March 11th, 2018
Psalm 107:1-3, and 17-22
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard




“Hear now the words of the Psalmist, Psalm 107, verses one thru three and verses seventeen thru twenty-two. Let us allow our ears to hear these words and our hearts to be open to their meaning.”

1 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. 2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble 3 and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.
17 Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction; 18 they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. 19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress; 20 he sent out his word and healed them and delivered them from destruction. 21 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. 22 And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.

“Let now consider the meaning of this ancient writing which has been passed to us for our consumption in the here and in the now.”


“Healed and Freed”

These last few months, commonly referred to as the “Flu Season” has been a really bad season. Quite a bit of attention has been drawn to just how bad it has been. If it were not for the larger news stories that keep clogging up our airways, it seems certain that we would have received even more data on just how bad it has been. Florida is one of only three states that are now reporting minimal flu activity, Montana and Maine being the other two. That means there are still a lot of people struggling with the flu across our nation. Most states are still reporting high flu activity. Not good. They say this is reaching the level of the 2009 pandemic. Which translates to a plague or epidemic. There are a few whom believe this could get a lot worse in the next couple of years. Analyst tell us that the average over the past 31 years is as high as 36,000 or as low as 23,000 people whom have died of the flu each year. Every year over 200,000 people are hospitalized with the flu. Seems like a large portion of our congregation was sick at one point in the last three or four months.

It is just awful when we get sick! You know this, and I know this. But, it is only worse if we do not ask someone to help us when this happens. We also know there are a variety of ways to become ill. Physical illness takes on many forms. One of course is the flu which we have come to know a lot about this year! Mental illness takes on yet another multitude of shapes and sizes. We don’t talk about this as much as too many of us feel embarrassed or mortified by our illness. This of course, is unnecessary as illness is illness. Hopefully, we can all agree on this. Right? Then there are emotional illnesses, often caused by our own state of mind and how we respond to life all around us. Most of us keep this a secret, especially from ourselves as we are in denial that anything is wrong. Unfortunately, denial is the leading cause of untreated emotional illnesses. Seems that the medical profession sees no difference between mental or emotional illness, which may give us some clues as to how serious this can be! Each one of these types of illness have different avenues we must take in order to become well. Healing is… to many of us a mystical thing… which we do not fully understand. We leave it up to the doctors and the trained nurses to help us through our times of recovery. Sometimes it is a caregiver, like our spouse or a parent whom are there to assist and in other cases there is no one who is there for that someone who is suffering from illness.

When I am sick I want to be healed of my illness. For the vast majority of us this is certainly true. We want to snap our fingers and be healed! Perhaps this is why so many seek out those who will promise them instant relief… no matter what the cost. How sad. As we mature and become wiser we learn that this is seldom the case. True healing often takes some time. Unfortunately, this is like dealing with a computer. If you have ever tried to resolve an update issue with your new laptop computer, you probably understand that these things take time and a bit of patience. Also, you need to be willing to trust the Windows update process. This is not always easy. In the same way, we need to be willing to trust a doctor, a councilor or a medical professional if we want medical help. You go to your doctor for instance and you are told you need a procedure. But, you wait until you are sure there is no other way to handle it… ultimately, the pain or the symptoms get to difficult to deal with. Reluctantly, you finally go and seek the medical help you need. Trust me, if this is you, you are not alone. Large numbers of us feel the same way. We try to self-medicate or hope time will relieve our symptoms. In some situations, this may be true. But, many times things only get worse and we need to seek some help.

In the psalm we are reviewing this morning – the psalmist speaks of yet another type of illness. “Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction;” /Psalm 107:17/ This is yet another type of illness; soul sickness. Sickness caused by doing things which are sinful, wicked, corrupt or just plain immoral or evil. Our reading speaks of how these folks become so distraught, over their errant ways, that they stop eating, they stop taking care of themselves. Unfortunately, these types of folks still co-exist here with the rest of us mortals. This has been true throughout the realm of time itself. The only good news is that this group of folks, they at least know they have become sick, suggesting to me at least, that they still have a conscience or at least a spark of morality and integrity left. They, like all of us here gathered, when we are trapped in our own quagmire caused by our own wrong doings, we eventually want to be freed of our anguish! And, like everything else, we want to be freed right now! Again, this is not always possible. Even through God’s grace and mercy, which existed before the man Jesus of Nazareth was born, this still often takes time.

Let us consider this for a moment. We Christians often speak about what knowing Christ is all about and what it means to be forgiven of our sins. These discussions often lead to a dialogue about what salvation is all about. Unfortunately, most of us Christians only have a fleeting understanding about all this; other than knowing we need to be forgiven when we get discovered doing a bad thing or caught saying something we ought not to have said. Apparently, this was the same for those whom lived before Jesus was even born. If this were not true why would the Psalmist have drawn us into this discussion this morning. If you are uncertain about what I am saying, then let it be known that it is believed that the Psalms were written way back before the time of Christ. Some believe it was King David who wrote the Psalms. If this is true, then we are talking about the time period between 1037BC thru 976BC. /Garfield/ Yet, “Most of the psalms are traditionally attributed to Kings David and Solomon, and on that basis would probably have been written in Jerusalem during the tenth century BC.”/Dick Harfield/ What? The Tenth Century Before Christ? But we are now in the Twenty-First Century after Christ was born. That means we are talking about thirty, thirty-one Centuries ago when the Psalms were written!

One can only surmise, humans are either slow to learn how to take care of themselves and how to repent from their wrongful ways, or at the very least, each generation must learn its own lessons and grow from where they are. Either way, it seems that it takes a long time for humans to respond to God’s grace and mercy. Especially, considering how we whom live in the Twenty-First Century are compared to: where humankind was back in the days of the Psalmist. Pastor and teacher Alan Brehm speaks of what it takes for many of us to get to the point of becoming willing to change our ways, thereby becoming healed of our sinful nature. “It takes a significant dose of humility to align our lives with God’s kingdom. ‘Pastor Brehm’ thinks that part of what Jesus is talking about is being willing to renounce the illusion of self-sufficiency. I think it is very similar to the perspective of the Psalmist about the ‘humble’ who recognize their need for God versus the ‘proud’ who think they can take care of themselves.” Again, we are talking about those willing and those whom are not willing to turn to God and ask for help and assistance in living one’s life.

An American Theologian offers us her insight into this quagmire, this perplexity of human nature. “We may never find ourselves literally wandering in a desert wasteland, forced to dwell in a place of deep darkness, sick to the point of death, or caught in a tumultuous storm at sea, but as James Mays points out, each of us have or will face those times when we need desperately the redeeming hand of God.” /Nancy deClaisse-Walford/ This is the crux of the matter. Whether it be the Flu, a broken arm, or a disorder of the mind, or even a distorted emotional understanding of life, we all need someone to help us through the maze of it all… as we seek to right ourselves and get back on track. The same is true when we turn our backs to the moral guidelines of the Bible; or the teachings of Jesus; or even the laws of social order… which we as a people need to abide by; thereby granting one another some level of equality and justice for others. Let us not wait until our lives become a wasteland. Let us turn to God and ask for help. Let us turn to those around us offering them a hand, whereas they in turn will be freed to do likewise when we or others are in need.

It has been pointed out that the author of this psalm tried to illustrate for us how God is in our lives. “The psalmist pictures God’s ears as constantly tuned to the noises we make. He instantly hears our pained cries for help and responds with rescue.” /Robert L. Hubbard, Jr./ Young parents have mirrored this illustration as they set up their nurseries for their new born children. The monitor picks up every gurgle and noise which comes from the nursery which is only footsteps away from the parents sitting room where they may be watching TV or entertaining a friend. They clearly understand and accept that their newborn is not self-sufficient and needs their attention. Therefore, they are constantly attentive to the child’s needs.

Like all children, we grow up, and we begin to care for ourselves and our caregivers take on different roles within our lives, and we become more and more capable of caring for our own needs. As time passes it is up to us to recognize when we need the help of another and ask for it. It is the same with our relationship with God. When we are helpless God reaches out to us and offers us assistance. When we able, we must be the one who reaches out to accept the mercy, the compassion, and the understanding ear of the God – whom has been with us and our ancestors since the start of time. When we do so, we shall be healed of what ails us and freed from the bondage it has ensnared us in. Healed and freed we can begin to make better choices and decisions.

Be at peace. God has been with humankind throughout the biblical narrative. God is with us now. Remember: things may not be what they could be, yet they are better than they would be, if God were not here to assist us along the way. Let us sing songs of joy and praise, giving thanks to God! Amen.

Happy Birthday, Pastor Allan!!

On Friday – March 16th our Pastor Emeritus, the Reverend James Allan, celebrated his 102nd birthday!!

Pastor Allan came to the United Church of Christ, Congregational in Melbourne, FL (our former name/location) in January 1973,  accepting the call of full-time pastor, to our then struggling congregation.  During his tenure, he took our church through a process of healing and re-structuring.  He retired his position in 1977, and has remained an active member/influence of our congregation.

The past several years have taken a physical toll on Pastor Allan, thus limiting his active participation on a regular basis, but  he continues to be a guide/inspiration to our current pastor and membership.

The Riviera United Church of Christ wishes Pastor Allan a very Happy Birthday!

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

Psalm 19: 1-14, page # 433

March 4th, 2018




“Hear now these words from Psalm nineteen, verses one thru fourteen. Allow your heart to be open to the psalmist as he describes the glory of God.”

1 The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. 3 There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; 4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun, 5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy. 6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is ‘hid’ from its heat. 7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple; 8 the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes; 9 the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb. 11 Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. 12 But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults. 13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. 14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

“As we consider these ancient words attributed to the psalmist let us stay open to their meaning in our understanding of God in the Twenty-First Century.”


“God’s Country”

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. /Genesis 1:1-5/ The psalmist proclaims for all who have ears to hear the glory of God! The words of Psalm nineteen were written so we would not forget that we live in God’s Creation and we reside in God’s Country! “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” /Psalm 19:1/ All praise be given to our God, the God of Creation, the God of Adam and Eve, the God of Cain and Abel, the God of Elijah and Moses!

“God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” /Genesis 1: 27-28/ And thus and therefore, the story of creation led to the accounting of a tribe called ‘Israel’ and a people who came to know God. Yet their human nature caused them to fall into peril. Much has been written about their journey through time and their interactions with creation, so that we whom read of their understandings of God, might grow and prosper under the guidance of the Heavenly Creator!

One of the great biblical stories was the telling of the boy born a slave, whom was hidden in order to save his life by a desperate mother. The legend tells us of how he was raised in Egypt by Pharaohs daughter. As a man he discovers his origin and soon finds himself thrown into exile where he begins a new life, yet not void of his heritage. Later on, we learn God has only just gotten started with Moses. “Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush.” /Exodus 3:1-4b/ The story continues in the midst of the vastness of that region of the world. Throughout his journey we are constantly reminded that Moses exists in God’s creation, a vast uncharted world which sets scene after breath taking scene, causing story tellers and novelist and even great movies to be made in order to keep telling the fullness of such wonders and happenings, throughout the biblical journey of Israel, the Hebrew people of old.

You and I, we live in God’s country. Floridians know of God’s country. Northerners flock here ever winter, just as the robins and the birds of the air know God has created a marvelous thing here – on this peninsular on the southern tip of the east coast of these United States of America! Yes indeed! “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” /Psalm 19:1/ What a great place to live and a fabulous place to visit in the wintertime! But God has not restricted this thought to just us, nor the people of Israel. I have only seen a bit of the world, yet it is clear that there are many peaks and valleys worthy of such praise. From Mount Washington to Mount Everest and across the mountains of South Korea where the Winter Olympics have just concluded! We can continue on from the Grand Canyon to the River Nile. The sandy beaches of Florida give way to the shores of the Hawaiian Islands and lagoons in countless sea resorts around the globe. Niagara Falls is breath taking when you stand close to the thunderous roar of the falls; likewise, when the Sun rises and then sets, the majesty of Creation is proclaimed for all to see and hear! Yes, it is right to proclaim the glory of God throughout the world!

One theologian shouts out to us: “The heavens are telling God’s glory, and so can we, as our words and thoughts are pleasing to God.” /James Howell/ But, this is only the beginning of what the psalmist proclaims! C. S. Lewis called Psalm 19 “the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.” The Psalmist wrote for humankind believing God would forgive their transgressions. “The psalmist knows that no one ‘can detect their [own] errors.’ Therefore, the psalmist prays, ‘Clear me from hidden faults’.” /Rolf Jacobson/ For the people of biblical times and for all of us in modern times, the psalmist petitions God on our behalf, knowing we need help clarifying what is right from what is wrong in the sight of God. “The laws of God are perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of God are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts, the teachings, the guidelines and the instructions of God are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandments of our God are clear, enlightening the eyes;” /Psalm 19:7-8/

As modern children of God, we need to cling to the words of scripture which teach us the ways in which God desires us to live in community together. These instructions, the psalmist tells us, are “More to be desired are they then gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.” /Psalm 19:10/ When we tell an untruth, for our own sake, to another, we are going against the will of God. When we allow the words of our mouths to put down our neighbors we are turning our backs on the teachings of God. When we speak ill of a brother or a sister, we are not following principles which are written for our guidance. We must cling to the words, which come from the teachings of the prophets of old. Furthermore, we must follow the teachings of Jesus and the disciples whom knew and who know God through Christ. We must do so for our understanding of God begins at the start of time and continues into these times in which we now live; here on the fifth day of March in the year 2018, in the Twenty-First Century!

Our protection from the traps and weaknesses of our humanness, of humankind, come with our grasp and our perceptions of the will of God. The psalmist has added to our understanding as we are reminded that this is God’s Creation, this is God’s World, God’s Country! If we humble ourselves, long enough to be reminded of these simple thoughts, then we shall come to appreciate the simple edicts and guides the psalmist points us toward. If we want to return to the idealism of the ‘Garden of Eden’ where all are innocent, and everything is good and justice for all prevails, then we shall need to put our trust in God, not in the knowledge of what humankind can do with technologies and science, or with force and power.

From out of the mouths of the younger generations we are being called to task for our failings as a people. God bless them. Perhaps they are the voices of the modern psalmist pleading our case to God, for all to hear. From out of their generation shall we will find the new leaders, whom will lead us, with integrity and truth, into the Twenty-Second Century?! Let us pray that just as we have seen the torch of our Olympic champions passed from generation to generation that this too shall come to pass. Here in our own country we saw the struggle for freedom to worship God as we understand God. We have seen the injustice of slavery reversed. We have seen women gain equality in the work force. We have seen our way through civil war and two world wars. Let us pray we can find our way through the wars that still rage throughout the world, while overcoming the wars that still seethe and fume within our own society: bigotry, racism, and social injustices – to name but a few. May the heavens hear our pleas for help and for our restoration!

We know from the scriptures how Moses followed the will of God. Throughout his journey Moses continually uncovers the power of God to overcome great obstacles. The psalmist clarifies and reminds us that God is good. God hears all and knows all. God knows our hearts, and thus has set forth simple guidelines that are to direct out modes and to shape our character. The psalmist glorified all of creation and all of the laws set down via Moses from the Mount of Horeb, the Mount of Sinai. The psalmist asks God, on behalf of we the people, to protect humankind from those whom would steal them away from the will of God. The psalmist proclaimed it and a modern theologian restates it for us: “Hearing the voice of God in creation, hearing the voice of God’s law that gives us life, we can join the voice of the psalmist in the psalm’s final section, appreciating the law’s warning and its intention of keeping us from falling into transgression, praying at last that our words, our voice, be acceptable to God.” /Fred Gaiser/

“Let the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our rock and our redeemer.” /Psalm 19:14 adapted/

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
February 25th, 2018
Mark 8: 31-38




“Hear now these words of scripture taken from the New Testament, the gospel according to Mark, chapter eight, verses thirty-one thru thirty-eight. Listen as Jesus interacts with his disciples. Let your hearts, as-well-as your ears be open to hearing the meaning of this ancient writing,”

Mark 8:31-38
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

“Allow yourselves to be willing to consider all that it means to be a follower of Jesus, the crucified and risen Christ, bearing in mind the cost and the rewards of such a relationship.”



“Called to Follow!”

There was a Professor of Christian Theology at Andover Newton Theological School, where I studied and earned my Master of Divinity degree, his name was Rev. Gabe Fackre. I took several courses with Rev. Fackre and my wife and I, Lois, even went to a week-long retreat with him on Cape Cod, long after I had graduated from Seminary. He was a great guy and an excellent professor. He passed from this life to the next on January 31st, of this year. One of the things I will always cherish from his life is a book he wrote on the basics of Christian Theology. He had a way of writing that made the complex seem simple. When it came time to choose a theologian for my Ordination Paper, Gabe was my choice. He followed the line of reasoning that simply puts salvation as a human choice. When we turn toward the light of God human fear and all forms of evil fall away, giving us the opportunity to follow God’s will; thus, we are saved. Conversely, when we choose to turn away from the light of God and face into the darkness, human fear takes over, giving life to the evil that resides within us all: pride, greed, lust, sloth, envy, gluttony and wrath. Professor Fackre did not advocate a belief in the personification of the Devil, rather the outgrowth of human weakness when void of the light of God!

Today, we are challenged by the words of Jesus: “But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” /Mark 8:33/ Jesus had just been admonished by Peter for saying “that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” /Mark 8:31/ Peter’s response to the words of Jesus were quite reasonable, for a human to speak. Yet, Peter had turned away from the truth of whom Jesus was: The Light of God, shining in the darkness. Jesus was quick to take Peter to task for representing the personification of evil itself, “Satan”! In his humanness, Peter was telling Jesus that he certainly could not let himself be put to death, for he was the Messiah! Jesus, born human, knew that he could not entertain this weak human line of thought. Jesus, born in the essence of humankind, had been born to save all people from its sinfulness through his own sacrifice! Therefore, the essence of God that also resided within his human body rejected Peter’s words and pushed him away – calling him Satan himself!

“Jesus’ rebuke acknowledges that it is human, but not helpful, to avoid the cross.” /Peter Woods/

Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm, author of the “Waking Dreamer” challenges all of us to choose a new pathway. “Jesus not only taught us, he showed us that the only way to truly live is to give yourself away for the sake of others. If we have the courage to follow him, then we will find that this path of self-giving is the way to freedom, and true joy, and all the life which God wants to give us each and every day.” Rev. Brehm goes on to give us some practical advice. “We only truly discover the life and love that God has to offer us… when we let go all the things we cling to so tightly in that small place of “I” and open ourselves to the people around us in compassion, understanding, and love.” /Alan Brehm/ In his book the “Waking Dreamer” he clearly speaks of how so many of us whom are caught up in the Twenty-First Century are avoiding life, rather than living it. He speaks of Alcoholism, workaholism, and an over indulgence of avoidance in the “I” focused culture in which we live, to turn aside from the harsh realities of our society; too numerous to name but a few. In his rantings he is clearly pushing us to embrace the self-sacrificial life, which Jesus lived as an example for others to follow.

We all have fallen prey to the vices of our times. We watch too much television and spend not enough time interacting with each other. We avoid getting to know what is happening in the real world, in which we live. Technology, although a tremendous achievement for society, has somehow, all at the same time, put human interaction at odds with love of something called social media. Rather than engage others personally, we find that there are a great multitude of individuals whom use a lifeless form of interaction, like tweeting! Years ago, I was trained as a professional telemarking salesperson. We were taught how to call into a business with the goal of speaking to a decision maker, in order to sell personal computers in the late 1980’s. One of the first things they impressed upon us was the loss of at least 70 percent of the art of personal interaction! When we talk with someone on the phone we lose all the dynamics of a personal one on one conversation. On the phone we must rely fully on words and on our intellect to get our point across. We lose the elements of the rest of our senses. 70 percent of the art of conversation is lost, give or take a few percentages! Good golly, no wonder we are in so much trouble in this country. Through technology, social media, the internet and such, we have given up 70 percent of human contact with each other! That is astonishingly awful and appalling! Yes, I know, many of us here today do not fit into this new technological model, yet, a very high percentage of people do! And for those that do, isolation and loneliness are becoming prevalent issues as therapists and counselors try to figure out what is happening to their clients, their patients!

OK, OK, so the problems surrounding effective communication skills didn’t start with the technologies of the Twenty-First Century! But, it is not helping to fix the problem. And it is a problem! If it were not, why would Jesus have brought it up way back in the time period of the gospels. Rev. Dr. David Lose puts this into easy to understand language. “And although [the disciples] weren’t bombarded with 5000 advertising images each day as we are, yet they still imagined that the secret to life was strength and power rather than vulnerability and love. And so, they interpreted Jesus’ miraculous acts as demonstrations of power rather than manifestations of love. And when Jesus describes the greatest act of love – giving his life for them and the world – they can only object.” The disciples were consumed with their desire to see Jesus become the Messiah as they had wrongly believed he would be. They strongly believed, as did most of the oppressed people of Israel, in that time-period, they believed the Messiah would free them from their bondage under the oppression of the Roman’s. They were wrong, Jesus was not going to be the knight in shining armor they were looking for.

What does it mean to take up our cross and follow Jesus? First, it means we must stop thinking only of our needs and strive to consider the needs of others. It is saying to us that our grip on power and influence within our own sphere is not the central focus of the needs for humanity! Nor, for that matter, those whom may be closest to us. High level executives, managers and professionals in every field know, or ought to know, that to reach the highest level, one must often sacrifice their closest relationships in order to achieve the impossible dream! They teach that very detail in several Master of Business Administration classes around the country. It has been quoted to me how professors have taught that if you want to make it to the top… you will need to discard some of the “baggage” one accumulates along the way. By baggage, they explicitly detail that spouses and families are baggage! Oh sure, they can provide for them, big pay checks and big homes, but they will need to curtail the personal time they spend with these loved ones. Taking up our crosses and following Jesus is more about personal relationships than about power and prominence in society!

Janet H. Hunt, a Lutheran pastor shares an opinion on this subject at hand. “How often is it necessary to make a concerted effort to pay attention to the person, the matter, the situation right in front of me – which may be calling me to ‘take up my cross’ – and not already be thinking ahead to whatever it is that is waiting on my to do list?” We do not need to be a professional or a manger to identify with this thought. I was at a pastor’s training class, for Interim ministry, where I observed a pastor talking with someone he did not know before that very moment. This younger pastor walked over to him and asked him a question about something that was on her mind. I have no idea what they talked about. We had just gone on lunch break. Surely, he, like myself, wanted to go freshen up and perhaps have a bite of lunch. Yet, I observed several things. He turned all his energy and attention to responding to her need, right there and then! He put aside whatever plans he had for lunch and such. They chatted for a good long time. Clearly, that must have taken a real effort to show that level of personal attention. I can only conclude, that somewhere along his journey this pastor had learned to respond to the needs of others around him, in a focused way, at ‘a drop of the hat’ rather than checking off that list of things he knew he must get done in any given day. What a gift! Yet, it is more than that, as it appears from our reading that Jesus would expect his disciples to focus more on the needs of others, than on their own personal needs. This pastor was simply being a good example of what it means to pick up the cross and follow Jesus.

Following Jesus, does not always mean that we must stand up and take a bullet to save another. Yet, we know that sometimes this is literally true. It happens in times of war, and sadly we know that the coach at the Parkland Florida, High School, did exactly that to save countless lives as he stood in front of them, in between the shooter and the students around him, and died for the sake of another. Before anyone of us could follow in his footsteps, we would at least need to embrace the habit of turning aside to help another, just as that pastor turned aside to respond to the need of another pastor, when she needed to talk – at that Interim training class I attended years ago. One pastor wrote that we need to be about “following Jesus one step at a time!” /Kyle Childress/ “Following Jesus and the way of the cross begins with small steps. Later, we’ll look up and discover where he’s led us.” Hero’s, are not driven by their need for recognition and it is not their pride nor their ego which pulls them out into harm’s way… for the sake of another. No, heroes go quietly into the night believing they are following the example of Jesus. Selflessly, they live out their day to day life, doing what they need to do, yet always conscious of the needs of others around them. It takes practice and it takes faith.

Be in relationship with God through Christ. Be in relationship with those around you. Their burdens, their needs, may be the cross you are called to carry today! Amen.