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- 5.15.16

The coming of God’s Holy Spirit-May 15 sermon- Sometimes it’s hard to find the truth. There are so many ideas and thoughts and opinions in the world that it’s hard to sort out what’s valuable and what can be thrown away. We don’t want to make a quick decision and then find out that we’re wrong. We always want to act with discernment and integrity and not jump on the first bandwagon coming through town. As a church, we don’t only speak for what we believe as individuals. We also represent Jesus and the love he brought.
Jesus’ first words to the disciples in the gospel lesson are, Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not let them be afraid, believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places-I go there to prepare a place for you. I will come and take you there, so we can be together. You know the way to the place where I am going because I am the way, the truth and the life. And soon, I will go to be with God the Father.
When Philip demands to see the Father, Jesus explains that they’ve already seen the Father because they’ve seen Jesus. They will do greater works than Jesus has done because the Father is sending in ground support for the disciples. Although Jesus is leaving, God’s sending the Holy Spirit, as their support and advocate in their ministry in Jesus’ name. If you think Jesus did amazing ministry, wait until the Spirit shows up-this is the spirit of truth, of peace who will live in you forever.
Now this sounds like an amazing and wonderful thing, but there’s something you need to know. The Spirit, like Jesus, can only be felt and experienced by people who believe that Jesus is the son of God.
Jesus explains this whole idea pretty clearly. This Spirit helper and advocate can only be seen and experienced by people who believe in God. The world can’t see it because they don’t believe. They can’t experience it because they don’t know it. It’s the same story we had at Jesus’ birth. If people didn’t believe in God, then the starry night when Jesus was born was another night with special planets shining brightly. They may have seen the light show, but they missed the point.
If they didn’t believe that Jesus was the son of God who could be raised from the dead, then Jesus appeared to be another victim on a Roman cross. Only the people who believed in Jesus knew that God raised him from the dead. They knew because he wasn’t in the tomb in which he was placed; God had raised him as Jesus had promised.
The resurrected Jesus first appeared to the friends and disciples to retell them the story, to fill in the blanks, to instill in them a greater peace and faith that would bring them to this miraculous, wonderful Pentecost day. Jesus gave them everything they needed. And today, their ministry began in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit blows them out of their house and into the streets with Jesus’ message that God loves and wants to save all people. Their experience is so powerful that they want the world to experience it, too.
What does a church look like or act like when it’s empowered by the Spirit? We had our own taste of it a few weeks ago at the anniversary service. The old and new, the past and future, the members and the saints all gathered for worship, using old and new language. The blend of structured liturgy and singing was an expression of the Spirit. I think that’s what the disciples are feeling today as the Spirit bursts into the room, fills them full and blows them out into the streets to preach and prophecy God’s old message in God’s new way.
Today’s story takes place on a big festival day in Jerusalem and everybody’s in town for the celebration. A few times a year, on high holy days, religious people come to the temple; you’ll find foreigners there all the time as they come to the Jerusalem marketplace. It’s like trying to drive on Highland Park Blvd on Christmas Eve. Everybody’s there, shopping for the holidays.
If you’ve ever seen someone preaching on the street corner, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what these disciples look like to the people in the street. These guys were from Galilee; they were fishermen. They weren’t rabbis or teachers or Pharisees or Sadducees. They had no standing at all in the temple, but here they were in everyday clothes preaching and prophesying, connecting Joel’s Old Testament scripture with the story of the risen Jesus Christ, son of God. They were speaking the language of every nation; every person knew what they said.
This is a pivotal moment for the disciple Peter, because in most of our stories of Jesus and the disciples, it’s Peter who jumps in without thinking about his words. Today as the disciples are preaching, some people ignore the message and claim the disciples are drunk. This is the growing moment, when the disciple Peter becomes the church father Peter. Standing with the others, he brushes off this comment with the command-Listen to what I say! These words were spoken by the prophet Joel and they are happening in your hearing today. God’s promise is coming true.

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“In the last days, I will pour my spirit upon all flesh. Your sons and daughters will prophecy; your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams. My spirit will be poured on both male and female slaves and they will prophecy.
I will show portents in the heavens and signs on the earth; blood and fire and smoky mist. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of God’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Wow! If these Galilean nobodies can preach like this in the spirit’s power, just imagine how that power would affect us. In a world that can’t stay quiet, imagine the power of words that can speak directly to the heart, life and experience of every person present.
Peter points the people in the direction that he wants them to go and then he shows them a vision of the future. He talks about the last days and explains that God’s presence and power are with God’s people. It’s their turn to use that power of prophecy in their own towns and villages, to take Peter’s spirit filled message home and to preach it because it’s deeply touched their own heart.
Times and circumstances change. Slaves no longer belong to masters; they’re slaves to God who claims and gives them the gift of prophecy. Barriers torn down, God’s message is taken to the streets.
Most important of all, the message of the spirit creates the birth of the church. The message goes out to all people, who carry it into the world. It’s the message of peace and the spirit of truth that comes from God-it shows that God is active and intervening in our world. It shows that God’s activity and God’s prophecy do not wait for us in the far off future. The Spirit comes to us in all times, all circumstances. It is the Spirit of truth and love of God. It is the gift of salvation for everyone who hears and comes to believe. Amen.

Rev. Dawn Richie

Holy Thursday Sermon- 3.24.16

3.24.16-Holy Thursday sermon-Jesus shares one last meal with his disciples-So when Jesus shared the Last Supper with you tonight. How close were you standing to Jesus?
Some disciples, who had been following John the Baptist, were standing close enough to Jesus at his baptism to change direction. Maybe it was the dove descending from heaven-maybe it was Jesus himself-maybe they actually heard the rumble of thunder as the voice of God pronouncing God’s pleasure with Jesus’ actions. You must listen and be prepared to hear God’s quiet voice. It will point you in the direction you should go.
While some of Jesus’ disciples had followed John, Jesus went to the seaside to call some of his own. Were you standing close enough to hear the conversation between him and the fishermen-the call to follow, the promise that they’d now be fishing for people? In overhearing these words, did you want to drop your nets and follow, too? What stopped you from following? Why are you waiting along the sidelines?
While Jesus and twelve disciples traveled throughout Galilee and into Judea as far as Jerusalem, the crowds followed, went home, followed and went home. While they crushed in around Jesus to hear what he was saying, they also came looking for what he could give them. Healing, acceptance, bread, fish-Jesus even promised them living water, but they didn’t understand.
Everybody came for something. Some came for the superficial and turned to run home when the going got tough or they felt threatened or they were asked to join Jesus’ disciples. But the word disciples comes from the word discipline, which means a routine and a commitment of time. This teaching is too hard, they grumbled, turned around and went home.
When Jesus turned to look back, the crowds had disappeared and once again, he was left with only twelve following him. Will you go away also, Jesus asked. But Peter came up with the answer Jesus was looking for. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe you are the Holy One of Israel.” And in all honesty, this is what the disciples believed, although they had a terrible time acting as though they believed it.
Where were you sitting at the table during the supper, crowded in around Jesus or lounging along the outside edges? Were you sitting close enough that you were the first stunned disciple to see Jesus start washing your feet? Did you pull away or did you watch quietly?
I think when it comes to Jesus it’s better to watch and listen to him explain why he’s doing something than to put up a big protest. Sometimes our mouths make promises we can’t keep. And other times, our ignorance separates us from the God who loves us more than anyone ever could.
Were you sitting close enough to see Jesus hand Judas the bread of betrayal? Before Jesus said it, did you have any idea what Judas had been doing behind your back? Or did you just keep your mouth shut and watch what had been happening, thinking it was none of your business.The_Last_Supper_(1886),_by_Fritz_von_Uhde
If you have been sitting on the sidelines, watching what’s been going on, maybe it’s time you realize that the story I’m telling you is a timeless story for the past, present and future. The question remains; how close are you standing to Jesus?
Jesus offered the laying on of hands for healing and forgiveness like we offered tonight. You can’t be healed unless you are also forgiven; when this happens, God heals all the broken pieces and makes us whole again. It’s why baptism is for the forgiveness of sins. Sometimes, we receive forgiveness from other people. Sometimes, this means being able to forgive yourself. Either way, it’s important.
In a while, we’ll celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion, remembering the smells of food and wine that lingered at the last supper in the upper room. Every disciple, including Judas, ate bread at Jesus’ table. Every disciple had his feet washed by their rabbi, their teacher and master. This should have been a symbol of unity between them as Jesus lead them into Jerusalem, but shortly after the whole group starts to unravel. As much as they want to stay, they’re afraid of what’s coming next. Judas stood up and left, the first of the disciples to turn away and leave Jesus this night. Later, Peter would deny Jesus and they would scatter, running for their lives in fear and terror. In the end, the only man to enter Jerusalem would be Jesus, goaded on by soldiers, pushed by the crowds demanding his life. In the end, only Jesus would hang on a cross. And in spite of this seemingly sorrowful end of life, it was the only way that new, eternal, kingdom life could begin.
So how close are you to Jesus today? Are you standing in the shadow of the Holy Spirit at his baptism? Are you resting against him as you share one last meal around the common table? Are you letting him wash your feet when everything in you is saying you should be washing his instead? Are you standing in solidarity, at the foot of his cross so he doesn’t die alone? Are you standing close enough to understand and feel the cost salvation? Amen.

Rev. Dawn Richie