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.

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

January 21st, 2018

Mark 1: 14-20

 

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Scripture:

“Let us now listen with our minds and our hearts to this ancient accounting from the gospel according to Mark, chapter one, verses 14 thru 20.”

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea – for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Sermon:

“Building A Team!”

It has come to my attention, more than once that the things that occur in our lives as children, have a real impact upon us as we grow to adulthood. Take for example what occurred for me when I was just entering the sixth grade after moving into a new community, in a new state when my father found it necessary to move us away from where I was brought up as a youngster, to a town closer to where he was working. As an adult, looking back, I am certain it was a solid decision at the time. But as a sixth grader, getting on a school bus and traveling to a school I had never been to, and being the ‘new kid’ in a classroom full of strangers was nothing but traumatic! Simple things occurred, like the morning role call, when the teacher badly mispronounced my name. How can you mess up a biblical name like Timothy? Or a good English name like Woodard? OK you got me there, the English spell it with two w’s, Woodward.

Hopefully, you are getting the idea, being new in a class room is really-hard when you are ten years old. One day the teacher made us say what nationality we were. No one had ever asked me that before, nor had it been discussed as a child as I was growing up. Kids were saying words like: Polish, Italian, German, English, Irish, and French. Came my turn I blurted out that I was American! The class erupted in laughter… at my expense of course. I cannot recall what occurred after that, but I know that I as a child, I was mortified! As an adult, I am kind of proud of my outburst! I am an American first, my background, my origin comes second! But, being ten years old in the sixth grade in a new school is not easy.

Oh, let me tell you about the day everyone wanted to play baseball during a long recess. I had never played any baseball. Two team captains were quickly chosen. They decided who went first by some type of ritual with a bat. As they alternated grasping the bat with their hands, the last one who could grasp it went first. All went well until I was the only one not chosen. Seems that whomever had to have me on their team, I was to be their handicap! The consensus was that the shy introverted dumb new kid surely couldn’t play ball well. Unfortunately, they were right. Finally, the deed was done, and I was on a team. God was merciful, I never did get my turn at bat that day… the rest of what occurred is a blur. One thing was for sure, the lot of us, were nothing but a rag-tag unimpressive group of kids, and the only unified team effort that day was trying to compensate for being stuck with me on their team!

You know the rest of the story. I survived and some how became an adult while in the U. S. Air Force somewhere between Boot-Camp and while serving in Thailand during the Vietnam war. South East Asia, in the sixties, had a way of sweating out of a guy, the nonsense of childhood things. It cost me many hours of therapy years later to put these things into their proper prospective. I was forty-three before I accepted my calling into ordained ministry and became a member of a new team. Of course, the team captain, was none other than Jesus himself! Most of you have heard that story before. While watching the movie: “Jesus of Nazareth” I came to believe that in the scene of the movie, the same scene described in this mornings scripture lesson that Jesus himself was inviting me to follow him and join his team. Which I have clearly done! In many ways radically different than that day I was ‘chosen’ to play on a ‘rag-tag’ baseball team.

Last week we discussed how Jesus entered his formal ministry by being Baptized by John the Baptist at the river Jordan. He was then lead by, driven perhaps, most certainly ‘compelled’ by the Holy Spirit to go out into the desert wilderness, where he was tested and ultimately prepared for his difficult journey into public ministry. Now today, Jesus appears, after his wilderness experience, ready to choose and to build his team. This team was meant to be trained by Jesus, to follow in his path, along the rugged journey of ministry, which Jesus was called to and destined to fulfill! So, let us take a few minutes to consider what type of a team he was pulling together. Was it just a rag-tag bunch of men he chooses! At first glance it clearly was. We know Jesus was being guided by the hand of God, and the Holy Spirit was upon him, so perhaps he was seeing in these men things which we, or others, could not yet see.

First, let us consider what we know about the men chosen that day. The author of this accounting from Mark tells us just the basics. “As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea – for they were fishermen.” /Mark 1:16/ “As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets.” /Mark 1:19/ OK, we learn they were fishermen. These men were fishing upon the sea of Galilee. That’s it! We are told nothing else. From what we have learned about that time-period, we must assume that these were not rich men. Nor were they considered to be over achievers. They were just fishermen. This is how they carved out a living to support themselves and their families. Usually, we have learned, they would pool together to buy a boat. Perhaps they owed someone for the boat, we are not sure of that fact. But, we can assume, it was probably the only option they had, or they and their families would go without. There were no social charities or government subsidies to sustain them if they failed either. No, they were under the thumb of the Romans, living as a conquered nation. The Romans allowed the religious leaders to rule over these men and their families to help keep order. Therefore, we can assume, they were dirt poor.

Yet, their decision to follow Jesus, and join his team, was a major decision and it appears they made it without giving this much thought. Perhaps, in their situation, this was not as hard to do as we may surmise from our vantage point, as modern era Christians. Walking away from family responsibilities and duties seems almost irresponsible from our views from here. Yet, their situation was radically different than ours is today. In today’s society, in which we live, it would be irresponsible to walk away from our duties to our families and our responsibilities in our social setting. This is why, in our denomination, the larger church which we are a part of, we have committees like the one I serve on, called: The Committee on Church and Ministry. Within that committee structure, we work with individuals whom believe they have a call from God to serve in public ministry. It is a process of discernment. A process where we help individuals determine their “Calling.” We are all called by God, yet, not all of us are called to public ministry! There are many ways to answer our callings. And there are many ways to serve the ministry to which Jesus calls us to serve.

How do you and I make such a decision – to become a part of the team that serves the church – the church which Jesus himself started? Yes, that was an overly simplistic statement. But let us not get lost in the details of the many, many splits, chasms and such of the modern Christian Church. Let us keep this relatively simple. Jesus was pulling together a crew, a team, to help him start a movement meant to radically change how people were to understand their relationship with God. In the simplest understanding of this, Jesus, was starting a teaching, within his short three-year ministry, which was to revolutionize how God was to be understood! Clearly, there are many different and various understandings of how we, the people, are meant to interpret what he did. This is where we now find ourselves. We are one of the sub-groups of Christians who now believe in the ministry of Jesus in a certain way.

We are not an oppressed people, under the rule of a foreign power that has conquered us and driven us from our home land. In contrast, we are a part of a very powerful nation, which has tremendous influence and authority over many nations around the world. Therefore, as we look to how our callings need to be implemented, we must take these circumstances into account. Some of us are called to do radically important roles in our society, outside the walls of this our church. God bless you! Fulfill the roles to which you have been called by God, utilizing the gifts God has given you! Some of us are called to be good parents and good teachers and to care for ourselves along the way. This can be a full time calling, of which those called sometimes must make hard decisions to accomplish, with integrity, their roll, their tasks. With these thoughts in mind, we are given the tools of discernment necessary, or better stated: we are given the ability to judge and decide what is essential to clarify the work, the mission we must now accomplish!

In the story of the fisherman being called by Jesus, their choices were limited, and the risks were balanced with their speculation that this Jesus might be the new Messiah, the one who, like Moses, would free them from their oppressors! When we consider our calling, we must do likewise. We must ascertain what our callings are based on, taking into consideration who we are, and where we are in our journeys of life. Ordained, public ministry is not for everyone. Likewise, raising a child is not for everyone. Taking the lead in a social justice crusade that might get you thrown in jail is not for everyone! Timing is always a critical point in these types of choices and decisions. At age seventy, I probably would be a poor candidate to become an Olympic skier! Based on what I recently told you, regarding my skiing abilities, it is extremely unlikely I could reach that goal! Likewise, if you are over seventy, you probably are not the best candidate to go back to school to become an ordained minister, seeking to lead a local church like our own. Yet, a retired pastor like myself may feel called to continue serving well past their seventieth birthday!

For many, answering the call to serve in some capacity within their church can come at a very early stage in life, while others may come to serve during the twilight of their lives. One ought not to feel left out, if their current call is to fulfill some other role outside their church. Bearing in mind, there are many differing ways to serve the needs of one’s church; and various ways to answer God’s calling! Yet, others of us, may need to reconsider what we are still able to do and seriously consider how we can serve this our church! Maybe this is your time to stand up and pick up the mantle of ministry! One New Testament professor talks about the many different times of our lives in which God reaches out to us. “God in Jesus Christ comes to us in our most unexpected moments.” /Paul S. Berge/ This very well may be that unforeseen and unanticipated moment for you! Another theologian asks us a challenging question. “What would make you drop everything and pursue an entirely new life?” /David Lose/ Are you willing to answer that question?

Most of us are past sixth grad now. And we may not be trying to build a baseball team. Yet, this church needs a team of volunteers, whom work together for the common goals of this our church. Jesus the Christ, is our leader and thankfully, has left us a set of guidelines to live by. Our goal here is simple: To come together “as we continue to think openly, believe passionately, and serve boldly!”

May God always bless you! Amen.

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

January 14th, 2018
1 Samuel 3: 1-10,

 

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Scripture:

Today, the scriptures take us back into the Old Testament, retelling the story of the boy Samuel. Let us now listen again to these words contained in First Samuel, chapter three, verses 1 thru 10.

3 Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3 the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 5 and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So, he went and lay down.
6 The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8 The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So, Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

“Having heard these words with our ears now let us listen to our hearts as we consider their meaning.”

Sermon:

“Listen for God’s Voice”

When I was a child I was trained to listen for the voices of my parents and my grandparents. They were the voices of authority and wisdom in my life. I am certain that many of you here today, can identify those voices from your childhood, voices which you listened to with an open mind and an open heart! Prayerfully, your parents are, or were, on your list. If not, I must pray that there were voices of those whom ‘did’ earn your respect and trust, as your journey into adulthood progressed. The other voice I have come to listen to is that of God’s. Learning to hear the voice of God is different that listening to the voices of our parents and other voices we have come to know and respect. Perhaps I need to clarify. The truth is… when I say I have heard God’s voice, I do not mean an audible or distinct voice… but a voice none the less.

Confused yet! Me too, sometimes. Discerning the voice of God in our lives can be difficult and challenging at times. Perhaps this has always been the case. One could easily come to this conclusion about the boy Samuel. In our scripture this morning we are led to believe, by the author of this passage that Samuel heard the voice of God. But, he did not recognize it. He therefore assumed it was the old priest Eli. A reasonable assumption as Eli was the only other person close enough to have called out to Samuel. If I hear voices in the night, there are only a few rational possibilities. Lois, my wife, is calling out to me or talking in her sleep or the television is still on! Of course, the non-rational possibilities are limitless!

Let us set this thought aside for a moment as I need to tell you about Reverend David Jenks. He was the Pastor Emeritus at the church I served in Middletown New York. He was younger than our Pastor Emeritus, Reverend Jim Allen. Pastor Jim, as we know, is almost one hundred and two. Pastor David was eighty when I met him. I did the Funeral service for him eight years later, he was eighty-eight. There are countless, numerous stories I could tell you about David. However, for the sake of time let me simply say we became close and together we did a lot of Ministry in the community in which we served. Oh, I forgot to mention, David never did fully retire. He was the chaplain at the local hospital in Middletown up until he had a bad stroke less than a year before his passing.

Those months after Pastor David’s stroke is what I need to tell you about. The stroke left him partially paralyzed and he lived out his days in a local nursing home. His wife, Sue, was not able to care for him at home. As is common among stroke victims his speech had been greatly affected. When he spoke, a nurse explained to me, he believed his words were audible and could be understood. Consequently, at times he seemed confused and perplexed, believing those around him were not listening to him. Unfortunately, most folks were not understanding him and only a small few of us knew what he was saying. That’s right, you heard me correctly, I could understand him when he spoke. We had a number of long conversations together. How is that possible you ask? I don’t fully understand it. Yet, I did comprehend and grasp what he was communicating to me. You see, David and I, we understood each other. We had talked in depth many times. I believe my heart, my spirit linked and joined with his in those conversations. I knew we were connecting and thereby communicating with each other. I knew this because of his loving smile and the sense of clarity through which he was acknowledging my responses in a positive way. There are books written about what I was experiencing. It is called the language of the heart!

No, I have never heard the audible voice of God. Yet, God has whispered in my ear many times. God has sent messengers to me whom have delivered ‘needed’ points of clarity now and then. When I pray I can feel the presence of God deep within me! That has come with the growing trust and respect for God’s role in my life, and I in response, to God’s holy will in the realm of humankind. Several members and friends of this congregation, have communicated to me, audibly, that you have experienced this presence, this closeness with God. Those whom have shared this with me… seem to have a sense of peace about themselves. If you have seen this in others, it is worthy of pursuing as it a ‘priceless’ gift.

No one knows for sure what type of voice Samuel heard that night. It took Eli to help him understand it was God who was calling out to him. Does it matter what God’s voice sounds like? Or is it the message of those encounters, the messages that touch our very souls and awakens our spirits? The important part of this conversation which Samuel had with God, was partially that it took old Eli to help him realize he was hearing God’s voice. We can easily conclude that Eli was acting as an interpreter for Samuel. Because of the old prophet Eli’s conversation with Samuel, this young lad was able to trust that the voice he heard in the night, was the voice of God. Through this interaction, and thus his conversation with God, Samuel was able to respond willingly to God’s call. This encounter with God developed into a strong relationship which changed his life and made a dramatic impact upon those he came to serve. The point of decision seems to hover around Samuels need to get clarity from Eli, a man whom he trusted and respected. The lesson for us is to stay open, to those whom have earned our respect and trust. They just may be the connection we need to understand God’s voice when it comes to us.

From the scripture that follows this passage, we learn how Samuel grows in wisdom and strength, and ultimately comes to replace Eli’s position in the community, which Samuel was then called to serve. The challenge for us this morning is to clarify, at least for ourselves, where we are in this story. Are we Samuel? Are we being called by God to do something new? Making the choice to recognize we are the ones being called to take on a new responsibility, this can be exciting, breathtaking and even spine-tingling. Prayerfully, if this is whom you relate to in this present time, you will have found the trusting voice, the elder statesperson who will mentor you and help you to understand how to connect to the ‘still speaking voice’ of God. What an exciting moment this can be for you! I fervently pray you will answer that call! Or are we Eli, having come to that point of transition and we are being instructed to help train the next student to take on the roles we once filled? At first this may be hard to accept, as we know we can do the needed tasks better than anyone. Understandable feelings, as in this role we have done many good things under God’s guidance. Letting go, and stepping back, thereby taking on a ‘new’ role can be very disconcerting and even uncomfortable. Yet, some of us must strive to align ourselves with the old prophet Eli. If we do not, the Samuel’s of our time; they may miss their calling because we were not willing to interpret God’s voice for them! Let us begin this process of choosing whom we identify with, by opening our hearts and allowing God to connect with our spirits, where we will be able to hear what God is now saying to us.

Every week I receive a writing called “Weekly Seeds” sponsored by the national office of our United Church of Christ. It is meant to aid and inspire pastors like myself in relevant ways to interpret our scripture lessons each week. Now and then I find myself really connecting to the words of the theologian whom wrote this week’s reflections. The Rev. Kathryn Matthews retired in 2016 after serving as the dean of Amistad Chapel at the national offices of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio. Here is one of her reflections on this passage we are using today. “Our Old Testament reading this week is a ‘call narrative.’ It is a story of a young lad who received a call from God. Perhaps we’re not called in’ exactly the same (dramatic) way, by a voice in the deepest night or by Jesus himself standing before us. Still, there’s a powerful connection between our call from God and who we are in the depths of our being, not only our gifts and talents but also our most profound inner life and reality.” Her reflections have most certainly enhanced the sermons of thousands of pastors’ numerous times. Through her writings she has touched tens of thousands of lives. Just as Rev. Matthews found it time to relinquish her position as Dean, in retirement or simply in a time of transition, she opened a door for someone new to accept their ‘call’ to do something new as well. This is the cycle of ministry – just as we all come to understand the cycle of life.

Cantor Naomi Hirsch speaks of a new day, a new time. “As we begin a new year, how can we be fully present to the roll calls we may hear? What does it mean to say, “I am here?” How shall we enter a new place?” (A new place in time, with new challenges and new opportunities.) This theologian from Yale University, gives us a true challenge as we wrap-up our discussion of the voice of God ‘calling out to Samuel’ and now to us. This is a good time for these reflections as we too, need to ascertain the voice of God in our midst. What better time could there be, then this, to consider our rolls in this our church? As we seek the voice of God’s will, and as we discern how to answer God’s call, to serve the people of God! For this is the time, as it is each year, when this church, and countless other churches have their annual meetings. A ritual among us churches who operate under the model of organization called ‘congregationalism’; first adapted out of the puritan movement. This whole concept of how we the people, we the congregation make the decisions that decide who and what this church is, and how this church is to operate. It was out of this Christian movement that the whole concept of Democracy was first embraced in what has become these United States.

How shall we listen for God’s voice during this time? Have we taken note of the art of listening with our hearts? Shall we keep the voice of God ‘central’ as we grapple with the ‘right choices’ for this congregation now? Shall we set a ‘good example’ for others to follow and an example of how to serve God out in our community, and in our own homes and in our neighborhoods? Let us first listen with our hearts – then answer with the love of God – thereby living into the Spirit of God’s ‘still speaking voice’! Amen.