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Sermons January 2021

Sermon  January 3, 2021   Apologies for all cat lovers, including myself.  But I couldn’t resist this dance for the new year- with exceptions.  Isn’t it true that we are all like Snoopy, just a little, with our exceptions.  All creatures- except the corona virus or cancer cells, or the family member we are so mad at right now.     The story of the magi in the gospel of Matthew is one that faces squarely the  “exceptions” of those living in the first century.  There is good news- a new king is born in Judea- the messiah. This is the word the magi discover and bring to Jerusalem looking for this favored one. This is the dance.  But there are exceptions to this good news. Herod and his cronies are not pleased.  The text says they were  “frightened”.  That is not really that surprising.  A Messiah right now would shake up the status quo, even threaten the little power Herod held in the Roman run world.   But Herod does not share this with the magi, no he hides his fears, his exception.       What makes Snoopy so endearing, is that he doesn’t hide his exception-cats!  The whole world knows he hates cats.  But what makes Herod evil, is not that he is afraid of the messiah and all the changes that might come. But his dishonesty.   He hides his fear behind a false face of interest and piety. He calls together the biblical scholars to learn more. He goes to his Bible like a good pious king. Then he tells the magi, “Go and search diligently for the child and when you have found him bring word to me so that I may also go and pay him homage.”  ( 2: 8)  Now maybe he really would do this?      Ah but we find out the terrible truth.  When the magi don’t return Herod shows us his true face.       “When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi he was infuriated and he sent and killed all the child in around Bethlehem who were two year old or under according to the time hat he had learned from the magi.” ( 2:16)   Herod’s fear and anger burst out in an act of terror.         Denying our fears, our angers, our shames doesn’t keep them from affecting our lives.  Hiding them behind faces of looking good to others, doesn’t really help us in the long run.  So, how do we deal with our exceptions?   Those aspects of life or persons which would ruin the dance of the new year for us?  Those threats to our status quo that  frighten us.        Well, first...

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Advent Christmas Sermons 2020- Rooted in Love- Open to Hope

First Sunday in Advent- Stay Awake Scriptures:  Isaiah 64: 1-19; Mark 13: 24-37       I guess you might say that guy is the opposite of staying awake!  He is indifferent.  Maybe that is why the Bible depictions of the Day of the Lord or the Second coming of Christ are so dramatic.  The heavens falling and the Son of Man coming on a Cloud.  The Heaven ripped apart and God thundering through in all his glory so that the mountains tremble!  Something amazing will happen folks, the Bible is shouting- pay attention.        As I studied these two passages this week, I looked at some of the depictions of the Day of the Lord  in the prophets.    For especially the 8th century prophets of Israel and Judah, the day of the Lord was a terrible day!  Amos says, why would any desire this day, it is darkness, not light.( Amos 5: 18)  Zephaniah tells of a day of wrath that will destroy all the earth. ( Zeph 1: 14-18)  For Jeremiah it is a day of retribution with a bloody sword.( Jer. 46: 10)      Yet, when we look at the passage in Isaiah and the story in Mark, we see a different vision. For Isaiah, the coming of the Lord will show God’s glory and power to the nations and remind Israel they belong to God.  For Mark, the Day of the Lord is the Son of Man or Jesus coming back to gather up all the disciples to him.  There is sense in both depictions that this Day of the Lord is less about destruction and violence and more about reconnection.     One of the responses to these images and stories down through the ages has been for people to try to pinpoint when this great event was to occur.   When the year changed from 1999 to 2000, I was serving Myrtle Creek, Oregon. Several of my 7th Day Adventist and Assembly of God colleagues were very excited about the change to the new milineum. Many thought that they saw the fig tree and that this was the moment. They preached sermon series on the books of Daniel and  Revelation.   Of course, the Second coming didn’t come as they had anticipated.  Yet, they were responding to a sense of longing and maybe fear in their people.  Some of them longed for Jesus to come back to rescue them and our world from all its sinfulness and strife.      As I noted in the Advent wreath meditation both of these passages express the longings of people. They are longings we recognize: for God to rescue the world from its strife and suffering,  for...

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Oct / Nov 2020 Sermons

Sermon November 29, 2020 First Sunday in Advent Scriptures:  Isaiah 64: 1-19; Mark 13: 24-37       I guess you might say that guy is the opposite of staying awake!  He is indifferent.  Maybe that is why the Bible depictions of the Day of the Lord or the Second coming of Christ are so dramatic.  The heavens falling and the Son of Man coming on a Cloud.  The Heaven ripped apart and God thundering through in all his glory so that the mountains tremble!  Something amazing will happen folks, the Bible is shouting- pay attention.        As I studied these two passages this week, I looked at some of the depictions of the Day of the Lord  in the prophets.    For especially the 8th century prophets of Israel and Judah, the day of the Lord was a terrible day!  Amos says, why would any desire this day, it is darkness, not light.( Amos 5: 18)  Zephaniah tells of a day of wrath that will destroy all the earth. ( Zeph 1: 14-18)  For Jeremiah it is a day of retribution with a bloody sword.( Jer. 46: 10)      Yet, when we look at the passage in Isaiah and the story in Mark, we see a different vision. For Isaiah, the coming of the Lord will show God’s glory and power to the nations and remind Israel they belong to God.  For Mark, the Day of the Lord is the Son of Man or Jesus coming back to gather up all the disciples to him.  There is sense in both depictions that this Day of the Lord is less about destruction and violence and more about reconnection.     One of the responses to these images and stories down through the ages has been for people to try to pinpoint when this great event was to occur.   When the year changed from 1999 to 2000, I was serving Myrtle Creek, Oregon. Several of my 7th Day Adventist and Assembly of God colleagues were very excited about the change to the new milineum. Many thought that they saw the fig tree and that this was the moment. They preached sermon series on the books of Daniel and  Revelation.   Of course, the Second coming didn’t come as they had anticipated.  Yet, they were responding to a sense of longing and maybe fear in their people.  Some of them longed for Jesus to come back to rescue them and our world from all its sinfulness and strife.      As I noted in the Advent wreath meditation both of these passages express the longings of people. They are longings we recognize: for God to rescue the world from its strife and...

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September 2020 Sermons

Sermon  September 6 2020   “ And what of death?”  by Rev. June Fothergill Scripture: Exodus 12: 1-14; romans 13: 8-14; Matthew 18: 15-20      Not too long ago Jim and I watched again the movie “ Hannah and Her Sisters.”  In it, Woody Allen plays a character who has become obsessed with his own death.  He is terrified and anxious about not being anymore.   He goes to his Jewish parents for advice but they don’t see the issue.  He tries a Catholic priest and comes away with a pile of reading but that’s not for him. He even talks with the Hari Krishna but can’t imagine wearing an orange robe and hanging out at the airport.  Discouraged and still in terror, he goes to the movies.  As he watches an old Marx brothers which makes his laugh, he has a revelation that he needs to turn away from his anxiety and search for “ answers” and embrace life with all its mystery and maybes and laughter.  I admit it, his antics made me laugh.   Most of us face the reality of death at some point in our lives.  And Woody Allen, although exaggerating, is right, it is a fearsome thing.  We do shrink before the mystery of death.  This is only natural.  So what of death?  What place does it have in our lives, our theology , our faith?  I cannot answer all those questions in one sermon. I ‘m really not sure I can answer them any better than a Marx Brothers movie.  Yet, the reason I bring up the topic at all, is the impact of this passage from Exodus.  Let’s look at it together.     When reading again this passage in Exodus, I got a bit of that terror at or at least the solemnity of death. I had always thought of the first born- when I thought about them at all, as children- terrible enough certainly.  But this time I realized- I am a first born.  I would have been dead.  It was a little like when after 9/11 I realized that that many dead, would be everyone in the town I lived in at the time would have died! We do not usually keep thoughts about death in the forefront of our minds. As Woody Allen showed it is not a healthy way to live, obsessed with death.  Yet, death and transformation are at the heart of our faith and our deepest questions.   The passage from Exodus depicts a liturgy, an important ritual of the Israelite life and faith.  According to the commentators it is made up of materials from many centuries of Israel’s worship and faith.  ...

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August 2020 Sermons

Sermon August 23, 2020 “Kindness” by Rev. June Fothergill Exodus 1:8-2:10 Romans 12: 1-8    Once when Lowell was babysitting, his six-year-old grandson refused to eat anything set before him. In exasperation Lowell asked, “ Jonathan, you tell me you don’t like beef, you don’t like chicken, your don’t like fish, you don’t like fruit, you don’t like vegetables, you don’t like milk and you8 don’t like juice. Tell me, what do you like?”  Turning his innocent blue eyes on me he answered, “I like you, Grandpa.” (p. 152 An Encyclopedia of Humor, Lowell D. Streiker, ed.)    Such a kind word can go far, can it not?  I think that most of us would agree that treating others with kindness is a good idea.  We long for a more civil society and for less conflict and anger in our political discourse.  Yet, what if what is happening makes us angry? What if we feel strongly about different issues we face in society?  What do we do with those strong emotions?  Can we be kind and also be real?     In Romans 12  Paul suggests that we do not need to be conformed to this world but can be transformed by the “ renewing of your minds so that you may discern what is the will of God- what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (12:2)   So Paul thinks that we can figure this all out!   But then, before we get too self- assured, he adds in vs 3. “ For by the grace given to me, I say to everyone among you not to think of yourselves more highly than you out to think but to think with sober judgement each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”    I think what Paul telling his folks and us, is that we need each other.  I need that Facebook friend who has the opposite response to the political convention than I do.  We need the ones who challenge our thinking and help keep us humble. We learn how to be kind by listening to the needs and perspectives of those around us.  We learn God’s will by our willingness to be transformed by God through the process.      I think that the stories of the Hebrew women in Exodus 1 help us in this learning process. They show us women who are not just nice ladies, not just kind persons but also women who have the courage to resist oppression and evil.  Their stories give us a deeper understanding of what God calls us to do and be.       So, what was happening in Egypt?   The powerful – the king of...

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July 2020 Sermons

Sermon July 26, 2020    “ Partnering with God” by Rev. June Fothergill Scriptures: Genesis 29: 15-30; Matthew 13: 31-33    Rev. Hector Hanks, chaplain at Mills Hospital was on his way home one evening. Near his house, he saw a group of little boys sitting in a circle with a dog in the middle. He asked them what they were doing with the dog. Little Joey Bateson said, “We ain’t doing nuthin to the dog, we’re just tellin lies, and the one that tells the biggest one gets to keep the dog.”  The chaplain told them, “I am shocked. When I was a little boy, I would never have even thought of telling a lie.”  Right away Joey said, “Give him the dog fellas.”  (p. 67 An Encyclopedia of Humor, ed. Lowell D. Streiker)        Given who we are, is it possible for human beings to be in partnership with God?  On the one hand of course not, God is much greater than any of us and we can never phantom the depths of God our creator.  Yet, on the other hand it seems that God partners with persons all the time: calling Abraham and Moses, converting Paul, etc.   Yet, there is no doubt when we look at the history of humans THINKING they are partnering with God that we often get it WRONG!  Great preachers of early American history included racist ideas about blacks in their writings and preaching, theologians and Sunday School teachers justified slavery, the infamous Inquisition killed faithful persons who disagreed with it.  Those folks were so sure that they were right!  They thought they had heard it all from God.  This history makes me hesitant to claim too much about my own ideas. Yet, I notice that one of the common elements of those who I consider “got it wrong” was a lack of humility.        To truly partner with God, I think we need to pay attention to what God requires.   That is why Micah’s statement still resonates- Do justice. Love kindness and WALK HUMBLY with God.       Let’s look at the stories from Jesus today.  In the first one, it is the mustard seed, one of the tiniest of all seeds that Jesus says is like the Kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God is like this tiny seed which surprisingly grows into a big tree/ bush.  Jesus sees the potential in the small, the humble, the easily discarded or disregarded.        And then look at the next story.  This time it is the humble, often disparaged leaven- that a woman mixes with flour- kneads-so that it spreads throughout the loaf which points to the kingdom...

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