Saturday, October 14, 2017

October 8 2017 “Everything Else is Garbage”

October 8, 2017 Exodus 20.1-4,7-9,12-20, *Philippians 3.4b-14 “Everything Else is Garbage” Pastor Jacqueline Hines

If you have ever driven behind a garbage truck, you just might get a whiff of something most unpleasant. In traveling to undeveloped regions you may see things that are not usually visible in developed areas, such as raw sewage and dumps piled high with garbage. As best we can tell, ancient cities, such as Philippi, dug ditches for latrines and they waited for the rain to wash the dirt away, and it probably did not move it along too far too fast. It was not only unsightly, it was not something you wanted to get too close to for fear that you would gag and lose your lunch.
Garbage has its own special place in our society for a very specific reason. You may remember the story of a mother trying to teach her son a very important lesson. She asked him to clean up his room and he went off to college one weekend and neglected to do so. She put all his trash in a box and mailed it to his dorm room to remind him to appreciate a clean room enough to make it happen. It was an unforgettable lesson for sure.
The words are not in the bible, but cleanliness is next to godliness! [slide # 1 cleanliness….]
Paul was detained several times for preaching the gospel. The places he stayed were, no doubt, trashy and nasty. He was either under house arrest and had to be back in detention at the end of the day or he was actually chained barbarically, with his feet in stocks, for hours and hours, maybe even days. This was the way it was when he was in the city of Philippi. [slide # 2 prison bars]
He lost a lot by becoming a follower of Christ. Instead of a physical hurricane like Texas and Puerto Rico experienced when so many of their belongings suddenly became trash, Paul suffered a spiritual hurricane. He lost his reputation as a member of the ruling class of Jews among the Sanhedrin – for he was no longer considered a Jew when he claimed that rabble rouser Jesus to be the Christ – the Messiah, the Anointed, the one chosen by God to save this world.
He lost a part of his health because of the rough travels by sea with shipwrecks, beatings that left him for dead with open infected wounds, and the terrible prison conditions to name a few. He probably lost quite a bit of money and some of his friends and family may have been afraid to associate with him, but he still had Jesus and that was enough. In verse 9 [slide # 3 verse 9 ….] he says, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish.” They became like garbage. They could no longer be used; they had lost their value and he let them go. He kept his life in God’s hands. He knew that being in the will of God was more precious and beautiful and longer lasting than anything.  
Nowadays more than ever we are reminded that all of our material stuff can become worthless garbage in an instant. We are reminded daily that nothing we have in our closets or in our pockets is worth more than our families full of faith, hope, and love. Nothing.
Paul experienced a spiritual hurricane because of his faith. He was imprisoned because he helped deliver a slave girl that a group of men were making money off of. They were forcing her to do fortune telling. When she got delivered, they not only looked like fools in front of their clients, but they lost a fortune. That is why they railroaded him so he would be put away.
Paul’s story reminds me of a 45 year old man who was sentenced last week for human trafficking in Chester County, Bucks County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, and Philadelphia. He particularly preyed on women who are heroin addicts. He treated the women like trash, but Jesus looks at us as treasures even when we are addicts.
The motive for Paul’s arrest is very common. From the beginning of time, governments have had many ways of dealing with very religious people who they feel are an economic liability or a threat to their safety and wellbeing. Some governments use the law to protect the people. Some governments keep a watchful eye, using surveillance tools for homeland security. [slide # 4 police car]
Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic scholar from Turkey is living in a compound in the Poconos. [slide # 5 Gulen] He has been accused of trying to overthrow the Turkish government and Turkey wants him back so he can stand trial. He has Islamic schools around this country that are under suspicion by some, but he has not been charged with any crimes that would lead to his deportation. We can be sure that, like Apostle Paul was, he is being watched very carefully and his schools are constantly under scrutiny. Politics mixed with religion is a frustrating subject to say the least.
As Christians, there are many details we may not know as we pray for peace and live alongside people with whom we feel uncomfortable, threatened, and suspicious. By faith we trust the Holy Spirit who is our light that reveals to us whatever God wants us to know. We expect the Holy Spirit to be our guide and show us what steps to take in every area of life. [slide # 6 guiding signs]
A woman I did not know came up to me years ago after a service, saying “The Lord told me to give you a hug.” I thought, “That was nice.” I believed her and was thankful.
When I was working several part time jobs my mother paid my cell phone bill saying, “The Lord told me to do it.” I was real happy, and I asked her if the Lord said anything to her about paying my car insurance too.
This week I asked my sister to pray for me as the doctor said I needed some work done to keep my health in order and she called at 7 a.m. one morning and left the message that she did pray one night and the next morning the Lord whispered in her ear that there was nothing to worry about. The message was a comfort and when I wondered why I had not gotten the comforting message directly as I have sometimes in the past, I remembered that all Christians are one in the spirit and God works in ways that unite us, rather than separate us.
Another example of God speaking was during my time at Eastern University, I was part of a choir giving a concert. There may have been 100 18 year old or so kids gathered. Instead of simply closing the concert with a word of prayer, one of my fellow students asked the moderator to invite the young people to give their lives to Christ. The moderator was hesitant, but finally gave in to giving an altar call, a call to discipleship, an invitation for those young people to come forward in the style of Billy Graham and say “yes” to the Christian lifestyle. Surprisingly, at least a dozen kids came up. It was dramatic and tearful and sincere. God does lead us and we do well to follow!
There are days that we are puzzled and confused about what God is doing and saying as we listen and watch for God’s direction, and that is ok. [slide # 7 confused] By faith, we accept that fact that sometimes God goes before us, sometimes God goes behind us, and sometimes God goes alongside us. Nevertheless, because God is with us, we always have a light and a guide every step of the way.
Even though we may be confused and don’t always get things right, God will help those who want to be helped to know which of our values and traditions are garbage and which are to be cherished. God will help those who want to be helped to know which people we should invite to church and which ones we should not, and which should keep at a distance, but add to our prayer list. God will help those who want to be helped.
Scriptures tell us that the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. I tried this week to be a laborer, so I asked God to help me as I invited several people to church. They were people I chatted with in Boscovs or Lowes or the hair salon. People were polite and I hope they show up at Bethel or somewhere to worship God. I try to remember that inviting others is not a waste of time, even though they may not show up after the first invitation. I will make a second and a third as the Lord guides me to. [slide # 8 invite…]
When we see the wreckage of the latest hurricanes in Mexico and Puerto Rico, we see piles of useless debris. Everything seems to be a waste and ready for the trash bin. The material treasures have become trash. It is the spiritual treasures of faith, hope, and love that remain.
Nowadays more than ever we are reminded that all of our material stuff can become worthless garbage in an instant. We learn that nothing we have in our closets or in our pockets is worth more than our human family full of faith, hope, and love. It is so worth it to encourage others to enter into that priceless relationship with God. [slide # 9 relationship with God]
Paul was in prison for his faith. All around him was trash, waste and garbage, but he understood that within his heart, was the greatest treasure of all, Jesus, and that was enough. [slide # 10 Jesus all I need]
One man I chatted with and invite to church this week told the story of a woman dying and lying in pain. Though there seemed to be little hope or relief and she had not spoken of her faith during her lifetime, a relative asked her if she knew Jesus. Expecting that her painful impending death was all that was foremost on her mind, it was a comforting surprise to hear her say that Jesus was holding her hand as she lay there [slide # 11 hands]. She had lost all, but there she was with Jesus holding her hand.

[slide # 12 …no matter what…] When losses come our way, when we lose our health, our resources, our relationships, may we too be able to let them go and enjoy the wonderful treasures God has for us from one end of the globe to the other. [ slide # 13 hands/map] Amen.

October 1 "2017 "Two Sons

October 1, 2017 Exodus 17.1-7, *Matthew 21.23-32 “Two Sons” Pastor Jacqueline Hines
If you are a parent, one of the greatest lessons you teach children is to follow directions. [slide # 1 family/sunset ] When toddlers turn two, they are said to be going through the “no” stage. More often than not, their answer to every question is an emphatic “no”. “No mommy, no…. No daddy, no” [slide # 2 pouting child]
When kids get older, it seems they have a million ways to say “no”. They use frowns and funny faces. They might collapse their bodies, flail their arms, and curl their lips, expressing a keen displeasure and indifference for doing many things a parent can think of. [slide # 3 child covering ears ] How in the world does a good parent get the message through the minds of those who have their own minds and whose wills as strong as an ox?
Parents learn to persist in prayer, [slide # 4 praying parents] persist in communicating, and persist in patiently waiting for the Spirit to do its great work.
The word from the gospel of Matthew reminds us to take our comfort and strength through obeying the will of God and following directions. Matthew was one of the twelve devoted disciples; he learned to do what Jesus directed him to do, but there is a debate over whether Matthew actually wrote the book we call Matthew.
Scripture tells us that Matthew was a Jewish tax collector under Roman rule. [slide # 5 tax collector] He was pretty much forced by the Romans to collect high taxes from his own people. So, his own people despised him for selling out rather than rebelling against the Romans.
One of the reasons there is doubt that Matthew wrote the gospel of Matthew is because it is said to have been written in the Greek language. The language of the Jewish person was of the Aramaic and Hebrew alphabet. [slide # 6 Hebrew/Aramaic] Greek was the language of the upper class ruling society. Some think it not likely that a Jewish fellow like Matthew, could be familiar enough with the Greek language to write his own version of the gospel. Also, the note that we see in bibles that claims it is “the gospel according to Matthew” [slide # 7…according to Matthew ] was said to have been added two whole centuries after Matthew was written. Nevertheless, scholars unanimously affirm the tradition that Matthew is indeed the author of the gospel of Matthew. We have respect for our many Christian traditions, but we want tradition to unite us and never divide us.
The Holy Spirit uses the gospel of Matthew to help us follow Jesus closely just as Matthew did. [slide # 8 footprints] As disciples, like Matthew, we want to do what our Jewish brothers and sisters have done this weekend for Yom Kippur. It is the one day of all 365 days set aside to closely examine one’s life and think about how well we are following in Divine footsteps. [slide # 9 crowd following Jesus]
It is a day to make up our minds to get back on track and sing once again the song, “I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back. No turning back.” [slide # 10 no turning back…]
We want to be the child of God that Jesus talks about in verse 28. The one who actually went to work in the vineyard when the father asked him to go. We want to avoid being a no show in the vineyard.
How good are we at following God’s direction? In America, God’s word is accessible 24 hours a day through television, books, radio, live streaming, YouTube and ways we have not even heard of. Are we tuned in at least as much as those in China, Russia, and Africa who may be without the luxurious access to God’s word that we are accustomed to.
Do we hear the voice of God speaking to our hearts – especially since October is stewardship month – do we hear what God is saying to us about giving offerings, saving, and tithing? [slide # 11 God is speaking]
Are we like a very wise Bethel lawyer who advises, no matter how much or how little we earn, we should save SOMETHING? [slide # 12 savings jars] Are we like a new Bethel grandmother who notes that when she began tithing, the special blessings that came her encouraged her to make tithing a constant habit. [slide # 13 tithing]
We may be like John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, who taught that Christians should earn all we can, save all we can, and give all we can.
Or, you may have learned some hard lessons like I have had to learn. An acquaintance asked to borrow $10 from me. I did not have $10, but I promised her that if the Lord provided me with $10 before the end of the day, I would give it to her. Surprisingly, I did receive $10 by the end of the day, [slide # 14 ten dollar bill] but I really, really did not want to give it away. I had to search my heart.
Every year our Bishop, Bishop Peggy Johnson meets with clergy and presents various agendas for the year. [slide # 15 Bishop Johnson] During that time, we worship, take communion, and collect an offering for some urgent mission. A few years ago, in addition to special offerings, Bishop Johnson asked us to support a medical mission across the ocean. I put it out of my mind saying to myself that there were too many offerings to support all of them. Within the week, I had a dream of a very, very thin seemingly malnourished woman walking under a bridge with a baby in a carriage and a little child walking alongside her. I believed God was asking me to support the mission the Bishop had talked about, so I did. [slide # 16 worship is following…]
What is it that Jesus has put in your mind more than once about money or missions or sharing and caring? What is the driving force behind your giving? Truly the Holy Spirit is trying to drive us as individuals and as a church. Are we willing to go?
We are not always willing to go where the Spirit leads. More often than not, we want to do what we want to do and go where we want to go and spend what we want to spend. Nevertheless, every day a prayer lives in the heart of Christians: not my will but yours be done, God. [Slide # 17 signs…God’s will]   [slide # 18 your will…]
As Frances Havergal wrote in the 1800’s, [slide # 19 Frances Havergal] “Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee. Take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise.” [slide # 20 take my life…]
We do well to give our whole life to God, not just our tithes and offerings. All the money in the world cannot save us or keep a church alive. It is giving our lives to those who need us most that keeps the church alive. [slide # 21 row of feet] It is hearing the hearts and the cries of those on the fringes of despair that leads us from a place where we hear God’s word to a place where we are doing God’s will! [slide # 22 be doers…]

May it be so today and every day for every child of God. Amen. [slide # 23 no one has ever become poor…] [slide # 24 Jesus walking in sand]

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

September 24 2017 The Fight for Faithfulness

September 24, 2017 Philippians 1.21-30 The Fight for Faithfulness Pastor Jacqueline Hines
The church in Philippi was known as the happy church. Philippi is in the country of Greece. Anyone been to Greece?  Philippi was named after Philip II of Macedon born about 400 years before Christ. He lost his right eye in battle. [slide # 1 Philip of Macedon] He was the father of Alexander the Great. Because Philippi was a gold rush town, people were anxious to settle there and make their fortune. To bring some order, Phillip protected the native citizens of Philippi by developing what I imagine was a sort of gated community, at least a policed community. No doubt, that protection brought some stability and peace to the area. [slide # 2 ancient soldier]
Each of us appreciates a sense of protection and security. Can you imagine living in a country where the military is weak? The U.S. military is strong. [slide # 3 army strong] It is trained and equipped to fight to protect and secure our liberty lest we be carried off at gunpoint by a stronger military force.
Can you imagine being a part of a church that is weak and unwilling or unable to fight our spiritual enemies? The United Methodist church as well as many other denominations is trained and equipped to fight and secure Godly peace, justice, and freedom lest we be taken hostage by our sins or the sins of our neighbor. [slide # 4 be strong…]
I like to think that with so many people coming and going in Philippi for the gold rush, they learned to get along with people from a variety of places and situations partly because they felt some security that the government would protect them if need be.
It was in Philippi that Paul found folks who opened their mind to the gospel and cooperated together. That made them happy. It is a wonderful blessing to be happy, especially when all around you all hell is breaking loose. Paul wrote the letter to the church in Philippi while he was being detained for sharing his faith.
In verse 29 he notes that those who shared his faith in Philippi had also suffered for the faith. They suffered in patience and joy knowing God was making miracles out of many messes. [slide # 5 suffering] Some may have been picked on for being holy rollers or holier than thou. Others may have been left off of the invitation lists of the in crowd. Some may have been like Paul, imprisoned for their faith, for not fitting in, for not bowing down, for attracting too much attention and money from other sources, for putting too bright a spotlight on crime and corruption.
Paul was imprisoned for his faith and evidently, these faithful worshippers in Philippi were also feeling the pinch, but the joy of the Lord was greater than their troubles.
Do you know anyone who is in prison because they shared their faith? Perhaps you have heard of someone through the television news that comes out from other countries, or through an email, Facebook or Twitter.
Thomas Kemper [slide # 6 Thomas Kemper] the General Secretary of the United Methodist Board of Global Missions is the only lay person who is in charge of a United Methodist General agency. All the other CEO’s are preachers.
Kemper is also the first General Secretary who is not from the United States; he is from Germany. He works to help the United Methodist Church be united around the globe, not just united around the United States! In his report to General Conference he noted that he had staff from 30 different countries; we can imagine that some speak English better than others. We can imagine how complicated it may be to send missionaries everywhere who also come from everywhere in order to fulfil one of their main goals of seeking freedom, justice, and peace. We even have missionaries who come to the United States to serve us in our need.
Not every country agrees on the ways to grant freedom, justice, or peace for each of their citizens. Some citizens who disagree with the powers that be even leave their homeland and cross dangerous seas in search of freedom, justice, and peace. Some countries rather fight than act for the good of the people, while some cultures may have their own dictates and definitions of what everyone’s rights should look like and they try to force their will on others.
Apostle Paul was preaching about Jesus who could help everyone. His message was an unwelcome message to those who wanted good things, for some, but not for everyone.
Oh, it is soooo natural to think only of ourselves. It is supernatural to think of everyone. God helps us, and that is a wonderful thing. Praying and asking that God do God’s will in our lives can be a very, very exciting adventure. It can also be quite a scary adventure. It can also be a strange adventure.
My high school Spanish teacher was very memorable. She was a sweet woman, a Cuban refugee who cried in front of the class when she told of finding a hard bag of sugar in the back of her pantry. It had been rationed during the Depression and had sat there forgotten for many years. She never let her sorrow interfere with her love for teaching or her love for her students.
Influenced by her caring nature, I have practiced that high school Spanish my whole life. But, when I felt guided by God into a strange adventure of being a substitute Spanish teacher, it felt weird and scary, and exciting at the same time. The school District I taught in was so challenged that they could not keep qualified Spanish teachers, so they settled for me as a long-term substitute who could at least keep the kids in the classroom instead of wandering the halls making mischief.
Nevertheless, God had wonderful plans for the three classes I taught. The stories of what God did in the realm of ADHD, medicated and intoxicated students, eager learners, anger management, compassion, extreme talent, disabilities, and gang warfare between the Crypts and the Bloods will forever be etched in my mind.
There were heartaches as well as joys that overwhelmed the suffering. It was a little better than my time with the middle school where a permanent dent was kicked into my leg as I was trying to break up a fight. My tires were slashed, I suspect, by a new student whose level of hostility was off the charts. She did not last long.
The biggest lesson I learned was that God wants to use us in extraordinary ways. [slide # 7 God wants to use you] If we turn the reigns over to God, God will do something wonderful, though it may be scary and strange, it will also be exciting and full of blessings that we cannot begin to imagine.
You remember that camp song, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going…” [slide # 8 spark]
The spark that gets the fire of God’s love moving you in a certain ministry, may begin with a Cuban refugee, or a forgotten homeless person, or an executive of a Fortune 500 company. God multiplies blessings in a diversity of experiences and exposures. Your ministry may be messy at times, but it will also have countless benefits for you and the building of the Kingdom of God!
You may not go to prison like Paul. [slide # 9 Paul in prison] You may not be persecuted like Christians in your school, your workplace or in other countries, but it will not always be easy to follow God’s will.
When John Wesley, the founder of Methodism [slide # 10 John Wesley horeseback] left his native country of England to go on a mission trip to serve the Native American Indians in Georgia, he quickly stereotyped them as savages. He saw them as liars, thieves, and murderers. He wanted to go into the Indian villages and preach until they repented, but Georgia governor James Oglethorpe, would not allow Wesley to go to the Indian villages, knowing that with that attitude Wesley would be killed and scalped for sure.
Wesley became more compassionate and understanding when he got to know one of the Indian Chiefs personally. He also got to meet other Englanders who had had taken refuge in the colonies in order to get away from the King. He met African slaves in Georgia and spoke bravely against the inhuman treatment of anyone, everywhere.
His mission was not as easy as he planned, but he learned some important lessons in ministry. He got on a boat, sailing back home to England. It was a long tedious boat ride, not like our luxury cruise ships of today. [slide # 11 ship in storm] It was probably hurricane season. The boat was tossing and turning something terrible. Wesley heard the screams of terrified passengers, afraid they were about to die, but some Moravians were on the ship worshipping God and, without fear, singing songs of praise until the wind finally died down. Witnessing the faith of the Moravians, inspired Wesley to exercise his faith so it could get stronger and stronger!
One thing led to another and Wesley found himself preaching to a convicted felon named Clifford, and together they started visiting prisons. Wesley was urged by George Whitefield to preach to coal miners and others who were very, very poor. He began speaking out against abuses of all kinds and advocated and prayed for all who could not speak up for themselves. He understood that the whole world is our parish, not just a few. [slide # 12 world map on hands]
To this day, as United Methodists, we continue exercising our faith and our spiritual disciplines in the same that John Wesley did. So we can say to the world like Paul did, follow me as I follow Christ, follow Bethel as we follow Christ. [slide # 13 I have decided to follow Jesus]

Are you ready for the adventure of a lifetime? Just put your hand in the hands of Jesus and follow where he leads. He will give you strength and joy for the journey. Amen. [slide # 14 Joy in the journey]

Monday, September 18, 2017

September 17 2017 God's Pushback

September 17 *Exodus 14.19-31, Romans 14.1-12 God’s Pushback Pastor Jacqueline Hines

We are learning some new things about water and floods these days. Three simultaneous hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Jose have taught us once again to look up toward Heaven as never before. We are reminded that there are things in this world that are bigger than we are. [slide # 1 hurricane]
Whenever humanity is hit with such a great blow, there is always one who says, “These are the end times.” Or, “I think these tragic events are a sign of the end of the world.” Or, “Jesus is getting ready to return and the rapture is about to begin. We are surely living in the last days.” [slide #2 last days]
Scriptures do tell us that Jesus will return, but scriptures also tell us that no one knows the day or the hour. Jesus’ returning may seem like a ridiculous or nonsensical thought to some. But, have we not seen so many things these days that seem unbelievable, unimaginable, and impossible. Yet, they happened anyway, whether or not we believed in them, whether or not we cared about them.
So it is with the return of Jesus. He will return, as unbelievable, unimaginable, and impossible as it may seem to some. Whatever happens and whenever it happens we want to be ready. We want to be right with God. We want to be on talking terms with God. We want to at least have a prayer of a chance of overcoming a catastrophe.
We look at catastrophe as an enemy and it is. Catastrophic events do not come from God. Just as the evil deeds human beings commit do not come from God, catastrophic events do not come from God.
The other day, as I was leaving Kimberton Whole Foods with my grocery cart, a man was parked in front of the door. I waited for a few seconds hoping that he would move his car so I would not have to drive my cart off of the curb. He did not move. I waved for him to go forward. He did not move. I waved for him to go back. He did not move. Finally, he got out of his parked car and asked if he could help me.
By this time I had just a teeny weeny bit of patience left. I drove my cart slowly over the curb with a bump, trying carefully not to break the two glass containers in the cart. With that teeny weeny patience I had, I quietly and calmly asked the gentleman why he was parked in front of the walkway where, by now, two of us were trying to get by. Just as quietly he answered, “I am waiting for my wife,…maybe I should not park here…blah, blah, blah ” and he apologized to us.
I wish I had been ready with just a little more patience. I definitely would not have asked the question. I would have just smiled and gone around him because it was not that serious. More patience may have led to more blessings in that moment. I may never know.
In small ways and big ways, we want to be ready with all the fruit of the spirit that we need in order to be the greatest blessing we can be. That fruit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness (or generosity), faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
We want to be ready because sooner or later we will wish we had more love, more joy, more peace, more patience, kindness, goodness (generosity), faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. [slide # 3 fruit of the spirit]
Sooner or later we may find ourselves uprooted with our world turned upside down. Sooner or later we may be like the children of Israel in today’s reading of Exodus. They made an Exodus from their enemies in Egypt. They led a caravan toward the Promised Land. That reminds me of the caravans we have seen on the news lately, with trucks bringing supplies and relief to flooded areas. [slide # 4 trucks]
It was not easy for the children of Israel, but the bible says they had the guidance of a cloud by day and a fire by night. God’s leading can sound strange to those who never look up toward the clouds and observe what might be coming their way.
God’s guidance through a pillar of fire by seems strange to those who recklessly run toward situations found only in dark shadows where even the warm light of a family campfire is an unwelcome intruder.
They followed God, [slide # 5 pillar of fire and cloud] but the enemy was not far behind. They followed God across the sea. Somehow the tide parted, God pushed back the waters and those, fleeing from their enemy, crossed on dry land. They did not even have to swim. 
When their enemy came to cross the same sea, the tide came in and washed them all away. What a relief to see our enemies get the punishment we believe they deserve. Then again, we do not want to get too happy about our enemies dying or suffering because Jesus tells a story in the gospels about a tower that fell on people; we know about towers, don’t we. Jesus said just because towers fall on people, do not think that they are worse sinners than those whom the tower did not fall.
Don’t look at the tower. Look at God. [slide # 6 boy looking up] If you can’t see God, look for God until you see God. Don’t look at the tower, don’t look at your enemy, don’t celebrate when bad things happen to your enemy, celebrate what God is doing in your life, keep your eye on God.
Keep your eye on God, for sooner or later the day will come when you will be very glad you did. Amen. [slide # 7 focus on me, not the storm]


September 10 2017 God Will Do It for You

September 10 * Exodus 12.1-14, Matthew 18.15-20 “God Will Do It for You” Pastor Jacqueline Hines
It was a special day in the life of God’s people. Then again, every day is special, isn’t it? Every day the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Flowers bloom and children laugh. Every day is special! [slide # 1 Every day of your life…]
God directed the people to set aside a special day. It was called Passover. It was a day of deliverance. It was a day of deliverance from an oppressive enemy who did not care about God’s people. The enemy of God’s people only wanted to use them for their cheap labor and other marketable assets they could get from them. The enemy did not care whether they lived or whether they died. But, God cared, and when they turned to God, God gave them a way out of their misery.
That day God’s people were instructed to celebrate God delivering them from a big mess. Have you ever been in a mess? Messes come in all types. There are health messes, relationship messes, accident messes, political messes, legal messes, messes in the house and messes at work. There are messes we make for ourselves and messes that others make for us. Of course, there are messes we make for others, too. If we live long enough, we will definitely have our share of messes.
By faith we can ask God to help us to get through any and everything. This week I was contemplating how we get mad at God and one another for the messes that come our way. I also thought of the challenge: what would you do? You remember the bumper stickers and bracelets we saw a few years ago: What would Jesus do?
If we turn the question around, and if you were in charge, what would you do? Would we? Could we create something that was always perfect and never without any issues?  Yes we could, but only in our imaginations. We cannot create anything. Everything we have comes from God. All the resources we have, all the power we have. We came into this world with nothing, and we will leave with nothing. All we have and ever hope to be comes from a higher power. We call that power God.
All that being said, if we are in a mess, God help us. If we make a mess, God help us. If we cause a mess for others, God help us. If someone makes a mess that affects us, God help us.
When do we learn to ask God to help us and not try to take matters into our own hands? We usually learn the hard way. Sometimes we learn when a lightbulb goes off and we feel overwhelmed by God’s love. [slide # 2 lightbulbs]
It is all about God’s love, and love is something to celebrate.  [side # 3 celebration time]
Just as workplaces demand and command the taking of a holiday, God asks us to take a holiday, to celebrate, to remember and reflect on how God is working in our lives so we can see how evil is being overcome by good.
In the workplace, shops and offices are closed for holidays. [slide # 4 closed] It is no longer business as usual. It is time to get away, to stop, rest, and enjoy. For it is the joy of our Lord that gives us the  strength to do great work, to keep on keeping on when the road is long and the journey is hard. The joy of the Lord gives us strength. God commands us to celebrate so we can be strong. [slide # 5 remember with joy]
God commanded and demanded that the people of God celebrate seven feasts representing God’s great works among them. The Passover is the first of seven feasts. The Passover is a celebration of God’s deliverance from slavery, which was a big mess for many years, but the sweetness of deliverance is celebrated. [slide # 6 sweet deliverance] If you think about it, God has delivered us from many, many troubling situations.
Secondly, there is the Feast of Unleavened Bread celebrated the night after Passover. Matzo is eaten to symbolize a holy walk, which at times involves sacrifice, even though walking in holiness brings unspeakable joy. [slide # 7 Feast on Jesus] Certainly, you have felt the sweet, sweet presence of Jesus while reading scripture, hearing a testimony of God’s love and goodness, listening to k-love, or singing an old hymn.
The Sunday after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the third feast called the First Fruits is celebrated. [slide # 8 First Fruits…] Each family brings the first fruit of their crops and gives thanks to God for the harvest [slide # 9 table and fruit with celebrants] and they celebrate together joyfully. [slide # 10 young dancers] At Bethel, I cannot even count all the celebrations and moments of gratitude and joy we share over good food and warm fellowship.
Fifty days after First Fruits, the fourth feast of Pentecost is celebrated. [slide # 11 Pentecost / dove] It is also called the Feast of Weeks because 50 days is 7 seeks after First Fruits.  Pentecost is a time of rejoicing over the bountiful summer harvest often in May or June. Our Bethel cupboards and tables overflow with fresh veggies and fruit all of the time.
The Fifth feast is the Feast of Trumpets, usually in September. [slide # 12 two men and ram’s horns] When the trumpet blows, God’s people are beckoned to the Temple to worship. We hear this in the Psalmist’s words: I was glad when they said to me, let us go into the house of the Lord. [slide # 13 …be the church] We always have chimes and trumpets or some type of fanfare to begin worship. Our neighbors at Brownbacks UCC have bells that ring on Sunday mornings.
The sixth feast is the Feast of Atonement or Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. [slide # 14 Yom Kippur]  God’s people are to stay awake for 24 hours, doing no work except confessing their sins and repenting before God. [slide # 15 mat at prayer wall] How exceedingly wonderful to cleanse our souls and make our peace with God again!
How significant is it that just one day of the year is set aside for dwelling on our sins, and the sins of our neighbor?
The seventh and last feast is the Feast of Tabernacles, celebrating God providing shelter in their journey through the wilderness. You may have seen Jewish neighbors pitching tents outside their homes to remember what it was like before God led them to a permanent home. [slide # 16 tent] Endless songs have been written about the joys of God’s guidance and provision in our time of greatest need. We have all celebrated by singing songs of thanksgiving when God blesses us with our safe and peaceful homes. [slide # 17 Thank you God]
From the beginning, our spiritual roots urged us to gather, and celebrate and give thanks. Jewish holidays like Rosh Shoshana – the New Year, Shabbat- the Sabbath rest, and Hanukkah are in addition to these 7 feasts that were commanded to bring joy and strength to God’s people. Even today, in our own way we celebrate more special days and milestones of God’s goodness than we can even count.
In our scripture lesson this morning, there is a call to celebrate the Passover Feast. They were to gather together around the table with six symbols of their deliverance. It was called a Seder meal. “Seder” means “order” or “arrangement.” It is a good thing to order or arrange or plan and focus some of our time with God. [slide # 18 Seder plate]keep this slide up as each of the six are introduced]
When our Jewish neighbors eat the first symbol of bitter herbs, representing harshness they endured, we can also identify the various ways we are slaves to sin or bound by some tragic circumstance or mess in our lives.
The second symbol is a sticky-sweet nutty cinnamon mixture to represent brick and mortar used by Hebrew slaves in making storehouses for the pyramids. Some of us have labored long and hard under oppressive circumstances that do not ever seem to go away. In order to be delivered we first have to acknowledge the ways we are oppressed. Then we can put all of those bitter memories before God and watch God do a new thing in our lives.
The third symbol on the Seder plate is a green, like parsley, that is dipped in salt water representing tears and sweat shed while going through the valley of the shadow of death. We too have shed plenty of lonely tears or corporate sweat over the years. 
The forth symbol is another bitter herb representing yet another bitter hour in life’s journey. All bad memories can be placed before the Lord who is our comfort.
The fifth symbol is a roasted lamb shank bone to symbolize the sacrifices made for our salvation. Some say the bone juts out like the loving, outstretched arm of our God. God’s love always goes before us in this world.
Finally, the sixth symbol is a boiled egg symbolizing mourning – just as other cultures brings many types of food when a family is in mourning, the ancients brought boiled eggs. It is good to mourn our losses. It is good for us to bring comfort and peace to one another in times of sadness. That in itself is a way to nurture the joy of the Lord that is and always will be our strength. We never forget those who bring us comfort in our time of sadness.
When we take time to look back at our lives, there is no doubt that we see how God has faithfully delivered us from many situations, and God will do it again.
Whatever deliverance you need this day, God can and will do it for you. [slide # 19 God / deliverer] As you are going through, just remember and celebrate what God has already done. Remembering and giving thanks brings joy. The joy of the Lord makes us strong, strong enough to make it through anything. Amen. [slide # 20 People with passion/ jumping for joy]

Saturday, September 2, 2017

September 3rd 2017 Every Day Is A Day of Thanksgiving

September 3 2017 Psalm 105.1-6, 23-26, 45c Every Day is a Day of Thanksgiving
Pastor Jacqueline Hines
On this communion Sunday, this Sunday of the Eucharist, the Greek word for thanksgiving, [slide # 1 Eucharist means] we remember that every day is a day of thanksgiving. Since God is good all the time and all the time, God is good, we do well to give thanks all the time, for there is always something for which to be grateful. [slide # 2 Eucharist….gratitude]
We can only imagine what it is like to take communion and celebrate the Eucharistic meal in Houston right about now. To gather and worship and commune after being scattered and uprooted and traumatized comes with mixed feelings. [slide # 3 Houston flood]
There may be bitter pills to swallow along life’s journey, but as one elder says, “We learn to take the bitter with the sweet.” When life brings us lemons, we make lemonade.” [slide #4 lemonade] One a cloudy day, we look for the silver lining where the sun is shining through. [slide # 5 cloud…] At all times, we keep our chin up and our head above water, lest we drown in our sorrows. [slide # 6 man sitting near water] We do as the psalmist promoted, “I will lift my head unto the hills from where my help comes. My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth. [slide #7 Jesus saving man in water]
There are those days, though, that we don’t feel like it. We may think God just made a big mess of our lives for us to clean up. We want to throw in the towel which is what a boxer’s coach does to declare that the fighter is defeated and just cannot fight anymore. [slide # 8 boxer / towel] There are those days that we want to do what Job’s wife asked him to do. Instead of encouraging him to thank and praise God, she said why don’t you just “Curse God and die.”
We are human and we are full of many emotions. The same mixed emotions we feel about God during certain situations, we also feel about other human beings from time to time. Our emotions are the heart of every matter. Hearts can be bitter, but they can also be better. A healthy heart is a heart full of gratitude. So the psalmist reminds us today to do three things that matters. All three are found in verse one: 1O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples.
First of all, we can think of many things for which to give thanks to God. We are a country of polite people and we know how to give thanks for our daily bread, our portion of health and strength, our wonderful family and friends and we give thanks for shelter, for good food, water and clothes, and most often we give thanks from the depths our hearts. God bless America. We are a country known for the grandest celebration of a Thanksgiving Day!
Thanksgiving is a deep part of our culture founded on Godly principles. The first thing the psalmist directs God’s people to do   is to give thanks.
The second thing is to call on the name of the Lord. When we have good news to share, we call a friend. When we need help we call whoever – the doctor, the lawyer, our family, our therapist. We call on the one we have confidence in that will help us when we call. We want to call on someone that has proven to be reliable and good. If you want a good car you might call on the name of Chrysler. If you want good cake you go to BJ’s or Giant. For nice clothes you drive to Boscov’s or Macy’s. If you want an event organized, call the seniors involved in B.U.S. at Bethel. If you want a wall torn down, put up or painted down the hall, call Dot, Terry, and Bob. These are names you can rely on because they have proven approachable and reliable.
But, the name above every name that we can call first and foremost is the name of our Lord, Jesus. By faith, we realize that our Lord is the maker of everything good and everyone else falls in line behind. When we start by calling upon the one who is above all, we are putting our confidence in the one who has been faithful, loving, and true from the beginning of time. We are trusting in one who works everything out for our ultimate good.
As wonderful as those we call upon can be, there can still be problems. Cars have recalls, bakers forget we ordered a cake for our special day, B.U.S. gets cancelled because of snow, Bethel’s dream team of workers eventually have to go to work for real money instead of volunteering, or they have to take a vacation.
Burger King used to tell us we can have it our way, but that was only for burgers. We have lived long enough to understand that no one can have it their way all the time. There are times that are completely out of our control. There are days that our answers to prayers are all that we hope for. Other days we are deeply disappointed when God speaks a big “no” to our most cherished and longed for wishes.
God’s answers may also be incomprehensible or indefensible, or unbelievable. If we do not get the answer we want, we may be filled to overflowing with grief or rebellion or resentment against God, and we may start running from God. [slide #9  man running away] It happens. We have to guard our tongues and take control of our minds, let we become blasphemers instead of praisers.
So, to get down to the heart of matters in life, [slide # 10 heart] we first need to thank God, secondly we need to call upon the name of our God, thirdly we need to make known God’s deeds among the people.
When we are daily walking and talking with God, [slide # 11 little girl with Jesus] we see the hand of God working in our lives and the lives of those around us. The bible says we become witnesses to God’s work. We can testify to the fact that God has not left us or forsaken us. We can give details of God’s blessings so that others can rejoice and be encouraged in their journey. [slide # 12 man on bench with Jesus]
One of the ways SPRC has looked at to strengthen our church is to ask every member to bring two people to church during the year. [slide # 13 Bring…] This way we will be more conscious of those around us who may appreciate an invitation to worship or attend a bible study or the bazaar or brunch. Some people will come just because we cared enough to ask. [slide # 14 time to care]
People follow us to church because they have heard the stories, great and small about God’s goodness. As we walk and talk with our creator daily, just as we sit at the feet of Jesus every day, we have many stories to tell and many lessons to share with others who need us to be present in ways that can change their lives for the good. [slide # 15 two babies]
Scriptures tell us God’s mercies are new every morning, so we have new stories to tell of what we have received at the hand of God, and we ought to give thanks for them, we ought to call upon the name of the Lord so that we can generate more stories and we ought to tell somebody about God’s great work as we witness it in our lives.  [slide # 16 Declare…God has done for you]
So to love God and one another from the heart, and to have the strongest church we can have [slide # 17 heart lifting weights] a  let us first give thanks, second call upon the name of the Lord and third tell somebody what the Lord has done for us. [slide # 18 the Lord has done great…] Amen. [slide # 19 God is good…]