“What Role has God Assigned?”

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14, June 26th, 2022.

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


“Hear now these words from the second book of Kings, chapter two, verses one and two and six thru fourteen.”

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

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 listen to these ancient words let us now open our hearts as we seek to understand their meaning in the context of the roles God has assigned to us.”

“What Role has God Assigned?”

We each take on roles.  Listed amongst my ‘primary’ duties as your pastor is my role as a ‘Spiritual’ Advisor, rather than an administrator, financial organizer, or manager. Likewise, I have a major role as the designated Preacher, as well as the responsibility for all Priestly duties such as administering the sacraments. Also, I am linked to every aspect of our religious services, with responsibilities to oversee their proper implementation. While on vacation the role of preacher passed over to two volunteers. Nancy Deardorff already wearing the mantel of ministry as our moderator, added to her responsibility as our preacher on June the 12th. I suspect there was a good ‘dash’ of well-articulated wisdom in her sermon. Christian Wright was tasked with speaking to us on Father’s Day; a role that he has had a great deal of experience with. Each Sunday our worship leader and our designated preacher share responsibilities ensuring that all the tasks of a full worship service are implemented, thereby filling, and overseeing my responsibly while on a short vacation. A great many of the roles of our far stretching ministries are volunteers; whom we owe our gratitude thanks to each one of them, for the roles they fill with such grace each week. Personally, I am grateful for the volunteers who make it possible for me to have some time off now and then throughout the year. For truly, pastors are only human and need to renew and refresh their spirits on a regular basis to stay fit and ready to be involved in spiritual leadership.

Our paid staff are central in, and within multiple levels of our services. From our Lead musician we get the balance of current contemporary praise music, and hymnody, which all of us older Christians grew up singing to on Sundays. It is a real art form to find the balance and make the blend of music work with the ‘theme’ of the preacher’s topic for the day. Today, for example is a tricky balance of excitement and drama as we hear about what Elijah said to Elisha and so forth. Just as the spectacle of Elijah’s assentation into heaven and Elisha’s desire to follow in his mentor’s footsteps opens to us the – ‘inner heart’ of the hearer of this event. In verse eleven we hear, “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.” What a spectacle that must have been! Did the other fifty men who accompanied these two prophets that day see it as well? Eddie’s job today, has been to speculate what piece of music would best set the stage, without contradicting the true essence of the preacher’s message. Therefore, we have contracted with a talented musician to help us bring this all together! Thankfully, there are also our gathering of talented volunteer instrumentalists, and singers in our choir to assist. We all have our roles; the challenge is determining what ours is.   

It takes the support and participation of our volunteers and paid staff, each with multiple roles which they must take on, each Sunday, to simply have a worship service. There are a number of roles which are hidden from everyday sight. Yet, their roles are crucial as well as those who are ‘live’ on our worship broadcast each week. Often forgotten is our Sexton, who ensures that the building is in working order; including the AC and lighting which are essential, as well as a multitude of details that takes a detailed report to list and keep track of! Let us not forget our Audio-Visual coordinator, who also ensures we have our on-line broadcast. Tyler has helped us understand that this is not as easy as it may seem. Take for example, balancing the use of the acoustics in the sanctuary with all the various speakers and microphones, each with its own purpose and function to fill.  The soloist needs a different microphone then the preacher. The Flutist needs a particular sound that the Audio Visual technical seeks out through adjustments at the sound board. So many details to deal with. Then there is the timing and balance of connecting to the internet to get our broadcast on-line at just the right minute in time. The preacher speaks in poetic riddles that seek to span the ages as he or she digs for the true message of the day’! Meanwhile the AV Tech is looking at the timing of a live broadcast so that everyone can hear, in the sanctuary, live and online, all at the same time! So many functions, so many characters and parts to fill… just for one worship service!

As I headed off on vacation, I passed the mantel of pastoral ministry to Judy Bush as she graciously visited one of our parishioners – while he was in the hospital. She did this as she continues to juggle other responsibilities of additional ministries. Furthermore, at this present time, we are a bit short on volunteers as others have gone home, moved, or no longer actively involved. We pray, they are now filling new roles where they are. There are various roles a pastor fills, we have raised up the names of a couple. Preaching and teaching seem to be the most challenging to fill, while others are subjective and hard to clarify. It is something like being a parent. Their roles are easy to write out in an organized list. Like providing the family with a place to live and assuring there is food on the table, and everyone has cloths to wear, preferably clean and well fitting. But what of the love, the dedication, and the commitment to get the needed tasks done every day, and every week without anyone supervising their activities. Yes, roles of parents, single parents especially are hard to clarify and fill – in another’s absence. Christian’s children sermon last Sunday made that quite apparent.

Michael Coffey spoke to this scripture back in 2012. He asks us this question. “Whose mantle have you had to pick up and carry?” The ‘Mantle’ of course meaning ministry, our role in service to God. Elijah was tasked and charged by God with training Elisha. When the one prophet Elijah, was ‘lifted up’ into heaven the other, Elisha, needed to take on the role of the Prophet, that being the mantel of ministry which then needed to be filled. One could say, I have picked up the mantel of ministry that my grandfather helped prepare me for. He began teaching me when I was but a child. His work at the Christian camp, which he founded, being one of the areas where he taught me a great deal. His work with helping to gather donations from those with excess and the redistributing them to those in need, was a lesson he taught well.  The challenge for each of us is to fulfill the will of God! Let us ask ourselves: have we been willing and diligent in filling the roles to which we are assigned? Have we? Throughout our journeys opportunities come our way. There are those of us who call such opportunities mystical as they realize the hand of God in the midst. Others, miss the opportunities simply because they have become too self-focused, rather than God focused.

Being a role model is an ‘ultimate’ goal – clearly Jesus worked to be such for his followers. He worked to teach his closest disciples to ‘continue on’ with the ministry he initiated. Jesus served in countless roles. He was the Good Shepherd, as such he cared for his flock. Jesus was a teacher, as such he helped his followers to better understand the scriptures through easy to remember parables and stories. Jesus was a pastor to all who came to him with their problems. Through compassion and kindness, he cared for their needs. Jesus was different than others, as he walked and lived, the way he talked. Jesus inspired others to live as he taught. Jesus’ life was an open book, just as he opened the hearts of all who listened to him. Jesus listened with his heart when people came to him. By example, Jesus taught us how to live humbly in the light of God’s love. Jesus also showed us how to seek the will of God – in all areas of our lives. Jesus taught others how to communicate with God – through prayer -selflessly on behalf of others.

As adults, we are meant to rely on our ability to think, reason, and fully utilize our experiences in life – as we live in faith. Our roles culminate in our fully living our lives; relying on God’s Spirit to inspire us to use our senses to care for ourselves, and, to care for others as we serve God.  When we do this, we will be able to complete the tasks, which our roles call us to accomplish. Thereby, giving life to the tasks and the roles to which we are responsible to fill!

Let us not miss a crucial point in this our lesson today.  Having a role – is what we do.  What we do – is our role.  All we need is to believe in ourselves as the ‘Spirit’ is already within us. All we need do – is believe in our role – which God granted, gave, and assigned to us. 

Amen.      

“Amazed and Perplexed”

Acts 2:1-8 & 12-15, June 5th, 2022,

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


‘Communion on Pentecost Sunday’

“Hear now this writing, from Acts, chapter two, verse one thru eight and verses twelve thru fifteen.

1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 

 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 

“Having now heard this reading, let us consider how the Spirit of the Living God is moving in our lives and in this community.”

“Amazed and Perplexed”

          Today, we shall together share from the table, remembering the last supper which Jesus celebrated with his disciples before his crucifixion.  Astonishing however, through God’s grace and mercy, this could be an amazing day!  Today, we remember the day of Pentecost; a day set aside to remember how the ‘Living Spirit of God’ first came to the disciples and the followers of the Risen Christ!  This was an amazing and perplexing moment in time.  Might we also be Amazed and Perplexed as individuals and as a church!?  Could it be, that our God, the Living God, the Spirit of Christ, the God of Abraham, and all those who have come before us are now one with us in the ‘Spirit’ of God. David N. Mosser tells us this could be, and that “on this day of Pentecost, God shall take this group here gathered; a group of haphazard, assorted believers and unites us with the precious gift of spirit-language.” Is this not amazing and perplexing all at the same time?  Let us pray the Spirit of Christ is here with us this morning!

          John C. Holbert tells us “Many readers of this story focus their attention on the spooky details of wind, fire, and amazing speech, and miss the real story Luke is trying to tell.” “Well, what is that?”  You ask.  One theologian, Nancy Rockwell, states it this way: “This is the promise of Pentecost: now we no longer depend solely on Jesus to be the one who understands.  Now we, too, understand.  And now we, too, can speak and our voices can spread the Spirit of understanding.” This new level of comprehension, and appreciation for one another; this ability to speak and hear from our hearts – without needing to fact check it with some lawyer or resource book.  This coming together to share from the same table with an understanding which draws us ever more together in community.  This, my friends, is the meaning of Pentecost!  The reminders of the never-ending cycle of life, the sharing in the sacrament of Holy Communion, coming together on this day of the Spirit, is no coincidence.  No, this is not some chance or fluke occurrence.  This is the Spirit of God working in our midst!  Let us take pause and notice and observe the fulness of God’s awesome power.

           The coming of the Spirit of the Living God into one’s life, into one’s church, is meant to comfort yes, especially during times of loss, but it is more than that!  The Spirit is our advocate, our supporter, our promoter, and our sponsor!  The Spirit also comes to agitate us just a little bit.  Sometimes we modern Christians get a little too comfortable, a little too complacent with God’s grace and mercy, we take it for granted! After Jesus’ crucifixion and death on a cruel wooden cross, his supporters and his hand-picked disciples were sorely afraid. And either hid or scattered less they be caught up in the calamity of Jesus death. Then the sightings of the Risen Christ began to circulate. One by one the disciples came to believe in this astonishing miracle! Yet, being human they still did not have the strength, courage, or fortitude to speak openly and publicly of what had occurred. As modern-day Christians we know all too well how this felt. When was the last time we felt we could stand up and speak openly about all that we feel, without some trepidation?      

          Today is all about the day Jesus promise that he would send an advocate to give them what they needed. This day of Pentecost, when we remember how those of different languages and dialects came to understand one another is meant for both our hearts and our ears to feel and hear.  We live in a world that is filled with hatred of all kinds and at all levels: all-out war between Russia and the Ukraine, and mass shooting in our schools.  We live in a great country that is going through a time of division and upheaval, especially, in our governmental processes.  When we speak and interact as a faith community, we cannot allow ourselves to get bogged down with divisive language about which political party we most associate with.  If we do, we shall find ourselves becoming divided, rather than United as a church. If this happens here, our ability to represent the love of God would be diminished.  No, we must come together, raising up the message of the church, the Universal Church of Jesus Christ!  Yes, many branches of Christian churches – have many points in theology we disagree with. However, this is not where our focus ought to be!  Our focus needs to be on building bridges!  Christ has given us the bridge; the language of the heart!  A language that touches and understands the heart of others. How is this so?  It is because we have been given the gift of God’s Living Spirit, first passed to us though our baptisms.  This Holy Spirit opens-up the channels of communications, one to another.

          We continue to look for ways, for various religious groups and organizations, to work together for the common good of others in our community.  This is in the Christian churches within our community as well.  Looking for common ground is the focus!  Some important pastoral work is being done with congregations that have different stances on some theological issues, issues which we still debate!  Yet, places like the food pantry at out neighboring church on Port Malabar Road we have managed to come together to help the hungry and the homeless.  We have connected with their efforts to feed the hungry. When we focus on “the language of the heart”, the work of Christ can be accomplished! We are linked by the interaction of the Holy Spirit that lives within us!  Let us, here gathered, do likewise!  Let us come together in the presence of the Living Spirit of God, worshipping and loving God together, while serving the needs of God’s people! We are the lucky ones. The disciples had to wait until the day of Pentecost came. For us, the Living Spirit of our God has been released unto us. We affirm this at our baptism, we reaffirm this when we go through confirmation and take responsibility for our faith as young adults. We have the opportunity to renew that Spirit within us at our Communion table this morning. 

Margaret Aymer points out for us that: “The Pentecost lectionary takes place in Jerusalem on the feast day of Shavuot, fifty days after Passover in the Jewish calendar.” Let us be reminded that our Christian roots ‘are connected’ through and with the roots of the Israelites of the Old Testament. The Spirit choose to come to us, on that day of Pentecost, through a very diverse gathering of men, and women speaking in various and diverse languages! A very perplexing point in the historical aspects of this occasion. Especially when see how divided humankind is as we focus on our differences rather than our commonness. Thankfully, at least once a year our common lectionary pushes us to look to this amazing occurrence which caused humankind to come together through the language of the heart. A Spirit language that transcends cultural differences and helps us truly hear one another. The perplexing aspect of this is that humankind is still focused on our differences. When we look out into the world we see war, hatred, and diversity. We see disagreement on how to stop the killings of our children while attending public school. Let us look to our historical roots and be reminded that the scriptures speak of the Spirit bring us together, not driving us apart!

Matthew L. Skinner, a biblical scholar, reminds us that “Acts does not regard Pentecost as an entirely singular occurrence. This scene introduces a sequence of occasions in which the Spirit mobilizes Jesus’ followers and inaugurates new directions for ministry and community.” Let’s be grateful Professor Skinner reminds us of this. If it just occurred once, we are sunk. As we were not there with the disciples on that first Day of Pentecost. Thankfully, we can call upon the ‘Spirit’ to be with our infants, our children at their baptism, their confirmation and many, many, other holy and special occasions. Many Clergy, we talk of being touched be the Spirit in a very real bodily way. At our Communion table the Spirit is invoked and is there for all those who invite the Spirit into their hearts and ask God to purge away their sins and shortcoming. When committees are formed, we ask the Spirit to guide them in their quest and that it be ‘God’s Will!’ The Spirit’ is alive in our churches, our home and throughout our communities.

Have you ever thrown a rock in a pond? Then watched the wave of water go out in all directions from it.  And if you watch long enough it will sometimes travel to shore. The smaller the pond the more visible the circle of water is as it hits the shoreline. While working on Lectionary Resources, Ryusho Jeffus, Shonin, and Nancy Kraft, back in 2012, framed this provocative thought for our use. “Like a pebble dropped into a quiet lake, the Spirit created a ring in the water.” If you have grasped this simple imagery, you will also grasp how the Spirit can continue to touch others as its reach moves outward. Multiply this imagery a hundred-fold or a thousand-fold and you shall grasp the amazing spectacle of the Holy Spirit spreading out – touching all of humankind. At the same time, we must also grasp the perplexing calamity when this gift is rejected by so many.     

          On this potentially stormy weekend for many comes our way, even as Mother Nature sends forth our first tropical storm of this season, let us be at peace. Let us rest assured that the Spirit of God is with us, and it will be with us in our times of joy and our times of sorrow. Even as we say farewell to three members of our faith community, let us raise up the Spirit of their lives among us. Margret Ann for her faithfulness to the ministry of this her church for over six decades. Mary Lou for wise council to many and her love of this her church. And let us not forget Jim with his base voice and his love for playing his base Tuba, adding to the music ministry of this community. God’s love for us all – is seen in the ‘Living Spirit’ of God within our Community. 

Amen.

“Is This the Time?”

Acts:1-12, May 29th, 2022

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


“Hear now these historic words from the book of Acts, chapter one, verses one thru eleven.”

Acts 1:1-11

1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

“Having listened to this ancient lesson as recorded let us now consider their value to us here in our present time.”

“Is This the Time?”

When I was a lad, my parents would sometimes load us kids in the old beach wagon and head to the shore. It was a long drive. Terrible traffic jams, as it was always Saturday. We never went on Sundays, that was for church and visiting relatives. It was great to go the beach. We loved it. I always got a sun burn as I didn’t ever put on the sunscreen. I think many of us would pester Dad about when was the next time we would go. We never got a definitive answer as he was never sure if he was working on Saturday or not. Dad never turned down overtime at the shop. We needed all he brought home. I suspect, my mom might have wondered is this the time we would all remember to put on sunscreen. Or is this the time we might get a parking space closer to the beach. Dad was probably hoping that we wouldn’t get a flat tire or run out of gas in the long lines of traffic. And yes, ‘in time’ this story shall open up our scripture lesson.

Our scripture this morning has a lot of information we might need to review. Yet, most folks seem to get stuck worrying about when Jesus was coming back… rather than focusing on what he was saying during this encounter we hear of today. The writer of the book of Acts, whom scholars believe is the same writer that brings us the gospel of Luke, our writer was seeking to put across several points. We are being told of his efforts to tell the story from the beginning, of Jesus’ teachings and all that he did and all the events that led up to his death and then of course he miraculous resurrection. We are reminded that Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem and await the promises of God. In verse six of our lesson when they were all together, the disciples and the risen Jesus, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” The Disciples were much like a carload of children, pestering their dad as to when they would get to the beach, and wanting to know ‘if this time’ they will get their early enough to get a good spot to set up for the day. Surely my dad, and dads everywhere would answer the same. “I will let you know when the time comes!” Not surprisingly in verse seven Jesus replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” To the best of our collective knowledge, despite anything anyone has written or told others or written on the Internet: No one knows the time nor the date when Jesus will come back!

Gina M. Stewart, pastor and teacher stands in the middle of the conversation of the second coming of Christ Jesus and puts some perspective on this whole conversation. As I quote her words, I offer her my gratitude for her wise choice of words. “The second coming brings the ultimate closure to the story of the kingdom and the gospel. But that is not to be the focus of the disciples’ attention. Instead, Jesus shifts the emphasis from speculation about the future to demonstration and transformation of the present.” Can I hear an amen!? The gospels have laid out for us, in four books of the New Testament, the birth and the life of Jesus; including all his teachings as recorded and the miracles. The end story is written down for us as well, all four gospel accounts agree on the main points of his end time. The resurrection writings give us many testimonies of the empty tomb and the encounters which Mary and the disciples had with the risen Christ. What Pastor Steward is saying to us does not dispute the expectation of the second coming; but does tell us we need to ‘tend to business’ in the ‘here’ and ‘now’ and stop worrying and speculating on the date and time of this future event! I could not be in more agreement with her! There are more important things for the followers of Christ Jesus to be focusing on – at this present time!

Jesus is recorded as offering up a promise to the disciples, just as he has promised to all followers of his teachings. The promise reinforces the idea that we need to be fixed and focused on where are feet are. We need to tend to the needs of God’s kingdom here on Earth at this present time. Just as surely as the disciples needed to keep their focus on their responsibilities at the time when Jesus is reported as having said these words! In verse eight of our lesson Jesus tells the disciples clearly what they will receive and what they are to do. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Why would Jesus promise power from the Holy Spirit if Jesus was not expecting or at least desiring that they follow up on all the things which Jesus had initiated. NO, Jesus surely did not want the disciples sitting around waiting for him to come back. Jesus ‘did’ want them to await the arrival of the Holy Spirit’s power; but then they were to become emissaries, ambassadors, and representatives of his teachings. History tells us Jesus simply got started overhauling the foundation of the established church in Jerusalem and throughout Palestine. His teachings point to a new order of understanding as to who and what the Messiah would accomplish in his three years of a very active ministry throughout the region. Apparently, Jesus was expecting the disciples were to continue his new understanding of how the church was to move forward.  

Professor William Loader, speaks to us of “Being the Church Then and Now.” Then being during the time of Jesus and his Disciples, being the followers of Jesus’ teachings. Now being our time, yours, and mine. “You and I, ‘says the Professor’, ‘we’ are the place of the promise of the kingdom now. Yet ultimately the kingdom is God’s reign, God’s effort, God’s gift. We are not asked to usurp God, but to share his purpose and by his Spirit become his action in the world.” When we the church, the Riviera United Church, and 4,794 sister churches around the country, work together, to move forward the foundational teachings with others, we can make a difference. When we as a denomination move to join with other denominations who share our understandings of the Church of Jesus Christ’s vision, then we are a force to be reckoned with. When all of Christendom comes together to support the ‘Church’, as Jesus envisioned it, we shall truly make a difference. We already have. Thou the model I just constructed is yet to become perfectly uniform, Christendom has changed the world!

To go further, Jesus many times illustrated how he was willing to break down boundaries and bigotry, biases, and all kinds of exclusivism. The possibilities of working with the other four major world religions, is possibly something that the revolutionary teachings of Jesus left the door – wide open to pursuing. The United Church of Christ, naïvely though they could start such a movement back in 1957 when they brought four denominations together. Yet, in a more worldly vision… seeing that giving up unique identities to divergent groups is what ‘has made Christianity’ and other world religions so widespread throughout the world… we could apply this concept more inclusively. If Jesus, the man from Jerusalem, the incarnate God born of the virgin Mary, walked among us, what would he say; what did he say? In the gospel of Matthew chapter 22, verses 34 thru 46 we hear the words of Jesus. When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” We have a long way to go before conservative and progressive minded Christians, including everyone in-between, and all our neighbors, including other world religions, can say: “we love our neighbors as ourselves.”

“Ye shall receive power. Not temporal power, such as they dreamed of, but spiritual and moral power.” Thank you, B.W. Johnson, for your writings back in the year 1891. Thank you for clarifying that temporal power speaks of worldly power, rather than of spiritual and moral power; it is not worldly power that we must, we need to focus on. No, Jesus is pushing us to work with and use ‘the gift’ from the Holy Spirit, which Jesus clearly instructed the disciples and early followers to wait for. We do not know if this is or is not the time for Jesus to come back to us. However, we do know this is the time for us to stop believing that ‘worldly power’ will bring the ‘people of God’ back together working to achieve common goals! Yet, it is the time to rethink what it means to love our neighbors as ourselves. And no, we can not get this done ‘if’ we do not ‘pick up’ the Spiritual tools which Jesus promised to give to the disciples back at the time of Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Surely, we all long for a better world order, when all shall turn to God while loving our neighbors – as we each love ourselves. As children of God, we are each called to pick up the mantel of ministry, including the tools, such as the power of the Holy Spirit, to strive for a more peaceful Union, here and abroad.

Amen.

“With an Open Heart”

Acts 16: 9-15, May 22nd, 2022

Sermon by pastor Tim Woodard


“Hear now these words from the Acts of the Apostles, chapter sixteen, verses nine thru fifteen.”

Acts 16:9-15

9 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 

10 When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. 11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13 On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15 When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

“Having listened with our ears let us now open our hearts to fully grasp Paul’s vision and the conversion of Lydia and her household.”

“With an Open Heart”

Paul has a vision. It is all about a vision. Have you had a vision? And what exactly is a vision? It is like a dream some say. Others talk about a visualization that comes. Most visions lead the person receiving one to begin to have more insights, almost like revelations regarding decisions or choices they are facing. A vision can leave one with a mental picture of something that perhaps leads to something new. When the phrase “had a vision” is used, we are being told that someone had a brush with the “Holy!” Others refer to such a moment as God Consciousness or a Spiritual Experience. We can be assured that the scriptures were written with an awareness or a belief that God was behind such ‘visions;’ one way or another. If you are hoping to have a vision or a deeper relationship with God, ‘that is to say,’ you desire more God Consciousness, beware that ‘such’ comes with responsibilities. As does any deepening relationship we enter-into.

Regarding the Apostle Paul having a vision, we know from other verses in the Acts of the Apostles, that he has had visions before.  His relationship with God, his God consciousness was getting stronger as his journey continued. The most notable was in chapter nine, verses 1-5. Meanwhile Saul, (Who later is called Paul) still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men, or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” My apologies to any that are hearing these verses for the first time. You heard correctly; Saul was an enemy of the new followers of Jesus. Yet, despite this, Jesus reached out to him, with a stunning vision and in this case, Saul came to believe he heard the Voice of Jesus. An enormously powerful and life changing event for Saul, who was renamed Paul after his baptism. If you have not read the full account, I would urge you to do so. Note, how when Paul questioned the voice, he was clearly told what to do. Me and you, we may not get quite so clear messages, but quite often, most often, a vision is urging us to do something. Visions are a form of conversation with God. God uses visions, dreams, and revelations to speak to our consciousness and thereby leads us ever forward.

Where are we called to? Where is God leading you, leading me, and this church? What are you called to do? If you were in conversation with God, right now, could you acknowledge what you believe God has called upon you to do? In our scripture lesson this morning from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of the Apostle Paul having a vision. The verse reads: During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” /Acts 16:9/ The thing about a vision is you have got to ascertain its validity, as it is vital that we realize that God never asks us to be about evil. In Paul’s vision a man is asking for help from Paul. God often asks us to help others. Paul was not traveling alone. They were convinced the vision was a ‘call’ from God. Verse ten tells us that “When ‘Paul’ had seen the vision, ‘they’ immediately ‘began the journey’ to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called ‘them’ to proclaim the good news to ‘the people of Macedonia’”. /Acts 16:10/ Receiving a ‘call’ from God to do something is one thing; accepting the responsibility to take the action necessary to do – is an action that will require effort to accomplish the task.

Many are called but only the willing shall follow. Yes, sometimes, in scripture, it would appear the individual being called does not have a choice. That’s not the case. God gave us free will. Nevertheless, The Spirit of God can be very compelling at times. Remember the burning bush encounter Moses had back in the Old Testament accounts in the book of Exodus, chapter three (verse 1-5) Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” Now that is a vision! Really hard to turn down the sender of that message!

Many pastors, like myself, were “strongly motivated” by God’s Living Spirit to answer and follow. Some moments of enlightenment come with the sensation of the warm glow of the Spirit passing through one’s body. Or finding ourselves demanding a sign from God, and sure enough, God sends a sign. Depends on what type of sign you are expecting. Please be careful what you ask for. Back in two-thousand and six I prayed for a house. Got it. It dropped in value by fifty percent over the next two years as the Great Recession hit! Then the sign came as a realtor knocked on my door and helped me ‘short sell’ my home and move on. Signs and visions are closely related.

Janet H. Hunt poses a question for us. “Indeed, might we then find ourselves, like Paul, called to ‘Macedonia,’ too?” Our Macedonia may have a different name. Like West Palm Bay on Emerson Drive during rush hour. Or driving down Malabar Road during peak traffic hours. Sometimes, just getting across town is a big deal. I think we all know this. Being asked to volunteer to do something only starts the ball rolling. Receiving instructions as to what is to be done and how, takes a willingness to do it the way God wants it done. It is challenging to be asked or called to do something for another, no question about it. If it were easy and no big deal, perhaps we would already be doing it. (If only God wanted me to do it ‘mid-morning when the traffic is light,’ rather than at rush-hour!) Yet, when we might have to give up something ‘in order’ to do something, well, sometimes an extra push from God might just be what is needed. As we reflect on this in our scripture, let us consider the phrase “we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia.” /Acts:16 10B/ The use of the word ‘tried’ suggests that it was not that easy a journey from where they were… to where they had been summoned to go. It is always so easy to do something worthwhile, when it doesn’t cost any of our time, our talent, or our treasure. It takes a bit more of who we are to do the more challenging tasks. Sometimes it takes a truly “Open Heart” to do what it takes to be of service to God and the people of God.

Of course, having an open heart, a willingness to do something that is inconvenient, opens a few questions. How are we to open our hearts to others? A good place to start is in our relationship with God. Do we at least “make an effort” to be in conversation with our God regularly? Yes, doing so during our Sunday worship is good, but what about the other Twenty-three hours of your Sunday. And what about the six days in-between. And, No! Most of us do not hear the voice of God like you are hearing my voice right now. Yet, every time we pray, we may get that sense or that feeling that God is with us. Try it. Try it till you feel the presence of God in your life. When we keep the channel open to God’s abundant love, we will begin to understand how we can open our hearts to Gods. This is something we need to work to improve over our lifetime. Connecting with God, the Spirit of the Universe, the Living essence of our Creator is something we must consciously work at. We need to seek to expand our relationship with God by inviting the Holy One into more and more aspects of our lives, and even our very thoughts.  

How far are we willing to go to carry God’s grace and love to another? Many followers of Christ find they need to take their faith with them, especially when they are traveling, even if it is just to the grocery store or the beach. What of the woman Lydia in our scripture? She was a dealer in purple cloth, which suggests she was a wealthy person. We are told she believed in God and when Paul and the others told of their experiences in Jerusalem and the stories of Jesus, she became a believer and was baptized. DR. Mitzi J Smith, Preacher, Teacher, gives us his thoughts. “Quite possibly,” (He says.) “Lydia’s hospitality included a mutual sharing of the gospel. Good news is not the spiritual and intellectual property of males only or of a particular religion.” This is a remarkably interesting point of view.

Is it possible that Paul was open to the Gospel being accepted and passed forward by a woman, a rich woman like Lydia? In the last verse, (verse 15) of our lesson, we hear something astonishing. When she (Lydia) and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us. Clearly, she impressed the Apostle Paul, enough so that we are told how she evangelized her whole household that day when she was baptized. Brian Peterson speaks of the barriers which are dropped in this encounter. “Lydia’s faith becomes immediately active: she is baptized along with her whole household, and she opens her home. Social and cultural barriers crumble, and this corner of the empire is beginning to be changed by God’s grace.” Are we willing to open our homes to others outside our social and cultural backgrounds?

What level of hospitality are we willing to offer? Are we willing to see ourselves in today’s passage? Are we the Lydia in the passage? Surely, we as a faith community have known great women of Faith; women who easily came to know and serve God’s will! Or are we more like the Apostle Paul and Moses, who have been struck with a powerful bolt of bright light, or became aware of God because of a burning bush moment, before we began responding to God’s vision for us? Let us pray, this very day, that we all shall be willing to Open our Hearts to God’s ideas and dreams for us!

Amen.