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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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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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Lent 2017 Sermons

Sermon  March 5, 2017  Lent 1  “ Temptation”   Rev. June Fothergill Genesis 2-3,  Matthew 4 Jim Grant in Reader’s Digest told about an overweight businessman decided it was time to shed some excess pounds. He took his new diet seriously, even changing his driving route to avoid his favorite bakery. One morning however he showed up at work with a gigantic coffee cake.  Everyone in the office scolded him, but his smile remained nonetheless. “ This is a special coffee cake” he explained.  ” I accidently drove by the bakery this morning and there in the window was a host of goodies. I felt it was no accident, so I prayed, ‘ Lord if you want me to have one of those delicious coffee cakes, let there be  parking spot open right in front. ‘  and  sure enough the 8th time around the block , there it was!”  ( Lee, Griess, Taking the Risk Our of Dying, CSS Publishing co., 1997   esermons.com 2/27/2004) Ahh temptation.      Yet, temptations remind us that we have choices.   J Barrie Shepherd in his poem, “Testing”  expresses this: The meaning  of a wilderness is not, in point of fact immediately evident, at least to most who trudge the daily adamant of pain or merely mediocre times because they must. The presence of A tempter with bright offers, tantalizing choices to be made, might even seem to bear a sweet relief from forty days of sheer  oblivion. Lead us , Lord into temptation for a change, please. And grant us just a passing whiff of evil before nightfall.   ( The Christian Century February 26, 1986)   In the Genesis creation stories God made us with the ability and opportunity for choices.  This is part of what it means to be a human being made in God’s image.   Yet, it doesn’t take much looking around to realize that we are not too good at making choices.  In fact, one of the hardest things to do is to be truthful with ourselves and to see clearly our choices.   We get trapped into addictions and rationalizations.   Paul experienced this and put it well, “ I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want but I do the very thing I hate.”  ( Rom 7: 15)   Paul calls what is at work inside of him, which keeps him from making good choices,  “ sin that dwells within me.” The Genesis story and Paul both show us a truth about our human lives- we experience alienation from our true selves and God.    The classical way of saying this is that we are “ fallen”.   Our ability to make choices...

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