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Sunday, January 18

The Many Temptations of Ananias

Today's lesson in the Narrative Lectionary was the Temptation of Jesus from Matthew's Gospel (Matthew 4.1-17) The temptation of the young people mentioned was in our Children's message, I did a variation of the Marshmallow experiment. I gave them an Oreo and told them if they could resist the temptation to eat it right away, and showed me the cookie at the end of the service, I'd give them a candy bar as well.  

While we have just heard of Jesus being tempted by Satan, and I have tempted our young people, I want to tell you another story of temptation.
My bulldogge Ananias likes to chew on things. So I have bought a number of chew toys and bones for him. He has hidden two bones in his kennel, just in case. That is in addition to the three other bones that are scattered around the house. Beyond that there are several rubber chew toys, ropes and crinkle toys for him to chomp away on. Now, the crinkle toys don’t have a very long life expectancy. A toy of one of Santa’s almost made it from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day, but he lost an arm before the ball fell at midnight.
But while Ananias has a variety of things he can, and should chew on, the rest of the house provides a temptation.
When I wasn’t at the house, Ananias used to be able to look under a pair of swinging doors toward the front door so that he could watch for me to come home. I say, “used to” because he wanted to chew on something while he waited. Rather than a bone or one of his numerous toys, Ananias developed a taste for the wood of the doorframe. It was too tempting. Now there is a gate that keeps him from getting to those doors, and that doorframe.
A few days before Christmas, Ananias was tempted again. This time it was by the remote sitting on the coffee table. Why this piece of plastic was attractive to him, I don’t know. I was working on one of the Christmas sermons when I heard him crunching on something that I assumed was a bone. Then the TV came on. The remote was broken in half, and I’m still not sure where the number 4 button is. I may find it in the back yard when the snow melts. And that is how Ananias gave the Christmas present of a new universal remote.
Wednesday morning, I woke up and was getting dressed to let Ananias go outside when I noticed that only one of my dress shoes was where it had been in the closet. My good dress shoes. My REALLY good leather dress shoes. A quick search of the bedroom located its partner. When I went to pick it up, it slipped through my hand, because there was no longer a back to the shoe. Ananias had never gone after any of my shoes before, but sometime that night, he was tempted by those shoes, and he gave into that temptation. It appears that Ananias does not live on Puppy Chow alone.
When I came home that night and Ananias was running around the house, I saw him go to the front door. I guess he was checking to see if I closed it. Then I heard this thumping sound. I keep my good winter boots in the coat area by the front door. You know, the REAL good boots – the rubberized lined boots – the walking through drifts and slush and still stay warm and dry boots – those boots. The boots you keep by the door because when you wear them, you’re taking them off as soon as you get home so you don’t track snow everywhere. And they tempted Ananias. Now, I un-tempted him before he could do more than “personalize” the right boot. There are just a few scratches that give it character. I was able to bear them up so that I would not have to step barefoot into a snow bank.
While these stories, and several others, frustrate me and make me angry, I realize this is his nature. Ananias is a bulldogge. Bulldogs were bred to be able to close their jaws and chomp down on something and not let go. Specifically, they were bred to bait bulls and hold onto to them when they bit and locked on. Bulldogs are chewers. Knowing that, I have tried to provide a variety of things I want Ani to chew on. But there are other things that tempt him. That is just his nature.
That is why the devil is tempting Jesus. Satan wants to test Jesus’ identity, to see if he really is who he appears to be, and if he will act accordingly. While the devil is tempting Jesus with food, safety and power, these offers are really getting at the core of who Jesus really is. Is he, as was just acclaimed at his baptism, God’s son in whom God finds much happiness? Those taunts by Satan, “IF you are the Son of God …” really are more like, “SINCE you are the Son of God …”. They are designed to replace Jesus’ divine identity with one of the devil’s formation.
But Jesus uses his very identity, his very nature, to repel the temptations of the devil. His identity comes from his relationship with the Father. Jesus rejects the three temptations Satan puts before him by totally trusting that God will take care of him. It is that total reliance and trust that is at the heart of who Jesus is. It is that total reliance and trust in God that is at the heart of his message. Trust that God loves you and will take care of you and share that love with others.
I realize that Ananias does rely on me, but when I am not giving him time, attention and affection, he will try to find ways to get my attention. He has succeeded in that. That too, is in his nature. Besides being chewers, bulldogs are loving and caring.
We are like that as well, loving and caring, not so much on the chewing. Although I have seen some ink pens come back in from the C+LIFFE classes that have some tooth marks on them. People are loving and caring at heart, but we are easily tempted. We get distracted and fascinated by things that are not that important. We get infatuated with the idea that we can do it on our own.
We get tempted by wealth and affluence. We get tempted by the illusion of safety. We get tempted by the lure of power. When we don’t get what we thought we were getting, or find out that it wasn’t all that we made it out to be in our minds, we turn away disappointed and disillusioned. We focus on our wants and our desires, then turn our backs on God when God doesn’t give us what we expect.
We forget that, like Jesus, our identity is connected to our relationship with God. It is that way because we are joined to Christ through our baptism. As he was at his baptism, in our baptisms, we also are claimed as a child of God, it just done by a pastor for us rather than a voice from heaven.
As life provides temptations for you to rely upon only yourself instead of trusting and relying God, remember this story, and don’t chew on my shoes. Trust and serve the Lord our God. Repent, and return to God because the kingdom of heaven has come near. Amen.

Wednesday, March 5

The Good Shepherd Cares For Us, Especially In Our Animated Dust Phase

As one of my Lenten disciplines, I've decided to start blogging again. So we will see if I can do 40 posts. To start off nice and easy, here is the text of my Ash Wednesday sermon. It uses John 10.1-28 (from the Narrative Lectionary) and Psalm 23 as its basis. 
This lesson comes right after the lesson we heard on Sunday, where Jesus healed the blind man. In fact, the people whom Jesus is addressing in this lesson are the man who had been born blind, but who can now see, and the Pharisees, who drove him out of the Temple. He is continuing his conversation with the Pharisees, who think that they are acting in God’s will. Jesus tries to explain to them that we are saved through God’s love on God’s terms, not on our own. So he tries to explain this using an analogy of a sheep’s pen and a shepherd.
He first refers to himself as the gate through which the sheep enter their fold. It is through Christ that we come to the Creator. He is also the gatekeeper; he determines who comes in and who doesn’t. This is a direct repudiation of what the Pharisees and Jewish leaders did to the man who had been born blind. They threw him out of the Temple because he would not condemn Jesus. Jesus is now telling the Pharisees that HE determines who enters God’s kingdom, not them. Jesus says that he calls to his sheep, and they follow him.
But the Pharisees don’t understand. So Jesus tries again.
I am the Good Shepherd. Others who have come before are thieves and bandits. The sheep did not listen to them. Thieves only come to destroy, steal and kill. I came so that they would have life and have it in abundance. The Good Shepherd will lay down his life for his sheep.
Whenever I think of the Good Shepherd, my mind goes right to Psalm 23 because it describes how God treats us as our shepherd. As I looked at the Psalm and the lesson, next to each other as they are in the bulletin, I compared the two.
God will provide for us abundantly; that is what Jesus said he would do and it is what the Psalmist says. We lack for nothing. We rest in meadows and pastures. We are led to still, restful waters. Our soul is restored and made truly alive. We are guided and led down proper and righteous paths for the sake of God’s name; because that has been promised to us.
At the end of the Psalm, we are anointed with oil. Our cup is so full it spills and runs over. The Good Shepherd gives us life, and gives it to us abundantly. Goodness, mercy and God’s faithful love don’t just follow us. They run after us. They are in pursuit of us our entire lives.
But doesn’t mean that everything will be good. It doesn’t mean that everything will go well.
We walk through the dark valley, the valley of the shadow of death. There, right there, in the presence of our enemies, a table is prepared and set for us. Have you ever thought about that picture? We walk through the dark valley of death and God prepares a meal for us, right in the middle of those who would do us harm.
Both the Psalm and Jesus analogy of the Good Shepherd say there are forces that work and conspire against us. Jesus refers to them as thieves, bandits, strangers and wolves. In front of them, in the shadow of the valley of death, there Christ prepares a table for us. In side the sheep’s pen, we are protected. That pen, that place which can only be entered through Our Lord and Savior, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, is the kingdom that is to come. It is the reign of God that is not yet realized.
But while we are in the world, outside of the Shepherd’s pen, we are vulnerable. We are protected. The shepherd’s rod and staff comfort us. The shepherd will lay down his life for his sheep. But we are still vulnerable. And there are forces against us; we live in the presence of our enemies.
As a reminder of that, in a few minutes, you will be invited to come forward to receive an imposition of ashes. As I mark the sign of the cross on your forehead with ashes, I will remind you of your mortality, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
In that meanwhile, in the time when we are not dust, the Good Shepherd is on guard.
While we are animated dust, alive because God blew the Spirit into us, the Good Shepherd is with us.
While we live, the Good Shepherd calls to us, his sheep. He knows us, and we know him.
Between our times as dust, the Good Shepherd is willing to lay down his life for us. And he has. For our sake, Jesus Christ was crucified, suffered, died and was buried. He laid it down and can pick it up again; and when he does pick it up again, he will pick us up again as well, bringing us from dust to life eternal in the glory of God.
While we are not dust, we must realize that our Good Shepherd is Emmanuel. God is with us. Especially when we are in the presence of our enemies. We may not be protected from every enemy. Our world is broken. The world is a place of pain and hurt and the Good Shepherd will lead us, and guide us, and comfort us. He will never leave us alone.

That’s not correct. There is a time that our shepherd will leave us, because he must go to a place for our sake, and we cannot go there. That is the journey we will hear in our lessons on Sundays. The lessons from the Gospel of John describe the last days of Our Savior’s life. We will hear of his Passion, from the Latin meaning suffering. His Passion and Crucifixion are his journey, alone. Christ, the Good Shepherd, lays down his life for the sake of his sheep, on the cross.
He goes to the cross for your sake, for my sake, for the sake of the world. For the sake of his sheep. For the sake of all who are dust and to dust they shall return. For the sake of that dust being raised up, forgiven and restored, for HIS sake, for the sake of the Good Shepherd.

Sunday, June 30

Let The Dead Bury The Dead

This is my sermon text for June 30, and is based on the Gospel text, Luke 9.51-62.

On January 28, 2008, my father passed away from injuries related to a car accident that he and my mother were in. For a week, my mother told me not to come back to Saginaw from Gettysburg; things weren’t that bad. The second semester of my first year of Seminary was approaching, and they didn’t want anything to take me away from my work.
My mother called on a Friday afternoon, (after being urged to do so by family and friends) to tell me that Dad wasn’t doing well, and to get home. I told her I was looking into booking a flight. I got into my car and drove through a 3 state snowstorm. I got into Saginaw at 4 a.m., and went to the hospital. I talked with my Dad. He responded by squeezing my hand. I told him I loved him. He squeezed my hand as hard as I ever remember it being squeezed.
I stayed in Saginaw for about three weeks before returning to Gettysburg, and that was how far I was behind in the semester. I felt my mother was able to handle living on her own. I had talked with friends and family who would help her deal with all of the paperwork, insurance claims, transfers, etc. that come about when someone dies. I took copies of a lot of stuff back with me so that I could look at the same forms she was looking at when I would call her every evening.
It was right before I went back, and from some conversations over the phone with people who I asked to check on her, that I started to get an odd feeling. Some people were cold and distant. I later found out that some of my aunts and uncles, as well as several friends, felt that I was turning my back on my mother, and had turned my back on my parents to go to seminary and purse a calling in the ministry.
After catching up and completing that semester, I spent the summer doing my required chaplaincy at the Hershey Medical Center, a huge hospital about an hour away from Gettysburg. I didn’t want to do it that summer. Spending 400 hours in a hospital less than six months after my dad died seemed too painful. However, the people on candidacy committee back in Michigan strongly encouraged me to do so. Your candidacy committee has the ultimate say in if you can be ordained. So rather than being in Saginaw for the summer, I saw patients who came into the hospital for cardiac issues, or who had been admitted through the trauma unit.
In the fall, members of the candidacy committee came out to Gettysburg. That was the normal event for second year seminary students in the ELCA. Members of the candidacy committee visit you at your seminary, interview you and check on your progress.
When I met with them, they asked how I was doing. I told them.
I shared how difficult my chaplaincy was. I shared how not being back in Saginaw for the summer was tough on my mother.
Then I heard part of today’s Gospel lesson that has haunted me ever since.
To another (Jesus) said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
I was asked how I thought that passage applied to my situation. I wanted to reach across the table and punch the pastor who asked the question in the mouth. Instead, I stammered that I was torn between my responsibilities back in Saginaw, and the responsibilities of the call I had to ministry. After 45 minutes of discussion about my first year in the candidacy process, we took a break. I left the room while the committee talked with my advisor.
My classmates had set up a schedule of when we would have these meetings, and if possible, people would be outside of the meeting rooms, in prayer, but to be supportive before the meeting and during breaks. For me, they were more like the corner men in a boxing match. They had to patch me up and get me ready to go back in there. I have never been closer to abandoning what I feel I have been called by God to do than I was waiting to go back in that meeting. I give thanks for the people who were there to encourage me to go back in.
I was stunned to find I was approved to continue in my studies, because I was positive I had crashed and burned. The committee felt I needed to better articulate my answers to some questions. I wasn’t surprised there because I don’t think I could have articulated my name after hearing that verse.
After the meeting, I asked my friends, I asked my advisor – what did they mean by that verse? I was told it was actually affirming my call, that our call to follow Christ means that we leave other responsibilities. I never really agreed with that understanding. Maybe it was hitting too close to a fresh wound for me.
Then this text shows up for today.
I leave tomorrow to return to Saginaw to bring back the belongings of mine, of my father and of my mother that are still in storage. I close a chapter of my life in Saginaw with this trip.
Last Sunday was also my father’s birthday.
So this text feels like it has ripped open a wound and poured a mixture of salt and lemon juice into it.
And I still do not get this text.
It begins with Jesus setting his face to go to Jerusalem. This is “coded” language from the Old Testament that he was going to a city on a mission from God. Setting your face to a town is what prophets would do when God called them to go to a city and speak to the people.
His advance messengers tell the people of a Samaritan village that Jesus is coming, and is on his way to Jerusalem. Because the Samaritans believe their mountain, Mount Gerizim, is the true home for the Jewish people, not Jerusalem, they reject Jesus and his followers. So they go to another village.
Along the way three people talk to Jesus about becoming a follower of him. The first is warned that following Jesus means you will not have a regular place to stay. The third is warned to focus on what is ahead, not what is behind, or else you will go off course. The second, the only one whom Jesus calls to follow, is told to let the dead bury the dead.
So I have studied this lesson, and besides realizing I should have started my vacation today, and not tomorrow so this lesson wouldn’t be my responsibility, here is what I think I have learned.
This is a key point in Luke’s telling of Christ’s ministry. By setting his face to Jerusalem, Jesus is now on a resolute and unswerving course for the cross. He wants his followers to be just as focused. He warns prospective new followers that this will not be easy. You will be challenged and tested. You will be pulled in different directions, with competing loyalties.
The postponements that two followers bring up: burial and farewells are very easy to understand. To take time to do these things were considered normal within the Jewish tradition of Jesus time. His rejection of these is unusual.
But for Jesus, who has set his face to Jerusalem, who has begun his road to the cross, the kingdom of God, the breaking into our hearts and lives of the Reign of God comes first. It MUST be first. It demands and commands the highest priority.
Scholars say the rebukes that Jesus gives seem to disregard the Fourth Commandment to “Honor your father and mother.” But it doesn’t. It reasserts the First Commandment, “I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me.”
To the three would-be followers, and by the way – we do not know whether they followed Jesus or not, Jesus is providing a version of the warning label or caution heard on commercials for medication. “Warning: Following Jesus may cause a lack of a permanent home. Some followers have reported an inability to attend family events, and feelings of separation from family and friends. Do not attempt to be a follower if you will have second thoughts.”
Jesus does not want people to follow him when they are ready.
Jesus calls people to follow him when he knows they are ready.
And that is uncomfortable for us. It was uncomfortable for the three would-be followers 2,000 years ago. It was uncomfortable for me almost five years ago. It is uncomfortable now.
It is uncomfortable because what we are being called to walk away from are good things, things that are right and proper to do. Things that we should be able to do.
But these harsh messages remind us that we are called – called to serve, called to go, called to follow, called to be Christ in the world. Not when we have time, not when we can, but when we are needed, when we are called.
We are called to do things not on our schedule, but on God’s schedule because we have been claimed by God, not because of what we do, but because of what God has done for us. So our call to serve isn’t to earn forgiveness, but in response to that grace. God is calling us and presenting opportunities.
While we may not answer every time God calls, God keeps calling. When we don’t follow because of pain or problems, God is with us and caring for us. No matter how we feel.

Friday, March 15


This is my sermon text for Sunday, March 17, based on the John 12:1-8, the story of Mary (sister of Lazarus) anointing Jesus.

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.  There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 
Please be seated.
I’m stopping reading the Gospel lesson here, because there are things you should know before you hear the rest.
First, the story you are about to hear occurs, in some version or another, in each of the other 3 Gospels, but with some different details. If you are aware of those other stories, please try to ignore them, and listen to the story I am going to tell.
Second, this is from John’s Gospel. John’s Gospel was the last of the four gospels to be written, and was written to present a different perspective on the life of Jesus Christ. John writes assuming you know the story, he’s just bringing ideas and details to the forefront.
Third, you really should know what happened just before this. There is a very good reason why there is a dinner for Jesus, hosted by Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary.
 Lazarus of Bethany was ill. His sisters, Martha and Mary, sent a message to Jesus. When Jesus arrived, he found Lazarus had been in the tomb four days. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She called her sister Mary, and told her, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” When Jesus saw her weeping, Jesus began to weep. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth.
You may be familiar with the story I just summarized. They are having a dinner for Jesus because he raised Lazarus from the dead. I believe that merits a home cooked meal. But other events transpired between that moment, and this.
Many Judeans saw what Jesus did, and believed. But some went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done.  So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.”
Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said, “It is better to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” So from that day on they planned to put him to death.
Jesus withdrew to the wilderness; and he remained there with the disciples. Now as Passover near, and the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should let them know, so that they might arrest him.
John’s gospel tells us that the chief priest and Pharisees had already decided Jesus must die before he even arrived in Jerusalem. They had people looking for him. Jesus knew it. His disciples knew it as well. Lazarus, Martha and Mary also knew. Bethany is only two miles east of Jerusalem. It is on the Mount of Olives. Jesus has been invited to dinner in hostile territory.
While Martha serves the meal, her sister Mary, the one who Jesus asked about, the one who moved Jesus to tears, comes out as well. She has a container that contains one pound of pure nard. Nard was an ointment, made from a plant that grew only in the high altitudes of the Himalayan mountains. It has a pungent, spicy musk like smell. Because it was so hard to get, and came from so far away, it was expensive. Judas Iscariot said the pound could be sold for 300 denarii, or what an average worker would earn in a year.
Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, and began to use the nard to anoint his feet, and she wiped them with her hair. There were only two reasons and two times when someone would be anointed. The first is when you were chosen by God for a special responsibility; traditionally, this would be when someone was declared to be a king. The second is when you are dead.
Mary continues to anoint Jesus’ feet, wiping the pungent nard onto his feet, then wiping it with her hair. The smell of the nard fills the room where they were eating, and then goes onto fill the entire house.
Think about that. Most of our fragrances, the perfumes and colognes we wear, the lotions and after shaves, are in bottles of just a few ounces. We only use a couple of dabs, a spray or two, maybe three. But Mary is using a pound of pungent nard. The odor just builds and builds, becoming uncomfortable for those around the table. You know the smell when someone puts on too much perfume or cologne? Imagine watching someone continue to put on more and more.
But this grows more uncomfortable. Because Mary continues to put on the nard, and to wipe it with her hair. This simple act is just too intimate, it is too much contact between a man and a woman. It must be excruciating to watch. She continues to put on more and more lotion.
If you can imagine how the smell builds and builds as Mary puts on more and more, think of how long it must be taking. In the driest of homes, you are not going to put on more than a handful or two of lotion at one time. When you do, you take your time to work it into the skin. But Mary continues to put more and more nard onto Jesus’ feet, working it in with her hands, wiping them with her hair.
Watching her do this, time after time, as she pushes at the boundaries of social conduct must be troubling. Watching her do this, time after time, as you become overwhelmed by the musky odor of the nard must be testing your tolerances. Watching her do this, time after time, as she works her way through this pound of precious nard must be punishing your patience.
This scene, of Mary sitting at Christ’s feet, massaging in the nard, wiping them with her hair, has to be so uncomfortable to watch, to smell, to experience. You want to leave, but you dare not. You want her to stop, but you cannot say a word. As much as you want to, you can’t stop watching.
You are transfixed, almost hypnotized as she continues to add more and more nard to his feet.
Finally, Judas Iscariot speaks up. He asks why this couldn’t have been sold, and the money used for the poor. John reminds us that Judas is going to betray Jesus. He also says that Judas didn’t care about the poor, and that Judas was the treasurer of the group, and he used to steal from it.
But Judas does make a valid point. This nard, which Mary is still applying to Jesus feet, which still is stinging your nose, could have been sold for what would be the equal of one year’s wages. It could have done great things for the least, the last, those who are lost and the little ones.
Jesus tells him to leave her alone. He says release her, as one would release, or forgive, someone of a transgression or sin. Jesus said that Mary had kept the nard, which she still is putting on his feet, for when he would be buried.
Jesus told Judas, You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.
We find that statement to be uncomfortable. Does Jesus mean you can’t solve poverty, so don’t bother trying? No.
There will always be those who don’t have as much as others. There will always be people who are struggling. We are called to always be caring and helping them.
But for the disciples and for those who love Jesus, his time with them is coming to an end. The chief priest, the Pharisees and the council has decided it is better for Jesus to die than for the nation to be destroyed.
And it is six days before the Passover. That means it is Saturday; and tomorrow Jesus will enter Jerusalem, with the people waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
It is six days before Jesus will be killed. And Mary is anointing him with nard, preparing him for his death and burial.
This story should make you uncomfortable.
Mary’s actions broke all kinds of rules and norms. It must have been so uncomfortable to sit there and experience.
But how would you act, what would you do, how much would you spend if you knew you were spending the your last hours with someone you love? If you knew one of your loved ones was going to die, how would you express your love? Would you care what anyone else thought?
Mary didn’t care. Yes, the nard could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. But she wanted to show how much she loved Jesus. She wanted to be with him, and didn’t care what anyone else thought.
Jesus did that as well. He wanted to show all of us how much he loves us. So he allowed others to conspire against him. He allowed himself to be arrested. He allowed himself to be condemned. He allowed himself to be crucified. He wanted to get our attention, to show us the depths that God will go to in order to show us how much we are loved.
In the middle of our stinky, smelly world, with all kinds of actions that are uncomfortable for us to watch, but from which we cannot stop watching, Christ comes to us, spending the last of OUR time on earth, showing us that we are treasured and loved by God.
That is the Gospel of Our Lord. Thanks be to God!

Anchors and Explorers

This is my sermon text from a few weeks ago (February 20-21) as part of our "Faith Examples" part of Hebrews 11, specifically Hebrews 11.1-7, the story of Noah.

Have you ever climbed a mountain? I watched a program on TV recently where they were showing people climbing a surface that had actually gone beyond 90° parallel; they were climbing on overhangs that were actually beyond vertical.
Now as someone who doesn’t have a fear of heights; I’m just not fond of them, and avoid them when possible, I don’t have any true expertise in this, but I paid attention to this program. Plus, we’ve all seen rock or mountain climbing on TV or in the movies, so we’re somewhat familiar with it, while having not done it ourselves.
For their safety, they will put anchors into the face of the rock, and run rope through those anchors. The anchors, hopefully, will secure and stop their fall. The anchors allow them to go farther into their climb.

During our mid-week services, our Scripture texts will come from the 11th (and a little bit of the 12th) chapter of the letter to the Hebrews. This letter was written to those early believers in Christ who had come from the Jewish tradition. In this part of the letter, the writer attempts to encourage these new converts, who are being pulled in multiple directions to have faith.
This chapter begins with the writer giving a definition of faith. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
This is a two-part statement.
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for. Faith is something we can count on, something we have been waiting for. It is a guarantee. We can rely upon it. It is a base from which we can build. It is an anchor for us.
Our faith is something that can support us in the tough times. Like the anchors that climbers use on a mountain, an anchor will support and save you when things go wrong.
We’ve had times like that. When life is getting the much better of us, our faith, our trust in God and God’s promises, can catch us when we’ve fallen.
The other part of this definition of faith is that faith is the conviction of things not seen. It is being sure something will be there, even though we cannot see it. It is trusting in tomorrow’s sunrise. It is believing the mortgage will get paid off. It is sending out graduation party announcements before St. Patrick’s Day.
This part of faith is trusting, relying that what has been promised will be there, despite there being no proof. It is willing to act on a promise. It is climbing a mountain because you’ve heard the view is amazing.
The two go together. Your confidence on what HAS happened allows you to trust in what WILL happen. You are willing to scale the heights of a mountain because you are anchored.

The writer of this letter is encouraging the new followers of Christ to continue to live lives shaped by the Gospel, sharing the Good News, venturing up that mountain BECAUSE of all of the great things God has done. Beginning here in chapter 11, those great things God has done for others is shared.

Today, we hear about 3 of the faithful, and their stories may not be that familiar to us.
By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts; he died, but through his faith he still speaks.
We don’t know much about Abel; his time in the Bible is all of 9 verses. He is the 2nd born of Adam and Eve. He kept the sheep, while Cain tilled the soil. When it was time to give an offering to God, Cain gave of the fruit of the ground; Abel gave some of the fattest first-born of his flock. God was more pleased with Abel’s offering than Cain’s offering. So in jealousy, Cain killed Abel. It is understood that Abel gave freely, while Cain gave grudgingly, and that is why God was more pleased with Abel’s offering.
Of Enoch, here is what the writer of this letter tells us, By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and ‘he was not found, because God had taken him.’ For it was attested before he was taken away that ‘he had pleased God.’ This is what we know from the 5th Chapter of Genesis:
When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God for 300 years, and he had other sons and daughters. The entire lifetime of Enoch was 365 years. Enoch walked with God, and then he disappeared because God took him away.
If you walk with God for 300 years, it appears God will bring you directly to heaven, and you will not die.
But we know more about Noah. By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household.
God told Noah a storm was coming, and told him to get ready. Noah had lived a godly life, he also was described as walking with God. When God wanted to punish humanity for turning away from him, it was through Noah and his family, that God restored the world.

The writer is giving us examples of faith filled people who trusted God to faithful to them. Abel, Enoch and Noah followed what God wanted them to do. They are examples of those who trusted God’s word to them. They had the assurance of things hoped for. Over the next four weeks, we will hear about more examples of faith filled people.
But if you are worried that your faith isn’t strong enough; afraid that your anchors aren’t secure enough to catch you when you fall, relax.
Jesus told his disciples that if their faith was the size of a mustard seed, one of the smallest seeds we know of; if our faith was just that small, we could command a tree to uproot itself (Luke 17.6) or a mountain to move on its own (Matthew 17.20), and they would. Even a tiny amount of faith on our part will enable us to do great things.
But it is not because of our faith, however big or tiny – or however secure or shaky, that great things can be done; it is because of the faithfulness of God’s only Son, Our Savior, Emmanuel, Jesus Christ, who was faithful to the Creator’s commands, who trusted in God’s grand design. He faithfully gave his all for us; becoming one of us, living, teaching, healing, dying and being raised to fulfill God’s promise. He came that we will be saved, that death will be defeated and we will live eternally righteous in God’s presence forever.
Christ is the anchor that gives us security to live out and share his Good News. Thanks be to God. AMEN!

P    (following the reflection) Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
C     and the conviction of things not seen.

Hey God, I'M WAITING!!!!

This is my sermon text from a couple weeks ago (February 27-28) as part of our "Faith Examples" part of Hebrews 11, specifically Hebrews 11.1; 8-22, the story of Abraham.

Do you remember lay-aways?
When I was growing up, I thought you bought everything, except groceries, by lay-away. For those of you who don’t recall this concept, which is coming back, you would go to a department store, (ours was K-mart, and once in a while, Sears) find the stuff you wanted to buy, and take it to the back of the store. There, the clerk would ring up what you brought back there, and you would pay a portion of the total. They would take your stuff, and put it on a shelf or in its own bin. Then, every week or two, you would come in and make a payment. When you paid off the total, the stuff was yours.
Those of you new to this concept may be asking, why didn’t you just pay for it with a credit card? Good question. Credit cards back in the time of rotary phones weren’t as easy to get, nor as prominent. Plus, there was no interest or service charge made on lay-aways.
Lay-aways were great for Christmas shopping, or buying birthday presents, as long as you got a good head start on shopping. But it stunk if your age was in the single digits, and you picked out the toy, like the Evel Knievel stunt cycle and jump van, for example, to be a present and you had to wait week after week as you went with your mom to the back of Kmart to see your Evel Knievel stunt cycle and jump van sitting on the shelf. By the time you got it, you were excited, but not as excited as you were a month earlier.

While lay-away is a good method for making purchases, it is the opposite of the instant gratification that we have come to expect. And that kids in their single digits always want.
Lay-aways take the reality of what we want, and make us hope and wait for it.
Delayed gratification takes some maturity to understand and deal with. It takes faith.
Abraham and Sarah were promised by God to receive an inheritance of land. But they had to go to it in order to claim it. After a long trip, they eventually arrived there and lived in the land God promised them.
But they didn’t build a home their, they lived there in tents. They lived in tents, as did their son, Isaac, and their grandson, Jacob. This was the start of fulfilling another promise that God made to Abraham and Sarah; their descendants would be a mighty nation, and their descendants would be as numerous as stars in the sky.
The promises God made to Abraham and Sarah made were fulfilled. However, Abraham and Sarah weren’t around to see them.
These people died in faith without receiving the promises, but they saw the promises from a distance and welcomed them

Abraham and Sarah trusted God would do what God said, even if they wouldn’t see the end results. Even when you are making payments on something, you know you will get it, eventually, even though it seems like it takes forever.
But Abraham and Sarah only got a glimpse of the promise, a taste of what was to come. They kept trusting, even though they had other opportunities.
They are looking for a homeland. If they had been thinking about the country that they had left, they would have had the opportunity to return to it. But at this point in time, they are longing for a better country, that is, a heavenly one.
Abraham and Sarah persevered because they trusted God would fulfill what was promised to them, even if they wouldn’t see all of the results. They had faith in God, even when it seemed like those promises would take forever to be fulfilled.
They had faith, even when God asked other things of them, such as when God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, the son he and Sarah had waited so long for. And God was faithful to Abraham when he provided a lamb for Abraham to sacrifice instead.
Because of his father’s example, Isaac was faithful in sharing his blessing with his sons, Jacob & Esau. Jacob likewise blessed his sons, and the sons of his favorite son, Joseph. Joseph trusted in the promises that God had made to his great-grandfather, Abraham, and told his sons, and their descendants, to take his bones with them when they would return to the Promised Land.

Lay-aways went away because it wasn’t quick enough for us. Now, we can go to stores and walk out with what we want, even if we can’t afford it. We can finance it, put it on the plastic or do other things that allow us to fulfill our wants. We don’t even have to go to the store. We can shop over the internet and have these things delivered to us.
The concept of a promise to us not being fulfilled beyond our lifetime is strange to us. But this is God’s world, not ours. And God’s promises are fulfilled on God’s time, not ours. We wonder if we can trust God to fulfill what God has promised.
Let me give you an example of a promise God has fulfilled. When we pray the prayer that Jesus taught, we say (using the wording we will use in a moment) Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
We pray that God’s kingdom will come, and God’s will to be done here on earth. We wait for God’s kingdom to arrive.
In 17th chapter of Luke’s Gospel, the Pharisees ask Jesus when God’s kingdom would come. He answered, God’s kingdom is already among you.
We don’t have to go to the back of the store to wait for installments of God’s promises. They are here. God’s kingdom is here. It is up to us to do God’s work so that through us, all of God’s promises may be fulfilled.

P    Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
C   and the conviction of things not seen.

If God Calls You, God Equips You

This is my sermon text from last Wednesday (March 6) as part of our "Faith Examples" part of Hebrews 11, specifically Hebrews 11.1; 23-28, the story of Moses.

Have you ever heard someone describe you, or some of your attributes, and think, “Are they talking about ME?”
I think that would be the reaction of Moses if he heard the passage I just read. Not that I do not think that Moses is an example of a faith-filled person. I believe Moses is a great example of someone who lived by faith. But he had to work at it.
Moses was raised in the court of the Pharaoh, having been pulled from a basket in the River Nile by the Pharaoh’s daughter, and raised by her. He fled Egypt after killing an Egyptian who has beating on of the Israelite slaves.
He fled to the land of Midian, across the Sinai Peninsula, and lived there for forty years. One day while he was leading his sheep to feed, he came upon a bush that was on fire, but it was not consumed.
We’ve heard burning bush and how God used it to call Moses to go to Egypt and bring God’s people, the ancestors of Abraham, back to the land that Abraham was promised.
But during that encounter with God, Moses’ faith was split. He had trust and confidence that he was speaking with the LORD, his God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. What he didn’t have faith in was himself.
First, Moses asked “Who am I to go to Pharaoh to bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” When God promised to be with him the whole time, Moses then asked, “Who should I tell the Israelites sent me?” After God told him what to say to the people of Israel, and the promises he was keeping, Moses had another worry. He wondered what to do if they didn’t believe Moses was sent by God.
So God showed Moses some signs, preludes of the plagues that God would send against Egypt. Moses believed in their ability to convince the Israelites, but he still was not convinced himself that he could do it. Moses told God he has never been eloquent, couldn’t God send someone else? God said your brother Aaron will help you.

Moses believed that this was God speaking to him, and that God could do what God said would happen. Moses just was sure that God chose the wrong person. Moses was looking for excuse after excuse, searching for a way out.
But God doesn’t call those who are equipped to do God’s work. God equips those who are called. In Moses’ case, God provides information and gifts that would allow Moses to convince both Pharaoh and the Israelites that Moses had been sent by God to bring God’s people to the land promised to their ancestor, Abraham.
When God calls someone, God removes obstacles in their way, even if those obstacles are their own.
When God calls someone, they may not realize the end to which they are being called. They don’t know where this is all going to end up. They may only see the first step.
The writer of Hebrews ends the examples of Moses faith with crossing the Red Sea. I think Moses faith was proven more AFTER that. Moses had to put up with forty years of doubting, questioning and whining, because he was God’s representative for Israel, so they complained to him.
Let me give you an example of God equipping someone who was called, even if they didn’t realize they were being called.
Twenty-eight years ago, an Irish rock star watched a documentary on TV about a famine in Ethiopia caused by a drought, and he decided he wanted to do something about it. He called some of his friends in the music industry and asked them to sing on a charity record. He wrote a song, got a friend to produce it, and most of his other friends showed up to sing and play on it. At the time, he said that he hoped it would sell enough copies to pay for one cargo ship full of medical supplies and food, which would cost about $150,000.
His name is Bob Geldolf. The record was “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” The record is one of the top 20 selling singles ever. It lead to American artists creating a record called, “We are the World.” It lead to the Live Aid concerts being performed in London and Philadelphia that summer.
The efforts that Bob Geldolf was directly responsible for lead to $300 million dollars being raised. He exceeded his goal by 2,000 times.
He went from being a rock star to a global advocate for the poor and hungry. Because he watched a program on TV and decided to try to do something about it.
Hunger isn’t a problem that is in other countries. It is a problem here in America. It is a problem here in our community.
There is a new movie that you can watch through the in-demand feature on almost every TV system or downloadable from iTunes. It is called “A Place at the Table.”
One in four children don’t know where their next meal will come from. One in two, every other child, will be on food assistance sometime during their life time. The average food stamp benefit is $3 per day. Fifty million Americans, one in six, will take advantage of charitable food assistance programs – this year. It is cheaper for families to buy junk food than good nutritious food.
I hope you take some time to find and watch this movie. I hope you are moved by it to want to do something. I hope you overcome your self doubt to believe that you can’t do anything about this.
I am talking about you.
I have faith that you, we, can address this and help to solve it.
I have faith in you, in us, and in our God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses, who calls and equips people to do God’s work and God’s will.

P    Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
C   and the conviction of things not seen.