Sermon – 5/8/16

5.8.16- I attended Weatherly High School graduation on Friday night. The program was well planned and the audience was pretty cooperative. But the student speakers brought the excitement. One after another spoke of the future, of the fear, excitement and anxiety they were feeling, all at the same time. They talked about achievements and of perseverance. They reminded their classmates that they had to have enough faith to follow their dreams into the future they’ve planned for themselves.
Having faith and confidence in yourself is necessary if you’re going to achieve anything in life. Faith needs to be built on a solid foundation; the foundation the students referred to was family and the love and understanding that brought them to graduation. But having grown up in this town, I’ve been around long enough to know and remember the grandparents whose faith in God provided the foundation on which these young people are able to build today.
There’s a big difference between confidence and fear and that’s the leap we make in our lessons today. We’re moving from confident, faithful, wise King Solomon dedicating the beautiful temple he built for God to terrified, exiled prophet Elijah, chased from his own homeland of Israel because neither the people nor the king liked the message he brought.
Jesus told the disciples that when a prophet isn’t welcome in one place, they shake the dust off their sandals and take God’s message somewhere else. That’s what happens to Elijah today. God’s king and God’s people don’t like the message God is sending, so they try to kill him. Elijah escapes and wants to quit. But God finds him and sends him to a place where God is not known. Elijah is to teach the people in that land about the great and powerful God of Israel.
God sent Elijah to a place called Zarephath. In Zarephath, Elijah meets a widow and her son, about to die of hunger. When Elijah, a foreigner, promises that God will refill the meal and oil until the end of the drought, they believe him. The meal and the oil last, just as Elijah’s God promised. The widow and her son begin to trust Elijah’s God.
Suddenly, the child is so ill that he can’t breathe. Do something, the widow demands, where is your God? Has your God come here to remember my sin and to kill my son? Do something!

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This widow remembers the God who refills the oil and the meal. Maybe God’s prophet will ask God to refill her son with the breath, the spirit of God that began every human life, even hers. God, who hears Elijah’s frantic prayers, now heals. The boy is revived and handed to his mother, who knows God’s power over death.
Our gospel lesson takes Jesus to the town of Nain and he finds a similar situation. As they enter the town, they see a large funeral procession for a young man; his widowed mother is part of the crowd. Her grief is raw and fresh as she grieves the loss of her son and his future, the loss of a daughter in law and grandchildren she’ll never have.
Jesus sees her grief and fear. He has compassion on her and he touches the casket frame. Young man, rise, Jesus says. The young man sat up and began to speak and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
The story continues with the crowd’s reaction, but we need to stop here a minute to look at what’s happening and see what’s behind it. This story we get tells the simple lesson of Jesus healing a young man and giving him back to his mother.
Now that’s really good news and this is exactly why Jesus came-he came to show us firsthand the care and concern God has for God’s creation and God’s people. God cares for all of God’s people, but some of the temple people put up a fight. There are laws to be kept, religious laws and Jesus is in violation of them. Now, there might have been a time when these religious laws had a purpose, when they kept the people within the boundaries of proper worship in the temple.
But when Jesus comes, he breaks down the walls and he pushes out the boundaries. Jesus erases all the lines that separated the clean from the unclean, the sick from the healthy, the rich from the poor. Jesus comes to fulfill the prophet’s message and God’s everlasting covenant of peace, joy and mercy for all of God’s creation. Jesus ends all of life’s divisions and he opens us to the kingdom on earth as we wait to see the kingdom in heaven.
In the lesson from Galatians, the apostle Paul is starting to explain his work to the church that’s just begun. We’re only in the first chapter, so Paul’s got a lot to explain. But later on, in chapter three, Paul echos Jesus’ own words to the people-no one is justified before God by the law-we read for ourselves that the righteous will live by faith. There are no longer divisions among us-no more Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female-we are all one in Jesus Christ and heirs of God’s promise. It’s all going to be ours one day and God’s kingdom will be glorious.
When the power of God is seen, we experience miracles firsthand. Did you put your feet on the ground today and breathe in and out? Life is a miracle we take for granted every day. But life was not taken for granted by the widows in our stories-the restored lives of their sons meant that their lives would continue and they wouldn’t die as beggars.
Today’s Bible stories teach us another lesson. God’s power over death can revive us, too-assuring us that we are precious, we are loved and we are forgiven. Amen.

Rev. Dawn Richie

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Sermon- 4.10.16

4.10.16 sermon– How long does a book sit at your house unopened? Or maybe I should ask how many new books do you have on your electronic devices that haven’t been read yet? I have 10 unread books on my Kindle. I must have 50 unread paperback books on the shelves. I hope to read them when I retire because all of these books look like really good.
I’ve learned that I have to set aside time if I’m going to remember what I read. I can’t read a few pages and put a book down, so I use reading time as a reward for getting work done. I get very involved in the story and if it’s a fiction book, I can picture the action as it’s happening. Do you do that? Some writers describe so well, I see the story unfolding in my imagination.
Now I’m telling you this so we can enter this gospel story together. Today, we’ve got a long lesson from John’s gospel, chapter 21, which was written later by a different author.
John 21 is called an epilogue and it was written to tie up loose ends that were left dangling in this gospel story. Last week, the lesson ended with the words that Jesus did many signs that are not written in the book…..but these were written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah…..and that through believing, you may have life in his name. While it is a beautiful ending, it’s abrupt. Chapter 21 renews the relationship Jesus had with the rest of his disciples and it shows the same overabundant and extravagant God we met in the beginning of John’s gospel. It closely links chapter 21 with chapter 1, reconnecting, recovering the relationship that seemed to be lost when Jesus was taken away from his disciples for crucifixion.
No one writes the good news of God in Christ the way that John writes. John writes his gospel as a member of a sect of Christians who closely follow Jesus. He knows God as holy and powerful, loving and over extravagant. John knows God as a God of abundant grace and mercy, whose plan for the world will only be detoured for a short time. And John trusts that God will keep his community safe and defend them from the enemies that all Christians are facing as John writes his gospel 50 years after Jesus’ ministry.
Using words that we can almost picture from the Genesis creation story, John tells us that Jesus was with God in the beginning. He was a part of everything that was created and life came into being through him. The life was the light for all people and even the darkness of the world can’t extinguish a light that God has created.
Using words of testimony, grace and mercy, John describes God’s action in the world. John the Baptist came to testify to Jesus’ identity. Jesus testified to the people by being baptized as one of them and then telling them about God. John the Baptist points his disciples to Jesus, as the Lamb of God-and isn’t that an interesting name for a new prophet-Lamb of God, the only one who would take away the sin of the world. John told his disciples that they should no longer follow him, they should follow Jesus.

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Throughout John’s gospel lesson, Jesus uses words of invitation, Come and see, follow me. At the Cana wedding, Jesus supplies an overabundance of the best wine-a wine the bridegroom can’t afford. Jesus answers the questions of Nicodemus who comes to him under cover of darkness, asking what it means to be born from above. And Jesus explains that he was sent into the world to save the world; God doesn’t want to see people destroyed, but saved by him. God has an unconditional love for all of God’s people. God doesn’t want anyone to be lost. But some will wander away and may never come back again. God keeps calling.
Jesus answers all questions, no matter who is asking. With Jesus, there are no stupid questions, no boundaries, no fences-only welcome. He gives the unholy Samaritan woman at the well living water, he healed a Roman officials son and a lame man at Bethsaida and he feeds five thousand. He healed and he taught and he confronted the men who would have stoned a woman caught in adultery. When Jesus said, Let the one with no sin cast the first stone, they all turned and walked away.
Jesus taught and explained that he was the living water, but more than water; faith in Jesus would never leave anyone thirsting for truth. He taught that he was the bread of life, but much more than the flat bread that kept them alive; Jesus would never leave anyone hungering for righteousness. Jesus taught that he was the light of life that no one could extinguish as he talked with the prophets and with God on Transfiguration Mountain. His suffering and death might have extinguished the light that the evil people could see, but you can’t see much light when you insist on living in darkness. That’s a choice that people make, but God continues to call them back again. No one is lost until God says they’re lost. It’s a good lesson to remember.
As Jesus came closer to crucifixion, his disciples and friends gathered closer to him. The gatherings became closer, quieter, more intimate. There were times of prayer, of anointing, of foot washing, of sharing meals-all regular parts of their life together. Although they scattered, running for their lives at the crucifixion, the women once again came to anoint, to pray, to wash the body of Jesus but they found he wasn’t there. It was a confusion of hopeful wonder and absolute terror, not knowing who had taken Jesus’ body away. But then he appeared to them in the locked room, not once, but twice and opened their minds, helping them remember what he had promised. Their lives together came full circle last week in that room as Jesus breathed on those gathered disciples the Holy Spirit.
Did you notice that Jesus never reprimands his disciples for a lack of faith in these last days? Jesus comes from the God of abundance and gives them abundant courage through the Holy Spirit. When he exits the tomb, he only leaves behind grave clothes. When Jesus exits the upper room, he leaves with them his witness and the Holy Spirit. And when he encounters Peter and the other disciples who have fished all night and didn’t catch a thing, he says, put the net down on the other side. What a ridiculous thing to say! If the lake has no fish, it has no fish. But Peter plays along and tosses out the net and can’t pull it in because of the overabundance of fish they catch. There’s only person who has ever shown what mercy and abundant love are and that is Jesus. He shares a breakfast of fresh fish with them over the open fire and Jesus once again begins an intimate conversation with Peter. Peter, do you love me, Jesus asks. Yes, Lord, Peter responds, you know I love you. Then feed my lambs. Peter, do you love me, Jesus asks. Yes, Lord, you know that I love you, Peter says. Tend my sheep. Peter, do you love me? Lord, you know everything! You know that I love you. Feed my sheep. With these words, Peter the fisherman becomes Peter the apostle, the follower of Christ. Although he denied his discipleship out of fear for his life, he would one day give his life for the Lord who died to redeem him.
Jesus gives to us grace upon grace; free gifts of love, family, relationship, life, breath, the freedom to open our arms wide to embrace the God who will make us the whole person we were created to be. These are gifts from our Lord, who was with God the Creator, from the beginning of time. We have come full circle as we finish this last chapter from John’s gospel. But we await the day when Jesus returns to live with us and we live in the second glorious coming and experience our resurrection from the dead. Amen.

Rev. Dawn Richie

Good Friday Sermon- 3.25.16

3.25.16-Good Friday sermon– Last night, on Maundy Thursday, Jesus gave the disciples a new command. Judas betrayed Jesus. And Jesus predicted what Peter would do before he ever did it.
It’s not like Jesus didn’t try to include the disciples in everything he was doing. Jesus told them what would happen and the group was terrified. They ran away and watched him die on the cross from a distance.
The problem between Jesus and the disciples was the same problem God had with Adam and Eve. God gave humans the freedom to choose what they would do, even if the decisions were bad. Isn’t this how most parents raise their children? We can love them beyond reason, we can instruct and guide them, but they grow away from us and make their own decisions. Maybe our influence helps, sometimes it seems controlling, but the love is always there. Regardless of bad behavior, unconditional love never ends.
God had this wonderful plan that God and the people would live forever in the Garden of Eden. It was perfect! Shouldn’t an unconditional love hold you fast to the one who loves you? It doesn’t. Adam and Eve made a different decision. They had the will to choose to follow God or to unfollow God. This decision is our choice between heaven, which is our experience in God’s presence, or hell, the experience we have when rejecting God’s presence. There’s more than enough hell on earth going on; we need to set our sights higher than the gutter and street level.
God calls us to a higher level of thinking, past self centeredness and selfishness. We need to not only think well of other people, but we are called to help them when they need help. Our example was Jesus-he washed his disciples feet last night. He showed what it is to serve and to be a servant. But everybody wants to be the boss. You know how that goes.
So tonight, we hear the story of the suffering servant from Psalm 22 and the crucifixion story from John. Every year, we hear the same story, but from a different gospel. Not a lot changes, there’s a different detail here, a new detail there. But the story remains the same. Unfortunately, so do we.

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Unless we can make the connection between Jesus’ death on the cross with God’s plan for salvation, we’re missing the whole story of God’s love in Christ.
In the Old Testament, God made one covenant after another, to cover the ever growing number of sins with which God’s people offended God. Sin, repent, return-sin, repent, return-it was the same pattern for 5000 years.
In the time between the Old Testament and the New Testament, God was silent. For 400 years, God said nothing. What’s the point in talking when no one is listening? The time passed, the roar subsided, the people returned to God-older, wiser and scarred with experience.
As we look beyond crucifixion today, hoping against hope, we remember just how silent it became on that hill. Once the crowds were gone, three crosses, some soldiers and disciples remained. The show appeared to be over and everyone went home. But the ground around Jerusalem shook with an earthquake. The seamless temple curtain was torn in half from top to bottom. When Jesus said the words, It is finished, God stepped into our world through that curtain and took the world in God’s hands, to love them back to life again. Amen.

Rev. Dawn Richie

Sermon- 3.20.16

We humans were created to be in relationship with other people. When the Bible says we are made in God’s image and a little lower than the angels, it shows our value to God. This is a truth we believe, because we can back it up with scripture. God also gives us a few simple rules to live at peace with the people we meet and stay in relationship with God. Through the prophet Micah, God says be fair, be kind and to walk humbly with God.
God walks with us-side by side. This is how teaching happens and how conversations occur. God does not sail ahead or lag behind, but walks with us, yes, even when we’re in the bathroom or the casino or in an alcoholic or a narcotics anonymous meeting. God saw it all long before we were born.
God walks with us in jails and prisons, teaching, listening, encouraging toward God’s wholeness and mutual relationship. When we’re too weak to stand on our own, we’re held in the strength of God’s love for God’s people. We are held, mended, healed by the only One who can mend our broken hearts. God picks up splintered lives and puts us together again.
Our side by side walk with God doesn’t change. We invite our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren into the same side by side walk with God as we’re walking. We know it’s important and valuable, but we can’t always explain why. There are some things you feel inside that can’t be explained in words. Sometimes you are able to show those in actions, the very actions that God encourages-fairness, kindness and humility, learned at the side of the Master Teacher, who heals and saves.
While we meet our always humble Jesus in the gospel lesson today, no one is fair or kind to him. This says a lot, because he’s brought before church officials and government officials for his trial.
The meal he shared when he empowered his disciples is over-the Garden prayers asking God’s strength are over. Judas lied to his face and the disciples evaporated into the shadows. Jesus has been beaten, blindfolded and ridiculed as a common criminal. But worse than that, the future prophecy he gives them is mocked and ridiculed. Are you the Son of God, they ask. You say that I Am, Jesus replies. What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!
The accusations continue before Pilate-This man has perverted our nation, forbidden us to pay taxes, claims that he is a king! He stirs up the people with his teachings! Pilate sends Jesus to Herod, who sends him back to Pilate, who tries to have Jesus freed. But given the choice between freeing Jesus or Barabbas, the crowd chooses Barabbas. Pilate hands Jesus back to the people and they take him out to be crucified.
If you walk the journey of the cross that Jesus walked, you’ll be walking the Jerusalem marketplace. The shops are inside, with a narrow channel of alleys connecting them and leading out of the city. High on the walls in Roman numbers, you can find the stations of the cross-each of the places where Jesus stumbled, rested, stopped or was helped by people-each of the places where relationship allowed him a rest and a moments connection with God, who walks with each of us.
Finally, on a hill, Jesus was raised up on a cross, between the crosses of two criminals. Now, if history had its way, they would call this a God forsaken place to be. But history’s vision is limited to only looking backward. Only God’s people understand God’s forward vision to the future, knowing Jesus taught us how to live in God’s peace on earth, as well as pointing us to the eternity waiting in heaven.
Roman crucifixion warned troublemakers-crosses with bodies lined the road leading to Jerusalem. It was the ultimate humiliation, to hang naked on a cross, arms nailed out, legs nailed down, impossible to breathe. If family didn’t take the bodies, the birds did. Three men, all condemned to death, hung on crosses in this way, waiting to die.
Jesus’ closeness affected both of the men. One man ridiculed Jesus-prove you’re the Savior and get us all down from here. But the other man asked, Don’t you fear God? We’ve been properly condemned and punished. But this man has done nothing wrong. When he begs, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom, Jesus gives the comforting response. Truly, today you will be with me in Paradise.
While Jesus and the criminals hung on the cross, one man made his peace with God, while the other ridiculed Jesus with his dying breath. All three men came to the end of human life and died-it was finished, although it was finished in different ways.
The soldiers at the foot of the cross were silent witnesses. The angry crowd who demanded crucifixion were silent witnesses. The friends and families were silent witnesses to the suffering and death of three men on a cross. Only God Almighty, abba, father, broken hearted, covenant making God knew that the only thing that was finished-was death. There would be resurrection. Amen.

Rev. Dawn Richie

Sermon- Sun. 3.13.16

Many of us are affected by our senses (seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, to name a few) and the memories they bring back to us. I learned that smells can take me back in time. If I smell Walmart’s fresh bread baking and their rotisserie chickens roasting, I want to buy them. Food smells remind me of comfort foods. I’ve learned to shop later in the day.
There are other smells that connect to memory. I learned, while driving the Turnpike to Philadelphia, not to leave the car vent open between the Quakertown and Lansdale exits. There are miles and miles of chicken farms there and they spread the manure on the fields. After closing the car vent and wiping my eyes, I drove for fifteen miles until that smell disappeared.
Last week brought a new memory to me. Driving home from Ohio, I found dairy farms along Route 80, before you get to Williamsport. Those farmers spread cow manure on the fields. I grew up cleaning stables on a dairy farm, so it wasn’t so offensive. To me, it smelled like spring was here.
Our senses often connect with memories we’ve had in the past. From time to time, I smell the soft musk perfume my grandmother wore and it reminds me of Nanny, who died years ago. Or I’ll notice the mingled smell of dirt, sweat and fresh air-a reminder of my childhood, my own children’s past and the fact that spring is coming again.
Stories are always tied to our memories. Today, I want to take you away from thinking of the past and the present and take you into the vision of the future God shows to God’s people. We people of God, God’s creation, need to start living there on a permanent basis and we can do that when reading the words that God spoke through the prophet in the first lesson.
The prophets give us the beginning and middle of stories, but then they point us to what is the ending for us humans-to the place of freedom, hope and love that God always offers. While our lives end, God is eternal. God is always making all things new and keeps telling us to look ahead and see the plans God has for us. There is so much more to come!
God’s new plan today in the book of Isaiah reminds us of God’s agreement with God’s people in the past. Their religious heritage, called the festival of Passover, was freedom that God gave them. This was when God lead them out of slavery in Egypt, through the Red Sea, with Moses leading them. Their past years in slavery are remembered each year, as the story is passed from generation to generation. The story is shared to remember how God heard their cries, cared for them and set them free. As God speaks in this first lesson, they aren’t free. God’s plan will set them free again.
Using the familiar story of the journey through the Red Sea and across the desert wilderness, God tells the people that once again, God will make this miracle happen. They will be set free and will travel in safety across the desert, protected, because God has not forgotten them.
Can you not see, do you not perceive it, the prophet asks. Do not remember the past, look to the future, to the new thing I am doing. If God has provided in the past, don’t you think God will keep the promises made to us for the future? We can ask ourselves the same question. Do we trust that God keeps and cares for us today? Or have we abandoned the hope God has given us and try to live our lives apart from God?
Our gospel lesson takes us to the simple home of Jesus’ friends- Mary, Martha and Lazarus-and to the dinner party that Jesus attends with his disciples. Jesus is the guest of honor because he raised Lazarus from the dead just a few days earlier and his friends want to thank him. They’ve been friends for a long time and they believe he is the son of God, not because they saw him raise Lazarus from the dead, but because they’re friends-they know each other very, very well. And while they don’t like what Jesus has said will happen soon, as friends, they honor and support him.
This home in Bethany holds many memories of their times together; the smells of cooking are a result of the dinner they share at this moment. But the smells and memory of death are still with them; Lazarus was in the tomb four days before Jesus raised him.
This is no simple dinner party here; it’s a heartbreaking memory of the past and a hope against all hope for a future. As they come together, Mary uses an expensive jar of perfume to wash Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair. The memories within these walls are mixed with the perfume fragrance and it’s a sacred moment, when time stands still.
No words need to be spoken, because everyone understands what’s happening. This perfume is used to anoint bodies for burial, after the person had died. But in a moment of love, intimacy and extravagance, Mary pours it on Jesus now, as a seal upon the relationship they’ve shared. Even at his death, just days away, Mary will be faithful. She will continue the work that Jesus began.
All of the disciples have seen the miracles that Jesus can do, but they also know Jesus’ plans for the future. They know he’ll go to Jerusalem, where he will face beating, crucifixion and death. Now, Jesus is with them as they share this meal together. As all of these memories swirl in their minds, the smell of the perfume lifts their spirits. No words are necessary.
But you know how it is, in these special moments, sacred, holy and united with God, someone has to speak. Someone always has to say something or needs to bring attention to their own importance. Judas, the treasurer, breaks in to complain about the waste. Judas can only see as far as his own greed and this perfume would have put some money in his pocket. But Jesus stops him with the reminder that this anointing is for his burial. This anointing is Mary’s goodbye to her best friend. It’s a sign of her devotion and her discipleship. Mary will carry on the work that Jesus began. Judas will die as the cheater he has chosen to be.
It’s difficult to tell this story of Jesus, to stress how important the events of the coming weeks will be. If we are the disciples we claim to be, we are called to follow Jesus’ example-he came to show us what God is like. He came to remind us that we are beloved people of God, called into action for the sake of Christ.
While we are the hands of Jesus, our hands will never bear Jesus’ scars. While we can show the heart of God’s love, we will never know God’s heartbreak at loving a creation that does not love back. We have the privilege of a special, precious memory. That memory is that God’s words of love are written on our hearts, we are empowered through the Holy Spirit and we are marked with the cross of Christ forever. Amen.

Rev. Dawn Richie