Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
February 18th, 2018
Psalm 25: 1-10

 

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Scripture

“Let us now open our hearts as well as our ears as we now hear the words from the Old Testament, in the Book of Psalms, chapter 25, verses 1-10.”

1 To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. 2 O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me. 3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. 4 Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. 5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long. 6 Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. 7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O Lord! 8 Good and upright is the Lord; therefore, he instructs sinners in the way. 9 He leads the humble in what is right and teaches the humble his way. 10 All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

“If we allow ourselves to stay open, to this ancient writing, we shall come to more fully grasp the richness of this message. Once we do, then we shall understand how it relates to modern Christians like ourselves.”

Sermon

“Lead On! Lead On!”

Putting the Psalmist’s message into Twenty-First Century language tells us to “Let go and let God!” /AA slogan/ It really is that simple. However, for a great many of us, it is not that easy. For you see, you and I, we are only mortal. We suffer from the human condition. As human’s we are subject to all sorts of things, things outside the spiritual realm, and deep into the marsh and quagmire of life. Our lives are often a combination of beautiful and soft sandy beaches, with the gentle waves of the surf splashing at our feet; yet, at a turn of a page or a broken shoe lace, things can turn into a swampland as our basic instincts run out of control, leaving us awash in the fallout of unfounded fears and mis-stated or over-stated opinions. The very moment we turn our backs on the constant love and guidance of our Creator God, we find ourselves caught up in the quicksand of our darker side. Prayerfully, these moments are brief and do not encompass large amounts of our journey, as the consequences can be and often are devastating, not only to us as individuals, but also to those around us. May God have mercy on those of us whom travel this lonely dark road.

The Psalmist has put forth, for our consumption, words of trust and devotion to the Holy God of our ancestors and the mighty grace of our Creator. The Psalmist is leading us in a thought process which causes those who are willing, to enter into this method, this manner and practice of seeing God; perceiving God with their whole hearts, souls and minds. Thereby, seizing the opportunity to feel the deep, deep love of a God who is here for us now, just as the Almighty was there for those who came before us. “O my God, in you I trust;” /Psalm 25:2a/ The Psalmist puts the word trust squarely in the center of this reading. Take out the word trust, and the implied trust throughout the reading, and the writing itself – falls lifeless on the page. These words are more than a sweet-smelling balm to ‘heal the sin sick soul;’ these words are meant to set a benchmark, a pattern of thought where all who seek to know the fullness of God are urged, challenged even, to incorporate the love of God into their lives and their patterns of living. Again, I must remind us all, these are easy words to display and explain to others, it is a very different thing to actually take this line of thought to ‘heart’ and seek to redirect one’s way of thinking and responding to the world around them.

The difficulty with putting one’s trust’ fully in the hands of our God’ is fundamentally problematic! It truly is. Many of us humans, inside and outside of religious institutions find this trust thing very, very difficult indeed! The crux of the matter is that in order to do this, we must first put less trust in our personal belief… that we can do this on our own! We have seen this problem manifested in our society frequently in recent times. We could fill these next precious moments together discussing a multitude of examples, all to easily visible to us… in the front pages of our news media headlines. We shall not go down this muddle of public examples of distrust throughout our society today! You already know all about it! If you do not, I would strongly suggest you stop listening to your own voice and listen to the voices of thousands who are crying out, every day! Homelessness, poverty, hunger, nakedness, all wrapped up in a fundamental distrust of society! Then there are the voices of the sick, the helpless, whom find themselves marginalized and displaced due to out of reach ‘medical resources’ caused by a restrictive system! Why, why do we have so much fear of trusting in someone or something other than ourselves? Clearly, our way is not all that successful! Maybe, we need to acknowledge how much we have in common with those who are ‘outside’ the system of privilege which permeates our society! Why? Because, many ‘like ourselves’ are unwilling to turn to God and have become desperate for help. Yet, we continue to stumble and fall aside, still confused and untrusting in a God ‘whom’ has stretched out a hand to us every time we sincerely ask for assistance!

One theologian expresses her understanding of this Psalm’s central theme. “This Psalm is a plea from the depth of a suffering soul to the God in whom the speaker trusts for deliverance and mercy. Yet despite this trust, the text is a cry of desperation.” /Elizabeth Webb/ Perhaps, this would be a good moment to reflect on the recently passed celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. From our monthly newsletter from our Florida Conference Office of the United Church of Christ, I found this article. Within contained a January e-message to members of the Christ Congregational UCC in Miami. Pastor Bernice Powell Jackson spoke of economic justice championed by Dr. King. I now lift up to our ears the words of Dr. King. “I look forward confidently to the day when all who work for a living will be one with no thought to their separateness as Negroes, Jews, Italians or any other distinctions. This will be the day when we bring into full realization the American dream – a dream yet unfulfilled. A dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few; a dream of a land where men will not argue that the color of a man’s skin determines the content of his character; a dream of a nation where all our gifts and resources are held not only for ourselves alone, but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity; the dream of a country where every man will respect the dignity and worth of the human personality – that is the dream.” Dr. Martin Luther King, spoke these remarks before the AFL-CIO convention in December 1961. Let us trust, at least for a moment, that Dr. King’s priceless message shall not fall on deaf ears as we stumble and fall, confused about the simply concept of putting our trust in God.

Professor of Old Testament studies at Luther Seminary, James Limburg, points out the obvious to us, regarding Psalm 25. “Three times there is reference to God’s steadfast love (verses 6, 7, 10), (This phrase is) a translation of the Hebrew word (hesed). That word refers to God’s enduring love for the people of God.” With this as a basis of reference we can start to build upon what we already know about this Psalm. With this knowledge, we shall have the tools to begin building up the foundation of our understanding, the understanding of our relationship with the God of grace, mercy and love. It is clear, that the author of our Psalm today believed we “as a people” need to be reminded of God’s ‘steadfast and faithful love”. It is easy to let this point get lost in the midst of all the tragedies and horrors of today’s world. This is punctuated by our need to firm up some simple safety standards and practices around our own church and even in a multitude of public places we find ourselves in each day. Today as an officer from our local police department speaks to us after today’s service, let us be mindful of God’s love in the midst of these concerns for public safety. Remember, God promises to be with us, yet, our God expects us to use the tools, the gifts of ‘God given talents’ at hand – to accomplish our goals.

The questions one might ask at a time such as this, are rhetorical in nature. Yet, they are reasonable questions. “Are we teachable? Can we change? Can we grow into the image of God in which we are created?” /Nancy Koestr/ I believe the Psalmist would answer yes, to these questions as he has put words into our mouths through the pleas of the people within this writing. In verse four the Psalmist speaks for us, we the people, saying: “Make me to know your ways; teach me your paths.” If it was not believed we could be persuaded to once again, or for the first time, to trust in God’s ability to teach us new things, the writer would not have uttered these words!” If our local police chief did not believe we could be influenced to take a hand in our own wellbeing, an officer would not have been dispatched to offer up some suggestions and instructions perhaps on how to do just that! Our writing goes on with these words from verse five. “Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.” Once again, the words “teach me and lead me; lead me in the truth!” Powerful words, implying that we shall come to trust in God’s leadership once again.

Moving us into the theme of our Lenten season we hear these words ring out from verse seven. “Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;” Oh yes, we all want this! We want to be forgiven for the mistakes, the wrongs we have committed! Even as youth we learn this lesson quickly. A child slips a candy bar into his pocket while his mother is checking out the groceries. The cashiers keen eye picks up the crime and asks if I was planning on paying for that tasty treat. Caught red handed! Gosh almighty! What child would not plead for mercy and forgiveness to his mortified and embarrassed mother?! As adults, we may not be so easily caught in the acts which shall need forgiveness if we are to live with integrity. None the less, if we hope to live in the light of God we shall need to “clean house” of wrong doings on a regular basis. If not, the burden, the weight of such deeds will cripple our usefulness as followers of Christ. The journey toward our annual Easter celebration has begun. Professor J. Clinton McCann’s offers this insight to assist our lesson today. “Because we trust that God is gracious, we dare to enter a season of confession and penitence, offering ourselves as a living sacrifice to God and pledging ourselves anew to discern and do God’s will.” If we are to fully experience Easter’s joy and jubilation we must begin now to purge ourselves of the impurities of any wrong mindedness which clouds our ability to be in full relationship with the Living God!

Remembering God’s steadfast love, let us allow God to take the lead in life. Amen.

  In February, the children in our Sunday School program, spent some time thinking of others.  We made heart crafts and valentines, which were sent to some of our shut-in members/friends.

 

March brings us into Lent.  As we travel through the Lenten season, we will be exploring some very interesting questions i.e. What stories show God’s promises to us?  Where is the number 40 found in the Bible?  Did Jesus ever get angry?  Who is Nicodemus?  How is  Jesus’ life like planting a seed? 

Check in with our students to see how they are doing in answering these questions.

 

February 11th, 2018

Mark 9:2-9

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

 

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Scripture:

“Let us now open our hearts as well as our ears as we now hear the words from the gospel according to Mark, chapter nine, verses two thru nine.”

2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves.  And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.  4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.  5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.  7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

“If we allow ourselves to stay open, to this ancient writing, this miraculous story of Jesus, we may yet be able to see how it pertains to modern Christians like ourselves.”

 

“Be Transformed with Compassion!”

In the neighborhood, in which I live, there are many new homes being built.  Each, in a different state of preparation.  I have been observing one property which was nothing but a jungle of tangled bushes and assorted old trees.  First the sign appeared naming the contractor involved.  The lot is about the size of my own, 10,000 square feet.  Then the bulldozer began clearing the land.  Big trucks came and were filled with the debris which they took away to some unknown destination; probably some sort of landfill of sorts.  I stopped and spoke with a truck driver this past Monday morning.  Weeks have passed since they had started.  The land was stripped, and the ground dug up.  The top soil is in the front right corner in a huge pile.  They have spread the new foundation, the first new layer of ground soil.  He explained that it took 38 truckloads for that first layer.  They were now beginning the task of bringing in the second layer of a different soil which would bring the lot up a good two or three feet from the road way.  He estimated it would take another 35 dump truck loads to complete the job.

Down the street from that site is another.  They have already poured the concrete for the base of a new home.  The truckers had delivered the pallets of concrete block for the walls.  A couple blocks away is a home where the walls have been built and the roofers are putting down that first layer of tar paper.  About a mile away is a new home that has been painted and the shingles of the roof are all in place.  Further down, a couple blocks from there, a new home looks complete, the concrete driveway has been poured, as well as the sidewalk to the front door. The pallets of fresh turf are being spread around by a team of laborers.  There is a beautiful new home over by the baseball fields off from Barbara Street.  There are cars in the driveway.  A family now lives there starting anew in a new community and home.  Back in August it was just an over grown patch of tangled trees and bushes where all sorts of creatures beneath its canopy made their homes.  Transformations of this type seem to take about six months.

Transformation can take place slowly… like clearing a piece of land. Then building it up with something new, which takes a lot of effort to accomplish.  Yet, in the end result, real change, real transformation has occurred.  To the rooted old trees and overgrown bushes and shrubs the change is disruptive, harsh even.  The work of that first bulldozer could even be described as violent to the environmentalist.  Without arguing the points, either pros or cons, one must accept the fact, transformation, makeovers, renovations and even revolutions bring about change by altering what is and making something new!  It has been this way since the beginning of time.  The first volcanoes and earthquakes changed the contour and surfaces of the earth in which we live.  In the process things were destroyed and both plants and creatures of all sorts were uprooted, and many died.  It is believed that events such as the Ice Age, probably brought about by the impact of asteroids, brought with it the end of the age of dinosaurs.  It was only after these things occurred that humankind and smaller animals began to flourish on the face of the earth.

In the Old Testament we were introduced to the man Moses.  His story is long and fascinating.  Ultimately, he is known for leading the Hebrew slaves out of bondage from Egypt.  Later as they wandered in the desert for a long, long time, Moses went up into the mount of Sinai and there where he encountered God, he was altered and changed; through that transformation he was led by God to do many things.  On several occasions it is said that Moses took on a new appearance; his face glowed and his hair turned white.  The most amazing part of these stories, of his encounters with God, is that he was able to come and go, from the presence of God, a number of times.  In the book of Exodus, in the Old Testament one can count perhaps seven times he encountered God in the mountains.  Each event was transforming for Moses and for the people he leads out of Egypt and through the desert and finally to the promised land.  I bring this to our attention to point out, for all of us to reflect upon, transformation has been occurring throughout the ages since the beginning of time.  Therefore, there is no reason to believe that the process of transformation will cease.

“Transforming lives and saving souls” is what an old retired pastor once told me was what we clergy folk were called to facilitate, as I was beginning my journey of ordained ministry.  Easy to say, hard to do.  And just to be clear on this point, I have never saved a single soul nor transformed a single person.  Whomever was transformed or found salvation in my presence or within the communities I have served, that was done by the almighty power of God!  Yes, these things do occur, and I have been used by God to help smooth the way for a few.  But the real work of transformation is through each individual’s personal interaction with God’s divine grace and love.  Most of the time, these events occur in situations where we need to look hard and long to discern and recognize that it was God’s handy work.  Just like in the transforming of a vacant lot into a new home takes time, so does most of human makeovers and conversions.  Even when events like the sudden decline in financial markets, as seen this past week in the Stock Market, the true effects will take time to trickle down into the society we live within.  Every such sudden manifestations in our society, shall take ‘real time’ to see what the true effect will be.

The hard part is seeing the hand of God in violent and traumatic events.  First, we need to be clear about this point.  Events which are caused by human forces are not God’s doing.  For example: When a school of fish die off the coast or even in a large lake, we may find their deaths were caused by pollution of that regions water supply by improper dumping – by the hands of humans!  Conversely, it is true that sometimes Mother Natures the cause.  Take for instance a severe winter which kills a number of our manatees, here along our coastline.  Yet, at the same time, we must acknowledge that more manatees die from injuries received from the boats that run over and into these creatures.  Is it not the hand of God which motives people to take action to save these big gentle creatures when they are seen in distress!  Isn’t it the hand of God which motives conservationist and wildlife experts to speak out against the wrong actions and attitudes of we citizens whom cause many of these such problems?

Let us look to this transformation account recorded in today’s gospel lesson.  We have read this accounting together several times in the last few years.  Let’s look at it yet again.  This time we need not dwell on the details of this miraculous event.  True, it is difficult to get our arms around such a dramatic vision as this one portrays.  Yet, this is only one aspect of this account. The disciples were made aware that Jesus was one with the likes of Moses and Elijah.  It seems that Jesus was trying to prepare them for what was yet to come; meaning of course his death and his resurrection.  It would not be till long after these events occur that the disciples would begin to realize what Jesus had done for them within this miraculous vision.  As we look deeper, we can see that this vision was way more than that!  Like Moses’ encounter with God atop Mount Sinai, these disciples would come back down from this fantastic mountain top experience to face their destinies upon this earth within the limitations of their human lives!

We are human just as the early disciples were.  We too, must come down from our mystical experiences and face our all too human lives.  What is crucial for us to hold onto is the ‘visions’ and ‘those moments’ when we know we were in the presence of the Divine One.  Transformation takes time.  Usually, as this is occurring something else in our lives is changing and has perhaps been removed from our sight.  Change and transformation go hand in hand.  Change is often not easy.  It can bring up the worst in us, or it can cause us to turn more deeply to our faith and bring us closer to God.  This is why times of change are so trying!  I have heard it said: change can break us or make us stronger!  “We know that Moses, was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.  And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush.  He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.  And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” /Exodus 3:1-3/ That was the beginning of tremendous change in the life of Moses.  He needed to cherish that ‘God moment’ as the harsh challenges of facing the bondage of the Hebrews in Egypt awaited him.  If he did not keep God’s vision alive in his heart the enormity of his journey, his humanness would have overwhelmed him!

One scholar wrote this inspiring sentence: “Every once and so often, something so touching, so incandescent, so alive transfigures the human face that it’s almost beyond bearing.” /Frederick Buechner/

I was lying in bed while watching the new game show called the’ WALL’.  Within the context of the show I witnessed a father breakdown as relief and joy overwhelmed him.  But that moment of joy only came after his agonizing decision to discard the contract that he thought was worth over 35 to 55 thousand dollars.  (He had never seen that much money at one time in his whole career.)  He did not know that his daughter had accumulate one point four million dollars on the WALL.  As the screen captured his agonized facial expressions – “he went from agony to overwhelming joy” – it was priceless!  It was virtually impossible to not experience his anguish and see the depth of his love and devotion to his daughter and family.  To him, this decision was clearly tearing apart his emotions.  To ‘we’ the viewers, it was so exciting to anticipate his joyful response as he learned of the over ‘one point four million-dollar winnings’ he and his daughter would leave with.

These are the types of moments we need to carry in our hearts.  If we can find room in our hearts for the mercy and compassion of God’s love for each one of us, we have a real chance that we will be able to make life changing choices; choices which will ultimately change our lives and the lives of those around us.  We, like the disciples, must decide what we shall do with these miraculous visions and events which we read and encounter in scripture.  Likewise, we must decide what we shall do with the events that personally occur for us as individuals and as a community.  Shall we have the courage of ‘faith’ to hold onto these moments, as life pulls us further and further away from that last twinkling when we felt God’s ever-present love and compassion?  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

January 28th, 2018
Mark 1: 21-28
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

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Scripture:

“Hear now this ancient teaching from the Gospel According to Mark, chapter one, verse 21 thru 28.”

Mark 1:21-28
21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching – with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Having listened with an open heart and an attentive mind, let us consider what this passage is saying to us modern day Christians.”

Sermon:

“Teaching with Authority”

Plato, a Greek philosopher from the 4th Century (BC) Before Christ, left behind many famous quotes. One such excerpt from his rantings speaks about the use of power. “The measure of a man is what he does with power.” We do not need to look far to see how true this is. Past Presidents like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, four of our most powerful Presidents in American history. Each of these men are remembered for using their power and authority as Presidents to do some great things: Lincoln took steps to end slavery; Kennedy handled the Cuban missile Crises; Washington is considered the Founding Father of the United States of America; Roosevelt led this nation through the Great Depression and was a world leader through World War II. History has measured these men based on how they used their power. Bringing that phrase into the Twenty-First Century, it would be fair to restate it saying: “The measure of a person is what he or she does with power.” Cleopatra, the last Pharaoh of Egypt; Joan of Arc, a Saint to Roman Catholics. Indira Ghandi, the first and only female Prime Minister of India. Margret Thatcher Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. All had tremendous power and authority! Each are remembered for how they used their influence and clout. It is one thing to gain power – it is another to be remembered for how one used it!

The Rev. Kathryn Matthews speaks to us about our lesson today. “In today’s ‘scripture’, Jesus faithfully attends synagogue on the Sabbath, and starts off his ‘teaching ministry’ by impressing those gathered – religious experts and the people gathered around them – with the way he teaches, conveying authority, or, as we might say, carrying weight. Mark, unlike Matthew, doesn’t tell us what Jesus says, but emphasizes how powerfully he teaches. It’s much easier to picture Jesus there, in the midst of a most excellent bible study, than it is to imagine what happens next. A man tortured by an ‘unclean spirit’ emerges in the midst of the commotion over Jesus’ power-filled teaching.” /The Rev. Kathryn Matthews/ The writer of this gospel accounting tells us that Jesus heals the man, expelling the evil spirit from him! This is why the story was remembered. Not that Jesus taught a good Bible study class, but for how he used his authority and influence to cleanse this man of the evil inside of him! Teaching and preaching are one thing; doing something with one’s authority and power is yet another. It is how Jesus used his power and authority! This is what Jesus has been remembered for!

It is how we shall use our power and our authority! This is what we shall be remembered for!

One theologian tells us: “…the presence of God, in foxholes, battlefields, field hospitals, and battle graveyards, is an unquestionable religious truth.” /Nancy Rockwell/ We all know, or ought to know that war is hell! To the guy or gal out on the battlefield, it is either kill or be killed. Our veterans come home from war filled with the evil of warfare. There is no question about this. May God bless them, each and every one of them! Yes, as patriotic Americans, we all thank them for their service. For we believe they are honorably protecting our rights, and the rights of others, as free men and women. Yet, when they do get home, how many of us are willing to help them expel and separate themselves from the evil of war, which has become embedded within them? We, you and me, we are good Christians, and we have gathered here together this morning. We listen to these miraculous miracle stories in scripture, stories which tell us of what this humble man Jesus was and is able to do. With great power and authority too! Yet, we are not prepared for God’s miracles within our own house, our own community and our own families! This to, is self-evident! If we were truly ready for the power of God in our midst, we would do a lot less ‘hand wringing’ and many of us would sleep better at night.

Of what value is it to know of God’s authority if we are not willing to call upon it and use it here in our church? /adapted from the words of Mike Stavlund/ The presence of the Holy Spirit, which is here amongst us, is often spoken of and I do believe a great many of us Christians even believe that the Living presence of Christ is here with us now! Yet, are we ready to embrace that presence and allow ourselves to be ‘shaken up’ by it? Thereby, creating power within our midst to do meaningful and important ministry here in this very sanctuary!? /Inspired and adapted by the words of Scott Hoezee/ “Of what value, of what importance is our being made aware of this power, which Jesus is said to have displayed? And how welcome would Jesus and his power be in our churches?” /Mike Stavlund/

Teachers and writers like Bob Cornwall would ask us if we are ready to follow in the footsteps of Jesus? Or at least allow his teachings to empower our work. When we see pain, or hurt within others here in our own fellowship, are we willing to call upon the presence of Christ to help them to overcome it? Are we willing to reach across the division between us to change discomfort into understanding? Are we willing to listen to the new guy or gal long enough to perhaps find out what is going on in their lives? Conversely, are we willing to consider how the old way worked, before we dismantle it? Miracle stories are meant to open our hearts as well as our skeptical minds as we read about them. Perhaps the author of the writing has missed the point, in helping us to fully appreciate what was so dynamic that day! It was not written down just to fill an editorial need in the ministry of Jesus! Certainly not in the Gospel according to Mark! This author cuts to the chase and often leaves out all the dialogue, and a whole bunch of the details. He didn’t even try to tell us the story of Jesus’ birth. Nor did he tell us the details of Jesus’ temptations in the desert. Surely, the details of this encounter at the temple that day, with the man and the unclean spirit, invoked a lot more details then we have read! But-yet, Mark did tell us that this happened! This in itself – tells us that this author thought this was a powerful testimony as to the power of Jesus’ ministry! Perhaps the details and the ambiguities, inferences or allusions even, of this encounter, truly are not that important. Simply, the authority and power which others saw in Jesus was indeed the whole point!

Reverend Matthews goes on to tell us how “Jesus backs up his words, his powerful preaching, with an action that illustrates what he is about. While we Christians love to talk about our faith, would our actions back up our words? Does our story, within the larger story of the world, hold together?” /The Rev. Kathryn Matthews/ As we enter into a new time and new place in the life of this our beloved church, will we accept the challenge which Mark’s gospel has put in front of us this morning. Will we be willing to back up our proclaimed faith with heart felt action? That is the question we each need to grapple with. Every day, when I wake up in the morning, I find it necessary to shake off the dream world where my mind has wandered off to in the night. I struggle sometimes to unentangle myself from the sheets and the blankets which I have pulled and pushed at during the hours of darkness. When my feet hit the floor, I have learned to wait a bit and steady myself, before pushing off from the soft warm comfort of my beloved bed. That’s how it begins for me. Then as I go through my morning routines I must reawaken the day’s challenges which lie ahead of me. Doing this while also managing the needs of our fifteen-year-old poodle Jamie. Somewhere in that mix I strive to remember to say my morning’s prayers and ask for God’s guidance as I begin the day. It is only after my morning coffee and such that the reality of each day sets in. That’s how it is in the real world in which you and I live!

Today, we shall gather for our Annual Meeting as a church. Even if you are not yet a member, you are welcome to attend, you just will not be counted in the formal vote. But, member or friend, this is a time for clarifying our priorities and the direction of this our church. It truly is an important hour as we account for the past year and set our sites on the year ahead. We shall once again be reminded that although we are a people of faith, we are called to be the ‘body’ of Christ. Yes, God has made a covenant with ‘we the people’ of God. However, we are called to keep our end of this covenant. We must keep our feet in the real world, as we live into the light of God’s will. This is another way of saying we need to keep the faith. Our relationship with God needs to be one of trust. Just as we need to trust each other to do our part, as we join together in fellowship doing the work, the tasks of Ministry which God has called us to. It is only after we accept our end of this relationship, as Disciples of Christ, that the reality of each day’s responsibilities sets in. That’s how it is in the real world in which you and I live! This is how it is in a true covenantal relationship!

Bearing in mind our connection and bond with God through Christ, we are now fully prepared to enter into this new church year, embracing all its realities! We can accomplish our goals as a church, if we remember the message of today’s scripture lesson. Jesus did more than just teach a great Bible Study class! He taught and ministered to the people with great authority and power! We must be willing to welcome Jesus into this sanctuary and be prepared for the bold actions and the passion of Christ to be in our midst! We are called upon to accept the miraculous outcomes which comes with courageous faithfulness! If we do not boldly accept the authority and power of Christ into this sanctuary, we shall not experience the miraculous power of God’ abundant love! Amen.