Monday, November 5, 2012


FINALLY getting into a routine down here. We have been here for only a little over a week, but with all the work we had to do in getting the campers swapped out, it seems like a lot longer!

But, we finally got everything moved and put away and little glitches fixed (well, most of them...) We found a nice small computer desk for one corner, since there was no "office" area in this trailer like there was in the 5th wheel.

Now the trick is to remember where we put everything away! Since Lynn did the outside and I did the inside (as usual) we have to ask each other where things are sometimes, but eventually we will both know where everything is stored.

We are loving the new trailer (other than the few things Lynn had to fix). It has a lot more space and Lynn actually has head room in it. Of course, I feel like a midget, but that's okay. I am used to having to use a step stool for the high places. (Plus I got a good work out going up and down on the step stool for two days while I put things away!) But some of the cabinets are so high Lynn even has to use the step stool -- for the overhead ceiling vents, too. I told him now he knows how most of us feel most of the time!

By request, I will be taking some pictures of the trailer (at least of the inside) now that we have it set up and posting them on facebook. 

Lynn is out fishing this morning on the State Park Pier. He is getting his license this year, so I am sure that will be part of his daily routine from now on. I did an hour and 20 minutes in the pool this morning. I finally got a chance to do that, and intend to do it every day (except Sunday -- our day of rest -- and football!) like I do at home. And I ride my bike back and forth to where the pool is (not a real long way, but every little bit helps, right?!)

We went to the Oyster Cook-Off at The Hangout this past weekend. The oysters were great, as you would expect. And the music we listened to (The Banditos) was pretty good too. And a beautiful sunny 70 degree day. 

We have had wonderful weather since we have been here. It was a clouded over yesterday and kept looking like it was going to rain, but we only got about 20 raindrops  and done. The sky is such a clear blue down here when there are no clouds.

Lynn has started to grill now that we went grocery shopping. He made a great Beer Can Chicken (only it was a Soda Can Chicken since he didn't have any beer - gasp!) but it was fantastic. Grilling it that way makes it so moist, even the white meat. I made a pasta salad and some homemade applesauce, and Lynn also grilled some asparagus. A very tasty meal. 

We, of course, have been enjoying the local seafood too and revisiting some of our favorite restaurants, but we do enjoy doing our own home cooked meals best.

Guess that's all the chatting for now. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

In Alabama

As most of you already know, we made it safely to Alabama on Friday. We made the stupid decision of driving straight through with just a couple of naps on the way. Believe me, we won't make that choice again. It was just too exhausting, and there really was no reason to be down here any earlier than a two day trip would have taken. But we both like to keep going once we start driving. We will just have to make a rule that we won't do that again, no matter what.

We have been spending all the time we have been here getting our fifth wheel all cleaned out and all our stuff packed in bags and storage tubs ready to move over to our new Salem Grand Villa when it is delivered. The driver called Lynn on Saturday and told him he would be leaving Fulton, NY on Sunday (yesterday) and would probably be down here on Tuesday.

We have been reacquainting ourselves with the area (and the restaurants!) and seeing what is still here and what has gone out of business, or new businesses that have started up.

We went to church yesterday at Morgan's Chapel in Bon Secour. It was great to see all our friends there. The pastor and his wife were away on a retreat, so we didn't get to see them yet. I was happy to be singing in the choir again. They started their rehearsals for the Christmas Cantata already, but I didn't stay after yesterday because we had plans to pick up our grandson, Grant, for the afternoon. He has graduated Boot Camp in the Navy and now is stationed at Pensacola Naval Base in Pensacola FL which is only about 35 miles for where we camp, so hopefully we will get to see a lot of him this winter! Right now he is waiting for his "A" School to start -- he is in for Air Traffic Control, but the school won't start until after the holidays, so he will be here almost the whole time that we are here as well.

We spent a very nice afternoon with him. We took him on a short tour of Gulf Shores AL, stopped at the seashore -- beautiful clear blue skies with plenty of sunshine. It was a bit breezy so not a great day for walking the beach, but it's still beautiful to look at! We took him to the Shrimp Basket for lunch for some good seafood. We had such a great time reminiscing about times he came to visit us during the summer. We had lots of laughs. We are so blessed that he likes to spend time with his grandparents. Especially now that he is "all grown up."

Well, I am feeling guilty because Lynn is outside scrubbing down the camping trailer, so I better get back to scrubbing down the inside!
Our prayers are with all our NY friends who may be facing more flooding, power outages, etc. due to Hurricane Sandy. Be safe, everyone!!!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Lots of travel lately

We have been traveling around a lot lately. Last week we took Lynn's Mom for a fall drive to see the leaves. Unfortunately, it drizzled most of the day, but the leaves were still pretty and we stopped at the Andes Hotel and had a nice lunch. It was a nice long day with lots of good conversation. We only took a couple of pictures and with the weather, I will be surprised if they come out well.
Sunday we went to Greenfield, MA for our first "gig" as KCBS Certified BBQ Judges. What fun we had! We got to meet a lot of nice people who were also judging. Quite a few others were from NYS as well. Spouses are not allowed to sit at the same table during judging, so Lynn and I both got to meet different people. The food entries were quite good. I had to judge 4 different chicken, 5 ribs, 5 pork, and 5 beef brisket. Lynn had 5 chicken, 5 ribs, 5 pork, and 4 beef brisket. I sure was full by the time we were done. 
We learned a few things, though. Like to bring a plastic container so you can bring leftover samples home; and bring a wet washcloth to clean your hands (NO FINGER LICKING ALLOWED!) instead of having to use bottled water and paper towels. 
Must be Lynn didn't get as full as I did, because he was (willing and) able to go to the Beer Tasting Garden afterward to sample the area microbrews. Don't worry -- I drove home!
It was a long day because we couldn't find any hotel rooms because it was also "leaf peeping" season up there, so we left home at 4 AM and got back home at 7:30 PM. The ride was really good until we got about an hour from home then we kept hitting rain pockets, but we made it okay. And as I said, we had a LOT of fun! We are definitely doing it again. As a matter of fact, we have sent in our applications for about 5 more contests in 2013.
Then today we drove out to Fulton NY to Great Outdoors RV to do our walkthrough on our new trailer which will be delivered to us in Gulf Shores AL on November 1st.
We are planning on leaving on 10/27 to get down to Gulf Shores on the 28th, get our existing 5th wheel set up on site so we can pack everything up in tubs for the transfer to the new Villa when it gets delivered. We are very excited about it!
Guess that's all for now. "Talk" to you soon!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

We have a new home...

...away from home. We went to the NYS RV Show at the NYS Fairground on Friday the 21st. We wanted to go look at "destination" trailers just to see what they looked like. Then when we got to AL this year we were going to find a place to trade in our 5th wheel for one. 

BUT... we found one we really liked that had been special ordered by someone who ended up backing out of the deal. She had put down a big deposit and then flaked out on buying it. So the dealer kept the deposit and gave us a discount for it.

After much wheeling and dealing, we ended up with a trailer of our dreams, along with them throwing in a washer/dryer electrical hookup and vent, a 14'-17' awning (depending on what they have in stock). And the best part -- they were offering free Caribbean Cruises if you bought an RV that weekend. We told them we are not cruise people and asked if they could do something else for us instead. So they are delivering the camper down to AL for FREE! Wow! Just goes to show, it never hurts to ask!

So, anyway, here is a link to our new home that will be delivered to us on 11/1/2012 in AL.

We are pretty excited about it! We are going back to the RV place next Wednesday to get our final walk through (and pay for it of course). Then all we have to do is get down to AL a couple of days early so we can pack everything in the 5th wheel up in tubs, so we can switch things from that to the new trailer on the 1st.

It is so awesome when you end up being in the right place at the right time to get a deal of a lifetime!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sneak Preview

This is the sermon I will be giving tomorrow afternoon in Norwich. You get a sneak preview!

August 26, 2012 [Green] Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Outreach Service at Chenango Valley Home & Apts., Norwich NY

Scripture Lesson: 1 Kings 8:1,6,10-11, 22-30, 41-43

This takes place after King Solomon has built a temple to the Lord. Prior to that, they used a tabernacle to house the ark of the covenant. The difference between the two is that a tabernacle is portable and can be taken down and reconstructed wherever the Israelites traveled. Now the temple, which is a permanent structure, has been completed to “house” God permanently amongst the Israelites.

Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the Israelites, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of the city of David, which is Zion. Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the LORD to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD. Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. He said, "O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart, the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand. Therefore, O LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant my father David that which you promised him, saying, 'There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.' Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David.  "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! Regard your servant's prayer and his plea, O LORD my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, 'My name shall be there,' that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive. "Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name --for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm--when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.

Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 6:10-20

In this reading, Paul is assuring the Ephesians, and us as well, that God will never leave us, nor will he leave us defenseless; if only we clothe ourselves with the armor he so graciously provides.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.  As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Gospel Lesson: John 6:56-69

This is one of the hardest lessons for Jesus’ followers to understand or believe, and not all of them could handle it.

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever." He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, "Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father." Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

“Flesh and Blood”

Just what is Jesus talking about in today’s gospel lesson? Does he really expect his disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood, or is he speaking in metaphors?

Back in Jesus’ day, people could not go to the local grocery store and pick up their food. No, they were quite familiar with where food actually comes from and how to prepare it for eating. They knew how to gut fish, butcher goats, uproot vegetables, crush fruit and smash seeds in order to eat them. 

So when Jesus tells those who came to hear him speak that unless they “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you,” the pictures of slaughter and food preparation may very well have been the first thing that came to their minds. No wonder “many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’”

Maybe their familiarity with carcasses, blood and pain made Jesus’ words all that more graphic and difficult to hear. Perhaps picturing their Savior as crushed, battered, and dying was too much for them to take. Or maybe they believed that Jesus was actually asking them to become cannibals.

The thought of drinking any blood, much less human blood, was repugnant to the religious leaders, and was, in fact, forbidden by law. Leviticus 7:26-27 says, “And wherever you live, you must not eat the blood of any bird or animal. Anyone who eats blood must be cut off from their people.’” and again in Leviticus 17:10-12 we learn: “‘I will set my face against any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who eats blood, and I will cut them off from the people. For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. Therefore I say to the Israelites, “None of you may eat blood, nor may any foreigner residing among you eat blood.”

Jesus was not talking about literal flesh and blood, of course, but how can Jesus give us his flesh to eat and blood to drink? To eat living bread means to accept Jesus into our lives and to become united with him. We are united with Christ in two ways: 1) by believing in his death (which is the sacrifice of his flesh) and in the resurrection, and 2) by devoting ourselves to living as he requires, depending on his teaching for guidance and trusting in the Holy Spirit for power. As we heard in Leviticus, the life is in the blood. So, accepting the sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ is the basis for eternal life.

Verse 63 of our gospel lesson tells us “The Spirit gives life.” The Holy Spirit gives us spiritual life. All spiritual renewal begins and ends with God. He reveals truth to us, lives within us, and then enables us to respond to that truth.

Jesus tells his followers that he is “the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” Jesus was referring to the manna that God sent to the Israelites when they were wandering in the desert after having escaped from slavery in Egypt. Throughout their Exodus, God miraculously sustained his people by sending manna from heaven each morning. The bread-like manna was a “small round substance as fine as frost” (Exodus 16:14). It looked “like white coriander seed” and tasted like “wafers made with honey” (Exodus 16:31) or “pastry prepared with oil.” (Numbers 11:8).

It was this manna that Christ was recalling when he called himself “the true bread from heaven” in John 6:32, “the bread which came down from heaven” (John 6:41) and the “bread of life” (John 6:48-51, 58). Symbolically, Jesus is the heavenly manna, the spiritual or supernatural food given by the Father to those who ask, seek, and knock. (John 6:45, Matthew 7:7-8). But unlike the manna sent by God to the Israelites, Jesus gives eternal life; whereas those who ate the manna in the desert eventually died.

It’s also interesting that Jesus’ “bread of life discourse,” as John 6:26-58 is called, was given during Passover, also known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Passover celebrates the deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. On the night before leaving Egypt, the Israelites made unleavened bread, which is bread made without yeast, because they had no time to let their bread rise before taking flight.

In the context of our gospel lesson, Jesus had just fed at least 5,000 people, an event that led directly to the bread of life discourse. Clearly, he was indicating that he was God’s provision for the people’s deepest spiritual needs. Just as God had provided for his people as they came out of Egypt, so Jesus had provided physical food for 5,000 people and was ready to provide spiritual nourishment and life to all of them as well.

Many of the disciples were confused by Christ’s teachings. It was difficult for the Jewish learners to accept the idea of eating flesh and drinking blood. Jews were forbidden to even taste blood.

Jesus was trying to get the religious leaders to see beyond the physical aspects of his teaching to the real issue – namely, that if they believed in Him they would have everlasting life. Tragically, many people were so uncomfortable with his words that they began to turn away and leave his ministry. Their hearts were hardened in unbelief. But those who did believe, like Peter, who when asked if the twelve also wanted to leave, replied: “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” 

There is no middle ground with Jesus. When he asked the twelve disciples if they would also leave, he was showing them that they could either accept him or reject him. Jesus was not trying to repel the people with his teachings, he was simply telling the truth. The more the people heard Jesus’ real message, the more they divided into two camps – the honest seekers who wanted to understand more, and those who rejected Jesus because they didn’t like what they heard.

Jesus, perhaps, taught such “hard teachings” in order to weed out those who were not there to really learn what his message was truly about. He was reassured by Peter that the apostles were truly there to learn. In his straightforward way, Peter answered for us all – there is no other way but Jesus. Though there are many philosophies and self-styled authorities, Jesus alone has the words of eternal life. 

What do we do when we are confronted with a difficult situation? What if we had been there to hear Jesus’ message about eating his flesh and drinking his blood? Would we have understood? Would we have believed? Would we have stayed around to hear the rest of the story, or would we have turned away out of fear and disgust? 

Of course, when we think of eating the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, we think of communion. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines communion as a Christian sacrament in which consecrated bread and wine are consumed as memorials of Christ's death or as symbols for the realization of a spiritual union between Christ and communicant or as the body and blood of Christ. 

But doesn’t it feel like so much more than that? I know when I take communion, I am overwhelmed by the thought of eating Christ’s body and drinking his blood. I can scarcely believe that he gave his life for me while I was yet a sinner. No greater love can be shown than giving your life for someone else. It is truly a gift from God, one that I thank him for each day. 

God has given us so many gifts besides grace. God has given us not only the Holy Spirit to help guide us in his word, but he has also given us the Full Armor of God as we read in today’s epistle lesson. We can make use of the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes that will make us ready to proclaim the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 

When life gets hard, when we have things to accomplish that seem too difficult for us, or we encounter lessons that seem too hard to understand, remember Peter’s strong words. Jesus has the words of life, and he will see us through. As we continue to study his word, greater understanding will come to us.

We are what we eat, after all. So, eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ and you will have spirit and life. 

Let us pray: 
Gracious God, although we once were strangers, you receive us as friends and draw us home to you. Set your living bread before us so that, feasting around your table, we may be strengthened to continue the work to which your Son has called us. We look forward to eternal life with you. Amen.

July 22nd Sermon

July 22, 2012 [Green]- Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Outreach Service at Chenango Valley Home & Apartments, Norwich

Scripture Lesson: 2 Samuel 7:1-14a
God’s Promise to David
After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him,  he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”  Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”  But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:  “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in?  I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling.  Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar? ”’  “Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel.  I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth.  And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning  and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies. “‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you:  When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom.  He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  I will be his father, and he will be my son. .

Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 2:11-22
Jew and Gentile Reconciled Through Christ
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands) —  remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,  by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace,  and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.  Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household,  built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.  In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Gospel Lesson: Mark 6:30-34, 54-56
The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.  Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”  So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.  But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.  When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.  When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there.  As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus.  They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was.  And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

“Called to Compassion”

Our gospel lesson today would be familiar to most of us, if we had read the “middle” of it which tells about Jesus feeding the five thousand with the five loaves of bread and the two fish. As we remember, he fed them all with twelve basketfuls left over! But, today we read the verses before and after that often-told story. Why? Maybe so we would concentrate more on the “ordinary” feats of Jesus, rather than just on his miracles. 

Mark chapter 6 is action packed with things that have been going on at this point in Jesus’ ministry. He had called his twelve disciples to him. He sent them out in pairs to minister. Jesus himself traveled extensively to spread the Word, and wherever he went large crowds gathered. He had returned to his hometown only to realize that those who knew him best were not willing to believe in him and receive him as God’s Son. This is also the time when his cousin, John the Baptist, was beheaded by King Herod.  

As our reading begins in verse 30, Jesus and his disciples reunite to discuss all that has transpired, probably including the death of John the Baptist. Jesus realizes that the disciples have been very busy, just as he has; so busy in fact that they had not had time to eat. So he urges them to join him in a quiet place to refresh themselves. Doing God’s work is very important, but Jesus recognized that to do that effectively we need periodic rest and renewal. Jesus and his disciples, however, did not always find it easy to get the rest they needed!

As they attempt to leave in a boat to find a restful place to eat and talk, a large crowd finds them. Even though Jesus himself was probably exhausted and heartbroken, he has compassion for the multitudes and begins teaching them many things. He saw them as a pitiful flock of sheep without a shepherd. 

Sheep are easily scattered and without a shepherd they are in grave danger. Jesus was the Shepherd who could teach them what they needed to know and keep them from straying from God. He was compassionate enough to be available to everyone in need of guidance.

Compassion is defined as “sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Jesus had compassion for everyone he met. Even though he was tired and perhaps overwhelmed with all the demands on his time wherever he went, he never showed it. We have seen instances where the disciples get flustered and frustrated with the crowds that gather around Him and demand his attention; sometimes even trying to “shoo” them away. But Christ was always welcoming, always patient, always compassionate to those in need. 

So, in his compassion, he not only teaches this great throng of people, he also performs one of his greatest miracles by feeding them all. He then again tries to retreat, sending his disciples ahead of to Bethesda so that he can be alone and pray. He joins them later by walking on water to their boat. When they arrive at the other side of the lake, once again they encounter crowds of people seeking Jesus for healing, which even in his exhaustion, he does.

How great is our God, that no matter how many people approach him for healing and comfort, he never grows tired of their desires and demands. 

This passage clearly shows the depth of compassion that Jesus had. Even in his spiritual and physical exhaustion, and probably emotional anguish over the death of John the Baptist, he was still moved to help those he encountered. He could have just retreated, or told them to come back later, but he was so moved by their needs that he stayed and taught them and even fed them. He had valid reasons to refuse to help: he was exhausted and he was grieving. But instead of looking to his own needs, he reached out to others in their needs.

Even the most compassionate of us tend to reach out to others at our own convenience rather than at theirs. Sure, we volunteer for Food Pantry, or Habitat for Humanity, or Meals on Wheels, but we tend to set our own schedules for that, don’t we? We are not reacting to an immediate need most of the time as Jesus was.

Jesus’ compassion for the crowd motivated him to stay and be with them, even when the timing was not right. We need to be more like that with our compassion. Granted, we are not Jesus, and we must occasionally rest from our labors, but we must not use that excuse to turn away from an immediate need just because it is inconvenient or distasteful to us. If someone on the street has their hand out, that is the time to react. That is the time to make the decision whether to be compassionate or not.

When asked in Matthew 22:36-40 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

What a blessing to know that Jesus still has compassion for us just as he did for those who lived when he was on earth. Just as he did with the crowds, Jesus cannot stand to encounter our suffering without responding. Whether we are going through a temporary struggle, or something more substantial, like an illness or a financial loss, Jesus is moved by compassion for us. He will always listen to our prayers and our petitions.

Just as we are called to listen to the needs of others. We are called to become Christ’s hands on earth.

As Dr. Charles F. Stanley, of In Touch Ministry, says it in the July In Touch magazine:

God has a bigger purpose for our lives. When Jesus ascded to the Father, He left His followers on earth to function as His body. We’re His ambassadors, representing Him to a lost world. He didn’t leave us here simply to take care of our own concerns. We are to be about His business.

Jesus summarized His role on earth in Luke 22:27, “I am among you as the one who serves.” Everything he did confirmed this mission – healing the sick, castin out demons, feeding the hungry, teaching the multitudes, training His disciples, and even raising the dead. But His ultimate act of service was giving His life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28),

If we’re going to be followers of Jesus, we need His servant spirit. The Christian life was never meant to consist of just an hour or two spent in church on Sunday morning. It’s supposed to be a continual lifestyle of service – at home, work, school, or wherever you are.

Developiong a servant lifestyle is really just a matter of passing on to others the 
blessing the Lord gives us. This is not simply about giving money. The ways we serve are as varied as the gifts He gives.

Can we heal people just by allowing them to touch the hems of our garments?  Are we expected to feed 5,000 with only five loaves of bread and two fish? No, of course not. Be we are expected to reach out to others, and to respond to others in need. To love our neighbors as ourselves. Does it have to be a grandiose gesture? No, it can be any loving gesture at all. Gestures like holding a door for someone, asking someone how their day is going, bringing food to a family in need or in mourning, driving someone to chemotherapy or other appointments, reading to someone who is losing their eyesight, holding someone’s hand in their grief.

Most people just want to be recognized and loved, and shown compassion. Don’t you want that too? Sometimes just listening and acknowledging someone else’s thoughts and hopes and dreams can be a very powerful way of showing compassion. Everyone wants to feel important to someone. That someone could be you. Show Christ’s love and compassion by being available, even when it doesn’t feel convenient at the time.

You may be very surprised how good it makes you feel to show love to someone else. Sharing love opens your heart to receive love as well. What you give out, you get back.

Here’s a very simple way to show compassion to one another: the next time you see someone without a smile – give them yours! 

Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your presence here with us today. We thank You for this gathering of believers. We thank You for the story of the five thousand who came together so long ago to listen to the words of our Lord. Help us to always appreciate hearing Your word, no matter the size of the gathering. Because as You have told us, where two or more are gathered in Your name, You are there. Help us to remember to always be compassionate towards one another, and to everyone we meet throughout our day. You don’t demand big displays from us Lord, to show our love to others. You assure us that every little thing we do in Your name is enough. We strive to obey Your greatest command: to love each other as You have loved us. Lord, sometimes that seems like an overwhelming task, especially if we are confronted by those who are difficult, or different. Remind us that they may just be lonely, or tired, or hurt, or frightened. A kind word, a soft look, a loving touch may be just what they are longing for, Lord. Give us the courage and the compassion to reach out. In Your blessed name, Amen.

Falling Behind

Well, I guess I am falling behind on my postings. I have given two more sermons at Norwich since my last posting, and I am giving another one tomorrow. So here is the one from June 10, I will post July's in another posting and tomorrow's in a third one. (Don't want to give you eyestrain or anything!)

June 10, 2012 [Green]- Second Sunday after Pentecost
Outreach Service at Chenango Valley Home & Apartments, Norwich

Scripture Lesson: 1 Samuel 8:4-20 (11:14-15)

4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”
6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.”
10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day. ”
19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
14 Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there reaffirm the kingship. ” 15 So all the people went to Gilgal and confirmed Saul as king in the presence of the Lord. There they sacrificed fellowship offerings before the Lord, and Saul and all the Israelites held a great celebration.

Epistle Lesson: 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Our Heavenly Dwelling
5 Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

Gospel Lesson: Mark 3:20-35

Jesus Accused of Being Possessed by Demons
20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”
23 So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house. 28 I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. 29 But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.”
30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an evil spirit.”
Jesus’ Mother and Brothers
31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”
33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.
34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

A New Family, A New Life

Building something that lasts is not all it’s cracked up to be. The Israelites wanted to build a kingdom, complete with a king, but God yearned to be their only ruler and king. Jesus’ mother and siblings wanted to protect Jesus within the family, but Jesus yearned to minister to the world, inviting all who would follow Christ into the family. Corinthian Christians struggled with earthly bodies that age and decline, but Paul yearned for Christ’s followers to strive for that temple of faith that will last for eternity. Building families, creating political structures, and developing healthy bodies are all worthy goals. Yet today’s scriptures remind us that the call of Christ often leads to different goals: inclusion and diversity, humility and partnership, spirituality and faith. God calls us to build things that truly last, to build structures that welcome one and all, and to provide foundations and shelter for all of creation.

In the Scripture lesson today, the Israelites went to Samuel, who was then their leader, and basically told him he was getting too old to lead them and since his sons were not following in his way, they wanted a new leader in the form of a king. Samuel was naturally upset by this and took his concerns to God. God reassured Samuel that he was not the one being rejected as the leader, but God himself was being rejected as the true King.

How many times have we looked to the world for guidance, just as the Israelites were, instead of looking where we should? To God alone. And just as he often does, God gave them what they asked for, and let them face the consequences. Even though he warned them through Samuel of what their request would bring upon them, they still insisted on having a king appointed over them. God gave them Saul, which in the end, I am sure, is not the result they had wished for. Saul ended up not following the Lord our God and bringing much hardship upon Israel.

Many times when we insist on going our own way, or following the ways of the world, we find ourselves in places we may not have intended to be. But, our God is a kind and loving God and will always welcome us back into his family if we repent and sincerely ask for forgiveness. 

As we are told in today’s Psalter: “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes, with your right hand you save me.” Sometimes God is saving us from ourselves, often we are our own worst enemies. We are blessed that God is so forgiving and loving.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). And as we heard in today’s Epistle lesson, just as God raised Jesus from the dead, he will also raise us from the dead. Imagine that. God has taken death from a place of fear, to a place of promise. 1 Corinthians 15:54 says it so well: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” And back to the Epistle lesson, we are told:  Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

We are not only being promised a new life after death, but we are promised a new life with our Lord and Savior for eternity. Even though we may be outwardly wasting away, we are becoming new people on the inside. As we learn and rely on God’s word more and more, we become a new person. We will have a new life, and a new family.

For those who, for whatever reason, did not grow up in a loving family, the thought of a new family might be very attractive. As we see in today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus’ family was not always supportive either. When they heard that he was preaching so much that he did not even take time to eat, they became concerned that he may have “gone off the deep end” as a result of his evangelical teaching to great crowds. So they “went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’.”

Indeed, those who opposed Jesus took that opportunity to accuse him of being possessed by the devil. But, as usual, Jesus took that as a teaching moment and told them that Satan would never undermine himself, so if Jesus was trying to rid the world of demons, how then could the greatest demon of all be directing him to do so? As he put it: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.  And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come.”

When Jesus’ family arrived where he was teaching, they sent word to him that they were there and were concerned. When Jesus was told that his mother and brothers were there, he asked: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.

On the surface, this may seem like Jesus was rejecting his mother and brothers as his family, but instead, he was expanding his family to include all who follow the words of his true father: God.

As I said, those who did not grow up in a loving family can take heart that there is one true parent who will always love them. Whether you think of God as Father, Mother, or a Supreme Being of no specific gender, we can all think of him as our Loving Parent. And just as any loving parent does, God has set rules and guidelines and expectations for our behavior. But unlike earthly parents, who often joke that they don’t possess a “Parents’ Manual,” God does: it’s called the Bible, his Holy Word.

Our job here on earth is to follow that Word, to study that Word, to live that Word, so that when our days are done, we will be able to meet God face to face and give a good accounting of ourselves.

When we die, as it says in our Epistle lesson today:  Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. As we are told in the 21st chapter of Revelation: And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

Even those who did grow up in a loving family can take heart, as they know that their loving earthly family will be standing right beside them with their new heavenly family. At last we will all be in our new home, with our new family, and with our one true Loving Parent. Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, thank you for promising us a new home and a new family with you as our Loving Parent. Thank you for the gift of your precious son, Jesus Christ, who gave his life so that we might live. Thank you for giving us the blueprint by which to live our lives: your Holy Word. Thank you for bringing us together today so that we could sing your praises and speak your truths and hear your direction for our lives. Thank you for taking the fear out of death, for promising that something better is to come; that death is not an ending, but a door to a better world where you have given us a new house not built by human hands. When our earthly tent has been folded, thank you for the reassurance that something better is waiting for us. Thank you for your steadfast love, patience, and forgiveness of your lowly children. Please be with those in need today, those who may be hurting, or grieving, or searching for something greater than themselves. Hold us all in your loving arms. Help us to feel your strength and your concern. Bring us, fresh and anew, into your loving family. These things we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Monday, May 28, 2012

In Remembrance

The following is a sermon I gave at Chenango Valley Home and Apartments yesterday afternoon. (We will be doing another service there on June 10, so stayed tuned for that sermon posting as well.) 

It is based mostly on Acts 2:1-21:

The Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost

2 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Peter Addresses the Crowd

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people. 
Your sons and daughters will prophesy, 
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy. 
19 I will show wonders in the heaven above
    and signs on the earth below, 
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood 
    before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

In Remembrance

Today is Pentecost Sunday, which is why some of us are wearing red, to represent the flame of the Holy Spirit which was poured out upon the apostles. 

Although Pentecost is often viewed as the “birthday celebration” of the Church, we do not always recognize how vivid the images of new birth are in the stories related to Pentecost. Indeed, the true promise of Pentecost is that we are all given birth and new life through the Spirit. In Acts, which we read today, the followers of Christ are gathered together in one place when the Holy Spirit comes like a mighty wind and creates a new community of faith and hope, giving birth to Christ’s Church. In today’s Psalter, Psalm 104, the Spirit speaks and the creatures of the earth are created, born of God’s very Spirit. In Romans, today’s Epistle lesson, all of creation groans in labor pains for new birth and life in the Spirit. Even in John, our Gospel lesson today, Jesus prepares the disciples to receive the Advocate, who will speak truth and new life that they do not yet comprehend. The pinnacle of Jesus’ resurrection story is the new life given to Jesus’ followers—not just in the hereafter, but in the here and now. This re-birth, this new life, is the promise and the gift of Pentecost.

Tomorrow is our observed Memorial Day. Originally called Decoration Day, it is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. There is also evidence that organized women's groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War.

While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it's difficult to really prove the origins of the day. It is more likely that it had many separate beginnings that culminated in Gen. Logan giving his official proclamation of the day in 1868. It is not important who was the very first, what is important is that Memorial Day was established. Memorial Day is about coming together to honor those who gave their all.

Just as Jesus gave his all for us. After his death and resurrection, Jesus spent forty more days on this earth. During that time he made special efforts to prepare his disciples for his ascension into heaven. As we heard in today’s Epistle lesson, he told them of the coming of the Holy Spirit who would guide them and teach them after he was gone from this earth.

He knew that they were distressed about his leaving them. So He said:  But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have been one of the original disciples, to have known Jesus when he walked the earth, to have heard him teach and seen him perform miraculous healing? The passage from John’s Gospel reminds us that even though we are not in the physical presence of Jesus the Christ, God’s Holy Spirit is with us, to guide us, to comfort us, and to help us witness to our faith. (Dan R. Dick)

So, in a way, Pentecost and Memorial Day are related, in that they are both days of remembrance. The Holy Spirit helps us remember Christ was once here on earth, that he died for us, and will return again. The act of placing flowers on the graves on Memorial Day for those lost in wars, is also a remembrance of them being on this earth and giving their lives for us to be able to live in freedom. Jesus set us free from sin and those who gave their lives in war freed us from tyranny.

Can you imagine being present when the flames came down on the disciples?  First of all, why were all these people gathered in Jerusalem at this time? They were there for Pentecost, which is one of the major Jewish festivals. From the Greek word for “fifty,” Pentecost was so named because it fell on the fiftieth day after the Sabbath of the Passover. Another name for it was “the Day of Firstfruits,” during which the Jews brought the first fruits from their harvest to give to God in thanksgiving, expecting God to give the rest of the harvest His blessing. This particular day of Pentecost was the day of firstfruits of Christ’s church, the beginning of the great harvest of souls who could come to know Christ and be joined together through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Our text tells us that a violent wind came down from heaven and filled the whole house where the disciples were sitting. The wind was so loud that it caused a crowd to gather to see what the noise was all about. Then they saw tongues of fire that separated and came down to rest on each them.

Fire often indicated the presence of God. God initially appeared to Moses in a burning bush that was not consumed. God guided the children of Israel with a pillar of fire by night, and he descended before them in fire on Mount Sanai; as well as many other references in the Old Testament. Fire also symbolizes God’s purifying presence, burning away the undesirable elements of our lives and setting our hearts aflame to ignite the lives of others.

Prior to this time, the only ones the disciples could teach about Jesus were those who spoke the same language, either Greek or Aramic; and now, they were all speaking in other languages! How was this possible? We know that it was the Holy Spirit that filled them, but the observers were “amazed and perplexed” and asked one another “What does this mean?” And some even accused the disciples of being drunk! 

The Hellenists who were from various parts of the world understood the dialects in which the apostles were speaking and consequently viewed the event for what it was -- a miracle! On the other hand, the Judeans did not understand the foreign languages that were being spoken, so they concluded the apostles were drunk and speaking gibberish.

But, Peter got up and pointed out that it was too early in the day to be drunk. On Holy days, Jews abstained from eating and drinking until later in the day, and when the tongues of flame came upon the apostles it was only nine in the morning.

Peter then took the opportunity to proclaim that this event was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy that God would pour out His Spirit on all people. Peter linked the gift of the Holy Spirit with the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.

Peter’s message found its way into the hearts of over 3,000 who responded by repenting and being baptized in the name of Jesus and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Although we may never have an audience that size to win over, we can always reach out to others, one by one, through the Holy Spirit to help others come to Christ. Our passion and fire for Jesus can call others to us, just as the violent wind and flame brought all those people to the disciples.

As I said, this was the very first time these “God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven” had heard the “wonders of God” in their own tongue! What a feeling of amazement that must have been. Perhaps we can remember the first time we were told of the wonders of God, and about his son, Jesus Christ, who came to save us. Can we recall that feeling of overwhelming joy, that feeling of peace descending upon our troubled hearts? How amazed and perplexed were we? 

We, too, became filled with the flame of the Holy Spirit. We are able to remember our joy at becoming a child of God. We have a flame of remembrance in us.

Another flame of remembrance is called an eternal flame, which is kept alight forever to honor certain people or events. There are, in fact, over 30 eternal flames in the United States. Some of the notable ones are: 

The John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame in Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, maybe many of you can remember it being lit by Jacqueline Kennedy on November 25, 1963 during the assassinated president's state funeral

There is one in Honolulu, Hawaii to honor victims of the September 11th attacks

There is one on the Gettysburg Battlefield, in Pennsylvania, in memory of the dead of the American Civil War, it was first lit by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1938, maybe some of you can remember that as well.

There is one in Atlanta, Georgia at the King Center, for assassinated civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

The one in Washington, D.C., at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, was first lit in 1993 by President Bill Clinton and noted Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel

There is one in New York City, New York, at Ground Zero, lit by Mayor Michael Bloomberg on the first anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks 

The one in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, is to honor the crew and passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93 on 9/11 for their efforts to thwart the hijacking

All of these eternal flames are important in many respects, but the most important eternal flame that we possess, is our inner eternal flame – that of the Holy Spirit. We can call it our eternal internal flame, which will guide us until our precious Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, returns. Let’s keep that fire burning!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Christ Has Arisen! Let us be Witnesses

The following is a sermon I gave on April 22, 2012 in Norwich at the Chenango Valley Home & Apartments where my mother-in-law lives. It was based on the Gospel lesson:  Luke 24:36b-48:

Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet.  And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.
He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

Christ Has Arisen! Let us be Witnesses

Today’s reading from the Gospel describes Christ’s appearance to the eleven disciples on the evening on which he arose from the dead. This was actually the fifth time Christ was seen on the same day he arose: by Mary Magdalene alone in the garden; by the women as they were going to tell the disciples; by Peter alone; and by two disciples on their way to Emmaus; and now by night by the eleven.
As the scene opens the disciples are behind locked doors discussing the sighting of Christ on the road to Emmaus, when suddenly Jesus is with them. The first thing he says to them is “Peace be with you.” He may have said this for many reasons. He knew they would be frightened and confused by his sudden appearance among them. So, “peace be with you” – calm down, all is well. Or he may have said it to reassure them he was not angry with them for running away when he was taken captive, and that he forgave Peter for denying him three times. “Peace be with you” – I know you feel that you failed me and yourselves, but all is well. I am here. 
The disciples reaction was one of fear. They thought he was a ghost, because how else could he have gotten into a closed room? Even though they had heard and some had even seen him prior to this, they still were frightened. Jesus seeing this asked them why they were troubled and why they had doubts. Hadn’t he already foretold his return? But seeing that they were frightened, he invited them to look at his hands and feet – they could clearly see the nail holes that remained from his crucifixion. Then he invited them to touch him, to verify that he was indeed flesh and blood, and therefor could not be a ghost as they assumed. 
In keeping the wounds on his resurrected body he was telling them, and us, that it is okay to come before God as a wounded person. He was saying see these wounds, feel them and know that it is all right to hurt.  Pain comes to us all. I was hurt as all people are hurt, but that pain and that hurt no longer has dominion over me. I live, as I said I would.  I told you that I would suffer and that you, if you followed me, would also suffer. But I told you too that after passing through various trials and tests that pain and even death itself would lose its power; its power over me and its power over those who believe in me.
They still did not believe because of “joy and amazement.” They didn’t believe because they thought it must be too good to be true. If you think about it, maybe that’s the way we would react if we are present for the second coming of Christ. Haven’t we been told he will return again, just as the disciples had been told he would arise from the dead? We have heard of the Second Coming all of our Christian lives, just as the disciples had heard of his resurrection all of their Christian lives. Who are we to say that we would not also act with joy, amazement and disbelief as well?
But in order to further convince them of his bodily presence, Jesus asked them for something to eat. And when it was given to him, he ate it in front of them. Surely a ghost could not do that. He was truly flesh and truly there!
Jesus reminded them that he had taught them all that was written in the “Law of Moses, the Prophets and Psalms” – in other words, in the Old Testament – and that he was fulfilling all the prophesies. The Old Testament had always pointed to the coming of the Messiah. His suffering was prophesied in Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53; his resurrection was predicted in Psalm 16:9-11: heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. and in Isaiah 53:10-11:  Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.
Jesus opened the minds of the disciples so that they would understand the scriptures. We, too, can open our minds to understand Scripture through study, through prayer, and through the intercession of the Holy Spirit on our behalf. Jesus had told his disciples that he would not be around forever to teach them, but that he would leave another “Counselor” to help after he was gone. In John 14:16-17 he said:  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. And later in that same chapter, in verse 26 he said: But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
After opening their minds to the scriptures he instructed them to preach among all the nations all that they had learned. He wanted them to teach everyone – the Jews and the Gentiles – of his suffering, his death, and his resurrection. The repentance and redemption of sin should be shared with all the world, beginning with Jerusalem where he had died. 
In his lifetime, Jesus had been seen by many as a pretender and blasphemer. After his resurrection, people had to change their minds and serve him for who he really is, the Son of God. Jesus summarized the mission of the disciples as preaching repentance, calling people to turn from their own selfish ways to Christ, the one who died for them. The content of the disciples’ preaching would center on remission of sins, which is God’s gracious offer of forgiveness to all who would believe. 
Jesus declared that the disciples were witnesses of these things. He was pointing out to them that they were called to testify to his work.
So, what lessons are we to learn from these passages?
We learn that Jesus and God are all forgiving. In Jesus’ opening statement “Peace be with you,” he was assuring the disciples, and us, of this.
We learn that sometimes when something seems to be too good to be true, it really can be true. Jesus really did arise from the dead which gives us reassurance that he will come again as he promised.
We learn that it’s okay to ask for and receive proof from God that what he says is true. Jesus proved his bodily resurrection by showing the disciples his hands and feet and eating in front of them. I have asked for and received signs from God as assurance that He has heard me, and you can too.
We learn that through study, both by ourselves and with others, through prayer, and through the power of the Holy Spirit we can open our hearts and minds to understand the scriptures written long ago.
We learn that we are called to see and believe and to have hope in the face of death. For God is greater than death, bringing forgiveness of sins and newness of life to those who believe.
We learn that even though some people remain closed of to faith in Jesus, our Savior is not bound by closed doors. There is no room beyond his ability to penetrate, no person who cannot experience his touch, and no circumstance beyond the reach of his presence. If you are feeling far from God, remember – He never moves. If we are far away from Him, it’s because we did the moving. He is always waiting for us to return.
We learn that no word is more central to the Christian faith than witness. Many people may think that witnessing is what the preacher does every Sunday. That’s true, preaching is one form of witnessing, but one of the most effective kinds of witnessing is that done by lay members. Preaching is important, but the witness of lay people, like you and me, is more important. People expect ministers to witness, that’s what they get paid to do. But when a lay person witnesses, people really listen. And you witness not only through words, but sometimes more effectively through actions; that of living your life as God desires.
We learn that we are to be witnesses of this basic foundation of our Christian faith: Christ was born, Christ suffered, Christ died, Christ arose, and He will come again.
Hallelujah and amen!  Let us pray:

Lord Jesus Christ, the light of your love shines on, illuminating the places where you are present.  As the bewildered disciples pondered the stories of your appearance, you penetrated the darkness of their fear and doubt with your  word of peace. You showed them the appalling marks of evil pierced on your hands and feet. You opened their minds to understand why you had to die to defeat such evil and death. Increase our understanding, we pray, and open our minds and hearts  to  receive you, Lord. Speak  your word of peace to us and let your love shine on any dark areas in our lives. May this worship which we offer in your name be a worthy response to your love and your sacrifice for us. Amen.