Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Sidney UMC - Ninth Sunday after Pentecost - 07/25/21 - Sermon - “Fools Say In Their Hearts"

Sunday 07/25/21 - Sidney UMC

Sermon Title:          “Fools Say In Their Hearts”

Old Testament Scripture: Psalm 14                                         

New Testament Scripture: Ephesians 3:14-21

 Gospel Lesson: John 6:1-21

          At different times in my life, I have meet people who were people of faith, people who believed in God, who loved Jesus, but for different reasons stopped believing or stopped having faith. Sometimes, unfortunately, some people lose faith, they reject God, and yes, they even reject Jesus Christ.

          The question to ask ourselves however, is why? As per my sermon title for this morning quoting Psalm 14:1a, it says once again:

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God” (Ps. 14:1a, NRSV).

          The Psalmist is saying to us this morning, once again, that if you reject God, and if you say in your heart that there is no God at all, then you are a fool. The Psalmist does not say that you are making a bad decision, but the Psalmist says that you are fool. Pretty harsh!

          What I want to talk about a little this morning though, is common reasons that people lose their Christian faith, and how we can reconcile these realities to our belief in God.

          This morning, I want to discuss five common reasons that people reject God and reject the Christian faith. Let us go through these five one by one.

1.    Suffering:

Some people have lost a child, have a family member, have gotten cancer, have lived through a war, have become disabled, have went through a crushing divorce, have lost a job, etc. Some here, and many others have endured incredible suffering in their lives, and I have around this so many times, “Pastor Paul, if there really was a loving God, then why did God allow fill the blank to happen?”

Among the many reasons that Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God” is suffering. Reconciling our suffering to a loving God can be challenging for those people who have a shallow view and understanding of God and Christianity. Most of human suffering I am convinced is our fault, not God’s fault. Someone might ask me, “Pastor Paul, why did God allow my brother to get killed by a drunk driver?” I could then ask in reply, “Why would someone get that drunk and then so recklessly drive home?”

Sometimes our expectation is that we can control God, and that God will give us anything we want, anytime we want it. Do I still believe that God performs miracles? Absolutely, but I think most often God uses us to be the light, the love, and the life of Christ in this world. To reject God, to reject Christ, is to then say that we have a better chance in the life apart from God, apart from Christ, and all on our own. To love God and to follow Christ is to live differently, and sometimes when we suffer it is in part because of what we have done or because of what others have done to us.

Things like cancer and diseases are tough, and I do not have all the answers friends, but we live in a broken and a sinful world. Much of human suffering happens because of us. Abandoning your faith in God, and your faith in Christ, will then mean that you will replace Christ with someone else or something else. Even when we suffer, God is with us, and Jesus still died for us. The church exists so that we can be together, love each other, proclaim the gospel and the love of Jesus Christ, and lift each other up.

          I truly believe as crushing as the loses that many of us have had, if we have loving church families, then the last thing we would consider would be to abandon our faith and to abandon Christ. We do not have all the answers, sometimes God performs miracles, and sometimes people go to be with God. This being said though, God is always with us spiritually, even if we do not fully understand his plan on this side of heaven.

2.    Natural Disasters:

I remember when I was a young kid, and maybe this is still true, if a car or a house was damaged in a storm, or by tornado, or a broken tree branch, insurance companies would call this an “Act of God”. Natural disasters a tricky one. Tornadoes, hurricanes, forest fire, storms, earthquakes. The responses that I have heard from those that have lost so much is, “How can a loving God allow natural disasters”? Again, I do not have all the answers, but it seems that some expect this broken and sinful world to be perfect in every way. Yet God made us with free will. We get to choose every day how we live. Do we cause natural disasters? No, not necessarily, but some scientists think that human behavior can contribute to them.

We all want a life free of pain, free of suffering, and free of natural disasters, yet this is not why Christ came to this earth. Christ came to this earth to reconcile our human brokenness to God. This means that through Christ and his death on the cross, we can be forgiven of our shame and guilt and live differently. This world though is still very broken, still filled with violence, and still has a lot of suffering. To an extent then, it can be easy for someone to sit on there couch in there living room and proclaim, “Well if there is a God, why doesn’t he fix all of this?” The answer is, Jesus did not just come to earth only to die for us, because he trained his disciples to build his church. We are supposed to live in community, to love and care for each other, and to be with each other through the best and the worst of times. Maybe we have a friend or a relative that died in natural disaster. This does not mean that there is no God, just because we do not fully understand everything. I have felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. I felt God move in me and in the community of faith. Just because I do not everything does not mean that there is no God. So, some people because of natural disasters say in their hearts, “There is no God”.

3.    Hypocrisy:

One the large reasons that Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God” is because of hypocrisy. I know some Roman Catholics that have left their churches over the clergy child molestation scandals. I know people who have left their churches because the pastor was having an affair, stealing from the church, or telling people at the pulpit to live and love like Jesus, while doing as little as possible to actually serve the church and the community they were in. I know people that abandoned their faith because some TV preachers are flying in private jets, wearing $3,000 suites, and living lifestyles that are beyond comprehension. I am not talking about wealth earned or inherited outside of ministry, but the amazingly insane amounts of wealth that some clergy gain while in ministry. Living like a king, while many of your people barely get by.

     I have heard people say, “Well if the pastor or the priest cannot be trusted, then why should be part of the church at all?” These fair questions, I think. I agree with these arguments to. Pastors and priests are not perfect, but we are held to a higher standard, and we are expected to do our best, with God’s help, to live and model the Christian faith. When we fail to do this, or when the church itself fails to love like the church that Christ has called us to live like, the world can see us as hypocrites. On some level we are all hypocrites. There is nothing wrong being successful in life, as long as we realize that we have been entrusted with what God has allowed to have. If we have been given much, much is expected.

     What I am driving at here, is that the church, the clergy, and all of us, as much as we will fail at times, really needs to try to live all of this out. When we live all of this out well, the hypocrisy will decrease, and people will see a community of Christians that are not perfect but are following a perfect savior. People will see a community of people that includes rich, poor, and everything in between, but are all broken people redeemed by the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

     As your pastor, I am not perfect. I have and I will likely make more mistakes. I love God, I believe in Jesus, and everyday I try to serve and love like Jesus for the right reasons. May we all strive to live and love like Jesus.

4.    Misunderstanding who God is:

As a Baptist seminary classmate of mine said, “God is not a cosmic butler, and he does not just bring us everything we always want”. Some Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God” because they expect God to do anything they want any time they want it. It is amazing how some people start praying when a crisis hits their lives and they ask God to help them, especially when they have not talked to God in years. Friends, we have to own our own brokenness. We cannot blame everything on God. God is not a vending machine that just dispenses everything we want. Further, when we think this, we remove our personal responsibility. If a man is drunk driving at 100 miles per hour, and the police pull him over, does he really expect that God will get him out of it? I mean really. Could God do this? Yes, of course God could, but God is not a rich uncle that bails out every time we are in trouble. God is our creator, his son is our savior, and his Holy Spirit fills and guides us. Just because we know God does not mean that everything, we think we want will become a reality, but rather to know Christ is a spiritual relationship. Christ changes us, so that we can change Sidney and the world.

If you read the Book of Job in the Old Testament for example, Job suffered, but God was with him. The Apostle Paul had a thorn in his flesh, and every time he asked God to take it from him, God said, “my grace is sufficient for thee”. Knowing God does not mean that we will not suffer or that we will always get everything we want, but it does mean what Psalm 23:1 says:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4, NRSV).

We all have, will, or are suffering, but brothers and sisters, as a loving family of faith, we laugh, we cry, and we suffer together. Christianity and our faith are not just about getting what we want, it is also about who we are and how we live. Our faith is our words, our beliefs, and our behaviors and our actions.

5.    Human Sin:

A fifth reason that Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God” is because of how broken and sinful humanity is. Some might say, “If there is really loving God, why would God allow so much violence and brokenness in the world?” God could have not given us free will, but then we would be little more than robots. For example, would you rather have your kids, your family, and your friends chose to love you, or to be forced to love you? Have or were you always obedient to your parents?

God created us with free will so that we would daily choose him and live and love like Jesus. This is why I preach the gospel, this is why I believe that the gospel is the hope of the world. Through Jesus we can be forgiven, become a new creation and we can live for God and for others. We need to be forgiven, and we need to choose to live like Jesus. We all have sin, and we cannot pretend it is not there. We also cannot pawn off our sin onto others. Humanity is broken brothers and sisters, and the answer is Jesus Christ.

          While there are many more than five reasons that some Christians leave the church, stop believing in God, and stop following Christ, these are five very common ones. Yet, many people still believe in God, and many people still love Jesus. Some have been hurt by the church, some have seen the hypocrisy of some churches, and some just cannot reconcile their pain and their suffering with God. The reality though, is that God is with us, no matter what comes our way in this life.

          In fact, in our reading from Ephesians 3:14-21 for this morning, it says once again in 3:16-19:

16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God”      (Eph. 3:16-19, NRSV).

          The Apostle Paul is talking about asking God to strengthen our inner being, and that Christ may dwell in our hearts. The Apostle Paul says we should pray and ask God to fill us, so that we may be grounded in love, and so that we may know the amazing love of God through Jesus Christ.

          Things do not always go our way, nor do we always get everything that we think we want. Jesus did not come to earth so that we would never suffer, instead he came to reconcile us to our Heavenly Father. Jesus came to restore us, to change us, so that no matter what happens, we can share his love, his hope, and his grace, so that we can live this life of faith out together as a church.

          We see in our gospel of John lesson for this morning once again, the miraculous nature of Jesus Christ. This morning, Jesus feeds the five thousand. This is five thousand men, but counting the women and the children, it is much more. There is enough food for everyone, with plenty left over. Jesus then walks on water while the disciples are in the boat. The sea was rough with strong winds, and when Jesus walked on the water, the boat then safely reached the other side.

One way to interrupt Jesus’ miracles is to say that nothing bad will ever happen to us. Yet, many of Jesus’s miracles, I think, tell us that Jesus is with us, and amongst us. Jesus is not only our savior, but he has taught us a new way of being and loving. Jesus is with us, God loves, even if Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God”.

Friends, brothers, and sisters, know that God loves you and me more than we will ever know. Keep the faith, keep loving others, and know that Jesus is with us now and until the end of age. Amen.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Sidney UMC - Eighth Sunday after Pentecost - 07/18/21 - Sermon - “Christ Himself As the Cornerstone"

Sunday 07/18/21 - Sidney UMC 

Sermon Title:          “Christ Jesus Himself As the Cornerstone”

Old Testament Scripture: 2 Samuel 7:1-14a                                      

New Testament Scripture: Ephesians 2:11-22

Gospel Lesson: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

          When I was younger, and maybe even not so younger, my family and friends loved to play board games and other games. Sometimes we would have a family game night at my father’s house in Illinois, with friends, or even in some of the churches that I have served. We played all the classics, like Monopoly, Risk, and etc.

          One game that I particularly liked however, is a game called “Jenga”. Jenga is not a board game, even though it is made out of boards. Jenga, if you have never played it, is a game where three flat rectangular pieces of wood are stacked upon three other flat rectangular pieces of wood. There are many of these rows stacked neatly upon each other, and every other row is placed in the opposite direction. So, one row of flat rectangular pieces of wood is place front to back, and the next row is placed left to right. When all stacked up all of the flat rectangular pieces of wood sort of look like a skyscraper in New York City. The game we had also came with a plastic mold to put all of the flat rectangular pieces of wood in it and then slowly slide it out, as to not disturb the tower of pieces of wood.

          After the game of Jenga was all set up, then each person when it was there turn, would carefully pull, or push on a flat rectangular piece of wood. They would try to safely remove this piece of wood from the tower. After removing a piece of wood, you would then place that piece of wood on top of the tower and create new rows above the existing rows of wood pieces.

          As the game went on, as you can imagine, the bottom rows would begin to get a little sparse, and with stacking all those new rows on top of the tower, it put more weight on the bottom of the tower. At this point you would ever so carefully pull or push another piece of wood out. Inevitably though, eventually, the tower would crash over, sending pieces of wood all over the place. Then we would restack the tower and start all over again.

          I thought of this game Jenga that I used to play as a kid for this message this morning, because what I learned quickly about this game was that if the bottom of the wood tower, or the foundation, was compromised, then the whole tower was compromised. You see if the base of the tower was not secure, then the tower would come crashing down. We have seen these types of unfortunate circumstances, such as the collapsed surfside condominium building in Florida. When the base of the structure is compromised, then the tower or the building can collapse.

          This morning in our Old Testament reading from 2 Samuel 7:1-14a we are told that not only has God chosen the great King David to unite and lead Israel, but also that God tells David this once again:

12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Sam. 7:12-13, NRSV).

          From this and other scriptures, as Christians we believe that the eternal king of Israel and the world, is Jesus Christ. Jesus is a descendent of the great King David as we know from the gospel, for he was born in the city of David, which is Bethlehem. Jesus, a descendent of the great King David, is the eternal king of Israel, the world, and the universe. Jesus is the Messiah, the Lord, and the one in which the Christian Church is built upon.

          To connect my Jenga game reference for this morning then, the Apostle Paul says once again in our reading for Ephesians 2:11-22 that Jews and Gentiles (or Non-Jews) are now both fully accepted into the church. The Apostle Paul says to the Gentiles, or the Non-Jews once again:

19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God” (Eph. 2:19-22, NRSV).

          Like a wood tower game of Jenga, like the collapsed surfside condominium building in Florida, a strong foundation, and things like a cornerstone matter. It is possible that the support beams or the structure in a house or a building can collapse upon a strong foundation, but a strong foundation is generally vital to a house or a structure. Using this analogy of a cornerstone, the Apostle Paul is telling the Ephesians, and us that the Christian Church is built upon the Apostles of Christ, the Prophets of the Old Testament, and upon Jesus Christ himself, who is the cornerstone.

          In many buildings, perhaps you have seen a cornerstone? They are not that all that uncommon. We have special stone in fact, that is on the exterior wall of the front of this church. If you have never noticed the front of this church, you likely have seen the marquee box with my name and the service time in it, and above that box there is a special stone. This stone says, “Methodist Episcopal 1831 + Church + 1933”.

Our congregation, as some of you know, was started by Mr. and Mrs. Arvine Clarke, who hosted a Methodist Circuit Rider preacher in their own house.  A Methodist Episcopal Class meeting was organized, and the first Sidney Methodist Episcopal Church was built on Main Street in the 1830s, and the Clarke family donated a land lot and the timber to build that church. In 1933, as the stone in the front of this church says, this current church, or at least this current part of this church was built in 1933.

Above that stone outside of our church wall, is this beautiful stained-glass window. Portrayed in this beautiful stained-glass window are the two founders of this congregation, the Clarkes, and next to them is the cornerstone of our faith, Jesus Christ. The Clarke family commissioned and paid for this stained-glass window when this church was built in 1933. This is why the stone of the front of this church says, “Methodist Episcopal 1831 + Church + 1933”. This stone is also not really a corner stone, but it is certainly significant to this church.

What is a cornerstone then? How can we formally define it? Well let me tell you what www.dictionary.com says a corner stone is:

1. a stone uniting two masonry walls at an intersection.

2. a stone representing the nominal starting place in the construction of a monumental building, usually carved with the date and laid with appropriate ceremonies.

3. something that is essential, indispensable, or basic: The cornerstone of democratic government is a free press.

4. the chief foundation on which something is constructed or developed: The cornerstone of his argument was that all people are created equal.

(https://www.dictionary.com/browse/cornerstone)

          As we listen to these definitions of what a cornerstone is, it becomes extremely evident that cornerstones are vital. They unite masonry walls at an intersection, they are good places to start building a structure or a building. They can be essential, indispensable, or basic, and they can be the chief foundation by which something is constructed or developed.

          For the Apostle Paul to refer to Jesus as the cornerstone then, is to say that this church, and nearly two-thousand years of our Christian faith are built upon the cornerstone, the rock that is Jesus Christ. While the Christian church has various beliefs, holidays, and traditions, the church is solely and centrally built upon Jesus Christ. Why is this? This is because God the Father created everything, the Holy Spirit fills us and moves us, and the person of God who took on flesh, was God’s only son Jesus Christ. Jesus came to earth, fully God fully human, and died for us. He shed his blood and died on a cross, so that we could be set free from sin and guilt, and so that we could be reconciled to God and live with Him, forever. Further, the gospel that Jesus taught and lived, is our blueprint of how to live and to love each other. Jesus is our savior, our Lord, and yes, our cornerstone.

          Our gospel of Mark reading for this morning once again, is two pieces of Mark 6. The first part of Mark 6 we are given once again, begins with one of the narratives of the feeding of the five thousand. Yet, the scripture Mark 6:30-34 does not get to that point in the story. The gospel of Mark reading for this morning, once again, then ends with healing of the sick in Gennesaret. So, let us look at this morning’s gospel lesson briefly again. Right after the story of the beheading of John the Baptist that pastor George preached on last Sunday, the scripture picks up saying once again:

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things” (Mk. 6:30-34, NRSV).

          Jesus Christ, our Lord, our cornerstone, realized the importance of going to a quiet and deserted place to get rest. This was short lived however, as a crowd developed around Jesus and his disciples, and shortly after this in the gospel reading, Jesus performs the miracle of multiplying the loves and fishes, to feed the five thousand.

          After this and after Jesus’ walking on the water, we then close our gospel lesson for this morning with Jesus healing the sick in Gennesaret. Once again this is how this morning’s gospel lesson ends:

53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed” (Mk. 6:53-56, NRSV).

          Jesus, our savior, our Lord, our cornerstone, feeds the five thousand, walks on water, and heals countless people. Jesus is teaching us to love, to heal, and to forgive. Jesus is teaching us to live, and love like him. Jesus is teaching us to build our lives, our faith, and yes, our church upon the cornerstone, upon the rock which he is. Jesus saves us, died for us, and the whole church sits upon “Christ Jesus Himself As the Cornerstone”. Amen.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Sidney UMC - July 4th Sunday/Sixth Sunday after Pentecost - 07/04/21 - Sermon - “Freedom, Truth, and Liberty"

                             Sunday 07/04/21 - Sidney UMC

Sermon Title:          “Freedom, Truth, and Liberty”

Old Testament Scripture: 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10                                      

New Testament Scripture: 2 Corinthians 12:2-10

Gospel Lesson: Mark 6:1-13

          On July 4, 1776, in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the founders of what would become the republic we now know as the United States of America wrote the Declaration of Independence. The news of this Declaration of Independence did not reach London, England until August 10, 1776.

          As many of us remember from school, the Declaration of Independence, where we get our July 4th holiday, listed grievances against our British overseers, as we were there colonies or subjects of the British. We had had enough, and we decided to create a new country. The Declaration of Independence also listed this:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Declaration_of_Independence).

          From this portion of the Declaration of Independence ratified this day 245-years ago, I created my sermon title for this morning called, “Freedom, Truth, and Liberty”.

          When I was in elementary school, I learned that the Founding Fathers were the closest thing to Jesus Christ that we have. As I got older though, and as I originally studied history and social studies at SUNY Potsdam, and then became a High School Social Studies Teacher, there was much more to this story. I did not know that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington owned slaves. I did not consider that when our US Constitution was ratified in 1789 that our new nation would have the institution of slavery for another 76-years. I also did not consider that woman did not get the right to vote until 1920. I did not consider that woman up until recent years could not have some jobs that they now have, and etc., and etc.

          Some have said therefore, that the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution should simply be torn up, and we should start over. Some have suggested that we should destroy the history of our country and tear down all of our statues, due to the clear mistakes from the past. Clearly, when we founded our republic in 1796, and General George Washington was elected as our first United States President, our country didn’t have total freedom. In fact, initially, only land-owning white men could vote.

          What I learned in my studies at SUNY Potsdam though, is that Declaration of Independence and the Unites States Constitution are living documents. This means that we continue to live into the reality of what it means to the United States of America, and what it means to be an American.

          I love my country, I value our history, as painful and as wrong as some parts of it is. The principals that this country was founded on are timeless and have helped create a strong and a free nation. We are still living into this. So, when the Declaration of Independence says:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, 

I still believe in these principals.

I remember learning about Salem, Massachusetts in college, were the famed “Salem Witch Trials” were held. People were literally found guilty of witchcraft and burned by Christians at the stake. With this said, every Christian I know agrees today that doing such a thing is wrong and terrible, but at the same time we have not done away with our faith and our churches. We no longer have the Inquisition, which was wrong and terrible, but still have our faith and our churches.

I say all of this on this July 4th to say that I love my country, I love Christ and his church, but I can love my country and Christ and his church, while not loving every part of the history of my country and the church. I love living in a country where I can speak freely and open at this pulpit, and where I can declare boldly that Jesus Christ died for our sins. I can boldly and freely declare that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Do you know that in Fifty-Two countries in this world the Bible is either illegal or highly restricted? Did you know that there are some countries where you cannot preach the gospel like I am doing now? Did you know there are some countries that Christians are jailed of even killed for there faith in Christ (https://lovepackages.org/bibles-dangerous-illegal-covert/)?

We have the freedom in these United States to be Christians, Jew, Buddhists, etc. Is every element of our history perfect? No? Is every element of the history of the church perfect? No. This does not mean though that “Freedom, Truth, and Liberty” are not good things though. I love our country because we have “Freedom, Truth, and Liberty”. We are continuing to live into this, as the Declaration of Independence as the US Constitution are living documents. The church continues to boldly proclaim the love of Christ, even though some Christians centuries ago, or in recent years did some awful things. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness is not the problem. Jesus is not the problem. Human sin and brokenness are the problem. Christ is the answer. Christ is “Freedom, Truth, and Liberty”. New country and new constitution would never fix himan sin and human brokenness.

Christ is perfect, even when some or parts of his church are not. The principals of “Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness” are solid, even when some have failed to live up to them. For these reasons, I love Christ, I love my country, and I love this holiday of our independence. For those attending fireworks later, what a blessing it is to celebrate “Freedom, Truth, and Liberty”.

In our scripture reading from 2 Samuel 5 for this morning, it says again that the great King David that God made him king over all of Israel. In doing so, God’s word was preached, and the love of God spread.

In our scripture reading from 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 for this morning the Apostle Paul says once again:

So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me (2 Cor. 12:9b, NRSV).

I am blessed that I live in a country and serve in a church where it is perfectly acceptable to preach the word of God.

In looking at our gospel of Mark reading for this morning once again, as many of us know, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the city of David. Yet, Jesus grew up in Nazareth. This is why some called Jesus, Jesus the Nazarene.

In Jesus returning to Nazareth where he was raised, he began to teach in the synagogue. Some mocked him and were offended by him. Since he is the son of Mary and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, they saw Jesus as not someone qualified to preach what he is preaching. They did not see him as the Messiah, and the gospel then says once again, beginning with Jesus saying:

“Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief (Mk. 6:4-6, NRSV).

Jesus own community where he was raised rejected him and did not believe in who he was. Sometimes Jesus received hostility, anger, and even threats. Certainly not a place where you could practice your faith. I am proud to live in a country that values “Freedom, Truth, and Liberty”.

The gospel of Mark reading for this morning then continues, saying once again that Jesus went about the villages teaching. The scripture then continues and ends once again with:

He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them (Mk. 7-13, NRSV).

When I hear the rest of this gospel lesson of Mark for this morning, I hear “Freedom, Truth, and Liberty” in Christ. Go out bringing nothing, rely on others hospitality, and if you are rejected, move on. The disciples proclaimed that all should repent of their sins, they cast our demons, and they anointed the sick with oil.

What we do not hear as explicitly in this gospel reading, is the heavy persecution of Christ and his church. The persecution that led Jesus to the cross and that led all but the Apostle John to die for Christ and gospel.

There are still things in this country, and in some churches that need to be improved and changed, but yet, I love my country and I love Christ and his church. This is why on this July 4, 2021, 245-years after our Declaration of Independence was ratified, I am grateful for “Freedom, Truth, and Liberty”. Happy Independence Day! Amen.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Sidney UMC - Fifth Sunday after Pentecost - 06/27/21 - Sermon - “Who Touched My Clothes!"

                                Sunday 06/27/21 - Sidney UMC

Sermon Title:          “Who Touched My Clothes!”

Old Testament Scripture: Psalm 130                                    

New Testament Scripture: 2 Corinthians 8:7-15

Gospel Lesson: Mark 5:21-43

          One of the hardest, and dare I say loudest couple of weeks that some of the church staff at this church experience, is the first couple of weeks of the Tri-Town Nursery School reopening each September. Do not get me wrong, there will always be noise with children, parents, and the great TTNS teachers. Some of this noise is missed over the summer, and it is nice to have the clamor and the joy back in the church building each fall.

          What I struggle with though, and what the church staff struggles with though, is that some of the kids in the TTNS program get very emotional when their parent or parents drop them off for school at the beginning of each school year. In my limited experience, this happens for about a week or two. Some of the kids, as soon as their parent or parents are out of sight just loose it. They cry and cry, and sometimes shout for mom or for dad. Sarah, Ron, and I always feel bad about this, as the TTNS teachers are trying to calm the kids and settle them. This does not last forever, but every fall without fail, we will have TTNS kids that are emotionally upset that their parent has left them at school. By the end of the school year however, most of these kids are not too concerned about this!

          The power of presence and touch is amazing. I watched once as a mother walked out of her house to get the mail. Her husband was there, as was I visiting, and as soon as she walked out, her toddler looked at her out of the sliding glass door that she had just shut. The baby began to cry and say “mama”. There were tears that came down the baby’s face. Then the woman walked back in a couple of minutes later, and that baby jumped on her like an NFL linebacker. At once that baby calmed, the tears subsided, and the baby was back to normal functioning.

          I also remember one time that I was at a church function, and a woman had just given her baby a bottle. After the baby ate, the baby got fussy and cried some. The mother was trying to comfort the baby and she seemed baffled at what was wrong with her baby. She held the baby close and began to pat the baby’s back that had just eaten. The baby continued to be upset, until one of those light back taps produced a burp that sounds like a lion roaring. So loud and unexpected was this baby burp, a few people turned around shocked. That one subtle tap of the mother on her baby’s back, released the gas in the baby, and his fussing and crying stopped.

          During these many months of pandemic, it has been so hard for many of us to not be able to shake hands, hug, or in some cases even physically be in someone else’s presence. The power of presence and touch is powerful indeed.

          I remember different times as a pastor that I prayed with someone who was suffering, or who was trembling. As I grabbed their hand and prayed, I asked God to fill them and to calm them. Sometimes after that prayer, the person was no longer shaking, and their fear seemed to have subsided. The power of presence and touch is a powerful indeed.

          In our gospel of Mark reading for this morning once again, a woman who has suffered hemorrhages for twelve-years sought healing from Jesus. She had spent all of her money on doctors trying to heal her, and not only did she not get any better, but she actually grew worse (Mk. 5:24b-26, NRSV).

          This woman had heard about this Jesus, his power, his authority, and his ability to heal. In fact, the gospel of Mark says once again in 5:27-28:

27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well”                                             (Mk. 5:27-28, NRSV).

          Some of the children who start a new school year in the Tri-Town Nursery School, can be calmed and restored with but a touch from there parents. The baby who cried “mama” when she went to the mailbox, was restored with one touch from his mother. The baby who had gas after being feed, who burped like a lion, was restored with one touch, or tap from his mother. Do we have faith and hope like this?

          The woman this morning who was sick and suffering believed that if she just touched Jesus’ cloak she would be healed. Not Jesus himself, but just his cloak. For so holy was Jesus to this suffering woman that even if she was not able to place a hand on Jesus’ body, she would be healed just by touching his clothes. This woman believed this, and in our sermon picture and in many other depictions we see this clear faith and desperation. Do we have faith and hope like this?

          The scripture tells us to have faith like a child. Given the examples that I provided about children, and our gospel reading for this morning about this sick woman, faith like a child is powerful indeed.

          In our reading for this morning from Psalm 130, it says once again in 130:6:

my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning (Ps. 130:6, NRSV).

          As we wait for the touch of God, the timing of God, do we still believe in the power of what God can do in us and through us? Further if God gives us so much through Jesus Christ, what are we willing to give to God?

          In our reading for this morning from 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 once again, the Apostle Paul encourages the Corinthians to be generous and to show their love through their generosity (2 Cor. 8:7-15, NRSV). As God touches our hearts, we can change people with our touch of God’s love in us.

          In getting into our gospel lesson from the gospel of Mark more for this morning, let us here once again what the word has to say:

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24 So he went with him (Mk. 5:21-24a, NRSV).

          Jesus again, has been asked by one of the leaders of the synagogue Jairus to heal his dying daughter. Jesus goes with Jairus to his daughter. As Jesus does the gospel says this happened:

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease             (Mk. 5:24b-29, NRSV).

          So, one the Synagogue leaders named Jairus asks Jesus to heal his dying daughter, and on the way a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. As this was happening the woman who had been sick and suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind Jesus to try to touch his cloak. She then did just that, and maybe the reason she did not try to touch Jesus’ body, is because since she had hemorrhages and blood, she was ruled ritually unclean by the religious leaders. This woman may have been worried therefore, that if she touched Jesus’ body that she would intern make him unclean. This certainly would not happen to Jesus, but this was and is the religious laws of devout Jews.

          When the woman touched Jesus’ cloak, not his body, immediately her hemorrhage stopped, and she felt healed. Again, this woman had spent all of her money on doctors and healers that took her money but did not heal her.

          So once again, Jesus was asked by a leader in the synagogue named Jairus to heal his dying daughter, and Jesus goes with Jairus. As they head to Jairus’ sick daughter, the crowd presses in and the sick woman with hemorrhages touches Jesus’ cloak.

          Now if you were in a crowd full of people and you had a baggy shirt on, do you think you would be less likely to notice that someone grabbed your baggy shirt, versus someone touching your body? Further, if you are in a loud and pressing crowd, how would notice such a light touch?

          Well, as the gospel reading continues once again, it says:

30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

          So, this woman, in perfect childlike faith, reaches out, believing that she can be healed by touching Jesus’ clothes, and her faith made her well. This was Jesus’ plan for this woman. Sometimes we pray for healing, and we do not get the healing we want or the healing that we think we need, but God is always with us.

          Just to review once again, a leader in the Synagogue named Jairus asks Jesus to heal his sick daughter. On the way to do so, a large crowd pushes in on Jesus. The sick woman with hemorrhages touches Jesus’ cloak, and her faith has healed her. Jesus then blesses her, and she goes on her. The gospel reading then pick up once again saying:

35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat (Mk. 5:35-43, NRSV).

          As the crowd presses in on Jesus, and as the woman with the hemorrhages who touches Jesus’ cloak is healed, Jairus’ daughter dies. Jesus said though, that girl is just sleeping, and people mockingly laughed at Jesus. Jesus then goes into the house where the child is laying, tells her to get up, and she does. Jesus told the few disciples with him to not tell anyone what happened yet, and then Jesus told them to give the girl something to eat.

          It is amazing what presence and touch can do. So often in the gospels people are healed or Jesus pronounces them healed because of there faith. Jesus did not heal everyone and bring everyone back from the dead, however. Yet he performed miracles to show his disciples, the world, and us that he was and is the Son of God. Sometimes when we call upon God for healing, God heals us and restores in the exact way we are asking for healing and restoration. Sometimes this does not happen though, as God’s plan is not always to give us exactly what we want, and when we want it. Jesus is teaching us that he is always with us, that God’s love is carried in us, and that is eternal.

          All we need in this world and in the next is faith. We will struggle, we will suffer, but we also have God with us, if we but call upon him. Sometimes God heals the way we want, sometimes God does not, but if we call upon God through Jesus Christ, he is always with us. Jesus has promised us that through faith in him that we will be with him forever, even though this world that we live in is so fallen and broken. Make we all keep the faith, faith like a scared or uncomfortable child. Faith that reaches out to touch Jesus’s clothes. Faith that gives us the peace that passes all understanding. Amen.