“Vision of Peace”

Isaiah 11:1-10, December 4th, 2022

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


Communion

Second week of Advent – Peace – “Light Purple Candle”

“Hear the words of the prophet Isaiah, chapter eleven, verses one thru ten.”

Isaiah 11:1-10

1 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 6 The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9 They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

“Having heard this uplifting prophetic message from the written words of Isaiah, let us consider our own needs to hear this ancient prophecy.”

“Vision of Peace”

When we talk about peace, we sometimes only think of war time issues. Which are the most needed places for peace. And yes, we need to pray for peace in the Ukraine! It absolutely is time for a negotiated peace to occur! But you and I know that we do not have the power to cause this to happen. And it is heartbreaking! You can read the statistics on the news reports. War is ‘Hell’ on earth! And yes! I just invoked ‘Hell’ as it is an appropriate way to describe what war is. Tormenting, cruel and devastating to the people involved! No other way to see it. Our mistake as moderns is we have movies that paint war as an entertaining drama. There are a few war movies that have been done well – powerfully depicting what war is like. If you watch one of those… you may begin to understand a little better what horror our Veterans and Veterans around the world endure!

This second week of Advent lifts-up Peace – not war. Let us therefore pray for peace in these areas of the world that are involved in war. And as we do so let us acknowledge that peace is needed in all forms of war. Not just war with automatic weapons and heat seeking missiles and drones that can now delivery multiple types of bombs, to specific targets, such as power plants and the like! Even as we try to grasp the enormity of this desire, we admit to ourselves at least that war of this type still exists. Let us pray for God’s intervention! But what of the other types of wars people are facing? Not clear as to what I am speaking of. OK. Let’s take a closer look.

How many of us have dreams that we will not experience, ever again, for ourselves and for others the struggle we are having with how to deal with these mass shootings with the use of war like weapons? Tis a different form of war, but it is hard, hard on the innocent victims and their families. If only we could find common ground as a nation to address this horrific situation. Can we at least form a vision that there are possibilities that we can make some head way on this? You see, every leader of successful enterprises knows: a vision needs to be formed before a solution can be put in place! Are you with me on this? Isaiah had a vision of God’s plan for peace. “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” /Isaiah 11:16/ What vision do we need to cut down or eliminate mass shootings? To date: no one has fashioned a vision that we might rally around. It is time for us to become part of an active solution!

Michael J Chan speaks of Isaiah’s claim. “Isaiah 11(He tells us) begins with the claim that new life will spring forth from an injured stump: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”” Of course, one must first admit they have an injured stump. Recognizing we have a problem is step one, in any formular for restoration! True in our personal lives as well as community and even national concerns. Where a disconnect has occurred, we need to identify it, acknowledge it, and begin to formulate a plan of action. Isaiah called it a vision. Before we encourage the wolf to live with the lamb, we need to see the purpose or value in it.  Isaiah uses the analogy of predator and pray living together to illustrate the enormity of the task. Clearly, such a vision is an impossible dream; as such only the intervention of God, could make it possible! As believers in miracles, we ought not be afraid to ask for a bit of help now and then.

Let’s focus on ourselves for a moment. Let’s be honest… we all do that a lot! Consider something that is not working in your life. Oh, that can be harder than it sounds. Sometimes, us humans think walking around with, say a broken hand is ok. Absurd, isn’t it? The point being some folks have things that are clearly broken in their lives and are unable to admit or accept it. Yet, they are totally stressed out about it. You could say, they can not find any peace in their hearts when they turn the lights out at night. Sleep sometimes evades them. Oftentimes, their conflict is seen by others who are in their circle of life. Some may have even approached them about it, to no avail. No, Isaiah’s vision is not going anywhere until you acknowledge that there is brokenness in your life, home, or community. And this can be expanded till it reaches the thing that needs fixing or transformation.

Peace is hard to find if you’re not looking for it. Isaiah wants us to know, as he speaks to the broken remnant of the conquered people he speaks to. 7 “The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.” /Isaiah 11:7/ Cow’s and Bears do not naturally eat together, rather one prefers to eat the other! What if we change the analogy to read: The folks from the east side and the folks from the west side shall sit down and eat together, sharing the things they have in common. A need to eat nourishing food. To have food and water for their families and shelter and clothing to protect them from the harshness of Mather Natures wrath! It is easy to throw a rock at those other folks then to admit, your own brokenness and bias that stops you from doing so. Peace, of the nature Isaiah suggests that God offers encompasses many and varied aspects of our human existence. Once you can see the stump is broken, the relationship is broken, then a vision can be formed. The surgeon can discuss what needs removal from the zagged break and how it can be transformed. Meaning made new so that it can again do its function. Meaning a changed, altered relationship can be created. Not as it was – but something brand new!

It is the year Two-Thousand and Twenty-Two, and it is the second Sunday of our journey toward that humble setting described in the gospel account according to Luke. There a baby was born. You know the story. The fact that millions still speak of it is a miracle, a transforming miracle! Alan Brehm reminds us of the “Good News” news of Christ Jesus! “The good news of Advent, (Brehm speaks of,) is that Christ’s coming into the world brings a light that is powerful enough to shine into every dark corner that can exist for anyone anywhere.” Once again, we can not fully grasp the meaning here unless we acknowledge the darkness. If you stand on the bow of a sinking ship and say, “my what a beautiful sight, as the captain looks over the bow of his sinking ship to admire the setting sun.” Perhaps, the captain is at peace, with his demise as he and his ship sink to the bottom of the ocean. Yet, the blackness of the situation clearly needs a miracle to be righted!

John C Holbert, tells us that God’s plan includes peace! “God’s plan for the cosmos is peace and harmony and beauty. God is bringing this about again and again. But where and when, we rightly ask?” We must agree, the prophet Isaiah is always offering his listeners yet another vision, another pathway to peace! Clearly, we need to accept the need for correction. Then the vision must be formed. This brings us to the next gateway. Holbert’s nagging question, must be addressed. “But where and when, we rightly ask?” If we believe in the power of our Creator God, we must put our trust in the mystical hands of the one who Created us. Once we do this the where and when, which we long to know, becomes of less and less importance. Doesn’t feel right when this is said out-loud does it? It will when we truly trust in the mystical transformative power of God.

Miracles don’t always move mountains. Sometimes just a change of attitude is necessary. That broken relationship comes back together and new peace is shared between those that had been adversaries just yesterday.  Janet H. Hunt asks the how question! “How do you experience the prophet’s vision for us here?” Some of the wars which we rage are deep in our own misunderstanding of our own roles in differing things and often are between us and other peoples. The season of Advent points to these cracks in our own sense of peace. Advent tells us to look to the prophets like Isaiah and see our own brokenness. We shall feel and undergo a change… if we ask for the Living Spirit of God to help us see more clearly a new vision. Every vision is different for us as individuals, as our needs, our life situations, they are all custom made by our own personal journeys.

The root of Jesse, as spoken of by Isaiah, is the broken root of the Nation of the Israelites. The Prophecy is for that new root, to bring forth a transformation… bringing new promise, a new makeover which is envisioned – to take those hearing his words to a New Place – a New Position or Station – within God’s vision for their future. Let it be so for us as well!

Amen. 

“Get Ready!”

Matthew 24: 36-44, November 27th, 2022

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


First week of Advent – Hope – “Light Purple Candle”

“Hear now these words, as written in the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter twenty-four, verses thirty-six, thru forty-four.”

Matthew 24:36-44

36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken, and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

“Having heard the words attributed to the teachings of Jesus, let us consider how we shall apply them to our time of preparation during Advent.”

“Get Ready!”

Thanksgiving turkey is now but a leftover. Perhaps the last turkey sandwich or the fixings of a hot stew. Whatever the fate of those leftovers, it is now time to focus on a new season. The Advent Season. With the themes of Hope, Peace, Love and Joy, leading up to the bright shinning Light of Christ. The heaviest travel days of Thanksgiving gives way to the busiest season of shopping, planning and celebrations; all in the name of Christmas! A season of hustle and bustle for sure. And a season of giving and caring for the needs of others. A time of gifting, for our children, grandchildren, and our extended families. Including our pet groomer, the haircutter, our favorite waiter, or waitress. Gifting the lawn crew and all those that serve us throughout the year. No extra cash? Then a simple gesture of good cheer and or kindness is in order. Yes, indeed! The season has now changed. It is official!

As we get ready for our annual celebration of Jesus’ birth, we begin with a discussion surrounding the concept of hope! Children begin to hint at what presents they might gleen from under the tree, regardless of the ‘authenticity’ of the jolly old fellow in the red suit and long white beard.  Yes, hope abounds in every corner. From a desire to get their first red wagon or tricycle to the desire for their spouse to buy that new SUV, to hopes that dad will buy them their first motorized bike! But, considering that most of us are adults and gathered here in this place of worship, we may wish to take our thoughts of hope to higher levels. Not that the gaiety of gift giving is not all well and good! Not only is it good for the economy – but it is also good for the soul. And an attitude of good cheer can ‘stimulate’ our underused laughter muscles, thus gaining a broader smile!

Arland J. Hultgren, Professor of New Testament studies at Luther Seminary, wrote in 2013 of hope. “The hope we have is not personal only, and it certainly is not simply private. It is a communal hope.” A hope shared is like dropping a pebble in a still calm pond; its ripple effect can travel on and on. We all have things in common, whether we wish to acknowledge this or not. Look at your own private list of hopes, wants and of course needs. Consider that everyone you know has a list as well. Neighbors that you only wave to have a list too! What about the woman at the checkout counter, ringing up her purchases? She too has a list. And the young lad that bags your groceries, or the young teenager, the one with braces that can tell you were every item in the store is! We all have a list. Let us agree to that!

It is Advent. Surely, we don’t need to talk about the hungry, the homeless and those that need clothing! The man Jesus once was quoting as saying, ‘we will always have the poor and the needy.’ Meaning of course the homeless, the hungry and the naked. Yes, I expanded the thought, but you can check in the gospel of Matthew, its close. And surely this is what Jesus was speaking of. Therefore, the professor has widened our scope of who hope needs to touch. As we reach out to others let us consider the possibility the ripple effect will touch someone we know, without our knowing. The vastness of those who may receive ‘new hope’ from our own attitude adjustment in this joyful, hopeful season is infinite! Let us not pass up any opportunity that comes our way – or crosses our paths.

We all know that from each day forward till the winter solstice, on December 21st or 22nd, the daylight hours grow shorter. Even the pagans celebrated this occurrence way back in the first Century for sure. Why can we say that? Because that is when early Christians picked a day to celebrate the birth of Jesus; a date near the winter solstice when many pagans and believers could celebrate – without fear and condemnation! No, we don’t know for sure the date of Jesus birth. There were few records of that nature kept so long ago. The date is our tradition now. A tradition which Christians have had since the First Century after Baby Jesus’ birth. And we all have numerous traditions which we honor, as a church and as families as well as individuals. The daylight each day – is growing shorter. The number of days till our Christmas celebrations – are growing shorter. By the time we get to Christmas Eve we will have run out of time and daylight to get all that is needed to be done before Christmas morning. As our traditions have us very, very busy on Christmas morning. And, oh by the way, Christmas morning is a Sunday this year!

Yes, we do need to get ready. Yes, most of us have a lot to get done! Thankfully, we had some volunteers who were able to get the decorations and lights up in the sanctuary for today’s service. Even setting up the Advent candles is a task. Those few things that you may not see – can still become part of our festive celebration. There truly is a lot of hope! Our scripture lesson today is all about getting ready. And falling in line with the origin of our traditional understanding of Christmas Day being on the 25th of December – we are not sure of the day and hour. Our scripture focuses on this regarding the promised second coming of Christ – we do not know the day or the year this will occur. The scripture is written more as a warning than a gentle reminder to be hopeful and joyful, with a message of good cheer. The writer, like ourselves knew that Jesus had already been born. His birth, his ministry, with all the signs and miracles of his divinity: as the Son of God and Man, were numerous and well know back then. The writing gives many examples. We might consider updating the possibilities. We may be in the middle of a text – or a zoom meeting with loved ones – or we may be watching a candle lighting service via the internet; via a broadcast from a church like us. We need to be ready – we really don’t know when Jesus will come back!

Let us consider another point. It is highly questionable whether humankind would welcome Jesus back during this time in history or not! As we read the scriptures, the gospel accounts of Jesus’ first appearance here on earth, the Son of Man, the Son of God was a disappointment to most. Sorry but true. When we look to the continued gun violence upon the innocent, here in America, we know we need to be saved, but it is hard to say our Savior would be welcomed in every aspect of government, or special interest group and the like – across the land. Then there are the enemies of the Jesus we worship. Seems highly likely they have survived throughout the ages. More sophisticated for sure. Like the ‘sleeper cells’ we talked about after the detestation surrounding the 911 events. We know they are truly terrorists.

The good new is there is still hope! It is only the first Sunday in Advent! There is still time to prepare. There is still time to put our lives in order and right any wrongs we have left open. Even as we prepare for our Advent journey, we ought to keep one eye on the possibility that the Risen Christ Child will come knocking at our door. Isn’t this why we get so excited about Christmas? The whole birth story, the attention that the scriptures pay to the baby’s birth. Sure, catches our attention! Why else would we be doing this ritual every year if we didn’t believe that the one man, named Jesus, had a tremendous impact on how we perceive the Living God! Of course, it matters.  The birth story matters. The miracles at the hand of the man Jesus. The teachings that we believe came directly from the words of Jesus during his short three-year ministry. It matters!

Oh yes! The three years of Jesus’ ministry are worthy of the attention. His birth, life, and his death. They are worthy of the effort to prepare for the possibility that Jesus will come back. Of course, it is unlikely we will recognize him, considering all we humans put him through the first time. We don’t even have any assurance that the pictures we have of Jesus capture what he looked like. Consider the likely hood that a virtually homeless man, which Jesus was, posed for a portrait. He traveled around the region without the aid of a motorized car or van. Jesus walked the streets and often camped in the woods near and around Jerusalem, over two thousand years ago, when the idea of paved roads was unheard of. No electricity either! Yet, after all this time, we still honor him and all that we believe about him!    

Rev. David Lose, talks to us of the light which shines in the darkness. “As the days grow shorter and the darkness grows, we light Advent candles each week to remind us that we do not face the darkness alone but that, indeed, the light of the world has come, shining on in the darkness to illumine our lives and lead us forth not in fear but courage…and even joy.” This is the ‘Hope” which Advent speaks of. We pray, we hope, and we all want him to come back; unless we rather not be saved and like living in the shadows were the truth is seldom heard. Sadly, we must conclude that there are still those who would show up at Jesus’ mock trail and cry out: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Let us prepare properly for the celebration of our loving God. Who loves us, the children of God, loves us so much that he would send his only begotten Son to us! Let us, carry the light of Christ in our hearts and allow it to shine through us – as we interact with our neighbors. All our neighbors are welcome to participate in this journey, a journey of preparation. A time of self-reflection to see how we can follow more of the teachings of Christ. A time where we can set right our wrongs. A time when we can offer God’s love to those around us. Giving all who journey with us – New Hope!

Amen.

“Something New”

November 13th, 2022, Isaiah 65: 17-25

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


Communion

“Hear now the prophesy of Isaiah, chapter sixty-five, verses seventeen thru twenty-five.”

Isaiah 65:17-25

17 For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. 19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. 20 No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. 21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. 23 They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord – and their descendants as well. 24 Before they call, I will answer, while they are yet speaking, I will hear. 25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent – its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.

“Having heard the Prophet’s words, let us consider how they pertain to us, on this special day!”

“Something New”

Dr. Carla Sunberg President, Nazarene Theological Seminary, sets the stage for us! “The joy of new life is anticipated by all of creation. Whether awaiting the blossoms of spring or the birth of a new child, hope fills hearts with the expectancy of new life. Instilled in us by the Creator, we cling to the future hope which is promised in God’s word.” We all want for ‘Something New!” Perhaps we do not want all things changed, but there are always things that we pray God will help us transform – and instill new life into! Today our Stewardship Committee brings its annual campaign to a highpoint with today’s Commitment Sunday celebration! With the help of all our members and friends we pray that our treasurer, can put away her red pen. With every-one’s help the forecast going into the awaiting New Year will bring new optimism, and new promise! Dr. Sundberg, see’s Isaiah’s prophecy as the universally awaited new moment, greeted with joy! May it be so!

Corrine Carvalho, a professor of theology, speaks urging us to consider Isaiah’ invitation challenge! “Isaiah 65:17-25 invites people today to consider how our experience of God’s holiness changes the world for us.” Are you, are we ready to accept this invitation? Grasping the moment is what we are asked to do! This moment is meant to be an upbeat, cheerful, and optimistic point in our faith journeys! The coach of any team would want you, all of us, you, and me to own the message! The scripture, as was written, is asking for us to lift our heads and raise them up! Behold! God has something new in store for us to grasp! In our own time we have had powerful and moving self-testimonials from members of our congregation! The goal of any well-run campaign is to never ‘give up’ as there are always opportunities for something new. In football they call it the “Hail Mary Pass!” In faith communities such as ours it is called: “Having Faith, never ceasing our prayers, never stopping till the ‘miracle’ happens!

As members of this faith community, ‘Live’ here in our sanctuary, ‘Live’ at your home or wherever you are viewing this broadcast from, we all want stability and long life. For our church. For our families and loved ones. And we want, we yearn for some level of quality in our lives. Quality of life is more than just three-square meals a day with a roof over your head and clothes on your back. Although, millions that go without – still would be grateful for the simplest of this proposition to be theirs for the asking. Striving to help feed the needy has always been a part of this church. ‘Something new’ would be if we were to give up, throwing up our hands and saying, it’s too much! We can’t do this anymore! No! None of us are willing to give up helping others. No. As a faith community we cannot give up getting the message of hope out to the hopeless. No. As followers of Christ, we cannot give up sharing what we know of God’s love and forgiveness.   

Historically, this our church has gone through good-times and bad-times. Sad-times and joyful-times! We have enjoyed long time members that put in more than their share of toil, hours of volunteer work for the life of this faith community. (133) One hundred and thirty-three years ago this community was first founded. A dozen members pulled together to get it started. Here we are all these years later, preparing to celebrate that so many are still with us, in heart, mind and in support of this congregations’ continued ministry, in this greater Palm Bay area! Let us pray that our joint efforts will go down in history, lifting-up that ‘our tenacity as a group’ held together in the Spirit of the pioneers, the forerunners that banded together so many years ago. Let them write that: we were willing to do “Something New!” Our donations of time, talent, and treasures will determine what the future holds. It truly is in your hands. With your support – all things are possible!

We talk a lot about resources and how we are to fund our ministry efforts. Along with that we talk about the need to gather resources to pay the electric bill and the insurance bill. Paying your pastor, paying to have a music program, live, and on-line; and someone to look after our facility. We have ventured into this Live “On-Line” ministry seeking to keep our members and friends together, through two plus years of the Pandemic! Which raised havoc with churches across this great country of ours: and throughout the world! It is conservatively, estimated, that seventy-five to one-hundred churches close their doors every week. The estimates range from three thousand to ten thousand churches have closed in the last year! A Staggering number to grasp! We, have a mortgage free sanctuary and a beautiful building, with approximately ten acres of land. We still have real assets in the bank. Which is a fortune – in the eyes of many. A lot to be grateful for!  Though we are spilling red ink, which is not viable into the future!

The theme, given to us by our national organization of The United Church of Christ, whom we affiliate with in word, deed, and covenant: From Bread and Cup – to Faith and Giving. In the communion meal which we shall once more celebrate together today, we take of the broken bread, remembering the broken body of Christ Jesus. It symbolizes the sacrifice that our God has made for our salvation. There is no other way to say this. We take of the cup, the common drink of the day which Jesus shared with his closest followers. Even with the one who betrayed him into the hands of his enemies. The cup symbolizes the foundation of the new covenant, the forgiveness of our debts. The dash connects this holy meal with the Faith which we so often testify to, and we seek to practice through our efforts – often. But truly, it is through the strength of our faith that we shall trust that our giving, our giving – will truly be effective. If it were not so – would faith communities, throughout the world, continue to pull together; seeking to accomplish the impossible! Our giving connects to our faith. Fifty percent of Clergy believe that one can clearly see another’s level of faith – through their giving. Their giving of time, talent, and treasure. The rest of us believe that only God can and ought to make that judgement.

The crucial point in our Stewardship theme is the connection between the Communion meal and that of our Faith – as it connects to our Giving, our Support of the ministry of Christ.

As I reviewed our worship format for today, I realized that our monthly reading of The Statement of Faith of the Denomination which we are in covenant with, I concluded we ought to say it together at this time. No, I did not forget about it. Between the storm and such it did not seem to be of importance. So, as I was drawing this conversation together, I had pause to reflect on the pivotal points. We are not alone in our ministry. We are a member church of the United Church of Christ. We are one of (4852) four- thousand, eight hundred and fifty-two congregations, as of the year (2020) Two-thousand and twenty. Membership is (773,539) seven hundred and seventy-three thousand, five hundred and thirty-nine. We united in the year (1957) Nineteen fifty-seven. We know these last years have been really, really, difficult for churches across the country. No, we are not alone.

Please follow along with me in this our shared statement of faith.

(On the screens and # 885 in our Hymnals.)

We believe in you, O God, Eternal Spirit, God of our Savior Jesus Christ and our God, and to your deeds we testify:

You call the worlds into being, create persons in your own image, and set before each one the ways of life and death.

You seek in holy love to save all people from aimlessness and sin.

You judge people and nations by your righteous will declared through prophets and apostles.

In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Savior, you have come to us and shared our common lot, conquering sin and death and reconciling the world to yourself.

You bestow upon us your Holy Spirit, creating and renewing the church of Jesus Christ, binding in covenant faithful people of all ages, tongues, and races.

You call us into your church to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, to be your servants in the service of others, to proclaim the gospel to all the world and resist the powers of evil, to share in Christ’s baptism and eat at his table, to join him in his passion and victory.

You promise to all who trust you, forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace, courage in the struggle for justice and peace, your presence in trial and rejoicing, and eternal life in your realm which has no end.

Blessing and honor, glory and power be unto you. Amen.

Let us hear again what is written in today’s scripture lesson – in the SPIRIT that Isaiah would have proclaimed it! (Isaiah 65:13 &17-25 adapted) *Therefore, thus says the Lord God: I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. Be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create “Something New” as a joy, and “my people” as a delight. I will rejoicein it”, and “I” delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord – and their descendants as well. Before they call, I will answer, while they are yet speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent – its food shall be dust! Thus, says the Lord.”

Our challenge today: is to fully embrace the hope, the life-giving message -which Isaiah offers!

Together in unity with others who journey with us, walking with us side by side.

Let us do something new!

Allowing ourselves to rejoice in it!

Amen.

2200 YEARS OF GIVING 

Sirach 35:12-20 

sermon by Jay Pierce 


As we rapidly close in on our next Church holiday of All Saints Day, also known as All Hallows’ Day, the much more secular holiday of Halloween, or All Hollows’ Day Eve, is very visible.  It makes us think mostly of treats although a trick or two can always be in store!  The Lectionary gives us an early treat of a different kind as one of the reading options today.  The passage from Sirach that we heard fits perfectly with our annual Faith Promise campaign kicking off today. 

I call this a treat as it is rare that we use passages from the Apocrypha.  One thing you may have noticed if you are looking in in the sanctuary Bibles or looking in your Bible at home is that Sirach is not in all versions of the Bible.  In general, the Apocrypha materials are not published in Protestant Bibles but appear in the Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox versions to varying extents.  So is it proper for us to even use this passage?  As you probably guessed by now, the short answer is yes.  But if your curiosity button was struck by this question as mine was, a brief explanation is helpful. 

The material in the Apocrypha is covering times between the end of the standard Hebrew Bible and the ministry of Jesus.  This is part of the period where the Greeks and Romans controlled Jerusalemi.  It is a collection of books and additions to books that the Jewish and particularly Christian denominations each have viewed differently across time.  They do not appear in the Hebrew Bible, which is why they don’t appear in most Protestant Biblesii as was previously noted.  The material does appear in the ancient Greek and Old Latin translationsiii, more or less leading to why they are included in the Catholic and Orthodox Bibles.  There have been many twists and turns of how to deal with these books proposed by many scholars and councils over time going back to as early as the fourth century CEiv.

Parts of the manuscripts have been found with the Dead Sea scrolls (among other places) showing there was an importance to the writings to the ancient Hebrewsv.  The influence of the material also shows up in ancient rabbinical writingsvi as well as references to their teachings in the letters of Paul and James in the New Testamentvii.  One example of the influences in the Jewish community is the stories associated with the purification of the Temple in First and Second Maccabees, which is the basis of Hanukkah. These stories are not found in the Hebrew Bibleviii

More directly influencing us, the “United” in United Church of Christ denotes that we trace our roots back to four different Protestant denominations.  Between these four denominations we have heritage in both the Lutheran and Reformed branches of Protestantism.  These two branches historically have a general agreement with the statement from Martin Luther that the Apocrypha books are “not considered equal to the Holy Scriptures, but are useful and good to read”ix

I was unable to find a specific written statement on the UCC website and Pastor Tim didn’t recall any specific stance on the material from his seminary days.  The New Century Hymnal, which we use every week, lists hymns for some passages from the Apocrypha books in the Scripture Indexx.  And the UCC Desk Calendar does indeed list our passage on the list of options for today.xi 

So the long answer is still yes, the material of the Apocrypha may be used as we are today to provide us insight and wisdom. 

Speaking of wisdom, the book of Sirach is considered a book of wisdom, putting it in company with Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job from the Hebrew Bible as well the Wisdom of Solomon that is also found in the Apocryphaxii.  At this point, let’s explore more about the book as a whole. 

First of all, I will admit I had no recollection of ever having heard of Sirach when I saw it on today’s Lectionary list.  Even when looking at the many other names (Ecclesiasticusxiii, Wisdom of Ben Siraxiv, or even The Wisdom of Jesus, Son of Sirachxv), I was still drawing a blank.  In case you are in a similar position to where I was, here is a synopsis of what I found out about the work. 

The author is definitively know to be Jesus son of Eleazar son of Sirach, which in Hebrew is Yeshua be El-azar ben Siraxvi.  To make all of this easier to our western names, I will simply refer to him as Ben Sira. He composed this book sometime before 180 BCE in Hebrew and was then translated to Greek by his grandson sometime after 132 BCE and probably after 117 BCE.xvii 

Ben Sira describes himself as a “’scribe,’ or scholar of the sacred writings and invites students to his school.”xviii It appears the book was one he used in his school to teach young men preparing for leading roles in the Jewish community.xix  In order to capture the imagination of his intended audience, he portrays Wisdom as a sublime woman, sometimes with erotic overtones.xx  The book itself is not arranged in a logical order so reading it in order is not a requirement.xxi 

In creating the translation to Greek, the grandson added a prologue.  Here we find the grandson had moved to Egypt (which was mainly speaking Greek at the time) and was with a large Jewish communityxxii.  In his experiences he found that the time and place were ripe for the teachings of his grandfather and therefore proceeded to produce the Greek version, noting that some things just don’t really translate well.xxiii  Also, the prologue is the earliest known reference of dividing the Hebrew Bible into the three parts of “the Law, and the Prophets, and the other books”.  A similar division is also made by Jesus in Luke 24:44.xxiv 

Enough of history and context, let us explore the passage itself and what it means for us some 2200 years after its writing.  By the start of verse 12 of chapter 35, “Give to the Most High”xxv, it is obvious we are dealing with a stewardship passage right from the get go.  Convenient for us to have a Lectionary passage on Stewardship for kickoff Sunday of our annual Faith Promise campaign.  Maybe, just maybe, the experts that created the Lectionary understand how the church calendar works? I think this is Exhibit A that they do! 

Ben Sira then tells us to give according to our means and be generous in our giving.  These concepts echo strongly throughout the Stewardship passages in the Bible, devotions, and the literature.  The slightly less common theme of “as generously as you can afford”xxvi can provide fuel for reflection in everyone.  It is not a simple question of what one can afford. 

Surely borrowing to give is more than one can afford, but is skipping an after dinner coffee or desert to give a little more affordable?  The purveyor of the restaurant you are at will tell you that you should treat yourself as a happy person is more effective. A financial advisor will tell you that diverting from your retirement fund contribution is not affordable. The economist will talk of the power of multiplication of funds by investing and how important that is.  The economist may also say investing helps lead to having “a rising tide that lifts all boats” making investing sound like a charitable endeavor. The other charities will rightfully explain their virtues (many of which are very important endeavors as well).  And the government will, with the force of deputized and armed collectors if need be, tell you that paying your taxes and fees is the number one priority for your funds. 

Arrgh!!!  So many competing places for our precious funds.  How do we prioritize? Well, 2200 years ago the basic laws of economics appear to have been the same.  But verse 13 reminds us “For the Lord is the one who repays, and he will repay sevenfold”.xxvii And of course that is not necessarily a cash return. Is there really a monetary value for peace of mind? For a clear conscience? For the smile on the face of the one you helped? 

In the end, this is a very private and personal decision that only you can make.  It matters not what I say in this sermon or any human says. This is a decision between you and God. 

So now you think you have it all figured out, well not so fast my friend. There is some more guidance that God has sent through the wisdom of Ben Sira (after all this is a whole book of Wisdom).  Verse 14 tells us what is also stated in religious literature but maybe not quite as direct as here “Do not offer Him a bribe, for He will not accept it”xxviii.   

Egad, try to bribe the One who created earth with earthly possessions?  That is obvious something not to try, right?  But the bribe is not the earthly possession but rather the “see what I did for you, isn’t that awesome God” attitude. We cannot impress with false actions, it must be a true heartfelt gift.  And just in case your gift is from ill gotten proceeds, God knows it and will discount it is the reminder in the next verse. 

Yes, this is between you and God. 

The next four verses discuss that God will listen closely to the poor and wronged, those that find themselves in difficult situations not by their own doing.  Our final verse for today reads “The one whose service is pleasing to the Lord will be accepted, and his prayer will reach to the clouds”.xxix “Service” here is more about how you lead your life than anything else, which is clear when reading the verses that immediately follow what we heard today.  It does also help us remember, giving to the Lord takes many forms not just money as was our focus when we discussed the prior verses. The passage actually does not mention money at all or what form the giving is to take. 

We often use the phrase “time, talent, and treasure” when speaking of giving. All three are important gifts with immense value to the church and an expense for the giver. All three fuel the engine of this church.  

The time and talent of our volunteer grounds team, office staff, musicians, and many others beyond these, even including the person that simply moves a wayward piece of trash from the floor to a garbage can are important.  Our paid staff is wonderful but small.  The volunteers are the force multipliers.  One cannot overlook the time and talent components when considering a contribution. 

Today we begin our annual Faith Promise campaign “From Bread and Cup to Faith and Giving” as you have already heard.  It is an invitation to make a commitment to our church for 2023.  The campaign lasts four weeks to allow everyone contemplation time, prayer time, and to listen for the response for the Still-speaking God. 

I can’t say how many times I have heard “no one gives to a budget”, particularly from one of the recently departed saints of this church.  Well that is probably true. But in today’s world, we don’t barter or even negotiate much with monetary concerns. The price is take it or leave it. And right now, today’s price is quite likely more than yesterday’s. Inflation is very destructive, and our church is not immune to feeling what you are feeling either.  The projection of 2023 spending is more than this year needless to say.  And your income is probably not keeping pace.  It is financially tougher for nearly everyone and every business right now.  We are in this together. 

Also as you heard from Kathy, we are dedicating this year’s campaign to the saints of this church that have gone before us. Several of those have been recent departures and were very faithful members. Numerically, our numbers are smaller than in many decades. And national church attendance trends are not in our favor as the pandemic has accelerated the trends of less attendancexxx, church membershipxxxi and even less belief in Godxxxii. But on the other side, South Brevard continues to grow giving us more and more people to find that would be interested in the ways we teach the Word.  And we continue to upgrade our online ministry so distance can be overcome. 

As chair of Trustees, I can tell you we are already looking at what we can do with our spending in 2023 to trim here and there as we do every year, perhaps with a bit sharper pencil than past years. 

The Trustees are also doing a deeper look at our longer term plans. As we walk through ideas (and feel free to give any ideas you have to any Trustees member as some already have done), there are likely to be more invitations given to people with a desired talent to assist us. We are small, but churches can start with two people, or in the case of the Christian church, one by the name of Jesus. With prayer and listening, we can, together as a team figure out where God wants us to steer our ship. 

So let us begin building our future in the next four weeks through the Faith Promise campaign.  Pray and listen, self-contemplate, calculate, and use any and all tools at your disposal to consider what your time, talent, and treasure Faith Promise for 2023 should be.  Then write it down on a card, piece of paper, or even the back of a napkin and bring or send it back to us.  Those watching online can be part of this too! All financial promises are kept in confidence by the Financial Secretaries.  Your time and talent pledges are advertised to those who need help on a project within the church. 

Every single pledge is valuable, no matter how small.  Jesus shows us that in Mark 12:42-44: ‘A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”’xxxiii 

So listen to the wisdom of Ben Sira from today, listen to the words of Jesus from Mark, listen to the other books and passages, and listen for what our Still-speaking God is telling you.  Consider it all.  Then follow through. 

Amen.