Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
January 7th, 2018
Mark 1: 1-13

 

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“Now It Begins”

Scripture:

“Today, we shall begin at the beginning of the story, as told in the first gospel written, the gospel according to Mark, chapter one, verses one thru thirteen.”

1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

“This writing has set the stage for us, as we now consider how the ministry of the man Jesus began so long ago. From here we can begin again to enter into a new time and a new chapter in our lives, as individuals and as a church.”

 

Sermon:

The season of winter is surely upon us and our northern friends are assuredly feeling the full wrath of winters icy touch with winds of cold arctic air, with a brush of white snow and ice, in many areas. We must keep them in our prayers as these types of harsh conditions can be as life threatening as a named storm like Irma or Matthew. The weather has, however, invoked some past-memories for me of winters long past. As a child I remember the snow building up to my waist, on a regular basis, and the snow drifts and such which I could climb up upon and slide down with the aid of a simple piece of cardboard or a small plastic disk or tray.
Yes, there are several, and many more of these past and long forgotten winter storm stories which I can recall. Like the blizzard of 1978 in the Boston Massachusetts area. There was one of these harsh flare-ups, a blizzard actually, on a Monday, just after a bad storm had hit just a few days earlier, a Friday I believe. It was an insensitive, ruthless and dangerous storm. By mid-afternoon thousands of travelers had been stranded along the major routes around the Boston area. Over three feet of snow had fallen at a rapid rate stranding many in their cars as the travel slowed to a scrawl, then a stop. Cars ran out of gas and the governor had to declare a state of emergency. I had skipped work for fear of the storm.
I was stranded in my apartment for most of a week before the roads in Andover and Lawrence were opened. It took an army to clear the cars that were stranded on the highways. What a winter!

Not all winter memories are so traumatic. I remember being able to go sledding upon hard packed snows and some ice skating and a little bit of cross country skiing. Now skiing is a fascinating sport! My older sister took me skiing when I was in my early teens. That was the beginning of some fascinating adventures! Without even a lesson she took me up the ski lift to the top of a mountain in New Hampshire. It may have been Mount Snow or maybe not, I am unsure exactly, it was a long time ago! I am terrible at names of people, places and things! But, you all know that already! The only thing about that day of skiing with my older sister ‘Lois’, was she did not give me much instruction! Oh my, it just simple good luck I did not break a leg or worse! She just told me to head on down the slope and enjoy. What a thrill it was too, until I leaned the wrong way and went head over heal down the slope. But, I was young and the drama and thrill of it all kept me going. It was many years later before I took a couple lessons and started to have a more reasonable run down some slopes in Maine. Great memories.

All this talk of winter got into to my consciousness, and I found myself thinking about when I was a youth group leader, the year before I entered seminary. We had a small group of teens. A good group really. Well, that winter I helped them organize a ski trip into New Hampshire. My life was full, and I had not been skiing for well over ten years or more by that time. Well, that Saturday we got together, we met at the church, where it all began. Two car loads of teens arrived, and I rode with them and the Assistant Pastor, Elizabeth, came with us to give us the two chaperones we needed. Right off, I knew I was over my head so to speak. I was the only one who did not own my own skis and all the latest gear to go with them.
When we arrived at the resort I promptly ran off to rent my skis and such while they all headed for the slopes. They went up the gondolas before I got set up with my rented equipment. I remember that ‘gut feeling’ of being way out of my league. And I was!

I finally got on the gondola and headed up the mountain. It was way more than a hill! The assistant Pastor found me up there just kind of frozen in place unable to get myself headed down the trail. She saw that sheepish look of uncertainty in my eyes and she made a suggestion. “The best way to get back into skiing is just to push off down the slope and then quickly fall down. You do remember how to fall down don’t you Tim?” Well with her urging that is exactly what I did. I pushed off down the hill and after ten or fifteen yards I purposely feel down. There is a right and a wrong way to do that on skies, by the way. After I brushed myself off – the basics came back to me. By myself, now I began the rituals of the basic stuff, like remembering how to snow plow, a technic to slow your pace as you headed down the hill, and parallel skiing from, side to side, as I slowly skied down the slope. By the time I got down I was having a great time. I came down the mountain twice before I ran into the youth group. They were excited to see me upright on my skies and we then rode up the gondolas together.

Then it began. Taking me into the heart of my day and this accounting. My humanness overwhelmed me.

At the top of the slope these young vibrant and athletic young skiers, quickly picked out a trail and urged me to come with them. Feeling Over confident after my two slow runs down the beginners slope I accepted their invite. Everything was fine until we got around that second corner; it was then that I realized we were on one of the tougher trails… the field of what I call ‘moguls’ loomed and there was no way to avoid them. “Moguls are a series of bumps… formed when skiers push snow into mounds as they do sharp turns… Since skiing tends to be a series of linked turns, moguls form together to create a bump field. /Wikipedia/ I had no experience with this level of skiing and was getting very concerned. But there was no turning back. I was going fast and saw those near me fly over these mounds of snow. They handled them well… they were well experienced, and I was not. I made it over the first one. It was breath taking but when I hit the second one I was ill prepared and went flying, when I landed I tumbled and eventually found myself buried in a sea of snow. I think someone stopped to see if I survived but that was the last I saw of them for a while.

We all begin somewhere. My adventures with that youth group took on a different meaning after I survived the ski slopes. In our scripture lesson this morning the ministry of Jesus began at the river Jordan, with a wild evangelist named John the Baptist! What a beginning that was. If we ‘peel off’ the finery of the story teller, in the gospel of Mark, we will see a very rugged prophet living out in the wilderness. The Spirit of God was surely with him as he lived a harsh and weathered existence out by the river, proclaiming for all to hear, the coming of the kingdom of heaven. His message was simple. He was confronting the sins of humanity in this rugged setting, while warning everyone that they must repent their evil ways; repent their sinfulness and be baptized, be cleansed by him in the waters of the river… to prepare themselves for the coming of the Messiah.
He clarified in his wild way that the One who was to come was mightier than he and would baptize them with the Holy Spirit of God!

This is how this first gospel writer from Mark introduces us to the man Jesus. You scholars among us, you may have noticed that Mark doesn’t bother to tell us the of birth stories of the baby Jesus, as contained in the later gospels of Matthew and Luke! No, Mark wanted to get right into the beginning of the ministry of this the Son of God, this the Son of humankind! Only from the later gospel accounts do we learn how Jesus was born of Mary, the virgin, in Bethlehem; and how Jesus was raised in Nazareth as the son of a carpenter named Joseph! No, Mark brings us to the Jordan and introduces us to John the Baptist as he prepares the way, just as the story teller prepares us for the dramatic entry and the beginning of the ministry of Jesus! Perhaps, at The Spirit’s urging he wrote with such flare to catch the attention of Twenty-First century Christians whom are traumatized by ‘reality shows, the science fiction and dramatic story telling such as the epic “Star Wars” and Lord of the Rings” Trilogies!

Not only does Jesus arrive at the river where John was, Jesus asks the Baptizer to Baptism him! John of course is shocked, telling Jesus he is not worthy! But Jesus insists! Wow! Mark sure knew how to get folks to listen to this drama unfold! Yes, this is a dramatic moment! This isn’t a cuddly birth narrative! Nor the poetic stories of the three kings, the Magi, whom were heaven laden and travel wiry, as they followed a star, and found the baby in a manger, in Bethlehem, where they presented his parents with their expensive gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh! No, those stories aren’t even recorded for readers such as us to even read about in the gospel of Mark! No, Mark keeps the dramatic pace of this narrative moving ever forward! Once Jesus is baptized we hear how the heavens are torn asunder! Then, then in sharp contrast there is a dove, representing the Living Spirit of the Almighty himself coming and sitting upon Jesus’ shoulders! What a dramatic beginning! Mark wanted to be sure everyone gets it! The ministry of Jesus was meant to change everything! Yet, the symbol of the dove was meant to temper that and let us know that this man Jesus – would represent the fullness of God’s Love – for all of humanity!

This was only the beginning of the story! Yet, Mark continues the drama as we hear that the Spirit of God drove Jesus out into the wilderness to prepare him for the work, the ministry of his calling! That’s how it began!

As modern-day Christians we need to take a moment… and just breath this all in! Even Jesus, and clearly John the Baptist, had to endure the harsh realities of the all too real world in which they found themselves in. Our northern friends are experiencing the arctic cold of a harsh winter. John and Jesus were experiencing the hardness of the dry arid air and the dusty, hot desert wilderness! Life can be tough, and our gospel writer knew this. And therefore, wanted to be sure we were able to read into this passage that these men were not part of a beautifully scripted birth narrative. But rather in real human sweat and toil… they were ready to roll up their sleeves and tackle the real troubles of the society, the world in which they were born into! With this as the backdrop: now it begins!

The work of ministry is now on the story tellers table – ready for the ‘listeners’ like you and me… to listen. Listen and be attentive, for it is in the challenges, the moguls and the rough places of life, it is here, where the ministries of Jesus and the religious leaders that the early disciples represented, this is where it began! The work of ministry for we the family of this church, is now on the table! The resetting of new goals – for the new year ahead, is now being displayed for all who have ears to hear! The terrain we travel upon lays in front of us; not behind us! (That which is left behind is now just a history lesson, from which things can perhaps be learned from.) The Spirit of God is stirring and the time to begin has arrived! How will the story teller whom writes about this our community tell the tale? Surely, the time of testing and preparation are upon us, as we reorganize and re-plan, perhaps re-shaping how this ministry, which we are all a part of, shall serve this community, while following the will of God! Surely, the angels of heaven, the Living Spirit of Christ, shall tend to our needs as we prepare ourselves for the journey ahead!

Amen

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
December 31st, 2017
Luke: 2: 22-40

 

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“The Promise is Presented!”

 Scripture:

“Hear now these words from the gospel according to Luke, chapter two, verses twenty-two thru forty.”

22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. 39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

“May our hearts, as-well-as our ears be open to this reading of Jesus’ being presented at the temple, as was the custom.”

 

Sermon:

Wow! The Christmas celebration is over, the presents are all unwrapped, many of which have already been exchanged for that special something we really wanted, or now we have the right size for that sweater or blouse. Memories of Christmas Eve still linger, yet, we know that tonight is New Year’s Eve. The end of the year has arrived and after tonight and lingering slightly into tomorrow, the holiday season is over! Probably a good thing really. As I don’t think my unrestricted holiday eating habits are something I ought to take into next year! Yup, time to tighten the budget and cut down on candy, pies and cookies for a bit. At least until the next ‘special occasion’ comes up! Yes, it is time to begin thinking about the new year and consider the journey ahead of us. I am assuming you do know, that celebrating Christmas is not the same as living into the full meaning of Christmas. Hum… based on your blank expressions, perhaps you are not ready for that conversation yet. But, I cannot help but believe that some of you folks whom have a year or two on me, may have some clear understandings of that which I am implying.

In fact, our passage of scripture, from the gospel according to Luke, does seem to want us to reflect on the wisdom which comes from leading a long life. Many believe that this is the hidden message for us to consider as we are lead: to acknowledge the wisdom of age. Sure, the scripture passage is about Jesus being presented at the Temple. But isn’t there a lot more said about the old man named “Simeon ‘who’ came into the temple, guided by the Spirit”? /Luke 2:27/ It was Simeon whom was “righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation (the comfort and the relief and the support even) of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested ‘upon’ him.” /Luke 2: 25b/ Clearly, Simeon becomes the center of the reading and the presentation of Jesus becomes the backdrop. “It had been revealed to him (to Simeon) by the Holy Spirit that he (Simeon) would not see death before he (Simeon) had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” /Luke 2:26/ It was Simeon whom we now listen to… and the family and those gathered at the Temple that day… listened to! “Then Simeon blessed them and said to the baby Jesus’ mother Mary, “This child (the baby Jesus) is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed (resisted, and even challenged by some) so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” /Luke 2:34-35/ Surely, we must pause and look to the grace of age and the wisdom of life that Simeon had attained which assisted him as revealed in such a dramatic prophecy to the onlookers that day!

William Loader, from Murdoch University, a part of the Uniting Church in Australia, gives us his scholarly and mystical view on this topic. “Luke reflects the honoring of wise elderly people. Probably frail and able to achieve little that counts on the scale of the economic rationalists, ‘yet’ they are rich sources of wisdom.” Then this theologian goes on to challenge us Americanized Christians, by stating the obvious while then turning it into a question! “Congregations often have Simeon’s and Anna’s; ‘yet’ are they heard?” Let us not forget Anna, this prophet also comes center stage in our reading! “There was also a prophet, Anna… She was of a great age.” /Luke 2:36/ She apparently was living within the Temple and when she saw the baby Jesus she came over to the gathering. “At that moment, she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” /Luke 2:38/ She in her old age, and with great wisdom and perhaps some Spiritual inspiration, spoke regarding the child Jesus, regarding whom he was to become. Were those gathered around – willing to listen to this frail older woman – as she made such a declaration? Apparently enough remembered her words, to at least have been included in this scripture passage about all which had occurred while the baby Jesus was presented at the Temple.

Perhaps, as a society, we do not honor the collective wisdom of the elderly. “While television, radio, and print media champion the young as models of vision, vigor, and imagination, scripture portrays quite another story.” /Terry Thomas Primer – The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University/ I must agree with the author’s ‘intent’ for having written this statement. Not to say, I disagree with the description of our youth having vision, vigor, and imagination! On the contrary they do, and we need to keep acknowledging this and encouraging its growth within our younger generations. However, could it be… oftentimes, we barely offer tokenism, ‘minimal-effort’ to raising up the ‘wisdom’ of age and the visions of our older generations; visions which helped shape our society and our religious institutions for what they and we are accomplishing! Their vigor and tenacity – tis that which brought a country together – in the midst of several world crisis’ and war. Yes, at times ‘awards’ are presented to such as these. For those of us who were here on Christmas Eve, many of us had the opportunity to greet our own Pastor Emeritus, the Reverend Jim Allen. He is fast approaching the ripe old age of a hundred and two in March of 2018. Pastor Jim is aging rapidly now, and I will be visiting with him on a much-accelerated rate in the coming weeks. A great many of you surely remember when he was awarded the ‘Medal of Honor’ back just a short time ago. Yet, have we given due honor to folks such as this in our day-to-day debates and dialogs about the future of this and that in our culture, and here within our own church? Something for us to consider as this year ends, and we move into our uncharted future.

Let me digress for a bit as I share a memory and perhaps an insight or two about the age of retirement. Five years ago, I took an early retirement. It was quite an experience. I went into that time-period with my eyes closed to its realities. During those ensuing eleven months I lived through a lot of things. From the eyes ‘of my time of retirement’ I learned a lot about my life, and I learned how I would need to adjust my understanding of retirement; as it was not what I expected. The first thing that occurred was a dramatic change in how I saw myself! I no longer saw myself as a pastor, but as a retired man trying to find his way to a radical change in lifestyle. Some of which was very well received. I went to church with my wife; we sat in the third row back from the pulpit and I was not leading worship. That was very special, and I do long for the time when I shall once again assume the role of ‘husband’ rather than ‘pastor’ while worshipping on Sunday mornings.

Yet, there were many other things going on for me that I had to grapple with as a retired pastor.

I cried every Sunday, while listening to the pastor and by singing along with the choir, always conscious of my loving wife at my side. That was how Sunday’s began. During the week I did devote more time to exercise and self-care. Now, I must admit that part of retirement was very rewarding! I strived to read more, and I volunteered in a support activity I truly love and respect. After a bit, I began to find the freedom of choice within each day, to be very gratifying. This got me through the first six months, then it all changed. I began to feel empty and unneeded. I was having an identity crisis. My salvation came from belonging to a support group and a large men’s fellowship group at the church where I was attending. Each had its purpose and thankfully I was still teachable. It was from the men’s group that I got the guidance to grapple with my retirement issue. One man finally said it plainly, clearly summing up what many were trying to pass on to me: “Tim” he said. “You think you have a financial problem. You, do not. You do need to accept the realities within the economic realm you find yourself in. But, your real issue is learning, for yourself, what you will do with your God given talents – which are contained in what is referred to as your ‘intellect’ and ‘brain’. And equally important, you need to find out how to use and express your deep heart felt love of people and God.” “That” he said “is where your identity resides”! Find these things and you will find yourself and your future in this world, as you continue redirecting your energies, in these golden years.”

What wonderful wisdom this older man passed on to me. Clearly, he was telling me the journey, to a fulfilled retirement, comes with some personal struggles and adjustments. Staying with this line of thought for just a moment longer, I came across this writing: Beth Jackson-Jordan wrote these words, while in Texas, at ‘The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University’. “Many older adults find they are as busy in retirement as they were earlier in life. Though their schedules are full, they may struggle to find a satisfying purpose for this stage of life. How can congregations help us, in our later years, hear a special calling from God?”

As we draw ‘to a close’ our discussions for the year 2017, we must again draw from our scripture lesson. We are told how “The child (Jesus) grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” /Luke 2:40/ Maybe this is what we must due as we grow older. “Perhaps the description of Jesus “growing” and “increasing” might encourage us to keep growing and increasing in our wisdom and in divine and human favor.” /Brian Stoffregen/ Where is it written that growing ends at age 21, or 35, or even 50? Better yet, why do we think that our value to society begins to fade after we reach retirement, whether it be at age 65 or 70 or even 80, or 90 or even 101? Consequently, we must consider how the baby Jesus and the elder prophets at the Temple, both Simeon and Anna, came together. The child on the one hand just beginning his early journey, and Anna and Simeon, clearly greeting the knowledge that their lives had come to completion through the presentation of this child of God, the Messiah, the baby born of Mary, named Jesus. The baby Jesus and his family were greeting the future with humility and dignity; the elders were celebrating their end through their witness to Jesus’ identity as the “Son of God!’

Let us humbly let the year 2017 come to rest as we embrace the new opportunities which this new year, the year 2018 shall bring to us, one and all! Amen.

Pastor’s Note January 2018

Happy New Year everyone! May God bless this new year called 2018! As we ask for this blessing we must pause and reflect on the year just passed, the year 2017. What went right, and what went wrong? Making a list is a good way to sort this out. Checking off those things that were accomplished and then listing also those things which did not go as planned. Are there things left over, undone, that we can now do? This would be a good time to make a new list of things that can now get accomplished in this new year! Where we did right, let’s celebrate, giving thanks to God for those accomplishments!

With God’s blessing, we shall look forward into this new year with the hope we talked about during Advent. As Christians we need always face life with hope firmly in our hearts, bringing our positive attitudes into all of which we pray will transpire, as we now move forward into these unchartered times. As we do so, let us not forget: The God of our understanding has not brought us this far into our journeys to forsake us now! No, the God of Christmas, the ‘Light’ of Christ now shines in the darkness. Our Christmas celebration was meant to remind us of God’s fervent and faithful love for all of us! Christmas is meant to be a time of jubilant joy which ought to put our hearts to rest and offer us some peace!

If we find ourselves exhausted from the activities of our Christmas and New Year’s celebrations we can now take some time to rest! Clearly, our loving God would want us to take care of our needs today! Don’t put this off until tomorrow… get the rest you need. If you are in a state of emotional turmoil, turning to God in prayer may be helpful. Or seek council from your pastor or someone close to you. Don’t allow your needs to go uncared for too long. Come to church and allow times of worship to nourish your spirit!

Personally, I am excited about yet another new year! There are still so many, many things on my ‘to do’ list! I pray you all will look for the ‘Light’ of Christ in the new opportunities in front of you as well! There are a multitude of wonderful fulfilling adventures still to be had. All we need do is follow the path that God has laid out for us as individuals, as a faith community, and as a people! May God’s love, God’s grace and mercy set your feet on this a new pathway: with Faith, with new hope, and with fulfilled peace and new joy! Happy New Year to one and all!

Pastor Tim Woodard