Sermon: “I Was Blind”

Scripture: John 9: 1-7, March 19th, 2023

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

“Hear now these ancient words from the gospel according to John, chapter nine, verses one through fifteen.”

John 9:1-7

1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.  2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.  4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.  5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent).  Then he went and washed and came back able to see.  

“Having heard the account of the blind man who regained his ability to see, let us consider how our eyes are opened when we encounter Jesus in our lives.”  

“I Was Blind”

There are many types of blindness.  The man in our scripture lesson today

is thought to have been born blind; meaning he had no sight.  Jesus comes along, puts some mud on the blind man’s eyes and then he can see for the first time in his life.  ‘He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes.  Then I washed, and now I see.”’ /John 9:1-15b/ Truly a miracle!  Truly a sign of who Jesus really was and is – the Son of God – with power to give a man the ability to see, utterly amazing!  It is just one of many signs which Bible study groups have been studying in the scriptures – for Centuries.  Each sign, like this one, have been pointing to the powers given Jesus over creation itself, which Jesus demonstrates for others to witness and to see! 

What would it take to open our eyes to the world around us and truly see with clarity what there is to see?  Physical blindness is just one malady – which we humans suffer from.  Yet, there are many types of blindness, could it be possible that Jesus might and can help us in other areas of blindness?  And if so, what are these other types of blindness?  Sitting in my office as a pastor, these last twenty-eight years, I have seen a multitude of people disabled, immobilized, and put out of action, by their blindness.  Yet they can pass an eye exam at the motor vehicle department to renew their driver’s licenses. Seems contrary to popular belief, does it not! But if we believe in the power of a little faith – well a lot is possible. All we need is a smidge of this thing called trust or confidence in what our understanding of God is – to move forward with this confidence. Because a little bit of belief in what God can do, we can begin to shake off some of that doubt and disbelief.

Are you blindsided by your own blindness, your own impaired vision of what God, through Christ, through the Spirit of God can do?  Many of us are.  Not sure about this?  Well, let’s look a bit deeper. 

Are you prepared for the calamity and chaos, confusion, and turmoil which may come into your lives soon? Most of us are not. Consequently, we need to take out some insurance to help us through these potential calamities that human existence can bring. Insurance that does not cost a penny or any monetary amount. How can we help our anemic and weak faith? Our scripture is meant to be a record of a miracle performed by Jesus. Something mystical happened that day. Perhaps all the details have gotten scrambled over the Centuries of interpretations and such; but something mystical happened that caused a man to see, who prior to Jesus – was blind. So let us put some level of trust in these ancient, recorded testimonials to Jesus’ powers as the Son of God!

These last few years have driven home some significant points which we cannot ignore. Were you blind to the fact, that we humans are not in charge of God’s creation? No, we are only the children of our Creator, and we are called upon to care for this world we live in.  Where have we, you, and I, where have we been blind?  Are we now ready to ask God to help us see, perhaps for the first time? Pause and pray, stop and P.P. as we have spoken of in the past. When you do so, with that small mustard seed of faith, you shall invoke the presence of God… at least the presence, the Living Spirit of God, that is all around us!

Let us spend a moment clarifying some blind spots which plague us.  Here is a simple example of blindness: you go to great lengths to pick out a ‘heart-felt’ and meaningful gift for your thirteen-year-old daughter, or granddaughter.  It is a book, which touches your heart and opens-up the meaning of kindness, compassion, and thoughtfulness.  You believe she will enjoy reading it and it will help her understand how to improve personal relationships you think she is struggling with.  When she opens the gift, what she sees is an inexpensive book, which she has no interest in.   What goes through this young teen’s mind, is how thoughtless you are for not getting her the gift card, the present she asked for, so she can go and buy what she really wants!  You come to think that this child is so focused on her wants and desires she is unable to see your thoughtful gesture.  Parents know how this can feel.  The converse is also true of our blindness, as parents, of the world of our teenagers. It is easy to get ‘out of touch’ with our children and our grandchildren as well. 

Sure, this is more than just physical blindness, but how can we talk about another’s inability to see that which is going on around them – if we don’t discuss this!  When we speak of ‘spiritual’ blindness and ‘emotional’ blindness, as-well-as other forms of blindness, we are going deeper into the full meaning of being able to see and fully grasp and perceive of that which is right in front of us!  Teenagers can see past adults self-centered decisions and choices as well as we can see theirs; perhaps oftentimes better than we can.  Younger adults listen to what us older folks say, yet they look to see how we live our lives.  If we talk one way and act another, then they will see our lack of credibility – as hypocrisy!  If we can not connect with others about simple things, how shall we do so with more important and serious things!?

Let me suggest to you that our miracle narrative, this sign of who Jesus was and is, it can be viewed like one of the many parables that Jesus so often told.  In this case he performs a miracle.  It is possible, due to the nature of how this account was passed to us through the Centuries, (oral traditions, language barriers and translation techniques,) that the nuances of this miracle have not been recoded.  Perhaps, maybe, even possibly, Jesus wanted us to see that, YES, he was indeed pointing to his abilities to heal, not only physical blindness, but also our ‘spiritual’ blindness.  The examples I have put forth were only meant to get you into this conversation.  There are numerous ways we can be blind to the needs and wants of others!  You and I, we may be missing the full picture of what is going on all around us: in the lives of our families and our friends and even our neighbors!      

Considering what has happening all around us, that deadly pandemic virus, our need to have “socially-distanced” ourselves from one another.  Coupled with the crashing economy – which put millions of people out of work.  Our families, our neighbors were panicked and unsure of how many rolls of toilet paper to buy, while truly needing things like hand sanitizers and face masks that had vanished from shelves! (Now, of course, we all store more than we need, of all these things; and the retailers have ample supplies also!) The economy now speaks of inflation and low unemployment with shortages of workers, especially in local retail stores and restaurants.  

Pastor Edward F. Markquart, of Grace Lutheran Church, Seattle, Washington speaks of blind spots!  “The Pharisees had their blind spots, and we too have personal blind spots.”  Pastor Edward has a point.  Let us consider this as we review our current life situation.  Our society has radically changed overnight it seems, and we are all struggling to ‘catch-up’ and ‘figure out’ what to do now!  What: ‘have been’ and what ‘still are’ our ‘blind spots’!  What is it that we are unable to grasp, as our understanding of our society, just a year ago, has slipped from where it was.  How can we accept how blind we have been to the fullness of what was… and what now is!  Writers better than I shall be documenting the fullness of these past, current, and possible future scenarios of what was, is and maybe for days, weeks and months ahead.  Surely the historians will try to grasp this for decades to come. All of this leads to our blindness to what still can be – if we would only open our hearts to ‘the power’ with a smidge of faith, in the power of God’s love for all of Creation!

The need for us all: is to be ‘healed’ of our blindness!  Our blind spots are crippling us!  We need healing!  Our scripture lesson speaks to us… pointing to Jesus for the answers!  As Jesus clarifies for us, in this story of his healing of the man born blind from birth: “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” /John 9:5/ This is what we need to focus on today!  The power of God comes to us through the healing touch of Jesus.  This is what our scripture is speaking of!  This is a powerful sign of the Divinity of Jesus.  Here we have Jesus quoted as saying he is the Light of the world!  No matter what type of blindness we are struggling with we need some of that “Light;” if we hope to see the glory of God’s creation continue to blossom! 

In the past I have mentioned the famous song from the “Poseidon Adventure”, “The Morning After,” and there shall be!  We shall come through these difficult times.  And when we grasp, when we as a people can see past our blind spots, and recognize that we are all in this together, ‘The Whole Wide World’, it is then that we shall truly begin to heal!  Then there shall experience “The Morning After!”  This time in history, the flow of the problems we read about every day. They shall continue to pass through us, we cannot fully stop life’s reality!  However, there is a lot of hope. If we but learn the lessons from past weeks messages, and cross over the barriers that separate us, at every level and work together for the common good of all people, we shall make real progress as we get beyond the worlds current crisis’. 

For those of us like me and you, we need to keep the faith!  We need to be reminded that the “Light of Christ” the “Light of the Living Spirit of God our Creator” still lives and is with us today!  Remember that book we lifted-up as a gift to a child, the one about kindness, compassion, and thoughtfulness?  If we want to spread kindness the way Jesus did, we need to practice it, not hid it in a book.  Compassion is something we each need to pull from our heart and bestow it upon another.  When we turn toward God’s will, rather than to our self-centered motives, it is then that we shall learn to embrace an attitude of thoughtfulness for the needs of others.  Let us invite God to open our hearts, thereby empowering us to pass to others God’s love; love which is expressed in the life of the man named Jesus.  Then we shall begin to truly see that which God envisions for us to see!  Amen.   

“Are You Thirsty”

John 4: 5-15, March 12th 2023

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

“Let us open our ears and hear the words of this morning’s lesson from the gospel account according to John, chapter four, verses five thru fifteen.”  

John 4:5-15

5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 

6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well.  It was about noon. 

7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 

8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 

9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 

11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 

12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 

13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.  The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

“Having heard the opening scene between this Samaritan woman and Jesus, let us now open our hearts and minds as we grapple with the meaning of this encounter in our lives today.”

“Are You Thirsty”

          How good at listening are we?  Do we stop what we are doing to take the time to ‘fully’ be there, for the one who wants to share?  Do we affirm their candor without judgement?  What about you, do you take time to reveal and tell another about the feelings, the emotions, and the experiences you have had, or are having?  Can you remember the first time you were really understood; and you knew someone was truly listening to you?  Can you follow the rhythm and the rhyme of a good poem?  Listen and you shall soon know.

Everything’s easy after it’s done;
Every battle’s a “cinch” that’s won;
Every problem is clear that’s solved –
The earth was round when it revolved!

But Washington stood amid grave doubt
With enemy forces camped about;
He could not know how he would fare
Till after he’d crossed the Delaware.

Though the river was full of ice
He did not think about it twice,
But started across in the dead of night,
The enemy waiting to open the fight.

Likely feeling blue,
Being human, same as you,
But he was brave amid despair,
And Washington crossed the Delaware!

So, when you’re with trouble beset,
And your spirits are soaking wet,
When all the sky with clouds is black,
Don’t lie down upon your back.

And look at them.  Just do the thing;
Though you are choked, still try to sing.
If times are dark, believe them fair,
And you will cross the Delaware!

By Joseph Morris

Did you listen?  Did you really hear?  Have you crossed over your Delaware?

          The Reverend Elaine Blanchard, was the keynote speaker at the retreat I attended the week before last, six years ago, at the Canterbury Retreat and Conference Center, in Olivia; not too far from our Florida Conference office on 9300 University Blvd., Orlando, FL.  She guided us on an exercise designed to increase our listening skills and helped us by lifting up and affirming the importance of telling stories, true stories about our own journeys, and experiences along our travels in our own lives.  She did this primarily by sharing several powerful stories about her own journey as a child.  Her stories opened for us all… to view, through the eyes of a child: racism, bigotry, and abuse, at many different degrees and levels.  It was a powerful retreat, meant to renew and refresh us, yet propel us into new discussions and open pathways to new opportunities for ministry, for ourselves and for those we serve.    

How will you tell your truth, your story, your understanding of where you have been, and what you are all about?  Who will listen?

It takes strength to be firm,
It takes courage to be gentle.

It takes strength to conquer,
It takes courage to surrender.

It takes strength to be certain,
It takes courage to have doubt.

It takes strength to fit in,
It takes courage to stand out.

It takes strength to feel a friend’s pain,
It takes courage to feel your own pain.

It takes strength to endure abuse,
It takes courage to stop it.

It takes strength to stand alone,
It takes courage to lean on another.

It takes strength to love,
It takes courage to be loved.

It takes strength to survive,
It takes courage to live.

Author Unknown

When have you felt the strength of another?  When have you seen the courage of another?  Can you feel and see your own?  Share that with someone… it is your story. 

          Pastor Elaine also shared a great deal about her own ministry which entails her work at prisons, where she has encouraged inmates to openly share their stories with her and with others.  With their permission, she has used their stories to create dramas played out by real actors – taking these inmates stories out into the community.  A powerful ministry to be sure.  One of the dramas she played out for us was her rendition of this scripture passage ‘The Samaritan woman at the well’.  Through her eyes and in her words, Elaine gave us a modern version of this account, bringing it to light in more personal ways.  Try to imagine yourself as this woman, going down to the well, or to one’s local convenience store, as was her daily custom, and encountering this stranger, a Jew named Jesus. “Jesus asked her for a drink of water.”  As she was a Samaritan woman, she knew that speaking with a Jewish man was virtually unheard of. Samaritans were shunned by the Jews, and a Jewish man would never speak to a Samaritan woman.  This is the backdrop to this encounter between her and the man named Jesus.

Imagine, you are walking into the store looking for something for dinner and you ask the butcher for some advice.  But he is too busy to help you now.  You curtly tell him how he has hurt you and leave, empty handed.  Or possibly… you hear his overworked frustration of an all too busy day.  You acknowledge his situation, smiling as you say, “I can wait till you have a moment.”  When you do leave, you not only have a roast to serve, but you also now know how long and at what temperature to cook it.  Possibly, you learn the butcher’s name and he now know yours.  By truly listening you changed a negative into a positive.

          As we get into the mode of listening to someone, we need to think about how we want to be listened to, as we clear our minds of clutter, preparing ourselves to be present to their time for communicating with us.  For the person who experiences being listened to, it can be a very powerful and valuable event.  The encounter between the woman at the well and Jesus begins when Jesus asks her for a drink.  Try to imagine this from the eyes of the woman.  She was not expecting anyone to be at the well, yet here is this Jewish man asking her for a drink of water.  The irony surrounding this encounter is that the story is ‘upside down’!  This is not a story about Jesus asking for a drink, it is about the woman’s thirst for the touch of God in her life.  The thirst that we are told about, through the words of Jesus is her thirst, not his!  The setting is at this community well, the only available water in the area.  Jesus was perhaps thirsty for water, yet the dialogue he gets into with the woman is all about the hunger and thirst of the woman, who represents all of us who are in need of God’s grace and mercy. 

          The trip to the well, for the woman, was an opportunity to get her chores done: wash the cloths, fill the water buckets, and cart them back to her home.  She was not expecting to get into a discussion with a stranger about living water and eternal life.  Nor was she expecting to meet the Messiah who reaches across the barriers, the walls that separate ethnic groups, nor did she expect to break down the shackles between ancient customs and traditions.  She certainly, was not planning on meeting someone who was interested in listening to and talking with her.  If you were to read the next twenty-seven verses of this encounter, you would learn the depth to which Jesus listened and understood this woman.  He affirms her in a way that no one else had.  Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.”  The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.  What you have said is true!” /John 4: 16-18/ It is at this point that the woman realizes she is talking with someone who deeply understands her, for Jesus did not condemn or censure her for her background, rather he affirms who she truly is.  It changes her life and the life of those who she shares the details of this encounter with.

Have you been listened to at such a level?  Perhaps you have had the opportunity to listen to another’s story and felt their needs as you listened.   Has someone affirmed you for who you are?  Or are you still waiting for this to happen?  Try talking with someone today, and we shall pray that they are ready to truly listen to you.

          We all have tasks which need to be done.  Some are fun and others heavy laden.  As we go about them things may happen or persons may enter in who were unexpected, or perhaps someone does or says something quite different or new.  No one truly knows what the next moment shall bring.  Are you prepared to receive that moment with grace and look for the rose, the gem or precious stone shinning bright, in the midst the assortment of verbs and nouns being served?  We need to always prepare ourselves for that next unexpected moment.  Stay open to it when it arrives, knowing that God is there at your side, as something new unfolds within your space and all around you, encompassing all of who you are.

          Both Jesus and the woman had a choice that day.  Upon seeing the strange man at the well, the woman could have turned around, going back to her home, to come again later.  Jesus could have sat and waited quietly till his disciples returned from town.  Surely, they would have let the bucket down into the well, bringing up fresh cool water for Jesus to drink.  There was no need for him to have asked the woman for a drink. 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

By Robert Frost

          What story do you have to tell?  Is there anyone who will listen?  Stories can be shared orally, or put to paper, pen in hand.  Digital records like to be spoken to, capturing every word without comment… later to be heard by countless others.  Silently in prayer, we can share with open heart allowing our redeemer in to hear every thought, sound, and syllable, as we empty the load of our troubled day.  Perhaps the sun is burning brightly in the midst the dark glum of the night, as your heart bursts with bright shining joy, over a new-found treasure or toy.  The prisoner yearns to share her journey, her version of it all.  The father, filled with remorse cries out to tell of his pain and regret.  The lonely mother wants to share her fears with a non-judgmental ear.  The Spirit of God waits with patient love to hold the words of a lost soul seeking comforting peace, in the dark silence of the night, as-well-as in the bright shining light in the middle of the day.


“Promised Victory”

March 5th, 2023, John 3: 1-17

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

“Listen with an open heart to these words from the gospel according to John, chapter three, verses one thru seventeen.”

John 3:1-17

1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.  

2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”  

3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”  

4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old?  Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”  5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.  

6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.  

7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’

8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  

9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”  

10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?  

11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.  

12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?  

13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.  

14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.  

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  

17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

“Allow the Spirit of God to take your understanding of this scripture passage to new levels!”

“Promised Victory”

          There are a multitude of questions I would want to ask and things I would like to discuss with Jesus, if he were standing here with us this morning.  I suspect that most of you could come up with a question or two yourself as well!  But what if we could only ask one or two?  When a reporter asks questions at a political press conference, that one reporter seldom gets to ask more than one or two.  As a group, sure a few more are asked, but you want your important questions answered first!  To ‘kick start’ a conversation, it is important to ask probing questions and or to put forth open ended thoughts.  Hopefully, a question that will start a conversation on a topic you really want to explore.  So, if you are called on early in the discussion, where would you want Jesus to focus on?  Remember, this is your one shot at ‘kick starting’ this conversation into a discussion on the topic that you want to hear about.

Janet Hunt asks, “What do you make of Nicodemus’ question, (and his opening remark)?” Nicodemus seems to waste his opening remarks, he simply put forth a closed statement and not a question.  ‘He states that Jesus comes from God, and the signs he does can only come from God, and to do so you must be in the presence of God.’ /John 3:2b/ This is not a question, but it is a statement which begs of Jesus to simply state that he/Jesus is of God!  Then in total ‘Jesus’ fashion’ Jesus redirects his answer to speak of something else which he turns into an opportunity to teach yet another lesson.  In essence, Nicodemus wasted his moment or at least it would appear so.  The lesson, which Jesus introduces, of course, is what we shall focus on.

Jesus clearly wants to turn our attention toward being born again, born anew in the Spirit!  As we delve into this discussion, we need to set aside any preconceived ideas we may have about being “born again”.  For many have adopted this phrase as an initiation into Christianity, and this does not resonate as to how Jesus operates or teaches.  Nothing about the man Jesus speaks of exclusion or expelling his followers for not literally doing exactly as he says.  No, Jesus was and is all about love and inclusion not exclusion!  Therefore, we, you, and I, we need to look at this in a new way.  Perhaps this is not the conversation we were hoping to stimulate this morning.  Yet, we shall endeavor to glean what we can from this dialogue, this teaching.     

This discussion is about the ‘Spirit.’ 

Unfortunately, the world ‘Spirit’ is often improperly intertwined with the concept of spirituality. Let us pray – prayerfully and playfully; Asking God’s Living Spirit to help us one to grasp its meaning. Understanding the ‘Spirit’ is crucial to understanding the words of Jesus’ lesson today.

First, let us clarify what the Spirit is not.  It is not made of flesh and blood!  Therefore, our human bodies, of themselves, are not of the Spirit!   When we are baptized, we are baptizing / cleansing our bodies with water and calling upon the ‘Spirit of God’ to come upon and into the one being baptized, which clearly suggests the Spirit is outside of the water and outside of our bodies!  Many believe that when we are baptized, we are welcomed into the fellowship of the ‘body’ of Christ.  Meaning, that before we are baptized, we are outside the realm of Christ; we are outside not inside.  When we are baptized with water we are cleansed and when we are baptized with the Spirit of God, the Living Spirit of Christ, something profound happens and we are “filled with the Spirit!” 

The ‘Spirit’ we are speaking of is the third personality of our Triune God: Creator, Redeemer, and Spirit – the Breath of God!  Breath is understood as that which gives life.  Jesus has presented to Nicodemus a formula for understanding how one is to be ‘re-born’ in the Spirit!  Using what we have already learned about the ‘Spirit’, one must be immersed into the fullness of God through the ‘Spirit.’  Since “Spirit” is not of the flesh, the foolish comments and questions from the mouth of Nicodemus only confuse this conversation!  Rather, we must not worry about our bodies, we must simply allow ourselves to stay open to the winds of the Spirit coming into our lives.  Thus, allowing the very ‘Breath’ of God, to awaken us to a deeper awareness of God’s presence!

          Now I know you have questions about this!  If this was on open forum you would be waving your hands and trying to shift the conversation to what you really want to know!  However, Jesus wants us to know that this can happen at any point along our journey!  And it can take place in stages!  Being ‘born again’ or ‘filled with the Spirit’ only denote the beginning of something new!  Spiritual rebirth is an inside thing, and it can take place in old things, like us folks who have bodies that are growing older every day, and in brand new things like our youth!  It is important to realize ‘Spiritual rebirth’ can happen at any time and it can be upgraded periodically, like the software updates happen to our cell phones and computers.  Often these updates happen without our requesting them and sometimes we are unaware that they have occurred!  The Spiritual world is not of this human order of things which is easily understood.  In the same manner, most of us do not fully comprehend what is happening when our computers are upgraded!  Most of us do not understand how the Spirit of God is working within our very lives either!      

John Allen tells us, “Jesus is pushing his followers to understand that new life emerges constantly from the old.  God sends new life from above and thus new perspectives interrupt and alter our old habits into something new.” / At any moment, at any time of day or night, it happens without our asking: The Spirit gives us a boast – kind of like giving a car a kick start!  William Loader, of Murdoch University, and a member of the “Uniting Church” in Australia, gives us this insight on our subject. “Being born of the Spirit is talking ‘not about a new mystical height of experience’ but about a ‘way of living’ out the life of God in the world.  When you see like this, you see the connection between Jesus and God and you see God in Jesus not trying to compete for adoration in the market of miracle workers but seeking to establish a relationship of love and community.  The focus is life. The means is relationship.  The motive is love.”

          Nicodemus represents all of us who have questions, yet struggle with asking the right questions.  We do our best to form the question, yet we know so little about the subject at hand and about things which are not part of the answer we seek.  We need a base of understanding before we can even begin to understand how to formulate the question.  One must fully grasp the questions at hand to formulate the process to arrive at the solution.  For math students who do not grasp which formula to use, on a question, even the table of contents of the text is of little use.  And this is how it is, with our efforts at seeking understanding of some of the spiritual world of which Jesus speaks!  One must be immersed, totally wrapped up in and fully engaged in the love of God, at every level of one’s life

          Our scripture passage speaks very clearly, that we are to believe in Jesus ‘if’ we are to enter the Spirit of Christ.  Our lesson also clarifies we are to embrace the truth which proclaims our God is a loving God, not a narrow-minded condemning God.  When we hear someone or some institution putting a twist in this lesson, that feels narrow or condemning, know that it is not God’s words of which are being misspoken.  Unfortunately, many are of like mind to Nicodemus, who asked, and continue to ask of Jesus foolish and misdirected questions, such as: “How can anyone be born after having grown old?  Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” /John 3:4/ His questions were of the flesh, tied to the realm and scope of science and nature.  The providence of God, the sphere of which our Creator has dominion over far exceeds the territory and field of our finite minds.  When we limit ourselves to the restricted range of our human understanding, we limit our ability to join into the spiritual realm of which even the simplest of Mother Nature’s creatures understand, simply by instinct.  Things which, yes, even our household pets like cats and dogs get. 

          The way forward?  Trust God.  We need only try to walk in the pathway of faith.  God will be there by our side, even as the hills and valleys come and go along our journeys.  The Spirit of God will give us the strength and the courage we need when we need it.  As our faith grows so shall our supply of ‘Spirit’ filled moments increase.  The realm of the “Sprit’ has no limitations, as is our relationship with our God.  Are we ‘born again?  Yes, we are!  Through our faith, we are reborn everyday with new opportunities to walk in the light of God, hand in hand with the saving grace of Christ, empowered by the Breath of God!


“Temptation vs Grace”

Matthew 4:1-10, February 26th, 2023

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

Hear now from the Gospel account according to Matthew, chapter 4 verses one thru ten.”

Matthew 4:1-11

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

“Having heard this accounting regarding the temptations and how Jesus handled them, let us consider how we deal with temptations.”

“Temptation vs Grace”

Many of you might remember my friend from Zambia, Africa, Reverend Winston Matafwali. Do you remember what I told you about what Pastor Winston said when he got up to preach. It was his first sermon as my Intern, while I was the pastor at our sister church in Sebastian.  Some of you may have heard me tell this story once before. But it is worth repeating. I believe the point he was making as he began was that we are all the same.  As he went into his sermon Winston wanted to be sure we all got the ‘bare’ truth about his point.  He broke it down to one very exposed certainty: Pastor Winston said to us “doesn’t matter the color of your skin, nor does it matter what country you are born in, or if your parents are (Christians, Muslims, or Hindu; or conservatives or liberals,) rich or poor; we are all born naked!  That word naked just hung in the air as you could almost touch the stunning impact his words had, as his congregation sat up straighter in their chairs… waiting for the next point he was going to make.  Many perhaps praying he would offer something to cover up this blatant and stark honesty, of our common humanness!

He did not give into that temptation. Winston let his words reverberate until you could hear a pin drop. Are we willing to accept the truth when we hear it? Or do we give into the temptation to take the easier softer way?

Rather, we could allow God’s grace – to save us from our humanness.

Temptation is another of those all too real human realities!  One pastor, Larry Broding, said it this way: “What little delights in life tempt you?  Are they hard to resist?  Why?” If you truly have never been tempted, nor have ever, on any occasion, found it hard to resist something you truly were attracted to, or you were never drawn by its lure, then perhaps you are in denial or you are – a truly blessed individual. For God’s grace has surely touched you.  If this is you I do pray you will be patient while I discuss temptation with the rest of us sinners here this morning!  Temptation to most of us is like a bowl of scrumptious milk chocolates sitting within your reach, or a bowl of fresh delicious potato chips after you have eaten just one!  Have you ever been low on funds and paid for something and been given back too much change, knowing you were being given an extra dollar or two?  Did you immediately give it back, or did you consider your choices first?  Be truthful now… did you keep the extra change and walk away?  If you were asked to answer this question out loud how many of you would be compelled to tell just a little white lie?  Have you ever whispered a prayer asking God for something for yourself, rather than the selfless prayers that Jesus suggest we ought to ask?  Being human is tough, isn’t it?  Just like knowing you were born naked seems embarrassing and a bit too exposing.     

David Lose a theologian I often quote, points out this about temptations.  “…it’s important to recognize that temptation is not once and done.”  Just as covering our nakedness is not a one-time event, neither is temptation.  Each day brings its own temptations.  Most of which are not as trivial as a piece of chocolate or a bag of potato chips.  Temptations of food are real and if you are hungry enough you will cheat, steal and do just about anything for some food… if you get hungry enough.  Prayerfully, most of us don’t need to go to these extremes for food. Yet consider the homeless, the street people who live in abandoned buildings and in our deep tropical overgrowth.  Possibly, just beyond our view – on our own church property.  Have you ever considered what you would do, if the cupboards were bare and you knew not where your next meal was coming from?

There are other types of temptations, several of which Jesus deals within our scripture lesson this morning.  Power, wealth, and prestige.  These are big ones!  They start small.  You are invited to run for the school board or be an alderman.  Or perhaps you are asked to be the chairman of a committee at your church or take the lead on a project at your firm, where you work.  There are no sins associated with the small steps up the ladder of power, respect and status.  But, one day, the next step up you are confronted with a situation or an opportunity that causes you to consider making the move, a move on the ‘back’ of someone else’s pain or demise.  They will get offered another opportunity you muse, but the taste of newfound recognition can be intoxicating and the spiral of that first temptation, to take short cuts at the expense of others, prompts more and more.  Temptations that cause others harm do not seem to coincide with the virtuous and moral life of which the teachings of Jesus point us in.  Jesus declined the temptation, yet, the mere fact they wrote this passage suggests Jesus’ humanness caused him to wrestle with this temptation – just like all humans do.  If you identify with any of what has just been said, don’t condemn yourself, you are just human, born naked like all the rest of us.

The third temptation Jesus is confronted with is this business of testing God.  In the deeper analogy, this probably was a reference to his having the temptation to call on a legion of angels, to carry him to safety, rather than to go to the cross.  Yet, what about you and me, what about us modern Christians.  Do we give in to testing God, by putting ourselves in harm’s way and not for the good of others either?!  Rather, we are talking about dangerous unhealthy choices for the sake of nothing!  When we do not take care of ourselves, are we testing God to see if God will fix us, every time we repeatedly do foolish things.  Things like the poor addicted man or woman in the streets do?  There are many ways for us to give in to temptation, while trying to justify it because of our human plight or condition.            

We are faced with a crucial question which we need to ask ourselves.  It is a question which brings together all this talk of temptations and our basic humanness.  It forces us to focus on the truth of our existence and the conflict we have ‘as believers’ in a God whom loves us all, in the context of the life which tosses us about in the circumstances and situations we find ourselves in.  And I quote, Jirair Tashjian, at The Christian Resource Institute: “Will I walk with God whether I get that job, whether or not that cancer is healed, whether or not my loved one pulls through a life-threatening situation? Or, am I going to put God to a test and say, if you do this for me, then you’re my God, but if not, I will have nothing to do with you.  The Spirit-filled life which Jesus lived was a life that was unconditionally surrendered to God regardless of the outcome.” Wow… do you feel as stripped naked as I do right now?  Can’t we go back to discussing chocolate and potato chips?  The author of this question lays it on the line.

          We humans, that is you and it is also me, we are weak in the flesh, and we are prone to give in to our temptations; much like the alcoholic is drawn to his or her next drink.  Therefore, we need to build up some defenses against temptations, at least the more serious ones which carry moral, ethical and social ramifications!  A pastor by the name of Cheryl Kirk-Duggan speaks of the way forward from here.  “This text teaches us to celebrate the power of embodying the gift of being children of God, realizing a spiritual life that daily prepares us to recognize temptation and having the tools that will allow us to see and transcend them, before they morph into addictions.”  Whether it be here in church, or at a place of business or work of any kind, and most certainly in the realm of our families: both young and old, we must be diligent in our efforts in being present to our convictions surrounding our understanding of what it means to walk with God.  Walking with God, hand in hand, striving to live a Christ centered life, believing always that God loves you: yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  Being eternally reminded: we do not walk alone!  Therefore, please understand, this is why we form congregations… families of faith.  We must constantly jog our memories to not be tempted to go it alone.  Clothe yourself in a suit of armor made up of the families and the individuals who make up your system of support, alongside the hand of God.  

I am not sure where I heard this but, it gets to the point. “How will your life be defined?” Are you defined by the sins, the all too human failures surrounding temptation?  Or shall you be defined by the good you have done?  We all know the story of Jesus as told in the scriptures.  We will be revisiting some of the highs and lows of the end stories of Jesus’ journey here on earth.  But, what about yours and mine?  What about our stories?  The next chapter has not yet been written.  What about this our church?  There are still pages to be turned, budgets to be balanced and souls to be saved.  How will we move forward?  Will the temptation story of Jesus, just after his baptism, be helpful as we struggle to stay on the right path and focus on the right issues?  What about our community?  Is it heading in the right way, or have we seen a shift away from what we believe is the correct way? 

What temptations do we face as a church?  How will the life of the Riviera United Church of Christ be defined?  Will folks remember one or two of the big social justice issues we have undertaken in our history, and the lives which were then reshaped and restarted, setting them on new pathways?  Or shall we be remembered for our failures as we ultimately give in to temptations, the hidden temptations urging us to just give up?  The naked truth is there are lots and lots of small churches struggling with the same basic problems and issues which we face.  What will the historians write down?  As we gather together, during this season of lent, let us be reminded what Jesus did and why he did it. Thankfully, Jesus never gave in to his human temptations!