“Two Become One”

Ephesians 2:11-22, July 22nd, 2018

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


 

“Hear now, these words from the letter of Paul to the Ephesians, Chapter two, verses eleven thru twenty-two.”

Ephesians 2:11-22

11 So then, remember that at ‘one time’ you Gentiles by birth, (you were) called the “(uncircumcised)” by those who are called the “(circumcised)” – a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands – 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.  15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.  17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.  19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.  21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

“Having listened to this ancient teaching by the Apostle Paul, let us see if we can put to good use this idea of two becoming one in our lives today.”

 

“Two Become One”

“For (Jesus) is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. /Ephesians 2:14/ In the context of our scripture lesson this morning, the groups the Apostle Paul refers to represent the Jewish community and those of us born as gentiles, non-Jews.  In our time, the here and now, the two groups speak to a large range of people who find themselves joining together, crossing over all types of boundaries and divisions.  Taking our scripture literally, Paul is talking about and to, a group whom were not born into the Jewish community and thus did not participate in some of the traditions, rituals and customs which Jews practiced at that time, such as circumcision.  Paul is simply saying, this is of no consequence and of no concern, for Christ has brought us together in the Spirit!  Therefore, any walls or stumbling blocks between these two communities has been broken down and no longer exists.  Paul wrote at a time when it was believed that the recognition of Jesus, as the Messiah, would spread as the Christian communities became stronger.  Historically, this did not happen, for in the Twenty-First Century, the majority of those brought up in the Jewish faith are still waiting for the Messiah.  Yet, the truth of Paul’s writing lives on.

Hence, we non-Jews, whom consider ourselves Christians, we must expand Paul’s analogy to encompass a much larger group of people, as the Spirit of God has touched a lot of faith communities, around the world.

On Reverend Michael Coffey’s blog, for poems, sermons and reflections of all forms, he speaks about this passage of scripture from Ephesians, raising up a challenge or two for congregations such as ourselves.  He begins by telling us how we might consider changing our focus.  “Let’s work as congregations not to necessarily perfect our diversity but connect to other congregations with their differences and declare our unity.”  Pastor Coffey is a Lutheran Pastor in Austin TX.  Wow, it sure seems like he has a great point, at least a point well worthy of some thought!  His simple, yet powerful statement, is way ‘outside the box’!  We, like a great many congregations are focused on how we can strengthen our diverse community.  I must confess, I have encouraged us to do just this!  And let us be clear about our progress.  We are a diverse congregation.  We have done an excellent job of welcoming in all people, from various social and ethnic backgrounds, as-well-as being receptive and welcoming to men and women no matter what their sexual orientations are.  We have been diligent about making people with handicaps or disabilities feel welcome here also.  The challenge for us is to endeavor to connect with others, other congregations, other groups, whom are not united with us in fellowship at this point; we are challenged to do this even though our differences are stark!

Let us pause here for just a moment, less we get confused or lost in this idea of connecting with other congregations.  We are not discussing yoking or merging with other faith communities.  We are talking about uniting with other communities through the Spiritual connection we have through Christ.  Back in 1957, when the United Church of Christ was formed by bringing four denominations together, there was a naive belief that we could start a movement to bring all the diverse fellowships of Christianity together.  That thought process has shifted dramatically, to the point that most leaders within our United Church of Christ believe that sharing in ministries does not mean we are compelled to yoke together.  Rather it is believed that our diversity has expanded Christianity to reach a much larger community of people, joined in the Spirit of Christ, around the globe!  And through that Spirit of unity we can do meaningful ministries together!

When it is suggested that faith communities work together there are many misunderstood notions.  I have been in other areas, other communities, where these efforts have produced good results.  In Delray Beach, our efforts to work together as faith communities, was very successful.  We were a diverse group of Protestants: Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Unitarians, The Unity Church of Christ, and Baptist; and we also had Roman Catholics, and several Rabbis representing two local temples, to name just a few.  Here in our local area we also have different faiths, working together, seen extensively in the joint efforts at the Daily Bread in Melbourne, the South Brevard Sharing Center, the Shepherds Center and the Cold Night Shelter which is operated from out of our old facility on route one in Melbourne.  We continue to share in these joint ministries at some level.  Yet, our theological differences, our biases as groups, our differing views on what social justice means and what “the whole community of God’s children encompasses, still keep us apart, even to the point we find it difficult to find common ground to worship together.

Yes, this is indeed sad.

When I served a church in Middletown New York, I sat on an advisory board set up by the Chaplain (The Pastor Emeritus of the church I served) to oversee the scope of the Chaplains’ ministry at that medical facility.  There were ten of us all representing different faith communities.  I remember the day I suggested to the pastor sitting next to me, (I believe he was leading a Free Baptist Church) I proposed we set up a joint worship service or share our pulpits (thereby preaching to each other’s congregation).  His response came quick as he said to me: “Tim, it is good we can serve the needs of others, by developing solid guidelines for the chaplaincy here at this hospital, but we do not share enough theology to worship together.”  I was stunned!      

Ecumenical communities are a good thing, yet all too often there is way too much time, effort and dialogue coming from groups, from individuals and their leaders, expressing how we are different!  Many groups spend way too much time and effort expressing in various ways the importance of doing precisely this!  A few months ago, I sat in on a discussion with a group of individuals, from various faith communities, and the conversation went like this: “Show me how you are different, and I will show you how I am different,” “we can even set up different events, so we can share this with more of our communities!”  It is kind of like going on a first date and spending the time talking about your differences; she says: “I like opera,” he says: “I hate that, it’s boring.”  Or he says: “I love wrestling,” she says: “that’s a vulgar and offensive sport.”  Usually, a first date, is a last date when conversations go this way.  The same can be debated about how to bring diverse communities into a common none threatening space.  Focusing first on differences, will… like a first date, push groups further apart.  It can be argued that these are steps in the right direction, yet somehow it misses the point which Paul is trying to communicate.  I believe we need to make this more grass roots, one on one, making authentic efforts to step toward others around us, in a genuine desire to be one with one another.

Can you just imagine a group of conservative pastors and a group of progressive liberal pastors sitting down and celebrating that we ‘all’ share in the “Spirit of Christ!”  And because of this common connection with God, through Christ… we are “One in the Spirit!”  Then join-together in a simple worship service, celebrating together the work of Christ’s church in the diversity of our faith communities!  I pray for the day, when I can tell you this is happening here in our community.  Take this one step further, can you just imagine, what might be accomplished if all pastors, (within the all-inclusive and wide range of theological perspectives and opinions,) were to join-together on even one central theme?!  What are the possibilities we might consider – if the clergy from every: parish, temple, and mosque, were to stand up and proclaim from their perspective pulpit the importance of compassion for children at all levels of society; or the importance of having empathy and the need to show kind-heartedness for those who have been marginalized, (within the continuing change and turmoil of a brisk and robust upturn in economics,) here in these United States!

Surely, Jesus didn’t want us to simply celebrate our diversity, but to use our assortment of understandings and images of God, to enhance our God consciousness and our range of worship styles.  Thereby, using our mixture of faiths to illustrate and illuminate that no matter what our differences, we can come together in the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of God.  We need to focus on the common points of agreement, not the opposite!  This is not as easy as it sounds.  We shall need to consider the possibilities first, before we knuckle down and discuss the difficulties in front of us in this regard.  One pastor commented on this passage saying: “In a world that has grown frighteningly guarded and harsh, Christian congregations are called to imitate the ‘table manners’ of Jesus by being sacraments of God’s hospitality in the world.” /Paul J. Wadell/

The Professor Emeritus of New Testament, at Union Theological Seminary, Arland J. Hultgren, wrote this regarding our scripture lesson this morning:  “We are all family, and no one is to be treated as a stranger or alien.  Differences in race, class, gender, economic condition, politics, and opinion exist, but they are not barriers to living in unity in Christ.  The congregation is a laboratory for the kingdom of God.”  If our congregation is a ‘test site’ or a ‘work shop’ to test what the kingdom of God is to be like, what goals might we want to set, or what changes ought we to consider?  First let us clarify what would be some reasonable goals to set in this regard.  One solid goal, which, I believe most of us already strive for, is to be a friend of friends.  We have seen this in some manner or another, virtually every Sunday.  Last Sunday it was Mary Lou supplying a birthday cake for her long-time friend Beth.  This Sunday we have friends of Mary Lou reminding me to lift-up her recover from knee surgery in prayer.  Many members and friends of this fellowship consider this church community as an extension to their family.  In the kingdom of God, we may want to consider coming together and becoming one family, sharing in the Spirit of Christ together.

Looking outside the walls of this church, we may want to expand our understanding of ‘outreach’ to go beyond reaching out to the marginalized, going beyond simply relying on our ‘outreach committee’, and begin working on this one on one.  By doing this we can work at making every encounter we have with another person – an opportunity to live out the concept put forth by the Apostle Paul: two become one.  When Jesus encountered people, he reached out to them in word and action.  Do we do this, every time we encounter someone?  Consider this, instead of trying to

compete against others we would set our goal at joining with them, in some way, in whatever the event or moment offers.  Rather than point out our biases we could be a more useful member of our community, of our society, by seeking opportunities to find ways to share in things we hold in common.  To be a worker among workers without gripping or complaining about how your coworker is or is not carrying their weight.  If you think this approach is too simple or too little, consider this: try it, see what it feels like.  Wouldn’t you like to have people approach you in this manner?

Amen.

 

 

 

“Adoption & Grace”

Ephesians 1:1-14, July 15th, 2018

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


 

 

“Hear now these words of scripture taken from the New Testament, The letter of Paul to the Ephesians, chapter one, verses three thru fourteen.”

Ephesians 1:1-14

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.  5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.  7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us.  With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.  11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

“Having heard this ancient writing, let us now set our hearts at discovering how their meaning pertain to our lives as we live the life of Christians in the Twenty-First Century.”

 

“Adoption & Grace”

Last Sunday, we, and millions of other faith communities around the world, prayed for the rescue of twelve young boys and their coach, trapped in a cave in Thailand.  Miraculously, and with a tremendous team effort involving experts in this type of rescue, they were all brought to safety on Tuesday.  It is first and foremost, a wonderful conclusion to what could have been an awful tragedy.  What was distinctive about this event, was the full media coverage of it; bringing communities, nations and a large percentage of a diverse people throughout the world together with a common cause.  Nowhere, did we observe or hear about anyone suggesting that the rescue was a waste of money and time!  The kindheartedness which prevailed, as heart felt support was heard around the globe, was extraordinary.  It was as if, for a moment, the world stood still, while this drama played out to its triumphant rescue!  This is a bittersweet victory due to the sad loss of one rescue worker.

In the world of theology, in which I live, breath and sleep, the word grace is tossed about quite a lot.  Kindness, mercy and charity, along with prayer, blessings and thanksgiving, are often associated with grace!  When we speak of ‘the grace of God’, we often think of forgiveness and God’s benevolent leniency and God’s clemency for the wrongs we humans commit on a daily, if not on an hourly and/or on a minute to minute basis!  When events such as the rescue in Thailand, catch the public’s attention, one can only hope and pray, that grace and all it stands for and represents, shall abound and proliferate; flourishing on the spark of kindness and concern seen surrounding, all whom were involved, throughout this rescue effort!  When we take a moment to think how we, as a faith community, prayed together, last Sunday, and how countless other communities and individuals did the same.  It can send shivers down one’s spine, realizing how utterly amazing God’s grace can be at times!  The beauty of simply imagining that millions of people from many races, creeds and colors, were simultaneously, at the same time, praying about the needs of children; in this case young boys whom play together as a team and a young coach whom was leading them.  Can you imagine what the world could be like, if we, if all people prayed together about all the problems we face around the globe, with the same compassion and concern?

Holding the image of joyful parents and families and whole communities rejoicing together, let us take a moment to see how our scripture text fits into this global event.  The Apostle Paul begins by offering us all a greeting.  “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” /Ephesians 1:2/ Such a simple, yet powerful greeting, one in which I almost left out of our lesson this morning.  Having set the tone for our conversation, Paul goes on to speak of ‘adoption’, ‘redemption’ and ‘forgiveness’.  Three very powerful words representing the writings of thousands of theologians throughout the ages trying to help us grasp the fullness of their meaning.  Let us start first with adoption.  We know what the word means, being accepted, embraced and welcomed through a formal agreement.  Most commonly associated with the adoption process for young children.  In this case we are being adopted into the family of Jesus Christ.  This is crucial for us to grasp, as Jesus was born a Jew and we were born as gentiles, non-Jews.  As such we were consider outsiders, especially in the realm of Judaism.  As Jesus was and is considered the Messiah, by those whom follow his teachings, it is important for Paul to clarify, for us all, that we are welcomed through the grace and through the Living Holy Spirit of Christ into the family of Christ!  We have been adopted!  And like all Christians whom are baptized into the community of faith, we share in the forgiveness and redemption which is offered to us through Christ.  Forgiveness means we are released, we are liberated from our humanness; redemption speaks of our rescue, our release and recovery from our former selves, as we are born anew into the family and fellowship of the Universal Church of Jesus Christ!

In verse eleven, of our reading, Paul speaks of how “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance.” / Ephesians 1:11a/ Amazing, we have just learned we have been adopted, now we learn we have received an inheritance as well!  We have received God’s grace and we have been blessed and bestowed with the Holy Spirit!  All that is asked of us… is to believe in Jesus and to give praise to God for all which we receive!  That is what was and is so special about the rescue story coming out from Thailand… we can feel the joy!  We can praise God for the many gifted and brave rescuers, as-well-as give thanks for all the support and supplies and truly ‘hard work’ that went into this community rescue effort!  We must relish this event and bask in it, like we would bask in the sun at the beach on a beautiful summer day!  We need to record every feeling and emotion that has been spoken of and felt by so many!  We need to remember, that this is what is possible… every time, people come together for a common cause!  No dictator, nor oppressive government action can take this away from the people of God!  When the hearts of people are joined together, crossing all barriers and divisions, it is utterly amazing what can transpire!

In every lesson there is usually, a stumbling point or a difficult transitioning moment before the lesson itself can be accepted, as a valid learning or a useful example which can then become of value to us, in our lives today.  Now, how do we transcend from this one powerful reminder of what can occur to what truly is, all around us!  Consider this one writing from a theologian whom, like ourselves, has reached this point of transition.  She writes this editorial for us to ponder and grapple with.  “In a world full of injustice, pain and division, these words of adoption, grace and gathering all things up are sometimes hard to hear.  Indeed, there is tension between what God has already done in Christ and what is left to be done in the world.” /Elizabeth Smith/ When we look at this rescue story coming out of Thailand it is easy to see God’s grace and mercy.  Yet, we can also see what is left to be done without much effort.

We do not need to look very far, do we? The ongoing war in Syria, with innocent women and children being caught up in the killing.  The blatant human rights issues in various areas of the world.  Even within our own country, we are struggling with how to deal with a continuing crisis, surrounding the issues of families, women, children and adults of all ages, seeking refuge in the United States.  It is a massive and complex problem.  A problem which our nation, the most powerful and the richest nation in the world, has not been able to come up with a ‘program or policy’ which addresses these complex issues, while upholding the values we as a nation historically have fought and stood for!  The question remaining for us Christians is this: when, where and how, do we implement that vision of grace and mercy, which Paul so lavishly speaks of in our lesson today?

What about this vision which we are offered from Paul?  Perhaps we did not hear it when we first read the passage.  Let us look again and see what we can see.  Starting half-way through verse seven, we hear Paul’s insights surrounding God’s vision for us and the world we live within.  “According to the riches of God’s grace which God has lavished upon us.  With all wisdom and insight Christ has made known to us the mystery of God’s will, according to God’s good pleasure which God set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.” /Ephesians 1:7b-10, adapted/ Reverend William Loader speaks to this vision statement for us.  “The vision of Christ is then a vision for the church and the whole world.  It already shows itself where barriers and prejudice are broken down.”  This vision is centered around the teachings we ascribe to in the four complementing gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.   We have already lifted-up grace, forgiveness and reconciliation; which we can easily compliment with Jesus’ teachings about kindness and social justice for all!   Add in the universal understanding of God as the personification of love; as we are given image after image of God’s love for all the children of God, throughout the world!  This is dramatically lifted-up when we look to our understanding of Easter and that of Christmas.  God incarnate, embodied in Jesus at his birth.  God, alive in Jesus, as he endured our human suffering and died into our rebirth as a people!  Can we envision living into Christ’s vision for us?

We can do this!  We are a people whom live in a free society.  We are a nation based on a constitution and a bill of rights that speaks to our religious biases as a God-fearing nation, formed on Christian principles!  As such, we, like Jesus, believe in equality for all people.  We believe in kindness, love, compassion and justice.  We believe in self-government, by the people and for the people.  Our roots, as a church, comes from the Puritan movement, which was the beginning of democracy as we understand it!  We are a people who have come together during national emergencies of every kind.  People come together all the time when they see the common needs of others in peril!  The Apostle Paul is simply reminding us of our adoption; he is reminding us that we are part of the Church of Jesus Christ!  As such, we have received God’s grace and mercy.  Through Christ, God clarified that we must also knock down the walls of prejudice, just as Jesus did so many times.  The accounts in the gospel are clear about this!  As Paul points out, now that we have been brought into the family of Christ, we need to praise God, praising Christ in our words and in our actions!

Yes, the rescue of that group in Thailand was spell-binding and heart wrenching all at the same time!  I am so pleased that we were reminded to join our hearts in prayer, lifting-up feelings of kindness and compassion for the children and their coach.  We owe thanks to the news media whom kept us abreast of what has happened there.  Because of their good reporting efforts, we were able to follow this event: hour by hour, day after day, till its joyful conclusion!  Let us unite as ‘the children of God’ as we seek to multiply and grow as a grace filled people, whom care for the wellbeing of others, just as Jesus did!

Amen.     

 

“Your Mission”

Mark 6:1-13, July 8th, 2018

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


 

 

 “Hear now these words from the gospel according to Mark, chapter six, verses one thru thirteen.”

Mark 6:1-13

1 He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.  2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded.  They said, “Where did this man get all this?

What is this wisdom that has been given to him?  What deeds of power are being done by his hands!  3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joseph and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?”  And they took offense at him.  4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”  5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.  6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching.  7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.  8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.  10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.  11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”  12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.  13 They cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

“Having listened to the reading of these ancient words, let us now open our hearts and minds, to the meaning of this ancient writing, as we seek out their meaning to us in the Twenty-First Century.”

 

“Your Mission”

When I was a youngster, I never really thought about what I would do with the rest of my life.  It wasn’t until I got into High School, it was then that people started asking me what I ‘wanted’, what I ‘envisioned’ I might do with the rest of my life.  Lots of parents start talking about what their children need to be considering for their futures, and what career they need to start preparing for, long before the child has even learned their a, b, c’s or how to add and subtract, say nothing about being proficient at reading and writing!  Historically, it is common for a parent to want a child to follow in their footsteps.  A doctor wants their son or daughter to go to college and study to become a doctor as well.  A firefighter wants their offspring to become firefighters as well.  A minister wants their children to get involved in the church and hopefully become a pastor or some type of spiritual leader.  A small business owner may send their children to college, so they can come home and take over the family business.  In the case of Jesus, we know Joseph was a carpenter and he passed on the skills of the trade to Jesus.  This is how Jesus was known in his hometown, the son of a carpenter.  They knew Jesus as the local child of Joseph and Mary; they knew him as a carpenter.

When I was growing up, my father worked in a machine shop, making small parts for various types of equipment.  It was a living.  It was the trade he learned.  His brothers were carpenters and they built houses.  My grandfather Woodard was a farmer.  He raised cattle, chickens and pigs.  He planted fields of corn and had a vegetable garden.  There were always fresh eggs and homemade butter on the table.  Now, my mom’s dad, he was a preacher and one of my aunts married a preacher.  So, late in life, at  age forty-three when I entered seminary, it wasn’t very surprising to folks who knew my family history.  Yet, the folks in the computer industry, in the Boston Massachusetts area where I had been scratching out a living for over twenty years of my life, they thought I had gone stark raving mad when they learned I quit my job to go to seminary!  They rejected me in every way when they heard my decision!  This seems to be how Jesus was received when he began his career in ministry.  “And they took offense at him!” /Mark 6:3b/

Growing up and becoming an adult, is sometimes difficult.  Making choices that everyone in town doesn’t approve of, is often down right difficult!  Personally, I have always felt it was outrageous that Jesus was rejected by his hometown neighbors as he began his public ministry.  When I personally experienced it in my own journey, I was saddened as I came to realize that those whom I thought understood me, didn’t.  Yet, as my journey continued, I developed a different support group from those whom journeyed with me.  As we turn to today’s teaching we see how Jesus also had developed a group, whom we call the first disciples, whom traveled with him throughout his earthly journey of ministry.  They were with him when he was rejected in his hometown.  They were with him when he healed the sick.  They where with him when he fed the crowds.  They were with him when he celebrated the Passover meal on the night of his betrayal.  Yes, those closest to him stayed by him in good times and in bad times.  They were his circle of supporters, they carried on and shared his teachings after his death.

Many have asked, “why did Jesus allow himself to be treated this way.”  Others point out how he may have wanted his disciples to realize that as they went out to share and teach, carrying the message of Jesus, they too might also encounter rejection!  Which we know they did!  Surely, as the story of Jesus was written down, it was felt this accounting was important to document!  As Jesus interacts with his early disciples, Jesus instructs them to travel in pairs; perhaps this was to ensure they always had someone at their side as support along the way.  Jesus said to them: “travel light, living with those whom receive you, depending on your host to tend to your needs.” /Mark 6: 8-11/ Some of you may be wondering why we are focusing on this, as you are not planning to ‘go out into the community’ and minister like these early disciples!  Well, perhaps not in the same manner, yet we are all called upon in some way.  If you have not yet perceived this, then perhaps you are not listening to that small voice of God deep down in your heart.

Granted, ordained clergy like myself may take this passage a bit more personally than the average Christian, but it is up to me and my peers to help you realize this is not exactly what Jesus may have intended.  You have heard the phrase: “the priesthood of all believers,” have you not!?  When I was serving a church in Sebastian, there was a bell hanging by the alter area in front of the church.  It was put there by a prior pastor so that when two or more gathered together and wanted to start a new mission or an outreach ministry, all they needed to do was ring the bell and announce their intent in front of the gathered congregation!  The question you may need to ask yourself is simply this: ‘what is ‘my mission’ in this faith community?’  Or possibly you need to ask yourself, ‘what is Jesus calling me to do?’  Perhaps you may want to spend some time in prayer and or meditation, thereby giving the Spirit an opportunity to awaken your understanding of what ‘mission’ you are being charged to grapple with.  What task or assignment is God seeking for you to undertake?

There are many, as well as various and different ways to accept the call of ministry.  In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, he speaks of the various gifts of the followers of Christ.  “There are a variety of gifts but the same Spirit’ /Corinthians 12:4/ Paul is reassuring us all that though we each have different gifts we are nourished, feed and led by the same Spirit of God.  Paul goes on to speak of how we, as followers of Jesus, are part of the body of Christ.  And as such we each have different responsibilities and together we accomplish the work of Christ here on earth.  It is valuable to say, yet even more significantly ‘notable’ to bear in mind, each and every member of the body are vital to the function of the whole body.  “The eye cannot say to the hand ‘I have no need for you.’  Nor can the head say to the feet’ I have no need for you.’ /1 Corinthians 12:21/ Therefore, it is important to understand, we all have a place and are each a part of the ‘whole’ ministry of Christ; not just our ordained clergy.  They, like all Christians are but a part of the whole which constitutes ‘The Body of Christ!

Clearly, clergy, like myself, are ‘called’ to take on a central part of the spiritual leadership of the church.  Yet, again, let me assure you, neither I nor any clergy person, we are not capable of functioning in our roles without the full support of the respective parts, the disciples of Christ, within the local church community.  Which constitutes the full body of Christ, representing the ‘United Church of Christ,’ in this community.  Every time we lose a member, whether it be by death, or their relocation to a new community, or simply their feeling this was not meant to be ‘their’ church home, this is a loss which disrupts the entire body, the entire church.  Consequently, as the void of their departure seeks a solution, the Spirit of God continues to bring, visitors, new potential members to our fellowship.  It is our responsibility to welcome them into our faith community.  This process of regeneration happens in all church settings.  Sometimes this happens quickly and abundantly and other times it seems the regenerative process slows way down.  When this happens other members of the body are called upon to take on double and sometimes triple functions.  Oftentimes, this causes stress to the entire community involved.  This lifts-up the importance of striving to support the efforts of each member of this local church, this local community of faith.  We need each other!  Let us be sure to acknowledge this as we work toward the common ministry we are called to serve.

At least, at this point, it ought to be coming clear, why, Jesus was giving distinct, simple directions.  His disciples were about to go out into the community and plant the seeds of Jesus’ ministry and they needed to know how to do so.  Their journeys would take them into the ‘far off regions’ of the territory of God’s creation which they were sent to serve.  Just as Jesus was rejected in his home town, those whom serve Jesus’ expanding church body, they would encounter rejection as well.  The world is filled with diversity and division and the message of hope and salvation through Christ has not been and will not be easily received in every town, city or village.  Jesus gave the disciples permission to move on from a place if they were rejected.  This is important, as some communities would be more receptive to these teachings than others.  Jesus was striving to teach his disciples how to create communities of faith; communities whom were willing to support the teachings of Jesus.

You and me, we are called to come together supporting a common ministry.  Our mission together, if you are willing, is to continue to fortify and strengthen the ministry of this faith community.  Together, two by two, together like the early disciples we shall journey as one, in the ‘ebb’ and ‘flow’ of ministry.  We shall endeavor to fulfill the mission we are called to!  It is up to us to support each other, as there shall continue to be those whom reject us and the ministry we stand for.  It was so in the time of Jesus and it continues to be the way it is in the here and now.

May the Spirit of the Risen Christ be with you, now and forever more.  Amen.

 

 

“Faith Heals”

Mark 5: 21-43, July 1st, 2018

Sermon by pastor Tim Woodard


 

 

“Hear now these words from the gospel according to Mark, chapter five, verses twenty-one thru forty-three.”

Mark 5:21-43

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea.  22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death.  Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”

24 So he went with him.  And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.  25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years.  26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse.  27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”  29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.  30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?”  31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’”  32 He looked all around to see who had done it.  33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.  34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead.  Why trouble the teacher any further?”  36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”  37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.  38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.  39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep?  The child is not dead but sleeping.”  40 And they laughed at him.  Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was.  41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!”  42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age).  At this they were overcome with amazement.  43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

“Having listened to our lesson for today, let us now open our hearts to the healing power of God!”

 

“Faith Heals”

The woman had determination!  Against all odds she pressed forward through the crowd, but still she could not get to Jesus.  Yet, she was persistent, and she believed that if she could just touch the hem of Jesus’ robe she would be healed.  With renewed hope she pushed forward and this time she was able to touch the edges of his robe, as the crowd pressed upon her.  She was healed!  If only we could ‘all’ have faith ‘as strong’ as this woman!  Have you, have I, have we ever been so compelled to seek out Jesus, seeking out the Living Spirit of God that we simply would not stop ‘reaching out’ to God for the help we need!  Have we reached out until we received that renewed hope, that healing which we so desperately needed?!  Pastor Alyce M. McKenzie tells us “… we are called to (reach out) seek(ing) Jesus’ touch.”  By reaching out, in faith, we our opening ourselves to the will of God.  God’s grace and mercy shall set us free from all that torments us!

There are miracles happening all around us.  Why do we not see them?  Possibly, because the person whom experiences the miracle sees no reason to bring it to everyone’s attention.  Miracles are often very personal, and do not seek attention.  Take for instance the miracle of an alcoholic, whom has been granted a second chance at life through the grace of God.  For a true alcoholic to be free from the crushing addiction of alcoholism, is nothing short of a miracle.  Yet, humbled by their past, a great number of recovered alcoholics live out their lives in humility, while striving to help others find their way out of the darkness of their addiction.  Or consider the person who has had a prayer answered.  In their hearts it is a miracle.  They had prayed for it for a long time.  Then, mystically, the day, the moment arrives.  In their heart they believe, they know this is an answer to prayer.  Yet, they do not feel compelled to tell others about it.  It is interesting to learn, in private conversations, that many folks never share about their belief in a miraculous moment, simply because they don’t feel the need to do so.  Pure and simple humility.

We see this same phenomenon in our modern heroes.  You know what a hero is right?  Someone, whom sets aside their own needs, to help another.  A hero can be the gal or guy that gets up in the middle of the night to go and help a friend deal with a sick child or loved one.  A hero is the person who stops to offer assistance when you are stranded in a broken-down car out in the middle of nowhere.  A hero is the firefighter who reaches into your burning vehicle and pulls your young daughter to safety.  A hero is a basketball couch who steps in front of a student ‘taking a bullet’ to save the life of an innocent student, giving his for theirs!  Heroes are born every day, they just don’t know it until that moment comes when their inner character, their faith in what’s right causes them to make a split-second decision for the good of another – above their personal instincts to preserve their own safety and needs.  When a hero acts, a miracle is performed!

God knows us thru and thru.  God knows our thoughts, as-well-as our actions.  Whether we like it or not, God knows who we truly are; and loves us despite our blemishes!  God has made an investment in us and like any investor, does not want us to fail, rather God is cheering for us every step of the way!  Yet, despite this truth, many allow their secrets, their dark secrets to shut them off from the light of God’s love, God’s grace and mercy.  Once isolated, so many believe the voices who continue to push them deeper and deeper into their isolation and the pit of despair awaits them.  It is when we pull away from all that God offers, this is when the miracle which awaits us… is pushed aside.  As individuals, it is up to us to avail ourselves to the loving care of God.  It is up to each one of us to carry that love to another when the opportunity presents itself.  Only God knows if you are meant to be a hero or conversely, God will send someone to be your hero, in your time of need!

Consider the following description of what may be, or could be, an average day in the life of any one of us.  You are having a really bad day, you are feeling depressed about your financial situation, or you are simply having a bad hair day and you are in a slump.  Then, someone you respect comes and talks with you.  While this individual is with you, a sudden desire to ‘open up’ and talk comes over you, thus you begin to share about your problem.  The person responds and shares about how they have felt this way but have learned how to move beyond this type of problem or trouble.  They tell you about their faith and how they ask God to lift the burden of the day from their shoulders.  It is suggested to you that it would be good if you took time to pray about your situation, your concerns.  Your visitor leaves and now you ponder their suggestion.  Then, miraculously, you decide to do as suggested.  Believing your friend was sincerely sharing with you, about their experiences with prayer and how it helped them; thus, you consider their suggestion.  As your ‘difficult’ day continues, and your depressive feelings continue, you finally decide to go ahead and take time to pray.  You ask God for guidance and direction about the financial issues at hand, or was it a bad hair day, either way, you even ask for a bit of relief from it all.  As the day wears on you find you are feeling better.  The weight of the financial problems, the bad hair day, seems to have been lifted.  You are healed, and throughout the rest of your day… you feel ‘up-lifted’ and burden less.  Your time of prayer healed you!

Is there a difference between being ‘healed’ verses cured?  One can be healed of a stressful situation, yet not be cured from a chronic heart condition.  Many would say this is semantics, which it is.  Words, even in our English language have various meanings.  Take for example the word ‘cool.’  “It was a ‘cool’ day outside.”  For us Floridians, that might be a day when the temperatures were in the seventies.  A younger person might say to their mom, “Wow mom, that is a really ‘cool’ looking outfit you are wearing!”  Meaning, perhaps that outfit really looks good on her!  Being healed of the ‘emotional burden’ of cancer or heart disease, may not be the same as being ‘fully cured’ and having the condition ‘fully eradicated’ from our bodies.  Yet, your ‘healing’ gives you your sense of ‘well-being’ and the assurance of God’s eternal love, which allows you to fully live into your life!

Semantics, perhaps, yet, a great many of our problems are created by the way we humans view what is going on in our lives.  If a prayer can change how you see or feel about something, then there is healing going on!  If you are still questioning this thought, consider how many people get ‘hooked’ and become dependent and addicted to drugs or alcohol as they try to change how they are feeling!  There are a great many other things which we humans get addicted to as well.  Computer games, gambling, texting, social media, shopping, caffeine, nicotine, and a whole bunch of other things or activities are used to alter how we are feeling or help us escape from our daily lives.  So, if a little prayer can offer some relief, some level of personal healing, why not give it a try; isn’t this better than isolating with our negative feelings or getting addicted to yet another unhealthy activity?

Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm, author of the “Waking Dreamer”, speaks a lot about hope in his writings, pushing us to awaken from our dreams and embrace life, embrace the love of God!  “There are times in our lives when things happen that press us to our limits and beyond.  When that happens, we can pull the covers over our heads, isolate ourselves, and try to escape from it all.  Or we can embrace what we’re feeling and move forward in faith that God has a future for us.” /Alan Brehm/ I pray, I fervently pray, that you and I, that we can find the courage, the willingness, and the trust, to come out from the shadows of our existence, and face the fullness of our journeys throughout the life we are given.  Hiding under the covers will not solve anything.  I pray we each find the tenacity to seek out and to touch God, just as the woman in our scripture did.  I pray that we each shall be willing to push through all that block us from reaching out to the healing love of God.  Let us each push through our isolation and risk that our faith will overcome the shadows of anxiety and dread, which surround us.

Amen.