THE PERILOUS JOURNEYS OF CHRISTMAS
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, January 2, 2022
Text: Matthew 2: 1-12 2
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” 7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
What a mess holiday travel has been over the past week! Thousands of flights cancelled. A surge of omicron corona virus. Horrific snowstorms in the west. This has certainly seemed like a good week to stay at home in front of the fire and read a good book. Even a good Sunday morning to worship safely from home.
Today is known as Epiphany Sunday in the Christian year. The name “epiphany” comes from the Greek for epiphaneia or “appearance” or “manifestation.” It refers to the manifestation of Jesus Christ to the world. It is also known as Three Kings Day. And, co-incidently, this is the Twelveth Day of Christmas which means it is now ok to take down our decorations!!
Today celebrates the revelation, the appearance, of God’s love, the baby born in Bethlehem. This revelation is meant for everyone and therefore the importance of the arrival of the wise men from far, far away. A perilous and years’ long journey from a distant land. “Field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star.”
After seeing the natal star of the birth of a king, they began a long and arduous journey! That’s why the Wise Men “saw the child with Mary his mother” instead of the baby Jesus in a manger.
The Wise Men were Persians skilled in philosophy, medicine, and natural science. In addition they were soothsayers and interpreters of dreams. As one commentator described them: “They were good and holy men, who sought truth.” [Matthew, William Barclay, Location 734]
I have always been curious as to why nativity scenes include the Three Wise Men, their camels and their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh because the shepherds, the angels, the little drummer boys, the sleepy oxen, and sheep have all gone their ways long before the astrologers on the camels arrive. My guess is that the presence of these strangers from far, far away signifies that God so loved the world…..not just the isolated, tiny town of Bethlehem and vicinity. We include them in our nativity scenes to remind us the Christmas story has worldwide implications.
Perilous travels continue to play an important role during the nativity story. After they see Jesus, the Wise Men are “warned in a dream” not to return to King Herod on their way home. “…They returned to their country by another route.” One of the most disturbing events in the nativity story occurs at this time. A massacre is ordered….as disturbing and horrific as our mass shootings. Insanely jealous of this newborn “king,” King Herod decrees that all boy babies and children under the age of two in Bethlehem and vicinity are to be put to death. An horrendous act of cruelty. Prophet Jeremiah foretold this massacre: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more.” [v. 18]
And then if two perilous journeys aren’t enough, a third perilous journey occurs. Soon after the Wise Men depart, Joseph is warned by an angel that King Herod plans to find and kill this “new born King of the Jews.” The angel says: “Get up. Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child and kill him.”
Joseph escaped to Egypt with Mary and Jesus and they stayed there until King Herod died. Then they returned to live in Galilee. And that is where the gospel begins for us…the life and times of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The story of the Wise Men illustrates that Jesus came for the world. Every country, every culture and nationality, every place that light needed to shine in the dark corners of lives and the world. If we are part of the story we too are part of an ongoing journey to bring the light to one other.
In addition to the passing of beloved Betty White this week, the passing of South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu was also an example of a shining light gone home to the brightness of haven. He was bishop, theologian, Nobel Prize winner and known for his life long perilous journey against apartheid and for human rights.
He was a practitioner of Ubuntu. What’s that you ask? “Ubuntu is very difficult to render into a Western language... It is to say, 'My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in what is yours.'” -Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
“God is not a Christian. God accepts as pleasing those who live by the best lights available to them that they can discern. All truth, all sense of beauty, all awareness of goodness has one source, God, who is not confined to one place, time or people.”
As 2022 begins each of us is encouraged to journey by the “best lights available to us.” As individuals and as the church we will be making New Year Resolutions and decisions that will sometimes cause us to go on journeys ---to places we have not have journeyed before. Places that we have only seen from a distance. As you go on your journey, as we go on our journey as the church this year, keep in mind Ubuntu—we are connected, when one rejoices all rejoice, one one is sorrowful, all are sorrowful. Shine like the star in the east, westward leading, still proceeding. And let every journey lead you eternally to the Christ Child. Let us end with an Epiphany blessing.
May you follow God’s star to the places God would have you go in your journey of life. May you realize in your heart that all humankind are your sisters and brothers. May you live speaking the truth, unafraid of others and in love with God. Amen.
DON’T WORRY ABOUT ANYTHING
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
December 12, 2021
TEXT: Philippians 4: 4-7
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
To “worry” is to “give way to anxiety or unease” or “allow one’s mind to dwell on difficulties or troubles.” [Oxford Language Dictionary] We all understand worry because we have all done it at some time or another in our lives. You may very well be worried about something this morning. Someone once said: “Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s troubles, it takes away today’s peace.”
St. Paul in his letter to his beloved Philippian congregation reminds them not to worry. “Do not worry about anything.” Well, that is easier said than done isn’t it? Has anyone ever told you not to worry about something? Did that help? Years ago Robb told me that if I could tell him one positive thing that worry accomplished, I could go right on worrying, but I couldn’t find anything positive that worry accomplishes but I went right on worrying anyhow.
Our church family has only to listen to the prayer requests each week to get an overview of the things that can cause us lots of anxiety. Illnesses, accidents, the covid-19 pandemic, worries about our children, addictions, marital distress, relationship issues, this list goes on and on. Right now. Just for a moment. Quiet yourself and in your heart look there about things worrying you today.
St. Paul says there is a ready solution to worrying. Here it is “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” In other words pray about your worry. Give it to God. And thank God for what God is already doing in your life. That’s what “supplication with thanksgiving” means. Make a request and at the same time give thanks.
We are all pretty good at “help me”, “help me,” “help me” prayers but not very practiced at “thank you”, “thank you”, “thank you”. My second grade Sunday School teacher Mrs. Hanaway told us kids that two angels carried our prayers to heaven. The angel who carried up our requests had such a heavy load he could barely fly up to God. But the angel who carried the basket of thank you’s had a very easy job. Just this week our church secretary Ellen asked me to share her thank you’s for answered prayer with the prayer group—I love it when the prayer request cards include thank you’s because it means we are understanding how to stem the tide of worry and anxiety in our lives.
What are your personal prayers like? Most of our praying is done when we need something. My tooth hurts or my husband is sick or I don’t have money to pay my bills or my child is on the road to ruin or whatever. We get right down with God as to what we are worried about. But not so much with thank yous!
I just asked you to consider in your hearts what worries reside there. Now I’m going to give you a different opportunity and have you quietly look again, deep into your hearts and search for things that are worthy of thanksgiving. Is there something there that you can give God thanks for in spite of your worry.
Maybe, as simple as thank you for this day. Thank you that Christmas is coming. Thank you for my job. Thank you that I have my addiction under control. Thank you for my family. Thank you that someone loves me. And on and on.
“One recent December, at age 53, John Kralik found his life at a terrible, frightening low: his small law firm was failing; he was struggling through a painful second divorce; he had grown distant from his two older children and was afraid he might lose contact with his young daughter; he was living in a tiny apartment where he froze in the winter and baked in the summer; he was 40 pounds overweight; his girlfriend had just broken up with him; and overall, his dearest life dreams--including hopes of upholding idealistic legal principles and of becoming a judge--seemed to have slipped beyond his reach.”
“Then, during a desperate walk in the hills on New Year's Day, John was struck by the belief that his life might become at least tolerable if, instead of focusing on what he didn't have, he could find some way to be grateful for what he had.”
“Inspired by a beautiful, simple note his ex-girlfriend had sent to thank him for his Christmas gift, John imagined that he might find a way to feel grateful by writing thank-you notes. To keep himself going, he set himself a goal--come what may--of writing 365 thank-you notes in the coming year.”
“One by one, day after day, he began to handwrite thank yous--for gifts or kindnesses he'd received from loved ones and coworkers, from past business associates and current foes, from college friends and doctors and store clerks and handymen and neighbors, and anyone, really, absolutely anyone, who'd done him a good turn, however large or small. Immediately after he'd sent his very first notes, significant and surprising benefits began to come John's way--from financial gain to true friendship, from weight loss to inner peace. While John wrote his notes, the economy collapsed, the bank across the street from his office failed, but thank-you note by thank-you note, John's whole life turned around.”
In his book 365 Thank You’s Kralik sets a believable, doable example of how to live a thankful life and to find the benefits of doing so. In 2009, John Kralik was appointed to be a judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court. He lives in the Los Angeles area. I think that he probably understands what Paul is getting at this morning better than almost anyone I know.
The remarkable take away for this morning is that we too can rid ourselves of worry and anxiety because we have only to take it to God in prayer along with thanksgiving. Then, as Paul reminds us “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
God is our companion through life. And no matter what is happening around us or within, the antidote for worry is only a prayer and a thanksgiving away. And if you don’t believe it, give it a try this week. I guarantee St. Paul’s words are a tried and true way to peace, a peace that passes all understanding, that we can barely imagine. Let us pray.
Gracious God let us take all our concerns and our joys to you in prayer this Christmas season so that we might experience within the peaceful, calmness that Holy Night brings. Amen
St. Paul’s Prayer for Us
“I thank my God every time I remember you…” Phil. 1: 3a
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, December 5, 2021
Text: Philippians 1: 3-11
Paul’s Prayer for the Philippians
3 I thank my God every time I remember you, 4 constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5 because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. 9 And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
Today’s scripture is a prayer, a very beautiful one that Paul prayed for his congregation in Philippi and one that is for us today as well. If there is a key word in this prayer it is joy. I’ll take this brief time together to highlight some of the joy that Paul lifts up.
He begins his prayer “3 I thank my God every time I remember you, 4 constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you…” Because of this theme, the Letter to the Philippians has been called “The Epistle [or Letter] of Joy.” And the whole point of the letter is about rejoicing. “Joy to the World” would definitely be that Christmas hymn that Paul would choose for us to listen to as we read his prayer.
The first joy is Christian prayer. Can there be anything more joyful than bringing our loved ones to God in prayer? Paul is grateful because the Philippians have held him in their hearts and have “shared in God’s grace” with him. There is nothing that compares with a heartfelt prayer. And if someone shares that prayer for you or me, it is even more special. Think for a moment of times when you have been the recipient of prayer. Maybe here at church on a prayer request card. Maybe you’ve been in the hospital and I’ve prayed with you there or over the phone. Maybe a dear friend has kept you in prayer for a special need. Or maybe you have been prayed for aloud at a holiday meal giving God thanks for you, your family and friends. If you ever need a prayer, you’ve come to the right place.
Another joy we experience according to Paul’s prayer is in “sharing in the gospel.” When we share the Good News of Jesus Christ through our words and actions we cannot help but feel joyful. The Good News that God loves you, travels your journey with you, and even provides a place at the end of your journey to call home. Paul gives thanks in his prayer for the way his congregation is sharing Christ’s love.
I cannot begin to count the ways that you share our Lord’s love and concern with others. Sharing food, serving the homeless, volunteering to care for our communities emergency medical needs, firefighting, leading girls and boys in scouting, visiting the sick and homebound, and on and on. There is a lot of joy in this church. Paul writes: “ And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight.”
Lastly for this morning because there are many, many manifestations of joy in this prayer is the joy of our fellowship together.
Psalm 34:5 promises that we can “look to [God] and be radiant.” We people of faith reflect the glory of God’s love and grace to others. When we interact with others, people should sense that there is something different and compelling about the way we are, someone whom others want to emulate.
We are definitely for the most part a church where we love to fellowship together, a “family linked in love.” “A church where members are one with each other, because they are one in Christ Jesus their Lord.” [Philippians, William Barclay, p. 17]
If you ever find yourself at odds with the church or folks within the church, it is a good thing to stop and think: how have I been the radiance and brightness of my faith to others? Can I give them the benefit of the doubt? Can I grow past my grievances and complaints and find again the joy of being in a loving, grace-filled community? A family linked in love.
Joy isn’t always easy but God isn’t finished with us yet! God still has a lot of work to do in each of us….Paul refers to it this way: “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” Paul is referring to what we thought about last Sunday, the Day of the Lord, the second advent of Christ. The end of this world as we know it and the beginning of the reign of God. Paul is saying in his letter that he prays we will be ready for that day and can stand before God with pure and joyful hearts. Nothing else will matter.
Paul has prayed his best for his congregation and his words ring true for us this morning. Take his prayer, reread it later, and treasure it in your hearts. Allow joy to be your touchstone for Advent and for all times. Let us pray.
Gracious God, in this second week of Advent we give you thanks for the joy you make possible for our lives. Let us be the brightness of light and love for all we are with this season. Amen.
THE WORK OF ADVENT
Rev. Vivian Rodeffer
Sunday, November 28, 2021
First Sunday of Advent
Text: Luke 21: 25-36
The Coming of the Son of Man
25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
The Lesson of the Fig Tree
29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
Exhortation to Watch
34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
My great grandfather Jeff Freeman lived on a farm outside of Parkesburg, Pennsylvania for most of his life. He was a simple, kindly soul who spent most of everyday in the barn or the fields. Even as an old man he had never seen the ocean or rarely travelled out of Lancaster County. I remember him driving up our long driveway in his Model T pickup, the small bed in the back filled with boxes of berries.
There is a family story that has been handed down about the day someone decided to treat my great grandfather to a trip to the Philadelphia zoo which was a wopping fifty miles from the farm. But for my Grandpa it could just as easily been 5000 miles away he travelled so rarely. At the zoo greatgrandpa was nearly overwhelmed by the experience. The quote of the day that was handed down through the family is this. At one point in the afternoon, he looked into the giraffe enclosure---he shook his head and said: “It cain’t be, it just cain’t be!”
Many people of faith reading and studying today’s scripture are also incredulous. “Don’t be afraid” the scripture cautions because things are going to happen that you could never imagine—that just cain’t be!
- Signs in the sun, moon and stars/ the very heavens will be shaken
- Nations will be in dismay
- The sea and the waves will roar
- People will actually die of fright!
- And then, Christ will appear on a cloud surrounded by the blinding glory of heavens.
And the world as we know it “would be shattered.” [Luke, Barclay, p. 304] Someone described it as “That day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth.”
This scripture about what is called “The Day of the Lord” has puzzled people of faith for two thousand years so far. How can we embrace what this scripture foretells and have it as a a tenet of our faith when it seems so unbelievable?
As I thought about this, something came to my mind. Think back—not so long ago—January 2019. Could you have imagined an invisible plague, coming out of nowhere, that would kill our neighbors and loved ones; close our schools, businesses and houses of worship; send our community and the world into chaos; and cause a lockdown so severe we are only know beginning to move about freely nearly two years later. Could you have imagined that?
Just as unimaginable is that animal called giraffe. Just as unimaginable for we modern day Christians is the Day of the Lord or Second Coming or Second Advent as it is known. Even if we find it unbelievable, it is true, it is the cosmic curtain call of the Judeo-Christian faith. And its purpose for our faith is threefold.
First, it reminds us that history has a goal. It is a great truth that history is going somewhere, toward some final moment, decided by God. Opposite this is the ancient Stoics believed that history went in 3,000 year cycles. Every 3,000 years civilization would collapse and start all over again. The prophets-Isaiah, Joel, Amos and Zephaniah all foretold the Day of the Lord as the transition from this present age to the Golden Age to come of God’s rule.
Secondly, it reminds us to be on guard, to be alert and awake and not be caught off guard when the day comes. It is to live with expectation and to live knowing that how we conduct our lives matters—that someday there will be an accounting for how we have loved God and have loved one another. We are to live asking ourselves if we will be able to stand in the presence of God?
Thirdly, and most importantly, the second coming or advent of Jesus really is how the Christmas stor concludes. A story we will revisit throughout this month. “For God so loved the world he gave his only son that whoever believes n him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” [John 3: 16]
The first advent was the baby in the manger in Bethlehem, today’s scripture shares the rest of the story. How Christ lived and died and rose again and at some future historical day he will unbelievably come again.
- When we least expect t
- When many will be unprepared and unready
- When the world as we know it will end…
The end of injustice, the end of isms, the end of disease, suffering and death, the end of sorrow and sadness.
The work of Advent is this: It is to continue to trust in God’s steadfast love for us; it is to follow the teaching to love one another; and most importantly of all it is to be ready for the day of the Lord even if you can’t hardly believe it. Even if it cain’t be! The day will dawn when the Lord returns, human history will be wrapped up and the reign of God will begin. There’s a spiritual whose words remind us how beautiful that day will begin. “My Lord what a morning! My Lord what a morning! My Lord what a morning when the stars begin to fall.”
Let us pray.
Thank you, Gracious God, for the celebration of the Advent and Christmas season, thank you for the almost unbelievable hope for a Second Advent; and the strength and wisdom to live our faith in the meantime. Amen.
WHAT’S IN A NAME
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, November 21, 2021
CHRIST THE KING SUNDAY
TEXT: John 18: 33-37
33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Names are important. How do you feel when someone doesn’t remember your name? Or perhaps even worse, calls you by the wrong name. As your pastor I try my very best to never let these two things happen but when they do, I am so glad you are forgiving!
Have any of you who are getting less young also have those moments when you know the person who has just walked up to you on the sidewalk but just can’t quite remember their name? I was so relieved that at my fiftieth high school reunion we all wore nametags and our photos from the yearbook. Whew!
In my family it was my dad who went by different names. He was named Carl Samuel Rodeffer because his dad was Carl DeWitt Rodeffer. By the time adulthood rolled around he went by Carl, Bud and sometimes Chick. Signing Christmas cards was my mother’s task and I remember her sitting at the table and asking my dad in the living room….Who are you to…..fill in the blanks? He used Carl for serious things like work and church. His southern aunts named him Buddy as a little boy. His brothers and fellow navy shipmates called him Chick. My favorite name for him was simply dad.
I was researching this week and asking some of you and others how you came upon your names. One of you was named after a midwife. Someone else’s mother had such a unique name—Fanchon Mercedes—that she went in the opposite direction and named her child Ann Mary. Many men are named after fathers and grandfathers and become juniors or the seconds. Our District Superintendent’s son is William Williams the fourth.
Sometimes parents wait till a baby is born and name them for hair color like Amber or for a holiday—Noel, Holly, Natalie. Do you know what the most popular baby names were for last year? Sophia remained the top girl’s name for year eleven. Olivia was second place. Liam was the top boy’s name for year two. Noah was second place.
This past week at the Ecumenical Luncheon hosted by the Rotary Club and the Kiwanis, I sat with two of my favorite sisters from St. Al’s, Sister Alice and Sister Suzy. I asked them about when they joined their orders—how was it taking a new name? Their eyes lit up and they each had stories to tell about this practice that disappeared many years ago. Sister Alice says she took the name Sr. Daniel Marie. Sister Suzy said the name she wanted was taken so she got named Sr. Paula after being told she could walk around the cemetery and pick a name. Both women expressed great relief that all were finally able to return to being known by their baptism names. Sr. Alice added that one nun who is 99 years old, changed her name back to her baptism name just a short while ago.
We’re thinking about names this morning because on this Sunday of the church year the season of Pentecost ends and in another week the season of advent and Christmas will begin. Today is Christ the King Sunday. In the frenzy of Thanksgiving, recovery from Halloween and All Saints Sunday and in anticipation of the beginning of the Christmas season it is often overlooked. Yet, it completes the three names of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is known to us through scriptures as Prophet and Priest and today reminds us, King, as well! Let’s review.
First, Jesus is named Prophet. Prophets were given the task of speaking God’s word which was sometimes plans for the future. People of Jesus’ day referred to him as a prophet on many occasions. Like the prophets of old he also performed miracles and healings. And he told his own disciples of his pending death and resurrection. Jesus did not just speak the word of God he was the Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.”
Secondly, Jesus is named Priest. Old Testament priests served as the mediators between God and people, offering sacrifices and prayers. In the book of Hebrews, a section of which I preached on last week, Jesus is presented as our ultimate High Priest. He has become the bridge between God and us through his once and forever sacrifice on the cross. Hebrews 4: 14-16: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to emphasize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
And now the final name, Jesus is King. We have a glimpse of what is to come in the Old Testament story of David, the shepherd boy, who was chosen to become the next king of Israel after Saul. Prophet Samuel promised him: “Your house and your throne will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” [2 Samuel 7:16] This prophesy was fulfilled in the Messiah, Jesus who was called Son of David. Even before his birth as the little baby in the manger in Bethlehem, the angel Gabriel shared with Mary that her unborn son “will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” [Luke 1: 32-33]
Those three responsibilities of Prophet, Priest and King never overlap. Each had a separate function. And in bible times these offices were always held by separate persons. However, our Lord Jesus Christ fulfills all three roles simultaneously and perfectly for us whom he died for and whom he loves.
Christ the King Sunday reminds us of all three names, but especially Christ as King, as ruler over our hearts and lives. It is a reminder of where our loyalty must lie. This understanding encourages us to reexamine our own loyalties and place them under the realm of the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” [Rev. 19:16]
- Our loyalties dictate how we spend our time,
- how we share our resources,
- how we bring up our children and grandchildren,
- how we demonstrate our loyalty to Christ through our participation in the church.
I would ask you to reflect on these things this week. Where does your loyalty lie? Can others see or experience through your words and actions to whom you are loyal? How might you need to readjust your loyalties to reflect your allegiance to and love of Christ? The take away today? Remember that Christ is Prophet, Priest and King. Let us pray.
Almighty God, We surrender all to Christ, our King. We give up our self-centeredness. We lay down our own selfish motivations and lift up love for our neighbor. We place our loyalty to Jesus Christ first in our lives that we might truly live lives worthy of our calling as disciples. Thank you. Amen.
HOLD FAST TO HOPE
“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer, Sunday, November 14, 2021
Text: Hebrews 10: 11-25
11 And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” 13 and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. 15 And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, 16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts,and I will write them on their minds,” 17 he also adds “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. 19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
The writer of Hebrews reminds us of the futility of the high priests who repeatedly make sacrifices “again and again.” A repetitious action that never fully takes away sin. When you examine the sacrificial practices of the time, they were numerous and often part of a daily routine. We understand better why the writer of Hebrews says: 11 And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. The counterpoint to this is that Christ offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins.
The first lesson today is a new understanding of how sins are forgiven. There is nothing we can offer or say or do to make amends for our departures from the love of God and neighbor. However, Christ has made a sacrifice for us that is once and for all. The scripture assures us “14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.”
Last Sunday we named and lighted candles for all the saints, our loved ones, who have already gone before us to the place that Christ prepared for them. All the saints, yesterday and today and forever benefit from Christ’s act of ultimate love, his single offering. Christ knows every precious saint’s name. He died for your loved ones. He died for you. He died for me. He died for all of us, his brothers and sisters, children of God. We are perfected through his sacrifice.
Then today’s scripture passage follows up on how this new understanding is available to us. This new covenant or promise from God to do away with the rules and regulations of the old covenant is written on our hearts. Think about the words we say during communion: “This is the cup of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Prophet Jeremiah foretold the day coming when the law of God would be written on our hearts not on tablets of stone or in lengthy lists of rules and regulations. In this passage the Holy Spirit announces: “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”
It is in our most inward selves where God claims a stake in our lives. While God has always remained faithful through every covenant promise since creation, God’s children have not. The coming of Messiah is the fulfillment of the ultimate promise which the prophets announced. “His name is Wonderful, Counsellor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace.”
Christ has offered the final sacrifice necessary for our sins; God reminds us of his act of love by writing the covenant in our hearts; and then according to the writer of Hebrews we are free to enter the sanctuary, to approach God directly, through the “new and living” way that Christ has opened for us. Our hearts are clean and we are purified by living water. Another term for this “new and living way, this bridge to God, is grace, the most important element of our Christian faith.
A single sacrifice for forgiveness of all sin, the covenant of grace written on our hearts and The final and most important lesson today is that not only are our sins forgiven, and we are recipients of God’s grace in the new covenant, but that this enables us to become a family. Belonging together... brothers and sisters holding onto this hope, provoking one another to good deeds and encouraging one another as the writer of Hebrews envisions us. Here’s another way to think about this: [sermoncentral.com, Rick Stacy, Aug 27, 2009]
“Listen, we are family. We belong together but we are not just a collection of disconnected people. We are family. You can have two kinds of churches. One kind is a lot like a bag full of marbles. They don’t really have much to do with each other. They are hard and don’t every really mesh with anyone. In fact if you throw one into a group they kind of bounce off one another and head in all directions. They are isolated and individual. They ricochet off each other -- but when you take them out again, each remains intact, distinct and individual. When Christians operate like marbles, they get together, and then go their separate ways, and everyone’s still the same as when they arrived.
The other kind of church is like a wineskin full of grapes. Put grapes into a bag, and apply a little pressure; the grapes break open and all their flavors get mixed together -- they influence the others and are influenced -- they become one - what’s certain is they’ll never be same individuals as when they began. The marble mentality grows from individualism. Individualism which is totally foreign – foreign… to the way God created us as human beings. Rick Warren hits it on the head when he says, "We’re formed for family."
“23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” As recipients of forgiveness and grace, we are to share these gifts with the people around us in our church. We are to meet together. We are to “provoke” or “motivate” or “stir one another up” to good deeds and encourage one another.
In order to follow these instructions, we must be flexible enough to do our encouraging in new ways that reflect the aftermath of the pandemic and decades of changes in church attendance culture. In other words, the hope we are hanging onto is as powerful and fresh as ever, but we must be energetically pivoting and tossing the ball in new directions. This without a doubt will be the Christian Church’s biggest challenge in the years to come. Let us pray.
Gracious God, help us hold fast to hope, help us to learn to offer forgiveness and grace to others in your name, and finally bind us together with one another in our congregation with cords of love. In Jesus’ precious name we pray. Amen.
NOT FAR FROM THE KINGDOM
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, October 31, 2021
TEXT: Mark 12: 28-34
28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.
As you are aware two weeks ago Robb and I went to Vermont for three days. Our daughter Susan had given us the stay at an Inn in East Burke as a gift. While we have gone to Vermont for many years, we had never been to East Burke which is about an hour from Montpelier. Our first night there we asked for a recommendation for a nice dinner. We were given the name of a restaurant at a nearby inn. Only a few miles away.
It was nice to know that we were not far from the restaurant. We had driven a lot of miles that day and were eager just to have a meal and relax. So we set the GPS by the name of the Inn we were going to and set out. Well, it is dark out in the mountains. No street lights like around here. It was very dark. As I drove, Robb helped translate the GPS directions.
We were barely out of town when I noticed the GPS had reversed its directions. I pointed this out to Robb and he agreed that we should follow it. Less than a mile more and the GPS changed its directions again. By now we were on pitch black roads heading away from civilization. About this time Robb mentioned that the guy at our Inn said that GPS doesn’t work well here. No lie!
Continuing into the darkness we realized that we had left the asphalt road behind us and were now bumping along on a dirt road in the woods. We stopped and tried at least three times to readjust our GPS and compare it to the Google map on the phone. By now half an hour had passed and many more miles than we were intending to go.
Looking once more online at the address of the restaurant, I said “This is the road we are on. It has to be here.” By this time we were both hungry, tired and grouchy. We called the restaurant and discovered that we had already driven by them because the sign we couled see from the road was not the name of the Inn but rather another venue also at their site. We were not far from the restaurant but had just another mile to go. So very very close but not quite there!
Today’s scripture is also about trying to find a way. About being close to a spiritual truth very, very close, not too far away, but not quite there yet. Before the story in today’s scripture, Jesus has already had heated debates with religious leaders regarding how his teaching related to the Law of Moses. Like should one pay taxes to Caesar or a woman is married a few times and each time her husband dies, who will be her husband in heaven?
They tried to trap Jesus and trip him up because his popularity and teachings threatened the religious establishment. But Jesus has prevailed in each of these arguments. Another translation of today’s scripture today reads: 28 One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” [New Living Translation]
The scribe who asks Jesus this question has witnessed the previous questions and challenges and has seen the manner in which this rabbi has answered them. The scribe’s question seems to be a respectful one, one out of curiosity. And he does wish to truly know how Jesus will respond. “Which commandment is the first of all?”
Jesus answers him that the greatest commandment is to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. A novel and new way to understand two admonitions that previously had been found in religious law but until this point, had never been placed together. But it made tremendous sense because how can you love God or anyone else if you don’t love yourself?
Persons who don’t love themselves are not difficult to identify. If someone is mean, nasty, unkind, impatient, or sarcastic, it sure says a lot about how they feel about themselves. And when people exhibit these unloving traits, they demonstrate how easy it is to hurt others instead of love them. Failing to forgive. Seeking to cause division. Insisting on having their way. Showing impatience with others.
And then this story comes to a surprising ending. The religious teacher concurs with Jesus that this is The Greatest Commandment. To love God and to love neighbor as yourself. “You are right, Jesus, …this is much more important than burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.” This is the final public teaching by Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. And what a remarkable teaching it is. The crown of all the laws and commandments rolled up into one precious commandment.
Have you ever had difficulty in loving a neighbor? In the humorous book entitled Prayers for Pagans and Hypocrites, there is a cartoon that says: “Dear Lord, I love my enemies, it’s my neighbors I can’t stand.” Have you ever had a neighbor you found hard to love? Have you ever been the neighbor hard to love?
I believe that the rubber hits the road of the Greatest Commandment in how we love others. As someone asked Jesus elsewhere: Who is our neighbor? Who is our neighbor? Sometimes it is the person living next door but more often than not it is someone we have not yet met. Another child of God in need of something.
Once I put together a poster for a youth group with lots of pictures cut from magazines with various people in need. There were third world children dressed in tatters. There were handicapped persons. There was a woman carrying a jug of water on her head. There were victims of hurricanes, floods, fire. One picture right in the center was of a starving child lying on a sidewalk, lifting an empty bowl. I asked the youth group about each of the photos. What does this person need?
In putting together the pictures I knew I had captured people who needed clothing, food, shelter, medicine and so on and so forth. I pointed to the central photo of the starving child holding the bowl. What do you think she needs? I asked. After a moment’s pause one teen quietly responded: She needs love. Her response stopped me cold. Love? No, no she needs something to eat, I thought, she needs food, she’s starving. But we paused and we considered this answer-Love-and it struck me that she was spot on!
Those in desperate need—whether next door, across from Madison Square Garden at the feeding site, recipients of the coat drive, victims of domestic violence at the local shelter, immigrants, friends in financial trouble, children who’ve been bullied, etc. need our love. Love God, and love the neighbor as yourself. There is no act of true charity and caring but that love does not precede it. Anything else is just doing stuff to make the doer or the giver feel good. And the only love that matters is this very same love that we have learned about by loving God.
God’s love is a steadfast, faithful love. A love that encompassed the entire world with the gift of God’s only son. A love that has no finite height or depth or width. A love that is neverending. A love that has been defined and redefined by the prophets over the ages and whose final fruition came to us as the Messiah. This is the love we share when we follow the commandment to love God and love the neighbor as ourself.
Though this is a difficult commandment, nonetheless it is the most important. As Jesus called it “The Greatest Commandment.” As we put this greatest commandment into action in our own lives, we come closer, much closer to the kingdom of God. Most importantly, we are not far from God’s intention for our lives and for the world. A world of justice and peace, respect and kindness.
Let us pray:
Gracious God, We pray that we might always love in the manner Jesus taught us to love, sacrificially and generously. We pray that we may find the neighbor in every situation. And we pray that we will find our way to Your kingdom as we follow the Greatest Commandment. Amen.