Monday, January 20, 2020

When did we see you Thirsty?

John 1:29-42
Congregational Vitality

            Over the next six weeks we will spend time on what it means to be a Matthew 25 congregation.  Our session voted to join the denomination on this movement last spring and our summer mission adventure last summer focused on the passage as we examined what it means when we ask the questions:  When did we see you hungry, or thirsty, when did we see you a stranger or naked, when did we see you in prison or sick?  These six areas are very clear ways to be in ministry, to care for others.  But what is not so clear are the three areas that the denomination has broken this movement into:  Congregational vitality, eradicating structural racism, and systemic poverty. 
            Today, we are going to focus on congregational vitality.  I think this is something that is near and dear to all of our hearts.  We truly want this congregation to be vital.  So, directly from the Matthew 25 website I share this:  You might think that the vitality of a congregation or worshiping community is based on the number of members, the scope of programs, the size of financial gifts or some other statistics.
Not so — at least not entirely.
Rather, a community’s vitality is primarily its spiritual strength and its capacity for purposeful mission. Congregational vitality is evident in a worshiping community when its structural systems, finances and discipleship practices are aligned in such a way that the community is actively engaged in the mission of God in their local community and the world, and they are powerfully focused on growing as disciples in the way of Jesus Christ. Faith comes alive when we boldly engage God’s mission and share the hope we have in Christ.
            And so we need to ask ourselves:  are we spiritually exhausted, financially fragile and structurally unsound?  And if we are, what can we do about it?  The first, spiritually exhausted needs to be held in distinction from just being exhausted.  I think as a society, we are exhausted.  But sometime, out of doing ministry and feeling exhausted by it, we are actually spiritually renewed.  So, we need to pay very clear attention to what energizes us and what really causes us deep exhaustion.  Does Olde Suckasunny Day zap our energy and our spiritual strength?  Or do we engage in the day feeling a greater connection to our community and energized by our fundraising and efforts to be a visible presence in our neighborhood?  Mission trips are always good examples of being physically exhausted but spiritual energized.  So, as we move forward this year, the question we need to ask ourselves before engaging in any sort of activity, ministry, or event is – how will this impact us spiritually? 
            Are we financially fragile?  Yes, and no.  We are learning to do ministry within our means and are blessed by a yearly bequest as well as other legacy gifts to the church.  Could we be more financially sound?  Absolutely, and we have been praying about the ways in which to share our building with the greater community.  Are we structurally sound?  Yes.  We have a strong leadership within the church, we have committees and ministry teams that function, and our building itself is in good shape.  Is there more that can be done, absolutely.  But when we put our minds to something, it really seems to happen.

I want us to hold this statement:  vitality connects to purposeful mission.   And I want us to remember that Jesus started his ministry with just a few people and probably very little money.  Last week was Baptism of the Lord Sunday when Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist.  Today’s passage occurs the very next day.  John is spending time with his disciples and Jesus is still in the area.  They see him walk by and John describes him by calling him “the Lamb of God”.  It seems as if John’s description is enough to get his disciples’ attention and the two of them go towards Jesus.  Jesus senses that they are following him and he engages them by asking:  What are you looking for?  Seems to me to be a rather strange way to start a conversation.  There are no introductions or basic greetings, but a straight forward question.  And they don’t answer him, but rather, they give him a title:  Rabbi, and ask him a question:  Where are you staying?  And his response:  Come, and see.  So they do and they stay visiting for him for the day. 
One of these two men was named Andrew and Andrew has a brother known as Simon Peter or Peter.  After his day spent with Jesus, Andrew leaves and goes to find his brother Simon Peter and tells him:  We have found the Messiah.  And not only does he tell him who he believes Jesus is, he brings his brother to meet Jesus.  Vitality connects to purposeful mission.  Andrew believes there is something purposeful with Jesus and he wants his brother to be included. 
As we think about congregational vitality, I want us to also think of the word thirst.  When did we see you thirsty?  We could focus on the numerous places around the world and even right here in New Jersey where people do not have clean drinking water.  But for congregational vitality, I want us to focus on spiritual thirst.  From the Beatitudes: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  And from the Psalm we heard read today:  As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.My soul thirsts for God,  for the living God. 
According to the Matthew 25 information on Congregational vitality, there are seven marks, seven ways to determine if your congregation is vital, or it can be seen as seven ways to move the congregation towards vitality. 
Congregational vitality grows out of discipleship, and to be a disciple of
something you should thirst for it, long for it, desire it.  The Psalmist writes: my soul thirsts for God.  And Andrew, a fisherman, a man who spent his days upon the water, thirsted for something more.  First, he is with John the Baptist, learning from him, then he gravitates towards Jesus, thirsting even more, finding in him the place he desired to invest himself, and not only himself, but his brother as well.  The second mark of congregational vitality is evangelism, which is what Andrew does as he goes and finds his brother proclaiming to him:  We have found the Messiah. 
            This passage concludes with yet one more mark of congregational vitality:  Empowering every member to discover their individual calling and the gifts God has given them so they can go forth and serve.   When Simon Peter arrives, Jesus gives him a new name.  You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter[l]), and it also means rock.  The future church will be built very literally, on the rock of Peter.  So, just in this one passage we have three marks of a vital congregation: Discipleship, evangelism, and empowerment.  And that congregational vitality is based on purposeful mission.  These first disciples of Jesus are a part of a mission, to share that Jesus is the Messiah, that God’s promised has been fulfilled. 

Monday, January 13, 2020

Baptism of the Lord - Sermon

A New Thing

                This past Halloween, I learned that there are some new names out there for our youth to gravitate towards or away from.   Andi would not tell me what she was dressing up as for Halloween.  So, when the night arrived, and she was dressed in her pretty normal clothes, all accept for her hair, which she had done up with lots of extra barrettes, I had to ask her, “Please, explain.”  She responded:  I’m a soft girl.  And that was as much information as she would give me.  So, luckily for me, I know two middle school young ladies here at the church and they became my inside source.  So, when I asked Kylie and Kendra about Soft Girls, they burst out laughing and filled me in with the scoop.  Except, they gave me even more information.  There is apparently another type of girl called a VISCO girl.  A VISCO girl uses a hydro flask water bottle.  She is all about saving the turtles, and wears hair scrunchies.  Oh my.  The best I could make of this was the Valley Girl movement back when I was in middle school.  So, I googled it and learned a bit more.  And then for Christmas, Andi went full VISCO on me by asking her grandparents for the hydro flask and other VISCO girl accessories. 
So, what does this all mean?  Identity.  It means identity.  And I was concerned that it could mean creating labels about people in order to poke fun at them, belittle them, or even dress up like them for Halloween.  Identity and labels are all around us.  Some of them are good and some of them can be damaging, humiliating, and demeaning.  I just spent the last two days at two separate events addressing the negative consequences of identity and labeling others when it takes the form of Anti-Semitism, or racism.  At least twice in my own life, I have been given derogatory names.  To think, someone had to do that.  To say or in one case write out words aimed at deeply offending and hurting.  And for some, this is a life long attack.  To see symbols of anti Semitism in one community, impacts the greater Jewish community.  Over and over and over again.  The pain is real, and it is raw, it is part of an atrocious history and to think, that someone has to make a choice to behave in such a way as to dehumanize or degrade another.  And the same holds true with racist comments, jokes, and statements. 
One of the commentaries I read shared that we are living in a day and age where our labels are dividing us more and more.  We are using labels to point fingers at each other, generalizing people into larger categories even if they don’t belong there.  Unfortunately, that has also happened with the word Christian and Church – too many people have lumped us all into one label and pointed a finger calling us hypocrites and intolerant of others. 
As we think about who we are as people gathered here in worship, it is really not about who we are, but about whose we are.  And this Sunday, the Baptism of the Lord Sunday, reminds us who Jesus is, his identity, that he is the Beloved.  And when we are baptized, we are named as children of God, children of the covenant, that is our label, beloved by God.  We are created by God, named by God, and loved by God.  Even when the world deals us the worst day of our lives, we belong to God.  And that should be what unites us.  We are diverse in so many ways, but what brings us together, what gives us our strength as the body of Christ in this place is that we are children of God, it is not our political views or our stand on issues, or how we dress, or our sexual orientation or our age.  And yet, we can use these things to pull ourselves apart from each other. 
Together, in baptism, God calls us, to work together, to pray together, to worship together, and to remember we are God’s children.  Here in this place, we are to set aside any and all labels that can divide, and put our energy, and our love towards serving God and one another.  And we are to work towards the healing of the impact of anti-Semitism and Racism both in our local community and the greater world. 
Has your name as child of God been meaningful in your own life journey?  Has it given you the strength you might need to get through rough times?  Has it been a positive reminder that you belong to God and that there is nothing that can separate you from the love of God?  If you have never thought about the full impact of your baptism on your daily journey, take time to think about it.   
And what about the identity of our church?  We have tried to name our identity through our mission statement. Last year we created two areas of focus that would enhance our identity – that we would grow in our fellowship with each other and our mission in the world.  This year, we are, in a way, focusing on baptism.  We believe baptism is an important part of our faith, and we are going to intentionally reach out to those families that have had their children baptized here within the past five to eight years if not further back. 
Baptism marks the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, it is part of the new thing God is doing.  We believe God can do a new thing in our lives and in the life of this church and so we go back to the beginning, to the story of baptism and we engage it, we engage it for our own story and we go and invite others to remember their baptism and seek to provide the spiritual nurture for those seeds that have been planted.  Let’s engage this new year and new decade with a newness of God’s love and the full understanding that we are children of God and nothing can separate us from God’s love.  Amen. 

Monday, December 2, 2019

Advent week #1

Prepare Him Room

            This year, is the three hundredth anniversary of the much-loved Christmas Carol:  Joy to the World.  Each Sunday of Advent, we will explore a verse of the song.  Isaac Watts wrote Joy to the World, not as a hymn but as a poem based on Psalm 98.  The first verse is this:
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!  Let earth receive her King;  Let every heart prepare him room,  And heaven and nature sing.
The song begins with the good news:  the Lord is come!  Jesus has been born.  The hope of God’s people has become a reality.  Emmanuel is with us.  This is our joy, this is what we celebrate, God has given us his promise.   
But the next phrase is not so complete, difinitive, or absolute, it moves us from the good news, the joy of what has happened in the past into the present, into this very moment with our own decision to respond.  God has acted, joy has been sent, now it is time to respond, now let earth receive her king and now let every heart prepare him room.  This is a repetitive act for each generation, the earth received the Christ child 2,000 years ago, will it receive him again?  Hearts of million of people over the past two thousand years have prepared him room, will we also be open to the coming of Christ into our lives? 
As we light the first candle of Advent, it is the cande of Hope.  The hope presented in this carol is that each heart will prepare him room which will lead to yet another hope, a hope for the future for when the world receives her King, when our hearts prepare him room, something amazing will happen, heaven and nature will sing.  The sacred will connect with the mundane, the inbreaking of heaven will be felt, heard, announced in this world and in our lives.  Truly, that is joy.  Joy, the understanding that God’s promise was not for one moment of history but is on-going for each generation, for each of us to believe.  Hope manifests itself as past, present and future.  And the future is a day and age when heaven and nature will sing, sing together in harmony, in joy, in praise of what God has done and is doing in the world.  This hope of the future extends itself all the way back to the prophet Isaiah. 
As the prophet Isaiah wrote:  The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.  Nature will sing when the day comes when:  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
So hopefully if we are here today, we are working on ways in our own faith journey to prepare space in our hearts for God.  Advent reminds us, that even if we have been a part of the church our entire lives, this is the season to slow down, the season to reflect and ponder and find ways to grow spiritually as we seek to create space for Emmanuel to dwell within us.  Sometimes this is just something that seems so natural, other times it can be a real challenge. 
Just look at the passage from the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph struggled with what it meant to prepare room in his heart for this child that was to be born.  In fact, we are told when he heard Mary was with child, he wanted to dismiss her quietly.  In doing so, he would not just be dismissing Mary, but dismissing the child within her.  Without even knowing what he was doing, he could have just sent her away, sent the child away, and missed out on being a part of God’s story.  Thankfully for Joseph, an Angel appeared to him in a dream and explained to him that God was at work, that this child is Emmanuel, God with us.  Thankfully Joseph had enough faith, enough understanding, enough openness to the work of God in the world around him that he believed the message in his dream. 
Prepare him room, prepare space in your own life even if it comes with consequences.  Joseph did not want to expose Mary to public disgrace, or was he saving himself from public disgrace?  If Mary was dismissed quietly she would still have to find a place to go, a family member, someone that would take her in and there would still be public disgrace.  Definitely a double standard going on here. 
Are there consequences in our lives today for preparing space in our hearts for Jesus?  Do people question what we believe or why we attend church?  Do we want to quietly dismiss Mary and send this whole thing away?  Or do we hunger for the meaning behind it all?  The sacred joy that God sends into this world that is there for us to embrace. 
As we seek to prepare room in our hearts we return to this concept of hope.  What does hope mean to you?  I spent a lot time this past week pondering the word hope and I decided that it has a different meaning for each and everyone of us.  We all have different things that we are longing for, that we are waiting for, that we would like to see actualized but are not sure if it will come into being.  We may hope for something specific to ourselves such as a job, or family, or health, or we may hope for something for the greater world such as the end of hunger, homelessness, or war.  We may hope for the day when the desert will bloom like in Isaiah.  In our culture, hope manifests itself as the desire for good to overcome evil.  Hope can be seen as transforming places of despair into places of healing and wholeness.  Prosperity, thriving, fullness, completeness.  Hope is the desire that things can be better.  Hope is what brings meaning and purpose into life. 
Throughout the Thanksgiving and Christmas Season people seek to be generous and for people of faith, this is one way in which we prepare our hearts for the Christ Child.  Today, we hope to bring a little bit of joy to a child through the Toy March.  Roxbury social services seeks to bring a little bit of hope to families through the Thanksgiving food drive.  Habitat for humanity brings hope and joy to families when they receive not just a place to live but a home. 
The good news is:  Joy and hope break into our world on a daily basis when people open their hearts to the needs of others, when people seek to live a life of generosity and compassion, when people open their hearts to the calling of God.  These are all places that we can participate within creating not just good deeds or kind acts but sacred moments.  When the people of God act in the world with Christ in their hearts it is truly sacred work that is being done, and in those moments, heaven and nature sing.  Amen. 

Monday, October 28, 2019

Sermon: Mercy Luke 18

            When I hear the word, Mercy, it seems to take me back to when I was a kid and arm wrestling.  As we arm wrestled, we would try and twist and turn until the other person would yell out Mercy, or sometimes it was: Uncle.  Which ever word we used, the object of the game was, basically, to cause enough pain to the other person that they had to admit defeat, surrender, or give up so that you would stop hurting them.  I don’t think I ever volunteered to play this game, I think it fell into the whole sibling rivalry thing, but I do remember always being the one that had to cry out – Mercy. 
            Mercy: is it a word of defeat?  Is it a word of surrender?  Is it a word of giving up, allowing the other to be the winner?  Yes and No.  In the childhood game of arm wrestling, to call out mercy is to say, I give up, but it is also to say, you win and please stop hurting me.  Please stop doing what you are doing.  Please stop having power over me.  Please stop being the dominate one.  From Wikipedia, the definition is:  compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm.  So in arm wrestling, the stronger person is in a position of power over the other and can cause harm, but is willing to have compassion on the other when he/she admits defeat. 
            So, when we think of the word, there are at least two opposing sides: one has power and the other does not.  One can punish or cause harm, the other will receive the punishment or harm.  Mercy can be asked for by the weaker or it can be given by the stronger.  Please have mercy upon me, or with compassion he had mercy on the other. 
            Parents have to pick and choose when to punish children and when it is a time to show mercy.  There does need to be consequences for behaviors and punishment can help teach a child how to make better choices in the future.  If we lean on the side of mercy all the time, our children might learn that they can always get away with bad behavior and then we will really have our hands full as they get older.  Reading through the variety of definitions for mercy, it does involve taking a lenient form of punishment rather than a harsher form of punishment. 
            What does mercy mean to you?  Often, in church, we seem to use mercy, grace, forgiveness, and compassion as synonyms.  I will often begin a prayer especially the prayer of confession with Merciful God.  Merciful God:  in these two words, we are naming God as having power over us and we are asking for compassionate treatment or forgiveness over us.  Another definition I saw mentions not just having power over the other but being in the position of care over the other.  When we think of God and mercy, we could be saying that God has power over us, but we could also be saying, God, we are under your care. 
            So, turning to our scripture passage today, I was originally going to focus on the ways in which we can pray since this is a parable of two people praying.  But the question formed for me – what is the tax collector praying for?  He is asking for one thing.  His prayer is calling out to God asking for mercy, asking the one that has power and care over him to be compassionate and forgiving with him. 
            This past Monday night, one of our small groups met and the discussion question was:  What do you long for in your life, what do you long God will do for you in your life?  Have there been things that you long for?  Things that you have turned to God in prayer and asked for?  We can long for marriage, or children, or grandchildren, or getting into our top choice college, or getting a job, we can long for getting the lead role in the play, or our sports team to win the top level of play, or making the Olympics.  Oh, I longed for this for so many years of my life.  We can long for things, goals, achievements, relationships, healing, and we can pray to God to make these things a reality. 
            In this parable there are two people praying, but only one is naming something that he longs for in his life, he longs for God to show him mercy.  The other man is praying, but he seems to long for nothing.  He names all of his accomplishments, all the things he has done right, he is good at following the rules, but there is an absence of longing, an absence of asking God to do something in his life.  This absence is magnified when he points out the faults found in others and is grateful that he is not like them. 
            What do you long for God to do in your life?  Do you long for God’s mercy?  Do you long to be shown compassion and forgiveness by God?  Do you think of yourself as someone needing forgiveness?  The tax collector was in deep pain, he felt wounded at the very core of his being, and he cried out to God for help, for healing and wholeness.  What burden do we carry? Perhaps it is shame, or guilt, or a form of addiction, or greed.  Perhaps we have a short temper or find ourselves closed minded or unable to adapt to the changing world.  Could these be places that cause spiritual pain within our beings?  Could these be issues or concerns that we could turn to God in prayer, seeking guidance, help, comfort, seeking healing and wholeness, could we ask God to continue to shape us into the people that we know we can be? 
The tax collector did not feel fulfilled.  He had a great job but something was not complete and so he turned to God, naming what he felt he needed spiritually, he needed God’s mercy.  He needed God’s care over him.  He was acknowledging that he was a child of God and as God’s child, he needed the parent, the creator, the mentor, the one that had power over him, to be involved in his life.  There is a song called:  Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord.  As I worked through this text, this song come to mind over and over.  Humbly thyself in the sight of the Lord, and he, and he, will lift you up, higher and higher, and he and he will lift you up.   

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

sermon: Chopped

Our final game show this summer is on the Food Network and is called Chopped.  I thought something food related would be fun on this Labor Day weekend.  This show pits four chefs against each other as they compete for a chance to win $10,000.  At the beginning of each round, the chefs are each given a basket containing four mystery ingredients and are expected to create dishes that use all of them in some way.  For example:  the Appetizer ingredients consisted of watermeloncanned sardinespepper jack cheese, and zucchini. The chefs are given unlimited access to a pantry and refrigerator stocked with a wide variety of other ingredients, and each chef has his/her own stations for preparing and cooking food. Each round has a time limit, typically 20 minutes for Appetizer, and 30 minutes each for EntrĂ©e and Dessert.  At the end of each round, the judges have sampled the dishes and decide which chef will be chopped.  They reveal the loosing dish by having it under a serving dish and lifting up the cover. 
            I do have to remind myself that these are chefs, when I watch the show.  To watch them just come up with an idea as to what to do with these ingredients and just run with it, no recipe, I find myself rather amazed.  Watermelon and Zucchini are definitely in season right now, and most people will probably have a watermelon or two at their Labor Day picnics, but to add cheese and some sardines into the mix – what would your family and friends say? 
            Baskets of food, this is how our worship service started today with the call to worship.  As the Israelites make their way through the wilderness they will one day arrive to a new land.  And when they do, they are gather a basket of the first fruits of the land, their first harvest, and they are to bring their baskets to the priest, and they are to remember their past and give thanks to their God for bringing them to this new land.  Baskets of food, perhaps food that is completely new and different to them.  Many of them only know the manna and the quail of the wilderness.  What are these mystery ingredients, these new foods that they will learn to love?  They will collect grapes, figs, dates, and olives.  On this first harvest, they might just have the most basic of ingredients. 
            But before they get to this new land, their baskets are pretty much bare.  Each morning they have manna to collect and eat and each evening they have quail to eat.  The people complain against Moses, they are ready to have him chopped, as they remember the good foods they had back in Egypt.  They are struggling with an important question:  is it better to be oppressed but still have food to eat, or is it better to be a free people with a very limited diet?  If I could only eat two food items for the rest of my life, I know my body would crave foods of my past.  And although their baskets are never empty, the monotony of the food feels like scarcity. 
            But then, we have this other story.  One with a basket of just a few items, a couple loaves of bread and a few fish.  Ingredients very similar to manna and quail, and yet there are no complaints this day.  This day those very limited ingredients multiply and feed the thousands.  What seems like scarcity is transformed into abundance.  Whereas the people wanted to chop Moses, Jesus moves on to the next round.  Interesting how similar ingredients can be received so differently depending on who the judges are. 
            God gives us all our own baskets, filled with a variety of fruits, fruits of the Spirit.  Sometimes we look at our basket and wonder how to use some of those fruits.  There are definitely a handful that are familiar, easy to incorporate into our lives, But there are times when we almost have to force ourselves to embrace them.  Just like forcing ourselves to use sardines with watermelon.  And there are times when we know we just didn’t manage to be our best self.  But the thing is, even when the chefs are chopped, they are still chefs, they gave that situation their best effort, they took risks, and they hopefully learned something new.  We too, are like those chefs, there are going to be moments when we feel as if we have been chopped, but we are still children of God, learning, growing, taking risks, and always given the opportunity to be renewed in God’s love. 
So, as we take the simple basket we have before us today of bread and juice, God is able to transform these ingredients into a holy meal of grace, forgiveness, renewal, spiritual sustenance, and love.  The contestants on chopped know who the judges are, they know to whom they are preparing the meal.  To often we forget who the judges are, we allow the world around us to be our judge instead of realizing the only judge we have before us is God.  Just as a chef prepares a meal for the tastes of the judge, we too should be preparing the meal of our life, they way in which we live, for our loving and grace filled Creator. 
,  love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. 

Monday, August 19, 2019

sermon: name that tune

Today’s game show is: Name that Tune or rather - we are going to play, Name that Hymn.  I had a lot to debate with this one.  We could play, name that scripture.  Many of our hymns are based on scripture passeges.  It is truly amazing how inspired people have been throughout the generations to take scripture and compose lyrics and music to God’s word.  As we sing each Sunday, we are lifting up God’s scripture. 
            Name that Tune was first aired in the 50’s and had many variations to the game throughout the next several decades.  The goal of the game was either to be the first to identify a song correctly, when played with two contestants, or in the individual round, to identify a set number of songs correctly in 30 seconds.  So, today we are going to play our own variation – you, the congregation are the contestants – when you think you can Name that Hymn: yell out the name of the hymn.  Here we go:
Amazing Grace
Joy to the World
Thine is the Glory
I've Got Peace Like a River
Great is Thy Faithfulness

Music connects to people at every age of our life span.  When we are infants our parents sang to us lullabies as they rocked us to sleep.  We learned the alphabet through song.  And as we grow, we learn Bible Stories through song.  That is one part of Vacation Bible School that I just love, learning the new songs and having them become a part of me at least for the next month or so.  Do you ever get a song just stuck in your head?  Many couples have their song.  And sometimes when we hear a song it reminds us of a specific time of our lives or a special event.  Be Thou My Vision was my seminary class song for graduation.  My father had the lyrics framed for me and I have kept it in my office for years now.  I can’t remember much of what I learned in school academically from middle school but I still seem to know every word to every song. 
God desires for us to embrace God’s teaching into our very being the same way we do with song.  Psalm 98 – Sing a new song to the Lord.  The Lord has made salvation know to us, let us sing with Song – Joy to the World.  At one point in time, that was a new song.  I can’t imagine Christmas without it, but just a few hundred years ago, it was none existent written in 1719 by Isaac Watts.  Sing to the Lord a new song.  Name that Tune – each of us has a way to create music to our Lord. 
Psalm 98 lifts up that not just will God’s people sing a new song, but all of creation sings forth a song to God.  If we listen carefully, we can hear this new song on a daily basis.  From the Grand Canyon to the Grand Tetons to the Jersey Shore; from birds to crickets to dolphins and whales, God’s creation sings forth beauty and awesomeness.  Joy to the Word the Lord has come, let earth receive her king.  And heaven and nature sing.  Each of us, whether we are gifted with musical talents or not, can live our lives as a song to God. 
There was a children’s show called Jack’s Big Music Show – and there was an Orchestra episode showing all the different instruments that come together to make one song.  In a very real way, this congregation and all of its ministry teams are an orchestra to God.  Each ministry has a song to sing, sometimes one group has a solo, but most of the time, we are playing together in unity, lifting up our gifts and service to God.
Paul is trying to connect this idea of all parts working together for the whole when he writes to the church in Corinth.  People are identifying themselves with Apollos and with Paul, creating division.  Paul reiterates how important it is to remember human tasks versus God’s tasks.  Paul plants, Apollos waters, but God makes things grow.  No matter what song we sing, no matter what church we build, Paul reminds us that the foundation that we build upon is Jesus Christ.  In all ministries of our church, we seek ways to build people’s lives upon the foundation of Jesus Christ.  Whether we do this through Sunday School lessons, Bible songs, mission opportunities, each of these exists as an expression of creating community, fellowship, and a foundation for faith growth and development.   
Sing a new song to the Lord, we are so blessed in this place to have so many opportunities in which we can build upon the foundation of Jesus Christ.  Together, we are God’s orchestra and together we are building upon the love of God made known in Jesus Christ, and as we build and as we grow each of us is a holy temple to God.  When I think of a holy temple I think of a place of worship and when I think of a place of worship I think of music.  Name that Tune – name the song that your life sings to God.  Claim the new song that you will sing to our loving God, whether it be through singing in the choir, volunteering at the Habitat build, helping with fellowship time, or studying scripture, and remember that your song joins together with the entire orchestra of God’s people.  Amen.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Sermon: A Minute to Win it

            About nine years ago, a new game show aired called: A Minute to Win it.  As soon as I saw the first ad, I knew this show would produce fun ideas for youth group games.  I believe we even played a few at the church mission adventure a few weeks ago.  Basically, when the game show aired, it had sixty games, all using regular household items.  A contestant must complete ten of these games, each one within a minute, in order to win the million dollar prize.  For example, in a minute, the contestant has to pull all the Kleenex out of the box, one at a time, or use a pizza box to fan three eggs across the stage into a marked circle on the other side. 
            A minute to win it.  If we are going to look at possible scenarios within the Bible, the following would be the ten I would identify for the game. 
1.  Moses and the Hebrew people crossing the Red Sea.  A minute to win it for Moses to let the waters crash back in and drown the Egyptian army. 
2.  Queen Esther appearing before the king.  Queen Esther has not been summoned by the king, to summons the king herself could mean immediate death to her.  Esther stands strong and appears before the king and he grants her favor to listen to her request.  A minute to win it for Queen Esther.    
3.  Elijah replenishing the flour and oil.  This is a story of the prophet Elijah encountering a widow.  He asks her for a piece of bread and a cup of water.  She tells him she only has a small amount of flour left and she is returning home to make one more meal before she and her son die.   As this story continues, the widow’s son dies and Elijah brings him back to life.  A Minute it to win it for Elijah. 
4.  the walls of Jericho.  In this story, the people march around the city of Jericho for six days.  On the seventh day they give a loud blast of the trumpets and the city walls collapse.  A minute to win it for Joshua. 
5. Daniel in the lion’s den.  Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den for worshipping his one true God rather than worshipping the king.  Now, Daniel is in the lion’s den for more than one minute.  He is in there all night, but those found to have falsely accused Daniel are thrown in and devoured before their feet hit the ground.  A minute to win it for Daniel. 
6.  David and Goliath.  David is a young boy who takes five smooth stones and his sling shot and in less than a minute takes down the mighty warrior Goliath.  A minute to win it for David. 
7.  Jesus turning water into wine.  Jesus is at a wedding feast and the wine runs out.  In order to prevent shame and embarrassment for the host, he asks for the ritual water jugs to be filled with water.  When they are poured out they contain wine. 
8.  the fishermen pulling up so many fish the nets break.  The fishermen have not caught anything during their time out at sea.  Jesus sends them back out and tells them to throw out the nets which become so full of fish the nets begin to break. 
9.  the feeding of the 5,000.  This is the well known story of Jesus taking five loaves of bread and two fish and feeding the masses with baskets of food left over. 
10.  walking on water.  Jesus has gone off to pray and has sent the disciples ahead of him in a boat.  He walks on the water to catch up with them.  When Peter sees him coming he gets out of the boat and walks on the water towards him, until he gets scared and begins to sink.  Jesus reaches out his hand and pulls Peter to safety.    
            So, throughout the Bible we have numerous stories of God working through people in moments of quick action to win victory over enemies, moments to show how God’s power can transform normal everyday items into something new, or how God’s work can overcome human doubt.  And fortunately enough, we did not have to win any of these events, let alone all ten, in order to win God’s favor.  Like Peter, when we are in a situation where we begin to sink, when we fear, when we doubt, we have the hand of Christ reaching out to us to pull us back up.  As contestants, we do not play any of these games alone, we have God make known to us in Jesus Christ to assist us. 
            This past week, I was at a conference sponsored by Presbyterians for Earth Care.  Much of this conference focused on climate change, climate change not in something that is going to be happening in the future, but something that is already happening.  As I reflected on our passage today of David and Goliath, the modern day Goliath that is looming in front of us is climate change.  I wish it was as easy as picking up a smooth stone and that it could take just a minute to win it against the destructive impact we have had on our fragile earth.  It is going to take a whole lot more than a smooth stone and a minute, but we have to face the giant before us. 
            During the conference, we took time to move through lament, the grief many of us feel for parts of God’s good creation that we have already lost and will never get back, such as animals that have gone extinct, and the mass death of our coral reefs.  But we ended the conference with hope, with faith, with the promise that God reaches back into creation and offers healing. 
One group went on a walk: from death to life and visited places in the area that were poisoned, where the soil was contaminated, and then they visited places that had once been polluted and are now healed.  Although I did not do this walk, it made me think of the site down the road from here where the Habitat homes are being built.  It took a good two years to remediate that land, the soil was heavily contaminated, and now, it is healed and able to offer space for twelve families to live.  We need to pray for Lake Hopatcong, for the damage done to it this past year, another Goliath before us, needing a David to come forward to defeat the causes for why this lake had such a horrible algae bloom.  But, with the work of the people, with dedication and commitment, these damaged places can be healed. 
Other places of hope were lifted up as images of reforestation were shown, of cities being creative with urban landscaping and greening of buildings.  Churches around our country our using solar panels on their buildings, and are paying more attention to their carbon footprint.  But, if we don’t choose to use this minute, these minutes before us, to make healthier choices for the earth, each minute further down the line only creates a bigger and stronger Goliath.  Our time, our minutes are now, we may not have a minute to win it, but we do have a minute to create sustainability, a minute to slow things down, a minute to lean into God and discern what God is calling us to do.  David does not go forward to slay Goliath without spending time with God.  David has a deep faith, and a deep trust, and he takes God forward with him into battle.  We too need to take God forward with us as we engage all the choices we have each and every day, between what we eat, what we buy, what we throw away, and what energy we consume.