Thursday, June 7, 2018

June 10 2018 “Cramped in a Crowd” *Mark 3.20-35

June 10 2018 “Cramped in a Crowd” I Samuel 8.4-20, *Mark 3.20-35 Pastor Jacqueline Hines

We all appreciate a good crowd. You may have been a part of a crowd recently at the Pottstown Memorial Day parade, [slide # 1  parade] the Elverson Blues festival, [slide # 2 festival] the royal wedding, [slide # 3  wedding] or the funeral of Rev. Billy Graham. [slide # 4  Graham funeral] There is a crowd at church depending on what we are celebrating or what the menu is. We certainly have the finest cooks around! [slide #  5 good cooks…]
We do not mind being in a crowd if it is a good crowd. There are crowds we would prefer never to be a part of – such as crowds on the expressway, or in a grocery store before a storm, or when a couple is arguing in a restaurant. We rather be in a good crowd.
Some who heard about the royal wedding wanted so much to be a part of the in-crowd that they gave nice gifts. They wanted to be remembered as being a part of something big. The royal couple, for ethical reasons returned 9 million dollars’ worth of gifts – gifts that were apparently given perhaps by businesses and wannabee famous persons who hoped for some gift or favor in return.
Every now and then, we may find ourselves wrestling with what donations we should give to get the most “bang for our buck.” Like any good steward of the blessings God gives us, we do not want to drop money into a bottomless pit, we want to make a difference. We want what we give to produce good things and to multiply blessings.
Meda Maron is the director of Project Outreach with which Bethel has been one of the 26 churches involved for about 35 years. [slide # 6  Project Outreach] They serve 180 families per week with food, (for the 9 % of Chester County families that are food insecure); they help with temporary housing, oil bills and anything else they can. When I asked Meda this week how things were going she said they were going very well. She said we never have to say “no” to a need. How amazing is that. We all want to be part of a crowd where the work is so blessed, that it is a blessing to many.
We all want our spiritual cups to overflow. There are three spiritual states that we may find ourselves: We either have not enough, just enough, or more than enough. Of course, we pray and work for God’s mercy and grace to have more than enough of what we need so we can share, rather than not enough or just enough for ourselves. 
When Jesus was hanging out and helping the crowds, the scribes, writers of the law, claimed that Jesus had a demon. Verse says “‘He has Beelzebub” [slide   7   verse  22 …He has Beelzebul] which means “Lord of the flies – where the nasty, infectious, infested, refuse piles can be found. The scribes were determined to make a case against Jesus. So they depended on diagnosis and labels to prejudice people against him.
Demonic influences and mental disorders are often blurred in our minds, in our churches, and perhaps a bit less in the minds of psychotherapists and psychiatrists. One thing is for sure, whether in mind or body, when we are not well, it is a blessing to have a crowd of family and friends who care about us, and to have well-researched treatments that can restore us.
There are seasons when neither our mind nor our bodies find much balance, only chaos and confusion. It is in those times that we are left with our faith in God alone. When God is all we have, God is all we need. Whatever our health status, prayer makes a difference. Prayer creates good energy. Prayer opens our spiritual eyes. Prayer opens our spiritual ears. Prayer opens our spiritual heart to feel compassion, our hands to do good deeds, and our arms to hold on to one another. Prayer changes things. [slide #  8 prayer changes things]
We know from particular bible passages that at one point, Jesus’ brothers probably spent more energy being jealous of Jesus and trying to get rid of Jesus than they spent praying for Jesus. When we stop praying, the devil starts preying on us and we become more like him.
Jesus’ family wondered about the crowd that he was hanging around. It seemed he was so involved that he did not even get a chance to eat. They did not think that was good. My mother used to tell the story of how worried she was that my baby sister would go for an unusually long time without eating, so she took her to Doctor Hadadd, who said, “She’s fine. She will eat when she gets hungry and that is exactly what she did on her own terms.
Jesus had said to his disciples that his bread, his primary sustenance, was doing the will of God, but that did not fly with his mother Mary. She thought he was losing his mental and emotional balance. Perhaps they thought he was too young to be so fanatical about religion, that giving 100% to God was too much for anyone to give, much less a young man. His family sent for him and tried to bring him home, but Jesus refused, claiming that his family were those people who do the will of God, not just what they wanted to do.
That is why we in the church we call ourselves “family.” We focus on God’s will above our own. God gives us 100% love and guidance and we want to give God and God’s people 100% of what God asks and nothing less. That is not easy.
I recently listened to a couple men who had visited the Middle East. They were unnerved by the lack of love, the willingness to hate, and the ease at which they could kill. They were happy to return and set their feet on American soil, for God has blessed America.
We have done enough peacemaking in order for many to live in peace, at least more peace than many countries. If we do not want to become like other countries, we must continue to do the work of dialoguing, getting to know and love one another, and daring to pray for one another. Otherwise, war and distress will find us and sneak up on us like a thief in the night.
In spite of much sad news, there was good news this week in the Middle East. A woman in Saudi Arabia was the first female to be issued a driver’s license [slide #  9  Saudi driver] since the ban against women drivers was finally lifted beginning June 24th. This is progress, even though at least four women who were arrested for protesting the ban, are awaiting trial. Other protesting women have been killed, detained for months, and had to take refuge in other countries. Now they won’t have to hire drivers or depend on their husbands and sons for a right that we Americans have free to exercise since cars came on the scene in the 1900’s.
We need to stop acting like the Spirit is not calling us to pray or do something to bless someone when God is calling us. That would be the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that verse 29 refers to; [slide #  10 verse 29 whoever blasphemes…forgiveness] to dismiss the presence of the Holy Spirit urging us to care about each other as human beings who laugh and cry and suffer, whether they be across the street, across town, or across the ocean, is unforgiveable.
We may be doing all God is asking of us today. [slide #  11 God is pleased] If not, there is a price to be paid in our hearts and in one another’s lives. The cost of blaspheming the Holy Spirit, disregarding, disrespecting, disapproving, dismantling, disengaging with the Holy Spirit is not forgiven. Consequences will ALWAYS be incurred. We need to care. Hate and ignoring one another’s needs is too high a price to pay for any person, family, country, or church. I cannot always tell you what God wants you to do; God will speak to your heart if you are listening.
It is not easy, but we have Jesus as our model to give our all, all that God asks. Giving our all begins with being grateful. When I bring in a bag of groceries and forget to thank God for the bounty or when I pray for something as simple as a nice parking spot when I am in a hurry and I get one and I don’t think about saying thank you, I often say to myself, it is good to remember to say, “thank you, God.” I say to myself, “Would I want to live without all those blessings that I take for granted and gobble up without breathing a word of gratitude to God? Which of the blessings that I can’t remember to give thanks for, would I want to live without?
I will never forget one of my Confirmation students long ago who during a discussion about tithing ten percent of our income, explained, “Giving God, ten cents for every dollar we get, that is not much at all!” [slide # 12  giving to God]
No, ten percent is not a lot compared to the 90 percent that is ours to keep. Even though, we only keep it long enough to hand over 35% to the government [slide # 13 couple viewing bills] and another percentage to the mortgage broker or our children’s education fund or that supplementary health insurance plan, not to mention groceries and a couple dollars to go out to dinner or an annual get away to vacation or be with family and friends living far away.
Ten percent is not much; it is a test; it may be the source of temptation to hold back our grateful giving out of fear of having a need, rather than having faith that God will provide. Ten percent is a reminder of the time to pray and ask God what we can best give and how we can best serve, though we may not want to have the conversation with God out of fear that we may be called to share or sacrifice.
Nevertheless, our lives are crowded with blessings. When we are blessed, we can bless God. We can bless one another. We are blessed to be a blessing, a blessing to many. [slide # 14  thanking and giving to God] Amen. [slide # 15 …more in return]

Saturday, June 2, 2018

June 3 2018 “Simply Social Sabbath”

June 3 2018  “Simply Social Sabbath”  I Samuel 3. 1-20,  *Mark 2.23-3.6 Pastor Jacqueline Hines
How many of us growing up remember the days when none of the grocery stores were open. If you did not get your milk and bread on Saturday, you had to wait until Monday morning. There were no 24 hour grocery stores. As Sonia told me last week, there were no restaurants to eat at after church. You ate Sunday dinner at home. [slide # 1 family dinner]
In my generation, we were ironing Sunday dresses and cooking dinner even on a Sunday, something many in the generation before us would never think of doing. We can think of each generation as getting slack on the rules of Sabbath or we can think of each generation coming to grips with the reality that some rules need not be adhered to blindly and rigidly, but reflectively, flexibly, respectfully, and prayerfully. [slide # 2 remember the Sabbath…] Once when I was studying the Sabbath, I was preparing to do as little common work as I possibly could. It was a challenge when my mother asked me to drive her to the grocery store. I asked the Lord what I should do and I heard God speak to my heart in clear, but simple and paternal tones, “Of course, you better take your mother to the store.” That put an end to any notions I had of thinking I had to choose God over my mother. [slide # 3 law of love]
Sometimes we are frantic about following God’s law. Sometimes we are afraid we will miss our blessings and bring the wrath of God down on our lives. Rather God wants us to see the Ten Commandments – and particularly the 4th [ slide # 4  fourth commandment] one that tells us to honor the Sabbath - as a loving hug that binds us to a wise God and binds us to one another’s affections rather than being a rope that restricts us from enjoying life! [side # 5 the greatest commandment, heart]
In our scripture from Mark, Jesus gives the example of a time when David and his refugee buddies were hungry and ate the bread that was to be kept constantly at the altar. It was called the bread of presence. It represented the nurturing, providing presence of our God. Eating the bread was against the religious, cultural, and spiritual laws. Since David and his soldiers were hungry, they had good reason to eat the bread and put the law on hold. They were close enough to God to reason that eating the bread would not violate the Spirit of the law.
Jesus emphasized the spirit of the law when he said in verse 27, ‘The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath;” God did not make us so we could follow certain rules of the Sabbath like robots. God made the Sabbath for us so we could find rest and relaxation and joy in worship and joy in each other’s presence, and not work ourselves to death. [slide # 6  Sabbath rest]
One of my colleagues mentioned that his wife had a very high profile job. She was making good money, but she was so stressed out by the long commute, the inconvenient hours, and the intensity of the personnel matters that she was under a doctor’s care for high blood pressure and high glucose levels and other symptoms. As soon as she retired, her health changed for the better.
One of my relatives has vascular issues and developed an ulcer on her lower leg. She got a second job full-time job, planning to make some extra money for a few months and transition into deciding which job she was going to keep. It has been nearly a year that she has been working two full time jobs. Family members have grown accustomed to having her pay for dinners and other goodies. But, she still has two full time jobs, and now instead of having one ulcer on her leg, she has two. God made the Sabbath to bless us not to hurt us.
Breaking laws, religious or otherwise, can be very tempting. It is tempting to roll through a stop sign when there is no traffic in sight. [ slide # 7 stop sign] We are often in a rush and can justify doing our own thing. Still, establishing healthy boundaries and obeying safety rules are good habits that are a blessing for many reasons. [slide # 8 obedience…blessings]
It is important to rest and not work ourselves to death. Even more important is it to rest in the Lord after we have done God’s good and holy work. I love the Isaiah 30 verse where God says, “In returning, repenting and rest you shall be saved. In quietness and trust is your strength.”
One thing that has made us especially rest-less these days is the type of incident we witnessed in a Starbucks coffee shop. [slide # 9 Starbucks] It amazes me and gladdens my heart to know that in such incidents, people of many different races take videos with their phones and speak out against hatred. It was Melissa DePino [ slide # 10 Melissa] who videotaped the Starbucks incident.
A few months ago, an incident of the same ilk was discovered at our own United Methodist Albright College in Reading. Also, it is not unusual to find hatemongers driving persons to catastrophe because of their sexual orientation or transgender identity. No human being should be mistreated for any reason. It is good when God sends somebody to help us see the changes that need to be made for the better.
Our work is to always be about the mission of helping others find the light of Jesus and having their lives transformed. [slide #   11  mission of the church…]  Our work is to welcome all who enter into God’s presence with us, to share outrageous hospitality no matter where they have come from or where they are going. Our work is to be the hands and feet of Jesus wherever we go. It is not always an easy work, so God provides rest for our souls.
Pastor Clif Christopher author of Rich Church, Poor Church tells the story of going to a new church, having a wonderful first Sunday service and returning to the church that evening to lead the youth group only to find out that there were no youth, so he went out through the neighborhood and to the schools and invited the youth to play basketball and eat hotdogs. After a while, a few members called him in for a meeting and told him that having all those kids around was causing too much mess to clean and the money being spent for snacks was not in the budget, so they wanted to make a new rule: only those kids whose parents were members could come to the group. That attitude is a far cry from that tells us to show hospitality without grumbling as I Peter 4.9 instructs us. [slide # 12 show hospitality]
The pastor said now let’s think about this. What would Jesus do? One member shouted out, “Now you leave Jesus out of this!”  We do well to remind ourselves on a daily basis that our journey of faith is not about us, it is about the mission of making disciples for the transformation of the world, it is about diversity and dialogue and daring to pray trusting God to guide and provide.
Fortunately, we do remind ourselves daily as the United Methodist Church that we are all about the mission of making disciples for Jesus for the transformation of the world. That is why we encourage bible studies, VBS, preschool, and camp where children and youth can get a year’s worth of Christian education in one week. [slide #  13 VBS, Preschool dates] That is why I work hard to make sure everyone’s gifts and talents are being used and sharpened, because we need all hands on deck to equip and strengthen each other to make the journey, to follow Jesus everywhere he leads. That is why we train and equip ourselves to have good boundaries so the bullies and perpetrators remain outside and the peacemakers feel safe as they do God’s work within and without.
We want peacemakers more so than peacekeepers because peacemakers sometimes have to speak the truth in love and stir up the pot while peacekeepers tend to keep the peace, even when others are suffering. Jesus said blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.
Our Bishop Peggy Johnson reminded all her pastors one year to work hard to keep an eye out for those who need Jesus and those who have never been a part of the church before. It is one thing to work to add members to our rolls from one church to another. It is another thing to work to welcome those who have never professed their faith or never belonged to the church before.
The story is told of one church that had a budget of almost 2 million dollars, and they had two persons join who were new Christians. One expert noted that $800,000 was invested and only two persons professed Jesus as their savior. He questioned whether they had their spending priorities in order. The question was raised, should they spend more money on a mission to encouraged outsiders to follow Jesus? One member chimed up saying, “Why would we count those who are just now professing their faith?” It was said as if outsiders do not matter, but outsiders are the very ones we are called to include in the sheepfold. [slide # 14  calling God-starved…]
What is the work we need to do to reach those who are outside the walls of the church? We received a generous community grant to help us with the elevator. We were encouraged to apply for the grant again, but this time we were asked to work as hard as we could and make a conscious effort to invite persons to serve on our boards who represented a more diverse population.
As a global church, we are in competition with many other businesses, like Starbucks that nurture diversity as a means of keeping the peace and providing good for others in this world. They too are working hard, doing God’s holy work, even though they cannot call themselves religious, much less Christian. Such businesses and organizations, like non-profit hospitals, schools, etc. are financially supported and being called good by many non-religious folks, while some days, churches are left behind, wondering why we should even bother to count the outsiders.
Starbucks gave up millions of dollars to see that their staff was trained to avoid another inhospitable incident. [slide #  15 hands…diversity] Perhaps they were inspired by the church. The United Methodist Church has deep roots in education and training. Yesterday, a diversity training was held at Cedarville UMC. At least two from Bethel attended. It is not the first training that Bethel has been a part of. The Spirit leads me to pray for teachers and students every day. Education and training is the key to eradicate slavery, poverty, hunger, illiteracy, unemployment and many other forms of oppression in our world today. [slide #  16 key on bible]
Education is the key to promote peace, development and well-being. For two Wednesdays in June on the 6th and 20th, staff and leaders of Bethel will gather to attend an in-house training designed to benefit our ultimate mission of equipping and making disciples who are in the business of transforming our world.
The United Methodist Church has close to a thousand, if not more, schools, academies, and universities around the world - Asia-Pacific, Africa, North and South America. Education is an integral part of the Methodist Movement led by John Wesley and Charles Wesley in 18th century England. Kingswood School was the first Methodist school, founded by John Wesley on June 24, 1748, and is still in existence today.  [slide #  17 Kingswood school]
After we pray for guidance, educate ourselves, and unite as one body in Christ, we will surely know what work we must do to reach those who are outside our walls, those who need our Jesus. [slide #  18 welcome home]
We will do as one of Allen’s songs reminds us to do, “So you bring the one next to you, And I’ll bring the one next to me; In all kinds of weather, we’ll all work together, And see what can be done…”
For many reasons working hard at welcoming and inviting others to follow us as we follow Jesus is an overwhelming task. There are so many needs and so many new ideas and cultural meanings with which to dialogue and digest. It can be exhausting, sometimes humiliating, and sometimes uncomfortable. Still, it is only after doing God’s good and holy work that we can find rest! [slide # 19 prayer…God’s rest.] Amen. [slide #20  rest..salvation]  [slide # 21 make disciples…]

Friday, May 25, 2018

May 27 2018 “Come Holy Spirit, Come: Send Us”

May 27 2018 “Come Holy Spirit, Come: Send Us” *Isaiah 6.1-8, Romans 8.12-17 Jacqueline Hines

The prophet Isaiah records in the 6th chapter that the King of Judah who reigned 700 years before Jesus was born in Judah, had died. The year that King Uzziah died was like any other time when a prominent leader dies. The whole world knew that things were about to change, and everyone was watching and waiting and wondering what was going to happen next.
Uzziah had reigned for over 50 years and things had gone very well. The military was stronger, food was plentiful, and there was a good measure of peace and security in most communities. King Uzziah made his mistakes along the way, but they were nothing compared to the great things that had been accomplished by the grace of God.
Today, if we flip through all the editions of the 2018 Mercury, we would see obituaries of the lives of well-known persons whose deaths have changed our world. There are names such as scientist Stephen Hawking, who studied the black hole and relativity [slide # 1  Hawking], Dorothy Malone [slide # 2  Malone] an Oscar-winning actress, Barbara Bush [slide #  3   Bush] former first lady, and Winnie Mandela [slide # 4  Mandela] anti-apartheid activist. We take notice of important people in our lives who die, and for years, we remember how their lives mattered to us.
On the day that King Uzziah died, Isaiah, the prophet took a special note of what a blessing he was, and he knew life could change drastically. Isaiah was the king’s prophet. Now that Uzziah was gone, Isaiah must have wondered if the next king would pay attention to his spiritual guidance.
Every king had a prophet, just like every U.S. president has a Godly adviser like a Billy Graham, [slide # 5 Graham] like every U.S. senate has a chaplain like the current chaplain Barry Black [slide # 6  Chaplain Black] a retired Navy Rear Admiral and former Chief of Navy Chaplains.
Isaiah was God’s messenger of wisdom and comfort for king Uzziah and on the day that the king died, Isaiah says he saw the Lord. The king was gone, but with his spiritual eyes, Isaiah saw that the Lord was still on the throne. Certainly, we take comfort in a loving God ruling and reigning over our lives. We do not like everything that happens in this world, but the idea that God’s ultimate purpose and plan is love and justice gives us a reason to keep the faith. The idea that love never fails gives us strength to continue our journey.
Isaiah saw three things in chapter 6 that we all must see if we are going to survive when it seems that all is lost and terrible things are about to happen. First, verse 1 says that Isaiah saw the Lord, high and lifted up, sitting on a throne. We all need to see God for ourselves. We all need to be aware of God’s presence. We may never have a dramatic or mystical experience in our life, but we should all see God constantly in the scriptures, or in the situations in our lives, or in the lifestyle of someone who lets their little light shine.
If we cannot see God, we cannot follow. Without a vision, the bible says we cannot live. Jesus also said, we cannot live by bread alone, we need God’s word, through scripture or example or testimony. Otherwise, we wither on the vine, that is, we bear no spiritual fruit - no love, no joy, no peace, little patience, barely any kindness, hardly any goodness (generosity), we lack faithfulness, and self-control is not in our vocabulary. We need to see God’s word through scripture or example.
Isaiah, not only saw God on the day that King Uzziah died, Isaiah says he saw the hem of God’s robe, and it filled the temple. I like the New International Version that says “…and the train of his robe filled the temple.” [slide # 7 the train of his robe….].  We have seen trains worn by royalty and those with status and power. The world just witnessed the very public wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Meghan’s train was 16 feet long. [slide # 8 Markle’s wedding gown].
In this season of graduations, we see robes worn by those who have earned positions of power that come with certain academic degrees. [slide  #  9  putting on academic hood] Their dress is also a version of a royal train. [slide #  10  gathered with academic hoods ]
Bishops, priests, preachers, and those in religious orders wear capes, long and short to symbolize the wide reach of God’s presence and power. [slide # 11  cardinal robe]  There have been linen, wools, furs, [slide # 12  fur stole] and silks that drape around, and down and long and wide, signifying a certain position with God and with God’s people. [slide # 13  group of clerics]
St. Martin of Tours, is known as the military saint. [slide # 14 St. Martin of Tours] He looked past the expense and luxury of his cape, that draped like a train to represent his high status. St. Martin cut his cape with his military sword and shared it with a beggar who had little to wear in the dead of winter. It is good in our moments of celebration and luxury that we find a way to remember those who are suffering.
Isaiah’s saw God as a ruler with status and power and we need to see God in that way as well.
The second thing Isaiah sees that all of us need to see on our faith journey is in verse 5. He sees where he falls short and he can admit it. “I am a man of unclean lips, [ slide # 15  I am a man…] and I dwell with a people of unclean lips.” Isaiah understands that there is at least one place in his life where he needs God to help him and strengthen him if he is going to go to the next spiritual level. Then he will be able to witness to God’s power and love in at least that one area – whether it is great or small.
Thirdly, Isaiah sees the altar of God. Isaiah is so close to the throne of God that he can feel the warmth of fire from the altar. In order to get close to the throne of God, one must be able to take some heat, the heat of confession and repentance, the heat of trials and tribulations. Isaiah is also close enough to the altar to hear the angels known as cherubs. They are God’s front line security guards, and they are singing praises to God, for praising God protects us from many enemies. They cry “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
Isaiah can even see the second round of God’s security force, the seraphim. The word “Seraphim” means “burning ones.” Seraphim are on fire for God. The seraphim remind me of a story of a preacher who was on fire for God. People would fill arenas and fields to listen his sermons. He was heard to say, “I set myself on fire, and people come from miles around to watch me burn with my passion for God.”
A seraph can be considered God’s closest source of security, the highest order of angels. They were very close to the altar. They had access to the fires of Heaven and, no doubt, the fires of hell. Bishop Tutu in his fight against apartheid, would thank the world for their prayers and he reminded everyone that their prayers were not in vain. He knew their prayers created a wall of fire against the enemy. Prayer brings us as close to God as we can get.
Isaiah saw the seraphim flying down from that high and lofty place, bringing a hot coal from God’s altar. They placed it on his lips. [slide # 16  seraphim with coal] The coal was so hot it had to be carried with tongs, yet it was not too hot for his lips. Whatever work God has to do in us may seem like it could damage or destroy us, but God has the right amount of fire, the right timing and the right touch that can free us of our sin and guilt.
Isaiah was able to see God for the great God that God is, admit his weaknesses, and stand in the divine presence of God long enough to become free of his sin and guilt. After all of that, Isaiah hears the voice of the lord asking, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Isaiah was not hiding. He spoke out, ‘Here am I; send me!’
It is not easy to listen to God’s voice, especially when you know God wants something. After all, we are not really trying to listen to the God who wants to intoxicate us so we will be forever under the influence and control of the spirit of love, yielding what author Richard Foster names as the places we find hardest to surrender to God: money, sex, and power!
We cannot answer God’s call us unless we see what Isaiah saw: A Holy God who is high and lifted up, a God who loves us with a passionate fire, [slide # 17  fire of God’s love] and a God whose altars are secured with many angels to serve us as we serve God. [slide  18 …don’t grow cold.] Amen. [slide #   19  William Penn]

Sunday, May 20, 2018

May 20 2018 “Come Holy Spirit, Come: Change Our World”

May 20 2018 “Come Holy Spirit, Come:  Change Our World” *Acts 2.1-21 Pastor Jacqueline Hines    Humor -
Today we celebrate Pentecost. The word “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word for “fiftieth” meaning 50 days after the Jewish holiday of Passover. [ slide # 1 fifty days] Passover is the time Christians know as Easter. Since our spiritual roots are both Judaic and Christian, the Jewish holidays and the Christian holidays have similar purposes and similar time schedules.
The Old Testament law requires [slide # 2  Bible scrolls] that men take the lead in making sure their family is represented in at least three yearly festivals. These are holidays on which one is to enjoy God, enjoy family and friends and neighbors and share a meal to celebrate the harvest that God has provided.
The first legal holiday celebration is the Passover. [slide # 3 Happy Passover- flowers] Passover is also called the Feast of unleavened bread which celebrates the rescue from slavery in Egypt, when they left town quickly. They planned to bring bread with them to eat on their journey because there were not many places to buy bread. They baked it in a hurry. They did not put yeast in the bread because they did not have time to let it rise. So their bread was more of a flatbread or matzo. [ slide #  4 flatbread]    [slide # 5 matzo]  Passover was also the night that acknowledges that the angel of death passed over their homes, for which they were grateful.
Christians celebrate the Passover, in a sense, every communion Sunday. For Christians, every Sunday is a celebration of God’s resurrection power, and deliverance and mercy. [slide # 6 Passover – wine] We celebrate Jesus delivering us from the slavery of sin. Passover is celebrated once a year by our Jewish brothers and sisters in March or April, often close to our Easter.
The second required celebration is [slide # 7 tabernacles] the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths or Tents which was a festival of thanksgiving for God’s provision of shelter as they wandered away from slavery toward the Promised Land. Our Jewish neighbors celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles in September or October. [slide # 8 tent] For some, the celebration includes building tents and booths in fields and rooftops and spending the night in them to remember what it was like before God blessed them to settle in a land of their own.
The third celebration commanded is a harvest festival. We Christians call it Pentecost [slide # 9 Pentecost] In the Old Testament it is called the Feast of Weeks or in the Hebrew, Shavuot. There are 7 weeks or 49 days of preparing and waiting for the harvest. It was a time of prayerfully and gratefully anticipating God’s goodness and abundance. On the 50th day, there was a celebration.
These three festivals were designed by God that we might understand and appreciate God and God’s people as a source of blessing. It was a pleasant and good, to be with family and friends – well… for the most part. It was a joy to eat good food and share laughter with the neighbors near and far. God prescribes good fellowship because it is good for the mind, body, and soul.
Today, many Christians, not all, but many, are celebrating this day. My Baptist brother down the street is not celebrating Pentecost. Many Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Catholics often celebrate this day as Pentecost.
We Christians who celebrate are not celebrating just because it is a day to give thanks for the blessings of the harvest. We celebrate because of the extraordinary thing that God did on the particular day of Pentecost that is described in chapter 2 of the book of Acts of the Apostles that was read by our confirmands today. [slide # 10 the book of Acts]
Verse 1 of Acts 2 tells us that when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. [slide # 11 together in one place] The writer here is emphasizing togetherness and oneness for a reason. We can assume that they were together for good reasons, for the most part.
Committed couples know well [ slide # 12 cuddly cats] the value of unity, for unity and oneness lay a very strong foundation during their courtship as they deepen their covenant together. Committed Christians are united with one heart and mind. We are together as often as we possibly can be. Because our love is solid and true, problems may be solved, almost magically, or problems may cease to matter at all because the fruit of our love is so great.
And if by chance one should fail to love another, [slide # 13 couple back to back] God’s love never fails, so no one loses unless they choose to lose. God’s greatest blessings come when we are together as one.
Verse 2 tells us that as this group of God’s children were together in one place, suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind.
Do you think God was frustrated that is why God snuck up on them with a sudden and loud noise? Could God have been fed up with his people because they had gotten so far off track from doing the right thing? We are made in God’s image and when we look within our hearts, our homes, our church, our neighborhood, our country, and our world, don’t we see things that are godless and grimy, too?
The noise God sent was loud enough to make their ears perk up. When we hear the wind howl, we too are on alert, recognizing that the next sound we hear may be a trash can crashing to the ground or a tree limb cracking. [slide # 14 trash can…] The scripture says they heard the sound of a violent wind; that is downright scary!
Verse 2 continues recording the incident saying, [slide #  15 sound…filled…house] that sound filled the house. There was no way to escape? It was as if God had cornered them. The sound of a violent, rushing wind was inside!  Fortunately for them, they were sitting down as verse 2 tells us, otherwise they might have fallen down. [slide # 16 …sitting…]
How intriguing that the writer of Acts of the Apostles would tell us that those celebrating Pentecost that day were sitting. It brings to mind how intentional the bible is with words. You may remember other places in the bible where people sat. Jesus sat at Jacob’s well and waited when the Samaritan woman came by and had a little life-saving talk with Jesus. A crowd following Jesus sat down to eat and a miracle happened, a miracle we talk about to this day. The prophet Isaiah tells us that on the day that King Uzziah died he saw a vision of God sitting on a throne, high and lifted up. The prophet got the clear and comforting message that God is in control, even when it seems that all is lost and terrible things are about to happen.
On this day of Pentecost, the people were sitting, resting in God’s presence, eating, drinking and making merry, and God shook them up something terrible.
They started speaking in other tongues. Maybe they liked their own tongue better than the one that the text says was coming out of their mouth. Maybe they did not want to be caught speaking like a proper Hebrew or Arab, but it was happening anyway. Maybe they heard their best friends on the other side of the room talking with the syntax and the enunciation and the accents of the same people they had all made fun of together.
Now when we read the story of the Tower of Babel back in Genesis, we get the idea that God did not like the idea of everyone speaking the same language inasmuch as they were conniving with each other to reach heaven.
In Acts, however, instead of God working to keep them from speaking the same language, a language that was evidently nonsense and babble to God, here God is, having his children speak the language of the other, of the people on the other side of town where you did not want to go, the other people whose ways and customs were other than their own.
The power came from Heaven and they had no control over it. The Holy Spirit was in control of them. The people who came running to hear and see what was going on thought God’s people were intoxicated with new wine, which according to New Testament scholar Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, was the wine with the strongest percent of alcohol.
Have you ever been so filled by the Holy Spirit that you were out of control? [slide # 17 Have you ever been filled  I mean out of control in a good way. The tears start flowing and you can’t stop them to save your life. [slide # 18 tears] You start clapping your hands and you don’t even want to stop. You scream for joy until you lose your voice. [slide # 19 screaming] Have you ever been so filled by the Spirit that as you started telling a spectacular story of God’s goodness in your life your words stopped in midair and you were reduced to bowing your head and muttering “mmm, mmm, mmm?” [ slide 20 head down] Some blessings are simply inexpressible. Have you ever tried to pray about something and all you could get out were sigh after sigh after sigh, sighs that Romans 8 describes as too deep for words? [slide # 21 sigh]
We respond to God’s nudging in many different ways.  Like the ancient church we may see things differently [slide # 22  two dresses]  some see blue and black while others see white and gold. We hear things differently. Some here “Yanny” some hear “Laurel”. [slide # 23 Yanny/Laurel] But, if we sit together in one place, God will rush in to help us harmonize with each other’s voices and languages. God will help us see each other in ways that unite us and make us one!
On this day of Pentecost, their hearts were touched, their minds were blown, they were deeply moved, the words coming out of their mouth told of God’s wonderful deeds of power and praises to God.  Their tongues were on fire with God’s love. [slide # 24 tongues of fire] There were no arguments, no negativity, no backbiting, no silent treatment, no fear …nothing…. but words that could do three things: (1) build someone up, (2) comfort them, and (3) encourage them in the ways of holiness, just like I Corinthians 14 instructs us to do.
The fire of Pentecost that day represented the persistently loving presence of God! This day the fire of God was neither contained in a warm, cozy fireplace or an inspiring altar candle. God was not in God’s usual box.
God was present, but we can imagine that not everyone was happy about God showing up at this celebration the way God chose to show up!
Perhaps they were more than satisfied to hear and say something other than words that build others up, comfort or encourage. From time to time, who among has not perked up an ear upon hearing some juicy gossip, especially if it is about someone who has hurt our feelings or made us mad? Who among us has not had to bite our tongue real hard to avoid saying cuss words or back-stabbing words that neither glorify God but rather discourage? Who among us has not consciously or unconsciously rubbed salt in another’s wounds or pushed someone away when God was ready to teach us how to comfort them? Who among us doesn’t want to be taught because we already know it all?
Certainly, we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God. We are all a work in progress, but when we obey God and come together in one place, I guarantee you, God will show up and God will give us tongues of fire, full of words that change us, change our churches, and change our world for the better. [slide # 25 Acts 2 Church] Amen. [slide #  26 dog and cat]

Monday, May 14, 2018

May 13 2018 “Come Holy Spirit, Come: Teach Us”

May 13 2018 “Come Holy Spirit, Come: Teach Us” Pastor Jacqueline Hines


It is not unusual from time to time to have discussions about whether we think of God more as a mother or as a father. We refer to God using masculine pronouns “he” and “him” but the bible also refers to God in very maternal terms, with very nurturing qualities and feminine characteristics. [slide # 1 God the father…mother]
My favorite reference is to Jesus saying: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” [slide # 2 hen]
There are many passages that refer to God’s mothering nature. In the prophet Hosea we hear God saying, “Yet it was I who taught the tribe of Ephraim to walk, I who took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.”
In Deuteronomy 32 God is described as a mother eagle. “Like the eagle that stirs up its nest, and hovers over its young, God spreads wings to catch you, and carries you on pinions.” [slide # 3  eagle]
God is also described in Deuteronomy 32 as the God who gives birth - “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.”
In Isaiah 66:13 God is compared to a comforting mother, saying “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”
Isaiah 49:15 compares God to a nursing mother saying, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”
Isaiah 42:14 even depicts God as a woman in labor, “For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept myself still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.”
We are made in God’s image. We are made to love and care for one another as a father and as a mother!
When we allow the Holy Spirit to teach us to love and care for one another, we learn valuable lessons.
Without prayer [slide # 4 prayer] our spiritual growth is stunted and we more easily become like Judas who is referred to in this first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Judas hangs out with the wrong crowd. Judas’ crowd is very concerned with power and money even if it means going against the will and ways of God. Judas invites his cronies to gang up on Jesus, to join him in insulting and opposing him in ways in which they had become quite skilled.
Every skill we learn is not necessarily a good one! We learn evil skills, too or we learn to use our God-given skills in evil ways. Or, we are out of control until the Holy Spirit takes control or until we give God the reigns of our hearts. Sometimes we have to surrender our control and our will a million times before we are actually strong enough to let go and let God have God’s way which is the best way.
Without prayer [slide # 5 kneeling in prayer] our spiritual growth is stunted and we do learn to act like Judas. On the other hand as we mature in Christ, we find ourselves more and more involved with and surrounded by disciples who are busy learning how to transform the world into a better place, by caring and sharing and loving one humble and selfless deed at a time.
After Judas left the twelve disciples who had all been trained by Jesus, the disciples still needed a certain number of representatives to govern the affairs of the Christian communities. Just like our senate and our congress require a certain number of representatives based on municipalities and population. The twelve tribes of Israel needed to have at least one representative for each tribe. Symbolically and politically that is why twelve disciples were needed.
There were two disciples in the running to fill that position of the 12th disciple. Their names were given in verse 23 as a man named Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and the other man’s name was Matthias. [slide # 6 Joseph and Mattias]
The eleven disciples observed the lives of these two men, they decided that both were excellent candidates, but they were not convinced that God wanted one more than the other. They could have picked both of them, but that is not how it was done at that time. They could have administered a test and chosen the one with the highest score, but that is not how it was done during that time. They could have had them run a six month campaign and take a vote as to the one whose views and reputations are favored like we choose our United Methodist Bishops today, but that is not how it was done during that time.
Instead of all those ideas that have been used through the centuries, they simply did what they had learned worked well for over 1000 years. They cast lots. In our culture we know casting lots as tossing dice like we do in a Monopoly game or flipping a coin as we see done in a football game. Casting lots is a universal effort to be fair and free of human bias.
Because both men were good, instead of choosing sides, the disciples were able to avoid some hurt feelings by not choosing, but allowing the choice to be random. Their desire to be fair was focused and it created an atmosphere of justice and peace.
Before they tossed the dice to determine which of these men of God that they had carefully examined was God’s choice, verse 24 says they prayed. , [slide # 7 verse 24…] ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen. After they prayed verse 26 says, ’And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles. [slide # 8  verse 26]
We often think of casting lots as gambling, but this biblical tradition among the disciples was not gambling because there was no gamble with the careful examination of these Godly men. Joseph and Mathias were both winners.
It is said that the practice of casting lots is mentioned 70 times in the Old Testament and seven times in the New Testament. Their die probably did not look like our modern die. Their die probably looked closer to the dreidels that we see during the observation of Purim. [slide # 9  two dreidels] Purim is that season when God showed mercy as Esther spoke up for her people and the Jewish people were delivered from being exterminated by Haman who was extremely jealous which made him insecure and afraid which made him a bully who was quite capable of the violence he planned. Lots were cast with evil intentions to determine which day they were going to plan the massacre. We use the dreidels as a reminder that in our hands the dreidel means fairness and justice for God’s people.
Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus cast lots with evil intentions to see who should get Jesus’ robe that they stole instead of giving it back to Mary his mother. [slide # 10 soldiers gambling over Jesus robe]
God’s people were accustomed to casting lots in order to divide land among the tribes; they would do research on the land, divide each section to include some forest area, potential springs, and as much farm and grazing land as they could and they would cast lots to determine who would get what. In that way no one could be accused of selfishly choosing the best land or strong-arming others into getting an advantage over another.
You remember in Luke 1 that Zacharias was serving in the temple [slide #  11 Zacharias and incense] when he was visited by an angel that told him that he was to have a son John the Baptist that would prepare the way for the Lord. Every priest had a job to do, some more challenging and unpleasant than others. So they cast lots to decide who would serve on which day and what job, whether pleasant or tedious. That way no one would get all the tough jobs. They would rotate from one job or another according to the casting of the lots. Zacharias was on duty that day because it was his lot.
Zacharias’ job was to burn incense. Incense is a symbol of prayerful, restful conversation with God. Incense is an example of the kind of conversation we want to have with one another, too. Priests were to make sure that incense and lamps were burning on a regular basis as a constant reminder of being in a relationship with God. It was to create a sweet aroma, a sweet atmosphere, a peaceful atmosphere, a holy atmosphere, where the light of God’s love and truth can be clearly seen! God used his children’s efforts to cast lots in ways that brought unity and eliminated as much bias as was humanly possible.  As Prov. 18:18 says "Casting lots causes contentions to cease, and keeps the mighty apart." (or separated so they could not work together on their evil deeds)
Without deeper study and reflection, some American Christians have thought that they could get an answer from God by shutting their eyes, opening their bibles and randomly putting their finger on a certain page and a certain verse and that would be God’s answer. [slide # 12 finger on bible] But, the biblical example we learn from scripture is that these Godly men did their homework, they researched and examined and came up with the best choices that they could. Then they prayed and then they cast lots but only in those situations where it is clear that all the choices were good and Godly choices. [slide # 13 which way…]
Closing your eyes and picking a bible verse to read is great because every verse is good to read. Closing your eyes and picking a bible verse to get an answer from God for a particular situation is not the example set by the disciples because every verse does not address God’s good will for every situation. Many decisions require research, reflection, and conversation with God and with each other. [slide # 14  powerful testimony….church] There are no shortcuts.
May we be ever prayerful and prepared, ready for the Holy Spirit to teach us what we need to know and show us the way to go. [slide #...15 God is love…] Amen. [slide # 16 let God teach you..]