A Tribute to Fathers
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
June 19, 2022
TEXT: Matthew 7: 8-11
8 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asked for bread, would give a stone? 10 Or if the child asked for a fish, would give a snake? 11 If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
On this Father’s Day we’ll take the opportunity to think about fathers and about the ways our earthly fathers interact with us and can teach us many important and vital lessons. And as we do so we’ll see how those very same lessons are echoes of our Heavenly Father’s nature as well.
Today’s lessons are the result of online searching about some agreed upon top fatherly characteristics. As we examine them, every one of the important characteristics of a good father has a faith lesson tucked in there as well. As we proceed through the list, I invite you to think about fathers you know, your own father, and also if you happen to be a father or grandfather, how you compare with this list of godly traits. As we proceed feel free to fill in the “complete the blanks” a the bottom of your bulletin.
Trait Number One: a good father is a disciplinarian. A good father loves his children but doesn’t let them misbehave. He strongly disapproves of his children’s misdeeds and uses the power of well chosen words to correct his children not harm them. St. Paul warns: “Fathers do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” [Ephesians 5:4]
Throughout the Bible we see God calling his people to obedience and holding them accountable for their actions and deeds or lack thereof. All of the prophets reminded the people of God of their shortcomings and the resultant removal of divine favor that would occur as a result of poor choices and disobedience.
None of the Israelites who escaped from Egypt with Moses were permitted to enter the promised land because of their many acts of disobedience on the journey. Only those born during the forty year sojourn in the wilderness were allowed to enter. Even Moses himself could not enter the promised land but only gaze at it from a distance. A good father is a disciplinarian. We learn from our fathers that our actions have consequences.
Trait two: a good father understands that his children will make some mistakes because that is part of growing up but allows them necessary freedom. Young people often are found wasting money on frivolous things; partying; getting into minor car accidents; dating folks their parents don’t approve of; you name it. A good father makes it clear that irresponsibility won’t be tolerated. He wants his children to be the best they can be so they grow up into responsible adults. However, that does mean giving them some liberty to resolve situations on their own or with some help from him.
Central to our faith as Christians is realizing that even after we give our lives to Christ, we still have the freedom to make our own decisions. And there will be many times in our lives when we wish a decision would be easier to make or that God might tell us exactly what to do. It is not always so clear cut but we have guidelines to base those decisions upon. A good father allows and knows his children will make some mistakes. When we repent of our mistakes, God is forgiving and removes our sin from us as far as east is from west.
Trait Three: a good father exhibits open-mindedness. A good father knows that times are different today than when he was a child. Many things have changed. He recognizes that his children live in this day and age. One of the most remarkable things I’ve discovered is that the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ are truly timeless. The admonition to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself holds up as well in 100 AD as in 2022 AD. As always, Jesus calls us to apply the touchstones of our faith to any modern situation we encounter–is it loving, does it respect people, does it model a lifestyle that points to God, does it bear witness to God’s love for the world, does it promote justice for all people? If you can answer “yes” to these questions, you have embraced the changes that come with our modern world.
Trait Four: a good father teaches his children to appreciate things. To not take anything for granted! The meals on the table, education, clean water to drink, a place to live, an education. A good father is not a human ATM. He teaches his children the value of money and the value of earning it themselves.
A basic tenant of our faith is that everything we have is a gift, a blessing from God and we are merely stewards or keepers of what we have in trust for God. If you are a generous adult, most likely you had generous parents! God our father is the most generous giver of all. “For God so loved the world he gave his only son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.” [John 3: 16]
Trait Five: a good father spends quality time with his children. He takes time to go to their school activities and sports, he makes time to help with their homework, he is always available to listen. Likewise, our Heavenly Father never slumbers or sleeps but watches over us 24/7. We can fly to the farthest country, descend into the ocean depths, walk on the surface of the moon, and never be beyond God’s love and care. God is always nearby and involved in the daily events of our lives no matter where we are or what we are doing. God cares about us.
Trait Six: a good father leads by example. He lives out the values he wishes is children to follow. Our Lord Jesus Christ humbled himself and gave up all his heavenly rights as the son of God to come to be with us, to live among us, to suffer and die on the cross and finally to rise again from the dead so that we might have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. He showed us how to live in a self-sacrificial way as servant leaders, willing even to kneel and wash the feet of his friends as he did at the last supper.
Trait Seven: a good father challenges his children.
The challenge around the house could be helping with a task like taking out the trash, caring for a pet or mowing the lawn. Our challenge as Christians is to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in Christ’s name.” Pretty clear marching orders! A wonderful challenge for Christians for the past two thousand years. A father challenges his children. Our Heavenly Father challenges us to deeper discipleship.
The final trait, Number Eight: a good father shows unconditional love. A good father loves his children no matter what even if they have not attained what he has wished for them or have disappointed him in some other way. There is a special word for God’s unfailing, steadfast love for us throughout the Bible.. That word is hesed or steadfastness. It is an unconditional love that never lets us go; it is a love that surrounds us from cradle to grave and beyond; it is a love that restores us to the image in which we were created as children of God. We love because God first loved us.
As we end this morning, think about the traits that good earthly fathers embody: discipline, understanding, open-mindedness, appreciation of all things, spending quality time with their children, challenging them, loving them unconditionally! And while our earthly fathers may not measure upor fail or fall way short of these traits, our Heavenly Father is perfect and never lets us down.
This is the good news of today’s message. Even when our earthly fathers are wonderful, God who is perfect is even more wonderful. God has in store for every one of us a future with purpose and meaning, and forgiveness and healing for the times we have fallen short of our Heavenly Parent’s teachings. Let us pray.
Our Father, who art in heaven,we love and adore you. We thank you that every father here this morning can come to you for guidance and strength as he parents his own children and grandchildren. Lord, strengthen and guide fathers in your ways, make them wise and understanding, challenging, comforting, and loving throughout their lives. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
STANDING IN GOD’S GRACE
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
June 12, 2022
TEXT: Romans 5: 1-5
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
Today’s scripture is one of St. Paul’s most beautiful passages because it speaks to all the possibilities of standing in God’s grace. One comentator wrote: “[Paul] almost sings the intimate joy of his confidence in God.” [The Gospel of John, William Barclay, p. 84] When we think about this passage, truly stop and consider the promises therein, our hearts will be moved.
If you’ve ever found yourself standing on the wrong thing, you know how dangerous that can be. Standing on a dining room chair to change a light bulb instead of getting out the stepladder. Standing on a wet rock over looking crashing waves at Thunder Hole in Acadia in order to take a good selfie. Standing on an icy surface trying to get up your driveway. You know what I mean.
Today’s scripture promises that the only thing worth standing on is God’s grace. St. Paul hits the nail on the head when he highlights the benefits that “standing in God’s grace” makes possible. First of which is that we can “boast” of our afflictions because they lead to endurance. “Afflictions” can cover a multitude of things in our lives. Difficult situations, sad times, being unpopular, bullied, lonely or even persecuted.
This past Wednesday Caldwell held a ceremony dedicating the Pride Flag that the town now flies. A flag that signifies our town is open and welcoming to LGBTQ+ persons. Rabbi Ari Lucas and I both spoke. Another speaker at the ceremony was a young woman who grew up and attended school here as a child. She shared how she and fellow gay students were prevented from having a club for themselves and their allies. No amount of persuasion and visits to the school board could bring about a welcoming club for them at their school. In fact, they were ridiculed and laughed at.
We now know that this very type of nonacceptance by parents and other adults or by other students bullying actions result in the fact that LGBTQ+ youth are four times more likely to consider, plan and attempt suicide versus their peers. One LGBTQ+ youth attempts suicide every 45 seconds in the United States. [www.thetrevorproject.org] How thankful we can be that our congregation accepts persons of all genders and backgrounds for all are beloved children of God.
Another thing St. Paul would have us remember is that our afflictions can produce endurance. This endurance or fortitude is “the spirit that can overcome the world” and that “overcomes the trials and tribulations of life.” [The Gospel of John, William Barclay, p. 86]
And then Paul takes it further, this endurance can produce character. The Greek word for character here is dokine and it describes a metal that has been passed through a fire and all impurities melted out.
Afflictions can produce endurance and endurance produces character and finally Paul says that character produces hope! A chain reaction made in heaven! How do we obtain this hope? Paul writes that it is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. On this Trinity Sunday it is important to note that in these five short verses, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, all three, the Trinity, figure prominently.
The take away today quite simply is to be careful where you stand. Your accomplishments, your successes, your privileges mean nothing unless you are standing in God’s grace, maturing and developing as a child of God through every episode of your life from nursery school, through high school, through middle age and beyond.
When we stand in God’s grace we have firm footing and God supports us and accompanies us no matter where our paths may lead us. We need never be afraid or anxious because our hope is based in the grace of God. Let us pray.
Gracious God, how good You are. How loving our Lord Jesus is. How our hearts have been filled with Your glory by the Holy Spirit. Some things are too marvelous for our minds to wrap around. But help us keep our spiritual balance as we stand in Your grace! Amen.
WINGS AND SAILS
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, June 5, 2022 PENTECOST
TEXT: Selections from Acts 2
2 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every people under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each…. 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” …14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Fellow Jews and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say…. This is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh...
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
Today is Pentecost Sunday. The day when we commemorate the coming of God’s Holy Spirit to the Jews gathered from all over the known world in Jerusalem for one of their annual feasts. It is the occasion of the arrival of the Comforter and Divine Advocate that Jesus promised would come after his resurrection. The symbols for this holy day are “wind” and “flame.” One commentator shares this:
“This passage does not claim that the Holy SPirit is a ‘wind’ or a ‘fire’; rather, the Spirit is compared to the sound the wind makes and to the flames fire produces. The narrator’s intent is to create a vivid impression of the Spirit’s presence among the community of the Lord’s disciplesasmits distinguishing mark.” [The New Interpreter’s Bible, Acts, p.54]
This morning we’ll concentrate on the “vivid impression” that the symbol of wind still conjures up for us modern day disciples. I’ll remind us all that in our bibles, wind and spirit and breath are the same word and interchangeable. You can substitute one for the other throughout the bible and many translations do just that. The wind in the creation story that blew across the face of the waters can also be translate, the breath or the spirit that blew across the waters.
When Jesus was with his disciples after his resurrection, the bible tells us that he “breathed” on them so that they would receive the gift of the spirit. Wind is a wonderful metaphor for the breath and spirit of God in our lives.
Let’s begin with some real life examples of wind power. Unlike fast and exciting sports noted for their reliance on fossil fuels such as Nascar and aerobatic planes and cigarette boat races, the activities of soaring and sailing depend on wind power alone.
The former senior pastor at Haddonfield United Methodist Church, Bill McElwee, one of my favorite pastors, is a pro at flying a glider, also called a soar plane. In addition, he also flies an antique plane, a 1946 Ercoupe, but it is the glider he loves best! He has logged over 800 hours in his glider and has taken it up to 20,000 feet. Robb has flown with Bill and they soared above the ridges of Kittatinny Mountain.
Can you imagine flying above the earth at a height of 2000 feet for two hours with no fossil fuel or an engine? The only fuel used is by the small plane that tows you up to an altitude where you can catch an updraft of wind current and soar on your own. And, in Europe, I’ve seen gliders capulted into the sky without even the use of an airplane.
Here’s a memory question for you! Do you remember when the Tall Ships toured the eastern seaboard shortly after the Bicentennial? Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore. How amazing it was to see those huge, heavy sailing vessels gliding effortlessly, wind in their sails. Whenever I am on someone’s sailboat, large or small, I marvel at how the sails catch the wind and power the boat forward. With the right amount of sail, even the heaaviest boat can be moved by the wind. The metaphor of wind as the presence of God is a strong one!
Sometimes people ask, what does it matter? Who cares about Pentecost? It’s an interesting story but how does it have anything to do with my life or the church?
I appreciate when people ask questions because it shows a willingness to risk an answer that might be a gamechanger or a lifesaver. Let’s take on those questions because some might be yours as well.
The first question: what does it matter what happened two thousand years ago at Pentecost in a faraway country? Good question. Part of the answer to this is that there is a running theme through our faith that goes like this: God is faithful, God’’s steadfast love endures forever, God keepss his promises to his people.
The event recorded in Acts in the New Testament reminds those who will hear this story one hundred years later, one thousand years later, two thousand years later, that God keeps His promises. After Jesus’ resurrection when he appeared to the disciples who were hiding in fear for
their own safety, Jesus shared with them that God was sending the Comforter also called the Advocate or the Holy Spirit to be with them. God would not leave them orphaned, fearful or alone. The events of the Pentecost holiday when Jews from all over the world gathered in Jerusalem for one of their great yearly feasts, became a staging area for a fulfillment of a divine purpose–the coming of God’s Holy Spirit to His people.
What does it matter? It matters because it reminds us that a central tenant of our faith is that god is faithful, God’s love endures forever, God keeps is promises to us his sons and daughters. How we live each day is affected by whether we believe that the Holy Spirit is or comforter, our guide, ourpower for living both in our personal lives and in the life of the church.
For the Methodist Church right now, it has great meaning for us because it assures us that even during times of transition, GOd’s Holy SPirit blows through the church empowering us and encouraging us to more forward, sails unfurled. For our personal lives, it has great meaning because it suggests that the church is a center for us for encouragement, love and prayer for our personal lives in whatever circumstances or situations we find ourselves.
The second question we may ask is: who cares? You may protest that the remembrance of Pentecost seems to have nothing to do with events in our everyday lives…my graduation from school, my upcoming wedding, my move to a new place, my job search, passing the math final, buying a new car, caring for a family member with special needs, and so on and so forth. Fill in your own situation here. Who cares?
The “who cares?” question often indicates that one has not found within “organized religion” any meaningful or geenuine answers to real life concerns. I have visited many churches where the morning prayer neglects to mention the concerns of the congregation let alone the concerns of the world. Churches as the great novelist Flannery O’Connor put it so well: Churches “where the blind don’t see, the lame don’t walk and what’s dead, stays that way.” Her great description is of a church that is in the spiritual doldrums, whose sails hang limply, that has no meaningfu motion, it is a church where “God has left the building.”
The Pentecost story reminds us that we are to lift anchor and to unfurl the sails because God cares for us. That is who cares! God loves us so very, very much that he gave His only Son so that those who believe in Him will have everlasting life. So that those who believe in Him will no longer be blind–but have vision; so that those who believe in Him will no longer be lame–but have the ability to move toward places that need healing ad care; so that those who believe in Him will no longer be dead but alive in Christ–showing and sharing what love can do.
The final question: this is an interesting story but how does Pentecost effect my life or the church? Our answer to this final question is determined by how we live our lives. If we are not learning from our faith history, if we are not being guided by our holy scriptures, if we are not placing ourselves and our church in position to sail or soar on the currents of God’s breath/ wind/ spirit, then we are missing out on something beautiful that God has in store for us.
How do we commandeer the wind? How do we raise our sails? How do we find the upward thermals of air above the mountains? It is simple and it is difficult at the same time. If you operate a glider or a sailboat, you depend upon the wind at that time and place.
Yesterday’s air currents will not keep you aloft today nor will the winds that filled your sails yesterday move you on your journey this morning. Every day requires a new infusion of spirit, breath, wind. Every day requires that we place ourselves in position to catch the updraft or fill our sails with God.
People of faith do this in time tested ways. Placing ourselves daily before God. Reading the bible, praying for loved ones and enemies, living in a manner that promotes justice, being kind and gentle to others, offering forgiveness even when it is not requested, taking time to quietly listen to God, worshipping together every week. And most importantly, inviting others to take this journey with us–neighbors and friends, family members, people we meet at work and school. And that, my friends, is what Pentecost is about and why it matters. Hopefully that answers a few of the questions about this church holy day. Let us end with prayer.
Almighty God, We thank you for the outpouring of your Holy Spirit that continues to this very day so that we might have life and have it abundantly. Help us to let go of the anchors we hold so tightly to. Help us not to be afraid to find ourselves moving by the power of your spirit, wind, breath. We give you thanks and praise for your steadfast love down through all the generations of those who love you. Guide us, guard us, give us forward momentum. Amen.
AT HOME WITH GOD
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, May 22, 2022
TEXT: John 14: 23-29
“...We will come to them and make our home with them.” v. 23
23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words, and the word that you hear is not mine but is from the Father who sent me.
25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur you may believe.
I’d like to talk about our homes today. Where we live and what are the features we are looking for when we relocate, when we downsize or when we upsize as our family grows larger. Did you know that Methodist pastors have no choice or input over the kind of housing where we will live?
We Methodist pastors mostly live parsonages though that has been changing as time goes on. I have been appointed six times and we have moved to six entirely different types of houses. We started out in a true Victorian with gas jets still in place for original lighting, a Cape Cod, a new two story home at the shore; a lovely split level; a modern large home with numerous rooms, bathrooms and a two story garage; and currently a lovely 1893 not quite Victorian parsonage with a walk up third floor.
Many of you have searched for new places to live over the past few years and I thought I would ask you to remember the list of features that you were seeking in your new abode.
I’m surveying you this morning to see what you admire and value the most where you live. The top three things only. Take one of the one cards you were given, stop a moment to think and write on your card the three most important features to you of your home or apartment or condo that you appreciate. We are talking about physical things here, not love, kindness, etc. Nor the response–”it’s paid for.” [Time to fill out cards, collect them, share them.]
Card responses: Peaceful wooded area; beautiful lake; wonderful people;space; out of doors; front yard;kitchen; view in living room; office area; community; walkability to town; feeling of warmth and character; space in house and yard; a home with my sons; a partner who serves God and shares my condo; land; peacefulness; a place to paint; location; safety; security; neighbors; my office; prayer area; close to outside;location and proximity to schools; garden space; size of kitchen and rooms for entertaining and family; large kitchen forfamily gatherings; officespace; closet space for storage; perfect size; peace and serenity; neighbors; all on one level; no outside maintenance; underground parking with an elevator; bright big windows; space for gardens, flowers and vegetables;built in book shelves; sunshine in rooms different times of day; kitchen windows in front with good view of our cul-de-sac; skylight in cathedral ceiling.
We all seem to be able to pretty easily think of what it is that we appreciate or want in a home. We also know which things are more important and which are less important. Tops on our list are sunny, bright rooms; a wood burning fireplace; a gas stove.
In today’s scripture from the gospel of John, Jesus says to his disciples that when they love him and his Father, “we will come to them and make our home with them.” v. 23 This got me thinking about what it would be that Christ would look for in us for him to make his home in us? Here are some thoughts based on the passage. Only hearts with the following features would be presented to God by the heavenly realtor as a possible home.
First and foremost, we must have love in our hearts to be a home for God. This is the most important feature. Gospel writer John assures us that those who “keep” Jesus’ commands are bound together by his love. Love also means rejoicing. Rejoicing that Jesus was resurrected. Death could not restrain him. Love has overcome death.
Secondly, God would make his home in our hearts with modern day disciples who are learners. Christians who are continually open to learn more about scripture, prayer, good deeds, one another. That’s because the passage says that the Holy Spirit will teach us everything. A feature of the home within us is to be open to learning through the teaching of God’s Holy Spirit. Learning to be a better Christian as we learn what God desires.
Thirdly, the home for God in our hearts must feature peace. This peace or shalom is defined not as absence of conflict but rather as “everything that makes for our highest good.” [The Gospel of John, Vol.2, William Barclay, p.199] It should be noted that the peace within us is not dependent upon what is going on outside of us. In my studies of Family Systems this is the authentic self, the differentiated self. The best self that centers us and from which our decisions and responses emanate. Peace enables us to live from the inside out! No longer are we blown around by other people’s emotions, no longer do we feel slighted or hold grudges, no longer are we angry toward others. Jesus in this passage tells us not to allow our hearts to be troubled or to be afraid.
Let’s review, the heart home within us for the Divine must feature love; teachableness; peace. And a final feature for now is obedience. We are obedient when we trust and obey the Greatest Commandment. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind…the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” [Matthew 22: 37]
How does your heart rate as a home for the Divine? Is it move in condition or do you need to do some renovating? Maybe it’s a handyman special and needs some tender loving care? Whatever shape it is in, today’s passage encourages us to daily prepare our hearts so that God might continually dwell within us and our faith might flourish and grow! Let us pray.
Gracious God, Let our hearts be home, sweet home, for You. Help us learn to focus on your grace and love as we design our lives to follow Jesus’ teaching and as we share His hope and joy with others. Come into our hearts today, come into our hearts to stay. This is our prayer. Amen.
ALL THINGS NEW
“I am making all things new!” v.5
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, May 15, 2022
Revelation 21: 1-6
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.
Today’s scripture is about “new”. A new understanding of heaven. It is about how God is still creating anew. And finally, it is about how we partner with God in this new creation. Let’s begin with a little background.
Today’s scripture is from the Book of Revelation and was written by a man named John, though not “disciple John.” This John was alive during Jesus’ time but didn’t write until his later years. Most likely sixty some years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The book was written to give hope to Christians who were being severely persecuted by the Romans and perhaps the most interesting thing of all is that it is written in a code that believers would have understood but not understandable to others.
That’s a heads up! Don’t read Revelation and take it at surface value. Everything in it is a secret code to bring hope to believers and to keep them safe if the writing was ever discovered by the Romans.
Now back to the scripture. Let’s begin with a new understanding of heaven. How often do we talk about us going up to heaven when we die? Heaven. Up there? Right? Not so in this passage! I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And also, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.”
The word for “dwell” is actually better translated “to pitch a tent.” God is pitching a tent among us. No longer is heaven far off and up above and only reachable after death, this passage informs us that God has come down to us, and lives among us. This heaven is already here in our midst.
Remember when Jesus shares with his friends that “the kingdom of heaven is nearby”? Same exact thing. Heaven is here. This new heaven is not just a spiritual utopia. It is a heaven of physical, economic and ecological reality because it is the world we live in. It is our true home.
In addition to this new understanding of heaven, this passage also reminds us that God did not just create the world and everything in it those eons ago, but God is still creating anew. In Genesis, God creates everything. And on the seventh day God rested. However, this passage assures us that God is not finished with creation. God is no longer resting. God is “doing something new.” “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’”
And God is keeping his promises, doing something new and timely even this very day for those who are in pain, those who are confused, those who are sorrowful. We have only to think of the one million death mark this week of covid-19. And not just one million deaths but four or five additional million grieving family, friends, coworkers, children, parents.“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
As one commentator noted: God’s new creation is busy replacing this “deadly, torn, raped, angry, sick, evil, revengeful, hurtful, and a painful world” with a new creation. [www.workingpreacher.com, Israel Kamudzandu, April 24, 2016] The writer of Revelation does not deny the notion of eternal life but “he believes that this New Jerusalem begins in the present moment and every human being must experience its joy and goodness in the present moment.” [www.workingpreacher.com]
The final lesson in today’s scripture passage is that we partner with God in this new creation. Just as Jesus’ disciples were reflections of Jesus for their world, loving as he loved, we too are encouraged to reflect his love and light to our world. To be co-creators alongside of God. While not everyone can see the new world yet, the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has already ushered it in and piece by piece it is beginning to take shape.
When you leave here today, through your actions of love and kindness to others you will be giving others “a glimpse of heaven on earth.” [www.sermonsuite.com, “Heaven on Earth,” Steven E. Albertis] You will be partnering with God to show the world the power of God. You will be the disciples that enable others to see “how God will transform what we know today into something that is beyond human imagination.” [www workingpreacher.com]. Remember Jesus’ words: “See, I am making all things new.” [v. 21:5] Let him make you anew this day. Let us pray.
“God, Open our ears and eyes to the newness of your creation and make us actie partners so that your dream willbe realized here on earth. Amen” [www.workingpreacher.com]
YOU WANT ME TO DO WHAT?
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, May 1, 2022
TEXT: Acts 9: 1-20
Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul[b] and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Saul Preaches in Damascus
For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
Today’s scripture features an unsung hero of the bible. A man who is an example for us all, a consumate and obedient disciple. But when we think of “disciple” the more well known men and women come to mind. James and John, Peter and Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Mary and Martha, and so on. But, in this famous story an unknown disciple is in the spotlight for a brief moment but changes the course of the Christian faith forever!
Our scripture begins with the famous story about Saul on the Road to Damascus. A story that we have all heard from childhood onward. Rabbi Saul is on a mission. A mission to round up, arrest and bring back to Jerusalem followers of The Way, as the followers of Christ were called, to stand trial. To him this new way of faith was criminal and must be eradicated. Saul was emotionally consumed with this task!
The story begins with Saul “breathing threats and murder” against the men and women he saw as enemies to the faith. I don’t believe that any Christians of that time would have wanted to be near Saul in any way, shape or form. I would rather think that they would be warning their children about this monster and talking quietly among themselves about how to avoid capture.
We know the news of the persecutions had been spreading even as far away as Damascus. Especially the news about Stephen, a deacon in the very early church in Jerusalem, who was killed for his faith. He was stoned to death around 36 AD. The very first Christian martyr. Saul as a young man participated in Stephen’s sentence by watching over the coats of the men stoning stephen to death. Acts 7: 59 -60. “And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’” And then Stephen died. Just like Jesus on the cross praying for the men who crucified him: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
So, when Ananias hears God’s voice in a vision telling him to go to Saul and pray for him so he might regain his sight I am positive Ananais said: “You want me to do what? Are you kidding me? This is one angry guy! This sucks!” God answered Ananias: Go! “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel…” An instrument is a means by which a task gets done. So Ananias obeys and the rest is history. We very well may not be here this Sunday but for Ananis obedience to God’s command.
Let’s check out Ananias and see the qualities that also made him a perfect instrument for God’s purpose of reshaping Rabbi Saul. We’ve covered a few of those characteristics already. First of all we know he was a follower of Christ because he is referred to as a disciple. “A disciple in Damascus named Anaias.” And secondly he must have been a man of prayer otherwise it is unlikely that the Divine would have visited him in that vision. Paul later in Acts shares that Ananias was a devout man. [Acts 22:12] Thirdy, when called upon, he readily identifies himself to God even before he know what he will be called to do: “Here I am.”
We know that Ananias falters a tiny bit at this point when he realizes what he is being asked to do but after he protests and God counters with why Saul needs the visit, Ananias obeys. Obedience is another characteristic he displays. Discipleship, a strong, prayer life, a willingness to self-identify to God, honesty about his feelings about the task, and finally and perhaps most importantly, his willingness to obey even when human reason
What happens next barely takes up a couple of verses of scripture but enables Saul to be transformed into the most powerful voice for Jesus Christ that the world had ever experienced and whose words and wisdom we still experience this very day. Ananis told Saul that Jesus sent him that “you may get your sight back and so that you may be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Ananais surrounds Saul with love.
When he arrives, he addresses him lovingly as “Brother Saul.” And before his brief visit ends Ananais has loved Saul his mortal enemy; forgave him; prayed for him; baptized him; fed him; guided him; and prepared him for becoming the apostle to the Gentiles, the instrument that God intended for him to become. Ananias was an awesome disciple! And that’s the last we ever hear about him in scripture.
How might we live more like this remarkable disciple? Here’s some questions to think about. Think of how Ananias was with Saul. What might we learn from him? We too are called to be like that with others.
- “Who can you reach out to? Who needs to be surrounded with your love? Your presence? Your words?” [unlocking the bible.org, Colin Smith]
- Who needs your prayers? And especially needs to know the forgiveness and grace that God makes possible for our sins and our mistakes? Who do you need to forgive?
- What enemy of yours can you extend a hand to and a welcoming heart?
Finally, on the cover of today’s bulletin I put a quote from the book of Joshua in our bibles. One that will encourage us as we follow in Ananias footsteps. It reads: “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” [Joshua 1:9]
Let us pray.
Gracious God, help us be your obedient disciples, listening carefully for your voice, stepping up to the hard tasks, loving our sisters and brothers into your kingdom. Never giving up or being afraid or seeking the easy way out. Help us remember the brave actions of disciple Ananias. Amen.
LIKE AN EMPTY TOMB
Rev. VIvian L. Rodeffer
Easter Sunday, April 17, 2022
John 20: 1-18
20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look[a] into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Throughout the five weeks of the Lenten season, we have been looking at Jesus’ teaching stories called parables that describe facets of God’s kingdom. Such as the kingdom of God is like a mother hen; is like a fig tree, is like a loving parent; is like a gift; is like a king; and this Sunday the scripture directs us that the kingdom of God is like an empty tomb. It has the nature and mystery of emptiness. The ultimate parable of the Christian Faith.
This past week we have had some really beautiful spring days. Perfect for getting out in the yard and starting to garden. Every Spring I sit out in the yard, survey the scene and see what order of things I need to tackle. Refill last year’s pots, throw away broken ones, tidy up regrowth of herbs, get ready for my shipment of plants from Burpee. But as I sat this week I noticed for the first time, actually paid attention for the first time to the rose bush along the fence.
Julie Markay told me all about the rosebush before they moved nine years ago. It is an antique climbing rose and when it blooms it is stunning. I’ve made sure to water and fertilize it through every summer. I’ve invited my neighbors to take photos in front of it. What I hadn’t really noticed was that year by year it appeared to be getting alot bigger and leafier.
Taking a closer look this week, I saw that another bush had grown up along side the rosebush and had sent large twining branches among the rosebush branches and had totally wound itself around the trellis that was for the rose to climb. It was slowly smothering and killing the rosebush.
So, Robb and I got out the saws and the pruners and spent a couple of hours extricating the rosebush from the invader. It was hard work. I brought a piece of it along to show you today. The rest of the branches are in a big pile in our yard. This is how the invader looked. [Show thick branch wrapped around a piece of trellis.] It had filled the rosebush with thick leaves and lots of branches.
I’m pleased to announce that now after a major trimming, the rosebush is empty to grow and thrive. Open to the sun, open to April showers, open to birds on its branches, and open for the blossoms to display their loveliness. An emptiness that enables a remarkable transformation. The Easter story is also about emptiness and a remarkable transformation. An empty tomb.
This season of Lent has been a time of thinking about the things that fill us, stifle our growth, and prevent us from becoming the beloved children that God has called every one of us to be. For many of us we are filled with so many things our hearts are crowded. Do you remember the Bible story when Jesus visited Mary and Martha at their house? Sister Mary sat quietly at Jesus’ feet listening to him teach while Martha was fussing and fuming about the meal that she was making all by herself without her sister’s help. Jesus told her: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.” Luke 10: 38-42] That one thing? Listen to the voice of heaven.
Have you ever had “a Martha moment” happen to you when you were so filled with something…worry, anger, busyness or whatever…that you were missing the fullness of life itself because you needed to empty yourself of extraneous stuff and be there for the necessary things. “Necessary things” like being present for your family and your friends and your loved ones. Like being fully present at work or school instead of always doing three things at once. Being fully present when someone is speaking to you. Being fully present in each situation not thinking about your next steps or checking your cell phone.
Perhaps the most difficult thing that we experience in life is learning how to be fully present. To empty ourselves so that we might be fully present to others. And most importantly of all, be present to God. Be open to hear God’s calling on our lives. We cannot be servants of God when we cannot hear God’s voice.
To live the Easter life, the life of the empty tomb, is emptying all the extraneous stuff and making space for the RIsen Christ in our lives. For the blossoms of grace and forgiveness, for the blossoms of prayer for our enemies, for the blossoms of striving toward healthier ways of caring for our physical bodies, for the blossoms of servanthood and sacrificial generosity. The empty tomb of Easter morning is the metaphor that if we follow it, opens everyone of us to a fuller, richer, more joyful and spiritually satisfying life. It seems counterintuitive, but emptiness does lead to fullness of life. We are gathered here this day to remember the empty tomb, our Risen Lord Jesus, and the joyful possibilities of leading Easter lives.
Let us pray:
Thank you for the empty tomb and the fullness of new life in Jesus Christ. Thank you for forgiveness and grace, thank you for second chances and third and forth and fifth, thank you for this new day and opportunities for our faith to blossom abundantly. Amen.
LIKE A SERVANT
Rev. Vivian L.Rodeffer
Holy Thursday, April 14, 2022, 7 PM
John 13: 1-17, 31b-35
Jesus Washes the Disciples’ Feet
13 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
The New Commandment
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
This would be the very last night that Jesus and the disciples would be together. Only three years before Jesus had discovered each of them and invited them to follow him. Simon Peter and Andrew remembered that morning they had been fishing all night with no luck. This man got on their boat and told them to let the nets down again and the nets were so full they nearly broke. He invited them to follow him and become “fishers of people.”
As Jesus walked on he also invited two brothers, James and John, to leave their boats as well and follow him. Later that day Jesus went to a mountaintop to pray overnight and the next day with the guidance of the Holy Spirit picked the rest of the band of twelve that would be his disciples. He gave them authority to preach, to teach and to heal the sick. And they would travel with him every step of the way, miracles, healings, story telling, walking on the water, calming a storm, making wine from water for a wedding celebration, bringing a man back from death.
Little did they realize at the time that in three years they alone would be the ambassadors of Jesus’ love, grace and forgiveness for the world. But on this night, they were enjoying a good meal with their Teacher and listening to his prayers and instructions for them. How amazed they were when he removed his coat and washed their feet before the meal. How honored they were and a bit confused. But they knew for sure that that Jesus loved them just as they were. Someone once said: “Real love is open eyed. It loves, not what it imagines people to be, but what they are. The heart of Jesus is big enough to love us as we are.” [The Gospel of John, Vol.2, William Barclay, p. 175] He loved his disciples, and he loves each of us as well, no matter what. We remember that he died for us while we were yet sinners.
Jesus loved his disciples to the end even when they betrayed him, denied him, deserted him during his final days. He knew his hour had come to return to God and he knew he would die on the cross but he did not let that knowlege change the way that he would love his friends that last evening together.
They shared a meal together and what Jesus knew would be his final instructions for them. A farewell command, if you will. “I have washed your feet, I have set you an example.” Of what? An example of how we are to be in the world. Like a servant.
He taught us that servants love selflessly. He taught us there was no limit to what servants should give or where they should go to serve one another. He taught us that servants love one another with understanding. With open eyes. He taught us to love in spite of so many reasons not to love.
We live in a world where there is a shortage of servants. Nor is it popular to be a servant. Yet Jesus final instruction for his disciples was: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” [vv. 34-35]
Jesus’ new commandment for the original twelve servants is for us as well. The Lenten Season has been a time for each of us to deepen our faith, to examine our hearts, to renew the way we forgive one another, and to practice servanthood. Shortly we will share in The Last Supper tht Jesus himself instituted that evening. As you eat the bread and drink the cup of salvation, let it be your pledge of loyalty to the Lord of Love and your willingness to greet Easter morning as one of God’s people. Let us pray.
The cross looms large, the shadows grow long, Jesus and his friends retire under the olive trees to pray. Help us to remember this precious evening with our hearts and lives transformed by servanthood. Amen.