“Merciful Cleansing”

Psalm 51:1-10, October 21st, 2018

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


 

“Our reading from this morning comes from Psalm 51.  We shall only read the first ten verses, one thru ten.” 

 

Psalm 51: 1-10

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.

5 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

6 You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

 

“Having heard these ancient words, let us open our hearts and minds as we seek out their meaning in our lives today.”

 

 

“Merciful Cleansing”

Confession, it is good for the soul.  Bearing this in mind, I must confess I was horrified when I realized I had picked this Psalm describing the confession of King David for his sinful choices during his reign.  Seems, dear old King David was only human!  David had committed adultery with a woman named Bathsheba.  This happened way, way back in ancient history – before the birth of Christ!  Many of us humans, throughout history and all the way into our current and present time, we have known sinfulness.  Few can proclaim they have never committed a sin in the eyes of God.  The One whom sees all, knows I was forced to learn the practice of confession… early in my own life.  First, there was the candy bar, which I palmed into my pocket as a youngster, when I accompanied my Mom through the checkout counter, at the local grocery store.  (They always have the best chocolate bars right there in plain sight!)  I have also learned we all have our moments of temptation.  From what the scriptures describe for us, Bathsheba, was the temptation which led King David down a path which led us to this Psalm of confession.

Ironically, sin is a subject Christians shy away from, yet the foundation of Christianity is based on Jesus’ ministry of forgiveness.  Personally, when I chose to go to Seminary and become an ordained Christian minister, I responded to questions as to why I was taking this pathway, in the following manner.  I told my friends and acquaintances: “I need to stay close to the source of forgiveness.”  If only my humanness stopped with an illicit candy bar!

The journey of life is a complex voyage and we each must trek this passageway one step, one day at a time.  Each of us, we shall have choices and decisions to make along the way.  There will be temptations to take short cuts as we move ever forward in life.  Our humanness will cause us to look for the easier softer way.  In of itself, this is not a bad thing.  Innovation and new discoveries are often found this way.  Yet, all too often, we humans set aside the basic teachings surrounding the fundamental rights of others, as we trudge along the pathway; straightforward lessons which speak of ‘loving our neighbors as we love ourselves’.  Even in the ancient times of the Old Testament, monarchs and heads of state, such as King David, went against the laws of the Ten Commandments and against the common rules of fair play in civilized societies.  King David was held accountable for his wrong doings, as his sin was the cause of this writing which we have read aloud today.  Surely, these basics still apply in the Twenty-First Century, here in these United States, and most certainly here where we reside!

What is your story?  We each have a story to tell about our journeys.  It is important to tell our stories and equally important to listen to others as well.  Everyone needs to be heard at some point and at some level.  A great many of you have heard my story.  I have made mistakes along the way.  Consequently, I have been held accountable and endeavored to make amends and to learn my lessons.  My mother taught me early in life not to steal candy bars in the grocery store.  What are the early lessons you have learned?  What kind of twists and turns has your pathway led you upon?  What things do you remember doing or saying which you would rather have done differently?  I have heard many personal stories of other folk’s journeys, many more than I can count.  What I have learned is that the situations and circumstances of others is usually different than my own and each differs from another’s.  So, what is your story?  What does your narrative look like?  What have you learned?  Where along the way did you need to stop and reflect about how you could have done something better?  Have you needed to ask for forgiveness?  Humbling isn’t it?  Yet, humility only comes after we experience ego deflation at one level or another.

There are many ways to be led astray or succumb to temptations.  These may cause us to indulge in a desire which ultimately, takes us into that territory of wrong doing.  What is your transgression or indulgence?  Where is it that you have failed to observe and protect the needs and rights of another?  Our tradition as a church, does not set up a process for formal confessions on a regular basis.  Nor am I looking for us to set up such a structure.  Yet, confession is indeed good for the soul.  If your burdened down with something from the past, find someone whom you trust and respect and ask that person if you might talk about what lays so heavy in your heart.  If needed, you can come and talk with me and I am bound to keep your confidence, keeping our conversation confidential.  When you keep a transgression secret its weight can be a burden upon you.  Consequently, it can and often does zap energy from a different element of ones being.  Giving it over to God and sharing that secret burden with at least one other, will ultimately give you ‘new freedom’ and it can ‘lift up’ your spirit.

Psalm 51 is a plea for mercy and absolution from sin.  As we have talked about this scripture lesson, let us bear in mind, that your preacher today and the words of the Psalmist, are not referring to you specifically, but most certainly this lesson refers to humankind in general!  Human kind has been going against the basic guidelines set forth by God, brought to us by way of the hands of Moses in the form of the Ten Commandments, for Centuries!

‘The Psalms are often seen as a mirror of life.’ /author unknown/ If you have seen yourself in this Psalm, then take this opportunity to reflect on it and adjust your life to take in its meaning.  If not, then know that this process is available to you should you ever need it.  Do not allow yourself however, to be caught up in any delusion of your ‘inability’ to get entrapped or hooked up in a misstep or a wrongdoing!  Each one of us, at some time or another, may find ourselves powerless over the lure to cross over into temptation.  This is when we need to cry out to our God for help!  You and me and all our neighbors are only human.  As such we are prone to our human condition.  All of us need the saving grace of God in our lives.

A theologian I frequently quote tells us: “The reality is that we are not the righteous people we think we are.  It’s always easier for us to pay attention to the sins of others – rather than our own sins.  And yet, God’s new covenant of forgiveness makes it clear that we are all sinful…  That’s right, it is God’s love that exposes our sin.  It is God’s ‘abundant mercy,’ that calls forth the recognition ‘I know my transgressions.'” /Alan Brehm/ In the modern world, in which we live, we have come to a point where ‘we have seen ourselves in the mirror’.  We have not only seen our own selves, we have seen others for who and for what they are, as well.  It is our responsibility to acknowledge what we see and what we hear.  Let us not forget that it was the prophet Nathan whom called King David out for his wrongs!  Read the second book of Samuel chapter twelve if you want to hear the full discourse.  Within it you will learn that it was only after David’s confession that Nathan suggests God shall forgive him.  Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”  Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin.” /2 Samuel 12:3/

Let us now consider what we shall take from today’s lesson.  As we do so let me challenge you to take stock of where you are upon life’s journey. Where are you, where are you going from here?  Are you involved in the lives of others whom are all around you?  Or are you focusing primarily upon yourself alone?  The life of a person of God cannot be lived in isolation any more than that of a caretaker whom tries to exist without tending to the needs of those she is called to care for.  When we accept God into our lives we accept the responsibility to join the team of those whom are the caretakers of the kingdom of God here on earth.  We sit in the Almighties creation and therefore, we must take responsibility for our place within it.  To not lend a hand to those in need is a sin of omission.  To not help in correcting the things within our own community, which clearly need repair, is also an oversight we are compelled to correct.  Here in our own church we have things being left undone because someone has not made the effort to lend a hand.  Yes, there are a multitude of things which are being done and done well and with love and care.  Yet, there is so much more we could do.  Are you willing to lend a hand and become a vital part of this your church; giving back some of which you have received?

As we reach the end of our lesson, let us examine the last phrase believed to have come from the mouth of King David as he asked for forgiveness.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” /Psalm 51:10/ ‘Create in me a clean heart,’ what an exalted and admirable request!  When we were but infants our spirits were free, and our hearts were pure.  Along the journey our spirits have become burdened with the weight of life and the baggage of our own misguided choices along the way.  As we continue ever forward asking God for a cleansing, now and then, can only help!  ‘Put a new and right spirit within me!’  How uplifting to be open to asking God for such freedom of spirit!  Yes, indeed yes!  Let us at least take the heart of our lesson and use it to uplift our very spirits as we trudge along this roadway!  King David’s reign as monarch did not end with his confession.  No, he went on to lead his people for many years!  Neither shall our admissions destroy us; rather they shall free us and our very spirits to even greater things for the sake of God’s kingdom here on earth!

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Work for the Lord”

2 Chronicles 15: 2-7, October 14th, 2018

Sermon by Angie Wright


 

 

2 Chronicles 15: 2-7

2 He went out to meet Asa and said to him,

“Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: The Lord is with you, while you are with him.  If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you abandon him, he will abandon you.

3 For a long time Israel was without the true God, and without a teaching priest, and without law;

4 but when in their distress they turned to the Lord, the God of Israel, and sought him, he was found by them.

5 In those times it was not safe for anyone to go or come, for great disturbances afflicted all the inhabitants of the lands.

6 They were broken in pieces, nation against nation and city against city, for God troubled them with every sort of distress.

7 But you, take courage!

Do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded.”

 

“On Eagles’ Wings”

Exodus 19:3-7, October 7th,2018

Sermon by pastor Tim Woodard


 

 

“Hear now the ancient words from the book of Exodus, chapter nineteen, verses three thru seven.”

Exodus 19:3-7

3 Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: 4 You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  5 Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.  Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6 but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.  These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”  7 So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him.

“Having heard these words from the book of Exodus, surrounding the conversation between Moses and God at the time of the writing of the Ten Commandments, let us open our hearts to hearing the depth of their meaning.”

 

“On Eagles’ Wings”

There are songs which have been written about being ‘lifted-up’ by God upon ‘Eagles Wings’!  The point being is through their magnificent wing’s eagles are allowed to soar through the skies!  “I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” /Exodus 19:3-4b/ This imagery is meant to uplift our spirits and the spirits of Moses and those he led out of Egypt, headed for the ‘Promised Lands”.  When an eagle raises up into the air it can escape from would be perils and predators upon the ground.  These words from the book of Exodus are meant to in-capture and portray the image of God as the rescuer, the sovereign and supreme being whom lifted the Israelites out of the bondage of slavery and set them free.

God is saying to us, reminding Moses, that it was God whom had lifted-up the enslaved people of Egypt and set them free!  Then contrasting this with the imagery of a soaring eagle!  When God spoke to Moses about delivering the people of Israel from the peril of their captivity he is reminding Moses, that Almighty God, the Deliverer, expects the people of God to follow in the Covenant they entered-into, when they accepted the outstretched arms of God, to bring them out from the bondage of slavery under the cruel whips and oppression of the Egyptians.  Within this ‘not so subtle’ understated reminder is a request which could be ‘seen as’ a warning as well.  “Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant.” /Exodus 19:5/ If, is a word of many uses, yet in this sentence, it is clearly saying that something shall be bestowed upon the listener, only ‘if’ they do something in return.  In this context, it is being said: “one must keep the covenant,” implying there is and was an agreement that the recipients of this gift of freedom would now need to live into, live up to, their part of the bargain!

Let us be reminded that these delivered, these freed Israelites, where struggling even after having been led out from the bonds of slavery.  The life in the wilderness had its challenges, actually… a great many hardships.  The pounding, burning sands of the scorching desert, the unrelenting heat.  The snakes and scorpions.  There was a scarcity of food and water.  No, they had not yet reached the ‘promised’ land of milk and honey!  Clearly, the Lord our God, was reminding Moses that faith and trust was and is part of the covenant.  At the same time God was reminding Moses, that the reward would be great for those that followed God’s dominion.  “But you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.”  /Exodus 19:6/ “You shall be my treasured possession…” /Exodu19:5b/ Having read the entire passage of scripture surrounding Moses’ encounter with God and the receipt of The Ten Commandments, one can only glean that God was displeased with the unrest among the Israelites and was telling Moses it was time to rein them in!  One could easily surmise that The Ten Commandments were first written for this reason.

Let us take a moment or two to come back into the Twenty-First Century.  First, let me put forth a simple question for each one of us to ponder.  How many times have we woken up in the morning ungrateful for all that God has done for us?  How many times have we forgotten that the mere fact that we have opened our eyes and breathed in air and oxygen, and our body is still functioning, is a gift from God?  Now, we all know that many of us wake up in the morning, filled with anxiety over facing yet another day, because things did not go our way yesterday.  Some of us wake up with physical aches and pains.  Some of us, if not us then perhaps our neighbors, wake up hungry.  Yet, I do believe that there are lots of folks that wake up happy, excited to be alive and bound out of bed ready to face the challenges of the day!  I pray, every morning that will be me!  I also pray, that I have just described you, as well!  The bigger question for us to grapple with is: “how do we find a balance between those great days and those less then good days we must face?”  How do we stay grateful in the midst the in-between times of our lives?

I know that many of us have suffered loses; some more recently than others.  Loss of a parent, or that of a child.  Loss of a pet and beloved friend.  There are so many ways in which we can be pushed off balance through the difficult moments of life.   Things such as our fears, our anger and or our heartaches can knock us off center and disrupt our routines and even our prayer times.  This is not a question… this is the harsh realities of human life.  Mix with this the gift of free will which all of us mortals, us humans, and Mother Nature have, and we are left with the off times, those difficult moments and days along our journeys.  It is easy to simply say: ‘we need to pick ourselves up and get back into the stream of productive useful living,’ yet, that is not always so easy.  However, we do need to shack ourselves a bit, and remember that our God still loves us, and has not forgotten us, nor deserted us!  That is where the strength of our character, our resolve and our deep-rooted faith need to guide us through!

When I get ready for bed at night, this is when I try to slow myself down and take stock of the day before shutting the book on it completely.  This is a good time for me to check in with God, and with myself as I reflect on my day.  I may be a bit tired, but oftentimes my head is still buzzing from the activities of the day.  This would be a great time to remember an image of God uplifting me in times of trouble, doubt or anguish.  This can be challenging, yet in the context of our conversation today, it is something worthy of our effort to do, on a daily basis.  It is a time when I take at least a few minutes to be thankful for all that has gone well in my day.  It is a time of reflection.  No, this is not always easy, as my mind may still be soaring off into yesterday’s issues and trying to solve tomorrow’s problems.  Perhaps this is why my friends and spiritual advisers suggest I ought to take time to meditate every day!  I do, yet my friends still suggest I do so more regularly; suggesting to me this may be how to further slow down my thoughts and allow God to soothe my frazzled nerves.  My point is: that I find this evening ritual helpful, as I seek to center my life around God’s presence in my life.  I share this with you hoping it will be helpful to you and that you will add it to your list of choices for your daily routines.

The question we each need to consider is how we can maintain our gratitude toward God…  in the midst of the changing realities of our lives.  Prayer is also certainly a useful tool to constantly remind oneself of God’s promises to be with us in good times and in bad times.  I often wonder if Moses encouraged those in his care to set aside time everyday to pray.  Surely, life for the Israelites was not easy.  We all need words of encouragement!  The people of Israel and we the people of the Twenty- First Century, we all need words of hope and reminders of the constant love of God throughout the ages.  We also need to be reminded of our end of the agreement, our responsibilities in our relationship with God.  A covenant goes two ways.  We must actively maintain our sense of gratitude if we want God to continued to lift us up, as on the ‘wings of eagles’!  One of the things I have found helpful is to get out into the fresh air; look to the heavens, gazing upon the moon and the stars and marveling at the splendor of Creator’s marvelous works!  Here in Florida, it is so easy to take in an ocean scene or a splendid sunrise or sunset.  When I am bathed in such brilliance and the array of colors which spill upon the heavens and earth itself, it is virtually impossible to not marvel over God’s majestic landscape.  When both my heart and my ears are open it is easy to be filled with gratitude for all which God has given, has gifted to all of humankind.

The ancient tribe of Israel had Moses, The Ten Commandments, The Prophets and the Palmist to guide them.  “You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”  For God will deliver you…and under his wings you will find refuge; God’s faithfulness is a shield and ‘protector’.” /Psalm 91:1-4/   We moderns, we have all of this plus the New Testament writings!   With which we have come to know about the teachings of Jesus, as-well-as being gifted with the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide us along our way.  Indeed, there is so many ways we can draw closer to God’s love… with visions of being ‘lifted-up on the wings of eagles!’

Amen.

 

“Courage”

Esther 7: 1-10, September 30th, 2018

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

 

“Hear now these ancient words which tell of the courage of a woman named Esther.”

Esther 7:1-10

7 So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther.  2 On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther?  It shall be granted you.  And what is your request?  Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.”  3 Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me – that is my petition – and the lives of my people – that is my request.  4 For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated.  If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.”  5 Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?”  6 Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!”  Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.

7 The king rose from the feast in wrath and went into the palace garden, but Haman stayed to beg his life from Queen Esther, for he saw that the king had determined to destroy him.  8 When the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet hall, Haman had thrown himself on the couch where Esther was reclining; and the king said, “Will he even assault the queen in my presence, in my own house?”  As the words left the mouth of the king, they covered Haman’s face.  9 Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.”  And the king said, “Hang him on that.”  10 So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai.  Then the anger of the king abated.

“Having heard the accounting of how Ester found courage to stand up to her enemies, let us prayerfully consider where in our own lives do we need to stand with courage.”

 

“Courage”

The topic of this lesson is courage.  So, what is courage?  Is it something we have, like an attribute which we are born with?  Or is it something we reach down into our gut and muster up on a given occasion? Is it God given?  Or is it born from our humanism?  Most of us have seen the acts of courageous people.  Not all acts of courage end up on the evening news.  Yet, we see courage every day.  Take for instance the courage it takes to get up and read the scripture.  If you have never done this and are nervous about being asked to do so, well, you just need a little courage and you too, can do this… when your ready.  Or, how about the vocalist that can sing a good tune in the shower on Sunday mornings, yet tries to sing softly when the hymns are sung so no one will hear her voice.  Courage, is when you step forward, stand in front of a microphone and speak clearly as you read from the text of the Bible.  Courage is when you stand up in front of a crowd and sing your heart out!  That takes courage.   We can be proud of the group we have here assembled under the leadership of our Music Director.  They have the courage to lead us each Sunday, helping us to openly praise God with music!  Thank you, each one of you!  Without your voices and talents, we would be struggling to worship in the style that we do.

Courage is a word used to describe Police officers and Firefighters when they are preforming their duties.  Men and women in combat are often lifted-up for their courage, their bravery and valor in times of battle.  None of us want to see these men and women harmed or loss their lives for the sake of another, yet they do so every day.  Courage is not always observed by everyone.  Sometimes, it is a person’s nerve and audacity as they push forward with a challenge that has presented itself to them.  It may be observed by only those really close to them.  I hear people say things like: “This took a lot of ‘guts’ to confront that problem, confronting that person head on!”  Now and then we see someone with the ‘mettle’ and the resolve to take on a seemingly impossible task… and do it for the sake of others as much as for themselves.  There have been several stories of such courageousness in the news recently.  These individuals were willing to take on formidable and intimidating circumstances to speak out in the belief it was the right thing to do and it would help others.  No matter how you personally view this… no one can doubt their courage in speaking out as they told their truth!

Let us take a moment to review the story of courage from our scripture lesson today.  Before we grapple further with this challenge let us fully set the stage for our drama.  To grasp the full impact of this story you will need to read the book of Esther from the beginning.  Not now, later when you have some time, it is only ten chapters of captivating discourse.  So, for now, let me give you a short recap of this dramatic event.  The apex, the climax of the story is Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews.  The man Haman had been recently promoted by the king of Persia and was a powerful man.   Haman was a vicious adversary and had become obsessed with planning to destroy all the Jews.  Yet, Mordecai (a Jew) uncovers the conspiracy and persuades Esther to help, telling her of Haman’s plans.  To clarify and open this story further for our review, we need to realize that: “The Jewish people (already) in captivity (in Persia, by the armies of Babylonia around the Fifth Century B.C. Before Christ) were facing execution.  Esther, a Jewish orphan who had become the queen of Persia, realized that she was the only one who could appeal to the king to save her people.  But royal protocol forbade even the queen from approaching the king without an official summons.  (Esther had to contrive a way to get an audience with the King.)  Violating the king’s rules could mean losing her throne, perhaps even her life.”  Esther courageously faced this possibility, and she went to the king.  Esther risked her life for a cause greater than herself.” /Recovery Devotional Bible NIV, page 522/ If not courage, what then?  For something drove Esther to take a risk, risking her position and her life, for the people of her heritage.  She could have chosen to simply allow circumstances to advance, as Haman had planned, and not take such a high-level risk.  Having heard the accounting of how Esther found nerve to stand up to her enemies, let us prayerfully consider where in our own lives do we need to stand with this level of resolve and bravery.

Expanding our discussion, a bit, a member of our congregation had the nerve to take me up on my offer to answer questions about scripture and our faith.  It was asked of me this past week “How do we love loved ones, whom spout hateful rhetoric?”  Jesus teaches us to respect other’s rights and to love others with all our hearts.  How do we do this, while holding onto our own integrity, this is the question?  With tolerance, patience and with a bit of love is the answer; but it may also take courage.  Jesus’ teachings compel us to stand up for the rights of others.  In the same manner we have the right to expect to be treated with respect, especially from our loved ones!  Starting from where the question places us, we can begin by praying, this is always a good place to start.  It may take a lot of resolve, and patience, to respond to hateful rhetoric.  We must be careful not to over simplify our response, yet, at the same time we need not over complicate it either.  Bear in mind that the word ‘rhetoric’ can take on many meanings.  We need to grapple with and be honest with ‘ourselves’ about what the ‘rhetoric’ may mean to the other person.  Perhaps we need to walk in our loved one’s shoes – before we respond at all.  It takes maturity, as well as courage, to consider the other person’s side of an argument.  Sometimes patience is a key ingredient.  Loving another needs to be done with kindness, compassion and with tolerance.  Standing up for our side of a discussion takes nerve and is not for the timid or faint-hearted.  Neither statement is false.  Consequently, when the time is right, we need to respond speaking our truth, surrounding the subject at hand, leaving room for our loved one to respond openly as well.  Bear in mind, we ought not allow ourselves to respond to hatred with hatred.  Always remember that the way we walk, and the way in which we talk, makes a good power of example for others to follow.

Perhaps before we, you and I, before we can come to some closure about the topic of courage today, we need to accept the fact that most of us have been pushed aside, marginalized into a time of exile.  Perhaps not like a refugee, but more like an outcast or an outsider.  Many of us here gathered have experienced this, in some manner or another, in our lives.  If you cannot see this in your own life, surely you can see it in another’s.  Women have been known to be forced ‘off’ or ‘out’ of a women’s social club, because their spouses, their partners, were not ‘in’ or ‘of’ the correct social status.  Men are pushed out of or excluded from men’s fraternal orders because they ‘did not’ or ‘do not’ agree to discriminate against others.  Perhaps, some of you would be shocked to realize what some of these groups demand of their members.  I gave up being a part of a social group earlier in my life, a fraternal order, because I could not accept discriminating against people who were of a certain ethnic background.  Don’t be naïve, such groups still exist.  Before you join a social group or even a fraternity of any sort, read their by-laws, you may be surprised, if not shocked!  John C. Holbert, an Old Testament Professor suggest to us the following, as he reflects on the courageous story of Queen Esther.  Listen carefully, see if you can identify.  “All of us, in whatever exiles we are in, are ever in need of such stories when the flame of freedom is guttering, (wavering and fading away) and the spark of hope is dim.”  His remarks are a reminder to all of us, when needed, we are responsible to stand up, with courage, for the good of others as-well-as for ourselves.  When we, or others, are marginalized or pushed aside, we, as Christians, are called to action!

Before we close our discussion about courage, I would like to tell you about a close friend of mine.  One of the things I really enjoy about him is that he smiles a lot.  He often comments “It’s all good.”  To put this into context, I met Denis about six years ago.  I had just taken an early retirement, at age 65, my personal financial life was upside down.  I was rather anxious about the dramatic changes in my life.  I shared with Denis about my situation.  He shared with me that he had a stroke five years before we met.  Denis’ right arm is permanently affected by the stroke.  His right leg is in a brace from the just below his knee holding his foot in place.  He speaks, brokenly at times and he is terrible with numbers, because of his stroke.  Denis lives by himself over a thousand miles away from his closest relatives, because he cannot tolerate the ice and snow.  He gets around in his golf cart, within the community of Barefoot Bay, and he gets around in his own home.  When I whined and complained about my situation, Denis would just smile and say: “It’s all good!”  Of course, we talked, and we still talk at length.  Yet, his prevailing attitude and the positive way he goes about his life, has had a profound affect upon my own understanding of life.  My friend, he is a man of courage.  He walks the way he talks.

As we bring this discussion to a close, we need to be reminded of the many, many women and men whom we personally know and countless others we have read about or seen on television, who have shown great courage.  Today’s scripture lesson, retelling the recorded story of a woman named Queen Esther, tells us of a brave and courageous woman who was willing to risk her status in society.  As well as her life.  The story tells us she did this to protect the wellbeing of countless others, of her own heritage, whom were being threatened with extinction.  This harsh accounting was recorded and placed in the Bible for this primary purpose.  Likewise, history shall record the brave actions of women and men, especially women whom stand out in our society, at this period in history.  May God bless them and all who courageously share their truths for the sake of others.

Amen.