“Is Living by Faith Enough?”

2 Corinthians 4: 13 – 5:1, page 939, June 10th, 2018

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

 


 

“Listen now to our lesson from The Apostle Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth.  Second Corinthians, chapter four thru Chapter five verse one.”

2 Corinthians 4:13 – 5:1

13 But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture – “I believed, and so I spoke” – we also believe, and so we speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence.  15 Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.  16 So we do not lose heart.  Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.  17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

5 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

  “Having heard these words attributed to the Apostle Paul, lets open our hears, as-well-as our minds as we seek out that deeper meaning meant for us on this day.”

 

“Is Living by Faith Enough?”

Years ago, someone I was working closely with, encouraged me to make a list of my priorities.  In so doing I had to decide what was important, necessary and what was truly precious in my life, and in what priority, first, second, third etc.  Surely, you know what I mean.  There is a real difference between things that are important, like food shelter and clothing, and what is precious like family, relationships and intimate things of this sort.  Have you ever written out or even thought about what is precious in your life?  Is it your spouse, your children, grandchildren?  How about your mom?  Moms are really-important, they are necessary, and they are truly precious!  I know that when I first got back from vacation, and my wife had been so sick, and we didn’t know what the doctors were going to do… I forgot it was Mother’s Day!  When I realized it at the Church Board meeting after church, I was so embarrassed.  To all our mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers here this morning, let me apologize!  I am truly sorry for my forgetfulness.  When I finally got home that Sunday after our Church Board meeting, I found Lois surrounded by our son Chris, his wife, three grandchildren and one great grandchild.  She had cards and text messages from the other two children and several more grandchildren.  I was so overjoyed that they had not forgotten their mom, their grandmother.  It made her day and mine as well.  A belated Happy Mother’s Day to all you mom’s.

Having now brought up our mom’s and put them on our precious list, I almost need another list as well!  For the list is indeed endless when it comes to talking about our moms.  It all began when they gave birth to us children, after nine laborious and backbreaking months!  In case you are not clear about this, without moms, none of us would be here!  Even Jesus had a mom, her name was Mary!  Yes, we truly ought to be grateful for their labor on our behalf!  My mother raised six of us children, while also being chief cook, housekeeper, and she kept our cloths clean and mended as needed.  The list goes on and on.  But, after fixing dinner on many occasions, she also got in the car and drove off to work as a ‘licensed practical nurse’.  She worked mostly by caring for people in their homes, thus spend a lot of nights away from our home.  I am sure she was an excellent care giver.  My mom was the authority in my life, and the person I went to when I was in need.  She was always there for me.  I sure hope, your mom is on your list.  My mom is just a memory now, yet, I can still feel the ack in my heart.  I honor that feeling as it helps me remember those special moments we shared together.  And yes, she is still on my list.

Next Sunday, is Father’s Day, they are important and necessary, also.  Precious… however, is not the right word to describe most dads, but there are many other words that do describe them.  Mine was a really-hard worker and dependable as well.  He made sacrifices for the good of the family on a regular basis.  I didn’t realize this until I was well on my way to maturity and adulthood.  Dad’s like Mom’s they have different qualities and traits.  Each is special in their own way.  We ought to simply have a day set aside for parents!  Then we could raise up our parents and the roles they play in our lives, giving thanks to God on a regular basis for all their love, their sacrifices and oh so many memories.  When we are younger we may not grasp how important memories truly are.  However, one day, our parents will be called home.  There, they shall join with all those whom have gone before them.  Yes indeed, parents deserve a lofty place upon our priority lists.  Another reason to have a day set aside for these who parent us and care for us, is the lines have blurred as to who has the role of mom or dad in families within the Twenty-First-Century.  We have single parent families and we have parents whom share the same gender.  We have stay at home dads, who care for the children, and we have mom’s that drive trucks, build houses and work on various construction sights.    We have woman who serve in the armed services doing the things we once though only men could do.  We have moms who hold high level management jobs and others sit on boards of directors for national firms.  We have women in elected government positions and some are senators, and we had one that actually ran for president!  Wow!  Yes, the lines between the roles of moms and dads has truly become blurred in our society.  We really ought to have a Parent’s Day on the calendar!

As special as my parents were to me I was taught there is at least one or two things that still need to come before them on my personal priority list.  Can you think who or what that might be?  I am sure you all know this, it is of course our Creator God whom gave life to our parents and that life was passed on to us through them.  Likewise, God’s love was upon them and now is upon us.  The Spirit of God uplifted our parents and that same Spirit still resides with us today!  One pastor asks the question another way.  “What in your life, your community, your congregation is most likely to cause you to ‘lose heart?'” /Janet H. Hunt/ Sounds like a hard question I am sure.  Each of us here today, and those who listen to my sermons on line, could come up with a list I am sure.  Take a look at your list.  If she or he, or even it is on your list, and you are not giving that person, that thing or that event enough of your energy, then get to it!  The time to do so is now!  Not one of us know when or if tomorrow shall come!  Nor do we know what tomorrow will bring.  If something is so important or so precious that you would lose heart, if you lost them or it, then you need to make a real effort to be sure you don’t lose them without giving them or it the attention they deserve!  Why did I include ‘it’ as well as they or them you might ask?  Because the thing that would make you lose heart, might be an election where the woman or man of your choice lost because you didn’t make your voice heard; or you didn’t bother to vote!  It is often very important!   It is the thing you sometimes leave for someone else to do!  Yet, it belongs on yours and it belongs on my ‘precious priority’ list!  Don’t leave it for someone else to do!

In verse 13: Paul’s say’s to us: “I believed, and so I spoke” – we also believe, and so we speak.”  The question about faith: ‘is living by faith enough?’  Yes and no.  Yes, I have preached to you many times that faith is the key that unlocks the door.  True enough, for faith unlocks the Spirit of God which gives you so many ways to know and better understand God.  We know that those whom Jesus healed he frequently said to them: “Your faith has made you well!”  Yes, it is through faith that we find the courage and become willing to seek forgiveness for our wrongs, for through Christ our debt has been paid and we are forgiven.  Yet, is this enough?  Look again at Paul’s words: “I believed, and so I spoke” – “we also believe, and so we speak.”  Paul is saying to us that when he came to know the grace of God through Christ… he came to believe.  Then he goes on to say that because of his belief he had to speak of it to others!  “And so, I spoke” says Paul.  And as he goes on he includes all whom now believe because he spoke of his belief saying: “we also believe, and so we speak.”  Is he saying to us: now that we have come to know the love and grace of God, we too are obligated, compelled even, to ‘speak out,’ sharing this with others?  If so, just how do we do this?  How do we share our faith?

I don’t know about you, but the one thing that I find annoying about pastors is that they are always pushing us.  Believe more, give more, love others more!  Come to church more!  Study the Bible, more!  Learn more by attentively listening to the pastor’s sermons.  By the way: Are you watching and listening to see if the pastor walks like he or she talks?  If you don’t, maybe you ought to start.  For if the pastor says one thing and does another – well.  I don’t honor hypocrites, and neither should you!  How does Paul walk?  What walk did Paul take once he experienced his conversion and came to know Jesus, the Christ?  He was imprisoned for saying what he believed.  Several of his letters are written from prison.  He was flogged for speaking the truth, the truth as he knew it!  He spoke about Jesus being the Christ.  He talked about the love, grace and mercy of God through Jesus the Christ!  In the end, the Apostle Paul, he was put to death for his belief, and for what he dared to say out loud.  Yet, he believed, so he spoke!

What you and I must never forget is this: if Paul had not carried the message of Jesus, out from Palestine, and out into the surrounding regions for which he is known to have visited, we may never have heard of Jesus.  If he had not written his letters, we may never have come to understand all of which this apostle wanted to teach us!  Paul believed in Jesus and all which he stands for; “Paul believed, so he spoke.”  Paul is clearly saying to us: you and me, we also believe, and so you and me, we speak.”  We are called to speak the truth as we know it!  That thing we hold precious in our heart may never happen, if we do not speak out about it; speaking the truth as we know it!

Is living by faith enough?  Yes and No.  Yes, faith is a gift and thus we ought to live with and by faith.  Yet, is it enough to only receive a gift and then never use it, nor share it?  No, of course not!  “We believe, so we speak!”  How do we do this?  We do it with integrity!  We are called to share our faith openly and willingly.

Amen.

“When is ‘The Right Time’?”

Mark 2: 23 – 3:6, page 814, June 3rd

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

———————————————————–

 

“Hear now these ancient words from the gospel account according to Mark, chapter two thru chapter three verse six.”

Mark 2:23 – 3:6

23 One sabbath he (Jesus) was going through the grain fields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain.  24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?”  25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food?  26 He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.”  27 Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

3 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand.  2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him.  3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.”  4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?”  But they were silent.  5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”  He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.  6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

“Having heard these words of scripture, let us now open our hearts as we seek out their meaning to us, in this present time in which we live.”

 

“When is ‘The Right Time’?”

I am half way through a six week, on line, course I signed up for.  It is all about Ethics and Spiritual Care (Lebacqz & Driskill) and Just Ministry Gula).  It is with the new PATHWAYS program which our denomination, the United Church of Christ is supporting.  I am taking it in conjunction with my role on the Committee On Church And Ministry, here with the Florida Conference of the UCC.  It is quite fascinating really.  Everything is done on line, except of course for the two books I am working from and the case studies and writings I must complete each week.  We interact via what is called a blog.  I understand, if you are my age, you probably don’t know what a blog is!  Neither did I.  Well, I post one of my two weekly writings on the blog, then my 14 fellow classmates from across these United States and the instructor open-up a discussion based on my essay.  The only problem with all this is I need to create space and time for these events each and every week.  I am free to do so at literally any time of day or night.  My dilemma, my predicament is deciding ‘when is it the right time.”  Well, I am still working on that.  What I have learned is I can’t do it on Sunday mornings, nor when I am working on a sermon, but there are ways to make-adjustments and exceptions.  Picking the right time, to do just about anything, can be a problem or perhaps cause a problem if one is not careful.

Take for instance the situations that have been created with our weather here in Florida these last few weeks.  After the rains started early this season, my yard man has been trying to find a balance with his timing for keeping my lawn and his many other clients lawns properly mowed.  He has often come on a Saturday and now and then he cuts my grass on a Sunday!  My neighbors don’t seem to mind when he comes on a Sunday.  They are glad to see my yard is kept looking neat and well cared for.  The yard guy is happy, he needs my business.  Thankfully, he came this past Thursday, it had been twelve days since he had cut it and I was concerned that the Sebastian City Code Enforcement folks would be writing me a ticket soon, due to the excessive length of my grass!  Likewise, if my air conditioner fails to work on a hot Saturday or Sunday morning, I will not wait until Monday to locate a repairman.  Furthermore, if the toilet backs up I will call a plumber to come fix it, ASAP!  Sunday is considered the Sabbath day, a day of rest.  Yet, how can one rest if you slip in the shower and break a leg or dislocate a shoulder!  On the way to the emergency room I sure will be praying the nurses and the doctors on duty have not decided they need Sunday as a day of rest!

Yes, when I was a young lad, I went to church and Sunday school.  My parents went too, if they were not working.  On those Sunday’s we would often have dinner together with our grandparents or other relatives.  Of course, my mom and my grandmother and others would work hard in the kitchen to prepare the meal!  Oftentimes, my dad and I would make a batch of fudge after dinner, unless of course, grandma had baked a cake or a fresh pie!  My brother Fred, well he would sneak off and go fishing when he could.  Yes, it is nice when families can set aside a day to get together.  It is a nice custom and absolutely, setting aside a day each week in our religious calendar to worship God and fellowshipping together is a good thing as well.  My parents and grandparents tried hard to set aside Sunday afternoons for family get togethers, after we had spent the morning in church and such!  The memories of them are good.  As the decades have slipped by, it just seems this type of fellowship and setting aside time to do ‘family’ things on Sundays, has faded for a great many people.  Young families, with both parents working full time, children trying to keep up with school work and sports activities… well it just seems to be, from my observation, that it is harder and harder for families, especially younger families, to really have quality time like I remember from my youth.  If the boss offers some overtime on Sundays, and you need the income, it is hard to say no.  The coach says, ‘you miss the game on Sunday and you are off the team.’  How can an inspiring baseball player afford to miss a game?  When the school choir or the band are asked to do a special performance on Sunday afternoon, who can say no!

Us folks from the Twenty-First Century are not the only ones who have struggled with this business of deciding ‘when is the right time’ to do something either!  As we look to our scripture this morning we see, that is, we hear about how Jesus challenged the religious leaders at that time, regarding their hypocrisy surrounding the Sabbath day.  It has been understood by theologians for a long time that “God never designed ‘the Sabbath Day’ to be a burden to us, therefore we must not make it so to ourselves.” /Matthew Henry’s Commentary/ From our vantage point here in the Twenty-First Century, it is ridiculous that the religious leaders at the time of our scripture lesson would pass judgment on Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath Day.  It is also absurd that they would criticize Jesus’ Disciples for picking a few ‘heads of grain’ on the Sabbath Day, either!  They were hungry for goodness sakes!  Well, this is perhaps our viewpoint from our time in history, but it was not the accepted norm back in the time of Jesus.  The Jewish customs and traditions were important to this religious sect.  The Rabbis, the Religious Leaders like the Pharisees and Sadducees, they worked hard to hold the tribes of Israel together with these ancient traditions.  The Ten Commandments which came about during the time of Moses were strictly adhered to, were they not?  The fourth Command read: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”  From these words comes this whole idea of how one is to behave on the Sabbath Day.  We Christians see the Sabbath as a Sunday.  Jews of our time observe Saturdays as their Sabbath Day.  And Orthodox Jews, adhere to this custom very rigidly.

The Rabbi, at the Synagogue in Middletown New York, where I served a church for almost nine years, his name was Joel.  Now Joel considered himself to be a Conservative Jew.  As such he adhered to the rules of observance on the Sabbath very rigidly.  On Saturdays he would not drive his car.  He would only walk to where he was going.  Neither would he conduct any type of business that involved finances.  I remember when the ecumenical clergy group wanted to get together on a Saturday to plan a joint event.  He finally relinquished and agreed to come but clarified he would not if it was raining as he had to walk.  We tried to offer him a ride, but he would not accept, as he didn’t believe we ought to be driving either!  Furthermore, he was the treasurer of the group.  And he would not discuss finances on the Sabbath.  I remember wondering how he got from “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” to not driving his car or doing finances?  The Rabbi, he was a good man.  Joel was well respected in the community.  Had a solid congregation that he had served for well over ten plus years when I first arrived in town.  He worked hard to be part of ecumenical activities and invited us to share in his Jewish customs when appropriate.  He had a clear mind when it came to ‘talk’ about public controversies surrounding religious holidays.  I remember the year it was getting to be a big movement to stop saying Merry Christmas (especially if you were a merchant waiting on customers), for fear of offending a Jew.  Joel said out loud to a large group of clergies one day: “Let’s have some integrity around this subject.  If you are Christian I expect you to say, ‘Merry Christmas.’  But if you are a Jew like me, Joel said, say ‘Happy Hanukkah!’”  He went on to say: “saying ‘Happy Holiday’ as the merchants now do, simply says… you are not observing anything other than your retails sales!”

To me, keeping the Sabbath’ holy’, is about how I take time to be humble and thank God for the bounty, the abundance of my life.  My wife and I have always tried to observe the holiness of the Sabbath, which we observe on Sundays.  We drive to church every Sunday.  It is way too far to walk here!  My wife writes out her pledge check every Sunday, I doubt the finance department of our church wants her to stop writing her check!  Also, Lois helps organize our coffee hour every Sunday, often being one of the last few to leave the church on Sunday as well.  She does this out of love.  This is what the Sabbath day is all about!  Setting aside time, out of your busy schedule, to be about the work of God.  Giving back a bit of what you have been freely given.  It is, of course, perfectly OK to go home, put up your feet after stopping for a late breakfast or an early lunch on the way home.  Perhaps there is some golf or a good movie on the television as well!  “When was the last time you enjoyed a leisurely Sunday?  What did you enjoy about the day?” /Larry Broding/

Amen.

“The Mystery of Victory!”

John 3:1-17, May 27th, 2018

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

——————————————————————-

 

“Hear now these words from the gospel of John, chapter three, verses one thru seventeen.”

 John 3:1-17

1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.  2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”  4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old?  Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”  5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.  6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.  7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’  8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”  10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?  11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.  12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?  13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.  14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.  16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

“Having heard the story of the Pharisee named Nicodemus, let us ask God to open our minds and hearts to its true meaning.”

 

“The Mystery of Victory!”

Nicodemus had the opportunity to ask Jesus a question and to dialogue with him.  What a fascinating thing!  Pastor’s often ask: “What do you make of Nicodemus’ question?” /Janet Hunt/ One theologian poses a question: “What questions might have popped into your mind should you have been engaged in that conversation with Jesus that night?” /Janet Hunt/ I sure would like to have had a face to face conversation with Jesus myself.  Trust me, I sure wouldn’t have asked the question that this Pharisee asked either!  What about you?  Can you think of anything you might want to ask the Son of God?  I can think of a lot of why questions, can’t you?  I would begin with asking: “When are you coming back, we need you?!”  “Why do bad things happen to good people!”  “Why did you… do this or not do that?”  The list of questions is endless.  Of course, we know that the actual question that our writer puts in the mouth of Nicodemus was asked so     that Jesus could put forth this analogy about being born of the Spirit.  Somewhere in this conversation it feels like we are being reminded how Jesus wants us to focus more on spiritual things than on earthly realities.

Let us therefore, talk about Nicodemus for a moment.  What do we know about him?  He was of the religious order of the Jewish Pharisee’s.  He was a leader.  So why did he come to Jesus at night?  Was he afraid of being seen speaking to Jesus?  Was he trying to get a private conversation, so he could learn more about who Jesus truly was?  If he was a believe he seems to have it all wrong.  William Loader a theologian I look to now and then, seems to think “…Nicodemus is a believer in Jesus who believes the wrong way and so does not see what Jesus is about.”  Nicodemus came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”  Clearly, he thought Jesus was from God, yet, he did not grasp that Jesus was way more than that!  Most of the people who came out to hear him and followed him… they misunderstood exactly who Jesus was as well!  Was he the Messiah, the Son of God?  And if he was then why didn’t he summons an army to free them from the oppression of the Romans?  Many of us modern Christians, many of us are still unclear about how Jesus shall save us.  Many of us still misunderstand what salvation is all about!

As I have reflected on this point I have begun to wonder if perhaps, Nicodemus is like the Disciple Doubting Thomas.  I have often wondered why they told us the story of old Doubting Thomas, other than to give us permission to have our doubts and know that we are welcomed and beloved by God, even if we seek more proof, more clarity about who Jesus truly was.  And now we are talking about this religious leader named Nicodemus who also seems unable to grasp the fullness of Jesus’ identity.  Are his questions giving us permission to ask for more clarity about how we are to understand him and his teachings?  Are we to understand that this was written down for us for more that one reason?  Surely, the first reason is so we can hear Jesus talk to us about being born anew in the Spirit, but is there not a subtext here about those of us like Nicodemus whom have not fully grasped all of what Jesus is about?  Surely, this text has left the door open, giving us permission to have our questions our doubts and seek answers without condemnation.  As we now try to come to understand what being reborn in the Spirt truly means, let us pray the Spirit shall help us to also grasp the deeper meaning regarding what us modern Christians need to understand about Jesus as we grapple with the questions of the Twenty-First Century.

In verse eight Jesus explains: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” /John 3:8/ How many times has the weather man explained where the rains come from, yet when it rains, and the wind is howling… it is hard to grasp that this a wind caused by a disturbance in the atmosphere off the coast of Africa or some place in the tropics!  Nor does it seem to help to know this marvel of nature, especially, when the swale in front of your house overflows and spills into the street!  Or the back yard is beginning to build up a pond of water threatening your home!  Poor old Nicodemus, he was just trying to come to understand Jesus from the simplicity of what he did know and understand.  He knew Jesus was doing good things and the things he was doing must be coming from God!  There are a lot of us folks, whom come to church or profess to be Christians, who approach our understanding from the edges.  We may even say all the right things when we are in group conversations about our Christian beliefs, yet, we still don’t fully understand or grasp all that the teachings of the gospels are saying to us.  Honestly, I suspect, there are more than one or two of us who still would like more information or at least have a few questions we still need answered.

In our scripture, Jesus seeks to move the conversation to helping Nicodemus and we the readers of this text to understand how important the Spirit of God truly us!  Last week, we talked about Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit.  I strived to unmask some of the mysteries of the Spirit and where it comes from.  I also, endeavored to help us understand, the Spirit is here for all of God’s children; and you and me, we are all God’s children.  I know that some sects, within Christianity, believe there are only so many spaces available in heaven, but I do not believe that, nor does the United Church of Christ believe that!  However, I believe that the vast majority of Christianity believes there are an unlimited number of spaces for us in heaven.  Just as the Holy Spirit of God is available to an unlimited number of people.  To truly receive the Holy Spirit and be born anew in the Spirit, we must open ourselves first to wanting God’s Spirit in our lives.  If we can learn to accept that God, through Christ is all about God’s love, then we are on the right pathway to understanding Jesus better.  As the pathway opens to us, we can begin to feel the presence of God in our lives, more and more.  It is OK if we start on the fringe, like Nicodemus did. The important element is our willingness to get started on the journey of faith and keep moving forward, step by step.

There are so many ways to come to know God.  As Christians in the United Church of Christ, we say we know God through Jesus.  Pentecostalism, a branch of Christianity, emphasizes knowing God through the winds of the Spirit. They speak of the movement of the Spirit as often as we speak of the saving grace of Christ. The Roman Catholic Church speaks a lot about the mother of Jesus, Mary.  They spend a lot of time emphasizing the virginity of Mary, the mother of Jesus. They teach the cross of Jesus and believers carry a crucifix, the cross with the figure of the crucified Jesus hanging from that cross!  I and most of us non-Catholics, us protestants, see the cross as empty, signifying the risen Christ!  The point here is each branch of Christianity focuses on different aspects of the story of the three personalities of God seen in the imagery of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. None are wrong, all are right. What we must cling to is there is only one God, just different ways to come to understand the complexities of this awesome, loving God!

Toward the end of our lesson Jesus starts speaking about his role as the Son of God.  He starts by clarifying that the Spirit comes from heaven.  “No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” /John 3:13/ Let’s step back and clarify our understanding about the God of many faces.  The Father, our Creator, The Son, Jesus our Savior, and the Holy Spirit, our Sustainer.  An interesting aspect of this morning’s lesson is Jesus’ use of plural language.  In verse eleven, Jesus speaks to the Pharisee saying: “we speak of what we have seen and we testify to what we know; and yet you do accept our testimony.”  Yes, he was scolding this religious leader for not knowing the scriptures and their true meaning; but did you hear his use of ‘we’ and ‘our’. This implies Jesus was speaking on behalf of his Father in heaven and the Holy Spirit, and possible he was including the prophets like Elijah as well!  This line of reasoning supports his reference to the Son of man being from heaven.  Wow is this Jesus telling those that were hearing him that indeed he was and is the Son of man, and is also One with God in heaven, the Son of God!

Jesus’ proclamation, as to who he is, is followed by these closing verses.  14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.  16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” /John 3:14-17/ Verse 16, says it all; the victory is in Jesus.  If you are at a sports event and you see someone holding up a sign saying John 3:16, then flashing a V they are saying through Christ there is victory!  Are you ready to put your life into the hands of Jesus?  Are you ready to do this in all areas of your life?  Even if you say yes, I want to be sure you understand that not all of us are ready to do this in all venues of our lives.  Some of us still think we can win a golf match on our own.  Some of us still think we can plan a vacation to Montana, without leaving room for God to blow through are human made plans, as the winds of the Spirit move us into a different realm.  What is the will of God we ask?  Some days, even I don’t understand the ways of God. Our lesson is telling us, nevertheless, that to truly know God, we need to be one with the very Spirit of God!  Through the winds of the Spirit we shall be one with the ‘mystery of Victory’ through Christ!

Amen.

“Everyone shall Receive!”

Acts 2:1-21, 5-20-18

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

 —————————————————————————

  

 

“Hear now these ancient words from the book of Acts, chapter two, verses one thru twenty-one.”

Acts 2:1-21

1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.  5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.  6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.  7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?  9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs – in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”  12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”  13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”  

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.  15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.  16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.  18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.  19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.  20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.  21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

“Having heard our lesson for today, let us now open our hearts to its meaning.”

 

“Everyone shall Receive!”

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” /Acts 2:1/ They were all together!  Such a powerful statement!  We also are all together, sitting here in this our place of communal worship!  These early followers were gathered together.  “Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.   And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.” /2Acts: 5-6/ The disciples were there, and this large crowd gathered as well.  Not just the remaining eleven disciples, but people from all around Jerusalem had gathered.  So many different people, of which we often struggle to pronounce all the different groups of people whom were represented in this reading.  The main point is that we are told that there was a large group of witnesses whom had gathered together.  This in of itself is a dramatic, major and very important point!  We live in and at a time, here in these United States, where people are polarized, secularized, marginalized and profiled for the color of their skin or pushed aside because of where they come from or their orientation.  Bearing these realities in mind, this diverse group whom had gathered so long ago was nothing short of amazing! Together, they witnessed to what the Disciples were experiencing. 

“Many readers of this story focus their attention on the spooky details of wind, fire, and amazing speech, and miss the real story Luke is trying to tell.” /John C. Holbert/ I did not misread this quote.  Luke is believed to be the author of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, from which comes today’s lesson.  Furthermore, we simple must not allow ourselves to get lost in the “spooky details of wind and fire.”  The central point of this writing is indeed, that everyone, all people, were welcomed to witness to – and were invited to – receive the Living Holy Spirit!  The drama here is that the Spirit moved amongst a diverse group of people to begin the mobilization of the movement we now refer to as Christianity!  At the same time, we must recognize that the Spirit was color blind, had no sense of ethnic origin, and no sense of whether people were rich or poor, gay or straight.  No, the Spirit was bestowed upon all people, whom were praying to receiving it!  It does not matter if you speak English, French German or Russian… the Spirit will reach out and touch your heart!  The Spirt came, crossing all boundaries, overcoming all and any man-made walls or barriers to bestow the gifts of the Spirit!

Author and Theologian, Matthew L. Skinner, tells us how: “Acts does not regard Pentecost as an entirely singular occurrence.  This scene introduces a sequence of occasions in which the Spirit mobilizes Jesus’ followers and inaugurates new directions for ministry and community.”  First the Spirit rallies and brings people together.  Then the Spirit organizes the many facets of communities together so that, as an assemble of diverse people, with different gifts, a community of faith is formed which can act as one – in the name of the Living God!  This is what the day of Pentecost is all about!  We wear red to remember that the very breathe of God has breathed upon us, giving us the tenacity, the strength and the courage to come together as one.  And as a united group of followers, the Spirit is driving us to do the will of God, in and around the community we live in and beyond!

A misconception of the coming of the Spirit of God, into our lives, is that we will feel peace and find comfort and live happily ever after.  No, gosh no!  As one author states it: “The Holy Spirit is as much agitator as advocate, as much provocateur as comforter.” /David Lose/ I know the Spirit has touched me, from head to toe, but the Spirit still wakes me up in the night; the Spirit still pushes me to do way more than I believe I can do!  No, no Pentecost is not a day of rest and relaxation, that comes later, today is the day we remember that God, through the Living Spirit, has called us to unit together, despite our differences.  Not just with each other here either.  This is, however, a good place to start. Consequentially, we must unit with our neighbors, even the ones we don’t understand at all.  The promise of the Spirit is that we can come to know others, if we pick up the tools which we have been given and use them.  Tools, gifts whatever we feel comfortable calling them.  Some of us reference to our attributes which are also God given, to understand our gifts.  The point is, the coming of the Spirit is just the beginning.  

It is important to realize: there was a lot of confusion that day!  They appeared to others to be drunk or confused or possibly just insane.  Peter is forced to speak out reassuring them that this is not the case!  Sometimes, people say things that we just don’t understand.  From time to time it is up to us, and we may need to take a moment and stop; to be sure we have heard correctly.  Although “We might all hear the same words – each in our own language – ‘yet’ we will not all hear and understand exactly the same meaning.” /David Ewart/ The problem that us humans have is we don’t all understand the meaning of our words the same.  Therefore, we need to take time to allow the Spirit of God to be with us as we listen to one another.  Hearing each other is one thing, understanding is a whole different thing.  We each have a responsibility, to take time, every day, not just on Sundays, not just when it is convenient to listen with our hearts, taking time to take notice of all that is being shared.  We need to pay attention to all that is being communicated.  It is our task to pick up on everything that others are sharing with us.

Pentecost is not the ‘only day’ when things can get confusing.  Today, is not the only time we may not perceive things the same way in which someone else perceives the same thing.  It is assumed, by many, that receiving the Spirit, welcoming the Holy Spirit into our lives will allow us to understand and do everything that Jesus would want us to grasp and value.  The problem is… “The problem with life, and faith, and following Jesus is always: What does this mean?” /David Ewart/ This question, put forth for us to ponder, is not always easy to answer.  Just like our scripture passage today, people were observing the Disciples and they thought they were probably drunk, because they could not understand them.  They did not perceive the event the same as the Disciples did.  It was not until Peter began to explain it to them, then they began to realize something awesome had occurred!  The challenge is to decide when we ought to speak up and explain to others what is happening or what is meant by what has been said.  Every Sunday, I am challenged to do exactly this.  I stand up here and do my best to help you grasp and appreciate what I have come to believe our scripture lesson is saying to us.  The problem is, there are numerous pastors doing the same thing every Sunday.  And I am fairly certain, we are not all preaching the same message!  Just to be clear about this, I have preached on this passage of scripture a few times over the years, yet, I have not preached this message before!  Trust me on this next thought.  Those pastor’s that do not get fresh insights from scripture on Sunday mornings, there are folks whom are falling asleep during their sermons.

Pastor Nancy Rockwell speaks of the promise of Pentecost.  She tells us “This is the promise of Pentecost: now we no longer depend solely on Jesus to be the one who understands.  Now we, too, understand.  And now we, too, can speak and our voices can spread the Spirit of understanding.”  She is saying: now that the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God has been bestowed upon us, we shall have greater understandings of God’s word.  Also, we shall be able to grasp things that we did not understand before.  This is why we celebrate today!  Today, we remember that Jesus kept his word.  He told his Disciples that after he was gone he would send an advocate; Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit!  The day of Pentecost is that day; the day the promise was fulfilled!

The Spirit is in our midst to empower us to do the will of God and unite together, utilizing the language of the heart.  Our lesson illustrates how we are meant to come together, dropping any biases that have separated us.  The Spirit is here to open our hearts, opening our hearts and the language of understanding, one to another.  This may not be easy, nor convenient, yet, the Spirit is in our midst to push and propel us do what it takes to come together.  The Spirit is available to everyone who desires to have the Living Spirit of God in their lives.  Open your hearts to this outpouring of God’s love!  Amen.