Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

“Why Did You Laugh”

Genesis 18: 1-15, & 21:1-7, July 17th, 2016

 

Have you ever wondered what the real difference between church denominations is?  Listen to this short story, it gives us some youthful insights into this perplexing question.

A kindergarten teacher gave her class a “show and tell” assignment, asking them to bring something to represent their religion.

The first young student got in front of the class and said, “My name is Benjamin and I am Jewish and this is the Star of David.”  The second student got in front of the class and said, “My name is Mary.  I’m a Catholic and this is the Crucifix.”

The third got in front of the class and said, ” My name is Mark and I am a Protestant and this is a casserole.” /Author Unknown/

One of the other wildly questioned subjects is the discussion, argument really, as to why folks choose different churches to attend on Sunday mornings.  Here is an interesting perspective to consider.

One balmy day in the South Pacific, a navy ship sighted smoke coming from one of three huts on an uncharted island.

Upon arriving at the shore they were met by a shipwreck survivor.  He said, “I’m so glad you’re here!  I’ve been alone on this island for more than five years!”

The captain replied, “If you’re all alone on the island why do I see three huts.”

The survivor said, “Oh.  Well, I live in one, and go to church in another.”

“What about the third hut?” asked the captain.

“That’s where I ‘used’ to go to church.” /Author unknown/

Vacations are a wonderful thing, Lois and I certainly enjoyed ours.  With a little distance from the day to day issues of church life, one can get a different perspective about why some churches thrive and others do not.  I found this write up which offers us an interesting perspective – about one Pastor’s efforts to ‘boost up’ attendance on Sunday mornings at his declining and shrinking congregation.

“A new Pastor in a small Florida town spent the first four days making personal visits to each of the members, inviting them to come to his first services.

The following Sunday the church was all but empty.  Accordingly, the Pastor placed a notice in the local newspapers, stating that, because the church was dead, it was everyone’s duty to give it a decent Christian burial.  The funeral would be held the following Sunday afternoon, the notice said.

Morbidly curious, a large crowd turned out for the “funeral.”  In front of the pulpit, they saw a closed coffin, smothered in flowers.  After the Pastor delivered the eulogy, he opened the coffin and invited his congregation to come forward and pay their final respects to their dead church.

Filled with curiosity as to what would represent the corpse of a “dead church,” all the people eagerly lined up to look in the coffin.  Each “mourner” peeped into the coffin then quickly turned away with a guilty, sheepish look.

In the coffin, tilted at the correct angle, was a large mirror.” /Author unknown/

Why Did You Laugh?  And why did some of you not laugh?  These were intended to just loosen us up a bit.  If you did laugh you probably knew they were simply meant to be humorous.  And if you didn’t laugh – I must assume, either you didn’t get the humorous point, or it hit too close to home.  Sometimes, humor is confused with sarcasm and or cynicism.  To this point, if I have offended your senses I do apologize.  Let me reassure you, my attempt at some light humor this morning was merely meant to cause us to view several different forms of laughter, while at the same time – causing us to consider some new perspectives – to age old issues which churches such as ours… face all the time.

Just for the record, let me say: it is my belief that churches die – from the inside – long before the doors are finally shut.  The death of a church is caused by its members and former members whom have stopped being part of its life blood.  Seldom is a church’s demise the result of poor finances, just poor or negative input from its members, former and current.  The financial collapse which ultimately occurs – is just the result of such behavior.  The same can be said for much of what we are reading, seeing and hearing about in recent weeks.  The bigotry, intolerance, racial bias, violence and hatred are coming from within our own borders, tearing at the very fiber of all that we have come to cherish; the very grit and character which binds us together in community.  We don’t need to look outside of our own country, nor outside our own churches to see how human nature can wreak havoc upon the foundations of our faith, displacing the fundamentals of God’s unconditional love, and the core of Christianity: the practice of offering forgiveness and tolerance to others as God has offered to ourselves.  God forgive us – one and all!

These past two weeks were meant to be a vacation for me and my family and it was a great vacation!  However, it was also a time of reflection and spiritual renewal.  For me personally, I felt God’s urging for me to be bolder about speaking out in support of the United Church of Christ; a church which has stood up for social justice issues throughout its history.  Based on the sad, sad commentaries in the media these last weeks – we seem to have reached yet another of those axioms in our society where the privilege to keep quite has passed.  As a community of faith, we must hold firm in our commitment to stand in support of those whom have been marginalized in our society, just as Jesus did during his ministry here on Earth.   Now is the time to lift up our voices – even as the debates rage on within our own borders, within our own communities and yes, even within our own local institutions.  Change is knocking at our doors and we must either answer the call or watch others do it for us.  Do we want to be part of the discussion or do we want to let others make choices for us?

Together, as a united fellowship of faithful people, we are now seeking guidance and direction from a commonly understood God, a God of our mutual understanding.  Therefore, let us now begin to look more closely at this morning’s scripture lesson.  Together, let us open ourselves to seeing how laughter is used in this passage.  Without question the over-riding ‘opening theme’ of this morning’s lesson is centered around laughter.  This fact alone, was the only reason I opened our conversation today with what I hoped would be insightful humor, perhaps even causing us to laugh a little together.  To fully understand, we must first recognize that there are two types of laughter being lifted up for us today.  There is the cynical laughter from the heart of Sarah when she hears the promise: God’s promise, saying she shall have a child in her old age.   One theologian asks a question: “What are the things we find ourselves laughing at?  What promises of God do we find ourselves “being skeptical” about possibly being true?” /Geoff McElroy./  Dr. Keith Wagner, shared this while he preached on this very passage: “Early last week I told my wife that I was preaching on the story in Genesis where Sarah laughed when God told her she was going to give birth at the age of 90.  My wife replied, “No woman would laugh, she would be hysterical.”

The second laughter is that of joy and delight.  At the end of our morning’s reading we hear how Sarah’s cynical laughter was turned to joyous gladness upon receiving the impossible from God!  Mark Hillmer, a Professor of Old Testament studies, states the obvious, “In a year Sarah conceived and bore a son.  Her cynical laughter turned to the laughter of faith.”  Sara’s faith had been restored!  Faith is what we, you and I, must cling to if we are to continue the forward movement and momentum – building upon the good strides which are once again advancing us ever forward – as a strong Christian witness in this community!

Laughter caught our attention this morning, yet this scripture has a much deeper meaning intended!  Abraham receives an impossible promise, “yet” these three men who come to visit, (seeming to represent the three persons of the Trinity perhaps, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,) they, speaking as one, instruct Abraham to trust that God is capable and shall do the impossible.  We are very much like Abraham, in that we do not always know where we are going.  We make choices and decisions but they often do not take us where we thought they would, or they lead us into blind alleys where we must trust in God to see us through!  Such is the way of faith!

 

Last week Angie spoke to you about being lost.  A subject which –  many have personal knowledge.  She spoke of being afraid and we all know what that feels like.  Angie had an awakening that changed how she sees the world.  She shared at a core and deep level.  I read her sermon before I went on vacation.  I am deeply humbled at her ability to share with you at such a personal level.  She has experienced a deep awakening, realizing that God could do for her what she could not do for herself!  We are like Angie and Abraham and yes – we often respond as did Sarah!  Just before the miracle happens, we lose our way and get cynical and laugh in disbelief.  I urge you, don’t give up before the miracle arrives!  When the laughter comes let it be joyful and filled with gratitude!

Rabbi David Ackerman speaks out to us: “We, like Abraham, don’t always know where we’re headed.  And like Abraham, we walk in order to learn.”  It can also be said that like Sarah, sometimes the things which we ask of God, can be considered comical.  To think that God would do such and such for us as individuals or as a church, at times can be comical.  What we need to guard against is allowing ourselves to become hardened or cynical in our laughter.

There is a lot of work yet to be done within the borders of these United States and it needs to start from the bottom up.  The need for action is within communities, local institutions and individuals like you and me.  We, must first police ourselves and be sure that we, representing a “United Church”, do not lose our way in the midst of our –  our own human failings.  We are too good a faith community to allow this type of cynicism to tear us apart.

Together, growing stronger each day… as we walk the journey of faith, together, we will find new hope and new direction.  Our disbelief will turn into joy and we shall laugh the laughter of triumph; praising God’s wisdom, justice, love and forgiving grace as we go ever forward!

Amen.

 

“Hear now these ancient words as written in the Genesis, chapter 18, verses 1-15 and Chapter 21, verses 1-7.”

 

Genesis 18:1-15

1 The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.  2 He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground.  3 He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant.  4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.  5 Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on – since you have come to your servant.”  So they said, “Do as you have said.”  6 And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.”  7 Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it.  8 Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.  9 They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.”  10 Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.”  And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him.  11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.  12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?”  13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’  14 Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?  At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.”  15 But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid.  He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”

Genesis 21:1-7

1 The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised.  2 Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him.  3 Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him.  4 And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.  5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.  6 Now Sarah said, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.”  7 And she said, “Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children?  Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

 

“Allow these words, spoken so long ago, to open your heart and your mind to new faith and new teachings.”

 

 

 

Sermon by Angie Wright

“I Was Lost”

Sunday July 10, 2016

 

As a child I got lost once at the mall.  I was with my mom and dad and we stopped to look at something in one of the areas that are in the center of the mall.  The next thing I know, I looked up and they were gone.  I was so scared, my heart started pounding and I started crying.  My head went through so many different scenarios of what might happen if they couldn’t find me.  Would someone snatch me? Or would I be lost forever?  What was I supposed to do?  No one prepared me for this to happen.  Being lost is a horrible feeling to have in life.

Can you remember a time when you were lost and how you felt?

Come to find out, that is not the only time I was lost in my life, I was lost the first 40 years.  Without knowing and having God in my life, I feared many things and felt very alone.  Seeking love and acceptance, but always ending up on the short end of the stick.  I was just like those Israelites, on that mountain for forty years and eleven months; I was lost and stuck in a path that was not intended for me.  Moses told the children of Israel that day, the Lord our God spoke to us in Horeb, saying: “You have dwelt long enough at this mountain.  Turn and take your journey”.

In a Google search there was a sermon entitled: “When God says “go!”  Don’t Say “No!””   Written by Jim Twamley.  Within his sermon he asked these questions: “What new thing is God calling you to?”  “Where is God saying to go?”  “Where in your life are you telling God “No!”  When you finally listen and go in the direction that is intended for you, it is amazing what you will find.

Growing up all I wanted was to be smart.  I went to college once before but I was too afraid of being a disappointment to my family.  Education was not important where I came from.  I had no one to push me to be all I could be and I did not know how to push myself.  I dropped out after my second year.  This is where I told God no.  I lived many years regretting my decision and through the years I still wanted to go back but I was too scared of failing.  When I finally started listening, I went back to school and it has turned my life around in so many ways.  I now have a degree in Accounting and currently working towards a bachelors in psychology.  When you start following your path, not only does God believe in you and push you but the belief in yourself starts showing and just the pure joy of being successful keeps you going.

My faith journey is still very new and it continues to grow more and more each day.  I cannot express the gratitude I have.  As I sit and reflect on how my life has changed in just this short amount of time, it still overwhelms me.  When I start talking about my life; where I was and who I am today, I still get tears in my eyes; because I know it could have been so different.  The path that I was on was not the one intended for me and I fought it for so many years.

Looking back as I often do, I can see many warnings that were given to me.  At that time I was drowning in my own self-pity, feeling like I deserved nothing good in my life and that what my life consisted of was my punishment.  I do a lot of reflecting and thanking God for saving me.  I will never be able to say it enough… “I am truly blessed”.  I know people say that all the time, but truly, I do have a great life and I owe it all to God.

In September of 2014 I was at my lowest point in my life, ask anyone who knew me then.  I was sleeping on a friend’s couch and Aiden on the floor next to me.  I had nowhere to go, no money to afford my own place and definitely no confidence in myself that I was going to overcome what had just happened to me.  I was drowning in my misery and scared out of my mind not knowing what I was going to do.  How was I going to take care of my son and provide for him when I couldn’t even take care of myself?

It is true that people pray when they are at their lowest, I am a true testament to that.  I started praying to God for help, wisdom and guidance.  I prayed to God to show me the way for a better life with my son.  I started thanking the people that where there to pick me up when I fell and I learned how to become humbled and take help, even from complete strangers.  I told people my situation and the ones that I wouldn’t have thought would help are the ones that stepped in with no questions asked.  People that really didn’t know who I was helped me get my own place and gave support to me and Aiden until we got on our feet.  These people, God’s people, rather they know it or not, came together to help a lost soul find their way back home.

I am finally moving in the path God created for me. 

My life is great for many reasons.  When you have the ability to reflect and compare who you are now as opposed to just a year from now; and see such a different person standing in front of you, that is a huge accomplishment.  I am healthier which gives me the ability to be more active with my precious son.  I am in a path that I have always desired, I have stability and I have gotten rid of the majority of the toxic people in my life.  I am able to see life in a different perspective for the first time and I am so stoked and blessed to walk this path.

I can attest that starting my new path has been a struggle.  The struggle was within me with learning and understanding how to have faith for the very first time in my life.  The Lord says “there will be a storm, but be calm and be still” and I will guide you through it.  Did I question God and this so called faith?  Absolutely I did for months.  Every day I questioned and I didn’t understand the power of God.  Miracles starting happening slowly and then became daily.  Reflecting on myself, just a year and a half ago to now; WOW, how foolish I was to not have enough faith.

Look at me now!  Full of life, love, spirit, joy, positives’; wanting to learn as much as I can about the Lord.  Wanting to do God’s work daily, to teach people what kind of life they can have when they just have faith.  I am finally on the path that was intended for me and I am thankful and grateful every day to be on this journey.  There is nothing but pure joy inside of me because now I know God loves me and never gave up on me!

Do you remember being a kid and all you wanted was to be noticed?  Did you ever want someone just to see your potential and help you grow?  This is what I have now; someone who never gave up on me and will continue to love me unconditionally.  The Lord shows me every day what I have to offer; not only to myself but to everyone in this world that I come into contact with.  There are many things that are different in me since I have started believing and following my path.

I am much happier now. It is amazing how belief can change your attitude.  Before I could only see the negative in every situation; now, I am able to take a step back and see the positive and that is what I focus on.  When something happens it’s not a poor me; it is I have the resources to change this.  Having faith changes every aspect of your life and it is a great feeling.  Being grateful for what I have has also changed me.  I appreciate what I have a lot more than in the past.  I now realize that I am rich in so many ways and what I have in life is much better than anything materialistic.  Thank you Lord for what you provide for me:  a roof, a beautiful son to love, amazing friends to share with, an amazing job, and the ability to live a loving life.

Tim Parson wrote a sermon with the topic “It’s Time to Move On”.  In this sermon he challenges you to “take a look at where you are;” is this where you are supposed to be in life? Or is there something else you are to do?  What is holding you back?  Why are you afraid to walk your path?  Do not settle in your life because it is comfortable.  Do something, make a difference, Walk your path that was intended.

My life finally has purpose; I have a mission in life.  My purpose in life is to reach out and touch as many people as possible.  I have a calling to help those in need.  I have always had a deep connection from childhood to make people see life in a different perspective.  There are many ways I will accomplish this throughout my life.  Being positive and uplifting is what individuals look for; they are drawn to this and desire to have that within themselves.  Another mission is to be a spokesperson for children in our world.  Our future lies in these little ones and some just need someone to believe in them.  I want to help give life and hope to the ones that only see darkness.

I have been given purpose in this church as well.  To help teach the children of our church is an amazing task, which is challenging yet rewarding at the same time.  I enjoy talking about God and faith immensely and now I have the opportunity to share what I have learned.  This is just the first step with teaching.  My new path is preparing me to become a minister and teach all ages the word of God.  This church is my new family and I am blessed to have every one of you in my life.  Doing God’s work is the greatest reward any of us can have in our lifetime; and we will do it together.

It might have taken me 41 years, just like the Israelites, but He never gave up on me and showed me that it could be done.  Deuteronomy 1:8 says, “See, I have set the land before you; go in and possess the land which the Lord swore to your fathers.”

It is time for you to move from this mountain and follow your path, have faith in the Lord and you shall have what God intended you to have.

Amen.

“Hear now these words from the book of Deuteronomy, chapter one, verses: 1a, 3 and 5 thru 8.

1 These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan – in the wilderness, 3 In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the Israelites just as the Lord had commanded him to speak to them. 5 Beyond the Jordan in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to expound this law as follows:

6 The Lord our God spoke to us at Horeb, saying, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. 7 Resume your journey, and go into the hill country of the Amorites as well as into the neighboring regions – the Arabah, the hill country, the Shephelah, the Negeb, and the seacoast – the land of the Canaanites and the Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates.  8 See, I have set the land before you; go in and take possession of the land that I swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their descendants after them.”

“We now ask our God to open our hearts, as-well-as our minds, to a deeper understanding of these ancient words and how they may enhance our journeys in the Twenty-First century.”

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

 “Speak of Forgiveness”

Luke 7: 36-50, June 12th, 2016

 

In the Bible there are many stories of God’s forgiveness, especially in the New Testament.  Jesus is often seen as the benevolent giver of forgiveness.  Earlier this week I told several people that my sermon today would be about a parable, in which Jesus spoke about a slave whom asked his master for forgiveness of his debt, and was granted his request.  Conversely, when the slaves’ slave made the same request of him he threw him in prison.  But, the master heard of the hard heartedness of the first slave which he had forgiven.  This allegory is found in Matthew chapter 18, verses 21 thru 35; not the passage we are reviewing today.  However, that would have made for great discussion; in the first verses we hear Jesus answers a question as to how many times we are to forgive another.  ‘Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.’ /Matthew 18:22/ It is at this point that Jesus tells the story of the ‘hard hearted’ slave who having received forgiveness, yet did not pass it on to his own slave.  “Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave!  I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’  And in anger his lord [placed him in prison] until he [payed] his entire debt. /Matthew 18: 32-33/ In summation and in response to those that were listening to Jesus: “your debts shall be forgiven – as you forgive others.” /Matthew 18:35/

 

Our lesson for this morning is not this one! Yet, it builds upon it.  Just as learning the fundamentals of math build as we first learn to add and subtract then to multiply and divide.  To understand today’s lesson it would be good if we also understood these few verses from the 18th chapter of Matthew.  For here we have been plainly told that we are to forgive one another often and without fail, just as our God forgives us often and without fail; we are forgiven as frequently as we ask to be forgiven with a sincere heart!  And, just as it is summed up in the Lord’s Prayer, which we recite ever Sunday without fail, we ask our Heavenly Father to forgive us our debts, as we forgive others their debts!  This parable from the gospel according to Matthew sets the backdrop of lessons that Jesus has taught about forgiveness as we now look to a new level of this discussion.

 

The setting is an unusual one, for Jesus has accepted an invitation to be the guest at the home of a Pharisee.  In the middle of this gathering a women, a sinner we are told, comes in.  Now, let’s be sure we all get the picture here!  Jesus, a man that has been drawing crowds away from the Pharisees is dining, eating with a man that represents the hardened hearts of the religious leadership during this time period.  Then, uninvited, a women of the street, most assume she was a prostitute, comes in, weeping, and begins washing Jesus’ feet with oil and her tears, and drying them with her hair.  Quite a spectacle to be sure!  I want to try to contrast this to modern times but am finding that a bit of a stretch.  Yet, clearly, I think you are getting the general idea here.  With the scene set, Jesus tells one of his allegories to put across his lesson, strongly clarifying he understood the heart of the woman and his host.

 

The story is simple, a creditor has two debtors one owes a lot and the other very little, yet neither could pay, thus he forgives the debt of both.  “When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them.”  Then Jesus, swiftly moves away from the story and asks a question: “Now which of them will love him more?” /Luke 7:42/ Meaning which debtor will be more grateful that their creditor had canceled their debt.  The answer is the one with the greater debt, just as any honest observer would conclude.  Now the heart of the message is put forth, thereby placing our appreciation of forgiveness, at yet another level of understanding!  Quite logically, if your sinfulness is great, your gratitude for being forgiven shall, or ought to be great also!

 

At one point Jesus turns to his host, speaking of the sincerity of the woman’s actions.  On the other hand, Jesus criticizes his host, pointing out how he had not even been offered ‘commonly recognized courtesy’ as the invited guest.  Yet the woman, a sinner, had washed his feet with oil and her tears!  Clearly putting forth how the woman’s actions were far more generous and heartfelt.  Going on, Jesus makes a strong statement: “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.”  The last sentence of this verse is the ultimate turning point when Jesus says to the Pharisee:  “But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” /Luke 7:47/ I think the point is clear.  Jesus is saying to his host: Although your sins are less in contrast to the woman, your openness of heart is less, thus your love of God is less, and even in forgiveness your response would be far less; less sincere and less genuine!

 

The theologian David Ewart sums this up for us rather smartly.  “Just as the host is thinking to himself, ‘doesn’t Jesus know what sort of person this woman is?’  Jesus tells a story to make plain that he does indeed know what sort of woman she is, and more than that, knows what sort of person his host is as well.  Ouch.”  If in fact the host understands what Jesus has said to him as plainly as we have come to understand this passage, one can only suspect he was a bit perplexed and possibly outraged by the remarks of Jesus.

 

If you had been the host that day how would you have felt?  How would you have responded?  Is it easier to identify yourself with the outraged host?  Or rather the woman of the street who needed forgiveness and acknowledged it?

 

As we all begin to consider the impact of this allegory let us ponder some simple points.  As Christians living in the modern era, The Twenty-First-Century, we clearly see things differently.  At the very least, we see through a different set of glasses, as we view this scene through the ancient writings which make up our gospel lesson.  We, as a community, are not so rigid in our thinking and the majority of us, are well education and fairly well versed on the stories of the Bible, and how they came to be written in the English translations in our pews this morning.  What we may be lacking is the ability to truly see ourselves for who we are.  I suspect that the majority of folks that hear this passage, identify with the sinful woman rather than the arrogant host.  Isn’t this correct?  We are taught to be humble so we identify with the sinner… if not for any other reason than believing it is the right thing to say or to do.  Again, isn’t this the case?

 

I know, we all know, that everyone practices their faith in different ways and there are many ways to approach this scripture lesson.  But, at least for the sake of learning, let’s stay with this approach.  The contemporary theologian I am going to now quote would have us confessing the obvious, as-well-as the not so obvious.  “We all practice our faith from a variety of mixed motives.  While we tend to identify with the “sinners” in the Gospel stories, if we’re honest with ourselves we have to admit that we all have some of the “Pharisee” in us as well.” /Alan Brehm/ What Alan Brehm has just said to us can be a bitter pill to swallow, and a hard point to discard, as least without some reflection, if we are willing to be honest with ourselves.  At some level he seems to have hit a sore spot for many of us Christians.  It is easier to be a confessing sinner, asking for forgiveness, than to be scorned as a pious hypocrite; a trait which we prefer to see in others.  Was this the purpose of this conversation about forgiveness?  Are we now meant to take a second look at ourselves to see where we stand in this simple story?

 

The last line of this passage ends our lesson – just as most forgiveness stories narrated by Jesus end: And Jesus (he) said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” /Luke 7:50/ On this point there seems to be no question about Jesus’ teachings: In order to be forgiven, at any level, the burden begins within us.  We have got to become humble enough to accept that God, through Christ, is what we base our faith on.  In simple terms, we have to believe in the Son of God, before God can work with us.  It’s like the patient that goes to see a doctor for their condition.  They need to trust the doctor can help them, otherwise, they will not earnestly listen and heed the doctor’s advice.  Needless to say, if we do not openly trust and work with our doctors they will have little success in helping us.  Likewise, if we want forgiveness, we must trust in God.

 

When we speak of forgiveness – we must look to the breadth and depth of all elements of the teachings of Jesus.  It seems clear that Jesus wants us to be forgiven.  The only catch is, we must then become willing to be more forgiving, while at the same time becoming more and more sincere in our compassion for others.  We need to do this while trusting more and more in the grace and love of God.  In our Vacation Bible School we stressed to the children how “God knows us and loves us.”  When we, as adults, embrace these teachings, then we shall know the fullness of forgiveness, just as Jesus taught and expressed.

 

Amen.

 

“Hear now these ancient words as written in the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 7, verses 36-50.”

 

Luke 7:36 – 50

36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table.  37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment.  38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair.  Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.  39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him – that she is a sinner.” 40Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”  “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.”  41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them.  Now which of them will love him more?”  43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.”  And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.”  44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman?  I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.  45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet.  46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.  47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.  But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”  48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”  49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”  50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

 

“Allow these words, spoken by Jesus so long ago, to open your heart and your mind to new faith and new teachings.”

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard”

“Jesus Began to Teach”

Luke 4: 14-21, June 5th

It was a beautiful day, and my father wanted me to join him for a walk.  We walked out in back of the house which he had recently purchased.  He was very proud that he was able to buy his brother’s house, because my dad and his brothers had built it during the depression.  He showed me the well, where they had dug it, by hand, when the house was first built; it had been their only source of water.  He pointed out the grove of pine trees and explained how they had been planted, decades earlier.  He then began to point out different trees and naming them: blue spruce, hemlock and red cedar, and talked about the various pine trees and cypress, as-well-as the maple, the oak and the birch trees, to name just a few.  He was trying his best to pass on a few things he had learned over the years.  I wasn’t a good student but never-the-less, my dad did his best to teach me.  My grandfather Dixon did similar things.  They both were always trying to teach me something.

When I entered college, I took a public speaking course.  We were all waiting to meet the professor.  When he came into the room, he walked to the front of the class.  He stood there with his head and his eyes facing down, then up and then back and forth from side to side, anywhere, except not at us.  He mumbled something and it was hard to even hear him.  This went on for several minutes.  Then he stood up tall, smiled at us brightly, and with a clear voice introduced himself and told us that we had just witnessed everything that we ought to… never ever do, when speaking in front of a group.  He was an interesting man.  He was a good instructor and I learned a lot from him.  Perhaps, because he created a desire within his students to want to learn how to speak in public; then he proceeded to teach us, working hard to give us all the tools necessary to be good public speakers.

This week we will have our Vacation Bible School event.  We have some children that will be with us and we have some leaders and teachers whom shall endeavor to teach them some new and exciting things about God, using as a backstop the thyme of ‘Deep Sea Discovery’!  It all starts at Celebration Reef, which will be located in the front section of the sanctuary near the organ.  Mariana will endeavor to teach us, how to sing four or five new songs, that are meant to stimulate all of us whom gather together this week, and are willing to be involved in the joy of learning.  I will have the challenge of setting the mood for exploring the day’s lesson plan.  Day one our theme is: “God knows me” just as God knew the heart of Noah, long before he began building the Ark that would rescue he and his family, and two of every species of animals, from the flood.  This opportunity to pass on the love of God to a few young hearts and minds will be a challenge for us volunteers at every stage of the process, and an opportunity for the youngsters to glean a bit more information about the different teachings being offered each day.

Whether it be the teacher, the professor, the parent or the preacher; each can only do so much to pass a thought or message on to their various students.  Each lesson presents yet another challenging moment.  The teacher, the professor may have had a bad night’s sleep, the parent may have concerns about paying the rent this month, and the preacher may have forgotten his manuscript at home and was forced to preach from some hastily gathered notes.  But, they and all instructor’s and teachers, they all work with the skills and knowledge they have at hand, in their efforts to instruct and teach others.  Sometimes, their efforts seem to glean real and meaningful results, yet all too often, their lessons seem to fall on deaf ears.  What we may need to consider is the level of responsibility the student needs to take in these situations.

In this morning’s scripture lesson we have only read verses 14 thru 21, yet I could have had us go on reading through the rest of this chapter.  There are some meaningful events that follow Jesus’ reading that day.  In verse 24 we hear a disturbing prediction coming from the mouth of Jesus.    And Jesus (he) said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” /Luke 4:24/ Sadly, we later learn as we read further that Jesus was rejected that day, in his home synagogue in Nazareth.  They even ran him out of town for his seemingly presumptuous remarks.  “Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” /Luke 4:21/ We know from other accountings that Jesus was telling them that he was the Messiah; yet, they clearly were not willing to hear this from him, since they had seen him over the years raised as a carpenter’s son.  Therefore, to them, Jesus, was too ordinary to possibly be someone so special like the Messiah, the Savior!

Many students are like those at the synagogue that day.  They were unwilling to listen to the teacher.  Perhaps, as a young lad, I was unwilling to listen attentively to the lessons my father was trying to pass on to me.  It is all about the ‘response’ of the students to the ‘efforts’ of the teacher.  The response from the home town folks in Nazareth towards Jesus’ teachings were sadly, negative.  It was even contemptuous!  Sadly, their response caused them to miss out on a great opportunity!  They could have had Jesus and they rejected him!  Was what he was saying controversial?  Perhaps, but they did not even give him an opportunity to discuss this with him further.  Pity, their loss!  Let us pray that the youngsters that come to VBS this week, come with an open heart and an open spirit.  Goodness knows, every effort is being taken so that they will have a good experience and possibly learn more about our God, whom we all cherish in our hearts.  It would be sad if they reject our efforts to teach, to share this understanding of God with them.

As our lives pull at us… are we more likely to listen to the teachings of Jesus, or are we more prone to pull away from the familiar and try something new or different?  Unlike the six to twelve year olds coming to VBS we have a bit more mileage on us.  Many of us or at least some of us have grown callous and closed when faced with a teaching opportunity.  We have learned, through experience, that when the teacher instructs us in things we do not want to hear, it can be really hard to listen, even if they are teaching us something really important and it will really help us a lot!  Sometimes teachers tell us things that make us mad!  Ever have that experience?  In that reading class the instructor told you to: do your homework before you come to class!  Or that math teacher telling you not to fall behind as each lesson builds on the next.  Some professors in college were more popular than others, yet, I have found some of the best ones are not so popular.  They are usually the ones who are willing to tell you the truth about what they are teaching, and what you must do in order to get a good grade!  These professors are usually the ones that will tell you why it is important to learn to read and write; thereby giving you a good reason to try and endeavor to accomplish the tasks laid before you.

 

Yes, God knows us and hears us, and gives us strength and loves us, and ultimately sends us out to share our stories, thereby teaching others of how God has touched us and our lives!  This is the challenge that our VBS volunteers have chosen to communicate and teach through word, song and example!  Will the students be open and willing to receive some of these teachings?  We can only pray!  But, we can rest assured that there shall be some learnings this week!  Every time we try to teach young folks a lesson we learn a lot!  We learn what works and what does not!  Everyone involved in this project will learn something!  Through the years churches like us have learned a lot of good lessons while trying to pull together an event such as this.  The key is to truly learn from them!

We will learn that some parents will truly enjoy the free time while their children are here with us.  Some of the children will come to us hungry because their parents are forced to stretch their budgets to the limit!  We will learn some compassion as we see how the love of God can and is making a difference in the lives of others.  We will learn that our compassion and love can have a real effect on those that come to us or are sent to us.  And yes, we will see some of our efforts fall on deaf ears.  If we want to be good teachers we will need to learn to take our lumps with our successes.  It is not always easy or fun.  In those times we need to look to Jesus as our power of example.  Jesus began to teach, yet was at first rejected.  However, for three years he continued to teach and his words made such a lasting impression and changed so many lives that nearly two thousand years later, we are still lifting up his lessons for others to learn from!

When we are the student and someone is seeking to teach us something, we need to take responsibility by first listening to the lesson.  Then we need to do the homework and practice what we are learning.  Thirdly, we need to put it into action, this will take effort, but making our lessons come to life in some way within our own lives, will root them into our minds and even our hearts.  This is what good students do.  When it is our turn to teach, we need to prepare ourselves and our lessons well.  Then we must stay open to the Spirit of God to give us the tools and the tenacity to teach well, always seeking to stimulate the students desire to hear and absorb what is being taught!

And Jesus began to teach!

Amen.

“Hear now these ancient words as written in the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 4, verses 14-21.”

Luke 4:14-21

14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.

15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.  16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom.  He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.  He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.  The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.

21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

“Allow these words, spoken by Jesus so long ago, to open your heart and your mind to new faith and new teachings.”