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 that will lead to health and love and happiness has been distorted.  In order to recover, to be freed from these traps, we have to admit this truth.  And this is not easy!

Dr. M. Scott Peck in his book “ People of the Lie”  believes that evil is at work in our world in the form of  people who refuse to see or acknowledge any fault at all in their character or actions.   When we refuse to see where we’ve messed up- we cannot change.   Acknowledging my sin, my limitations, my mistakes, means I can grow.  I can make room for Christ and his love in my life.  Temptations remind me that I have choices but to make the choices that will lead to live and health- I need help.  I need the power of   God in my life.

This is where the story of Jesus temptation is instructive.   Jesus resisted temptation by staying focused upon God.  He had received the revelation that he was God’s son and God was pleased with him before he went into the wilderness.   When temptations came he stayed focused on this.  When he was tempted to use power for his own gratification, he remembered God’s priorities. When he was tempted to show off how God would take care of him, it remembered He didn’t need to prove anything. When he was tempted to  take political power and influence, he remembered that it was God alone who deserved his worship.

In contrast, Adam and Eve forgot to keep their focus on God.  Instead of talking to God about what the serpent had told them about the tree, they ate the fruit.  Instead of admitting to God their mistake, they hid from God and blamed each other.    We recognize their floundering.  But Jesus shows and offers another way.     I like the way Roberta Bondi puts it,  ( Jesus) “ came among us to bring us healing, to restore to us the image of God, to uncloud our vision, to destroy the power of death and to teach us once again the way to love.”  ( p. 135 Memories of God.)

An antidote to temptation, then is to be focused on Christ Jesus and filled with his grace and  spiritual power.    Shortly after the Reformation some young followers of Martin Luther wrote him with a question saying, “ We are harassed by many temptations which appeal to us to often and so strongly that they give us no rest. You don’t seem to be troubled in this way and we should like to know your secret. Don’t’ temptations bother you? Are you somehow immune to sin?”

Luther wrote them back in reply saying, “ I too know something of temptation . But the difference is that when temptation comes knocking at the door of my heart, I always answer, ‘ Go away! This place is occupied. Go back where you came from, for Christ is here.”  ( p. 1  eSermons.com  2/27/2004)

Yet, what about when we do fail, when we relapse or hurt someone we love or lash out or get too prideful- oh the list is long?   The good news is that Christ is always ready to welcome us home!   The remarkable thing about Jesus was that even the worst we human beings could do to him- torture and untimely, unjust death did not stop the movement of God toward forgiveness and grace.   Christ is risen!  The first followers of Jesus experienced that what  God did in Jesus Christ death and resurrection was to turn the world  a right again.   We no longer have to be alienated from God and expect only death.    The grace of God, the tender care of God, the relationship with our Creator was now possible for all of us.  Simply by believing, trusting in this act of God in Jesus the Christ.   This is what John meant by the “ Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

We still have the tough choices and temptations.   Yet, thanks be to God,  we  can have a relationship with Christ and his people which can guide and redeem us.   We have a vision of God’s renewed paradise to inspire and sustain us.  And when we step off the path, we have a savior who welcomes us back.

I close with a story about a woman who experienced this journey of faith.   This woman was a graduate of a women’s drug treatment program and participated in an Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon mentor program.     This woman had been abused as a child and coped by trying to be perfect.  “ As the abuse got worse, I got “better” I had to have perfect grades, had to be accepted, had to be good enough,  no matter what sacrifices were required.  I got praised and admired when I accomplished things. As a result I took every class available,… worked after school, was up late doing homework and was forever doing good deeds and helping others…. I was never at peace. I was driven by fear and determination. I had a void in my life and was on a mission to find something to fill it up- something to make me feel better about myself- anything to avoid feeling the pain , fear and loneliness.

After a traumatic event in my life, I did my first line of cocaine. It was quite literally the answer to my prayers. I will probably never forget that complete and total relief and gratification I felt. Fear and pain were replaced with control and freedom.  Six month later I’d lost or sold nearly everything I owned. I lived on the streets, in cars, and in cheap hotels.   Years afterward  following two relationships with violent men and the birth of my two children, I finally decided that my way wasn’t working.  I volunteered my children to foster care.  I knew that I was not able to be the mother that they deserved until I was able to stay clean and sober and get a grip on reality.  I chose to admit myself into a six month inpatient treatment center.

A short time later I was given the opportunity to have a mentor through EMO’s Parent Mentor Program.  I had no idea what kind of gift that would become. … She became an important part of my support group.  … She has shown me by example how to live a healthier, happier, more mellow life and how to find that balance in my life that will allow me to become what I’m capable of being.  …

I cannot express to you the shock I felt when I realized that I was responsible for so much of my own pain… When I discovered that God loved me unconditionally and that He was with me all along, the changes started happening almost immediately. After all these years,  I finally found something that filled that void and calmed the storm inside of me.  Today I am closer than ever to both my children.  I am loved and lovable.   All of my financial, emotional, spiritual and personal needs are being met.  I am doing things with my life that I never thought possible.  Through prayer, meditation and Bible reading I am finding the guidance I need to get through each and every day with confidence and hope, I begin and end each day thanking God for everything that He’s given me and for every one of the special people He has placed in my life. I couldn’t have done it without Him.  ( Voice, January 2000)

 

Sermon   March 12, 2017  Opening Our Hearts and Stepping Out on the Promises. By Rev. June Fothergill

Genesis 12: 1-7;  Romans 4 ( parts); John 3: 1-17

A tourist wandered too close to the edge of the Grand Canyon, lost his footing and plunged over the side, clawing and scratching to save himself. Just before he fell into space,he encountered a shrubby bush which he desperately grabbed with both hands,. Filled with terror he called out towards heaven.” Is there anyone up there?”

A calm, powerful voice came out of the sky. “ Yes there is.”

The tourist pleaded, “ Can you help me?”

The calm voice replied, “ Yes, I can. Do you have faith?”

“ Yes, yes I have strong faith.”

The calm voice said, “ Well in that case simply let go of the bush and everything will turn out fine.”

There was a tense pause. Then the tourist yelled, “ Is there anyone else up there?”  ( p. 83  An Encyclopedia of Humor, ed. Lowell D. Streiker)

One year early in my ministry, I had the privilege of attending a UMC Clergy Women’s Consultation in Atlanta Georgia.  One of the things I did was to visit a half way house for women supported by our church.  There I met women who were moving from lives of addiction and desperation to lives of recovery and faith.  It was not an easy journey for most of them.  At the end of our consultation we joined together for a march from our hotel to a nearby Martin Luther King  Jr. Memorial. We were walking to share our faith in Christ and the dream of a Beloved Community.   Some of the women from the house joined us.  I remember one who walked beside me.  She said to me, “ I’m stepping out on the promises. I’m stepping out on the promises of God.”    I still think of that woman sometimes and her witness to me that day. Her life had not been easy and it was not going to be easy but she grabbed hold of God and trusted with all her might.

What does it mean for you and me to step out on the promises of God?   What  I know about myself is that I tend to get excited about a project and what God is doing.  The beginning stages  are uplifting. But then there is the slog of day to day getting it done!  There is money to raise,  people to organize, there are relationships to develop and nurture, there can be set backs and relapses and just plain hard, tiring work.   Maybe that’s why in the story of Abram and  Sarai there are not just one time  Abram hears from God but many.   The building of this exciting relationship between God and the  Abraham people  gets told and retold in different ways. Within this short story we have two encounters.  And then the story is retold it different ways in Chapters 15,17 and 18 of Genesis and of course there are other challenges and diversions along the way as well.   I love this story of Abraham and his family and his relationship with God because of this complexity.  It’s one thing to go to a march and sing “ Stepping out on the promises”  but living it day to day, that’s when  faith become real!

I believe that is one reason why many of us are here today.  We need to support each other on the day to day journey of walking in faith.   Sometimes it’s easy.  Prayers get answered, we rejoice in blessings and we feel close to God. Other times we struggle with unanswered prayers and hardships of our own or others.   Sometime discouragement and suffering and grief storm through our lives.   Together we hold each other up and remind each other of our faith and the promises of God.

One  of those promises is that  God in Christ has saved us from sin and death. Christ Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.   This is where John goes with the story of Nicademus in 3:16-17.   “ That God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal. That God sent his son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him.”    This promise reminds us that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.   Nothing that we’re ashamed of, nothing that threatens us, nothing that  the world can do  can ever separate us from the love of  God in Jesus Christ.  We may step out in joyful faith or in trembling faith but we do not step out alone!    There is an old song which I love which says, “  Many things about tomorrow, I don’t seem to understand, but I know who holds tomorrow and I know who holds my hand.”

A second promise of  God is that  we are part of a larger story of God blessing the whole earth.   As we turn to Christ with our whole heart, we become part of this long endeavor started with Abraham and Sarah to bless all the families of the earth.  As Paul points out , it is faith in God shown to us through Christ which puts us in right relationship with God.   We become part of the family of God to bless the earth.    This means that we too are called like Abram and Sarai to answer God’s call to walk in faith.   This was also what Jesus called upon Nicodemus to do.  He challenged Nicodemus to  let the Spirit of God  change him.

Jesus told Nicodemus,” the wind blows where it chooses and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the spirit.”  ( 3: 8)    Jesus invites Nicodemus to be born anew of the spirit and become open to the wind- blown chaos of the  Spirit- the wine, the whip, the old ways hurling around.   Will they come down in the same old ways? No they will be new!

Like many of us, Nicodemus lived his faith life based upon doing the right things.  Jesus invites him to consider a way not determined by his own self discipline but by the energy and love of the Spirit in his life.   A way not focused on certain outcomes but  open to continual renewal.   To step out on God’s promises is to trust the Spirit of God at work in us and through us.  To trust that we can be part of this adventure of blessing the earth.

When my family and I decided to step out in faith and open our home to an exchange student from Chile, we had no idea what would happen.  It was an adventure of wanting share our blessings.  It turned out to be a friendship that not only led to connections with Hispanic friends in our little town but a decades long friendship that allowed us to visit Chile a couple years ago and see our friend Juan and his family.  Together we were part of blessing families of the earth.

Finally,  God promised Abram a new identity.   You will no longer be just plain old unknown Abram, but will become the father of a great nation!  Abram didn’t have any special qualifications for the job.  He was an ordinary man that God called to step out in faith. And he did.   Paul says that in Christ we are a new Creation.  Jesus told Nicodemus that he needed to be born again of the Spirit.  Is this promise of renewal even for you and me who are growing older and can get rather set in our ways?

Jane Marie Thibault in her book 10 Gospel Promises for Later Life reminds us that each stage of life has its developmental challenges.   All our lives we change and grow or we stagnate and die.   She comments, “ All these tasks require that we die to what we once were in order to become more who we are in the eyes of God and to receive the continued abundance of life that God wants to give us. “ ( p. 99-100)    This openness to change is not easy.  It can seem chaotic and messy and darn uncomfortable.  Yet,  prayer and our  supportive fellowship with one another can help us be open to the renewal  God offers us.

This movement of God in Jesus is about life and love and salvation!   We can trust that God wants our welfare.  The new identity in Christ fulfills our longings for meaning and peace of mind and world.   Jesus tells Nicodemus that the process of entering God’s Kingdom involves letting go-   being born anew and open to the movement of the wind or spirit.   God invited Abram and Sarai to step out on God’s promises into an unknown future.   When we open our hearts to Christ- we will receive new life and salvation!    Then we can step out on the promises of God- and join in the adventure of faith of blessing all the families of the earth.

As you come to the communion table today. I invite you to open your heart to the possibilities of God for your life, to step out on God’s promises of grace and new life for you!

Also, I invite you to come and bring a gift that help us together be part of God blessing all the families of the earth- even here in Springfield.  The gifts brought to the altar fund our local missions fund which feeds hungry people in our community.  Listen to what one person shared with us about what they love about Ebbert UMC.  “ We are a community. At Wednesday meal I feel like I belong and people care.”  Who is there for desperate people?  Because of Christ at work in us, because we step out on the promises of God- we are there.

March 19, 2017

John 4: 5-42      Sermon  Woman at the Well  Rev. June Fothergill

Ah there it is!  I can still hardly believe I left my water jar behind! And I really needed the water!  I hadn’t gone down in the morning with the other women. I was just tired of their talking more about me than with me.  But a person needs water- so with the sun high, I trudged to the well.  It’s Jacob’s well- I may be a Samaritan but I know my lineage and Jacob left his well for us. It makes a big difference in our lives. We need fresh water and  we are grateful for it!

But that day I encountered someone even greater than Jacob. He didn’t look like much at first.   Just a stranger sitting at the well, obviously weary-  his clothes and feet dusty- his face lined. He wore the cloak of a Jew. I paid him little mind- figuring he’d just ignore me. But instead he spoke- asked me for a drink.

I was shocked! Here was a Jewish man speaking with me! a Samaritan woman?  I was so worried about what someone might think.  I’ve always been rather outspoken and I did it again that day- sir- do you realize who you are talking with?  Are you sure you want to be talking to me!  pause   I forgot all about his request and his thirst! Who as this man? I remember wondering.  He must have known my question for he smiled and told me- If you knew who I was you’d ask for living water.

Living water. .

And I knew I needed that living water he’d offered. Whatever it was , ” sir I said give me that water!  But then he caught me up short- Go and call your husband.

Well I’d been half expecting it – everyone gets around to asking eventually. He as a good sort though I wanted him to like to keep talking with me. So I told him- ” I don’t have a husband.”

Then he looked at me so very gently and said

What you say is true you have had 5 husbands and the one with you now is not your husband.”

I looked at him and it was like he’d seen all the misery I’d suffered. The rejection the grief the shame. I could see in his eyes- He knew all about me yet he had spoken to me as a real, loveable, thoughtful  person. I felt a thrill as somewhere inside an empty place started to fill.

” Sir you must be a prophet.”

Looking back I realize that right then he began to give me the living water he’d spoken of.  It started to well up on the empty parched place of my soul

After that we talked of many things. I realized I could ask him all my questions- what about the Samaritan Jewish rivalry? What about the messiah’s coming?  And I think in my heart  I knew, at least I hoped it as true even before he told me- ” I am the messiah- the Christ.”

At that point some men came up his disciples or friends.  Well- I’m accustomed to knowing when my presence isn’t wanted and I rushed home- yes without my water jar.

But with that living water spilling over. Suddenly I was talking with all the townspeople I’d avoided. I didn’t care anymore what they thought of me. I told them- here’s a man who told me all about my life- could he be the messiah- come and see!

I wasn’t completely sure, all I knew was that this person had treated me with care and respect, even knowing all about my shameful life.   I didn’t know what my neighbors would do.  They could have just called me crazy. But maybe they noticed I’d changed.  I was no longer hiding in my shame. I was living new possibilities. They came and they too saw this man- he was called Jesus. And he stayed with us in our village. Imagine that! After that we knew- he was the savior of the world!

I wonder- have if any of you have ever felt like me- alone, dry, full of shame or perhaps some of you have felt like my neighbors and those disciples uneasy with outcasts like me?

Well I am not a sage. I can’t tell you all the answers.   Yet although, it’s been a long time since the Christ walked our dusty streets in Sychar, he was right about that living water.  The gift the Christ brought to our town, brought to me, is still flowing.  I know now that Jesus meant the living water was the Spirit of  God that continues to affirm and bring life, that continues to break down the barriers we humans build between each other and in ourselves out of fear and anger and shame.

Even though he knew all about me and my shame he stilled offered me his living water and treated me with respect.  He even revealed to me who he was and made me his messenger.  And he still offers that living water to each of you. Jesus is already healing and cleansing places in each of us.  This experience of grace, acceptance fueled my journey back to my home to invite others to come and see this one we discovered called Jesus.

Maybe you too have experienced God in some way in your lives. Maybe somehow you have been touched by the living water. If you’re like me you may not have it all figured out but you can share your own experience of  God and Christ.  I am sure that there is someone out there in your world who needs to know there is living water in Christ. Who needs to know that God knows us and loves us. Who needs to hear and experience that in Christ the old barriers that separate and hurt people do not matter to God or God’s people.

I just wanted to share with you my story hoping that it will encourage you to share your own. Each of your stories is important to Christ and to the spreading of the wood news about Christ Jesus.  Now I have to go but I invite each of you to write down for your self

1. one way you’ve experienced God or Christ

2. one way you can share your experience this week with someone else.

They say I was the first evangelist- isn’t that amazing- me of all people.

 

March 26, 2017   “The Mother of the Man Born Blind” by Rev. June Fothergill

John 9

Did you ever wonder about the parents of the man who was born blind? How we felt? Well as his Mother, I was just plain angry.  My son had received his sight but there was no time for rejoicing, for praise at the wonder of it all. NO instead they interrogated him, discounted him; threw him out from the community.    I remember how when he was born, how grateful I was that we both made it through the ordeal safely.  As he grew we began to realize that his eyes didn’t work right.  We had to lead him around.  But his ears worked just fine.  He could pray and talk, tell stories and sing just like any other person.  Yet, when we would walk with him in our little town, people looked at us strangely. I could just hear them thinking and sometimes even saying- what terrible thing did that family do?

I worried that they were right.   The taint of sin, of not being quite whole, clung to him and to us.  Yet, I was also quietly seething, because my precious son born blind only had a place on the side of the road, wasn’t seen as a whole man.  When he was! He felt and loved like any other person.  Every day he did the only thing he could in our society, he offered himself for the almsgiving of others.

I know you’ve heard the story. Have you ever wondered how he got to that pool of Siloam?  How could he see to find his own way?  Well, he knew the way back to our home and he told me about this strange incident and asked me to take him there.   He told me about how a group walking by had started talking about him.  Someone asked their teacher, “ Rabbi, who sinned this man or his parents that he was born blind? “

I held my head in shame, once again the old rap. But then my son told me the answer the teacher gave, “  Neither this man nor his parents sinned he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”  God’s works might be revealed in him.  This was a new word.  A new word that fed my soul.    I looked at my son- could it be that he stood a little taller?  I came up to give him a hug and then I noticed the mud.   “What is all this mud on your face?”

“Oh” he told me excitedly- “the man put the mud on my eyes and told me to go wash at the pool of Siloam.  Can you lead me there?  I want to wash like he said.”

As we walked to the pool, I told my son my thoughts.  This mud, it reminds me of how God first created humankind from the mud of the river bottoms and formed  a human being.  I wonder what all this means?  Who was this teacher?     My son nodded.  He was eager to find out.  When we arrived at the pool he knelt down and washed his face and the mud off his eyes. I watched in anguished anticipation. What would happen? Was it all a hoax?   But my son turned to me, the water dripping off his face and in a hushed tone asked, “ Is this what it means to see? Is that you my mother?  I see a shape next to me. I see the water on my hands and the mud dripping. I see the rays of the sun on the water.  I’ve touched your face my mother, now let me see if it is really you.”

He reached out to touch my face again- this time also seeing my wrinkles and surprised eyes.  “It is you.” He exclaimed. “Now I see you in a new way.”

We hurriedly walked back to our neighborhood to tell his father.  But along the way some neighbors stopped us.  Those that had shunned us as sinful or who had plopped a coin or two to my son in the past.  They looked at us and asked   “ Well now, is this the beggar who used to sit blind and pathetic on the side of the road?”    They argued together about whether it was him!   Finally, my son spoke up ( he had recognized their voices) and declared,  “ I am the man.”

Ok then they countered, “How is it that your eyes are opened, that you walk around without help?”  He answered.  “ A man called Jesus made mud spread it on my eyes and said to me God to Siloam and wash. Then I went and washed and received my sight.  “

I expected everyone to gather round us in rejoicing but instead they asked skeptically, “Where is he, this man? “ And my son said quietly, “ I don’t know.”   This crowd of neighbors wasn’t done with my son yet. They grabbed him and took him to the leaders of the community- the Pharisees.  When they rushed him off, I ran home to tell my husband what was happening.  I was upset.  Why all the questions? What was the trouble? My son could now see wasn’t that cause for celebration?

My husband reminded me that part of the trouble might be that it was the Sabbath day.  Oh I  sighed. That’s right everyone is more uptight on the Sabbath.   I wondered to myself- Is that what God wants?  Isn’t the Sabbath to be a time of celebrating  God’s goodness and mercy ? Surely receiving ones sight is such a sign.  My husband was more cautious.  Let’s stay at home, he said.  Surely this will all die down soon.

So I don’t really know what the Pharisees asked my son. I am sure he just told them his story all over again.  As for me I was beginning to think that this man just might be a prophet.  I wish I had heard his name.  I was curious to know more.  But then a pounding came to our door.  One of the servants of the religious leaders was there demanding that we come before the leadership. They had some questions to ask us.   This was scary.   As you can imagine after my son was born blind, everyone around us, including the religious leaders ignored or shunned us. They didn’t want to associate with sinful people like us. It has been hard and lonely but we raised our son best we could.  He lived!  And he was able to go each day to do his work of being a beggar.  He gave all those upstanding Pharisees a way to give their alms as God required.  Yet, it was hardest on my husband, people didn’t want to buy his crops or include him in their activities.  I just stayed home, looked after them both, and sometimes took my son out to his roadside place.  Life had not been easy but we got along and no one bothered us, And now this!

So I was rather indignant when we went before the religious leaders.  I wanted to berate them for not celebrating my son’s good fortune.  But my husband whispered to me not to make a scene.  We needed their good will or at least their tolerance of us.  So when they asked us, if our son had been born blind of course we told them it was true he had been.  But when they asked us how it was that he came to see, my husband said truthfully,  “ I do not know how it is that he sees nor do we know who opened his eyes.”

Then trembling  a little with fear and anger, I added,  “ Ask him He is of age.  He is a man.”

After that they wanted to send us away, but we decided to stay close by to hear what happened next.

We saw them bring our son before the group again.  I noticed that he didn’t cower before them.  He gestured for the servants to go away. He could stand there for himself.   How many times had he told his story- how many times would he need to?  I could see that something else new was happening inside of him.  I marveled at how he talked with the Pharisees. These folks that had looked down on him and us all his life, but now he stood up to them.    As he spoke I saw his light shine brighter.

“ I don’t know whether Jesus is a sinner. One thing I do know is that though I was blind now I see.

And why do you want me to tell you the story again. Do you want to be one of his disciples?”

That really got them upset. “ No way- we are disciples of Moses.   As to this man we don’t know where he comes from.”

Then my son spoke words I will never forget- he sounded rather like a Rabbi himself.

“Here is something astounding. You do not know where he comes from and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God he could do nothing. “

But the leaders couldn’t / wouldn’t see it. Suddenly I felt sorry for them. They couldn’t rejoice with us in the wondrous thing God was doing in my son!  Instead they stayed in the old way of judgment, “ You were born entirely in sins and are you trying to teach us?”

They kicked him out.    My husband and I joined him on the roadside.  My husband was worried and I was too- what do we do now?  Before we were tolerated but now with the religious establishment against us? What would happen to us?  My son could no longer beg.  My husband’s crops might not be accepted by the neighbors.   But in the midst of this confusion and worry, we also gave thanks for the newness in our son.  He was not only able to see, he was a new person.

Just then a stranger came up to us. He looked at our son and seemed to know him.   He asked our son

“Do you believe in the Son of Man/ The Human One?”  Our son looked at him with curiosity and wonder, I could tell that he had heard that voice before.

“ And who is he sir Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

The man said to him, “ You have seen him and the one speaking with you is he.”  It was Jesus!

“I believe” exclaimed our son and he fell down and venerated him.   From that point on we had a new life.  Our son joined in the work of this Jesus and his disciples. Eventually we did too.  Our lives have never been the same because now we are part of a community that believes that sins are forgiven, that being born blind or deaf or different than the rest doesn’t mean sin but rather that God can use us all for his glory and purposes.    I had watched in wonder as my son went from a presumed sinful beggar to a man full of life and faith and boldness.    Maybe it was a journey of faith, but in a way it was also a dance because now he had a new partner in Jesus, a friend, a spirit of love and healing that showed him new possibilities.

It was a dance of faith that faced troubles.    The forces of jealousy and hatred eventually drove our wonderful Jesus to a dreadful cross.  It was a dark, sad dance that day.  But I can tell you the good news that the powers that tried to shut down my son, that crucified Jesus do not win the day!  Soon after his death we who followed Jesus realized that the reality of whom he was, his presence of healing and life hadn’t died. He was alive. Now he dwelt in us in a new way.  When one has the heart to see- Christ is here with us always and forever.  With him in our hearts we join together in the dance of faith.   I hope you will join us, too.

Sermon April 2, 2017   John 11, Ezekiel 37; John 1: 29   “ Live Giving Power”  by Rev. June Fothergill

At the very beginning of the story of Jesus ministry in the gospel of John, John the Baptist says of Jesus, “ Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. “   As I thought about this, I began to wonder= what does a world without sin look like?  The first followers of Jesus came to believe that Jesus coming among them to die and rise again changed everything. The world was becoming a different place because of Jesus.  A place where sin and death no longer ruled and life with all it’s possibilities was available to anyone.   Taking away sin wasn’t just an individual gift,  it was also the redemption of the world.   In a real sense they believed Paradise was restored- and they were part of this new world God was bringing through Jesus.  John the Baptist was pointing out- there is something BIG happening here. This simple person, this lamb of God is gonna change everything!

David Buttrick tells the story about the Black women deep in the bayous of Louisiana who had raised over a dozen children most of them adopted and foster children. When a newspaper reporter asked her why she had done it she replied, “  I saw a new world a ‘comin.”

This is the story of our faith.  It’s the story that Ezekiel saw in the valley dry dead bones- Can these bones live God asked. And God showed Ezekiel that yes, through the power of God at work through Ezekiel’s words- the bones did live. There was hope for the distraught, dried up, exiled community of Israel.   And the same question was what Jesus put to Martha.  He said to her, “ I am the resurrection and the Life!  Do you believe this?”      Do you trust that in the midst of this terrible time of loss and grief and the death of your beloved family member- I can bring life?

What do we believe?  Do we join Martha and Ezekiel is taking a plunge into belief that God is  a powerful source of new life in our midst? That in our lives of dry bones, of deep loss and terrible suffering- God can bring new life- abundant life?  That Jesus really is taking away the sin of the world?

Let’s admit it this sounds just fine! But in the midst of suffering and grief and loss- it is not easy!  When we look at the desperate suffering of much of our world today- it is not easy. When we admit our own struggle with grief and doubt, it is not easy.

That is why I find it so helpful to really look at this story in John 11.   I notice that Jesus knew that it was not easy.  In this story we see Jesus at his most distressed in the whole gospel of John.   It says that when he saw how Mary and the people with her wailed and grieved, he was very upset.  The KJV puts it poetically- “ he groaned in the spirit and was troubled.”   Or “ he was  greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.”    When they told him where Lazarus was buried, He began to weep.   And then when he came to the tomb he was again greatly disturbed.     Clearly Jesus was filled with emotion!  This was not an easy moment for him.   The words used to describe his emotions carry with them some a sense of being stern or even frustrated. Yet, he also weeped with those who were weeping.  We know that he loved Lazarus, Mary and Martha.  Was he also sad at the pain they were experiencing? Was he frustrated that they didn’t easily see the life he could offer?   As I studied this part of the passage, I discovered that there were differing interpretations about what exactly Jesus was feeling. Was he angry or was he sad? Was he stern or was he compassionate?  But then I realized  that this is exactly what happens when we face the suffering of a deep loss in our lives or community.  It is not simple, is not easy- in fact most of us find ourselves with a mixture of emotions.   It struck me- John is showing us Jesus – this light of the world, lamb of God, bread of life, That he really was God/ the Word become flesh living among us! ( John 1: 14)  There beside us in our entangled emotions and sufferings and grief.   Jesus wept.

I don’t know about you, but this is who I need when I am stuck in a place of deep loss and suffering. I need someone who sits beside me and weeps with me, listens to me, even feels with me.  I don’t need someone to make pronouncements and give me answers.  At least not then.  Not on day four.  What good news it is to me, that the one who is the resurrection and the life, who is the source of all forgiveness and hope, can sit and weep with Mary  and by extension with you and me.

David Walter Lauer tells a story of learning to be a chaplain at Massachusetts General.  He was given the name of a woman who was Greet Orthodox/ He stopped at the door to her room and saw that she was sleeping but talked with her husband, who told him in no uncertain terms to go away and 00not bother either one of them.  So he respectfully did not talk with them again, but he did pass her room on his daily rounds.  One day he saw the husband sitting in the hallway outside his wife’s room. I nurse had told  David that the wife had died.  David gently approached the man and asked him if he could sit down beside him.   The man nodded and Dave saw that tears where rolling down his face.  David sat down and tears came to his eyes too. For 20 minutes they simply sat there together.  When David asked if the man would like a prayer, to his surprise the man nodded yes and bowed his head.

We have discovered that the ways people heal from trauma or grief is not easy, but it is possible.  There are three things we have learned that help us move forward: telling our authentic stories, expressing our emotions and staying connected to others.   This is what happens in John 11.  Jesus lets Mary and Martha tell their story to him- our brother is sick, and later if you had been here he would not have died.  Jesus expresses and experiences the emotions of the situation, his own and theirs. And  finally he is there among them and they are there with each other. The stage is set for the possibility of new life.

And that is what happens.  Lazarus is given a new life.  “ Un bind him.”  Jesus tells the community.  The power of God in Jesus Christ to bring life out of death, is affirmed and celebrated.   John reports that some there believed in Jesus and other decided to plan for how to put him to death and even threatened the life of Lazarus.  Yet, with this final sign, John has let us know who holds the power for life.   The difficulties and suffer of holy week and crucifixion are coming, Jesus had one more time in John when he is upset, in chapter 12 when he says, “ Now my soul is troubled And what should I say- Father save me from this hour? No it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father glorify your name.”      After that Jesus begins to tell his disciples “ Let not your hearts be troubled.” as he tries to prepare them for the ordeal ahead.     John shows us Jesus making the journey from grief at death and sin to seeing and living the possibilities of resurrection, of new life before us.  The story assures us that  now we will never have to go on that journey alone.   Jesus goes with us. As Paul realized, there is absolutely nothing which can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing!

This is how Jesus takes away the sin of the world!  By taking all the sin and death of the world and turning it upside down. But taking all the suffering we  see and experience and showing that there is a way through it- a way to life.  By taking all the mess ups, the mistakes, the institutional evil the world can dish out and  through steadfast love and forgiveness transform hearts and minds and whole communities.     By offering each one of us the forgiveness and healing we need to life lives free from sin and full of love.

In Canada there is a place  called the  as the Canadian Center for the Victims of Torture.    It treats people who have been through terrible traumas.  Dr. Frederico Allodi points to the case of a teacher who had been imprisoned by the military junta in Argentina from 1976-80.  The man has been tortured during parts of his confinement and held in isolation for long periods. Soon after his release he moved to Canada to start a new life. But he could not escape his dark memories and often considered suicide. The Canadian Center was his last hope. Besides therapy Dr Allodi invited the teacher to social events and gave him books to read including those of Elie Wiesel who writes about his Holocaust experiences.  “ With Wiesel he could see there were useful ways to deal with extreme suffering- to become a witness.”   Within a year the man was teaching refugee children and had become active human right organizations.     ( We’re Tougher Than We Think, Claudia Dreifus, Parade, July 5, 1987.)  Today this center still continues its work in Toronto.

As we gather around this table this morning, let’s remember that we serve a Savior who is taking away the sin of the world. Who walks with us from suffering to new life.   Who designs the world of compassion and justice we through Christ  build together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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