“ALL ARE KIN TO ME”
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, October 3, 2021
13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
Hebrews 1: 1-4; 2: 5-12
1Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
5 Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. 6 But someone has testified somewhere,
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
or mortals, that you care for them?
7 You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned them with glory and honor,
8 subjecting all things under their feet.”
Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, 9 but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
10 It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11 For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12 saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”
On this World Communion Sunday let’s pause and ponder what possible meaning this day might have for us. Usually churches celebrate this day as we have as well with remembering all the various countries we and our ancestors are from and perhaps even having all sorts of breads and rice cakes to celebrate communion with. Some sanctuaries fly the flags of all the nations represented in their congregations. But I would invite us today to look in a different way at this annual holy day for Christians.
I’d like to begin today with a question for you. How would you answer “who is God?” Who is God? Our father in heaven, the divine, Jesus’ dad, the source of love, the Good Shepherd, etc., etc. This is an important question to be able to answer.
Now I have a second question for you. “Who are you?” Who are you? You may answer with your given name. You may answer I’m a father, mother, sister, brother, grandparent. You may proclaim your nationality. You may answer I am an accountant, a stay at home parent, college student, retiree. You may answer any number of possibilities that you identify with.
Now the most difficult question. What do “who God is” and “who you are” have to do with each other? And, why does that even matter? The writer of Hebrews in today’s scripture lesson answers this. He weighs in on both questions of identity and then our gospel lesson in Mark adds the final “touche”! To be a person of faith it is important to know the answer.
First of all, The writer of Hebrews wants us to know who God is. He reminds us that in days long past it was the prophets that who spoke words about God so people would come to know God and understand God.
Prophet Amos—shared about God’s desire for social justice
Prophet Isaiah—shared about God’s desire to bring the Israelite exiles home. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain leveled as they travel the road home
Prophet Jeremiah-God is writing a new covenant of love in our hearts
Prophet Hosea—shared about the forgiveness of God
Every prophet, these and all the others, just gave glimpses, just pieces of who God is. Fragments. Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. And then God comes to us in person in Jesus Christ and all the pieces of the puzzle are assembled. He is the brightness of God, he is the exact image of God like a seal makes a print on a paper, he was in the beginning with God and creates the world, he is our advocate not our judge, “the one who makes intercession for us.” Jesus is God with us! Emmanuel! We know can know the love and forgiveness of God through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Secondly, the writer of Hebrews helps us learn who we really are. He asks “what are human beings that [God is mindful of them”? Then he quotes Psalm 8:5. “7 You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor…” “A little lower than the angels.” That’s the correct Greek translation but the correct Hebrew translation of the word “angels” is “Elohim”. You have made them “a little lower than God. ” Wow. Think about that. God made us not quite divine. You may be familiar with G. K. Chesterton, the British writer from the early 1900’s, whose novels inspired the PBS Father Brown Series. He was also a sort of lay theologian and once wrote…quite accurately, I must add, “We are not what we are meant to be.” A little less than God. Who are you? A little less than God.
I was behind a car earlier this week at the drive thru at the bank. It was there a long time. Finally it began to pull ahead and before I could pull up, it’s brake lights came on and it lurched back to the window, The window rolled down, the driver was shouting all sorts of nasty stuff. In the midst, I heard “what’s your name?” and “You’ll be sorry, I’m reporting you to your manager.” The car then sped off.
A little less than God? Or a great example of “we are not what we are meant to be”? When I got up to the window, I recognized the teller as someone whom I have dealt with many times before. She has always been polite and good at her job. I said, I just heard what happened. She nodded. Please don’t take that to heart. You do an excellent job. And when I left after my transaction, I said, Have a good day… from now on!
Lest anyone of you think how good I was in that scenario, I can tell you for certain that me and every one of us has at times played both roles in this scenario. The victim and the giver of guff!
We have a choice, we can show others the brightness of God or we can turn off the lights. Every day at least a few times each of us has opportunity to make someone else’s life easier. We have opportunity after opportunity to “be who we were meant to be” not some ignorant person who trashes others and puts them down. Who wounds and hurts others.
How do we become what we were meant to be? Gospel writer Mark gives us the clues to answer this third and final question in today’s gospel story. People are bringing their children to Jesus most likely because they have heard about this wonderful rabbi and they want to have him bless their children. The disciples try to keep them away. “Jesus doesn’t need a bunch of kids climbing over him right now. It’s been a hard journey, lots of tough stuff to think about the final days. The last thing we need is this.”
You know what happened. Scripture reports: 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” We become “what we were meant to be” by receiving the kingdom of God like a child. His teaching illustrations were right there in front of him and then were in his arms and on his lap!
Become like the children…receive me like they receive me. There is no other way to be with me and my father in the kingdom. No other way. We know that children at their best are humble, obedient, trusting, happy, accepting authority, have confidence in others, have short memories—no holding grudges!
Jesus shows us the way to God. Jesus always has his arms open to receive us and to welcome us into the kingdom of God. Jesus recreates us—makes us a little lower than the angels, a little less than God and calls us his children for that is who we are meant to be.
What’s this have to do with World Communion Sunday? It helps us remember that throughout this whole wide earth we are the same. All peoples have seen God through Jesus Christ and have been recreated in God’s image. Like the hymn goes:
1 In Christ there is no east or west, In Him no south or north;
But one community of love throughout the whole wide earth.
2 In Christ shall true hearts everywhere their high communion find; His service is the golden cord, close-binding humankind.
3 In Christ is neither Jew nor Greek, and neither slave nor free;
both male and female heirs are made, and all are kin to me.
Because God so loved the world, we have a sameness that triumphs over any differences that we may have. The earth is our home for now, the kingdom is our home forever. Jesus welcomes those who welcome all their kin throughout this whole wide earth. Let us pray.
Gracious God, Thank you for giving your Son to us so that we might see your glory, experience your sacrificial love and grow into your divine likeness along with all the other inhabitants of our world. Help us become what we were meant to be. Amen.
PASS THE SALT
Rev Vivian L. Rodeffer
September 26, 2021
TEXT: Mark 9: 38-50
38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
To begin with, we can say with assuredness that there is more to salt than meets the taste buds. Salt has been used in many cultures throughout history as a valuable commodity. In fact, our word salary comes from an ancient word meaning “salt-money,” referring to a Roman soldier’s allowance for the purchase of salt. Someone who earns his pay is still said to be “worth his salt.”
Salt has also been used through the centuries and up to present times to express promises and cement friendship between people. In many Arab cultures, if two men partake of salt together they are sworn to protect one another—even if they had previously been enemies. In some cultures, people throw salt over their shoulders when they make a promise. Don’t you still do that when salt spills? A pinch over your shoulder. What modern day person would ever have realized that sodium chloride was so important in history?
In the ancient world, eating salt was also a way to make an agreement legally binding. If two parties entered into an agreement, they would eat salt together in the presence of witnesses, and that act would bind their contract. In the bible, the grandson of Solomon, King Abijah in 2 Chronicles 13:5 mentions just such a salt covenant: “Don’t you know that the LORD, the God of Israel, has given the kingship of Israel to David and his descendants forever by a covenant of salt?” Here, King Abijah refers to the strong, legally binding promise of God to give Israel to David and his sons forever.
The idea of a salt covenant carries a great deal of meaning because of the value of salt. Today, salt is easy to come by in our culture, and we don’t necessarily need it as a preservative because of refrigeration. But to the people of Jesus’ day, salt was an important and precious commodity. So, when Jesus told His disciples that they were “the salt of the earth,” He meant that believers have value in this world and are to have a preserving influence (Matthew 5:13). And when in today’s scripture lesson Jesus says: “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another,” he draws upon the covenantal aspects of being the people of God. That has to do with the keeping of promises and with God’s will toward humanity. We are in relationship with God through Jesus Christ; we are in relationship with our neighbor; and we are in relationship with the earth as well.
So, the take aways…
First, Jesus says you are valuable. Just like salt was in his time. A precious commodity to you family, your friends, your community Let no one denigrate your worth. Let no one make you feel otherwise. Be assured and bold. You are precious in the eyes of God.
Second take away. If there is something in your make up like pride or haughtiness, like you feel you have to be first, most important, the center of attention, the greatest, get rid of those thoughts asap. This is what the disciples were arguing about in last week’s scripture. Which one of us is the greatest?!
Then comes those famous warnings of Jesus which seminary preaching professors remind you are not to be taken literally,
- 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off.” Maybe you use it to strike and hit and hurt rather than to comfort and support and lift someone up.
- “If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off.” Be careful where your journey of life takes you. Are you going places and doing things that detract from your spiritual journey or enhance the journey by going toward the persons and places in need of love and justice.
- 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; Jesus’ disciples are in covenant with one another. We care for one another. We don’t compete with one another for God’s or anyone’s attention. Maybe our eyes have not been seeing others the same way that Jesus sees others. There is no one that Jesus does not love. That is how we must learn to look at others so our eyes will not cause us to stumble.
A final take away, don’t lose your saltiness! Don’t let the water of the world wash away or dilute your saltiness. There are many temptations to wash in the ways of the world, to scrub away our discipleship, to pollute that water we are supposed to share with others. Care for your soul. Stay refreshed with God’s waters of life. Restoring, refreshing waters. Not the polluted waters of the streams of sin and death. Have salt in yourself and be at peace with one another! Let us pray.
Gracious God, Let us be as salty and tasty to the world as the foods which we salt. Let us flavor the world with love for all people lived out in a covenant of caring and concern for those around us. Amen.
NOTE: Today’s historical salt information was found at
- WELCOMING GOD INTO OUR LIVES
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me…” Mark 9: 37a
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, September 19, 2021
SCRIPTURE Mark 9: 30-37
30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
As we continue in the gospel of Mark we find Jesus continuing to teach his disciples how his ministry must culminate in sacrifice, suffering and death. Not a possibility that any of them wish to believe. In last Sunday’s scripture lesson, disciple Peter refused to believe that Jesus must suffer and die. When he protested, Jesus rebuked him: Get behind me, Satan.
The teaching continues in today’s lesson. But the disciples still don’t understand what he is saying and as scripture says: Were afraid to ask him. Well, they may have been afraid to ask Jesus but they weren’t afraid to talk among themselves as they walked to their next ministry location—Capernaum.
And not only were they talking, they were arguing. So loudly, Jesus overheard them. So when they got into the house where they were staying in Capernaum, right away Jesus asks them: What were you arguing about? What’s the problem? Silence. No response. Because they had not wanted Jesus to know that they were arguing about who the most important one was.
Have you noticed how important it is for some people to feel better than others? My job is better than your job. My workout is more extreme than yours. My baking is more exquisite than yours. My children are smarter or more talented than yours. My dog can do more stuff than yours.
There was even a song about this—the Ken-L-Ration Song—the words of which were “My dog’s bigger than your dog…” This list goes on and on. It is a part of being human, we want to set ourselves apart, to outdo one another.
There is nothing wrong to strive to be our best or have the smartest children or biggest dogs but that kind of thinking isn’t what Jesus has in mind for his followers. He takes matters into a teaching moment. From argument on the trail, to child on the lap.
35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” The first take away.
That’s a tough first take away. Jesus tells them to reverse their thinking because “being the greatest” is not what discipleship is about. Instead, the last becomes first, the least becomes most, the unwanted becomes the most precious of all, and so on and so forth. In the kingdom of God there is an inversion of earthly values. God doesn’t think like we do. The story continues…
The Jesus took a nearby little child and had him stand among them, his teaching object lesson, and then he took the child and held him on his lap.
He said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” This second take away is harder even than the first. We welcome God into our lives by welcoming even “one such child” in Jesus’ name.
We all certainly know how to treat children lovingly. I don’t think that is what Jesus is getting at here. I think the “in my name” holds the clue! We welcome infants and children in Jesus’ name when they are baptized, when we kneel down at night and pray with them at bedtime, when we grace a meal before we eat, when we make certain they have a good Christian education in the faith, when we ourselves keep the Greatest Commandment –to love God and love neighbor as ourselves.
I think the link between these two parts of this passage is the connection between the life and death and resurrection of Jesus and how all his future followers need to be grounded in His name in order to have the strength and courage to be Christians in a world not based on the values of God. To help us walk that tightrope and to help us treat others with love and value. It is only then that we can call ourselves disciples, and only then that we are ready to meet God.
Jesus calls it “welcoming God.” Making God at home in our lives. Not measuring our success and greatness in life by pride and processions, position in society and posturing that we are the greatest. But rather, welcoming children, welcoming the vulnerable, welcoming the poor, welcoming the least, the last and the lost throughout our lives. And in doing so, God makes a home within our hearts.
Let us pray.
Lord, help us to learn to take seriously your command to welcome children into the family of faith. So that we and they might have a strong and hopeful foundation for growth in our discipleship. Thank you. Amen.
GONE TO THE DOGS
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
September 5, 2021
TEXT: Mark 7: 24-37
“Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Mark 7: 28
24 From there [Jesus] set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
31 Then [Jesus] returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
We begin our sermon series this fall with the Gospel of Mark. It’s the shortest one and a good one to read through to prepare for these messages. Robb and I have attended a performance of the Book of Mark by a single actor who has memorized the entire book and shares it with the audience. In one evening with a minimum of scenery the theatre goer experiences the entire work of Mark. It is astonishing in its ability to capture one’s attention and to share an old, old story that never seems to age! If you have opportunity, read through Mark as we continue on this fall.
To help us to understand this scripture, we need to turn back a page and see what happens immediately before it. In the previous verses Jesus is teaching that “uncleanness has nothing to do with what people take into their bodies but everything to do with what comes out of their hearts.” [Mark, William Barclay, p. 199] The kosher laws of what was clean and unclean were numerous and are strictly enforced even to this day! But Jesus began the task of re-envisioning the law according to the forgiveness and grace of God. A “new” law that Prophet Jeremiah foresaw. One that will be written on the heart, not on tablets of stone.
This section of scripture has a mystery surrounding it too and another revision of the Law of Moses. It begins with Jesus in Gentile territory. He is in the city of Tyre [tire], a harbor 40 miles north of Capernaum. Then he travels further north to the Phoenician port of Sidon [sigh-don] as he makes his way south to Galilee. Now this strange going north to Sidon to end up in the south at Galilee would be like person traveling from Philadelphia to Atlanta by way of New York City. It doesn’t seem to make sense.
Usually whatever appears in a bible passage has meaning even if we have to puzzle it out. These extra miles going north may actually indicate a timely pause in Jesus’ ministry. A time to pray. A time to regroup. A time to take a breather from the attacks of the Pharisees. A last retreat before full speed ahead to the cross.
The first take away. It is always good to take time to regroup before anything important you have to do or any important decision you need to make. Take it to God in prayer. It was shortly after that sojourn in Sidon that disciple Peter becomes fully aware that Jesus is the Messiah. Something in that time apart with his Master revealed what had been hidden until then. Something all the disciples will have to wrap their heads around in order to keep following their Master.
The second take away I already hinted at in the previous verses before today’s passage. Jesus was reinterpreting the Law according to God’s mercy and grace when he taught his friends that all foods are clean. No rules about food have any ability to make a person unclean which was radical thought in his religious community! It is also a perfect introduction to this passage in which Jesus deals with clean and unclean peoples—Jews and Gentiles. In a private home in Tyre Jesus encounters a Gentile woman coming for help. He tried to enter the place incognito but failed as he “could not escape notice.”
No sooner does he walk through the door than a woman recognizes him, comes and bows down. He is aware she is a Gentile, a Syrophoenician. Without wasting any time she gets to the point—her daughter is very sick. Some kind of demon. She begs Jesus to make her well.
Here’s the surprise! Jesus says no way. I’m here for my children and they’re going to be fed first! It just isn’t right for me to take my children’s food and throw it to the dogs. When we hear these words, it is hard to believe they are issuing from Jesus’ mouth. He is comparing this Gentile woman and her daughter to dogs. Unlike this day and age when dogs are cherished parts of a family, dogs had no good press in Jesus’ time. Even in our own times with our beloved pooches like Daisy and Popi, we still hear the phase that when something is bad it has “gone to the dogs.”
But Jesus’ words do not faze this determined woman in the least. Without missing a beat she points out the obvious: “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Can you imagine saying that to Jesus?
It is wonderful to know that Jesus was immediately reminded by her gentle pleading and good argument that yes, even the Gentiles, the unclean ones, have a place at God’s table because there are no more clean and unclean peoples…but all peoples are worthy in God’s sight. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.” [John 3: 16]
Just like the words in Shirley Murray’s hymn “A Place at the Table”
“For everyone born a place at the table,
For everyone born, clean water and bread,
A shelter, a space, a safe place for growing,
For everyone born a star overhead.”
“And God will delight when we are creators
Of justice and joy, compassion and piece:
Yes, God will delight when we are creators
Of justice, justice and joy.”
The third take away is the great good news that Jesus Christ welcomes all to his arms. Welcomes all seeking forgiveness. Welcomes all who need release from trials and tribulations. Welcomes all who suffer for his sake. Welcomes friends and enemies. Welcomes the haughty and the meek. Welcomes the unjust and the just. “For everyone born, a place at the table.”
This message comes to us at a good time because we are still a country in turmoil. Friends and family differ over politics and responses to the pandemic, twenty years have passed since an enemy slaughtered thousands of innocents on 9-11, wildfires and floods devastate vast communities including our own communities this week, yet Christ is still present, reconciling this troubled world onto himself. For that, we are eternally grateful. Let us pray.
Gracious God, How easy it is for us to draw boundaries and only allow whom and what we feel is acceptable. How popular it is to take sides, to make fun, to blame victims for their struggles. How hard it is to live with Christ’s law of love in our hearts and to welcome all to His table. Be with us, transform us, perfect us in love. Amen.
Grace Filled Strength
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, August 22, 2021
TEXT: Ephesians 6: 10-20
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
My teaser in your email Friday with today’s zoom link and bulletin was “What do you wear for different occasions?” It has been said that “Clothes make the man or clothes make the woman.” That certainly holds true for today’s scripture as you will see. One of the features of zoom that many of us loved best was that while visiting, working, going to school, or worshipping virtually we could wear anything we wanted to from the waist down. Those of who join zoom by telephone audio alone could wear anything they wish.
There are lots of stories in our bibles about clothes, what we put on our bodies. Joseph’s coat of many colors, the robes and amulets that the Levite priests wore, the beautiful clothes that Dorcas sewed which her friends brought to her funeral, the spy’s crimson cord that helped Rehab and her family escape Jericho with , the seamless garment belonging to Jesus that the soldiers gambled for at his execution, and so on and so forth.
The very first story about clothes in our bible is in the creation story in Genesis. And from that story we learn that our first spiritual ancestors did not wear clothes. At least not at the beginning of the story. As you may remember after eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve realized they were naked and felt embarrassed that God would see them naked. So, they made coverings for themselves from leaves.
So, God confronted them with what they had done and in Genesis 3:21 we learn that “The Lord God fashioned garments from animal skins for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.” [ISV] The sacrificing of animals to make what they would wear, cover their bodies with, may have been a hint of what was to come many millennia hence in the history of the people of faith. That the sins of all of us will be covered by a sacrifice—the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Nothing else would be sufficient.
Just as Adam and Eve found themselves “naked and afraid” in the garden of Eden, the earliest Christians that St Paul is writing to find themselves in a similar position. Not physically naked but spiritually “naked and afraid” of the many ways their faith would make them targets during times of persecution. And you know what? We are still very much “naked and afraid” of the ways our faith puts us on the firing line. So Paul’s words are for us as well.
As we think about today’s scripture we may ask why the focus on a soldier’s armor in this letter? Someone suggested it may have been because Paul was writing from prison and most likely been chained to the Roman soldier who was guarding him. That would have given Paul plenty of opportunity to talk with him about the armor and get a good up close look at it. Paul like Jesus often used the things around him for teaching lessons.
So it makes sense that in the conclusion of Paul’s letter called Ephesians he sums up his teaching throughout the entire letter by encouraging us: 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God… Now this strength he is calling us to is not to engage in warfare but rather as he puts it four times in these first couple of sentences to stand firm! It is almost as if the heaviness of God’s armor—God’s protective sleeve—around us anchors us in the goodness of his love and grace. And when we are clothed in it, nothing can harm us or destroy us. Not even death itself can have victory over us. Nothing can knock us away from our beliefs in goodness and grace, acceptance and forgiveness of all people. From loving our neighbor and our enemy as well.
As in many teachings Paul surprizes us by not having us use our armor offensively in active battle but by standing firm. Standing firm against evil, standing fast in Christ and standing rooted by truth. Paul warns us that as people of faith we are battling the principalities and powers of evil. Racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, every “ism” in the books is a “child of the devil” as Paul would point out and Paul would continue… you cannot stand against, stand firm, stand fast against sin, without putting on the armor of God.
The single piece of armor that Paul lists that is not totally for our passive protection is the Sword of God’s word. Every soldier is trained to use the weapons they carry. We are trained to use this sword by our prayers. Prayers in every crisis, every kind of prayer. Be sleepless, Paul enjoins, persevering in prayer for all. Pray constantly and about everything! That’s how we wield the Sword of God’s Word.
Just this week, the United Methodist News Agency shared an article about a man who most definitely wore the armor. I’d like to share parts of it with you. It is entitled:
“Amid Afghan Chaos, Remembering a Godly Man”
SUGAR LAND, Texas — As the world watches Afghanistan, [we] remember Christy Wilson, who established an evangelical church in Kabul.
“When Satan fell to earth, he fell in Kabul”[is an] oft-quoted Afghan proverb. No matter what your politics may be, the images coming out of Afghanistan this week have been horrendous. For the desperation demonstrated by the Afghans who flooded the airport runways in Kabul is all too palpable. And now some are reporting that Christians in that nation are fearing for their very lives at the hands of Taliban extremists.
All of which has made me think of the godliest man I have ever known, Christy Wilson. Born and raised in Tabriz, Iran, where his parents were American missionaries, from the age of five Christy’s calling from God was to take the gospel to a place where it had never gone before, the closed nation of Afghanistan, known to some as “the forbidden harvest.” But as missionaries were not allowed to enter, he found a back door in, that of becoming a teacher in a country where 97 percent of the population at the time couldn’t read or write.
Even with that enormous need, it still took four years from first applying to the Afghan Embassy in Washington before he finally received permission to go in 1951. And when he arrived, he felt the power of evil everywhere all around him. Nonetheless, Christy quickly made an impression on others—he would say God showed him favor—and soon he was the acting principal of a government high school, as well as teaching private English lessons to the Crown Prince, and conducting an English course for Afghan diplomats in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Ordained during World War II to be a Presbyterian chaplain in the U.S. Navy, Christy and his wife Betty, who had started a school for the blind in Kabul, then started a small and secret house church in their home for other Christians who had come to teach or work with the U.N. agencies. And then in 1959, he heard that President Dwight D. Eisenhower (named for the evangelist Dwight Moody by his mother) was coming to Afghanistan on his Asian tour. And using a connection back in the States, Christy made a rather bold request: “Since a mosque has been built for the Muslim diplomats in Washington, on a reciprocal basis, we should have a church build here in Kabul for Christian diplomats.” And the President responded by presenting to the Afghan king that very request which was granted.
It took another ten years to raise the funds, provided by people from all over the world, and to construct the building but in 1970 the first and only evangelical Christian church on Afghan soil opened, with Christy Wilson as its pastor. Three years later, however, after a relatively peaceful forty-year reign of King Zahir Shah, everything rapidly changed. Christy and Betty were given three days’ notice to get out of the country, carrying only one small bag apiece after living there for 22 years. And then on July 14, 1973, soldiers, police, workmen and bulldozers showed up to destroy the church building itself, even digging down 12 feet belong the foundation looking for the “underground church” they had been told existed. Instead of opposing them, however, the congregation offered them tea and cookies. …
Five years later, that government was toppled by a Communist coup, followed by the Russian invasion in 1979. As for Christy and Betty, they ended up in Massachusetts [where] he began teaching world evangelization at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. And there too, his quiet but fervent faith, as well as quick wit and sense of humor, made a difference. He made it his practice, for instance, each week to pray through the “facebook” that had photos of all the students, interceding for each person individually. (When students met him on campus for the first time, they would be surprised to hear a professor they had never met call them by name.) Indeed, Christy would pray with you anytime and anyplace and you never got out of his office without praying at least three times. He also established a prayer room on the campus and every day at noon, he and a band of students would unite in prayer for the peoples and nations of the world.
Christy was invited to return to Kabul in 1991 for 23 days to work and pray with Christians there. And eight years later, he entered God’s eternal Kingdom after 78 years of providing to others a remarkable picture of what it means to serve God with both joy and power. If he were still on earth today, however, I am pretty clear what he would say about the current chaos in the country which he loved all of his life. “Let’s pray about it right now and see what God will do.”
As I watch those tragic images on television, thus, all I can do right now is pray as well, knowing that no one—not even the Taliban—is completely beyond God’s reach and power to change. But I also cannot think of that forbidden harvest and Kabul without remembering Christy.
And I have a feeling that God can’t either.
“No one is beyond God’s reach and power to change.” Remember to put on the armor of God every morning so that you remain steady and rock solid in the face of the principalities and power of evil in this world. So you remain firmly rooted in the grace and love of God. So you will pray without ceasing. So you will be strong in God’s grace. Let us pray.
Gracious God, help us not be afraid to wear the armor, to live strongly so we do not fall to the enemy of sin and evil, to pray without stopping, and to trust in your power to bring about justice for all. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
Thanksgiving 24/ 7
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, August 15, 2021
Text: Ephesians 5: 15-20
“…Giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything…” [Eph. 5: 20]
TEXT: Ephesians 5: 15-20
15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Be careful how you live.” Be… careful… how… you… live. Could St. Paul have words that are any more relevant for today? I can probably speak for most of us that in these past eighteen months we have been living very, very carefully. Most of us are vaccinated and have encouraged others to be vaccinated for the good of all. Most of us have worn masks in stores, at doctor appointments, in restaurants between courses. Most of us last March even wore gloves for every public excursion and wiped down packages lest they were contaminated with virus. And if you are present in worship this morning, you know that our bishop reinstituted mask wearing again in light of the rise in Covid-19 cases once again.
While Paul’s words about being careful and wise certainly speak to the pandemic, they also speak to our lives in general. Everyday admonitions for the people of faith. Be wise, make the most of your time, don’t fritter away your hours under the influence of anything but your faith, and his last and most significant admonition: “Give thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything.” [v.20] Well, this is certainly easier said than done. What do you think?
Giving thanks at all times and for everything. Paul, what can you possibly be thinking. OK, OK we can be careful, we can be wise not foolish, we can avoid mind altering substances…but this thanksgiving part is way difficult! Do you give thanks at all times and for everything? Like for your difficult boss at work?…..or your child born with a significant disability?....Or your cancer diagnosis? Or your car accident? Or the job interview that went badly? Or a partner who is unfaithful? Or how the pandemic has interrupted your life? Are we thankful to God for everything? I think not but our teacher Paul instructs us in the way of gratitude not negative attitude!
Today’s lesson was actually introduced in last Sunday’s “Live in Love” message. The lesson was about the clues to success! Paul puts it this way: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children and live in love.” [vv 4:31- 5:2]
Thanksgiving and gratitude have more to do with who we are as children of God than what or whom we are disappointed by, offended by, angry about, unforgiving toward, disappointed by, you name it. Every time we let these negative thoughts and feelings flood our hearts and minds, there is no room for the love of Christ to dwell within us. We have turned in our “Hello My Name is Child of God” badge for one that says “Hello My Name is Child of Sin.”
That’s putting it simply. The tragedy is that no one will ever be invited into the light when we exhibit this type of attitude, no one will ever want to visit a church of a complainer and arguer, no one will be witnessed to the love of Christ by a Child of Sin.
When I examined myself as I wrote today’s message, I find there the times when I was angry, unforgiving, disappointed. In a “faithless funk” so to speak. It usually happens to me when a few trying things at the same time are hard to deal with and I find myself reacting not thoughtfully, carefully and wisely.
Sometimes I’m just plain offended by something that someone has done or neglected to do; sometimes I’m disappointed that something doesn’t work out as planned or nobody is interested in; sometimes I’m angry because of someone’s attitude. Believe me, I know how to wear that bad nametag. But, I also know how to take it off and act carefully and wisely and with love and forgiveness. But in order to do this, I have to set my feelings aside and instead follow Paul’s directions.
For example, early last month I was in the faithless funk mood one morning while I was doing my prayer journal. I felt so bad that I stopped, turned to a blank page and wrote this because I believe the promise of scripture that if we can thank God always and for everything we will remember that we are children of God and deeply blessed.
What a beautiful day to be alive in!
Birdsong, flowers, a loving husband, a fun loving dog, and a lovely cat.
Thank you for a place to live, food on the table, clothes to wear and for my church.
Thank you for the ways we can be your servants here at the church—Rise Against Hunger, Bridges, Family Promise, Food Baskets, Caring Caravans, etc.
I am so very blessed. Thank you there is no pain in my hip and I can walk and garden without pain. Thank you that I can see clearly with new lenses in my eyes.
So many things to be thankful for. As always, I know you will be with me and my loved ones today and that your grace is sufficient for today! Amen”
You know what, before I had even finished writing that prayer down, my heart felt lighter, my whole self felt better because I remembered God’s love for me. I highly recommend thanking God for the many blessings all around you.
- You can even thank God for the bad things too because even if someone hates us and treats us poorly, we can pray God’s blessing upon them.
- Even if we are in some kind of trouble or difficult situation that has no easy resolve, we can thank God that we have a Good Shepherd whose rod and staff comfort us whether we are by the still waters or trudging through the valley of the deepest shadows.
My daughter shared with me the illustration in a meditation recording of a person asked to care for a glass filled to the brim without spilling any. Impossible to do. It becomes possible only when the person puts the glass down. Sometimes our lives are so full of everything we can only get the relief by letting it go and putting it down. Letting go of the stuff that weighs heavily on us. That fills us with disappointment, anger or despair.
As I conclude, I will challenge every one of you to live carefully, live wisely, give God thanks at all times and for everything. Because in that manner you will remember who you are---children of God and witness to others the importance of Christ in your life.
Let us pray:
Gracious God, Thank you, thank you, thank you. Help us to remember this simple prayer when we need to draw closer to your love when we feel down or discouraged, angered or unforgiving. In the precious name of Jesus Christ we live and pray. Amen.
LIVE IN LOVE
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, August 8, 2021
TEXT: Ephesians 4: 25- 5: 2
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Ephesians 5: 1
Sometimes we Christians of the 21st century are greatly vexed by the amount of turmoil in our denomination and so many other denominations currently. We understand there are many differences, various interpretations of scripture and many societal and political pressures all impinging on how we live out our faith. It is human nature to look around to find persons to blame—the church officials, the pastors, the liberals, the conservatives, you name it.
None of this discord is new. For example, in the United Methodist Church we have been struggling with the issue of homosexuality for years. Forty years ago, I was an alternate lay delegate at the Northern New Jersey Annual Conference which met at Drew University and
- The hottest issue discussed was whether homosexuality was a sin or a lifestyle. This is still being argued decades later.
- Before that issue it was “can women be ministers?” Some denominations still debate this.
- Another issue is racism. Only in the past few decades have we have witnessed the reincorporation of African American pastors and churches from the segregated Methodist Central Jurisdiction into the United Methodist Church.
- Currently the pandemic has temporarily delayed a church wide split along theological beliefs—conservative and liberal with the Wesley Covenant Association vying with the traditional United Methodist Church for the allegiance of pastors and churches.
And all these differences are merely in the last century. But disagreement and conflict within the Body of Christ is nothing new. It is important to remember there were serious conflicts in the early church twenty centuries ago as well. There were issues between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Between teachers and false teachers. Between various apostolic leaders.
Paul would have had no reason to write his letters if all was going well. You have only to listen to the passage read this morning to realize that he would not be spending so much time on falsehood, anger, bitterness, wrath, wrangling and slander if everything was running smoothly. It is a myth that the early church was all of one accord.
The one special insight that Paul brings through his letters is that while doctrine and correct beliefs are vitally important, what is more important is the behavior of the individual Christian. The lowest common denominator is that we are called to be imitators of Christ. Specifically, imitating Christ’s forgiveness. Living as a beloved child of God.
Someone posted a chart online this week entitled: “Overcoming Your Ego.” Paul would probably have called it “Living As A True Child of God.” Instead of becoming participants in the Ego Olympics, we have the opportunity to participate as loving human beings with our family and friends, our co-workers, our church.
The chart is petty direct. As I share it with you, are you able to say “Hey, that sounds like me”? Or, is it an area that you need to work on? The chart encourages us to:
- Stop being offended.
- Let go of the need to win.
- Let go of the need to be right.
- Let go of the need to be superior.
- Let go of the need to have more.
- Let go of identifying yourself by your achievements.
Paul puts it this way: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children and live in love.” [vv 4:31- 5:2]
It is not easy to be an adult when all around us it seems that others in the Church are not behaving. Rev. Christopher Page has written: “It is easy to be church when everyone gets along, when we all agree and share the same understandings and insights. It is harder to be church when we see others crucifying Jesus. But these are the ones God calls us to love. We are called to lay down our lives for those who seem to us to hate God, as Jesus laid down his life for those who nailed him to the cross.” [Online: “In A Spacious Place: Reflections on the Journey in Christ,” Christopher Page, August 10, 2003]
Hymn writer Isaac Watt’s captured Paul’s point well with his version of the 23rd Psalm which concludes with these verses:
5 “The sure provisions of my God
Attend me all my days;
O may Thy house be my abode,
And all my work be praise.
6 There would I find a settled rest,
While others go and come;
No more a stranger, nor a guest,
But like a child at home.”
“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children and live in love.” Be like a child at home. Let us pray.
Good and Gracious God, Teach us to be forgiving as Christ forgave us; show us the way of gentle and kind speech that calms tempers; remind us daily of the Holy Spirit’s seal and claim upon our lives so that we might truly be your beloved daughters and sons. Amen.
POST PANDEMIC GRACE!
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, August 1, 2021
TEXT: Ephesians 4: 1-16
“But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Ephesians 4: 7
Seventeen months have passed since we have been together here in this sanctuary. Seventeen months! Seventy two Sundays we have worshipped through zoom as the pandemic swirled around us and our loved ones and friends. As I look back over those months I can hardly believe how we have adapted in our personal lives, in school and work, here at church. I give God the glory that we are together today.
A year and a half ago I could have never imagined our Bishop permitting us…encouraging us even…to offer virtual communion. But we have conducted virtual communion, virtual baptism, virtual funerals, and virtual confirmation during these months! We have cared for one another through caring caravans, through socially distanced visits, zoom small groups, virtual coffee hours, and virtual prayer group. We have lost many to covid-19 and unfortunately the threat continues in a new form, yet, we soldier onward!
Perhaps one of the most difficult things was not being able to see parents and children and grandchildren and friends for months. On Friday at his wedding Mark Larson shared that he had not seen his mom in person for eighteen months. So many things were difficult. To constantly feel unsafe when in public. To be home schooling children and working from home simultaneously. To be unable to get needed appointments. And to have unrelated illness and deaths to deal with in a socially distant fashion. All of these plus more have beaten us down.
This past year was so difficult. Most of the time we didn’t even know what day it was or if it was even worth it to go to the store for a loaf of bread where we might contract the virus and die.
A dear clergy friend of mine posted a quotation this week that captured my attention. It said: “When something bad happens you have three choices:
- You can let it define you,
- you can let it destroy you,
- or, you can let it strengthen you.”
The writer of this wisdom? Good old Dr. Seuss.
I think that maybe, just maybe, the church will emerge from this pandemic stronger than before. Something unthinkably bad has happened to us. But we have survived. Things will be different than before but the gifts that St. Paul writes about in today’s scripture lesson…graceful gifts that God endows us with are for the preservation of the body of Christ in the world.
We need those heaping helpings of God’s post pandemic grace in so many ways for our church. We need grace to gently and persistently invite others to church and back to church. To encourage families and children. To build up a renewed choir and bell choir for God’s praises. To once again reach out in hands on mission. Rise Against Hunger, Bridges, Family Promise and even a new one—The Overcomers, a Christian camp for those with disabilities. And we need to once again support our in person golf outing with the same generosity you supported the virtual one last fall!
This week you will be receiving a letter from me concerning nominations for church committees and leadership positions. We need a really big, strong step up here for our church so that we might continue to grow and thrive as a congregation. This is a major challenge.
At the beginning of today’s scripture lesson, St. Paul uses the word “behave” twice. Behave yourself, he admonishes, be worthy of your calling! And, behave yourself, with humility, gentleness, patience and forebearance in love to one another. We will only come out of the pandemic stronger than before by behaving ourselves after the example of our Lord Jesus Christ.
One great church theologian wrote: “When self dies and Christ springs to life within our hearts, then comes the peace, the oneness, which is the great hallmark of the true Church.” [Ephesians, William Barclay, p. 161]
My heartfelt wish for us on this first Sunday back together is that we pledge ourselves to step up to whatever it takes to keep this a vital and thriving congregation. To behave in grace filled ways that will attract others to Christ. Let us pray.
Lord, We can never thank you enough for bringing us through the pandemic and allowing us to be here this very day in the sanctuary. We pray that you continue to shower us with your grace for the healing of our bodies and souls and for the behavior of discipleship these gifts will inspire. Amen.