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

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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. 3.6.16

I’ve had four opportunities to travel to Europe and the Middle East and let me tell you, each of my journeys showed me a world you don’t find here in Weatherly. When you travel to a foreign country, you have a chance to enjoy and to experience a culture by being fully immersed in it. You hear the language, you meet the people, you experience the surroundings.
I remember visiting Dresden in Germany and Galilee in Israel and thinking all of this is so old. Galilee is the same Galilee from Jesus’ time and in Dresden, we find the mother church with the statue of Martin Luther standing in front of it. When you visit these places on vacation or on tour, time stands still. We are held in the stillness of God’s time, as our experiences wash over us and change us forever.
Although these experiences are typically called vacation, they are little windows into the realm of God’s world. I believe God helps hold us still, in quiet, so we can experience God in each of these places. Whether I was visiting churches in Greece or mosques in Bahrain and Turkey, it’s clear that we have found special ways to worship God within our own religious parameters. This is important, because we are all people of the Bible. All of our religions got their start there and God’s protection for God’s people started with Abram, who became Abraham, who was the father of both Ishmael and Isaac. God doesn’t love us because we’ve found the perfect way to honor or love or worship God. God’s love, mercy and forgiveness happens because God the Creator cares for, loves and nurtures the creatures that God made. God is the perfect parent, who loves perfectly, lavishly, even recklessly. And that brings us to our gospel lesson today.
This story of the prodigal son is a favorite story, a very familiar story, but maybe for the wrong reasons. I thought a prodigal son was a repentant son, a foolish son who saw the error of his ways. Doesn’t it make sense to think that in Lent a son would see his foolish ways and come back to his father to ask for forgiveness? We keep hearing, Return to the Lord, repent, change your ways. But prodigal is not about repentance. The word prodigal means wasteful, reckless, out of control with no thoughts for the future. It’s not just spending lavishly, it’s about giving as lavishly. The prodigal bug has bitten every member of the family-young son, older son, even the father.
Now, most of the time, we take a superficial look at the characters in Jesus’ story, the arguments between them and then we get down to the real point that Jesus is making. It’s Jesus who is the Savior and Messiah. Today’s lesson tells the true nature of God, who eats with tax collectors and sinners.
The lesson shows how God interacts with the creation God loves. It’s an unusual story for us, but it’s typical of God. Maybe this story is here in the middle of Lent, just before the cross and crucifixion, to help us better understand, worship and love the God who so loved the world.
Let’s start with the youngest son, the baby in this prodigal story. Life is good, but life might be better somewhere else-in another country or another culture. This guy is all about himself-self serving, self absorbed, just plain selfish. If he honored his father, like a good Jewish boy should do, he’d wait for his small share of the inheritance and bide his time working in the family business. But he wants his money-now. He wants his share-now. And his foolish father agrees, cashing in stocks and bonds, taking a hit in this market. He gives the kid his money and off he goes. He’s cut himself off from his family forever through his disrespect for his father. He is as good as dead to his family and may never be seen again.
While the younger boy is out spending his money, the older son is home, running the family business like a good son should do. With his brother as good as dead, this will all be his someday. It’s a good investment of time, to work hard. Just build up the business, work the farm and property dreaming of one day running the whole business the way he wants to run it. But that will be after he’s buried his father; for now, he follows Dad’s advice.
Off in another land, the younger son has had his fun and his money’s run out. His friends have disappeared and he’s alone and hungry, but he’s too proud to beg, so he takes a job. No good Jewish boy would ever take this job, but right now, his need and his hunger override his religious views. He’s living in a pig barn, taking care of pigs, eating the pods that the pigs eat.
Now that the party’s over, he’s got a lot of time to think. This is a miserable way to live. No one should have to live this way. Even my father’s slaves are living better than me, eating better than me. This is no way for a Jewish man to live. Wow-suddenly he’s stopped thinking of himself and he’s thinking about his faith, his father, his religion? Or is he thinking about his homelessness, his hunger and his fear? Could he be thinking about both?
He makes a plan to go home, to ask his father’s forgiveness and to live as one of the hired hands. It’s a big step down from beloved son to hired slave. But it’s a big step up from disobedience to obedient, from sin to salvation, from lost to found. Even while the son rehearses his speech, his father sees him coming in the distance, his heart rejoices that his son is not dead, but alive and he rushes to greet him, to hug him and pull him back into the family again. He’s not dead, he’s alive. It’s party time! Pulling out all the stops, the slaves prepare a banquet, the father throws a big party and greets his son like the royalty that God sees in all of us. Think about that line-the father greets his son like the royalty God sees in all of us.
Now the older son comes from the field, sees the party and is furious when he hears who the party is for. This son has his own selfishness going on and throws a tantrum for his father. I’ve worked like a slave, I’ve never disobeyed, I’ve never been given. Stop, his father says, what’s mine is yours. You’ve always been with me and you’ve never been lost-until now? The question is will one child leave God’s side simply because God loves another child just as well? We have a very big God with lots and lots of children and a reckless way of loving and forgiving, even before the words are spoken. Jesus asks the religious leaders, Can you live with that?
Has there ever been a time when you’ve really been lost to God-when you feel cut off or abandoned or forgotten? Has there been a time when God has reminded you- it’s been awhile. Let’s talk-we’ve got a lot to talk about.
I believe we can rest in the same assurance as the apostle Paul, who reminds us in Romans 8; We are more than conquerors through Christ who loves us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor power, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. That’s the good news, that’s the gospel. Amen.

Rev. Dawn Richie

Sermon- Sun. 2.28.16

There’s an old saying called Murphy’s Law and it goes like this. 1-Nothing is as easy as it looks. 2-Everything takes longer than expected. 3-If anything can go wrong, it will, at the worst possible time. That is Murphy’s Law. Unfortunately, it’s the way many people look at the world-they only see the bad things and blame them for ruining their lives.
Negativity is a real problem. I can tell you about it because I spent twenty years of my life thinking this way. Negative thinking lets you sit in your sorrows for 24 hours at a time, for as long as you want to sit there. Nothing changes, nothing gets better and you’re always the victim in every case. It’s easy to blame the world for making life so hard for you.
Isn’t that interesting? You remain a victim of circumstances-there is never enough of anything and you’re suffering. You are stuck there until the day you realize-the only person holding you back is you.
The only way out of this lifestyle is to take charge of your life and change your view. You need to look beyond the very simple lesson of Murphy’s Law and decide what path you’re going to take to move yourself in any direction. Because negative thinking doesn’t move you anywhere-you remain in exactly the same place as you started out. Only your ability to look beyond this moment will move you toward your own future. And that’s what we find in the first lesson from Isaiah, as God’s promises are made to God’s children.
If there was ever a group of people who experienced Murphy’s Law, it was the people of God in this first lesson. There was plenty of warning by the prophets, that God would pass judgment if the people didn’t start obeying God and caring for each other. In a land of social injustice, the people turned away from God and made deals and treaties with neighbors-yes, even in Bible times there were politics and people seeking power and wealth. As the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us, there is nothing new under the sun. It’s all been done before. But we know the outcome; as dark as it seems, God wins at the end.
In today’s lesson, God’s people get a reprieve as Isaiah paints a rosy picture of hope after years of exile.
Isaiah extends an invitation to this wonderful, free and lavish banquet that everyone is invited to attend. God pronounces forgiveness through the everlasting covenant made with David and tells the people to come in. God tells the people listen carefully and choose carefully, seek the Lord and call on him, returning to the Lord who is merciful.
Through the season of Lent, we hear a lot about returning to the Lord, who is merciful. In returning to the Lord, we talk about relationships between people and God and between people and people. The ultimate relationship on Good Friday will be the relationship that aligns Jesus’ will with God’s will. God gives Jesus the strength to endure crucifixion and death, then raises him from death, so we can live with him in eternity, under God’s care.
If you want the bottom line on salvation, it’s about believing and trusting that God really does love us and Jesus did die and rise, so we could have life together. This life together starts here on earth where we care for God and for other people-it’s all about relationship.
This is what Isaiah promises the people, as they return from exile. While God’s covenant of everlasting care for David’s descendants might have been bent, it was not broken. God pointed them to God’s hope and future promises in the visions Isaiah shared.
People have always had some odd ideas on why bad things happen in the world- your viewpoint has everything to do with what you believe. It’s a matter of religious preference or not. Some people believe everything happens for a reason or what goes around comes around. It might make us feel better to have an answer, but remember, our human minds can only come up with human answers. God’s mind will explain the mysteries of the universe one day when we see God face to face. But for now, we’re left with questions.
The people in the gospel lesson had serious questions. Some people were killed while making their offering at the temple. Wouldn’t you think that people would be safe in the temple? If they were there to worship, shouldn’t God protect them? If God didn’t protect them, then what did they do wrong? Were they immoral people or didn’t their sacrifice please God? Did God kill them or did Herod? We are left with a lot of unanswered questions.
Jesus tells them to repent, to turn from selfish ways and turn back to God’s ways-we know what they are. He explains that life and death are uncertain and nothing is guaranteed. We could die today or tomorrow. We could die as Christians or pagans. We could die in a church, in the middle of saying our prayers, or in a high rise office, swindling people out of their life savings. There are no guarantees or security when it comes to life and death.
So Jesus says, If we want to secure our future, it’s in following the way that God leads us. It’s about our relationship with God and our care for people besides ourselves. Remember when the Bible said if you don’t judge people, you won’t be judged? Think about that. If you’re busy judging or talking about other people, you bring God’s judgment on yourself. But if you’re busy serving people, you’re bringing God’s justice to the world and there’s no judgment necessary where justice lives.
Jesus says that the death of people in the temple is just as tragic as the people who died at work, building a tower. Bad things happen. Good people suffer. People live and people die and we celebrate life and mourn death. There is so much more to life than the three simple rules in Murphy’s Law-so very much more.
The great commandment Jesus will leave with us is to love other people as much as we love ourselves-this is the bottom line. We are wise enough to know that life doesn’t go on forever and whether people are good or bad, people die. Our security is in Jesus, whose life, death and resurrection bridges the gap between our limited life and God’s eternal love. Amen.

Rev. Dawn Richie

Sermon- Sun. 2.21.16

If we are to be called the church that follows Jesus Christ, we need to be a community of love and belonging. I borrowed these words from Caroline Lewis, a professor at Luther Seminary. As we look at today’s lessons, we can see the longing and desire to belong to someone or something greater than we can ever be.
We will also see the longing to be loved as much as we love, but this love isn’t returned. By looking into the stories, we see how relationship and faith grow in our lives. We learn why the church needs to be a community of love and belonging as we grow in faith as part of it.
In the Old Testament, the very first Bible book, Genesis is the ancient story of the ancestors and their new and changing relationship with God. In the lesson today, poor old Abram is about to begin his relationship with God. Before this time, God spoke and Abram listened. But now Abram has questions to ask and this relationship between them will change.
Years before, God promised Abram both land and family, but now Abram’s wondering when God’s promises for land and family will be given to him. As it is now, he’ll die without an inheritance to give and without a son to give it to. Abram has questions and God gives Abram visions into the future, so Abram can see what God can see.
Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward will be great, God announces as Abram is drawn into God’s vision. It’s the desert sky, in the dark of night, ablaze with brilliant, glittery stars. Count them if you can, God says. Your descendants will span many generations.
I am the Lord, who brought you from the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess. But how can I take this land, Abram asks, people are already living here? God tells Abram to prepare a sacrifice and when Abram falls into a deep sleep, God comes to it and approves the sacrifice, making a covenant with Abram. I give this land to your descendants from the river of Egypt to the great river Euphrates. It was a lot of land and the land had many different rulers, as kings and kingdoms came and went. But through it all, God continued to be faithful to the people called precious and beloved.
The writer of Psalm 27 writes centuries later, in the same land, but with a different experience with God. God made several covenants with the people, as their relationship deepens and grows stronger. These people know that they are loved by God and they love in return-sometimes. The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Living in the land God gave them, being ruled by the king God has chosen, the people live in a time of peace and safety. But we know from the stories of the Bible and our own lives, that life is always moving and changing.
We are forced to change with the changes and they don’t always seem like good changes. Yet, it’s amazing, because God has the power to work through whatever or whomever happens to be in power, to bring about God’s kingdom. If we read through the next 15 books of the major and minor prophets who spoke for God, we would see how God continues to be faithful to God’s people, even when the judges, priests and kings were not.
In the gospel lesson, which is supposed to be the good news, we read some not very good news. Earlier in Luke’s gospel, Jesus predicted his impending death by crucifixion-but the disciples didn’t believe him. On the mountain of transfiguration, Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah and received the mission that he would soon accomplish. Turning toward Jerusalem, which would be the final showdown, Jesus began the journey he had to make.
Throughout the gospel, Jesus’ work of teaching, healing and saving people continues. He meets people wherever they are; he meets the demon possessed in the graveyard among the tombstones, he meets people with the skin disease leprosy in the garbage pit outside of the city where they were sent to live, he meets the widows, the orphans and the beggars on the roads that lead from one village to the next. If there was ever the need for a community of loving and belonging, it was here. And here is where Jesus Christ ministered to all people, bringing the healing and health and the salvation that God had promised long ago.
Jesus goes about his work, very much aware that time is running out. Today, he’s warned by the Pharisees that King Herod is looking for him. This same Herod who beheaded John the Baptist is now looking for Jesus, but Jesus brushes off their words. Remember, this is a battle of wills here and Jesus assures us that God’s will WILL be done, no matter how difficult, frightening and impossible it may seem. If Jesus could defeat the devil’s temptation in the wilderness, Jesus will handle what comes next. While facing sure and certain death, don’t forget the hope, love and promise of resurrection. It belongs here.
In the middle of all of this, the pressure of time working against him, Jesus looks back on the Jerusalem he sees and it’s not a good sight. Jesus sees a city that kills the prophets and apostles sent with God’s word-a clear reflection on Herod, who now wants Jesus’ life, because killing John the Baptist didn’t solve his religious problems.
But there’s a quiet moment here, when Jesus dreams of the Jerusalem that he would have them be. While the foxy Herod tries to kill Jesus, God would gather the Holy City into arms of security and forgiveness. Jesus would pull them together under the canopy of a hen’s wings, which are soft enough to protect, yet wide, powerful and strong enough to resist what could kill. With this protection, God would hold the city as the holy city it had once been and could be again. But Jerusalem has a different idea; it does not want to be gathered into God’s arms or Jesus’ salvation. It wants to be left to it’s own destruction. And so it is.
Jesus ends his lament with the resignation many parents feel when they see their children heading in a direction that isn’t good for them. Being a community of love and belonging sometimes means standing by, until the lost have found their way back to the wholeness that the community offers. Sometimes loving means letting go, in the hopes that there will be a change of heart and a happy return. But at this moment of resignation, Jesus warns, See, your house is left to you. You will not see me again until the time when you say, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.  Amen.

Rev. Dawn Richie