“Faith as a Way of Life”

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4, December 2nd, 2018

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


 

 

First Sunday of Advent, Light the first Advent candle – Hope, Communion Sunday

“Hear now these ancient words from the writings of the prophet Habakkuk concerning living with faith.”

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4

1:1 The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.  2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?  Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?  3 Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.  4 So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails.  The wicked surround the righteous – therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

2:1 I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.  2 Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.  3 For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie.  If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.  4 Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.

“Having heard these prophetic words with our ears let us now open our hearts as we seek to grasp their meaning in a modern time.”

 

“Faith as a Way of Life”

Faith is a precious and available gift; all you need to do is ask for it and believe in the God whom offers it; then nourish it, practice it, and cherish it!  Easy words to say; easy instructions too; yet, very difficult to grasp when there seems to be little or no hope!  This is what the prophet Habakkuk was working with.  The people he ministered to where filled with hopelessness.  Habakkuk, in his prophetic voice was trying to speak for and to the people of God.  His words still speak to us in our present time.

There are plenty of situations, events and circumstances which do leave many people feeling hopeless!  The homeless, the missing and the families of the deceased victims of fires in California; and now the pending mudslides yet to come.  Refugees fleeing their homelands now stuck in that lonely in-between place… with little hope, and uncertainty in their future.  Loved ones suffering due to cancer, heart problems and a long list of other life-threatening issues.  Some have lost a loved one and still feel the pain, the loss of losing their beloved from their lives.  Others have lost a job or their home, and they now feel the isolation and loneliness of being left behind while it seems that everyone else is doing ok.  Yes, I think we all understand what it means to feel that hope has failed us.

Faith, of course is something we Christians discuss a great deal.  Pastors, Priests and Rabbis all speak of and preach about it.  Jesus often spoke of faith, especially when speaking to people whom he had helped, those whom he had healed of something that afflicted them.  He is often quoted as saying: “your faith has made you well.”  I can find no reference to Jesus being quoted as saying someone was healed because of what he did; although most of us believe this to be so.  Yet, faith seems to be in the mix of things frequently when we hear of the mystical healings through Christ.  There are numerous miracles, healings, of which different people have told me about over the years.  Many of them are astonishing and even unbelievable.  Yet, what I have found utterly amazing, as I have listened to others speak of these miraculous events, is their undying belief and faith that it did happen!  Who am I to say it didn’t!  I must confess, I have been in-between the power of God’s healing Spirit and that of the recipient a few times.  No, I did nothing other than pray or bless someone on these occasions.  Yet, the unbelievable has happened in my presence.  I have no excuse for not having faith.

Once we have accepted God into our lives and have come to believe in the overpowering Love of God, it becomes our responsibility to nourish that faith and cherish it in our lives like no other possession we have!  Then, as our journeys continue, we will find life events can diminish or bolster our faith.  Making it weaker or stronger as we journey along the pathway of life.  This is what makes it so important that we belong to a community such as ours ‘to build up our faith’ through the fellowship of others or be the one whom offers their faith to strengthen someone else.  It is a two-way street.  As a faith community it is our responsibility to share our faith with others and especially to others in need.  As a result, we serve meals at the ‘Daily Bread soup kitchen.  For that reason, we have the ‘Angel Tree’ as we try to offer kindness through our generosity at Christmas.  Therefore, we also have a Shepherd’s fund… to help others!

A contributor to a commentary series which I read, remarks: “Faithfulness to God is the willingness to choose to live life a certain way under God, even when the “vision” may be far off in the future, and the present circumstances are bleak and barren.” /Dennis Bratcher/ We are being told that we need to keep the faith even when all seems lost.  Examples of this are all around us.  Consider the tireless resolve in getting the mortgage paid off, having faith and persevering even after the first deal fell through, a few years back.  Ironic isn’t it?  The deal that fell through was less than half as beneficial to the financial stability of this institution.  Interesting to note; then when things seemed to be their bleakest, it was in fact a resetting of opportunities.  Through the faithful determination of all those involved in the process a meaningful conclusion came to be.  At one point in time, such an ending would have seemed impossible.  Perhaps it was a miracle after all!

Listen again to what the prophet has written.  “For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie.” /Habakkuk 2:1a/ Waiting for the miracle is the hard part.  “Wait for it; it will surely come.”  “If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.” /Habakkuk 2:1b/ Worthy of repeating.   Of course, there are many things which do not seem to go our way; at least when we want them to.  How many of us have told a friend, or a friend told us, not to worry?  But they, or we… worry none the less.  The timing of things is frequently outside our control and influence.  Perhaps we have lost sight of God’s vision.

There was a time, the preceding years before I entered Seminary.  It was the late 1980’s.  That decade after the Vietnam War, which the United States lost, were turbulent economic years.  I was working in the high-tech industry in sales and marketing.  I was laid off three consecutive years in a row.  From companies that were not supposed to fail, for they had been at the top: Tandon Disc Drives, Diablo Printers, Wang Laboratories, each had been at the top of their perspective markets, yet when the economy is in turmoil… nothing is sacred and for many… visions seemed to be shattered.  By the year 1990 I was working for some small software company, it wasn’t ‘my cup of tea.’  I had been turned down for health insurance.  Seems that they only wanted to insure people with zero health issues.  The days of working for large high-tech firms with unlimited benefits including health insurance was over for many like myself.  Then, out of nowhere, God gave me a new vision, that of being an Ordained Ministry.  The next day my boss and I had different opinions on how to proceed and I was unemployed.  I had to give my red sports car back to the bank.  My credit cards were maxed out.  But with new and reinvigorated faith I followed God’s vision for me.  Here I am twenty-eight years later, having been ordained Twenty-four years now.  I own a house and drive a late model car and my bills are all paid on time.  A miracle!

Miracles don’t just happen.  There needs to be faith, at least faith in the vision.  There needs to be faithfulness.  A vision without follow through is worthless.  Jesus said: “your faith has made you well!”  The Dean of students at Andover Newton Theological School, he believed in my vision.  But that didn’t change his next statement to me.  He said: “now figure out your financial situation and get your education, your Masters of Divinity degree.”  It took tenacity, determination and committed resolve.  I had to keep that vision in front of me.  When others, whom did not understand, ridiculed me for what I was doing I needed to stay faithful to the vision.  I needed to remind myself it was God’s vision for me; not another foolish choice I had made.  Faithfulness in a new vision, a new dream or idea, needs to be developed and cared for.  My ‘calling’ to serve God’s church, sounded foolish and irresponsible to those who did not believe as I did.  Therefore, I needed to fellowship with like-minded people whom believed in the same principles and the same God as I did.  The journey had its rough spots, but my faith carried me through.

Habakkuk was ministering to a broken people whom were finding their faith failing and their vision fading.  It was his responsibility to rekindle that vision of hope for the future.  It was his duty, his ‘calling’ to re-energize the faithfulness of a people who longed for hope to be restored in their lives.  He was reasserting what every person of faith has come to understand: ‘one must be faithful to the journey; faithful to God whom has a vision for you and for me.’  When we fall and break a few bones, it hurts, and we get discouraged.  We are only human, and things happen to mortal humans.  Yet, as we mend and get back on our feet, we must set our sights on the vision, the dream, and the prophecy of things yet to be!  With a faithfulness to the God of Moses and Abraham; with belief in the saving grace of the child, born in poverty and oppression, being the Messiah… we shall overcome our hardships and our loses.

Our parents, spouses, even our sons and daughters, may pass on into the next life long before we are prepared for their departure, and we shall grieve.  At such times as these, we need to cling to our faith communities; leaning on the shoulders of those who believe what we believe.  Allowing them to nourish us as we reconnect with God’s vision for a faithful people.  There is always hope!  Hope never dies unless we turn our back on the love of God.  Amen.

 

 

“What is Truth”

John 18:33-38, November 25th, 2018

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


 

 

“Hear now these words from the gospel according to John, chapter eighteen, verses thirty-three thru thirty-eight.”

John 18: 33-38

33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters, again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’  34 Jesus answered, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’  35 Pilate replied, ‘I am not a Jew, am I?  Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me.  What have you done?’  36 Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world.  If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.  But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’  37 Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’  Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king.  For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’  38 Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’  After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, ‘I find no case against him.

“Having heard the accounting of Jesus standing before Pilate, we are left with the question: “What is Truth?”  Together, let us open our hearts to the truth of who Jesus was and now is in our hearts and in our lives today.”

 

“What is Truth”

Thanksgiving has now passed and, also what is known as the busiest shopping day of the year: “Black Friday!”  Meaning of course that retailers around the country are believing that their earnings for the year will end in the black, they shall make a profit off our spending habits rather than in the red which is a negative number.  Black Friday also marks a dramatic shift into the holiday season!  Consequently, we now abruptly shift away from celebrating our abundant harvest, into a spending frenzy based on our current customs surrounding the gift of Christmas.  All this is of course pushed and propelled by merchants everywhere we turn!  The joy, the love and the good cheer that goes with gift giving is about Christmas, yet, the merchant’s frenzy to get us to buy, buy armloads of gifts and toys has very little to do with the four weeks of Advent and Christmas itself.  Of course, one positive which comes out of all the publicity that comes from the holiday shopping spree, is that everyone becomes aware of the fact that something special and exciting is going to be celebrated on December 25th!  And that is the truth.  Also, many of the needy being feed and given clothing, and many poor children are given toys to play with as well.  This is also the truth.

Yes, indeed, the countdown to Christmas has begun.  We ourselves, after our worship service today, we will begin the task of decorating our sanctuary.  We call it the hanging of the greens.  Hopefully, many of you will help out or a few of us will be here a long time.  This of course is just the beginning of our accelerating and busy, busy schedules.  And there in lays the truth!  Not the truth which Pilate was speaking of.  Nor is it the truth to which Jesus was referring.  No, in order to understand the truth of which our scripture points us to – we do not need to go shopping or do we need to adorn our homes and churches with garland and such.  All though it is a lot of fun and they do bring smiles and joy to those that gaze upon such festive beauty.  This also creates a moment when everyone is given an opportunity to experience the splendor of what Christmas truly means.  But, we Christians, whom have come to know about God’s love, and the hope, peace and joy which comes from having a relationship with Christ, we know, or we ought to know that Advent, which leads us to our Christmas Eve service, is about a lot more than just: the holidays, decorations, parties and presents!  This is a truth we must at least acknowledge as well!

Let us therefore start our deeper discussion with these words from the theologian David Ewart.  He begins by telling us what this writing is asking us to do.  “…the text today, calls us to live in the midst of an impossible possibility: hearing and belonging to One not of this world but born into this world out of love for this world so that truth-light-love might abide in this world – and they in us.” /David Ewart/ David has put all the right words in play for us to ponder.  Love, light and truth are the keys to understanding this dialog between Jesus and Pilate.  Realizing that Jesus comes from the essence of God is something which Pilate, and a great many people even today do not grasp nor understand.  Yet, it is the heart of what we need to come to understand.  Pilate was dazzled by Jesus and saw his innocence, yet, politically, he could not justify releasing him, so he executed him.  We know this to be true.  Nor did Pilate grasp Jesus’ reference to his being a king but not of this world.  I think many people, Christians as well, do not grasp this either.

Perhaps it would be helpful if we switch over to the beginning verses of the gospel of John, which opens his accounting of Jesus very differently than does Matthew and Luke.  John begins at the beginning, not with his genealogy, his family tree and pedigree, but rather with his core, his spirit, his essence and his relationship to God.  Our very complex understanding of our God, whom has many faces and many functions and roles in the multifaceted understanding of life, as we know it, begins at the beginning!  Chris Haslam, from the Anglican Diocese of Montreal tells us, “Jesus’ kingship begins with the opening verse of the gospel of John.”  ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’ (John1:1)” Now let us lift up the words which Jesus spoke after Pilate asked Jesus if he were a king.  “Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’  Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king.  For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’” /John 18:37/ Jesus is the voice the word of God.

Progressive and conservative Christians bicker and debate the use of inclusive language when speaking of the three personalities of God.  Words like he or she, mother or father and Lord or Lady, none of which help us grasp the essence of our triune God.  The Old Testament speaks about our Heavenly Father, a God of fire and brimstone, the Creator God!   Moses was first introduced to God at the burning bush where he was told to call the Great One, “I AM.”  It has been debated whether the Spirit is to be referred to as she rather than he.  Yet, the biggest confusion centers around Jesus.  Is he a King or is he the Son of God, or the Son of Man.  Yet, the Christmas story displays him as the Messiah, the long awaited Messianic One, anointed by God to come and rescue the people of God!

I like many ordained clergy refer to the understanding of the humble birth of the Christ Child as our God coming to us in human form.  Our incarnate God we say.  Which means the personification of God, God alive, in person.  God embodied in the birth of Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary.  This debate as to who Jesus was, was contemplated and meditated upon at the famous gathering of the Forefathers of Christianity.  They came up with something called the Nicene Creed, at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.  It argued the relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  What it still affirms today, as a crucial aspect of this discussion, is that Jesus is one hundred percent the essence of God and at the same time one hundred percent the essence of humankind.  This conclusion leaves us able to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus with Joy realizing that God has come to us, in humble form, to live amongst us.  Bringing with him the Light of God which through the word of God brings light into the darkness.  From these simple statements we can seek out the truth.

Pilate asks Jesus if he is indeed the king of the Jews.  Basically, Jesus tells him, yes, but not of this world.  One theologian sums up for us Pilates confusion.  “It would be hard for Pilate to form any conception of a kingdom not of this world, a kingdom of which the subjects did not fight with carnal weapons to defend its king, or to extend its borders.  He was a soldier and the representative of a monarch whose power rested on the sword.  But such a kingdom was Christ’s.” /B.W. Johnson/ Pilate’s confusion was shared by the Jewish nation as well.  They understood the Messiah as a Savior who would come like a great ‘warrior king’ and free them from the Romans.  But we moderns know this was not who the man Jesus was!  As we enter into the Advent season, we shall ponder this in our hearts.  For we too are often unclear as to exactly who Jesus was

What exactly is Advent anyhow, some of may ask.  It is the approach of something spectacular; it is the dawn of a new era, a new age.  Advent is the nearing of our celebration of the birth of a baby named Jesus, born of a poor and common village woman named Mary.  It is the rise of new hope for humankind as we pause to remember the old, old story of Jesus and his glory, Jesus and his love.  As the season of Advent emerges let us prepare ourselves for the renewal of hope, the re-emergence of the message of the peace that Christ brings, the Joy that we all can experience when we accept the love of God and the light of God into our lives!  The paradox, the truth of this matter, is that we must view it from where we now reside and exist.  Yes, it is nice, wonderful at times, to be caught up in the Spirit of Christmas, caught up in the frenzy of the holidays and all that Advent is meant to bring into our hearts, yet we must not close our eyes to the reality, the humanness which surround us on this day as well.

The full story of Jesus only starts with his birth yet, it culminates, it takes on a totally new meaning with his execution; which is not the ending, but only the beginning, as the Spirit of Christ rises from the grave overcoming the sting of death!  The man Jesus was clearly caught up in the political realm of the roman empire and that of the elite and corrupt leadership at that time within the oppressed Jewish community.  A scholar named John Purdy puts a twist into this old and complex narrative by bringing it back into the light of the Twenty-First Century.  “Is it, as popular piety would have us believe, the story of an innocent man set upon by a gang of corrupt officials and a mindless mob?  Is it not rather one more enactment of “our daily morality play,” with each one dutifully playing his or her assigned role?” /John C. Purdy/ What he is saying to us ‘is’ that we are living in a real- world event, in which we all are a part, and it is way more than a play.  He is inferring that the roles we live into, in our day to day lives, may put us into situations where we are the mob that must decide the fate of the innocent.  We are the eyes and the ears of the people of God in this modern time.  How will we use our hands to aid those in need?  How will we judge those that stand before us, in judgement?

One writer analyzes our text and challenges us.  “We have been sent by Jesus to be practitioners of the Truth.” /Norb E. Kabelitz/ We are the followers of Christ.  We are the disciples of the man Jesus.  Furthermore, we now are part of the community of this age in which we now live.  We are the ones whom need to speak out, speak out for those that are wrongly condemned or persecuted.  We must carry on the practice of Jesus, the Christ Child, born of the woman Mary in a city of David, called Bethlehem.  Even as we find ourselves caught up in the crowd, that wave of humanity, or that mind-numbing mob… let us not be mindless as we perform and act out our roles, our tasks and our responsibilities in this modern narrative.

Amen.

 

Pastor’s Advent and Christmas Letter, 2018


 

Thanksgiving was a blessed day, filled with gratitude, turkey and pumpkin pie, surrounded by family and friends, near and far!  What a joyful way to begin the Advent season which brings us to our Christmas Eve service @ 7 PM, that commences with lessons and carols and concludes with our traditional ‘Candle Lighting’ ritual as we sing ‘Silent Night’ and ‘Joy to the World.’  Yes indeed!  The season is upon us and the celebration of Christ’s Birth is near at hand!

My prayer for one and all, is a pray which instills a ‘Shining Star’ for all to follow, reminding each one of us to strive to find a way to remember what this season is all about!  Praying that in our remembering we shall seek out ways to pass-on the message of Hope – for there are so many of our neighbors that need to be lifted-up!  Praying that our hearts will be filled with Peace, as we live into this season of Christmas!  My prayer continues as we live our lives with Joy – as we go about our day-to-day activities, one joyful moment at a time!  Let us always feel the Love of God in our hearts being constantly reminded that the love of God culminated on that first Christmas morning, as the ‘Light of God’ was born to ‘Shine’ in the world; overcoming the darkness that lingers all around us!

Prayer is certainly something we all ought to keep close and use frequently, as we hustle and bustle through our shopping lists, buying Christmas gifts, addressing and mailing Christmas cards and all our annual traditions, including a party or two here and there.  Make time on your busy schedule to visit your local church on Sunday’s and celebrate with others on Christmas Eve in a service which points us to the presence of the ‘Light of God!’

I pray that you will feel God’s hope, peace, joy and love this season!  Letting every Christmas light, decoration and ornament, remind you of the ‘Shining Light of God’ which was transmitted to all the world – at the dawn of the early light, on that first Christmas morning.

Have a Blessed season & have a very Merry Christmas!   

Pastor Tim Woodard

Sermons for December 2018

Sunday Worship Services at 10 AM


 

December 2

First Sunday of Advent, Light the first Advent candle – Hope

Communion Sunday

 

Sermon Topic:    “Faith as a Way of Life”

Scripture:            Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

 

December 9

Second Sunday of Advent, Light the second Advent candle – Peace

Read the Statement of Faith

 

A Christmas Cantata

  

December 16

Third Sunday of Advent, Light the Third Advent Candle – Joy

Sermon                “Look for the Light”

Scripture:            Isaiah 42:1-9

 

December 23

Fourth Sunday of Advent, Light the Fourth Advent Candle – Love

Sermon:              “A Baby is Born”

Scripture:            Matthew 1:18-25

 

December 24

Christmas Eve @ 7 PM, Light the Christ Candle

Lessons and carols

Candle Lighting Service ending with “Silent Night”

 

December 30

First Sunday of Christmas

Sermon:              “The Chosen Ones”

Scripture:            Luke 2:41-52