Welcome to the sermons from January 1- January 15, 2017 Enjoy!
Sermon January 1, 2017
John 1: 1-18; Galatians 4: 4-7 “ Being An Heir of Christ in this New Year” by Rev. June Fothergill
“We are no longer slaves, but children of God and therefore heirs.” – Paul in Galatians
The attorney gathered the entire family for the reading of the will. Relatives came from near and far to see if they were included in the bequests. The lawyer somberly opened the will and began to read:
To my cousin Ed, I leave my ranch.
To my brother Jim, I leave my money market accounts.
To my neighbor and good friend Fred, I leave my stocks.
And finally to my cousin George who always sat around and never did anything but wanted to be remembered in my will I say, “ Hi George.” ( p. 143 The Encyclopedia of Humor)
This past week I spent time with my mother in her 80’s and my mother in law in her 90’s. It’s good to spend time with them, to care for them, and to receive from them the wisdom and stories they had to share. I think about what it means to be an heir. In both cases it is less important what physical inheritance I might receive from them than the ethical inheritance. What are the values and ways of living that they hand down to me, that I want to emulate and pass down to my children and others? What did they inherit that they want to pass down to me and my family? How do we help this sharing of stories and values happen? How do we value each other in such a way that the stories get told and the values get shared? These are the questions that concern me not just for my own family but for our churches and even our world. What does it mean to be an heir.
I think about all this also because of the reading from the letter of Paul to the Galatians we read this week. Especially, “ We are no longer slaves but children of God and therefore heirs.” What does Paul mean and what does it mean for us today?
Paul writes first of all that “ We are not longer slaves.” This is crucial for his argument to the Galatians. He is upset because some people have been teaching that in order to be right with God one needs first to be circumcised and adhere to other practices of the Jewish laws. To Paul this is a big mistake! He doesn’t want them to get hung up on things like circumcision. They have faith in Christ and THAT IS ENOUGH. They need to focus on the fruits and gifts of the Spirit into which they were baptized not things that will divide and harm.
Paul believes that in his death, Jesus opened the door of the promise of Abraham and right relationship with God to all the peoples of the earth. The way we go through the door is through faith in Jesus and openness to the work of the Spirit. For him there is now a new relationship with the law of his ancestors. It is still valid but it does not save, it is a relationship with Christ Jesus which saves, redeems, and frees us into right relationship with God- to be God’s children and heirs.
This is Good News for the Galatians and still for us today. When we turn to Christ Jesus, when we decide to follow and trust in Jesus for our lives- then Christ sets us free from the power of sin and death! We are no longer slaves but redeemed!
What are the ways we experience this freedom? I have found over the years that trusting Christ for my worth and salvation means that I don’t have to get as caught up in what the world thinks of me. I can be set free from the drag of always comparing myself with others. Jesus just keeps gently reminding me- you are mine- that’s what matters, Sister June. I know for some people they experience this freedom in God’s power to help them walk in recovery from their addictions. For others, it’s freedom from the guilt and shame of sins that they regret. Paul tells the people of Galatia- let the spirit of Christ free you from bickering and strife and instead give you the fruits of the Spirit of peace and understanding. I believe that this work of redeeming us, setting us free started with Christ Jesus in the cross and the resurrection and continues in the dance of the Spirit in our midst.
Paul goes on to say that we are no longer slaves but Children of God. When we turn away from the things that entrap and enslave us toward our Savior we discover this wonderful gift- Jesus had made us God’s children. We as gentiles have been adopted into the family of God. This was a wonderful revelation for the gentiles of Paul’s world. Because of Jesus, the blessings of God were not just for the Jewish people but for everyone. As Paul puts it in Galatians 3 “As many of you as are baptized into Christ has clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”
This was the special ministry and calling that Jesus had given to Paul. It was not always an easy one. It was a big change and not everyone who followed Jesus understood what Paul was doing, as the controversy in Galatia shows. The early church wrestled with this reality of an expanding circle. And I am glad they did for today there are followers of Jesus all over the world from all sorts of backgrounds and situations. And we still struggle with what it means to follow Christ Jesus in the diversity of cultures of the world. One thing we all trust is that Jesus has made us all children of God. We are part of what God is doing in the world. As God told Abraham- through you I will bless all the families of the earth.
So, Paul goes on to add- not only children of God but heirs! Why did Paul add the idea of heir- wouldn’t it be enough to become children of God? Paul adds the heir idea to show that we can grow up to become part of what God is doing. We are not slaves to sin. We are not mere children without responsibilities. We are heirs of the promise, grownups who are part of something bigger than ourselves. So freed from sin and death we are able to be part of what Spirit is doing in the world.
So what does it mean to be an heir? For Paul, the inheritance is the blessing of the earth from Abraham .
Galatians 3:14 “ in order that in Christ the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles , so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
and the promise of resurrection from Jesus. We are also heirs to the resurrection.
Romans 8: 17 “When we cry “ Abba” Father it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God and if children then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ- if in fact we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”
So as I think about the questions I started with this morning: What are the values and ways of living that we can receive from our elders and pass down to my children and others? How do we help this sharing of stories and values happen? How do we value each other in such a way that the stories get told and the values get shared? I think taking time to grow as heirs of Christ is a place a start. This coming year I invite us to consider two ways to do this.
1. Take some time to deepen our trust in the Spirit of Christ in our lives. Christ has made each of us an heir- entrusted us with the gifts of faith in the face of sin and death. So we are free to cultivate the fruits of the Spirit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
2. Be a blessing to others. Christ has adopted each of us as a child and heir to the promises of God to bless the earth. Find a way to pass on that blessing this coming year.
One way of passing on wisdom and blessing, I rather like is a Jewish tradition called an ethical will. One can choose to take some time to put in writing or some other form the values, stories, blessings, wisdom, faith you would like to pass down to your family. It can be shared it with them now or given it as a legacy gift after you are gone.
Rabbi Jack Riemer: An ethical will is not an easy thing to write. In doing so, one confronts oneself. One must look inward to see what are the essential truths one has learned in a lifetime, face up to one’s failures, and consider what are the things that really count. Thus an individual learns a great deal about himself or herself when writing an ethical will. If you had time to write just one letter, to whom would it be addressed? What would it say?
As an heir of Christ Jesus what blessings would you like to pass on?
Sermon January 8, 2017 Matthew 2 “ To Whom Do We Listen?” Rev. June Fothergill
In his book Stress Fractures, Charles Swindoll writes: I vividly remember some time back being caught in the undertow of too many commitments in too few days. … Before long things around our home started reflecting the pattern of my hurry-up style. It was becoming unbearable. I distinctly recall after supper one evening the words of our younger daughter Colleen. She wanted to tell me about something important that had happened to her at school that day. She hurriedly began, “Daddy-I-wanna-tell-you –something- and I’ll tell you really fast. Suddenly realizing her frustration , I answered, “ Honey you can tell me.. and you don’t have to tell me really fast. Say it slowly.” I’ll never forget her answer, “ Then listen slowly.” (p. 232, 1001 Quotes… ed. Edward K. Rowell. Baker Books 2008)
To whom do we listen? I guess for me it depends. If I want to build a relationship with someone, I find it’s a good idea to listen to them. If I want to know about the climate or the weather, I listen to the meteorologists and the scientists. If I want to know what happened at the City Council meeting I could look at the official record and talk to folks who were there. You get the idea. In a world with so many sources of information, we have to learn how to discern where to go for what information. We have to find ways to sort out the misinformation all around us as well. Many of us here today would say we listen to God or God’s word for guidance in our lives. It matters to whom and how we listen.
I think that the story from Matthew that we heard today invites us to reflect upon our choices about listening. In the story we have three main characters who engage in listening. The magi, Joseph and Herod.
Joseph and Herod are the two contrasting persons in the story. Today we have no problem seeing Joseph as the hero of the story, the one to emulate and Herod as the villain, the one to not follow. Joseph listens to God. He hears God’s word to him through dreams. In his dreams Joseph learns from God how to deal with his fears ( He is unsure and afraid at first to take the pregnant Mary as his wife) and how to protect his family. He follows the dreams directions to flee to Egypt and then to return to Nazareth.
Notice, these are not easy things to do! To leave ones home and work and extended family to go to a strange place where you know no one and can’t speak the language. And then to not return to one’s original home but another strange place in the outskirts of the society. Joseph was a very brave and faithful man to make such great changes for this the sake of his son. His experience challenges me to remember that listening to God is not the same as listening to my own self interests or ideas. It can lead us to strange and unusual paths we might never have imagined. Can I follow God’s guidance into the unknown? Can I make changes that might be hard? What would it mean to really listen deeply to the dreams God puts on our hearts?
Joe and Marilyn Naazerman lived a comfortable suburban life. But when the children left home, Marilyn went through a difficult time emotionally. Eventually she decided to take on a new project to help her out of her slump. She started to plan a big Christmas lights display on their house. With her husband’s help it grew to be quite a show. The whole roof as covered with a light display depicting the Christmas story, complete with angels and shepherds, Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus and a huge star shining over it all. It was a work of art. It became a witness to their neighbors and town.
One year on the night before the unveiling, an angel appeared to Joe in a dream, not the angel he had attached to the roof but the real thing or so it seemed to him as he sat straight up in bed, trembling for over an hour, pondering what the angel had said, “ Joe do not be afraid of what is about to happen in your life . A child will come to Marilyn and you must care for him for the child is a gift to you from God.” The next morning Joe had said nothing to Marilyn about his disturbing dream. That afternoon Joe took off work early to get ready for the annual premiere of the light display. He was surprised to find Marilyn still in her housecoat , sitting at the kitchen table looking like she had looked during her months of depression. She told him that her stomach had been upset that morning so she had stayed home from work, then she dropped the bombshell. “ Joe, your friend Greg down at Social Services called this morning…. He said they have a newborn baby boy that they haven’t been able to place in a foster home. He asked if we would consider taking care of him for a few weeks. I told him this was the busiest time of the year for us and he said he knew that but all of their foster parents already have their quota of children and everyone else he has asked said no. I told him I would talk to you and get back to him this afternoon. “
Joe took at deep breath then he wrapped his arms around Marilyn and said, “ Call Greg and tell him yes.” And then he told her about the dream. They picked up little Manuel that evening and made a nursery for him in Marilyn’s sewing room. The lights above the Naazerman’s house never did get turned on that Christmas season but the light in their nursery never ceased to shine. Little Manuel had turned their lives upside down and stolen their hearts. Eventually a young couple came along who wanted to adopt Manuel, so they had had let him go to his new family. Many more babies visited the Naazerman nursery in the years that followed and Joe and Marilyn took them all into their hearts and cared for them until room was found in other hearts. One Christmas Eve following the candlelight service at church Joe and Marilyn walked to the parking lot with Greg. Joe said to Greg, “ I have always wondered how it was you happened to call us about Manuel that day. Anyone else would have thought we were the last persons in the world to take in a newborn.” “Well” Greg said, “ I guess I figured that anybody with a 15 foot star shining over their house was just asking for a baby.” ( www.ChristmasHouse by John Sumwalt 12/17/2004 Story Share www.csspub.com)
The second person in the story is easy to spot as the villain. Herod is a man with power and influence. In a time in history when most people lived in relative poverty he had the palace and military forces at his command. Yet, when these strange men from far away came to him and asked about an infant king’s birth, he became afraid and upset. For all his wealth and power, he lived in fear and spread that fear to others. He didn’t bother to find out what this new baby king might mean for him or his people- he assumed a threat to this lifestyle and power. So he lied and he killed. He only listened to his fears. Joseph in contrast listened to God’s assurance in the midst of his fears. Herod seemed to be devoid of any connection to God and even used the direction he did get from scripture for his own deadly ends. What happens to Herod in the story? He lied and killed and by the end of the story he himself was dead.
What does Herod teach us? Is he a warning to us about what happens when we cling to our societal and political privileges? When we let our fears lead us to acts which harm others? Herod’s journey is a dead end. He is an example of how the misuses of power and privilege bring harm and grief to our world, especially the innocent. We want to distance ourselves from Herod. We think, “ I would never be so mean and selfish. I would never order the massacre of babies. I wouldn’t lie.”
I trust that most of us here wouldn’t do such things ourselves as individuals but Herod represents the principalities and powers of the world and we have to admit that those powers still do such things. Even our own beloved country can make mistakes and send children on our border back to places where they can be killed. Even our caring nation can delay in accepting refugees from wars in which we participate. We are not Herod. Yet, I wonder, am I so different from the people in Jerusalem who got infected by the hatred and fear Herod promoted? Some of whom at the end of the story yell from the mob- Crucify him, crucify him.
Herod’s story invites us to pay attention to when we are listening to the fear and hatred promoted by the principalities and powers of our world. To take stock and notice when we need to listen more deeply for God’s word, not just to justify our own fears. To turn away from Herod’s word, toward Joseph’s dreams.
For finally, the magi show us the way. They are the third party who listened in the story. I find that they just might be closest to you and me. They are not heroes like Joseph or villains like Herod. Rather they are gentiles seeking to worship and respect this messiah, this special one they have glimpsed. They listen in a variety of sources of God’s direction. And they get waylaid and then turn back to God’s way.
They first discover about what God is doing by paying attention to the natural world. They are attentive to the stars, which in their time, were seen at predictive or reflective of events on the earth. The truth is that many of us listen to the natural world for reassurance, for awe, for comfort, for healing, even for guidance. We can listen to what the scientists study’s reveal about the natural world and hear God’s word for us to pay attention to our consumption of the earth’s resources. We can take a walk to the river and let God’s natural world soothe our souls. We can listen to our friends and neighbors to understand the needs around us which God would have us address. The key for the magi and for us is to listen with hearts open to what God wants, not just what we think we want.
And for the magi, it seems they stopped using the star as their guide when they came upon Jerusalem and learned it was the capital where the current Jewish king lived. They stopped listening to the revelation of God through the star and listened to their own cultural ideas and assumptions. Of course a newly born Jewish king would be found in the palace! They got waylaid.
The example of the magi caught me up short this week. I realized how easily we can start out inspired and faithful to the work of God in our world and lives. But then we lose tract of the original inspiration and start to follow our own assumptions and ideas. We start to think we know what to do now, God thanks very much. OK maybe we don’t actually say that but we do it. Well, I do it. One of my versions of being waylaid it when I start to think, “ I have to do it all myself.” And then, I get overwhelmed and tempted to give up on the whole project!
In such times, scripture can help us get back on track. It can remind us of God’s presence and power. In the case of the magi scripture got them out of the false step of Jerusalem and the palace, toward a direction where they could again see the star. And how glad they were! They rejoiced with exceeding joy. And God through the star led them to Jesus.
Could it be that finding and worshipping Jesus opened them up to new kinds of revelation from God? For then the story says they learned in a dream ( like Joseph) to go home by another way. Regardless, they changed. We don’t know what they did when they got back home. We don’t know if they ever heard about the terrible consequences of their visit with Herod. They were not heroes or villains. They were simply men following the wisdom and revelation they could see. They came to find a surprising, simple place for a king. And, they trusted the revelation of the star and gave him homage and gifts. And now open to God’s dreams they went home another way.
Their story invites us to wonder: What difference does worshipping Christ, offering God our riches and treasure and listening to God’s dreams make in our lives? What other ways will we discover when we turn around and make Christ the center of our focus? When we let scripture guide us not to our own ends but to pouring out ourselves in love and joy for others? When we take the time and quiet to listen to the dreams and the stars God sends to us?
K Dean Huntley listened. He rounded a curb in the road and realized that he was near Mary’s house. Her sister had asked him to make a pastoral visit saying, “ Mary’s not a member of a church and she’s having a rough time.” I little urging voice inside Dean said, “ Why not sop” but then he thought, “ I have too much to do.” He slowed but didn’t stop. Twice he turned around and passed by the house. Each time he felt more strongly the urge to stop and go in. The third time , he turned into the driveway. As he approached, he could see Mary leaning on the kitchen table. She was crying. He tapped on the door but she didn’t respond. He walked in and laid his hand on her shoulder. She looked up, not at all surprised or frightened and said, “ I was praying that god would send someone.” Mary poured out her heart to him. ( Upper Room jan. 19, 2002)
In this new year, the story of those magi invites us to take more time for listening to God. To pay closer attention to when we are getting caught up in the fears of Herod and realizing there is another way. The way of Joseph’s dreams, of the magi’ s star- the way of listening faith. Like the magi, we too can listen to God, discover Christ and find God’s way home.
Sermon January 15, 2017
“The Baptized Life” by Rev. June Fothergill Matthew 3: 13-17; Isaiah 42: 1-9
Janet Vajnar tells this story, “ Although I was raised a Methodist, I became active in a Baptist church when I moved to a new community. One day I was helping a group of women clean the church kitchen after a social event. I emptied the large electric coffeepot and handed it to the woman washing dishes. “ Can this be washed like everything else?” She asked. “ No” I replied, “ This is a Methodist coffeepot. It says right here, Do not immerse.” ( p. 296 1001 Quotes…)
Of course that is not true, we Methodists can and do have immersion baptisms, we just don’t require it. It’s confusing sometimes because different church groups have different understandings of baptism and some require one to be re baptized in “ their” better way. In the UMC we believe that there is no need to re-baptize. Yet, Sometimes we wonder if our baptism really “ took.” Sometimes we wonder if our baptism really means anything because we don’t remember it or we were very young. Sometimes we wonder if the sacrament of baptism is just a church ritual with little connection to our experiences of the Spirit. All these concerns are why we in this UMC look for ways to help each other confirm and find the meaning of our baptisms. I invite us this morning to reflect on the story of Jesus baptism to gain some new understanding of the meaning of baptism for our lives and faith.
We assume that John immersed people in the river Jordan when he baptized them but we really don’t know for sure. All we know is that Jesus was still wet from the water when he received from God the gift of the Holy Spirit like a dove and the word from heaven telling him that he was the Beloved Son of God and God was pleased with him. What an exciting revelation! Here is the one God has chosen as the Savior of the world, God’s only son, the messiah everyone has been waiting for ! Yet, even though in Matthew’s gospel the voice says “ This is my beloved Son” implying that others might be listening in, there is no response to this word. Even John who certainly was nearby doesn’t seem to know for later in Matthew he asks from prison through his disciples whether Jesus is the One! ( Chpt. 11)
All the gospels tell about this revelation from God that Jesus is God’s Son ( even John). Yet this is not the end of the story, but the beginning of the story of Jesus ministry. This baptism story isn’t about Jesus getting acclaim as the promised messiah but rather about who Jesus is and the nature of Jesus’s ministry.
In Jesus baptism two things come together: The water baptism of John which was an act of repentance and renewal and the coming from heaven of the Holy Spirit and Word of God. Thus in the tradition of the church we talk about baptism by water and the Spirit.
The unique aspect of Matthew’s story of Jesus baptism highlights the issue of the water baptism. He is the only story teller which has the conversation between John and Jesus. In it John recognizes Jesus as someone who ought to be baptizing him! Yet, Jesus tells John that baptizing him with water will fulfill all righteousness. It is a good act. Because Christians believe Jesus was without sin, we have wondered why Jesus needed to experience the water baptism John offered. What does Jesus mean that it will fulfill all righteousness?
Maybe Jesus doesn’t need to be cleansed but he wants to be. He sees water baptism as a way to obey God and connect with the people and their needs. In embracing water baptism, Jesus is embracing all of us in our earthly need for renewal and cleansing. He is humbly submitting himself to the same purification that we need. The water connects him firmly to the earth and to us.
This is the kind of messiah and savior he is. He not a lord that lords it over others, but one who humbly washes feet, sits at table , calls fishermen and prostitutes, and eats with sinners of all sorts. He is the one who as Isaiah says, “ A bruised reed he will not break”. He doesn’t ride into Jerusalem on a white horse to save the day but on a humble donkey to face his death. Even his triumph is humble- he is raised from a borrowed grave to visit his humble disciples. Yes, we believe that he is seated at the right hand of God in heaven, he is the Lord of the Universe, but a Lord that comes into humble hearts, rather than set up a global throne room.
Thus, Jesus in the waters of baptism is a savior that connects with us in our human condition. That is why the water is important to me and to the church. The waters are dangerous and healing. They signify the death and resurrection that Jesus will experience and the salvation it will bring to the hurting world. Therefore the waters remind us that because of Jesus, our lives can change, we can find renewal and new life, we can be cleansed and forgiven. Going through the waters Jesus connects heaven and earth. And so, the story invites us also into the waters so that we too can know who we are- God’s beloved children!
For that is what the story of Jesus baptism reveals. That when we humble ourselves, when we submit ourselves to God in the waters of baptism, we open our lives and hearts to the gifts of the Spirit of God. Jesus knows that it is a humble and contrite heart which is open to receiving the Spirit of God and the gift of knowing ones true identity as a child of God.
So it is that we are baptized by water and the Spirit. The work of the Spirit in baptism is to show us our true identity. We are followers of Jesus, adopted and accepted as children of God. This is why it doesn’t matter when we are baptized or how much water is used, because baptism is the work of God in our lives. Our baptism is a sacrament- an outward and visible symbol of an inward and spiritual grace- which reminds us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves- the work of God through Christ Jesus in the world. As one who was baptized as an infant, I have found it helpful to realize that in baptism God in Christ claimed me as his own. No matter what I do, I belong to God. And at various times in my life I have claimed that for myself in different ways. Jesus baptism was the beginning of his ministry, we too throughout our lives learn what it means to be a baptized one, how to live a baptized, spirit filled life.
But this story also shows us something else about the baptized, spirit filled life. The word given to Jesus in his baptism combined the word often given to a king of Israel from Psalm 2:7 “ I will tell the decree of the Lord; he said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you.” This is the great news that He is God’s beloved son. But the saying also refers to the suffering servant in Isaiah 42: 1 “ Here is my servant who I uphold, my chosen in whom my soul delights. I have put my spirit upon him he will bring forth justice to the nations.” Therefore Jesus is identified as both as Beloved son and suffering servant.
This was the tough part of Jesus ministry. He wasn’t to be a triumphant messiah but a suffering messiah. In fact the first result of Jesus being filled with the Spirit was the Spirit sending him further into the wilderness to be tested and tempted. So , the story of Jesus baptism reminds us that we follow and are identified with one who was willing to suffer and die so that the world could be redeemed and could join him in living the baptized, righteous life. As we receive and follow the baptized life we too will encounter suffering and struggles.
As William Willimon as put it, . “ In baptism we are initiated, crowned, chosen, embraced, washed, adopted, gifted, reborn, killed and thereby sent forth and redeemed. We are identified as one of God’s own then assigned our place and our job within the kingdom of God.” – William Willimon p. 17 `1001 Quotes…
Notice, Willimon connects our identity with our calling. AS God’s own we are sent, we have a job to do. Just like Jesus, we have a ministry to fulfill. This is the other part of the gift of the Holy Spirit. The spirit confers identity but is also confers calling and power. Jesus was empowered for his ministry and to get through all the temptations and struggles to come. He was empowered to declare and heal and bring God’s kingdom. As his baptized followers, we too are given the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. We too are not alone in the struggles of ministry and life. Our baptism assures us that we will have the strength and gifts we will need to do any ministry to which we are called and that we are called!
This is why I love the re affirmation of baptism covenant in our current liturgy. It allows us to reflect upon the meaning of our baptism and to reaffirm our faith in Christ Jesus as the source of our salvation and calling to ministry. As we come to reaffirm your baptism I invite you to remember the good news that you are a beloved Child of God , forgiven and healed by the grace of Christ and that God has given you a ministry in this world. Listen to where God is urging or nudging you to be a witness for Christ, to share his love, or perhaps to make a faithful sacrifice for his sake. Come re affirm this relationship of love God gave your baptism and forever offers to you.