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The Kingdom of God Sermon Sept 2018

Sermon  September 23, 2018    “ Vision of God’s Holy Mountain” by Rev. June Fothergill  Scripture:  Isaiah 65: 17-22 I have a Beetle Bailey cartoon on my home office wall.   Two soldiers are lying in their tents looking up at the stars.  One says, “  Someday we’ll be able to fly to all the stars.”  The other replies, “ And we’ll die from the hot gases of nuclear fusion.”   Then the first guy says, “ It should be against the law to destroy dreams with facts.” If we live long enough we realize that our dreams don’t often turn out as we dreamed them.    A lot of our lives are littered with lost and discarded dreams.  And when we are pushing 60 or 70 or 80 even 90- is there still place for dreams in our lives?  Maybe we need to just settle.  Dreams are for the young who don’t know any better.  And yet!  There is something about our scriptures and our faith that just can’t let go of us. There is a dream of God for the world bigger than our lives and efforts that continues to call to us all our lives.  As the prophet Joel and the book of Acts attest, when the Spirit comes, “ the young will see visions and your old share dream dreams.” What is this dream of God that compels us and calls to us throughout our whole lives of faith?  Jesus called it the Kingdom of God.  He declared in his life here on earth that people needed to repent and turn to this Kingdom of God coming into their midst.  He told stories about it. He lived it through acts of healing and justice.  He died and rose again to inspire and free us to continue on its journey. Yet, I remember one time as a teenager wondering what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God.  I read through the New Testament but frankly was just confused by the stories and metaphors and found few concrete examples.  I didn’t realize at the time that to understand what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God I needed to look to what had inspired him- the Hebrew Scriptures, especially the prophets.   Today we heard Jesus once again tell us- “Seek first the kingdom of God”.     I invite us to look at the passage from Isaiah 65, one Jesus surely knew by heart for insight about this  vision, this dream of the kingdom of God. One of the images for God’s kingdom that is common throughout Isaiah is that of the Holy Mountain or Mount Zion.   Around here many of us have climbed up the hills nearby...

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Sermons Lent 2018

Sermon February 18, 2018  First Sunday in Lent  Scripture:  Romans 3: 21-26;  5:1-5;  8: 31-39 The Gift of Grace  by Rev. June Fothergill Mark Twain once said, “  Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.” ( p. 330  1001 Quotes, Illustrations and Humorous Stories ed. Edward K. Rowell) I also heard the other day that a Miwaukee minister declared that there were 947 sings and was besieged for copies of the list! (p. 42  An Encyclopedia of Humor, ed. Lowell D. Streiker) Paul says in vs. 21  But now apart from law the righteousness of God has been disclosed and is attested by the law and the prophets the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. Sometimes people view religion as a list of do’s and don’ts, if we just follow the rules, then everyone will be all right.   Yet, this creates problems, as Paul very well knew.   One is that few of us can successfully keep all the rules all the time, even if we have a list!    Trying to live by a list of do’s and don’ts opens us up to the reality of hypocrisy on the one hand and self righteousness on the other. Either way we are far from the right relationship with God the rules promised. Paul would not say that there is no place for what he calls the law- the ways of life developed by his people over the centuries to help the community stay in touch with God and their roots of history and faith.  He knew the value of these to teach us about what God wants from us.  He proclaimed in synagogue after synagogue and here in Romans that the story of Jesus and the salvation he brings is rooted in those very scriptures.    Yet, the righteousness  of God is now available to us all in a new way- trust in Jesus and his story of salvation- his life death and resurrection.   Believe in Jesus Paul urges and you will know the righteousness of God, you will be in right relationship with God. Vs. 22 For there is no distinction since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; This is a summary of the previous chapters where Paul spells out the ways that the world is trapped by sin and alienated from God.    Another school shooting this week reminds us how far our own society is from God.   Every society has conflicts and struggles with violence in various ways but our society is well known for more mass shootings than other places where...

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Story of Stephen

Sermon May 7, 2017   Story of Stephen by Rev. June Fothergill     Acts 6-8 I remember going to a little church in Appalachia which was right across from the Henderson Settlement, a UMC mission station.   We arrived early and no one greeted us.  We sat around for awhile and finally some other folks came along.  The congregation started to gather.   Someone got us to start some group singing.  Then about half way through the service a man ran in went straight up to the pulpit and preached a sermon putting down the United Methodist Church.  Then after he was finished speaking her left without a word to any of us.  The day before, I had just seen the good work of the Henderson Settlement of the United Methodist Church. They were meeting many needs of the surrounding community.  The people there had been helpful and friendly but the experience of that little church was frankly hurtful- right across the street.      Have you ever felt that way?   Ever felt like your needs and perspective was not being heard or valued?  Felt left out of the “in” group? This story of Stephen starts with an experience of alienation.  One group in the new church community is feeling left out.  The Hellenists are concerned that their widows are not getting the same treatment and help as the Hebrew’s widows.  The church leaders listen and deal with a brewing conflict. They recognize that they are going to need to share leadership more broadly. They can’t do it all themselves.  They decided the area where they want to focus – evangelism and find help with the social service ministries inspired by Jesus.  They develop the criteria for leadership- wisdom and Spirit filled.  And they show wisdom in asking the community affected to chose the new leaders and then ritually accepting and recognizing those leaders through laying on of hands.   In this way they expand the leadership of the group and address the feelings of alienation one group had.    Like much of the descriptions of how the early church operated in Acts, I am in a bit of awe at how well it all worked out and wonder about the details.  Was it really that easy?  How did the group choose the man? What about the women? Etc, Etc.    But the important thing is that they became aware of a problem and dealt with it in a wise and caring manner.  I pray that God will continue to teach us how to do the same. But the troubles are not over.  This band of Jesus’ followers has much in store.  They have dealt with an internal conflict but there is more...

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Mother’s Day 2017

Sermon May 14, 21017  Risky Hospitality   by Rev. June Fothergill  Acts 17: 1-15 A man’s wife was in labor with their first child and suddenly she began to shout, “ Shouldn’t, couldn’t , wouldn’t ,didn’t , can’t”  He asked the nurse what was wrong with her. The nurse said, “ She’s having contractions.” It being Mother’s Day and all,  I was thinking about being a mother  and the process of welcoming a new baby.  It’s exciting and fulfilling but there is also an underlining risk- will I be up to it? What sort of person will he/she be?    Any act of hospitality- welcoming a new person into your sphere involves stretching our hearts and minds. It can involve risks.    I think of Jason and those women of high standing who not only welcomed Paul and Silas but welcomed the word about Jesus and became believers.  They welcomed a new person with a new perspective into their lives.  And it changed even disrupted their lives. How do you deal with disruption in your life?  Are you one that is good at going with the flow?  Or are you more apt to get distressed and worried about things?   Or maybe you’re one who plans and anticipates possible pit falls and “be ready” is your motto.  Or maybe you’re someone who runs away and hides at the first hint of trouble or the one who stands up and fights.   Maybe some of us have done all those things at different points of our lives depending upon the situation.    One of the things we learn as we read the book of Acts is that the early church was not immune to disruption and troubles, internal and external.   The coming of Jesus the Christ has brought something new and life giving to the world- but the world has not always been able or ready to receive it.  And even among the disciples themselves the way forward wasn’t always agreed. Yet this story of disruption and conflict is also a story of growth.  The community of believers grew in numbers and places. It grew in faith and  commitment.  It grew beyond its own comfort zones to reach a wider world with the good news of  Jesus Christ and his love and grace.   Choosing to be a believer and a disciple meant a new spiritual relationship and hope but also it could shake up your life! For example,  Jason.   Imagine what it might have been like to invite someone to your home and then to have the local authorities arrest you for harboring that person.  I would be scared and shocked. Even though they were soon released,  Jason and the other...

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Pentecost Sermon

Pentecost Sermon  June 4, 2017  “ Spirit Sightings” by Rev. June Fothergill Acts 2: 1-20 Several years ago when I was serving Myrtle Creek and Canyonville churches, I decided to take some personal leave time and go to Mexico to study Spanish.  It was on my bucket list to study Spanish in a place where it was spoken.   It was a wonderful trip.   The only problem was that I would miss my church’s Vacation Bible School that year.  Working with children was a highlight of my ministry during those years in Douglas County.    I went to Cueravaca, Mexico for my immersion experience, a city of about 1 million people.  One Sunday I decided to try to find the little Methodist Church in the town.  I walked all over until I finally found it.   As I searched I thought about how right now that week, my church back home would be getting ready to hold the VBS.   As I walked in the door of the church in Mexico the first thing I saw was a display about VBS- it was the same program we were doing in Myrtle Creek, except in Spanish!     In that moment I felt the work of the Holy Spirit connecting these two communities in my life.    I had a great time telling them about the connection and spent some time with that little community in prayer and visiting their mission work.  The language, the nation didn’t matter- we were together in Christ.  For me this is a  Spirit Sighting.   Do you have any Spirit sightings you’d like to briefly share? ( Time for congregation to share. ) You see, over thirty years ago, Jim and I took a class together at Portland State.  It was called Intercultural Communication.   After learning about all the barriers and complexity of communication across different cultures, I remember commenting to Jim,  “  It will take the Holy  Spirit can make it happen”      Only the work of the  Holy Spirit can overcome the barriers and divergent understandings that  people from differing cultures  assume.  Only the Holy Spirit can bring us together in mutual human understanding.    I still think  that this is one of the ways the Holy Spirit works among us.  I have seen it. I trust it.  I hope for it. I remember a women’s group meeting in Wilder.  It was the UMW’s annual tea and we had intentionally invited women from the new Hispanic United Methodist church at Wilder to come.  And some of them did.  The program for that day was to share stories about our mothers.  As I listened to the stories from the UMW women,  I noticed that many of them had...

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Easter Sermons 2017

Easter Sermon 2017   Rev. June Fothergill One Easter I had the great idea of having helium balloons that we would all release inside during the Easter service.  Then I had the additional “ great idea” of attaching paper butterflies to the bottom of each balloon’s string.  I could just picture all the butterflies soaring over our heads. So in the smallest of the two churches, Canyonville, I grabbed the strings of the balloons and proceeded to hand them out as we proclaimed over and over Christ is Risen.  Only trouble was, I couldn’t do it at all.  The butterflies and strings were all tangled up!  The congregation was patient as we finally untangled all the balloons.  What a mess. Balloons, butterflies, brass, music, flowers- Easter invites us to celebrate.  My favorite is the sunrise service, I don’t think I have missed one in over 30 years.  If my church didn’t have one I either started one or found a local ecumenical one.  I figured if those women could get up early on Easter morning , so could I.  I especially love it when the service starts in the darkness and  we experience the light slowly dawning.  I admit it, I rarely see a sunrise, but on Easter I cherish them.  All these rituals and symbols have meaning for me=- perhaps for you too.  Good symbols and stories do not carry just one meaning- which is why they last. Yet, sometimes it is good to look more closely at that the stories tell us and what the symbols can mean. For example, in more than 30 years of preaching Easter sermons, I have never really seriously considered the question of the cloths left in the tomb that John talks about in this passage in John 20.  This year those cloths have intrigued me, partly because of a prose poem written by Anne Copeland.   In it she tells the story of a lace collar given to her by her mother as they made the transition from a home to a smaller assisted living situation.   Anne reflects upon the importance of cloth and clothing to her mother and wonders about its importance as a symbol.  She wonders whether Peter took with him one of the Linen cloths from the tomb and who it was who won the gamble for Jesus seamless garment at the cross.  She asks “ to whom did those fibers speak? What , if anything did they say?”  ( p. 45  “ Lace Collar”  in Willow Springs January 1998) John gives us much detail about these cloths:  they were linen, the ones for the head were rolled up in a place by themselves.  Both...

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