The themes of the following sermons are:

Feb. 5-  Generosity Flowing from the Heart

Feb. 12- The Art of Loving

Feb. 19- Vision for Our Church for the Coming Year

Sermon Feb. 19, 2017  “ Bucket List”  by June Fothergill

Have you ever seen the movie The Bucket List, with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson? Two terminally ill men develop a list of all the things they have always wanted to do. Then they help each other do those things. They face their task with a great sense of urgency. The movie invited us to wonder- what do we really want to do before we die?

Today we will explore our bucket list for the church. This week’s card asked you to consider what you would most like to see happen in the church in the next year. Consider now what you would like to see happen in your life in that same time. In what ways do your passions for the church align with your personal desires? Today I will share my vision for the church in this coming year.

In our text from Joel today I notice that the culmination of gifts from God to the people will be that all of them will receive God’s vision and word.  As 2:28-29 says “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old  shall dream dreams, and your young shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves in those days I will pour out my spirit.”   (NRSV)  This is an encouraging word for us.  It suggests that God’s Spirit, the source of God’s vision is not just for certain folks like the pastor.  It is for all the people.  I your pastor may articulate a vision I sense from God for us, but your ideas, your prayers, your input and passions are also important for the vision for our congregation.  Joel reminds us that we listen together for the word of the Spirit to give us vision and hope.   What has God inspired you to envision for the coming year?  The ideas I want to share with you today come from my attempt to pay attention to God and to you, this Insightful congregation.  I share them with an openness to our discernment together.

Also, clearly Jesus had a vision for the Kingdom of God. He preached and taught about it all through his ministry.  Yet, he also noticed that sometimes his people had trouble catching on to it.  In the passage we read from Matthew 6, Jesus identifies some of the things that got in the way of his people catching the vision of God’s kingdom.  He saw how easy it was for his people to get trapped into worry and concern for temporal things like food and clothing.  He realized that the pressures of daily life could sap people’s energy and enthusiasm for the vision of  God.   He invited people to overcome this by placing their trust first in God’s kingdom and vision for them.  To do so day by day.  The vision of God’s kingdom wasn’t just about something to happen in the future, it was lived out in their day to day choices.

I think the same is true for you and me.  We too can get distracted and worried about many things.   Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that God has a greater purpose for us as a congregation.   We are here as disciples to do no less that transform the world.  When we bring the food, when we tell the stories of faith, when we fix the building, when we sing the songs, when we visit the hurting friend, when we keep trying each day to love even when it is hard-  we are about living first the Kingdom of God!  We are transforming the world. With that in mind, this is my vision for the coming year:

First of all one of the ways we continue to transform our world is through our meals ministry.  Every week people find food and hospitality here at 6th and C.  Sometimes we literally save lives.  We have noticed over and over that this ministry is like Jesus’s ministry of the loaves and fishes.  There is always enough.

 

My vision for this ministry is to share it.  This is ministry is growing in the numbers served.  One way to make it sustainable into the future is by developing partnerships.  In the coming year I see us expanding the number of persons involved in helping with our meals. My hope is that we can continue those relationships we have started and add more connections perhaps with other churches, neighbors and others interested in hands on care for others.  I am also eager to talk more with the recovery groups using our space about ways we can support the recovery needs of our meals guests.

Most of these partnerships grow out of our own networks.  For example, I met a couple of woman at our yard sale this year who were from the Geography Department of the U of O.  We talked about a friend of Jim and I who also used to work there.  They showed interest in the Conestoga Hut which led to them giving me the name of a colleague of theirs who lives in the neighborhood and coordinates the department’s internship programs.   I made contact with Leslie and she brought one of her college classes to help with the meals. She has young children, so if we have an event for families with children- I can invite her to participate.

For the second vision I have for our congregation this next year for us to connect with young people in our community.  I think that this church can begin in the next year to build and deepen connections with a new generation for our ministry here in Springfield.   We have a well stocked nursery, a nursery care person and activity bags for kids.   We have a legacy of youth programs and “ rooms” all over the place.  I think, most importantly we still have a heart for young people.  So, my vision is that in the next year we will connect with a younger generation in several ways.

  1. I propose we do a least three family oriented events in the next year. I spoke with a neighbor the other day who has a son about 7 years old. He is getting interested in the meaning of Christmas and Easter and wanted to come to our 100th anniversary celebration.   I am eager to offer to such neighbors events that would be fun for the kids and adults together to explore the meaning of these holidays.  I have an Easter Puppet play I want to use this year!
  2. I think that we can continue to give away cookies to the A3 youth and work to do things together with our two choirs and find other ways to connect with those youth. Watch for a time sometime this spring.
  3. I will be submitting a grant request for a mural making project for the summer of our 150th anniversary ( 2018) in partnership with A3. The mural teacher and I are working on this.  We want to involve the youth in talking with church members about the values and history of the church and to design a mural for the back of our education wing.  Think of the opportunity this could afford for making connections with youth and their families the summer of our 150th anniversary.  Stay tuned!

These are some of the strategies to connect with younger people that I have some passion and energy around.  Perhaps you have something that excites you. Or  perhaps you’d like to help one of these I’ve mentioned happen.  I truly believe that God can work through us today to reach younger people with the good news of a God in Christ who loves them and their families.

Third, I see our church deepening in faith and spiritual growth this next year.  I see it happening already in the small groups that currently are active in our church.  I think that this aspect of our ministry can grow if we add more small groups and invite others to join the ones we have.  To that end I plan to offer a Disciple Bible Class starting next fall for persons who are not currently part of a small group or Bible study.  This wonderful program not only allows us to read and study the Bible together, it invites us to grow as disciples of Jesus and listen for his call in our lives.   My vision is that every person will know that they are welcome and able to grow in faith in our church.

Fourth, I have a vision for how we can expand the use of our building for the sake of our community in the coming year.   We have a team working on how we can change our building to make most of it accessible to folks for whom stairs are a barrier. We value our ministry of hospitality.  We can live it out more fully.

We have discovered thanks to Nina Weant that there is a fund for historic sacred places that we can apply to.  Our consultant about putting together a capital campaign for this project showed me that, we are in this moment with the size and income to go for it.   Our team is prayerfully considering this.

I can picture us as a Community Care Center as we make our spaces more accessible and open our doors to other non profits.   In this next year, we will have opportunities to provide hospitality and collaboration with other groups in new ways.  I get kind of excited imagining  folks coming here to learn about gardening  and economic development or talking ELS and citizenship classes.  I can imagine our nursery being used by children in foster care or parenting classes happening in our classrooms.  I can picture even having a Coffee Wagon and Friday nights when neighbors stop by to sit and visit with each other.  I can imagine A3 youth and us sponsoring poetry slams and open mikes.   I can imagine our congregation growing in size, in diversity, in vitality. Can you picture it too?

Finally, in the coming year we will be entering into the celebration of 150 years of service to Christ in Springfield as a congregation.  I love history and I was very pleased with the 100th anniversary of our historic building this past year.  My challenge and vision for us in our 150th year as a congregation is to reach past the building, to listen for where God is calling us on a new 21st century circuit to reach new people with the grace and love of Christ. We don’t become the church God wants us to become by just dreaming about it or even talking about it.  We become the vision God gives us by day by day deciding to put God first and God’s vision and kingdom first in our lives.  We do It by trusting God each day to show us the way.  This means In how we use our money, our time, our hearts.

     Over the last few weeks we have considered what we love and value in our church, who has made a difference in our spiritual lives, and our best hopes and dreams for the next year. Next week we will each make a critical decision about how we will express and grow in our generosity. Our leaders have already responded to the call. (Share a brief report.) When you receive the Estimate of Giving card this week, please be in prayer and seek God’s direction for your expression of generosity toward the life and vision of God’s ministry through this church.

This vision and purpose from God is worth our passion and commitment.  As Jordan Smith song, “Climb Every Mountain says”, the dream from  God is ” A dream that will need/All the love you can give/Every day of your life/For as long as you live.”

 

 

 

Sermon Feb. 12, 2017

The Art of Loving by Rev. June Fothergill

Scriptures:  Deuteronomy 6: 1-6; Matthew 22: 34-40; John 13: 34-35

Mr. and Mrs. Johnson’s blissful marriage was almost derailed by the presence in the household of old Aunt Virginia. For twelve long years she lived with the Johnsons , always crotchety always demanding, always critical, never satisfied.  Finally the old woman had a stroke and died. On the way back from the funeral, Mr. Johnson sadly confessed to his wife. “ Darling, if I didn’t love you so much, I don’t think I ever could have stood having your Aunt Virginia in the house all these years.”

His wife looked at him aghast, “ My Aunt Virginia!” she cried. “ I thought she was your Aunt Virginia.”  ( p. 131 An Encyclopedia of Humor ed. Lowell D. Streiker)

Such love!

From Deuteronomy to the teachings of Jesus, loving relationship is at the root of the scriptural values of our faith.   Yet, we know that too often much of the pain of our lives comes from broken relationships.    How can we grow in our capacity for healthy, loving relationships?

In the newsletter and in your bulletin you have received a letter and card inviting you  to name the people who you love and have influenced your spiritual lives.   Let’s focus this week on celebrating those we love and their positive influence in our lives.  Let’s explore together the art of loving.

Let’s start with one of the core statements of the whole Bible.   In the book of Deuteronomy, we listen in on what could have been Moses’ last words to the people of Israel before they crossed over to the promised land.  He has led them for more than a generation through the escape from Pharoah and slavery in Egypt and the struggles in the wilderness.  Now they are about to cross over the Jordan to the land God had promised them.   Moses knows that he will not go with them.  He offers to them the word God has given to him.  The core of that word is known as  the Shema,  “  Hear O Israel, The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God withal your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might.” ( 6: 4)

This statement is remarkable.  It asserts that we can love God!  That we have a God who  receives our love.  This is a God of relationship.   God is not some high up deity that only certain people can relate to, or an impersonal force that cares little about relationship with humans.   This idea that we, mere humans can have a relationship with the Creator of the Universe, is a gift from the Hebrew experiences of God.   God cares!  This God who cares about us invites our love and commitment.   In fact, Moses tells the people- this is how you will have a good life in this new land you are entering. Without this relationship with God, you will fall into trouble and hardship.  Moses warns them.  Keep your focus on this God who delivered you and loves you and you will be fine!

So the first place to start is to keep our focus on God.  Love God with all your being and you will discover how love can flow in all of your life.   I thought about some of the things that get in the way of having loving relationships. Things like self centeredness or lack of clear self, fears of intimacy or bitterness over past hurts, lack of empathy or need to control.  Many of these obstacles come from our deep need to know that we are worthy and truly loved.   It is relationship with God, with the One who is the very Source of Love which heals these hurts in our lives.   The spiritual discovery that we have a God to truly loves us and wants us to have abundant life transforms us from the inside out.    We discover our worth comes from God, not all the societal or even familial messages we have learned.   Knowing one is loved, gives one the empowerment to love.

How does this work?   Anyone who has been in a close relationship knows that sometimes we are not sure how to love them. Sometimes they get on our nerves, sometimes we don’t really listen to one another, sometimes there are betrayals of trust.  In such times, it is good to remember that first of all we really can’t change anyone else.  And then most importantly, we have a source of love greater than our own- God’s love for both of us- to which we can turn.

Steve Goodier tells of a man who tried everything he could think of to eradicate the weeds in his lawn. Finally in desperation he wrote to the Department of Agriculture asking advice and listing every method he had tried. He received a reply back.  It said, “ We suggest you learn to love them”    Sometimes we look at the faults or the weeds in each other and our relationships.   Remembering God’s love for each of us can help us find a different perspective.   As Steve Goodier put it, “ Besides,  ( the person we are trying to love) becomes more attractive when we are not focused on the weeds. We might even begin to enjoy them so much that we remember what drew us to them in the first place.” ( from Steve Goodier and Life Support Systems,  caus.org  8/28/99)

Deuteronomy reminds us that God who created us, wants to be in relationship with us.    This is the relationship which will make the promised land healthy and whole.    The art of loving starts with staying in touch with God.

Jesus agreed.  When asked what was the most important commandment,  he named the Shema.      And then He reminded us that love of neighbor is how this love of God is revealed and lived.   Jesus saw that when love of God became simply following a list of lifestyle rules without love in the mix it didn’t work.   He saw in his days on earth how his beloved faith had sometimes become a burden, especially for the poor and those considered outcast.     He also saw that when we try to love neighbor without the humility of love of God, it doesn’t work.   Too often “ good people” try to tell others what is best for them without really listening and knowing them.  One example was the relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans in Jesus day.  Jesus relationship with a Samaritan Women crossed the boundaries of years of misunderstanding.     Jesus teaches us that love of God and love of neighbor go hand and hand.  One without the other leads to an arrogance toward the other that precludes love.

Thus the art of loving means also staying in touch with others and our mutual needs.

One example of this comes from a story that happened during the Italian occupation of Ethiopia during WWII.  In his book Fire on the Mountains, Raymond Davis tells of the love demonstrated by believers for each other during this period of affliction.  For example no provision was made to feed the prisoners in jail by the invading army. This was the responsibility of relatives and friends. Christians in the prisons had no problem, though. They were well cared for by friends and family. In fact so much food was brought to them by fellow believers and church groups that enough remained to feed the unbelieving prisoners also.  This observable love, vibrant though non verbal, brought many to seek the Lord.  Non believers sought out believers to learn more about the Christian faith.   ( eSermon.com June 1, 2004 p. 1 from Leslie B. Flynn You Don’t Have to God it Alone, Denver, CO Accent Books 1981)

The art of loving involves staying in relationship with God who loves us, and responding to the needs of our neighbors.    And finally, according to the gospel of John, the art of loving according to Jesus also involves following him and loving in the same way he did.     Jesus was willing to give up himself for the sake of another’s welfare.  This kind of sacrificial loving is a calling we hear as we follow Christ in our lives.  We are freed to give generously, freed to worry less about ourselves, freed to let loving change us , our lives and our world.

There is a story  former president Jimmy Carter tells about a change he made in his life that enhanced his marriage.  Here is the story as he tells it, “ Perhaps because of my Navy training, punctuality has been almost an obsession. Rosalynn has always been adequately punctual, except by my standards.  A deviation of 5 minutes or less in our departure time would cause a bitter exchange.   One morning I realized it was Rosalynn’s birthday and I hadn’t bought her a present. What could I do that would be special for her?  I hurriedly wrote a note: ‘Happy birthday! As proof of my love, I will never make an unpleasant comment about tardiness. ‘   I signed it and delivered it in an envelope with a kiss.  More than four years later, I still keep my promise. It has turned out to be one of the nicest birthday present for Rosalynn- and for me.”   ( eSErmon  12/21/2004)

A group of professional people posed the question,” What does love mean?’ to a group of 4 to 8 year olds.   Some of the answers:

“ When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.” Rebecca age 8.

“Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well. “ Tommy  age 6.

“ If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.” Nikka age 6.

“ During my piano recital, I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at lal the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling. He was the only one doing that. I wasn’t scared anymore.”  Cinday age 8.

Today we are celebrating all those who have shown us love in our lives; those from this congregation that have inspired our faith and love; those in our life history who have encouraged and loved us and shown us the love of God.    We have learned from them the art of loving which flows from God’s love.    One such person in my life was Winnie Hedges.  I only knew Winnie after she had had a stroke and could no longer speak, but every time I visited her, she spoke volumes to me with her eyes.  I knew she loved my visits.  After she died an essay about love was found in her bible in her handwriting.   I close with one part of it,     “ God is the source of Holy Love which is given and received as a gift, but not to be kept. It is to be shared with others. We receive love at the Source only to give it away to one another, knowing that we can return to that source for replenishment. In that renewing and giving process power for good, for healing and for reconciling is generated and put in motion. No one’s faith can be lived in isolation. Loving requires inter-relations and sharing resources. Amen sister Winnie, Amen.

 

Sermon February 5, 2017  1.  Flowing from the Heart by Rev. June Fothergill

Scriptures:   1 Timothy 6: 17-19;  Matthew 5: 13-20

“Old Cyrus Barker was the richest man in town. When he became terminally ill, there was much speculation among the villagers concerning the extent of his wealth. And when Cyrus died one of the town busybodies made it his business to run to the deceased’s lawyer and ask, “ How much money did old Cyrus leave?  The lawyer replied, “ All of it my friend, all of it.” ( P. 253  Encyclopedia of Humor ed. Lowell D. Streiker )

I think the question this morning is not about how much wealth anyone has.     We come from a variety of social economic situations.  The question is rather what do we choose to do with what we have?   Does the use of our material resources reflect our faith or our fears?    This month we will be exploring together the practice of extravagant generosity.  I agree with Bishop Schnase who wrote the devotional book you are invited to use as a daily devotional this month, that practicing Extravagant generosity is a matter of the heart not the pocket book.   So how do we tend our hearts?   What makes a generous heart?    Today we look at the wisdom of  Matthew and 1 Timothy for some ideas.

Matthew’s passage suggests to me that the generous heart is salty

“Salt does not serve itself, but exists to enhance the other. ” ( p. 85 Keeping Holy  Time, ed Douglas E. Wingeier)    A generous heart  is willing to open up to see the needs and perspective of others.   Perhaps you’ve had the experience of hearing someone’s story or seeing a child or a need on the news and your heart goes out to them.   You find yourself wondering about their situation and how they are coping.   You want to do something in response.   The salty heart is open to relationships that will change and challenge us.  The salty heart realizes that we can make the world better- more savory.  For example Egan volunteers often come down to help at first because they have been moved in their hearts to help save lives.    I read a story the other day about a man who had a generous salty heart.

“ In the summer of 2015 Jim Estill of Guelph Ontario, focused intently on the refugee crisis developing from Syria’s civil war. Without telling his wife or friends about his plans, he figured out that he could sponsor 50 refugee families for a year at the cost of $1.5 million- an amount he would afford.  Enlisting community support, he brought 58 families to Canada, finding them homes and giving them jobs. He bought a store for one man and financed a building project to provide more housing. “ I didn’t want to be 80 years old and know that I did nothing during the greatest humanitarian crisis of my time, “ Estill said. He is the CEO of Danby an appliance company with annual sales of $400 million.” ( Toronto Life Dec. 20   in Christian Century Jan 18, 2017 p. 8)

 

Jesus says all of us who follow him, who invite Christ into our lives are salt of the earth!   We tend our hearts , make them salty by trusting  Jesus by letting his Spirit heal and renew our hearts.  Jesus gives each of us a generous salty heart.  How will you listen to your salty heart- your heart that cares beyond yourself?

Matthew also suggests that the generous heart is full of light.      Jesus believes in us.  Jesus says  that we are light for the world.   This light in our hearts is the Spirit of God at work in us.   It is the presence that assures us of grace and forgiveness and invites us to shine for Christ.   A heart full of the light of Christ needs to shine.  Matthew suggests that the way we shine for God is with our good works.

When we give to our church from our financial resources, we are shining for Christ.  Our lamps are not hidden but on light stands for the world to see.  One of the things I love about our church is that  when we give to our church we become part of a ministry of light all over the world:  health workers in Africa helping to eliminate malaria and other diseases,  teachers and preachers  starting new churches,  aid workers helping in times of disaster, sustainable development work in poor countries that save and enhance lives,  education and leadership training for under represented persons,  and of course in our own local area, food for hungry people, new ministries among our Hispanic neighbors,  starting of new churches.     The light we share through our generosity shines in all the world revealing God’s good work.

I remember one time taking part in a candle light vigil in Boise, Idaho , I think it was in support of farm workers in the state receiving some of the same benefits and protections that other workers already received.  The evening was windy and so to keep our candles lit we had to continually share our flames with one another. That way we kept the light shining.

The light of a generous heart comes from nurturing our connection with Christ through prayer, meditation, /biblical reflection individually of course but also in community.  Sometimes we may feel like our internal light isn’t so bright.  We are in a time of dullness of soul and heart. Yet, when we stay connected to one another, when we stay connected to our avenues of giving,  our light can re ignite and grow again.  We can help each other keep connected to our deepest love for God and neighbor.  Then our light will flow out steady and sure together.

When I was just a girl, I loved to sing.   One of my favorite memories is going with my dad to sing at the nursing home.  We would sing songs with the residents, Daddy talked and prayed and then we walked around and greeting and talking with each older person there.  I will always remember the joy of sharing music and loving touch with these folks.  It expanded my little girl heart.

Finally, the letter of 1 Timothy reminds us that  the generous heart is rich in the life that really is life.    The writer of 1 Timothy, like most of the New Testament writers understood that having material wealth could get in the way of having generous hearts.  Before the passage we read today, there is a strong statement about how some folks have let trying to get wealthy get in the way of their faithful living.   Generous hearts, in contrast have learned Timothy’s lesson that it is in sharing our wealth that we find true life.  Sharing our wealth enables us to place our trust in God not ourselves or material things.   The act of sharing allows the goodness of God to flow through our lives.  This brings us the life that is really life, this keeps us connected to the Source of all Life now and forever.   Generous giving not only helps the world, it helps keep us spiritually healthy and whole- the life that is truly life.

Most of us know the story by Charles Dickens about the old miserly Mr. Scrooge and how he is haunted into changing his mind about Christmas and learns to be generous.  In a recent play called the Trial of Ebeneazer Scrooge,  Scrooge takes his three ghosts to court for harassment and theft.  He seems to be back to his old mean miserly self. But there is a surprise at the end.  The purpose of his case is rather to tell to the ghosts- why just Christmas, why just me?  This change from a miserly, bitter heart to a salty, light filled generous heart ought to be for everyone, at all times.   Scrooge in the Muppet Christmas Carol Sings joyfully and may we join in with extravagant generosity flowing from our hearts:

With a thankful heart, with a endless joy
With a growing family, every girl and boy
Will be nephew and niece to me
Nephew and niece to me
Will bring love, hope and peace to me
Love hope and peace to me
Yes, everyday will end and everyday will start
With a grateful prayer and a thankful heart

With an open smile and with open doors
I will greet with welcome, and what’s mine is yours
With a glass raised to toast your health
With a glass raised to toast your health
And a promise to share the wealth
Promise to share the wealth
I will sail a friendly course, file a friendly chart
On a sea of love and a thankful heart

Songwriters
Paul WILLIAMS

Published by
Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

 

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