The Mission”

Luke 10:1-11, July 7th, 2019

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


 

“Hear now these holy and ancient words from the gospel according to Luke, chapter ten, verses one thru eleven.”

Luke 10:1-20

1 After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’

“Having heard this lesson from our reading this morning, let us know open our hearts to their meaning in our lives today.”

 

“The Mission”

My mission, for the next four weeks, is to renew and refresh myself, with God’s help this shall be so! Your mission for these few upcoming weeks is to support the volunteers who shall endeavor to fill this pulpit as they and you engage a faithful reflection on scripture and the movement of the Spirit of God in your respective lives. My prayers will be with all of you as these days of July shall quickly slip by; however, there shall be plenty of time for prayer. My prayer life shall not stop simply because I am off with my loving wife on vacation. Lois and I set aside time for prayer every morning and every evening, as we realize that without God, our lives are void and desolate. Without the Living Spirit of God guiding us along our way, the road ahead would still be filled with twists and turns and the events we encounter and the people we meet will be, and they shall continue to be – beyond our control. Consequentially, without God, we shall not know which way to turn or whom to reach out to or whom to avoid! No, I shall not stop praying and asking for guidance in God’s will, nor shall I stop asking for help to overcome the obstacles, which I often place in front of myself. My mission is indeed, to renew and refresh my personal relationship with God; while spending quality time with my family and friends.

Our scripture this morning is all about the mission of the early disciples of Christ. Our lessen has Jesus sending his disciples out two by two on an assignment, a task, a mission. Metaphorically they, the disciples of Christ, are being told to go out in pairs, together as two – not one at a time, not alone, and have a heart-to-heart chat with people – about the ministry of Jesus. In our scripture we hear how they are to travel out into the towns and villages, spreading the good news of Jesus with those they meet. They are only to take that which they need. If they are rejected, or their teachings are rejected, they are to leave, brushing the dust of that place from their very sandals. Their mission, therefore, is to spread the peace and love of God through Christ, to those whom are willing to receive it. But, those who are not open to receiving or can not accept what is offered, they were, (as we too are expected) to leave and go to the next community and the next if need be – till they find someone willing to receive what they have to offer. Many times, over the years I have had to ‘let go and let God be God’ to those whom I have not been able to successfully communicate with and thereby, help them, along their spiritual journeys. I say to you, it is not always easy to let go of someone you have been trying to help, yet it is they, whom have rejecting the hope, the love and the mercy which God is offering them. Ultimately, Jesus told the disciples whom he sent out – Jesus is telling us that we must let go of those whom are unwilling or not ready to receive that which God has instructed us to give and share.

Whom we walk with to do mission is so very, very, important. We need to be sure we walk with others whom, like ourselves, are ready and willing to go out from the safety and security of our beautiful meeting place and do the will of God. We need to walk with those whom are putting their trust in God. We need to walk with others whom are ready and willing to sacrifice for the good of others. The walk of faith, the road of a disciple is filled with ups and downs, as well as slippery spots and potholes along the journey. Thus, we must put our trust in God and no other; if we expect to be successful in the eyes of God. We need also to be in relationship with those we walk with – on the pathway God leads us upon. Some form of bond, a link, common ground needs to be established. This is so important. For if you are putting all your trust in God’s guidance and the other is putting his or her trust in ‘the way we use to do it’ or how ‘her mother or his father did it’, you are going to be struggling, trying to communicate with one another. Therefore, you shall need to spend time in prayer together, studying the same teachings, seeking common understandings so that you, we, will be effective in our work together.

A theologian named Janet Hunt invites us to consider who we walk with. “What comes to your mind (she asks) when you think about who Jesus has sent to walk alongside you?” As we grapple with this consider also ‘what might we, you and your buddy, your colleague, accomplish together along the journey? Let us be clear here, we are not talking about going out on a date! (Chuckle!) No, we are talking about going out as we believe we are being called, to carry the ministry of this our church, the Riviera United Church of Christ, out to those we serve. Rather than worrying about how someone may present themselves, we are looking to be paired up with those whom believe, for starters, who believe in the mission! This is imperative and quite necessary! The thing about working with others is we must stop believing we can do this alone. I can’t, you can’t, but we can!

Pastor and teacher David Lose puts forth several engaging questions for us to consider. “So, what might it mean, if ‘we’ were to remember Jesus’ counsel and command and work and dream together of a more vibrant witness to the Christian faith?” /David Lose/ Is this not what our focus is – to become a more mission-oriented community all about? Let us take the concept of one of our future story scenarios spoken of at our congregational meeting recently. Considering we help feed hundreds of people at a soup kitchen in Melbourne, once a month, consider what we might do more locally here in Palm Bay. Especially, if we put our heads and our hearts together to come up with a way to implement it. For starters we could start letting the community know we have food in our pantry that we can share. To do this right we would need to stock the shelves better. Become more prepared for the needs of local families. Set aside time each week to collect the food, and then set aside a time when the food could be distributed. It will take planning, organization and volunteers working together toward a common goal.

Pastor David Lose continues his line of provoking questions. “What might it mean to think about those things our congregations can do for our communities? Of things we assuredly cannot accomplish alone but might venture together?” /David Lose/ Perhaps he has been reading out of the same play book as our “New Beginnings” writers. A food pantry that is truly stocked and utilized by local families is a great way to get started! We may want to connect-up with other local congregations to move this one project forward to levels we can not yet imagine. There are so many other things, which we have been discussing together that we might want to also consider. Let us ask our own question: Why is it so important to partner up with someone as we go forward? The answer ought to be obvious at this point! If two individuals, rather than one can do better mission work, then why wouldn’t two congregations be more effective working together also?

Pastor Janet Hunt, in her focus as a church innovator for churches seeking mission renewal shares this question. “Who have been important partners for you in your life? In your life of faith? What has made them so important?” Let us consider the answer – as a church. We have been involved in the work of “The Daily Bread” for a long time. In so doing we have partnered up with a great many churches whom are, ultimately, in partnership with this enterprise, via the donations, which we pass to them. Especially the donations of our time and talents when we, as a fellowship, are helping-out and serving a meal once a month. Because of the efforts to bring churches together to feed the hungry in our neighboring community, where we once resided as a church, has dramatically increased the number of individuals whom are fed! Let us expand our ministry closer to us… here in Palm Bay!

As we look at the text of our scripture again, let us be reminded of what Jesus was doing. He was pairing up his followers to go out into the community – sharing the mission, the love and the mercy of Jesus’ ministry with the people. He did not tell them to measure their success by the number of those who received them. Rather, he was teaching them to continue to try, try and try, till someone was willing to receive what they offered! I ask you: what is most import: being successful at what we do; or is it ‘most important’ whom we are in relationship with – as we do the work which Christ has laid out for us to do? When we walk with God, in Spirit, and in relationship with Christ, is not the peace we feel the most important aspect of our journey? As we go out into the community, together, trying new ways to serve the needs of others, we shall become a stronger faith community, with a closer connection to the Living Spirit of God, with-in and with-out this our church, our base of operations to serve the people of God.

Amen.

“The Mantle of Ministry”

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14, June 30th, 2019

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


 

“Hear now these holy and ancient words from Old Testament, Second Kings, chapter two, verses one thru two and verses six thru fourteen.”

2 Kings 2:1-14

1 Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.  2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.”  But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.”  So they went down to Bethel.

6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.”  But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.”  So the two of them went on.

7 Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan.

8 Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.”  Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.”

10 He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.”

11 As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.  12 Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father!  The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!”  But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

13 He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.

14 He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?”  When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

“Having heard this lesson from our reading this morning, let us know open our hearts to their meaning in our lives today.”

 

“The Mantle of Ministry”

Today’s discussion revolves around the word mantle.  For those of you that like sitting around a cozy fireplace in the wintertime, especially, if you are from the northlands of our country, we are not talking about that shelf over your fireplace; that’s a mantel. The spelling of the word mantle, in our scripture, puts the E after the L, not before it.  Mantle, in the context of ministry is a symbol of one’s ‘calling’ into service to God.  In ancient times the formal cloak a Rabbi or religious leader wore, was referred to as a mantle, signifying their formal role as a religious leader called by God to serve.  The stole I wear around my shoulders is of the lineage of this custom.

The central figures in our scripture, the old Prophet Elijah and the new young Prophet Elisha, spelled with an S rather than the letter J.  It is Elisha whom is about to put on the Mantle of ministry worn by the older prophet, Elijah.  What is happening in this story is simply that the older Prophet’s time on earth was coming to the end; it was time for Elijah to join with God in Heaven.  The younger prophet was anxious to follow in the footsteps of the older prophet.  This sets the stage of our lesson.  The younger man is excited about taking on the responsibilities which he has seen Elijah handle.  Clearly, young Elisha is filled with the Spirit of God’s calling and is anxious and willing to take on the mantle of ministry!  This is the type of excitement and energy that established this ‘our church’ one hundred and thirty years ago!  It was that level of enthusiasm which compelled the early disciples of this congregation to accomplish the ‘fullness’ of ministry that our historical records speak about.  The sense of calling was strong as they reached out to minister to the needs of their community.  The same sense of calling and willingness continues to be needed to carry on serving the people of God with love and kindness.  Those of us with the excitement and enthusiasm like that of the young prophet Elisha – is needed to move this ministry into the next decade!

Many of you this morning, you are perhaps thinking that this ministry, of which we are discussing, is only for formally called Prophets, Rabbis and Pastors.  Yes, the fancy stoles, such as I wear and the prayer shales of Rabbis and the fancy garments from which the word mantle comes from, are meant for those who are formally recognized by a religious group for their ‘calling to leadership’ within their respective faith communities.  Yet, the ‘call’ to ministry is something we all receive, at some level or another.  When I watch Bess, Joan and Linda at work on a Monday morning, cleaning up the mess we leave on Sundays in the narthex and the church kitchen, as well as our restrooms, I see devotion to doing service, for the ‘love’ of serving God!  Praise God for such ministries!  Before I continue to point out what ought to be obvious to everyone, hear this question from a theologian named Michael Coffey.  He asks us “Whose mantle have you had to pick up and carry?”  Think about this for a moment.  Being called into ministry is often out of necessity.  Take for example the thankless ministry of cleaning up the church kitchen after a spectacular “Potluck Ham Dinner!”

As I look around our sanctuary this morning, I see volunteers at many and various levels.  Two fellows are managing the audio-visual booth, ensuring that you all can hear my voice and even see my face; ensuring that you can get the full impact of today’s message.  We have a volunteer whom works faithfully to put together our service outline and bulletin.  Virtually all of the work of the ministry, within our faith community, is done by volunteers; except for my own salary and that of our Musician and our Music Director.  The volunteers, whom went out to the Daily Bread to help serve meals this past Monday morning were doing ministry; they were answering a ‘call’ to serve the needs of the hungry.  Over 250 are feed at that one soup kitchen every day.  The call to ‘fill the bowl’ for the Humane Societies drive to feed and care for animals – whom have been abused or left behind is a ‘call’ – a call to serve the needs of these animals.  Thank you one and all, every one of you whom have donated so generously!  Forgive me if I have not mentioned your ministry which you fill, as every aspect of this our church is supported by a team of volunteers; unpaid workers who serve out of love and a sense of ‘calling’!  A calling to follow in the footsteps of those whom have led the way.

Can you imagine what would happen if every volunteer in this church or any church really, as all churches rely on volunteers, consider what would happen – if – if they all left their area of responsibility to ‘someone’ else?  I am often amazed at how some folks – would not even know what another is doing for this church – until that ‘someone’ is not available or is no longer able to do so any longer.  As we, like most religious groups, seek out ways to expand our ministry, out into the community, into a neighborhood we are a part of, we still need to care for the basics that keep our place of operation operating.  Although we are striving to balance our ministerial activities to reach out to more of God’s people, we still need this ‘base’ of operation.

Most religious groups depend on a base, a home base of operation.  We, like others, we need to continually come together to pray and fellowship with one another, maintaining our connections as a fellowship and faith community.  We all need renewal and we all need to stimulate our spiritual centers with the reading of scripture and a time of reflection and prayer.  We need to continually reflect and think about what it means to be a ‘disciple’, what it takes to answer a ‘call’ to serve the people of God.  We can not leave all of the ‘branches’ of ministry to tend to themselves.  Nor can we leave it all up to ‘someone’ else to handle.

We are ‘all’ called to serve the people of God.  In so doing we need to be faithful as we serve the needs of each other, even as we strive to be open and welcoming to all whom come to this place of worship seeking the teachings, the love and the fellowship of like-minded people.  If you are one of the eighty plus followers who have been viewing our live broadcast via Facebook these last several months, we want you to know we pray that you too, are getting some form of ‘inspiration’ , some form of  ‘message’ and or ‘teaching’ while viewing our broadcast.  We pray that you will feel ‘part of’ our ‘outreach’ to serve and touch the hearts and the lives of others.  May you also, accept a ‘call’ from the Living Spirit of God to ‘reach out’ and ‘serve the needs’ of your neighbors.  Please feel free to share with others the love of God which we pray you are feeling this very day.

I recently read a clip from a pastor whom was seeking to point out in a unique way how important it is to understand what it means to ‘pass on’ the mantle of ministry to another.  We need to be sure that as we do so, the intended receiver of this gift is ready and willing to follow in the footsteps of the one currently doing the work of ministry.  Clearly, this is a main theme of our scripture today.  As it is one thing to say you accept the ‘call’ of ministry; it is quite another to truly ‘do’ the ministry one is called to do!  There are many examples of people whom say they have accepted a specific task or responsibility within the context of ministry.  Generally, most volunteers here at our church, they follow through and put forth a great effort seeking to fulfill what they have agreed to do.  Yet, sadly, now and then we hear a story of a volunteer or even a paid staff worker or pastor whom do not always engage their responsibilities in ministry with integrity.

Listen to the illustration one pastor offers up to make his point.  Reverend Samuel Wells, (in a sermon at Duke University) speaks of this passage in the terms of a short story he tells of a Pastor whom had his assistant write his sermons.  “The day came when the assistant ended the relationship.  The preacher was reading his sermon (a sermon his assistant had written for him) and flipped the page to see only a simply note: ‘You are on your own from here!’” (Pause) I have never had anyone write my sermons for me, yet I do remember the Sunday morning, just before the service started, when I realized the printout of my sermon manuscript – was not complete.  Halfway through my sermon my printer had run out of ink!  Yes sir, realizing midway through a public speech that the remaining pages are blank – is really upsetting!  Realizing that we are not prepared to do what we have agreed to get done is an eye opener!  Accepting a responsibility is just that – a responsibility!  Now and then, we may need to step aside when circumstances change our availability, in such a case we must step aside allowing another volunteer or coworker to fill the need.  Generally, most whom step up to a task, in service to another, or for, a worthy cause, follow through or make room for another with integrity.  To all of whom I speak – God bless you and thank you for your service.

A former Professor of Religion at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, Karla Suomala, recently wrote on the topic of “Transition is never easy.”  Simply working with her engaging topic is thought-provoking!  Our congregation, like a great many faith fellowships are continually going through transition!  And, as we know, it is never easy!  The fact we and others are in transition is a response to the changes within and without.  Like the story of the transition from an old prophet to a new energetic one, we must continually fill the vacuum of those whom die or move away.  Outside our fellowship the community we serve is also in flux and is constantly transforming itself!  Our culture, our society is in constant change as well.  These factors necessitate successful groups to adapt to the shifts and make changes.  We like Elisha need to continually cry out asking for the Spirit of God to enhance our ‘calling’; even as we accept and take on the ‘Mantel of Ministry!

Amen.

 

“God is Always with Us”

1Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), June 23rd, 2019

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


 

“Hear now these holy and ancient words from The Old Testament, First Kings, chapter nineteen, verses one thru four and verses five thru seven.”

 1 Kings 19:1-15

1 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword.  2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.”  3 Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.  4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree.  He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”  5 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep.  Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.”  6 He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water.  He ate and drank, and lay down again.  7 The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”

“Having heard this lesson from our reading this morning, let us know open our hearts to their meaning in our lives today.”

 

“God is Always with Us”

Our God is a great God!  Even when we fail to do what is right, God is still here with us.  That is not to say we shall not be held accountable for that which we have done by those whom disagree with us.  If we are struggling with doing what God has asked of us, God is surely with us!  Consequently, right or wrong, God is always with us!  Furthermore, God always offers us strength to do what is right, if we will but humble ourselves and put our very lives into God’s hands.  Without God, we are lost.  In our scripture this morning, the Prophet Elijah has done as he believed he was led to do by God.  Indeed, God was always there with him, despite his misgivings about the tasks at hand.  Clearly, just as Roger Nam wrote: “This week is not your typical prophetic narrative.  For this week, we are encouraged to prayerfully prepare… while considering those who are really struggling in their journeys.”  In like fashion, over these last one hundred and thirty years, we as a congregation have made hard choices along the way as well; and thankfully, God has been with us and still is!

In our scripture lesson, Elijah knows he has done what was necessary as he fought with the prophets of Baal!  In the previous chapter (chapter18) verse 40 we hear how Elijah was forced to deal with the disruptive force of the false teachings of the prophets of Baal.  “Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape.” / I Kings 18:40/ After which we hear how “Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, threatening him, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” /1Kings 19:2/ Yes indeed, Elijah desperately needs God’s help at this juncture!  Thankfully, for Elijah, God was, without a doubt, with him and on his side.  Nonetheless, “Elijah was afraid; he got up and fled for his life.” /1 Kings 19:3/

What we need to remember about this prophet and all prophets is that they all, are only mortal!  Being mortal, Elijah began to have second thoughts about what he had done, praying for God to let him die.  However, God had other plans for this man; as God often does for us all.  An Angel appeared to him and brought him food and drink and compelled him to eat; and then to get back onto the pathway ahead, as his journey into the future was still in front of him.  From the Geneva Notes, it is written that: “Alijah declares that unless God had nourished him miraculously it would have been impossible for him to have gone on this journey.”  God had sent an angel to tend to his needs.

Angels, if you are not aware, take on many forms.  Just the other day, a fellow I know, talked about an angel that came to him in a unique way.  The man, my friend, was watching over his mother whom was at the end of her life; the rest of the family were doing other things during those hours.  He was very unsettled having been left alone at such a time.  My friend also has a very strong faith in God’s ever-present love.  There was another man whom often was very disruptive and was also a patient at the facility where my friend was watching over his mother.  The loud, often obnoxious man, whom was always difficult to deal with, he stepped into my friend’s mother’s room where my friend and his mom were.  The man sat down, never saying a word or making a sound, he sat there with my friend, as they both watched over his mom as she moved ever closer to Heaven’s gate.  My Friend, he said how he could feel the peace and the presence of God during this strange occurrence, bringing comfort as they both sat there in a quiet and holy vigil as my friend’s mom… passed from this life to the next.  Indeed, angels come in various forms.

Let us pause for a moment as we ask for God’s guidance through this text.  We need not focus on the drama of this writing.  We all have our own dramas in which we have passed though or perhaps are in the middle of right now.  No, we do not need to dwell in the drama of the prophet’s plight.    We do need, however, to acknowledge that following the will of God is not always easy.  We too, may need to be prodded and pushed along the way at times.  We too, are only human.  We all need an angel or two along the highways and byways of life.  It might be that simple nod or kind word from someone you had before not even noticed.  Or, perhaps you are among the few who see an angel, as if from heaven, come to your aid.  However, and by whatever means, most of us have had the presence of an angel come to us in a moment of need.  If you think this has never happened in your life… well I can only suggest you work a bit harder at being open to the presence of God.  We are all God’s children and God loves us one and all!

Garret Galvin, a Franciscan wrote, “As God accompanies Elijah, (and others in scripture such as) Hagar, and Jonah on their journey, Scripture invites us to consider how God has accompanied us on our journeys.”  Just as these men were sent out to do the work of God by carrying the message of God’s will to others, so also are we.  It is up to each one of us, we are each responsible to stay open to the moments when it may be our turn, our opportunity, to be that angel to someone who is needing one.  God can make each of us instruments of peace and love, when we stay open and willing to do the ‘will’ of God.  Keep an open heart, there are so many around us whom are in need of an angel sent by God.  Remember always, you and I, we are not the only ones who could use an angel today to help us through yet another rough spot in the roadway of life.

“Our journey with God sometimes calls us to do things which we may not want to do or didn’t ever see ourselves doing.  There might be times when things get difficult or perhaps, we are feeling a bit frightened or terribly alone.  But what we can learn, through Elijah, we can learn that when things happen, and when the road gets hard… that it’s ok to be afraid, or worried, or frustrated; it’s even ok to feel like giving up.”  Linda Fabian Pepe, author of this thought reassures us that our concerns are commonplace, yet God is still with us, despite ourselves!  Thank you, Linda, as we humans, we often get so into ourselves and into the drama that has boxed us in, we may forget that God is still with us.  It is easy to do, and we all have done this or know someone whom has.  Again, we are reminded to stay open to the presence of God, in all areas of our lives.

Carson Brisson, Associate Professor of Bible and Biblical Languages at Union Seminary, he tells us “The path is more often through the wilderness than up any (ephemeral) short-lived ‘crystal staircase’ as the African-American writer Langston Hughes, who knew about exile, wrote.” Mr. Hughes surely knew about struggle as he was active in the cultural reawakening of his time. It is so crucial that we take advantage of those special moments in life, when we recognize how the ‘hand of God’ has touched our lives.  As those precious flashes and/or glowing seconds are generally ‘fleeting’ and ‘far between’; we need to cherish them like golden nuggets, storing them in our hearts for those desolate and lonely points along the way.  They may be required of us to share, with others needing a spiritual lift or a reawakening themselves.

Larry Broding, Director of Religious Education in San Diego, asks us to consider a question.  “Have you ever been surprised by an experience of God?  What happened?”  Reflect on the answer to this probing question for yourself and then consider sharing it with someone.  In just a few weeks, July 14th, you will get to hear of the faith journey of one of our church leaders.  I will be looking forward to hearing her message as she has shown us her ability to put human emotions and scripture together in personal and uplifting ways.  Her experience, strength and hope, will surely touch our hearts.  She may even touch on her answer to Larry Broding’s question.  Thank you, Nancy, for agreeing to stand up here on a Sunday morning in my absence.

Another of our new church leadership this year, Carol-Ann, shall share some of her experience, strength and hope as she also will be speaking to us about her faith journey.  Last week she sang for us, clearly a gift from her Creator!  Her energy level is uplifting as-well-as refreshing at times.  Relatively new to our community, she has strived to etch out some tasks which she is grappling with while struggling to find balance in her personal career.  Thank you, Carol-Ann!  Two other speakers, Angie and Brian are no strangers to the pulpit as they have moved past sharing their faith journeys with us and are wrestling with scripture lessons that shall lead their messages.  ‘Forgiveness’ and ‘Understanding and Using Spiritual Gifts’ are their topics.  Looking forward to hearing their sermons; as we show our thanks and our appreciation for their continued service to this their church.

We have gleaned a few points from today’s scripture lesson, and now we need to draw from the energy of previous lessons.  In order to fully grasp and dwell in the presence of God, celebrating how God is always with us, just as the prophet Elijah did, we must grasp ahold of the Spirit of God!  On Pentecost we did just that!  Blouses, shirts and ties as well as – jackets, were ablaze with red!  The brilliance of our attire as a community, displayed the Spirit of Unity and Love in this Holy Sanctuary!  Let us take this Spirit with us – as we move from our time of worship – to a time of reflection; And the forward movement within our church meeting, following worship today!  It is through the Spirit of God, the presence of that Spirit, by which we shall accomplish our desired goals!  Amen.

“Understanding & Wisdom”

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31, June 16th, 2019

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


 

Father’s Day

 “Hear now these ancient words from the book of Proverbs, chapter eight, verses, one thru four and twenty-two thru thirty-one.”

1 Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?

2 On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand;

3 beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: 4 “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.  22 The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.  23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.  24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.  25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth – 26 when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil.  27 When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, 28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, 29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, 30 then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, 31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.

“Having heard this ancient writing let us now ask God to open our hearts so that we too might come to understand more clearly how wisdom calls out to us today.”

 

“Understanding & Wisdom”

Here it is Father’s Day, yet our scripture begins with the voice of a woman.  Frederick Buechner, in his Blog, tells us that Wisdom is a woman.  “In the Book of Proverbs, Wisdom is a woman.  “The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,” she says (Proverbs 8:22).  She was there when he made the heaven, the sea, the earth.  It was as if he needed a woman’s imagination to help him make them, a woman’s eye to tell him if he’d made them right, a woman’s spirit to measure their beauty by.”  Feminist and women’s right’s activist would have quite a lot to say about this point.  Yet, I feel that it would be disrespectful to the fathers in our midst to push this point to its full potential today.  We can leave that conversation for another time.  Even with this said, I can’t help but celebrate with John C. Holbert as he speaks out regarding this moment in scripture.  “Today I celebrate the delight of Lady Wisdom, who delights her God always and who sheds that delight on all of us.”

Bringing our focus back into the acknowledgment of Father’s Day in our society, perhaps we might go back to one of the early commentary’s, an earlier writing’s understanding of these verses.  Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary speaks of wisdom in these words.  “Where there is an understanding heart, and willingness to receive the truth in love, wisdom is valued above silver and gold.”  Good, honorable, fathers and mothers, whom desire to be good parents surely live by these creeds.  Without these values attributed to wisdom, parents would fail more often than they already do.  The wise parent, the wise father would do well to study the feminine pros of this wisdom writing.  Indeed, “wisdom is something to be valued above silver or gold!”  An understanding heart is a priceless gift.  The willingness of any parent to receive the truth in love, shall strengthen their effectiveness exponentially, to the power of ten, twenty and beyond!

Most fathers, good ones at least, and mothers also, would recognize the wisdom of this writing as well.  “…true wisdom is to realize that one cannot always control events, not to speak of the many others with whom we travel together on this earth.”  The author of that sentence, Juliana Claassens, surely has spoken from experience as well as from her scholarly approach to things, as she writes her sermons.  Parents, young and old, rich or poor, know all too well, through the rocky roads of parenthood, that believing we can – ‘control the events of life’ – is unreal.  To believe otherwise will only lead to unwanted despair and anxiety as expectations of things continually go unmet!  No, it is prudent to anticipate that all things shall not go as planned.  Nor shall others follow through as agreed upon.  Not to mention the people outside our daily circle of life whom may abruptly enter in and alter the course of our lives.

How often have we believed the path forward was a straight line, only to find ourselves needing to reevaluate, and make a few detours along the pathway?  Jim Edlin, Professor of Biblical Literature and Languages tantalizes us with his opinion regarding how “Life can get crazy at times.  In fact, for many people their lives feel more like a ball bouncing around in a pinball machine.”  I think we can all relate to this illustration.   Yet, he teases us with a reference to a story he does not finish; at least not in the commentary in which I found his words.  He authenticates his remarks by telling us that “Such is the testimony of one young woman whose story I recently heard.”  Even though we do not know the details of that woman’s plight, it would not take much to come up with numerous confirmations to the truth of it.  Surely, we all know ‘Life is a bit crazy, now and then.”  Indeed, the journey in front of us all, shall have many unforeseen moments and obstacles.  This fact is not in question.  The challenge to us is this: how shall we negotiate the ever-changing flow of life?

Take for instance a moment in my life and that of my wife, Lois.  We have a one car garage and a driveway only big enough for two cars… when one is parked behind the other.  We needed to go out on a recent Friday evening to an event but thought it prudent to put Lois’ car at the entrance to the driveway, as she would be leaving earlier than I the next morning.  So, about half an hour before we needed to leave, we went out to do just that!  We no more than got into our cars and got them switched around then the wind which we had ignored, turned into Florida rain!  I jumped out of my car and the rain chased me into the garage, Lois was no were in sight.  The rain was coming down in buckets’ you know what I mean, hard bands of tropical like rain was upon us.  Consequently, Lois sat alone in her car for about twenty minutes before I dared to venture back out with a large umbrella.  In the end, we got to our destination on time, and I was well bathed by then!  I suspect we could all tell a story or two, or three about a crazy time in our lives; many surely with more substance than the ‘rainy’ example I have offered up.

It can be reassuring to know that the “Wisdom” personality of God has been there throughout Creation.  You did catch on during the reading, did you not, that ‘Wisdom’ goes back to the beginning of the understanding of God?  In our reading it is written this way, “The Lord created me (me being Wisdom) at the beginning of his work.”  And Wisdom continued throughout as clarified in verses 26 thru 31 of our reading this morning.  “When God (the Creator) had not yet made the earth, when God established the heavens, I was there, and when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when the Creator assigned to the sea its limit, when marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside God and I was rejoicing in God’s inhabited world and delighting in the human race.” /Proverbs 8:22-31/ A theologian named Larry Broding points out for us how this writing played a role in the early understandings of God.  He tells us that “…no matter how people interpret the author’s meaning of “wisdom,” there can be no doubt these passages (and those like them) were critical in the development of the Christian view for God, as three persons, three personalities.

What is truly critical for you and I, to note, is that the essence of ‘Wisdom’ is clearly within the movement of the Living Spirit of God whom interacts with us – on a continual basis.  This is important for the fathers and the mothers as-well-as, all parents among us to understand.  It ought to be reassuring, as wisdom is a multifaceted expression, taking in not just understanding, but continues-on with knowledge, insight, good judgment and prudence.  All of which are key elements to being successful parents.  Yet, I encourage us to have good sense about this, as we have only connected wisdom to parenting, in honor of Father’s Day.  ‘Wisdom’, however, via the Spirit of God is available to all of humankind!  Albeit, a great many people do not seem to be strongly connected to this crucial tool for effect living, especially in these times and in these places where you and I reside.  Don’t misunderstand this critique easily applies to other areas of the world where an abundance of humankind resides!

One author, in her comments, points out how parenting has to do with ethics and justice.  Amy Erickson tells us of her battles with this text.  “One of my struggles with the text, and, I suppose, with parenting, has to do with ethics and justice.”  She is not alone as I think, in modern times, these terms have been repeatedly brought up.  But, unfortunately, too many of our society and that of others, is that these terms are used and misused before being ‘tabled’ into the ‘back room’ of no action!”  Ethics is all about integrity and principles.  Justice is about fairness, truthfulness and righteousness.  And clearly wisdom is in the middle of these struggles as understanding is an essential element in grappling with the pros and cons of ethical choices.  Justice, like wisdom, demands that we speak out in behalf of the rights and needs of others.  We need to do more than simply collect a couple of jars of peanut butter for the hungry; we need to advocate and speak out to move others to join us in sharing a bit of our abundance with those who do not even have their basic needs met!

Regarding this discussion about the Wisdom aspect of God points us to our human need to ‘divide up’ the many and various attributes of God.  Trying to put the full understanding of God into in one body is simply beyond our capability of understanding.  Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm, a good Presbyterian Pastor speaks to us about the significance of our God of ‘many faces’ and ‘multiple personalities’.  “The point of the Trinity is that God is a God of love, love that acts for us and among us.  Love that reaches out to us and seeks a relationship with us.  It is an image of God who takes great delight in the beauty of the natural world and takes great delight in the human family.”  Fathers, mothers, single parent families with all its variations and forms, all forms of parenting need to celebrate today, that God is here with us all!  All the personalities of God are needed to successfully navigate and negotiate the pathways of parenthood!  We lift-up ‘Wisdom’ on this day, as wisdom is that crucial aspect of parenthood that is at the core of understanding that next generation of God’s Creation.  We raise up our voices in praise to God for giving fathers and mothers and all parents the capabilities to love and care for the children that they are responsible for!

Amen.