Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Sermon 11/222/15 Reign of Christ Sunday

Jesus  says My kingdom is not from this world

Well that’s not a surprise.  These past weeks has certainly brought that in to light!  Bombings in Paris, Beirut, Mali and Syria. Fear causing knee jerk reactions and because of a lack of understanding, increasing prejudice toward Muslims.

And so we wonder, where is the Reign of Christ? When will the Kingdom be here? Because it seems like we are getting further and further away from it.  With all these things happening we start to feel like maybe we should just give up.  Close the doors of the church and remain inside.  Build a wall around a community and not interact with anyone.

But if we think about it has the world really changed that much?  – Those of you who were sitting here during WWII – what were you thinking on Reign of Christ Sunday those years?
Germany, created a list of Jews, marked them with stars, closed their business,  imprisoned them – starved them, worked them and of course killed them. We, as a country, closed our borders to Jewish refugees who were trying to seek asylum.  

Then the US was attacked by Japan, when they bombed Pearl Harbor.  So, because they looked different than us, we gathered our Japanese Americans and put them in prison camps, leaving their homes and businesses to be vandalized.

What followed was many of our loved ones went off to war.  How many of you sat here wondering where is the Reign of Christ? Where is the Kingdom?

 What were you thinking on Reign of Christ Sunday during the Civil Rights Area.  When people of color were not afforded the same rights as we have?  When the National Guard had to be called to help enforce people’s constitutional rights because their state governments would not.  

When schools had armed guards so laws would be adhered to and children of color could attend unharmed.  When peaceful demonstrations were disrupted by fire hoses, rubber bullets, billy clubs and sometime more lethal means.  How many of you sat in church wondering where is the Reign of Christ? Where is the Kingdom?

I could go on. We know the world is not always good. People do not always do the right thing. The Reign of Christ is certainly not here. But that doesn’t mean we don’t see a glimpse of it once in a while, if we look. It also doesn’t mean we can’t continue to work for it.
Jesus tells Pilate, “If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 
After 2,000 years are we still afraid to fight for the Kingdom?  Are we afraid to stand up for the rights of those who are oppressed, broken, hungry?

How can we expect to have the Reign of Christ, the Kingdom of God here on earth if we are not willing to stand up and fight for what Jesus teaches us?

This text ends with Jesus saying, “I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” So I ask Are we listening? Do we hear Jesus teaching? Because until we do the Kingdom will not come.

This isn’t new every week we pray, Thy Kingdom Come Thy Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.  But when we walk out these doors what are we doing to make it so?  It will not happen without us continuing to work for it.   

So as we sit here on Reign of Christ Sunday 2015. May today not only be a memory of what Jesus calls us to do. May it change our lives. May we decide to not only actively live as Jesus teaches, but live it without fear! 

Today when we say thy will be done – May we mean it and work for it.  When people need help let us help them!  When people are oppressed let us work so they can live their lives as fully as we do. As we do so may we especially remember when Jesus said, “let the little children come to me,” he did not say but only those of a certain race, creed or ethnicity.

Let all of us testify to the truth! Work to bring the Kingdom here! Live like we believe in everything Jesus calls us to do! And on Reign of Christ Sunday 2016. Let us put up a list with all that we have accomplished helping to bring the kingdom here on earth!

Monday, October 6, 2014

School Started and Everyone is Running!

I usually write a letter like this in the beginning of Advent.  Slow down, take a breath, don’t let yourself get so overwhelmed. But, since the start of school, what I’ve been noticing, is all our families seem to be running.

Right now we have soccer, baseball, softball, hockey and cheerleading. Dance, Girl Scouts and special after school classes have started. Our young families are running around trying to keep up.

Now I don’t want to say stop the activities. But, I do want to say, be sue you get some down time.  Be sure to take time for yourself to relax, read a book, take a nap.  When our children were involved in many activities, I remember sitting in the car reading a book. My “me time” was during the half hour overlap between  dropping off one and picking up the other. It wasn’t much, but it was relaxing for me.

Don’t let your busyness keep God out of your life. Come to church on a Sunday morning to  keep yourself grounded. Last week, I was happy to see  many of our youth attending Sunday School and Jr Youth Group, even though they could not stay for the entire session.  I had one youth  eating his lunch during confirmation orientation, because he had to run to his baseball game, as soon as we were finished.  As the youth group continued, five youth left for cheerleading, baseball and soccer, but they were there for part of it. Five others remained to the end.

During this busy season, may all of us remain grounded in God. Attending church may seem like one more thing on your list, but it is so much more than that. It is the place where you can put your life into perspective. It is the place where you can draw the strength you need, to keep you going.  It is the place where people, who are as busy as you, are making church a priority in their lives. It is the place where your children learn how to live.

Thank you to those parents who brought their children to youth group and then took them to their game. You showed your children that church is important. You also showed them that they do not need to make a choice. You can be involved in activities outside and inside the church at the same time.

I continue to keep all our busy families in my prayers.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Where is your passion?

Energized. That is the word that describers my demeanor after Workshop of Wonders Church Camp. Now, I am not saying I wasn’t tired. I was. Trying to keep 53 children organized is sometimes like what Tom Wright refers to as “herding fish.”  There were those moments; but, all in all, the experience energized me.

Why? Because I enjoyed it! As I started planning church camp, I remembered how much I enjoy it. I remembered the first time I was able to help with VBS, when I was in 7th or 8th grade. I remembered how I felt, being a leader and helping the little ones learn.  I remembered how while I was in my second year of seminary, I spent the summer directing Christian Ed and VBS at St John’s in Emmaus.  We had almost 50 children that year.  I thought that would be the largest group I would ever work with, little did I know!

Yes, it was a lot of work but it didn’t seem like work. In fact, the more I did, the more excited and energized I became. Then it dawned on me, it was because I was using the gifts God game me. 

When we use the gifts God gives us, we are doing what we are called to do. We enjoy the work because it is something we are passionate about.

So I challenge you to consider what you are passionate about, what you enjoy, what energizes you.  That is what God is calling you to do.

Take sometime to consider what are your gifts? I know some of you love to organize and clean the church.  That is your gift. Others are very good at maintaining our property, teaching Christian Education and, of course, many of you have the gift of music.  

God has given each of us different gifts.  Thank goodness. If we all sang, no one would be listening. If no one could teach, we could not have Sunday School. If everyone would ... you know what I mean. 

What should you be doing at Maidencreek Church? Which ministry can utilize your gifts? 

It is only when each of us use our God given gifts, we become the body of Christ.  If you are not sure about your gifts or which ministry fits, let me know. We can take some time to talk about it and decide where God is calling you to be a part of Maidencreek Church.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sermon on the Creation Story

The creation story.  It’s a game changer for some people. They can’t reconcile the seven day story in Genesis with science.  They believe it is all or nothing. Either you believe God literally created the entire world in seven days or you cannot believe in God.

Scholars who read Hebrew and study ancient texts believe this story was written in the 6th century BC. However, it probably was a story passed down orally many many years before that.

Now I am by no means an ancient history expert. But I know at that time people did not have a concept of science like we do today.  They thought the world was flat if you went out too far out into the ocean you would drop off.  They believed that above the sky was more water.  Hence the part of the story about the dome.  God put a dome so the water could not come down and there was space for life. In the 6th century BCE they had no knowledge of the earth spinning as it revolved around the sun. They believed the sun and the moon moved over the earth. God put them there so we could see.

The Israelites believed in a loving God. Unlike other civilization at that time who had violent and bloody stories of creation, the Israelites built their creation story on a loving God. A God that is happy with creation.  A God that creates on the same time table as they live. Most of you know that Jewish Shabbet or Sabbath begins at evening.  Hence we read, it was evening then it was morning the second day. Instead of the day beginning with sun coming up their day began at sundown. God’s day of rest begins at sundown on the 6th day.

This story tells us God created this wondrous world around us. The plants, the air, the insects, the water, the animals and even us were created with love.

When we were in Africa the other year.  I didn’t tell the others in our group that I was a pastor. No one really talked about what they did for a living.  So I never brought it up. I know some people get nervous when they are around a pastor. They think they have to be careful what they say or how they act.

The last day if the trip we visited a school. It was a Sunday, but they had some of the students come to the school to talk to us.  The guide asked the children what they wanted to be when they grew up.  One said a teacher and the guide asked if there were any teachers among us. The same with a Dr. Then one girl said a preacher.  [she is in the photo with me] The guide didn’t ask and continued to the next child. I spoke up and said I am a pastor. There was almost a gasp.  I could tell people were thinking what did I say. 

This tour was very flexible, as far as scheduling. As we finished with the children, the school master, who was a Lutheran pastor, asked if we would like to go to the church, since they found out I  was a pastor.  Everyone said yes, so we got into the land rovers and drove a mile down the road to a Lutheran church that was already in session.  As we were ready to walk into the door, the pastor called me over and said I found an English Bible for you could you give us a word??  (WHAT?!?)

Well, what word do you give when you are in a Tanzanian church and only 40% of the people sitting in the pews, or actually on benches, can understand English?  I picked the creation story.

I preached on how God created the world and it is good. It is good right here in Africa with the wonderful animals we saw on the Serengeti   Animals unlike anything we have in America. But God’s creation in America is also good.  Even though it is unlike anything here. God’s creation is so vast, so wide, so diverse in so many different places, but it is still God’s creation and it is good.  That whether I am standing in the middle of the Serengeti, or the middle of the rocky mountains, or looking out the window of this church, or my home - I can recognize God in all of it.  That seeing God in creation is what brings people who live such different lives together. The knowledge that the same God created everything everywhere.  Then I asked for an Amen.

I believe God created the world.  I believe there were dinosaurs and I believe in evolution. I also believe in science and although I don’t understand all of it I keep reading about quantum physics and now about a God gene and who knows what else. Our knowledge as a people continues to grow.

When the creation story was written they never could have imagined what we know now. Just as we can’t imagine what people will know 1,000 years from now or even 100 years from today.

But the creation story reminds us that our God is a loving caring God because all creation is good.

Does it matter if it took seven days or 15 billion years for one of those quantum particles to develop into a being that can praise God?

I think we have much bigger things to worry about.  One of which is beginning to take better care of the wonderful creation we were given.  Can I get an Amen?

Sunday, May 4, 2014

On The Road to Emmaus .. We had hoped......... Preached 4/4/2014

We had hoped.......

That phrase tells so much.  You never want to be one saying it.  And you are always uncomfortable being the one hearing it.   We had hoped .... tells of a future that is not to be.  We had hoped.... those three words are filled with so much loss it is indescribable.

That is the place where those disciples are as they walk along that road to Emmaus.  Their hearts are broken and they lost all hope of a future. Unfortunately we know that feeling don’t we?

We had hoped ......  as a person cries in the Dr office hearing the cancer has returned.   We had hoped ...... as the couple puts their house up for sale because the company who moved them into the area now downsized.  We had hoped ...... as a family packs up their belongings to leave the ICU room to go to the funeral home.  We had hoped .. each one of us can fill in the blank

As the disciples walk along that road to Emmaus their hopes have been shattered and they cannot see beyond that, so they pack up and leave Jerusalem to go home. As far as they are concerned their hearts are broken because there is no future in the Jesus movement. We had hoped...... consumes their thoughts as they walk along. 

Then Jesus joins them and starts walking with them.  Their minds are so filled with the loss and lack of future - there is no seeing Jesus.  Their eyes are closed to anything but despair.

This is a desperate place to be, a place of darkness, a place where hope is absent.  A place where it is hard to see anything but the loss. To feel anything but an empty ;  we had hoped..........

It is a place many of us have been.  Unfortunately sometimes it is a place where we need to stay for awhile. Thoughts need to be sorted through, grief has be lived out, when hearts are broken because disappointment, sorrow, or failure we need a time to grieve that future that will never be.

As Jesus walks with them he tells the disciples about what is written in the scriptures. At the time they don’t know it’s Jesus. But at the end of the day, when they arrive at their destination, they ask Jesus into their home.  It is only when he breaks the break that they realize who he is, and then he is gone.  They realize that Jesus was with them through this time of grief.  And they now have a new outlook on life, they now see a new future.  It will be different than what they had hoped, but they can see that there will be a future.  They remember how their hearts were burning when Jesus was with them on the road.

The Emmaus Story tells us about disappointment in our lives. And that the time of,  we had hoped.. is a very real grief that many people go through.  That loss is difficult, and overwhelming  And sometimes it takes us into such a dark place, we fail to see Jesus walking with us in our darkness. Just like the disciples, we don’t realize our hearts are burning.

I wish I could say that we always come out of that place as quickly as it seems the disciples do. But we know that is not the case.  As each person goes through the dark time of - we had hoped... It is different. Some need to stay in that darkness longer than others.  But the important part is no matter how long it takes, Jesus is there. Jesus walks with us in the darkness even when we cannot see him.  Even when we don’t notice him. Even when our hearts remain broken instead of burning.

Yes, this Emmaus story shows us when we go through the times of - we had hoped...we need to give ourselves space to grieve a future that will never be.  That eventually we will come to the place where our hears will burn and we can hear and receive the future that God opens for us.  That eventually we see new opportunities but, we can only hear and see that future when we are ready to hear it  … and we can only act on it as we are able.

Hopefully, sooner than later, we find our way out of the darkness and just as the disciples our broken hearts of  - we had hoped ... turn into burning hearts of following God’s call.

Thanks be to God!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Sermon presented at Ann Bolek's ordination

A woman was asked to be on consistory, she agreed, but when she attended her first meeting, she realized there was no president.  After some discussion, no one stepped forward to take the position.  So the pastor did something that she thought was a little strange.  She said, “lets pray.”  So everyone bowed their heads and sat there around the table, while the pastor prayed for God to call someone to be the president.

During the prayer the woman started to hear or maybe think the words; you should do this, she said to herself, “but I don’t want to.” The words came again, you can do this; she answered, “I know I can, but I should wait a year and see how this works”. But, that silent voice / thoughts within her head continued.  She finally just yelled out, “OK I will be the president.”

Following the meeting the pastor came up to her and said, “you were called by God.”  She answered, “I don’t think so.”  But on her way home she started to think about it. It occurred to her that maybe she really was called by God - and she was terrified!

God’s call can be terrifying.  Just the realization that God knows you, and singles you out can be very unnerving.  Knowing that you are not just one of the many in a crowd, but you really are someone unique. That you actually have a gift and God is calling you share it, can sometimes be too much to comprehend.

Today’s text from Corinthians is a reminder that we all have been given gifts to serve God and each of us are called to use those gifts.  Just like the women in the story, every once in a while God calls us to use those gifts for a specific ministry. And every once in while God calls people to the ministry of an ordained pastor. As we sit here today, there is no question God called Ann for this purpose.

Now we all know a call from God is journey. It is a life long journey. And it doesn’t matter if your call is to be the president of consistory, to pray for others, maintain the building, teach Sunday School, or to help in the kitchen God calls us to use our gifts on our faith journey. 

As we continue on our journey, we may discover gifts we didn’t know we had. We also may find what we thought we were called to do - might not to be the case.

And you know what - that’s OK. We can change what we do.  There is nothing worse then being stuck doing something we are not passionate about.  If we think we have to continue serving in the same way we were five or 10 years ago, if we are stuck thinking - well I always took care of this so I have to keep doing it - we never give ourselves the chance to grow.  We can end up being angry, disillusioned, resenting what we thought God called us to do.  Then our journey of faith stops and become stagnant.                    

I think that is part of what Jesus is talking about with the vines. If you keep doing the same thing, the same way, year after year, after year, you keep getting further and further away from the main vine. In order to grow, we need to change, and in order to change we need to do some things differently and in order to do things differently, we need to prune some of those stagnant dead branches.  They need to be removed in order for new growth to happen.

By pruning away things that don’t work anymore, sniping off concepts that just don’t fit with our faith, changing the way we do things to fit with what we believe; when we prune away those dead branches that are in the way, we grow. We move forward and our faith journey continues. Sniping away what we don’t need allows us to focus on going deeper in our beliefs.  Hopefully when this happens, we gain wisdom and move closer to God.

Believe me this is not a one time process. And this personal growth often happens when you least expect it.

When Ann started her journey of faith, she never expected to be here today.  One reason would be, she could be ordained if she remained in her denomination. I am sure when she took her vows she thought she would never leave her order, but God called  and she followed.  She continued using her gift of teaching, but in a public school setting instead of a parochial school. When she started her journey here at Maidencreek, she was able to share the deep spirituality she brought with her. She didn’t start over, nor did her journey stop, it continued. She found which ministries  she was passionate about and followed God’s call to serve where she felt called.

I know when she was looking forward to retire.  Ordination was not part of that original plan either.  But here she is continuing on her journey of faith.

We never know when God will call us. In November I preached at Kim Berenotto’s ordination service, she was called as an undergrad and here’s Ann a few years older. We are called by God to do amazing things at all ages.

So I challenge each of you to remain open to where God is calling you next. Don’t worry, I can guarantee God will not be calling all of you to ordination.  We need some people to sit in the pews. But I can also guarantee that when you are open to the journey you will find where God is calling you today and tomorrow.  The women in the story got over being terrified and continues to follow God’s call. She is no different than you.

Thanks be to God for the journey and Thanks be to God for calling Ann!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Worship at the Northeastern PA Synod Assembly - not what I expected

Imagine over eight hundred people sitting at conference tables on the floor of an arena having a worship service. Not too inspiring is it?  This was the setting for the Northeastern Synod Assembly. But somehow, this worship service was so inspiring I feel the need to write about it.  Part of the inspiration could have been the surprise factor, the service was nothing like I expected, but whatever the case, it has moved me.

Picture a large platform in the center of a arena with a huge clear bowl of water setting on a table, surrounded by greens. A bowl so large a child could have fit into it! The room is dark and a spotlight is shining on this font (bowl). The band on the stage is playing some contemporary Christian music. Then you see many small lights, candles, coming toward the bowl. There is  someone holding a cross, someone holding the Bible, and many holding candles. They are all making their way to the font. Some  go onto the platform. Others stand around the platform. During the opening words, the large Christ Candle, that was carried in, is lit. Liturgy is spoken, hymns are sung and as the service continues, the people move from the font to the stage.  They again are holding candles and as they move to the stage they walk around the room, symbolizing spreading the light of Christ to all people.

Then just as everyone gets settled up front and you think the service will be held from there, a spotlight shines on another platform on the floor. From there, a youth, standing on the platform, reads the first scripture reading. When he finishes, he pauses and gives a powerful reflection. He tells how devastated he was when he was not accepted into the college that he always planned to attend. He continues to explain how God gave him strength as he had to change his life dream. Then, everyone at the assembly was asked to discuss the question Where do you see God’s light today?   The same format occurred with the second reading when discussed the question Where do you see God making things new? Yes, there was another platform on the floor for the second scripture reader. 

What I have not mentioned is there were also two huge screens, where you could see everything happening in larger than life projections.  When Bishop Zeiser gave his sermon, he paused and there was a video shown with someone giving a reflection. Then a light shone on a platform and another personal reflection was shared. He, then, continued with his sermon.

After the sermon and prayers, communion was shared and everyone received a glow stick. At the close of the service, the lights were dimmed and everyone sang This Little Light of Mine, while holding glow sticks high in the air. 

To me, this service was powerful in more than one way. I was worshiping with many people and could feel the energy from them. I  get this feeling, when I am preaching, and a large number of the congregation is engaged. Because the service started in the middle of the worship space and continued to include more people than just those standing up front, I felt that I was part of the service. It was also a powerful use of technology.  This was not just, I have a screen and projector so I’ll use power point with my sermon. This format significantly enhanced the worship experience. I think that the movement and different voices helped open my mind to hear what the Spirit was saying.  The reflections within the Bishop’s sermon complemented his thoughts, but also broadened the theme in a way one voice could not.

There could not have been a better opening to an assembly with the theme Always Being Made New, 25 Years Together in Christ. The service held fast to traditions, while using new technology. And yes, the rest of the Assembly was inspiring. God is working throughout the Synod and the world. We just need to open our minds and our eyes and look!