Sermon: June 21, 2009

22 06 2009

Sermon by Jeff Greathouse

I have to tell you that when I first read the scriptural text for this Sunday, my first thought was that I needed to move away from the lectionary text and preach a sermon on some scripture that I liked and felt a little more comfortable with.

The texts that are in the lectionary for today are some rough texts for me.

In the Old Testament text, we see God calling out Job. He told Job to stand up tall and take it like a man. He asked him questions. The questions made Job looked down at the ground and Job had no answers for God. God looked at Job and said, “Job, I am God … you are not.”

Now in the Psalms, we are treated with the following:

Some of you set sail in big ships; you put to sea to do business in faraway ports. Out at sea you saw God in action, saw his breathtaking ways with the ocean: With a word he called up the wind— an ocean storm, towering waves!

You shot high in the sky, then the bottom dropped out; your hearts were stuck in your throats. You were spun like a top, you reeled like a drunk, you didn’t know which end was up. Then you called out to God in your desperate condition; he got you out in the nick of time

I know that I have been in that place before. I have been at the bottom. I have been clawing for the top, hoping and praying that I will get rescued.

The “wow” though was that God called out the storm …. Let me get to the Gospel, I am sure to find some hope there; right ?

In the Gospel reading, we see Jesus using these loving words to his disciples: “Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith at all?”

As I mentioned, as I read these scriptures, I was ready to toss them out. But then, I decided to re-read them and re-read them through a different lens – a fresh lens – and my eyes were open to something refreshing. It was not a huge a-ha moment but a gentle reminder, a pat on the back moment. Do you want to know what it was:

I can make a difference.

I look at the characters in the three stories and I see Job, David and the disciples. These are individuals that have been put up on pedal stools and rightfully so. They are individuals who loved God passionately and overcame tremendous odds and had a marvelous relationship with God. Yet they struggled and they had a rough go at it and they did not have it all together at times.

Thus, I find comfort in the fact that I am not alone.

So, what are we to do with the scripture that we read? I think that we are to take a look at them and grab a hold of some essential truths:

1. God created this wonderful world.

2. God’s love never runs out.

3. God is in control.

These are three truths that we are able to pull out of the lectionary scriptures. These are three truths that we can hang our hat on. We may not understand what is going on and have a thousand questions but God is there and He is waiting for us.

Speaking of God, let us take a deeper look at Him and what we can learn about Him and the relationship that is possible to have with Him; the creator of the universe.

This episode of Jesus and his disciples on the storm tossed sea of Galilee recalls the confidence of the Hebrew people that in the beginning God had ordered the chaos of the raging waters in Creation and continued to have authority over stormy seas, the power to calm the winds and bring God’s own to their desired haven. So, in the Gospel reading Jesus rebukes the winds and says to the sea, “Peace, be still,” and that spoken word is all it takes to quiet the waters. The disciples are awed by the divine power present in Jesus, for the wind and sea obey him.

This story was remembered however, not only for what it revealed about God’s presence in the person of Jesus to the disciples, but for what the story meant for future generations. The story was remembered and retold because it revealed God’s presence in the storms of life. When the Church’s early life seemed at risk, Mark and the other evangelists recalled this episode and wrote it down.

Jesus being revealed as God’s own Son by his authority over the winds and the waves. These stories were told again to remind God’s own that Jesus was with them; Jesus is with us, in all the storms of this life. Which is not quite the same thing as saying that because of God’s presence; God will immediately calm the storm, or bring God’s own to safe harbor right away.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer states it this way:

“We do not necessarily doubt that God will do the best for us; we are merely

wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”

Let me read that again:

“We do not necessarily doubt that God will do the best for us; we are merely

wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”

Or, in the image of today’s Gospel, we are wondering how much water is going to get into the boat.

The appealing part of the image of God’s Spirit protecting over the chaos of creation is the notion that God cares enough to protect. When we are in the midst of chaos and despair, we want to know that someone is concerned. The concern of the disciples is whether Jesus cares. We all want to know that someone cares. It helps us when life is difficult.

I would like to share a story that Stephanie Weiner ( pastor in NJ ) shares when she speaks:

Doug was a 15-year old resident of a suburb next to mine. He had been feeling badly for several days. His temperature ranged between 103 and 105. He was suffering flu-like symptoms, and so his mother took him to the hospital, and there he was diagnosed with leukemia.

The doctors told him in frank terms about his disease. They said that for the next three years he would have to undergo chemotherapy. They didn’t sugarcoat the side effects. They told him he would be bald and that his body would become bloated. He heard all of us this, and Doug went into a deep depression.

He aunt called a florist and sent him some flowers. She told the clerk that they were for her teenage nephew who had leukemia. When the flowers arrived, they were beautiful. Doug read the card from his aunt, and then he saw a second card. It said, “Douglas, I took your order. I work at the florist shop. I had leukemia when I was seven years old. I’m 22 now. Good luck. My heart goes out to you. Sincerely, Laura.”

Doug’s face lit up. “Oh!” he said.

There he was in one of the best hospitals in the nation, filled with millions of dollars of sophisticated medical equipment. He was being treated by expert doctors and nurses with medical training totaling hundreds of years. But it was a sales clerk in a flower shop–someone who made a few hundred dollars a week–who took the time to care, who identified with him, who did what her heart told her to do who gave Doug the hope and the will to carry on.

We have the opportunity to pass on hope to individuals in our community. What are you doing to pass on hope ?

Let’s us go back to the disciples …

The disciples wanted to know that Jesus cared, that he had protection over them. And he did. The story took his caring one step further. After Jesus woke, he spoke to the winds and the waves. “Peace! Be still!” And they were. That was the ancient way of saying that Jesus was stronger than the chaos of life. It was the early church’s way of claiming his lordship over the natural world as well as the human one. Jesus both cares and does something about his caring. The wind ceases and there is a dead calm. “Peace! Be still!”

There is a tradition in The British Navy. If there is a sudden disaster aboard ship, the “still” is blown. It’s a whistle that calls the crew to a moment of silence in a time of crisis. When the still is blown, people aboard know that it means, “Prepare to do the wise thing.” Observers of this system note that the moment of calm has helped avert many a catastrophe. It has prevented many scatterbrained actions.

It is amazing what you can do when you have power and claim it, when you know the value of stillness and practice it, when you do not give into panic but hear the words of Jesus spoken with authority, “Peace! Be still,” when you not only hear those words but apply them to your own life.

Now, I don’t know about you, but too often I don’t practice stillness. In a bad situation, I more often think that something needs to be done and done now. Well, what if we practiced stillness? What if we claimed the power and authority to slow the response? What if we took stock of our situation a bit more before we acted? With the disciples, we might recognize that our situation is not as desperate as it seems; and if, it is that desperate — it can still be handled better by a calm, reasoned approach.

Sometimes circumstances come in and we are overwhelmed by what is happening in our lives. We wonder whether or not in the midst of out of control there is any way in which we can discover the help and the love of God.

Sometimes when circumstances of our lives break in upon us, it feels like that to us. It feels as if when the waves are threatening to swamp our boat that God is asleep and is no where to be seen, no where to be found. In that circumstance we wonder just as the disciples wondered about Jesus.

It is interesting that their question about Jesus is a question that says: Don’t you care, Lord? Don’t you care, Rabbi (or teacher)? Don’t you care if we drown? Are you so indifferent to what we have to deal with that you can just sleep right through it?

Thrown out of work, faced with an unexpected and frightening medical diagnosis, struggling with financial pressures, caught in a relationship which seems to be deteriorating and going no where, or a phone call that comes and all of a sudden the heart leaps in pain and anguish, we cry out in spite of ourselves, “Lord, can it be that I have looked to you, I’ve sought your help, I’ve discovered so many good things about your love, and yet here in this circumstance it seems that you don’t care, that you are not here, that you are sound asleep? Don’t you care if we drown?”

And yet they did the right thing in the midst of those circumstances. They knew where to cry out. They knew who to cry out to. And the person they cried out to was the Savior. They were discovering more and more about His love, about His compassion, about His ability, and they woke Him with their cry.

Jesus in other places in the New Testament says to us that it is alright to cry to God. In fact, God invites us to cry. We are told to ask, to seek, to knock, and to pound on the door of heaven. You can almost see the disciples here as the waves break in and the storm is furious. They do the one thing that is left to do. They had done all that was possible to do with their human skill and now they cry in their neediness to Jesus. And Jesus hears and responds to that cry. Our fears are so often very strong when the storms threaten to overwhelm us that we can cry to Jesus and know that he hears and that he will respond to the cry of our hearts.

Regardless of the situation that you may find yourself in today, I want you to know this one thing: God is in control. No matter what the test, God is in control. Stand the storm. Remember, God is in control. You can make it. God is in control. It’s passing over. Remember, church, God is in control.





Sermon: January 4th, 2009

5 01 2009

Here is the sermon for Jan. 4th. We apologize for it being “choppy”. The other sermons will be created in a different format and this will not occur. This should be a one-time event.

The Scripture

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

 

 

                                                            Matthew 2:1-12

 

 

 

He was tired, he journey had been long and very hard at times,
and despite the companionship that he enjoyed on the way,                he had often found himself feeling discouraged.
 
But for all that -tonight was special, 
His journey was over and he felt a peace in his heart he had
never felt before..
 
It had all begun months earlier - it seemed like years now -
when he had noticed a new star in the heavens, a star that did not belong there one that had never been there before.
 
At first he thought that he had made a mistake, that the charts that he had relied upon for years were in error, but as night followed upon night he saw that the star moved, that it was changing position against the familiar constellations.
                         
Finally, - certain of his discovery, and not sure what to make of
it, he told another astrologer at the Shah's court about what he
had found.
 
Events followed fairly quickly then... at first anyway.
 
After his discovery was confirmed by his friend all the Shah's
astrologers and soothsayers gathered to observe the star and to
discuss what it meant.
 
After a few days of intense debate, days in which astrological charts were cast in the dozens, and clerks scurried back and forth with complicated calculations, after an incredible amount of work and confusion, it was decided that the star signaled the birth of a new king, in fact of a great king - and that this king had been born, or was about to be born, in a land somewhere to the west of them.
 
For another few weeks various attempts were made to discover what
king had been born in the western lands or what Queen was expecting a child, but, because there was no news to be had from those far lands
and because the Shah still expected advice every day and couples still wanted charts drawn up when their children were born, and because business too was very good among the merchants who wished to know the best time to buy and sell their goods, because of all these things, very soon most of the wise men in the land forgot about the new star and the excitement caused by its appearance.
 
But there were some who could not forget, and he and two others
continued to discuss the star long after the news of its appearance had faded from the minds of the rest.
               
It seemed to him and two of his companions that the star was a
sign of tremendous significance. Never had they heard of a new star appearing and never had they seen a star move in the heavens.
 
Together they discussed how the star must be a sign from the gods
that something very important was happening and that the king
whom everyone had agreed the star heralded was no ordinary king.
 
The star was a such a powerful sign, that he finally resolved to
set forth and to find the king who lay beneath it. He knew that his life would be incomplete if he did not meet the king the star pointed to.
 
His two friends, who were equally excited by the star and in awe
of the power it pointed to, agreed to go with him on his trip. So it was that one night, leaving behind all that they held dear and knew so well, they set forth.
 
They had travelled a long way since then, a long way, and often the way had been difficult, often there had been delays and uncertainties, often there had been danger and confusion..
 
There were times when he and his friends could not move onward, the sky would be obscured by clouds and they could not be sure if they were heading in the right direction and so they would set up camp wherever they found themselves and wait.
 
Always when he had to wait he lost some of his confidence. He was never sure if, when the clouds parted once again, that the star would still be in the sky.           
 
Perhaps it would disappear from view as suddenly as it had appeared, perhaps he was chasing a ghost star, a star with no real significance,           a star with no real existence. Perhaps he was a fool on a fool's errand.
 
At other times - when the star shone brightly and the three of them could move onward their progress was impeded by terrain that even people travelling by day would have had trouble with.
 
A leg of their journey that local residents told them would only take a day would take three, and the easy paths that other travellers told them about never seemed to be as easy as they expected.
 
It seemed at times that there had never been a easy night for them: always there was some anxiety or other to disturb them - even on the most level paths; sometimes, in fact, those paths worried him the most, for there others might be roaming, others with evil on their minds, others ready to kill or steal from passing strangers.
 
But the worst thing, the thing that made the journey the hardest, was the comments of others. Most of the people they met on their way could not understand why they were following a star.
 
They thought they were crazy to travel by such an obscure light,    crazy to have left behind the safety of their own land, and the security of their jobs in the Shah's court.
 
They would ask him and his friends why they had not stayed at
home with the other wise men, and they would suggest, without actually saying so, that perhaps they were not as wise as those others who         had seen the star, but not followed it.
 
"So, a king has be born" they would say, "This happens every day - so what is so special about this king that you would undertake this journey.  What possible difference can it make to you?"
 
And when he or one of the others replied that this king had a
special star, a kind of star never seen before, they would laugh
and say that life was too good to go off chasing after a king
that no one had ever seen, let alone heard about.
 
Even the other astrologers they consulted along the way thought
that he and his friends were being foolish.
          
     "What difference can it make to you", they would ask? 
     "Right now you could be making a handsome profit
     casting charts for businessmen or telling your nation's
     generals when to make war and when to make peace, and
     instead here you are wandering the world looking for
     someone or something that may not even exist."
 
And so the days and the weeks passed. 
     
They pressed onward, just often they wondered if anything would come of it, and always, even on those marvelous days when they had no doubts of their own, they had to contend with the doubts of others.
 
There had been days, when resting by the roadside in their camp, or casting charts in a village square to earn money to pay for their food and lodging, he had been tempted to give up his quest.
 
He would feel comfortable, money would be jingling in his purse, his belly would be full, and he would think about the hazards of their journey, and how good he it felt to do what everyone else did, and he would forget the new king for a while.
 
But then night would come and he and his companions would look up
and they would see the star, and it would seem to outshine the others in the sky, and realizing just how special it was and how important the
new king had to be, they would once again mount their camels and set forth to find him.
 
Yes, he was very tired, the journey had been long and very hard at times, but tonight was special, he had at last arrived at the place the star had led him to.
 
The country he and the others were in that night was not a very
important one.  It lay under Roman rule - and it was primitive and backward.  
 
But they had heard rumors that a king was supposed to be born in
it, and when they had gone to the capital city and asked about that king, the man who governed the nation had told them to go and check in a town called Bethlehem.
 
Earlier that night they had left the city.
 
The star had shone brightly from the direction that Herod had
indicated and they had followed it, until they had entered the village of Bethlehem, and when they had arrived there it seemed to him that the star was, for the very first time, directly above his head, and that it shone in a special way upon one house.
 
He had dismounted and with the other two had entered the house
and saw an infant child in his mother's arms. For a moment he doubted that he had found the great king, for though the star shone through the chimney hole so that its light seemed to rest upon the child's face - everything else seemed to be all wrong.
 
There was no sign of royal wealth in the house - there were no expensive oils to sooth the skin, no costly furs or linens upon the sleeping pads to bring easy sleep to the baby, there was nothing in fact to indicate that the babe was anything but the child of a poor peasant, of a man, who by the few tools and pieces of wood          stacked in a corner seemed to be a carpenter.
 
Yet - there was a feeling in the room, a feeling that seemed to radiate from both the mother and the child, and the star light seemed to cast a halo around them.
 
So he had explained to the woman why he was there with the others, and in return she had told him of a dream she had, a dream in which her God had told her she would bear a child to rule his people and to bring light to the gentiles.
 
Then her husband told them that the baby was special, and that when he had been born shepherds had seen angels and come to the stable were the baby had been born and worshipped the child.
 
And then he had looked again at the child, and at his mother, and he thought about the light she had mentioned, and how the star had brought him to this very place, and a feeling of joy overcame him,
a feeling that he saw had overcome his friends.
 
Then, without a word to each other, they had knelt, and paid homage to the new king, they had prayed that God his father would bless him in all his days, and make him greater even than the star that had led them to him, and then they had given the child those things that they had brought to give to the new born king gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
 
Now, outside the little house he thought about his journey, he felt tired, but he felt too a peace that he had never felt before, he realized that he would never feel incomplete again, for the king who had been born, was not a kinglike all the other kings he had known,
for he was a king who would look after all those who were like
him: the poor, the weak, and the humble.
 
He was a king who would conquer with love, and rule with compassion.  
He realized that somehow the God that Mary spoke of was the only God that mattered, and that this God was in the child they had seen.
                    
He prayed for the second time that night, he prayed that he might be one of those loved by that child, one of those loved by that God, and that he might always see the light of his star inside his heart and follow his way, and he knew even as he prayed - that his prayer would be answered.
 
It had been a long journey, at times it had been a discouraging journey, but it had been a worthwhile journey, because not only had he found a great king, he had also found a God who cared so much for
the world, that he had taken on flesh and dwelt among his people...
 
LET US PRAY:
 
Dear Lord God - open to us the way of this New Year,
the way to you. Help us follow the light you have placed in our hearts,
give us courage to go on despite the dangers, despite the ncertainties,
despite the doubts. In times of ease - help us not to forget your purpose for our lives, In times of darkness - give us encouragement.
When others question us - build us in our resolve to follow in your path When others attack us - defend us with your spirit.
 
Bring us to the joy, the hope, the peace, and the love, you have
promised. We ask in Jesus' name.  Amen





Sermon: November 30, 2008

2 12 2008

November 30, 2008: Advent Week 1

You know, when I sat down about a month ago, I decided that I wanted to have a sermon series for this Advent.  But what should I preach on.  And then I thought – what about the Advent Wreath.  Every Advent we light the Advent Wreath.  Every Advent we do a special thing for the lighting of each candle.  That’s what I will do.  I will preach about the Advent Wreath – and the Four Candles – THE CANDLE OF HOPE – THE CANDLE OF PEACE – THE CANDLE OF JOY – THE CANDLE OF LOVE.


But then  I thought to myself – I wonder where all of this got started.  So I did what any normal person would do.  I went to WIKEPEDIA and here is what I found.


The earliest Advent wreaths were made in the Middle Ages; however, the first modern Advent wreath was made by Johann Hinrich Wichern (1808-1881). Wichern was a German theologian and educator who founded a home for poor children in the city of Hamburger. During the Advent season, the children would ask daily if Christmas had arrived. In 1839, he built a wooden ring  with 24 small red and 4 big white candles. A small candle was lit successively every day of Advent. On Sundays a large white candle was lit. This eventually led to the modern Advent wreath with its four candles.


About 1860, people started to entwine the wooden ring with evergreen cuttings. The Advent wreath became a German Christmas Tradition at the beginning of the 20th century. In Austria and southern Germany  it did not become a custom until after 1940.


So today I would like to start with the first Candle – the Candle of Hope.  And for this sermon I would like to share with you this reading from the Gospel of Luke:

 

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.


Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.


Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”


When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”


            You know, this promise of the Messiah couldn’t have come at a better time for the People of Israel.  These were a people who had given up.  These were a people who had believed – who had been taught – that they were the chosen ones.  They were the People of God.  All of their life they had been taught that they had a special relationship with God and that God would take care of them and provide for them.  Now all of a sudden that had been called into question.  They had been conquered by and were now ruled by Rome.  Every where they looked they saw Roman Soldiers.  Some of their young men had been taken to serve as slaves – in their military – in their mines.  They had to pay heavy taxes to finance the Roman War machine – to pay for the very soldiers who oppressed them.  These were a people who had given up on hope.  These were a people who had begun to believe that God had deserted them.  Maybe they had done something to anger God.  Whatever it was – these were a people who had lost hope.

 

            And now in the midst of this comes the Angel of the Lord comes to Zechariah.  The Angel of the Lord comes to Zechariah and says, “God has not forgotten you.  The day of deliverance is at hand.  Your son will prepare the way of the Lord.”  There is hope.

 

            You know, those are words that I think we still need to hear.  There are many people – many here to day – who might be wondering – where is God?  Has God deserted us.  We always knew that there was evil in this world, but it seems like evil is winning.  There was 9/11.  Why would God allow such an awful thing to happen?  Our newspapers are filled with one horrible story after another – one tragedy after another.  The word war is bad enough but in our lifetime we have been introduced to such words as genocide and ethnic cleansing.  The words sound so clean – almost like something you would do with bleach or Brillo Pads.  But the truth is that those words mean the death of thousands – hundreds of thousands of innocent men and women and children whose only crime is that they were born with the wrong name – the wrong skin color – the wrong family. 

 

            And then there is our own economy.  Millions are out of work or scared that they might soon be and then how will they support their families – how will they keep the roofs over their heads and food on the table.  Then there our senior citizens who far too often have choose between food and their medicine.

 

            And there are times when I think the worst result of all is not the loss of lives or homes – but the lost of hope.  And that is why this First Candle of the Advent Wreath is so important.  It is about hope.  It is about the promise that God has not forgotten about us.  It is about the promise that God still loves us.  It is about God walking with us – taking us by the hand and walking with us.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

 

            This week – why not make an Advent Wreath for your house.  If you want get a wreath – place it on your table with four candles.  If that seems like a lot of work, then just get Four Candles and place them on your table – and then tonight as you gather for dinner light the first one – look at it.  Remember that it is the Candle of Hope.  Remember that God still loves you.  Remember that Jesus came for you.  Remember a promise made and a promise kept.  Remember that Christ is the Hope of the World.

 

Amen!