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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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David Sermon Series August 2018

Three Part Sermon Series on the Story of David and Bathsheba,  2 Samuel 11-12:25; 1 Kings 1-2 Part 1:  King David in the Palace   Part 2:  Nathan’s Story    Part 3: What about Bathsheba? August 5, 2018   “ Part 1- King David in the Palace”  by Rev. June Fothergill Scripture:  2 Samuel 11: 1-15 Wow.  Can we be outraged?!  David, the hero of our Sunday School bible stories; that boy who trusted God and defeated the giant Goliath; David, the warrior who united the people and defeated the Philistine threat ; David, the one who God chose when he saw his heart as a young shepherd boy.  David, who mourned even those who had been his enemies, who loved Jonathan, who honored the anointed nature of King Saul, who was kind to Saul’s crippled grandson, who already had at least 4 wives and  6 sons.   David who has been given so much- God’s favor,  wives, children, a kingdom, adoring followers, faithful generals and fighting men, a beautiful house in his own town Jerusalem.  David, the greatest leader and beloved king. Yet, sitting in that beautiful house or palace, no longer out on the battlefield, David changed.  The David we see in this passage is a transformed person.  He is King now.  And being king means he can take what he wants!  Samuel long ago warned the people that the office of king would bring  oppression. That kings take what they want ( 1 Sam. 8:11-17). Biblical scholar,  Walter Brueggeman  points out that David just acts. He takes no time to consider, to ponder.  He sees the beautiful woman and wants her.   He asks who she is. And even when he discovers that she is the wife of one of his most loyal fighting men, likely a man who had been with him from the beginning of the journey to become king; a man whose house was next to his own;  a man who even now was out fighting David’s battles.  David doesn’t stop.  He wants and he had the power to take and he does.   There is no hint of conversation or affection or tenderness.   He gets her, he lays with her,  and sends her home.  He is the king.   Bathsheba says nothing. But then, we hear the last verb of the sequence-  she conceived. And we hear her voice for the first time. She sends word to David simply saying, “ I’m pregnant”.   Whoops.   His kingly power and control are shattered by such a simple reality.   He knows it is his ( for she had been purifying herself after her period) .   What will he do?  Well, he is the king after all. ...

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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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Sermon ” Spirit Prep”

Sermon   May 28, 2017 “ Spirit Prep” by  Rev. June Fothergill   Scriptures:   Acts 1: 1-14 One time when I was in High School as friend of mine moved away.  I missed her very much.  In her new home she got involved in a charismatic church  which taught that to receive the Holy Spirit was to speak in tongues.  She sent me a very earnest letter explaining all this and how important it was.  She gave me a prayer and Bible reading process that was  supposed to open me to this gift of the Spirit.  I was very curious and trusted my friend and her faith, so I went somewhere by myself to pray about it as she had suggested.    I prayed the right prayers and did what she suggested  but nothing happened.  I did not receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.   The experience left me confused and a little sad. I had really wanted it to “ work.” Since then I have learned and experienced that God pours out the gifts of the Holy Spirit  in many different ways.  There is not just one gift of the Holy Spirit but many.   One college town pastor helped me identify that for me a gift of the Spirit can be an unexpected insight into a problem or concern.  The Spirit helps me reframe  the situation and see God’s possibilities in a new way.    I have also known some people who have the gift of healing touch.  Others had a gift for compassion for others or for discerning wisdom or  speaking truth.    The Holy Spirit is the work of God’s presence and power in our lives in so many ways.   How do we open ourselves to  its presence and power?    Can we get ready for the Holy Spirit?  Do Spirit Prep? Well ,  I think the first answer is no.   We do not control God’s  Holy  Spirit, so  we cannot say or do a formula that will bring it down to us.   That was the trouble with my friend’s letter.    The Holy Spirit is not a force we control or can manipulate with our formulas or prayers.   The Holy Spirit is the powerful, free presence of  God.  It’s not about our control of it but our openness to it.  That is why the disciples were asked by Jesus to wait and pray.  That is why he warned them that only God knows  the timing of the Kingdom of God.  And  I think that is why he reassures them over and over  of the promise of the Spirit and its power. So why even be concerned about it.  If God will pour out the Holy Spirit who...

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