“What is your Gift?”

1 Corinthians 12:1-12, January 20th, 2019

Sermon by pastor Tim Woodard


 

“Hear these words from the Apostle Paul’s writing to the church in Corinth, taken from First Corinthians, chapter twelve, verses one thru twelve.”

 1 Corinthians 12:1-12

1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

“Having listened to this ancient letter written by the Apostle Paul, let us now consider how we can embrace this lesson and learn how to incorporate its meaning as we continue our faith journeys.”

“What is your Gift?”

A true gift is a present that is freely given to someone without payment. Giving a gift, can be uplifting to the person doing the giving. Receiving a gift, ought to be a joy that enhances an individual’s life. These are the most common understandings of what a gift is, and most of us understand this, as we have just passed through the most recognized season of gift giving. In order to give a gift, we often need to part with a bit of ourselves or our abundance. Giving is an act of kindness, compassion and or love. Receiving a gift can be humbling, especially when the person whom receives the gift is uncertain as to who gave it. At Christmas or on birthdays and anniversaries, gifts frequently are items or things that the person receiving the gift really needed. But often, gifts are items we may not have indulged in, had someone not chosen to gift us with it. Like a box of chocolates or a trip to the Bahamas. There are times, however, when a gift is given and the one giving the gift has an expectation that the one receiving the gift… will use it or put the gift to a particular use. This is the type of gift our scripture is speaking of; therefore, we shall spend some time reflecting on these types of gifts.

When my mother gave me a new pen and pencil set, she did not want me to just display them on my desk, unused. No, it was expected I would use them either in school, or as my life progressed, to write letters (to her of course) and to practice writing other things, that in my case has led to my writing newsletters, reports, prayers and sermons. When parents buy a new laptop computer for their son or daughter when as they graduate from high school, on their way to higher education opportunities; it is, it is expected they will use the computer as a tool to properly do their studies as they enter college. So, let us be clear here, there are gifts which we all receive that pass on a responsibility – to the one receiving the gift. My parents would not have been pleased if I had not practiced my writing skills, as I went to school. Nor would they have been pleased if I did not pursue activities – which gave me the opportunity to ‘use’ these skills. They had endeavored to ensure I had the chance to develop my writing abilities, as they encouraged me to study in grade school and do my homework assignments. Likewise, parents whom sent their daughters and sons off to college expect the financial commitment they have made, will give their offspring the skills and knowledge they need to live productive and useful lives. The gifts we receive through the Spirit of God are these types of gifts.

I think most of us know there are many ways to use the skills we receive, which are gifts from God. Yes, we have had to exercise them and develop them, yet, our basic aptitudes, the level of our abilities, skills and talents, are in fact gifts which give us the capacities for learning and the inclinations for developing them. Without our capacity and levels of intelligence and our degrees of thinking, we would not be whom we have developed into. The key to understanding this is simple: without the gifts we have been given by God, we could not have accomplished what we have. Conversely, if we have not put the effort into using and developing our skills and acquired the knowledge needed to go with it, through our educations and studies, as-well-as practical experiences, we will have fallen short of what God has envisioned and anticipated for our lives. This is where the task of accepting our responsibilities comes into play. Each one of us is personally responsible to our Creator, to use our gifts and strive to make a difference through our efforts.

As we look to other’s accomplishments around us, or we see how much they enjoy, or love even, their chosen profession, even if it is to be a behind the scenes type of position – we see how satisfied and contented they seem. We may find ourselves envious as this is not how it is for us. One theologian points out how “Some of us are deeply unsatisfied with our work, but we hang on – we need the paycheck. How should we think about work when we are unhappy with our jobs?” /Al Hsu/ For all too many people this is often the case. There are no simple, nor universal responses to this either. Perhaps, we might begin by considering how few, in today’s society, really start their days with gratitude for all they have. I know, this is often hard to do, especially if you are living on the streets or in your car. And we do not want to insult the great many of us whom are grateful to God for each breath of air we breathe and the opportunities each new day offers. Life can feel very complex and situations can and often do, for all of us, at times, bear heavy upon us. Yet, we each must take responsibility for our own attitudes and how we approach situations and challenges as they are presented to us. This is something we can each cherish and own. Therefore, let us not look to another’s life with envy rather let us see what we can learn and use, to enhance our lives by the examples of others.

Along my journey in ministry, I have heard many stories of other’s lives and how they live them. They are passed to me by folks like yourselves and from others like myself, who work within the field of ministry as I endeavor to do. One such story came to me when I was a junior pastor. It was during this time when I was told the story about a garbage truck driver.

The story went like this: There was a church with an expansive campus, beautiful grounds, large prosperous congregation of three hundred members. Average Sunday attendance was over two hundred. Yet, they had only a handful of children coming to their church and could not seem to get a youth group going. Ironically, there was a basketball hoop in the back-parking lot, virtually unused. (Apparently, a former member had donated it a number of years earlier, but it had never been put to good use.) During this time period a new driver was assigned the church, as he took on the garbage pick-up schedule in that neighborhood. It was a well to do area, so he was scheduled to pick up trash there twice a week, Monday mornings and Thursday afternoons. He noticed the basketball hoop the first Monday. On Wednesday, he decided to stop and have his lunch in the church parking lot, after he picked up the trash, as this was his last stop. He again noticed the basketball hoop, as he looked at it, memories of his youth emerged. The following week he had stashed a basketball in the cab of his truck and on Wednesday afternoon when he stopped for lunch – he got out and tossed a few through the hoop. He started doing this each week. After a time, a local teen saw what he was doing and came over to watch. The truck driver asked the youth if he wanted to give it a try.

And thus, it began.

As the weeks went by one teen turned to two, then three and before he knew it… there was six or eight, a number which continued to grow. The pastor who told me this story, mussed as to how this garbage truck driver knew more about developing an effective youth group, then he himself did. Key, to the story, is appreciating the truck driver’s attitude. He didn’t go around sulking because he was collecting trash. Rather he was living into the real-life opportunities and using his simple skill, the gift of sharing his life with those he met, in this case some teenagers who were looking for something to do.

The Senior Pastor and I, in follow-up, talked about things we might do. I suggested we have an outing inviting the small group of youth we had… to bring their friends, and we would pay their way. We went to a miniature golf course type place with bumper cars as well. It was a success. Then they wanted to go roller skating. I had never been. But I was willing to try. It was a process, but I caught on and so did our youth gatherings. When I left there was a youth group that met regularly. Yes, it is all in the attitude we take and the energy we put into it. There are always opportunities, if we can grasp the right approach, the right attitude and seek to live into it. Everything I tried with the youth did not work… like the time I tried a guided meditation… a precarious faith-walk… well, those are stories for another day. One thing I did learn, sometimes we need to push ourselves to see what hidden skills we may have.

Our scripture tells us: “Now there are varieties of gifts;” /1 Corinthians 12:4/ “And there are varieties of services;” /1 Corinthians 12:5/ “And there are varieties of activities.” /1 Corinthians 12:6/ What we need to remember is that in using our gifts which God gave us, we shall be led to services which we can perform and activities we can engage in – as we continue our journeys of faith, following the pathway set before us by God! “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” /1 Corinthians 12:7/ The common good, does not indulge in greed, jealousy or envy. Rather, we are meant to use our gifts to expand the love of God to others, through acts of kindness, compassion and good will! The common good comes before our need to isolate or pull away because of our fear we don’t have the gifts, the skills or the wherewithal to contribute! We must be willing to take a risk… realizing that “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” /1 Corinthians 12:12/ Which means we need to pull together, for we are as one! It takes all of us to be the body of the Riviera United Church of Christ!

If, we are to move into the future, serving the people of God, then we shall need to use all of our gifts! It shall take all of us to keep this church viable, for the common good of the United Church of Christ, serving the people of Palm Bay and beyond! As we seek a “New Beginning” in this new time, we all need to continue using the gifts God has given us! What is your gift? What will you give? What talent or aptitude do you possess that you can use, and use in a new way, to assist this church, your church. I say this especially to our members and our long-standing church friends. And I say to all whom are visiting us this day or listening to this message on Facebook or on our Website: If you are looking for a loving, friendly, and a Christ centered community to worship with and journey in faith with, you have found it! We openly welcome you! Won’t you come and join with us, you are welcome here!

Amen.

 

 

“Confirmed & Verified”

Matthew 3:1-17, January 13th, 2019

Sermon by pastor Tim Woodard


 

Read Statement of Faith

“Hear now these words from the gospel according to Matthew, chapter three, verses one thru seventeen.”

Matthew 3.1-17

1 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” 4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 3 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

“Having heard the account of John the Baptist and how he was compelled to baptize Jesus, let us now reflect on its meaning to us today.”

 

“Confirmed & Verified”

The reference to “in those days” suggests many things. One, is of course, that this writing is about what was happening at that time period. Which raises an immediate question! Is this conversation applicable to our time period? The answer is a resounding, ‘Yes!’ I do not think it would be much of a stretch to consider the words of John the Baptist in the present time. Nor is the ‘Good News’ of God’s pronouncement upon Jesus’ baptism confined to the ancient times of John the Baptist! As the central theme of John’s discourse is the need for repentance, one can easily draw a comparison to our need in our time for some ‘behavior modifications’ at many levels of society throughout the world! It is reasonable to consider the real possibility that we whom live in the Twenty-First Century could use a few improvements and changes here and there. It seems that most people believe other people are doing things wrong. Furthermore, every time we point at someone else, we leave open the high possibility that we ourselves could use a bit of correction as well!

Our lesson begins with a call for repentance. There is an urgency in the proclamation, as the Baptizer was anxious for people to get ready, for the coming kingdom of heaven was near. Now, we know that this scene took place approximately two thousand years ago! It is easy, therefore, to get confused with this reference as many would say: ‘well heavens not here yet!’ Despite that, the rhetorical remark was speaking to the event of the coming of the Holy One, the Messiah was near at hand; setting the stage for Jesus to appear at the river Jordan. John goes on – strongly expounding and expanding his message when (he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism. He said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance.”) /Matthew 3:7&8/ One can only conclude that John had some concern about the religious leaders having a ‘true’ desire to be cleansed of their wrong doing. Rather, he infers that they are still doing wrong! This reference brings up the chasm, the rift, the clear split between the leaders of the people and those such as the Baptizer whom were trying to prepare the people for a better time! A time when God would send the Messiah to right the wrongs within their realm, their monarchy!

Thus, the stage has been set for the appearance of Jesus upon the scene. For John the Baptist’s work was to bring us to this point of preparation. Clearly inferring with his remarks, written down for our examination, to the meaning of repentance and baptism at this point in history. Baptism was a cleansing, but, as we heard his remarks against the Pharisees and Sadducees, cleansing can only be effective if the individual seeking it is truly wanting to repent and atone, as-well-as being remorseful, thereby asking for forgiveness. If one is not ready to do so, then the baptismal act of cleansing was and is without merit! Before one can be forgiven and cleansed, it is essential to acknowledge one’s wrongs, accepting that something needs to change, or be given up, in order to make room for something new to take its place. It is wrong thinking to believe that asking for a sin to be removed is without responsibility. A response is necessary for cleansing to be affective.

Consider this analogy. A child goes out to play and while outside sees a big mud pile leading up to the side of the porch where the child’s mom has placed two pies. One is a freshly baked apple pie destined for the pot luck dinner at the church scheduled for that evening. The other is a cherry pie, also freshly baked, which mother has baked to give to the new neighbors, whom just moved in last week, as a house warming gift. The child knows this, yet, oblivious, and without regard to the consequences over getting his fresh outfit all muddy, as his mom has him ready for the activities to come, he climbs up the side of the porch to have a closer look. Looking leads to smelling, which pushes him to sampling: first the apple then also the cherry pie. Then he retreats, his face smeared with the evidence of his wrong doing. Tracking mud into the house with his hands still splattered with fresh pie drippings, thus causing his mother to discover her pies have been violated, she turns to her son, admonishing his for his bad deed. He ask’s for forgiveness yet has no desire to not do it again – when the opportunity arises! In such a case, the coming bath, while his cloths are washed, has not cleansed his naughty desire. He will get muddy again and endeavor to snatch the next fresh pie, if his attitude is not transformed!

Transformation is the heart of repentance. When one desires to be changed and to begin living in the sun light of good deeds, rather than in the deceitful darkness of wrong doings, then the individual is ready to be cleansed! Only God can confirm when one is truly ready. The ‘John the Baptists’ of the world, can only go through the motions of baptism, leaving the true transformation to be completed by the grace and mercy of God. John knew this as he speaks of the coming of Jesus whom is more powerful than himself. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” /Matthew 3:11/ John the Baptist, he knew that the baptism he used, the custom of cleansing and purification did not go deep enough to fully transform those who came to him. He knew that – that would only come with the Holy Spirit and fire. Pastor Nancy Rockwell explains for us what this phrase, this saying using the reference to ‘fire’ means. “The unquenchable fire, which is of God and is God, is not hellfire, but the fire of redemption through re-creation.” /Nancy Rockwell/ Recreation, as Nancy speaks of, is a rebirth, and this is of course – transformation! This is what is needed in the lives of those of us whom seek to give up our wrong behaviors and attitudes! Ultimately, this is what John the Baptist was striving to prepare us for!

I am ready to talk about how Jesus was baptized, are you? But first, we need to be ready – for this is more than just a history lesson. The scriptures were written to speak to us. They were intended to transcend the expanse of time and continue to be relevant to ‘we’ who now seek to glean its message. “What would it look like if you and I were to actually ‘practice the drill’ John pushes us to now?” /Janet H. Hunt/ The theologian, Janet Hunt, whom posed this question, she is pushing us to grapple with the implication for each one of us – personally. A preacher, like myself, like John the Baptist, we can only put the message out there. It has no value to you unless you now tackle and struggle with it, thereby seizing its meaning in your life. Preachers, pastors, know not what is in your heart. Sure, there are often signs, but only you, all of us who are hearing this message, we are the only ones whom can apply its meaning – thereby allowing the Spirit of the Living God to transform and change us from the inside out!

Even the man Jesus, who came to be baptized at the river that day, he desired to be baptized, he was ready to be fully immersed into his destiny as the ‘Messianic One’ – ‘The Son of God’. Jesus insisted, despite John’s hesitation, as he had recognized that Jesus was indeed the Chosen one by God. Jesus confirmed this even as he was baptized. What occurs as Jesus is baptized is nothing short of mystical. (And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”) /Matthew 3:16 & 17/ The voice indeed confirmed and verified all which John the Baptist believed that day. Will our reading of this passage today, do that for each of us? That is something each one of us must decide for ourselves.

We may wish to ponder this question as we also may be questioning whether biblical events, like this one we are discussing, occurred exactly as transcribed. Having struggled with this question myself, I now conclude that the question misses the mark. We need to be cautious here, as we do not want our doubts to take us away from the power of our traditions, nor the sacredness of our theology as Christians. Yet, at the same time we must honor our ability, as adults, to engage in cognizant reasoning and our ability to think for ourselves. So, let’s do that – one lesson at a time!

The author of the accounts contained in the gospel according to Matthew, he is striving to help us understand what was going on at the time of John the Baptist as Jesus prepared to begin his ministry. Our writer wanted us to know something mystical happened as Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. It is our responsibility to take the Spirit of this lesson to heart! The early Christians, whom Matthew represents, came to believe that this is how it began. Let us allow the work of the Living Spirit, to help us now, to take this message as it was intended!

The Baptizer, John, confirmed that the power of God was at hand! Those that witnessed the events that day brought Matthew to write it down in this manner. Surely, he has caught the rhythm, the very heart, the Spirit of what occurred that day. As did the authors of the Gospel accounts contained in the writings attributed to Mark, Luke and John, for they concurred – as they wrote in like fashion! John the Baptist was preparing us for the ministry of Jesus, with his proclamations to cleanse ourselves through repentance and to be baptized. We know that Jesus spoke of righteousness many times, not just at his baptism. Jesus was a man whom biblical history records as blameless, and he was an honest man.

As we prepare to continue to review and examine his life and most certainly his ministry, we shall frequently look to the examples of how he lived; as-well-as his many teachings and his understandings of how we are to comprehend and realize our place within the kingdom of heaven.  Let us pray, we shall not miss the Spirit of all that is offered to us as we continue to explore the Bible.

Amen.

 

“Honored & Threatened”

Matthew 2:1-15, January 6th, 2019

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


 

 

“Hear now these words as recorded in the gospel according to Matthew, chapter two, verses one thru fifteen.”

Matthew 2:1-15

1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?  For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”

3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.

5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.

8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.

10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.

11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage.  Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

“Having listened to this scripture lesson let us reflect on its meaning and how we can use this lesson in our present time.”

 

“Honored & Threatened”

Let us now reflect on these two occurrences: first the coming of the three wise men from the East; secondly Herod’s seeking the child to destroy him!  I know, it seems conflicted to mix overwhelming joy with the harshness of humankind’s darker side, that of fear, jealousy and greed; a looming shadow of the evil that lurks within the very nature of our humanness!  Yet, we must be reminded that our excitement and joy over the birth of the Christ Child, so long, long ago, is just that, a memory.  The celebration of Christ’s birth was just that, an annual celebration.  Today, we are living in the Twenty-First Century, a century filled with human treachery and hatred, deceit and betrayal.  Therefore, it is important that we spend time each week, studying and reflecting on the historical accountings of what occurred so long ago.  For surely, history continues to repeat itself, as history is driven by human nature and that has not really changed, all that much, over the course of the ages.  Our lesson this morning begins with the sojourn of the wise men, as they followed the rising of a star in the sky.  It leads them first to Jerusalem where they ask for information, ultimately from King Herod.  The king was frightened of the ancient prophesy, as the scriptures foretold of the coming Messiah, the rising of a ‘new’ king.  However, the king sends the wise men to Bethlehem, where the child is to be born.  But Herod has a hidden agenda – with evil intent.

Let us first look more closely at the significance of our tradition regarding the three wise men, whom follow a star to where Jesus is said to be born.  They, like us, were drawn to the prophesy that out of Bethlehem would rise a new king in Bethlehem of Judea, a Messiah, whom would once again free them from their oppressors.  The birth of Christ is referred to as Epiphany.  According to definition: “Epiphany is the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi.” (The festival commemorating the Epiphany on January 6; a manifestation of a divine or supernatural being; a moment of sudden revelation or insight.) /Wikipedia/ These three sojourners, these visitors were gentiles, like most of us, they were not of the Hebrew tribe of Israel.  Simply meaning, they, like ourselves, are not Jews.  It is believed that the reference to the gifts had symbolic meaning.  “That the gold was presented to the infant King in token of His royalty; the frankincense in token of His divinity, and the myrrh, of His sufferings;” /Jamieson, Fausset and Brown/

At least one other theologian has written about the gifts of the magi.  “Epiphany – The First Baby Shower” Written by Robb McCoy, whom is quoted as saying: “To a modern reader, the gifts of the Magi seem strange and impractical.  To explain these peculiar gifts, many have placed dubious symbolic meanings on them.  Instead, I feel it much more likely that these gifts were extremely practical.” /Robb McCoy/ He is suggesting that the gifts were meant to be the vehicle by which their pending escape from Herod would depend.  Yes, there is a lot of dialog written about the meaning, the symbolic meaning behind these gifts.  I am sure we could fill this hour just discussing this single point.  However, let us keep it simple.  The writing of this journey of the wise men from the East was meant to add to the celebration of baby Jesus’ birth.  Surely, this is how it is celebrated within our modern understanding of these historical and ancient writings!

Today’s lesson is indeed about celebrating that all humankind, not just the Jewish tribe of Israel, were intended to receive the ‘Good News” of the birth of the Christ Child, the birth of the long-expected Messiah!  Everyone needs a rescuer, a savior of some sort.  Even if we can not fully agree on this definition or the intent of the scriptures foretelling, we all need help in this very real creation we find ourselves journeying within!  The sad irony of our lesson today, is that we still suffer from the human condition, just as surely as King Herod, the Magi, and Jesus along with his parents did.  A respected theologian David Lose, explains it this way.  “And that is what is at the heart of Matthew’s darker, more adult-oriented story of Jesus’ birth: the promise that… this people so mastered by fear that we often do the unthinkable to each other and ourselves… this gaping need that we have and bear that God remedies.” /David Lose, adapted/ It is hard to accept at times, that is, the truth of what is being said here.  Truthfully, if it were not so prevalent in this time in which we live, many of our Churches, Temples and Mosques, they would be empty!  It is our need for the intervention of the Divine Power which keeps us searching for the truth.  It is our hope that peace will one day be a word everyone can experience.  Then, true joy will fill the hearts of all humankind, allowing the love of God to fill our essence, as-well-as our actions, allowing the Light of Christ, God incarnate, to shine throughout the entire population of this place we call Planet Earth, and beyond!  It is then that the concept of “worship” will become so prevalent that the current houses of worship would be too small to house the grateful crowds!

Alan Brehm tells us, “We celebrate Epiphany because it’s a time to remind ourselves that in him (in Christ Jesus) a light has dawned that will never go out; a light of faith, and hope, and joy that shines in all the kinds of darkness that can afflict this world.” /Alan Brehm/ We still need the hope which this celebration offers!  For as many religious leaders, pastors and teachers firmly believe, there are still king Herod’s in this world.  There is still hatred, driven by fear and jealousy running rampant across the continents of the world we live in.  If it were not so, the closing references in our scripture today, would not resonate in our hearts so clearly.  As a youth I never gave it much thought.  Even as a student in Seminary it did not take on the meaning it does today.  But the adult truth is written here for us to look at, reflect upon and talk about.  Because of King Herod’s fear and jealousy of a rising star that pointed to Bethlehem where “a new king of the Jews was to be born;” /Matthew 2:2/ “Where the Messiah was to be born;” /Matthew 2:3/ Jesus and his parents were forced to “flee to Egypt”. /Matthew 2:13/ This scripture lesson is telling us that baby Jesus and his parents were forced to escape the tyranny of the current king by traveling to Egypt; where they lived as migrants, immigrants in a foreign land.

What makes the dawn of Epiphany, as celebrated by Christians, so exciting?  Christ was born in poverty, Christ was forced to leave his place of birth because of tyranny.  As Christians, we believe that God, was born incarnate, personified, embodied and alive in Jesus.  Inferring of course, that in Christ, God, has personally suffered our human pain and anguish, thereby, God, fully understands our human predicament!  In the larger world, this is the most misunderstood and disputed point of Christianity.  This is true, mainly, because we all have different views of who and what our God is.  One way to simplify this and not get all twisted up in the technical details, which have been disputed since Jesus’s birth, is to look to the few absolutes which most religious folks agree upon in principle.  There is only one God Head, manifested, displayed and revealed in different ways to us humans.  If we start here, there is hope that we can all remain civil as we discuss what our understanding of the Holy One is all about!  If we hold our biases at bay, perhaps we will hear what others are saying to us and they then may listen to us.  What a concept, huh?!

The season of Advent, the celebration of Christ’s birth, and the epiphany by which Christ came to save all of humankind, including all of us non-Jews; exciting isn’t it!  This creates a question, “How do you share (your) enthusiasm (as you grasp this reality!)?”  /Christopher Burkett/ (If you are passionate about your love for God, like was celebrated on Christmas Day; if your spirit is on ‘fire’ for the love of the uniqueness of this your church, then share this with everyone you know: friends, relatives, neighbors and your buddies on Facebook and other methods of social media!)  “I mean, (are you now ready to) share (this special) something (which) really stirs you, heart and soul, with someone who doesn’t share your keenness, (your zeal)?” /Christopher Burkett/ Let us allow today to be, the beginning, of something truly new, a ‘New Beginning!’  Let us be challenged this day to be part of the forward movement of God’s abundant love, sharing this with others, rather than keeping it a secret locked deep in our hearts!  This is how we honor the gift of Christ and the Living Spirit of God in our lives! This is how we fight tyranny and evil.

Amen.

Pastor’s Letter January 2019


 

The new year is upon us, promising a “New Beginning!”  Let us pray that together, we shall find new ways to do old things, better than we have ever done them before!  We have just experienced the epiphany of new insights into who Jesus, the Christ Child, represents for us in the realm of the Devine.  Therefore, now let us strive to renew and refresh how we respond to the movement of the Living Spirit of God – in our lives!  The year 2018 is behind us and we cannot relive or redo any part of it.  Yet, 2018’s history awaits our reflections as, we can surely learn something from what has and has not been done in the past year.  History is a great tool for learning, learning what has worked and what has not or at the best has stopped working.  This is true in our churches, our homes and in our personal lives.  Likewise, it can be carried into the larger world picture and narrative in which we live.

This new year, and each month with in it, each day as well, but most importantly, the moment we now live within, offers us a new opportunity to fully be what our Creator has envisioned for us to be!  It is our personal responsibility to be faithful as we work to uncover the truth of who we are and what we are capable of being.  As we do so, we need to be reminded that the Spirit of the Devine is always available to us, all we need to do, is take a moment and breath in the fullness of the Holy One’s Loving Spirt and be renewed in the fullness of God’s love.  As we do this, let us let go of all that holds us back from accepting the Living Spirit’s insight and inspiration.  Ultimately, it is only our humanness that separates us from the fullness of God’s presence in our lives.

With a willing heart, we can let go and let God be God in our lives.  When we do this, each day shall be a new opportunity to fully live as the Children of God we are meant to be!  Today, is a “New Beginning!”  Let us cherish it and look, taste, feel and hear, everything in a fresh new way!  The Spirit of Creation is with us and awaits our first new steps… as we now go forth into the beginning of a new day!  “May the Spirit be with you.”

Pastor Tim Woodard