minute, hour by hour, and no idea where Jesus is. Then, in possibly the last place they would look, they find twelve year old Jesus in the Temple. But he isn’t there as a lost child, he is holding court with the religious teachers and asking them questions. Now, what I’m sure by this time are two very frazzled parents arrive, the exchange is not as one would expect: When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Now, you have a scenario here with two very DIFFERENT points of view. You have the adults who have been worried, probably scared out of their wits, and filled with angst and yet on the other hand; you have a calm and collected twelve year old, who is where he wanted to be, doing something he feels he needs to be doing; interacting with the religious teachers of the temple. But, let’s take this a step further on the different a point of view we have going on here, the adults think the boy is LOST yet the boy considers himself at HOME. In young Jesus’ eyes, he was NEVER lost, he was exactly where he felt he should be: Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” The very next verse says; But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

I remember one time saying to my wife that I was heading home to Bridgewater, of course meaning my parent’s home. At that point, Ann and I had had our own home for several years and Ann looked at me kind of puzzled and said, THIS is your home. She was right, and since then when I would say I was going to Bridgewater, I would either say I was going to my parent’s or that I was going to the house, eliminating home from being mentioned. This is where Joseph and Mary are at this point of the conversation with Jesus, they don’t understand what he is saying to them because in their eyes “home” should be wherever THEY are as a family. Jesus saying he is at his Father’s house obviously meant God’s house, but I’m sure that didn’t help Mary and Joseph at that moment. All they were focused on right then was that Jesus was NOT where he was SUPPOSED to be; with them. On the positive side, we do hear next: Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. In other words, they knew where he was from that point forward.

When we hear this story, do any of us find it surprising? Maybe the part that Jesus did not communicate to his parents that he would like to stay at the temple for a few days, but do ANY of us find it odd that Jesus felt right at home there? He was indeed in his Father’s house, and he was taking in everything he could. One would think that God was very pleased with Jesus, not because he called the Temple his Father’s home, but because he wanted to learn and what we hear from the reading is Jesus made an impression: After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.

I opened with what makes a house a home? If you needed to leave this church for a while and you came back, upon your return wouldn’t you feel like you were “coming back home?” When someone dies don’t we say they were called “home’ to God? Jesus said he would prepare a room for us. Hopefully, when each of us get there, we will feel right at home! Amen.

Sunday December 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!

Let’s begin today with a question: What is the tallest tale you have ever heard? The story your mind couldn’t wrap around, and as you were listening to the story a voice inside your head kept screaming; Fiction, Foul, False, Impossible, Bull manure, or something similar. Many of you who are related to fishermen or hunters have all heard about the one which got away. Some of you who may have grown up in a very competitive household with siblings who were always trying to out-do each other may have heard a real whopper or two. A number of us have lived in New Jersey all our lives; have any of you SEEN the Jersey Devil? It resides not all that far from here in our beloved Pine Barrens. While I was recuperating from Covid; I watched a lot of episodes from a TV show called Unexplained Mysteries and another called Paranormal Caught on Camera. Ann and I would spend many hours trying to debunk what we were watching, and fascinated by the ones we simply couldn’t explain. I am a Bigfoot fan, I’d like to believe Bigfoot exists, but I am certain some of you and many of my friends and family would tell me to get real, there is no proof. But I can’t help myself, if there is a show regarding Bigfoot, I want to watch it! When I go back to my Boy Scout days I remember hearing loud wood knocks in the woods; supposedly one of the ways Bigfoots communicate to one another. The word in that last sentence which should probably stand out is the word; supposedly.

So, those fictional stories or probable fictional stories you heard, did they also entertain you? Did you place your tongue firmly in your cheek while listening? Did you laugh it off? Do you still remember the story today? Have you told any of those stories yourself? Last question; have you ever considered that there may be a small chance that the story you heard was actually true?

So, while you ponder that question, let me remind you that we hear very early on in the Bible about a talking serpent who tempts Eve. In fact, the serpent tempts Eve enough for her to turn around and tempt her partner; Adam. The result of the story is that humans are going to be mortal, and all of us will die one day. The serpent didn’t go away unpunished, God made sure that serpents and/or snakes will forever live their lives crawling on the ground, on their bellies.

The Old Testament in the Bible tells us about a burning bush with a voice inside. The Bible tells about a flood and a man named Noah who along with his family built an Ark which was large enough to house two of every living creature to keep them safe and so the world could start over after God flooded it. One might pause to wonder if we have the technology to build a ship large enough today that could house two of every living creature on it for forty days while the world was flooded. But are any Christians, Catholics or Jews calling foul on these stories? When it comes to faith, we believe or we don’t. Do any of you go through the Bible and say to yourself; “I believe this but not this?” We don’t pick and choose. We either take the Bible at its’ entirety or we don’t.

Thus, if I told you a story about two women who are related, and told you one was well past her child-bearing years, and I told you the other was a virgin, and THEN told you both got pregnant just months apart from each other, if you were not familiar with the Bible, what would you say to me? That’s right, most likely; “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” I mean, of all the stories for one to hear, one about a virgin and an elderly woman past her child-bearing years getting pregnant, it would be a real competition in our minds to decide which story had less chance of being true. Either story alone would be hard to believe, but to hear that both stories ARE true, happening in the same time period, and that the women are related, it would and probably should make your head spin. Yet, we hear today from the Gospel of Luke about these two women as one goes to visit the other: At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”]

I find that last verse interesting: Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her! Is Elizabeth referring to herself, or to Mary? Maybe, Elizabeth is referring to BOTH of them as these two women are indeed blessed. Oh, if you are a little rusty on Elizabeth, she isn’t just pregnant with a child as a gift from God, that gift will as an adult be called and remembered as no other than John the Baptist. Let that sink in for a moment, the mother of John the Baptist and the mother of Jesus Christ ARE related, and at this moment in time talking with each other, with the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaping when Mary greets her. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her. Two blessed women indeed!

Just as Isaiah told us that one day John the Baptist would come: “A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Our reading from Micah today tells about the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ; But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son, and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. 4 He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. 5 And he will be our peace.” One might argue this reading is a little ambiguous and that would be true if we were still talking about this being said BEFORE the arrival of Jesus, but that changes when we hear that this person will come out of Bethlehem and these verses; He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. 5 And he will be our peace.” We know this to be true, because it has already happened.

We can laugh about the one that got away, we can listen intently about stories of the Jersey Devil or Bigfoot and we can debate their existence all day long, but before we put every story we hear into the Fiction File, let us remember that there was once two very blessed women, who were related to each other, one past her child-bearing years and the other one a virgin; yet both are pregnant, and the boys they will give birth to are going to become men forever remembered; one named John the Baptist who will tell us from the wilderness about the arrival of the other, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who is coming, and as our faith tells us along with the same Bible which tells about these men and their mothers, Jesus Christ will come to us again! Amen!

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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