“The Older Brother”

Luke 15:11-32, March 31st, 2019

Sermon by our Guest Preacher

Rev. Winston Matafwali

Visiting us from Kitwe, Zambia, Africa


 

 

Luke 15:11-32

11 Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe – the best one – and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. 25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

Amen

 

“The Invitation”

Isaiah 55:1-13, March 24th, 2019

Sermon by pastor Tim Woodard

Third Sunday of Lent


 

 

“Listen to the words of the Prophet Isaiah, chapter 55, verses one thru thirteen.”

Isaiah 55:1-13

1 Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?  Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.

3 Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.  I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.

4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.

5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

6 Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near;

7 let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

12 For you shall go out in joy and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

“Having heard the words of invitation from the Prophet Isaiah, let us take a moment to consider how they reach out to us in modern time.”

 

“The Invitation”

These past weeks an invitation has been extended to all those whom want to be a part of the voice, the voice which shall shape this congregation as we journey into the future.  The invitation is that of the character of the invitation from the prophet Isaiah.  An invitation means you have been invited to partake of what has been prepared for you!  How many times in our lives have we accepted an invitation to a banquet or a feast and have been thrilled that we did!?  Yet, how many other times have we wavered and been undecided as to whether we ought to take the time out, of our busy schedules, to go to yet another function.  When we make such choices, we shall never be quite sure what we may have declined and not have been a part of.  The sceptic, the doubter within us shall turn down many invitations.  Perhaps this is prudent, especially, given the time in which we now live.  Not all is as it seems.  Yet, what of the optimism we cherish – as we look for the good in all things and hope for the best in all situations.  Every invitation has an unknown and each has a potential for something new.  How does one choose?  Why risk it, some shall say.  Others will reject even the best of ivitations prior to investigation!  The question, one needs to ask, is when to say yes and when to say no.

 

If you call my cell phone, and I do not have your phone number in my contact list, I probably will not answer.  Perhaps, if I call yours you might do the same.  I will return your call, if you leave a message and your phone number, and give me a plausible reason to return the call.  I suspect you would do the same.  If you text me, I will certainly will read your message, then decide how to respond.  Those of us who text, are quite comfortable with this means of communication.  If you send me an e-mail, I will open it, only if I know who you are.  In making such choices, now and then I miss a call, or a message that I really wanted to take.  Now and then I miss an opportunity.  Most of us communicate with each other in the manner in which we are most comfortable and have the best results with.  There is always the Post Office, takes a bit longer, but most of us still use it, now and then.  So, what were the best means of communications way back in the time of the Prophet Isaiah?

The Reverend Brent A. Strawn, Professor of Old Testament, who has taught classes, at Rutgers University and Asbury Theological Seminary, as-well-as at Princeton Theological Seminary and has even taught as a visiting professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, takes us back to that time period.  “So, back to the beginning: “Hey, you!  Come buy and eat!  No money necessary!”  It doesn’t need to be the year 600 B.C., before the time of Christ, for this to be an enhancing invitation!  In a reflection by the theologian Kate Matthews we are reminded that “This prophet, named Isaiah, knows that the people are hungry for a message of hope.”  As he speaks to the displaced people of Israel, he offers them that hope.  This need for hope has not dwindled in our own time.  As a preacher, I hope you listen long enough to hear the message.  As the listener, you are hopeful, I will get to the point before lunch.  The homeless man or woman hopes their luck will change.  The cancer patient hopes the next treatment will rid their body of their cancer.  The student hovering under a desk prays the gunmen will not find them.  The grandmother, sitting in her favorite pew, at the Synagogue or Mosque, hopes the unthinkable will end!

Hope is something we all need or will at some point in our lives.  Isaiah is inviting his listeners to consider that hope can be found in the invitation which he offers.  A closer relationship with the “The Holy One.”  To many during his time – that was a hard choice being presented – as they had been overrun in battle by the Babylonians and had been sent to Babylon in exile.  Their spirits had been broken.  This is why the Prophet uses such an uplifting approach as he tries to ‘instill’ a new message in the hearts of his people.  Using commonly understood language of hunger and thirst, offering nourishment at no cost.  Mahatma Gandhi once said: “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”  In one commentary it is explained in this manner.  “Here is a gracious offer of pardon, and peace, and of all happiness.  It shall not be in vain to seek God, now his word is calling to us, and his Spirit is striving with us.”  The prophet proclaims for all to hear, “Seek God, for the Holy One is near!” /Matthew Henry’s Commentary/

Have you ever headed off on a long walk in the hot Florida sun, and realized you forgot to bring water with you?  Or you did, but at the last rest stop you set it down, then left without it.  Its importance begins to increase as your thirst builds and builds!  The words of caution begin to replay in your head.  You begin to realize the journey you are on has altered, simply because of the need for nourishment.  To ignore your thirst is dangerous, so you give in, you surrender to the need to change your priorities and rethink what your next step shall be.  If you then, suddenly stumbled onto a vendor offering free water, would you not stop and partake?  Of course, you would.  This is exactly what the Prophet Isaiah was counting on, as he lavishly and poetically called out to the people.  He had their attention and thus he proclaimed his message!

Today, believe it or not, is already the third Sunday in Lent!  Reverend Kate Matthews, during her years as Dean of the Amistad Chapel, worked to instill in her brothers and sisters within the United Church of Christ and beyond, words to build inspiration and hope.  Her commentaries still feed many pastors seeking to instill the same in those they speak to.  She speaks to us today about what we may or may not be trying to accomplish as we journey through Lent!  She tells us “Many of us may be attempting, with varying degrees of success, one kind of Lenten discipline or another, to learn to act and think in new ways that will transform not just our lives but the world around us as well.  It’s hard work, and it requires persistence.”  Each of us view the process of moving through Lent from various approaches and with differing attitudes.  What is yours?  Are you taking this time to reflect on your faith journey?   Are you making an extra effort to strengthen your relations with God?  Are you, perhaps, praying a little longer each day or reading a new devotional book or preparing to undertake a new approach to study the scriptures – as you journey on?  There are many roadways which can lead to renewal or transformation.  Change can be good, good for you and good for those around you.

“Maybe the point of Lent is for us to adjust our sights so that we at least understand what it is we ought to hunger for, or in fact what we do hunger and thirst for, in our deepest being: justice, mercy, peace, healing, acceptance, love.”  This reflection written by Kate Matthews, encourages us to allow ourselves to consider altering our view as we reconsider what aspects of our ministry we need to strengthen.  We shall need to do this as we consider our weaknesses, as-well-as our strengths, as we look toward the future.  Lent is the perfect time for this process, as we spend time continuing to reinforce our commitment to follow in the example of the “Holy One,” “The Long Awaited One.”  Isaiah’s hope ‘proclamation’ is founded on the ancient understanding that God would send the “Anointed One,” the “Messiah” to save the people.  From our modern understanding and perspective that is Jesus, the Christ Child, The Son of God, the Son of Man.

As we reflect for a moment on this “New Beginnings” process we have embarked upon, I pray we will carefully examine the inventory of things we as a church family possess.  Some things we will see as precious.    Perhaps other aspects of who we are – you will find needs closer scrutiny.  This process could raise up new possibilities which you will get excited about and you may wish to pursue!  It’s a process to be sure.  As you enter into this process consider how, over the years, you, like me and many others, have needed to move from one home to another.  If you began in a smaller home, you perhaps needed to buy more furnishings for your new location.  Then again if you were moving from a larger home, especially if it was one which had become underused, as the children had all moved out, you needed to downsize.  If you are currently getting ready to do either one or the other of these contrasting scenarios, you probably are having some concerns and/or reservations.  I think we all have, so know that you are not alone.  Whatever choices or decisions you and others make, be sure that your thoughts and concerns are expressed; and be sure that you are heard!  Conversely, be sure you also listen to the thoughts and concerns of others.  This is how a process evolves: one thought, one discussion at a time.

The cycles of life are much like the cycles of a faith journey.  There shall be some joyful moments and some ‘earthier’ harder moments to contend with.  When those low points come our way, we all need someone like Isaiah to remind us of the new things yet to come.  The new opportunities, the new joys and celebrations yet to be!  Let us not miss out.  For the future beckons us to come forth with anticipation and an expectation that God ‘will be with us every step of the way’ and around every corner we must turn!  Life is in front of us.  The Spirit of God pushes us ever forward!  Listen to the invitation from the mouth of the Prophet Isaiah! “Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.” /Isaiah 515:3/

Amen.

 

 

 

 

“Listen – Paradox & Satire”

Luke 13: 31-35, March 17th, 2019

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

Second Sunday of Lent


 

 

“In today’s reading from the gospel according to Luke, chapter thirteen, verses thirty-one thru thirty-five, we hear Jesus responding with a strongly worded charge to listen!”

Luke 13:31-35

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”  32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.  33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’  34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!  35 See, your house is left to you.  And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

“In our listening, have we heard both paradox and the satire in Jesus’ words?”

 

“Listen – Paradox & Satire”

Oftentimes, when we want to fix something, we first must tear it apart, or totally dismantle it, before we can undertake a repair.  Imagine going to someone for help fixing, say… your computer.  And the technician says to you after examining it: “in order to fix it I will need to remove most of the software, all of your files and totally rearrange everything on it.”  Your response is utter “alarm” at such a drastic solution.  Well, sometimes this is what is needed to make it function properly.  The basic computer itself is still solid, you are told, yet, we just need to go back to the basics and put things back together in a different order based on different priorities.  In the case of a computer we sometimes need to decide if it is to be used primarily for work or play.  Oftentimes it can not be done both ways, despite what the computer salesperson told us.  This line of thinking applies to a vast array of things, not just a simple computer.

Jesus, in-essence, came to the world to fix what was wrong with humankinds understanding of God and what it means to follow in God’s teachings.  In order to do so, some tearing down needed to take place before a new foundation could be laid out.  In order to break through to an empire, a social structure which was built up on godless principles, Jesus relied on a rather harshly worded satire and paradoxical challenge to the doubled edge words of some Pharisees, whom were telling Jesus to “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” /Luke 13: 31b/ Jesus is clearly preparing himself for what is to come and was pointedly telling these religious leaders that no one, not even Herod, with his evil intent would stop Jesus from fulfilling his destiny.  A contributor from “The People’s New Testament,” a Bible Commentary, speaks of the treachery coming from Herod and the religious elite at the time.  “Herod’s most marked characteristic was unscrupulous cunning.  Jesus uses the term to indicate that he understood the scheme.  It was an artifice, (a ploy, a trick) of Herod and the Pharisees to get him away.  Herod was afraid to kill him, (he was afraid of killing Jesus) on account of his popularity.” /B.W. Johnson/

Jesus was rising to the occasion with a bit of sarcasm as the irony, the absurdity of the situation was filled with contradiction.  “Jesus longs to comfort those who would reject him.” /Ruth Anne Reese/ Yet, we know from their hardened hearts that this was not to be.  Clearly it was not only their hearts that were closed, their hearing and eyesight was impaired as well.  Based on the numerous references to the marvelous things Jesus was doing for the people at the time, only a blind closed minded person could have missed it!  Therefore, the harsh sarcasm and paradoxical metaphors Jesus used were appropriate for the situation!  Prayerfully, if we had been there that day, Jesus would not have needed to speak with us in the same manner.

What is important to note, as we ponder the implications of this encounter which Jesus had with these men, is that he encouraged them to Listen!  Implying, of course, they had not been listening.  This is a paradox of course.  For certainly the Pharisees were able to hear.  Listening is not the same as hearing.  You are all hearing my voice, yet how many of you are listening?  That is the question!  They were hearing Jesus, but, apparently, not listening.  Let’s be clear here.  Listening oftentimes implies taking in the audible words of another and understanding the full meaning of what is being said.  If they had been listening with a heart felt understanding of Jesus and his implied love for ‘all’ of the children of God, their response would have been different.  If you are hearing my words today and scoff at what I am saying there are only two possibilities.  It may be my fault, if I am doing a poor job of communicating the message to you.  On the other hand, if your heart is not open to the understanding of who Jesus is, the Son of God, the Messiah, our Savior, then you could possibly miss the point of this discussion.  If that is you, please, don’t scoff at this, at lease consider investigating and looking at the possibility that this could be the day you open your heart to a new level of understanding thereby allowing the love of God to flow into you more abundantly!

When I took on my new position as Senior Pastor twenty-two years ago, back in 1997, in Middletown, New York, it was my first position as the solo, full time Pastor.  I had occasion to call on the pastor who had served the church for a decade some thirty years prior to my being there.  He was retired living in Pennsylvania.  We talked and chatted on the phone for a good while.  One of the key points he wanted to communicate to me was a very basic understanding of ministry.  He said to me: “Tim, always remember, it is all about transformation, transforming lives and helping others.”  I don’t recall exactly how I responded to him, as we talked for a good long time.  Yet, those words ring loud in my heart from time to time.  Over the years I often wonder, did I just hear his words, or did I listen with an open heart to his wise and uplifting words.  I think it was both and.  As we have all learned by now, at least I pray we have learned this, pastors are only human.

We could turn a cold heart to our reading today, saying simply that Jesus was overly harsh with the Pharisees.  Perhaps, you are driven and are trying to dig into the character of the man Jesus and why he was lashing out at those men that day.  Or perhaps, you and I, we could set aside his humanness and look for the deeper meaning contained in the conversation.  The human man, Jesus, had the heart of a pastor.  That may seem like an understatement, but it speaks to the fundamental statement which came from the long-retired pastor I spoke to years ago.  I am sorry I have forgotten his name.  It seems to be lost in that log jam of names in my over crowed memory banks.  But his words about transformation and helping others rings loudly in my heart.  Apparently, I was truly listening to him.  When I speak of someone having the heart of pastor, I am speaking about someone, like Jesus, whom truly cares about others.  If you are able to, if you can step out of your own cocoon which insulates you from the needs of others, then perhaps you may have the heart of a pastor as well.  The real test of course is this: can you selflessly give of yourself for the sake of another.  Are you willing to compassionately seek to help someone transform their lives, without expectation of something in return?

The Pharisees, whom were doing Herod’s bidding, were focused on what Jesus was doing and how he was doing it rather than why.  This line of thought comes from my study of the New Beginnings packet which will be discussed with you at the upcoming meeting after our service on March 31stThey truly are asking us to consider rethinking how we view things.  Especially the what, the how, and most importantly – the why.  What Jesus had managed to do as he went about his ministry, while healing the sick, helping the blind to see and the crippled to walk, while raising the dead, was draw vast crowds to come hear and see him.  Those crowds scared old King Herod!  How did Jesus excite the crowds?  He did it with his charismatic personality for sure, but he also did it through his humble manner of offering to everyone his selfless concern for their wellbeing.  Jesus was sharing the love of God freely with all whom came to see and hear him.  All this disturbed the religious elite because they were more concerned with their own wellbeing than with the needs of their people, whom they were charged with caring for.  Because of their selfishness they had missed the ‘why’ of what Jesus was doing.  They were looking at the whole story from the wrong point of view!

If we step back from this one moment in the ministry of Jesus, we may be able to get a better perspective of the ministry of Jesus, which we are called to emulate!  Once we understand why Jesus did what he did, everything becomes crystal clear!  This clarity shifts all of the pictures, the choices, and decisions, which stem from a perspective of how and what we do!  We are talking about transformation!  We are talking about changing lives.  We are talking about reaching out and helping others! Jesus wasn’t about getting into a negative debate with a couple of religious leaders.  What Jesus was about that day was not driven by the structure of the Temple or the prestige of his position, nor was he driven by worldly things like a fancy home or ornate robes. If we look to the teachings of Jesus and step back and carefully look at the full ministry of Jesus, we will see an entirely different picture.  Jesus was basically, tell those Pharisees that he was too busy doing what he needed to get done to worry about King Herod.

Today, is the second Sunday in Lent.  Easter is a month away.  What we are called to do during Lent is to reclaim our understanding of what Jesus is all about!  What was his mission?  What then, is our mission?  What has God called us to be and to do?  What is our focus?  What ought our focus to be?  If we truly are disciples of Christ, then his mission needs to be ours.  In our tradition and understanding of being disciples, we are all called to follow in the example of Jesus and thus we are all called to the priesthood of all believers.  A few weeks back we read from the gospel of Luke when Jesus opened the scroll containing the writings of the prophet Isaiah.  After he finished the reading; Then Jesus began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” /Isaiah 4:21/ Thus Jesus has told us this is his ministry, his mission.  “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;” /Isaiah 61:1-11/ In Jesus’ footsteps we are called to follow; this is why we are here.

Amen.

“Jesus, the Man – Tempted”

Luke 4: 1-13, March 10th, 2019

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


 

First Sunday of Lent & Read Statement of Faith

 “Hear now the accounting surrounding the temptations of Jesus, from the gospel of Luke, chapter four, verses one thru thirteen.”

Luke 4:1-13

1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” 5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11 and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Having heard how Jesus, was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, let us consider how this sheds light on our human challenges.”

 

“Jesus, the Man – Tempted.”

On Tuesday mornings, in the solitude of my office at home, I write out our weekly discussion regarding the scripture lesson I have chosen for our reflection each Sunday; commonly referred to as ‘writing a sermon’. Every time I do this, even though I passionately love to preach, I struggle with getting started writing on many a Tuesday morning. Being it is the first Sunday in Lent, I have this need to confess to you one of my temptations. As I turn on my computer and bring up the screen that contains my sermon topic and the lesson which is the subject, yet, as I look at the remaining blank pages… I must confess, I often-times would rather go for a walk or have yet, another cup of coffee. This past Tuesday, I pushed myself to at least write my monthly newsletter, which I did do. It is a short little document. But the sermon was yet undone, the first line yet to be written. I wandered about the house, gazing out the back window, when I noticed a little gecko, a lizard, stuck between the screen and the window. I was tempted to do nothing. I mussed that I needed to get back to work. I knew I ought to get back to the computer and start writing, but, I just couldn’t. So, I set aside my responsibilities for a bit and went outside, to remove the screen, not as easy as it sounds. A half hour later the little lizard scampered away. Sometimes, it is the distractions that are more important than our carefully outlined list of things we needed to get done.

Wesley White in his writing about “A place of conversation regarding Progressive Christianity,” speaks about ‘opportune times’. “O how many opportune times there are for compromising just a bit on matters of expansive love, specific justice, and desired peace.” “Opportunities come our way, every day; the question, therefore, is how often do we stop and interrupt our well-planned activity or task, and respond?” My quest to save one little lizard was about me stopping what I had planned and doing something for one of God’s creatures. This was a sort of training exercise, as there will be many opportunities to help others. Perhaps next time it will be a family in need who can only stop by the church late on a Monday or Wednesday afternoon, long after I would rather have been headed home for supper. Helping others is often inconvenient. How do we make the choice to interrupt our schedules to do something for someone else? Some friends of mine often tell me to P. P., Pause and Pray. When I stop and pray even a short prayer, allowing God to open my heart, the answer is usually obvious. When you next encounter a moment, a situation or a person who could use your help, remember to pause and pray, considering how this may be the real reason God sent you this way today.

Another temptation many of us have, when opportunities knock on our door, is to say we are not capably of helping. Again, we need to pause and pray, asking God for the willingness to at least try, to see what we can do. Sometimes we will be surprised. Consequently, before these moments come our way, we need to take time to reflect and consider what abilities and resources we do possess. Fr. Gerry Pierse tells us “If we know where our strong points are, we will also know where our weaknesses lie.” Do you know where your weaknesses are? Most of us probably do and then we give up because we believe we can’t help – because of our weakness. When we do this, we are giving up before we actually-try. Sure, it’s good to know our own weaknesses, but we need to also consider our strengths our strong points. Every one of us has a strong point! My friend, he had a stroke over seven years ago. He drags half his body with him where ever he goes. Sometimes, he stutters when he speaks. But I got to tell you he has a keen understanding of life and he is the world’s best listener. When I dump my troubles on him, he listens and then speaks from his heart. When I am up too high, he can bring me back down until I am right sized. When I am taking myself too seriously, he has a way of making me humble. When I am feeling sorry for myself, he limps over to me and says: “It’s all good.” As I look at him with his up-lifting positive attitude I again realize how abundant my life truly is.

Pastor Edward F. Markquart speaks about human weakness. “Each person has points of vulnerability to the power of evil.” It is important that we as individuals acknowledge this truth for ourselves. Things that tempt me, perhaps won’t temp you and the reverse is true. Your failing isn’t mine. Some of us can’t stop from eating too much milk chocolate, even when we know we ought not! Others of us want for yet another new pair of shoes, even though we still have several pairs we barely wear at all. But-still, we go out and buy yet another pair, even though doing so puts another strain on our already stretched budget. Somethings are such powerful temptations that when we succumb to them, we will do real harm to ourselves and others. Perhaps you need help overcoming such temptations. If that is you, seek the help you need. Talk to a friend or loved one or consider talking to your spiritual advisor or pastor.

One theologian, named Alan Brehm speaks about how important our experiences are. “We can only learn by experience that God brings surprising good out of even the worst experiences of life. We can only develop a heart of trust and eyes of faith when we look back in hindsight.” Have you become willing along your journey, to look to your own past and learn from what is there for you to examine and discern and understand? We are a diverse group when we consider our range of experiences. Pastor Jim, our Pastor Emeritus, is having a family birthday party this next Saturday, the 16th. He will be celebrating his one hundred and third birthday. Dear Beth, you are a mere ninety-nine and half years of age. And a number of our congregation are ninety and above. Your experiences along the way contain a library of knowledge which offer those of us whom listen to you an invaluable volume of wisdom and knowledge. Us younger baby-boomers have traveled a long way also and have picked up a few bits of gems as well. Likewise, Millennials and the X generation are trying to bring us older folks into the age of high technology and amazing opportunities for communications with others. We can learn so much from one another. Our own experiences are a treasure, the bad moments and the difficult situations as-well-as the good times. Let us strive to trust, let us open our hearts to one another.

Nancy Rockwell in her writing entitled “The Bite in the Apple” speaks to us of love. “Purity of heart, such as Jesus maintained in himself, requires us to love God and love the people, to serve God and to serve the people, to praise God and praise the people.” Who among us has learned how to do this, all the time, some of the time or at least now and then? As we begin our reflection process from the assessment of our church from the ‘New Beginnings’ program, we may want to look at these words carefully. Loving God and the people, serving God and the people. Wow! This is a lot to ask isn’t it? It sure is tempting to just set this aside and say, ‘we do enough already!’ Reading about Jesus’ temptations as we look to the accounting, they are overwhelming, are they not! I invite you to reread the temptation account. Each temptation was asking Jesus to think of himself first and himself only. The devil offered food and water to quench Jesus’ hunger and thirst for himself, he was offered power over kingdoms, all that was required was for Jesus to worship evil rather than good. When it is all about, I, rather than about, you, or us, something is wrong! If we only think of ourselves, we become isolated from everything and everyone else. This is true at every level of life. The challenge facing us, facing you and me and all of society, is to look at the bigger picture. The world is not revolving around us. Rather, we are part of the whole and we revolve around the Son (sun.) Freedom from our temptations comes… when we are willing to realize that we are not in charge! We are the children of God, God is in charge, whether we like it or not!

“The platform of Jesus’ mission and the content of his call to discipleship are filled with God’s passion for the outcast, the poor, the oppressed, and the lost.” David L. Tiede, puts these words out there for us to reflect on as we consider the temptations in our own lives. What is your passion? Is it line with Jesus’ passion? Is it centered around that illusive, I, me, myself and I! The example of Jesus was centered around serving others. His life was lived in humble poverty and he suffered, forsaking his own needs for the greater good of all humanity! Yes, we all have temptations and some of them we are passionate about and dearly attached to! We all know how hard it is to set somethings aside, especially when we are passionate about them in our own lives. As we journey through Lent, as we review who we are and how we fit into the mold of a true follower of Christ, let us keep in mind that our passion needs to be in our relationship with God through Christ. We need to truly desire to follow in the example of the man Jesus and how he lived his life. We also need to study and strive to live into his teachings. As we do this, we may need to let go of some of our passions, which isolate us. In isolation we may give into the temptation to stop reaching out in compassion to help those around us! When we do this we become isolated from our community and ultimately from our God

As we live into our new future, let us take time to ask God to help us in every step we take. Let us pause and pray. Let us ask God to give us strength and courage as we resist the powers of evil. As we do so – we will gain more energy to passionately follow more closely in the pathway God has laid out for us to follow.

Amen.