God Reaches Out to You!”

Luke 5:1-11, February 10th, 2019

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


 

Read Statement of Faith

 “Hear now these words from the gospel according to Luke, chapter five, verse one thru eleven.”

Luke 5:1-11

1 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

“Having heard the account of how Jesus invited some of his earlier followers, whom were fisherman by trade, let us now consider the many ways which God has reached out to us in our lives here is this time period.”

 

“God Reaches Out to You!”

Before we met, God reached out to me and asked me to follow the lead of Christ. Every morning when I awake, I say a prayer and ask God to shield me from my weaknesses and strengthen my willingness to follow in the pathway of his Son, Jesus the Christ. Then I endeavor to get started in my day, always wondering when God will reach out to me yet again. Our scripture passage, this morning, is an accounting of Jesus reaching out to a group of fishermen. He gets their attention by first honoring their mission of catching fish, as has been their trade for most of their adult lives. The men had had a poor night, they had caught nothing. Jesus got into one of the boats and they pulled out a bit from shore. From there Jesus began to teach the people. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” /Luke 5:4/ The men were tired from a fruitless night of fishing. Yet, here Jesus wanted them to cast their nets once more into the waters. They voiced their disbelief, yet, they did as Jesus asked. The results were astonishing. They caught such a quantity they struggled to pull the nets in, as they were filled to overflowing with fish. It was in this way that Jesus reached out to these fishermen and invited them to join him.

When you start your morning, do you have expectations that God, through Christ, will reach out to you? Do you take time to pray before you start your day? Do you ask for God’s strength to overcome your weaknesses? Do you pray for those who are sick and less fortunate then you? Do you ask for guidance in God’s will, or will you go it alone, yet another day? We each make these choices every day. I certainly pray, that those whom I meet each day will have answered yes to many, if not all of these questions. But, let us now ask ourselves the ultimate question, has God reached out to you? Have you felt the tug of God’s urging, urging you to do, say or be somewhere you may not have planned to be or do? Some of us respond to God’s call, others of us do not. Where are you in this conversation. Are you like a weary fisherman whom has fished all day or all night, never expecting that the outstretched hand of God – may be standing ready to help you – along the shoreline?

Today, our newly elected Church Council members will be meeting for their first time. Five members of the Council will have been chosen to represent their respective ministry team, a team of three who were nominated and elected to serve. All, we pray, shall feel that God has ‘reached out to them’ to be a part of this newly formed leadership group to help guide us, all of us, in this our joint ministry. We have properly installed each one of them, even if they were unable to be here for the ceremony to fulfill the ministries to which they have been called. I suspect they each have or shall come to realize that they are like the fishermen; they have things in their own lives they must tend to, and their nets are not always full of what is needed to fill their needs and that of their families. Yet, prayerfully, they now realize it was God who has reached out to them to serve this their church in a special way, not just a persuasive Nominating Committee member or an arm-twisting Pastor! Either way, let us be grateful we have those whom are now willing to serve our church in this manner.

As we, you and I, live out our day-to-day lives… how do we decide which is more important: the things we put on our busy to do list for the day; or is it that inconvenient extra thing that someone or something caused you or me to rearrange our schedule to do? This is a perplexing question to ponder, as so often, when people ‘reach out to us’ and ask us to do something extra or unplanned, in order to so – we often must let go of somethings we had planned to do – in order to do these other inconvenient tasks. Subsequently, when are we meant to say yes (?) and when ought we say no? Let us look to our scripture and see how they chose and ultimately decided.

In the time period of our scripture fishermen were working to make a living, catching fish to provide for their family and put food on the table. Primarily, they were working to do what most people, just like those whom you and I know, do every day. As we live here in Florida, we also know a lot of folk that have retired and prayerfully, they have planned for retirement in such a way, that they have their basic needs taken care of, now that they no longer work all day to put food and such on the table. I think everyone here knows of what I am speaking. With this said, just how did they, the early disciples, choose or decide to leave everything and follow Jesus? “When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.” /Luke 5:11/ Is this meant to just be a metaphor or is this what they really did? As we follow the story of Jesus and his followers, we come to believe that at least twelve men were to follow him, everywhere he went, as he taught and ministered to the people. What we do not have are the details as to how they managed to get by – without a source of income. Nor do we know exactly what became of their families and such – as they traveled with Jesus. What we do know is that Jesus said and did things which compelled them to overcome the obstacles and rearrange their lives in order to follow him.

When God reaches out to us… it is an act of faith to respond with a resounding yes! There was, there is, something special about the man Jesus. Even when we read these gospel accounts, especially when there are pertinent details that we think are missing, we cannot say that there was nothing special about the account. When you consider how difficult it was – to get any of the story of that which occurred when Jesus walked amongst the people of his time – there had to have been something very special about him and each story that has been recorded for us to read, discuss and ponder. Can anyone here, tell me of something special that happened thirty years ago, without looking up where it might be written down? Or has someone told you about an occurrence way back in time, twenty or thirty years ago? I suspect that in these memories will be the essence of the outstanding points of what occurred, and a lot of details will be missing. It is possible you may add a few details trying to make the story more plausible. The details are not the critical factors when discussing a biblical story! It is the heart of the story in which we need to focus!

The heart of our lesson today is that Jesus said or did something that caused hard working men to respond with a resounding ‘yes’ and they radically changed their lives to follow him so they could become part of his movement, his teachings! When has something like this happened in your life? Or perhaps it has not. Rather, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ has reached out to you in the past and you brushed it aside, as too much of a burden or too inconvenient to consider! What excites me about our fellowship of faith is not the details, not the things that get undone. Rather it is that out of ‘who we are’ that we do as much as we do! If they were to write about us, what would they lift-up and remember about us?! Might they say about us we are “A friendly and warm congregation, whom welcomes all people to join them in their desire to think openly, believe passionately, and serve boldly!” Or will they say “They were a nice bunch but…” What is the heart of this church? Historians capture the highs and lows of things. Seldom do they lift-up a particular-detail or story – unless it speaks to something unique about that which they are writing.

When Jesus reached out to me inviting me to follow him, I did not know where the journey would take me. Neither can anyone of us be sure what will come of our willingness to accept the invitation to serve Jesus, to serve a church or simply serve the needs of another. No, it takes a spark of willingness or a least a smidgen or even a mere morsel of faith – to respond to something we are not sure what it will bring into our lives. When we are reading from scripture, we are hearing what the writer thought was important about a given occurrence. When someone tells you about a moment in their lives, they are not going to tell you the details, rather they shall tell you the important points of their memory about what occurred! When Jesus interrupted me in the midst of my life, changing me forever, I want you to know it was a profound moment for me! It changed my understanding of what was important and what was not. My priorities changed! It was at that apex in my life when moving toward God and the teachings of Jesus, became more important than other less important details of my life, which did still need to be cared for!

Discernment, understanding and insightfulness about what responding to God meant – came later. Judging how to respond to God’s open invitation came after I said yes. The details do matter, yet, they can be worked out along the way. A friend calls on the phone and says “Pete’s wife said you, Pastor Tim, you can come visit him in the hospital and pray over him.” Helen was reaching out to me. I responded by altering my plans for that day. I rearranged some priorities and then got in my car to drive to the hospital where my friend was. The details came after. Thankfully, there was gas in the car, and I had already had a meal that afternoon. The details were: I would take the longer route rather than the more efficient way because I thought the traffic would be easier, however, I was wrong! That detail is irrelevant to the story. I pushed through and got there about fifteen or twenty minutes later than I might have. Because I had been practicing my faith and picked up the tools of ministry along the way, I was able to give Pete and his family what they needed at that moment. This is what we are meant to do when someone reaches out to us. Private life, public life, personal faith, communal faith, they all blend together in the overall picture. The details do matter but they are not the central point.

The point is, when God, through the Spirit, through the teachings of Christ touches your heart and reaches out to you, the needed response is a willingness to respond as best you can, as best we can. And with the help of God, we shall!

Amen.

Pastor’s Letter February 2019

 

Here it is February already! Wow, so many things happening – the days just seem to fly right by! January was indeed busy, and the challenges of life keep presenting new opportunities for us, you and me, to reflect on our relationships with our individual as-well-as common understanding of God. Personally, I believe the Spirit of the Living God is always present, although we oftentimes turn away from the abundance of God’s grace, mercy and guidance. It is those times when I feel depleted and empty, it is then that I must push myself to go back to the basics: God loves me, and you, and we are not doing this by ourselves. I find it vital that I keep going back to the fundamentals of my faith, striving to always turn towards God’s light, God’s ever-present Spirit to strengthen me, giving me the courage to do that which I know in my heart I must do.

In January we worked to begin the foundations of a new program “New Beginnings” that we are praying will help us refocus our joint ministry as we move into the future. There shall be a second meeting with a second consultant on Friday evening March 8th, everyone is invited to attend. Then on Saturday the 9th of March there shall be a training program for those whom wish to take an active role in moving this initiative forward. It will be a great opportunity to be a part of this program in a special way.

Also! Lent begins on Wednesday March the sixth! We will have an Ash Wednesday service at noon and at six in the early evening. It is an opportunity to begin the Lenten journey of ‘reflection’ as we move through the weeks of Lent and then onto our Maundy Thursday service of Tenebrae on the 18th of April. Culminating, of course with Easter on April the 21st.

Together, we can renew and strengthen our deep, deep love for a God whom has first loved us. Thereby, strengthening our faith for the journey ahead. I look forward to journeying with you, day by day, in the weeks leading up to these landmarks ‘within our traditions’ as Christians. Let us continue the journey as we seek to know God better and follow the example of Christ, together.

Pastor Tim Woodard

“Be Patient and Kind” 

1 Corinthians 13: 1-13l 

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


 

 

“Hear now these words from First Corinthians, chapter thirteen, verses one thru thirteen.” 

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 

1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.   

4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing – but rejoices in the truth.  7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.   

8 Love never ends.  But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.  9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.  11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.  12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.  13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.   

“Having listened to the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the struggling new church in Corinth, let us now open our hearts and minds to its deeper meaning.  Let us consider how his words apply to our lives today.”  

 

 

“Be Patient and Kind”

 The Apostle Paul offers us a ‘vision’ in this poetic, beautiful and well-known passage which he presents to us – in his letter to the early church in Corinth.  This writing is often read during wedding ceremonies as it is such an uplifting and practical guide to forming lasting relationships.  Young couples and older couples alike, often come to me to plan their weddings and they have that unmistakable twinkle in their eyes.  They are in love!  They pick this beautiful passage because their hearts hear the words of love within the writing and it touches them.  Their wedding shall begin a joining of their lives forming a vision of joy, and happiness and never-ending love, like that which they are experiencing as they plan out their wedding.  As a pastor, I always say a prayer, that they will listen to all of what the scripture passage says to them; as it is a set of suggestions which if followed will assist them in fulfilling their dreams, their shared visions for the future. 

My observation, over the years, is that relationships that grow stronger over time, are those which work to develop plans, that include collaborative agreements between those whom are involved.  This is in contrast to the approach too many broken relationships which collapse are lured into.  This is where one individual, or group, have gone their own way without building trust and reaching collective consensus and agreement – before making major decisions, as-well-as when making lessor choices along the way.  No one truly wants their relationships to come to such an end.  Yet, without some type of structure, some shared vision or plan, this is often the case.  Even when true love is in the mix and the relationship is formed with good intent and potential, if the shared dream, the shared goals and aspirations are not renewed and lifted-up along the way, a relationship can begin to drift and flow on the ‘ebb and tide’ of outside influences and pressures.  Consequently, rather than grow, a relationship can begin to drift and ultimately cease to exist.  When this happens the vision that formed the relationship ceases to exist as well. 

New relationships as-well-as current and long-lasting relationships need to know how to successfully negotiate situations and potential conflicts before they arise.  Conflict tends to come up when people stop following the simple guidelines which the Apostle Paul put forth in his letter.  “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing – but rejoices in the truth.” /1 Corinthians 13: 4-6/ Pastor Karoline Lewis speaks on how to approach a conflict when it flares up in any relationship.  “…no matter where we go or who we are, there is and will be disagreement and division.  The answer is not to erase, pretend it doesn’t exist, or think it will eventually go away, but to embrace more fully how to live into it, among it, and with it in love — because God is love.” /Karoline Lewis/  

Our lesson this morning, passed onto us for our use in modern life, is all about love; beginning with God’s love.  Verse 4 thru 6 in our reading from the Apostle Paul’s letter gives us the basic instructions for how a loving couple might set the tone for such a discussion.  Yes: Love is patient!  Therefore, approach a disagreement with an attitude of loving patience as we take time to hear what the other is working to express!  Couples need to work their way through the guidelines which Paul has laid out.  Using patience and kindness, not allowing envy or their ego to interfere in their discussions as they work to get back on track and keep their relationship grounded in the abundance of God’s love for their success.  If people in any type of relationship were to follow these simple guidelines… with diligence, they will ultimately rejoice in the truth of their shared understanding of the integrity of the details of their shared ideas.  From there they can continue building a lasting and living relationship that will bear much fruit, fruit that shall last!  

As we enter into relationships, whether it be in a marriage or a family or even in a community such as we have here in our church.  Ultimately, we want to be able to relax and enjoy our times together.  Yes, even here in this sanctuary, people come for a variety of reasons.  People such as we, we want to feel safe as we come together and worship in our traditional and contemporary way.  We want to be able to simply relax, enjoy the fellowship, relaxing as we listen to uplifting praise music and hymnody.  These elements help us to live into the message of the day, expressed through word and prayer, thereby, renewing our spirits and allowing the Spirit of God to renew and refresh us from the inside out.  Personal one on one relationships need this same level of comfort also.  When we develop mutually agreed parameters and guidelines for our times together, we eliminate the stress of disagreement.  No one likes rules, yet they also set boundaries and structure which allows relationships to flourish.  Even our structure that clarifies who cleans the floor who buys the groceries and who pays the bills and in our case as a congregation; who writes and prints the bulletins and buys the music etc.  All these aspects are necessary in a successful family and in a joyful and uplifting worship service.   

Structure is a key element.  Way too often couples, families, as-well-as many forms of groups and communities begin breaking down when they start struggle over their structure and how, whatever quantity of money they have, shall be used in their joint enterprise which can take on a multitude of shapes, sizes, and/or purposes.  The shared aspirations of a newly married couple will need a bit of structure, a bit of agreed shape and form in order to allow their newly formed coupling to grow and flourish.  Likewise, an aging couple, together perhaps for one or multiple decades, will also need to reevaluate their structure, their arrangement, their style of living to be sure it still brings them to the same shared principles and goals thru shared tasks which they have divided among themselves ‘over time’ to accomplish.  That ‘ebb and tide’ referenced earlier is indeed present, as relationships, like the tide, are in constant motion.  With maturity, couples, groups and even churches, learn that sometimes things do not flow as expected. Consequently, everyone is not always able to do their fair share as planned and hoped for.  That textbook model of shared responsibilities becomes blurred as at times one person or one group of individuals are compelled out of need and necessity to over compensate for another’s shortcomings.  This is something all adults are forced to accept.

As we allow ourselves to dwell within the nurturing words of love and how to keep it strong and vital, we can come to understand how we can use this lesson to speak of many differing types of relationships, which we have already touched on.  Paul’s words speak to all of us whom allow this teaching into our hearts, not just couples approaching the celebration of their union.  Here in our mutual relationship as a community of faith, these words speak to us as we seek to renew our vision as a church.  Remembering always that sometimes, it is necessary to reinforce that which we already know.  Take for example what is generally understood as the purpose and goal of church community. Melissa Bane Sevier is a minister, writer, and photographer.  She expresses for us what most already know.  “Love, real love, is implanted in our souls by God.  When we see someone else hurting, our hearts go out to them.  It’s natural.” /Melissa Bane Sevier/ Knowing this… is only the beginning.   

Take for example this statement: “Our vision is to continue thinking openly, believing passionately, and serving boldly!”  Great words!  Offering a true opportunity for visioning how we shall live into the future.  Yet, these words need to be attached to actions, verbs – which translate into truly reaching out to our neighbors; especially those our hearts go out to!  We must ask ourselves, is it the thinking and believing which propels us to serve?  How do we serve?  Is there perhaps more which we can do?  God’s love for us is boundless and infinite.  Is our willingness to serve the people of God as endless and vast?  As we grapple with this, we shall need to clarify what are capabilities currently are and whom it is we are trying to minister to.  These are the things which we shall wrestle with, as we learn more from the assessment which the New Beginnings program consultants are currently working on, at our request.  Let us, therefore, keep our hearts and minds engaged in the beautiful words of the Apostle Paul, as his letter urges us to embrace a deeper understanding of a relational ‘ebb and flow’ of God’s love: flowing to and through us in our mutual ministry and relationships, as we serve the people of God.  

Amen.  

“A New Beginning!”

Luke 4:14-21, January 27th, 2019

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


 

“Hear these words from the gospel according to Luke, chapter four, verses fourteen thru twenty-one.”

Luke 4:14-21

14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.  15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.  16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom.  He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.  He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.  The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

“Having listened to this ancient writing from the gospel, let us now consider how we can embrace this lesson and learn how to adapt its meaning as we continue our faith journeys.”

 

“A New Beginning!”

Our scripture from Luke’s gospel account, puts forth a strong proclamation from Jesus as he begins his formal ministry.  He takes a bold step as he powerfully puts forth his agenda, reading from the words of the Prophet Isaiah!  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” /Luke 4:18-19/ What he has done is risky and bold!  We, as a faith community, we follow the lead of Jesus.  We, therefore, must be willing to continue forward with courage and tenacity!  Half steps are not good enough!  If it is Jesus, we follow and look to for guidance then we are compelled to do what is necessary to do the work of Christ in this community!  With this basic thought in mind I want to speak about the program that we will begin to implement tomorrow night.

This New Beginnings program which, Margret-Ann, Carol-Ann and Nancy have spoken with you about these past three weeks; it is meant to be the beginning of some new thoughts, new opportunities and possibly some types of ‘new ideas’ on how to continue, expand and possibly reestablish some of the fundamentals of what we as a church are called to be and to do.  We as a church shall gain from the work this consultant and his firm shall help us with, as together, we re-envision who we are and possible how we shall continue to live into our mission statement.  This will be done based on what they learn from the data we have sent them and what they glean from all of us on Monday.  I pray all who are able will be at the meeting tomorrow, so that the journey we are preparing to embark on, I am praying we will all be onboard and represented!

This past week a history of our church, written by Carol Robinson, our Church Historian, was sent out to the Consultant whom will be with us tomorrow evening at seven P.M. to talk and interact with everyone in attendance in some manner.  He has been working on an assessment of who we as a church are, and where we are going.  We all are praying that this will help to facility our vision, as a church, for the future and some suggestions on how to get there.  Carol started her two-thousand-word essay by telling us when, where and how our church was formed.  “In the years beginning in 1889 thru 1899, twelve charter members (whom began) meeting for Bible study, were assisted by the Congregational Home Missionary Society in both funding and incorporation as ‘The First Congregational Church of Melbourne.’” /Carol Robinson, Church Historian/ That is how, what we now call “The Riviera United Church of Christ’ first began.

Carol methodically takes us through the major points of our church history.  (In follow-up, I will work with Carol, to release this document for all of us to review as well.) Carol takes us through the struggles of a new church as its ups and downs fluctuate with a changing and expanding community in the midst ‘real world’ activities such as war, recessions and political changes bring.  As one reads through the document a few phrases ring strong and true, clearly defining some of the basic foundations of this church.  Let me just give you a ‘peek’ into this historical writing, as the sentences and paragraphs take us on a journey of one hundred and thirty years.  Listen carefully.

“The church became the 3rd church in the town of under 100 people.”  “Two services, Sunday and Wed. night were maintained.”  “Vocal and instrumental concerts and plays (were) presented for the community at large.”  “The Sunday School continued to flourish.”  “Monthly Mission Musicals supplemented the concerts and plays.”  “The pastor called for Christian social action.”  “When the economy failed the Ladies turned more mission efforts to local needs.”  “The church turned to new directions with fresh new talent.”  “Much of the work was done by volunteers.”  “In the early years much effort was made to improve education via teacher training, improved curriculum and sending children and youth to summer camp.” “(The Church) Council (formed) committees, (whom) searched for new directions.”  “In balance over these years there were many improvements in church life even though a ‘core of eager people’ seem to do much of the work.”  “The congregation continued to be known as ‘a friendly church’”.  During 1989 the year of the 100th anniversary monthly special events took place, each reflecting something from earlier days.”  “Many of the members volunteered community service beyond our walls.”  “The church mission was redefined.”  “Riviera UCC became an ONA (Open And Affirming) congregation and welcomed many new members including leadership talents.  As new arrive, others leave.”

Carol’s closing statement sums it up quite well.  Her words hit on our current good fortune, culminating with our recent land sale, and how this has changed our financial picture.  But, yet, the challenge of being the church ‘first envisioned by God’ and began as a Bible study group, this church formed a hundred and thirty years ago, is still grappling with the challenge of being the church!  In Carol’s own words: “The financial struggles may have eased… but much remains to be done in tending our corner of the vineyard.” /Carol Robinson, Church Historian/ Being a biblical scholar, one can assume Carol’s reference to the vineyard was from one of Jesus’ metaphors of vineyards beginning in the Old Testament, Isaiah chapter five verses1-7.  “Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill… For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” /Isaiah 5:1-7/ Church’s all have a responsibility to tend to the needs of their corner of the metaphorical vineyard, of which the Prophet Isaiah spoke of; churches are called to serve the needs of the people of God!

The history of our RUCC (Riviera United Church of Christ) is something we can be proud of and something we are called to continue.  This morning’s scripture from the gospel of Luke will help our discussion.  Let us now turn to our lesson, where we shall learn from this accounting of Jesus, in his home town, and how it quickly moves us away from his birth, his baptism and his preparation for ministry.  The core of our writing occurs as Jesus reads from Isaiah, chapter 61, beginning with verse one.  “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;” /Isaiah 61:1-2/ The call to work with others is a ‘ministerial proclamation’ from ancient times and it is still with us today – in modern times.  But, this writing from Isaiah speaks in the second person representing the words which come from the Messiah, the long-awaited Savior.  These words were prophesied by the Prophet Isaiah that the Anointed-One, the Messiah would say them when he begins his ministry.  When Jesus makes his proclamation it is the beginning, the “New Beginning” of his formal ministry!  ‘Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”’ /Luke 4:21/ A theologian named Karoline Lewis points out for us: “Jesus’ sermon in Nazareth is a life-changer.  Our (ministries) are life-changing.” /Karoline Lewis/ Yes indeed, “Our (ministries) are life-changing,” as well!

As we pass through yet another landmark in the history of this church, let us be reminded history is a re-cap of events which have occurred.  They offer a lesson to be learned.  The future is something new which is yet to be.  Let us focus on the future as we review and look back at history.  Reviewing the history of a church is like reviewing the history of a person’s life, which also offers tools and lessons for the future; of course, let us be reminded that history is made by living well in the here and now.  The future is a yet unlived dream.  So, as we face into the future let us pick up some tools.  First, we need to grasp a few simple concepts to make our learning today, easier to remember.  Let us look to the lessons we each learned as children.  You know what they are, you and I, we are adults now.  You children who are here with us this morning, pay attention, as you too will need to learn these things before you will successfully move forward into your future.

It began, it begins, by letting go of our childhood and childish ways.  Children learn as they pass through adolescence into young adulthood that the ways of a child are not the ways of a responsible adult.  Churches need to also learn from their childish behaviors.  Churches survive to serve the people of God because they give up foolish notions like irresponsibly saying ‘someone else’ will get the work done.  There are many stages of development as we grow into adult hood.  Just as a child learns dishes need washing every day, as does a bed need to be made, every day.  Maintaining a church takes constant vigilance and adult decisions.  As a youth Jesus was taught to honor his parents.  As an adult he took responsibility for things he said and did, leaving behind his youth but not his heritage, nor his destiny.

One of the things that most of us struggle with, as we move onward in our lives, and likewise churches do as well, is we try to hold onto the comfortable ways of the past.  Letting go of things past and gone is a necessary exercise that all healthy adults learn to do.  It is like letting go of an old suit that no longer is in style, or like men’s bellbottom pants.  Some of you may be too young to remember wearing them!  Searching out new ways to do old things is difficult.  Churches have always strived to reach out to the needy and the marginalized.  Yet, we need to utilize new avenues to do so in order to be effective.  Jesus ultimately was not accepted in his home town once he proclaimed, that he was the Messiah.  The following verses after today’s lesson tell the story.  “When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.  They got up, drove him out of the town.” /Luke 4:28-29a/ Jesus would need to begin in a new way – leaving behind his old home town and the ways of his youth.

The stage is set… and now it begins!  In the weeks to come we will learn more about the journey and the ministry of Jesus.  Likewise, we shall glean some new tools, a couple new ideas and few new avenues to approach the age-old challenge of being the Church – which God called into being!  No matter how things materialize, or come together tomorrow and into the future, we need to be willing to go forth, just as Jesus did!  Go forward… it is a New Beginning!  Learn from the past but don’t get lost in the nostalgia.  New beginnings start in the here and now and move us into the future!  The miracle will come in the doing – not in the planning and learning phase.  So, let us roll up our sleeves and see what God has in mind for us today!

Amen.