FRESH START: Week Two
UNDER THE WINGS
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, January 15, 2023
Luke 13: 31-35
31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me,‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’
This is our second week of the New Year FRESH START sermon series. Messages to help us begin this new year with resolve, purpose and a fresh start for ourselves and our church. Today our focus is on change. We all here at Caldwell United Methodist have a change, a fresh start in our futures. The example for me is the fresh start of retirement, the example for you it will be the fresh start of a newly appointed pastor next July
What worked so well for me when I was brand new here ten years ago, was the welcoming vibes my family and I felt from the congregation.You all welcomed us so warmly and continued that welcome throughout the past ten years. I so appreciated hearing last week that Staff Parish Relations Chair Stephanie DeBruyne is forming a group that she is calling the Welcome Wagon to welcome the new pastor. You all get it!
Jesus in today’s scripture talks to the religious people of the time about how people of faith instead of welcoming God’s purpose/ fresh start have resisted God’s purpose/ fresh start. Many times God has offered a church community a fresh start, but they have resisted or refused (e.g., a new pastor, a change of music, use of technology, how we pray, whom we serve or how we serve)?
While the gospels and biblical interpretations often present the Pharisees in a negative light, here we can see that there were some Pharisees who were not hostile to Jesus’ fresh start. “Get away from here, Herod wants to kill you!” [v 31] They want him to play it safe but, like the other Pharisees and even many of Jesus’ own disciples, they do not get it. They do not understand why he would risk danger to himself for the sake of his purpose. Even though their intentions are good, they are still resisting the new thing Jesus is doing in his ministry of casting out demons and performing cures. Despite the real and present danger, Jesus persists even when it is not understood or accepted. How often do we get sidetracked from the new thing God is doing in and through us – sometimes even by well-intended people (whether that be others or ourselves)?
The animal illustrations in this scripture illustrate well what Jesus is teaching. He shows the extremes: a fox is dangerous, risky, a predator. A hen is protective, loving, and caring. [Pastor tells story of placing baby geese under a pair of her geese whose eggs did not hatch! How warm and soft it was under the geese, how they immediately accepted those goslings as their own.] In this text, Jesus calls Herod a fox. Herod is the type of person who kills those who oppose him, rather than risking change (fresh starts can feel threatening to those who dislike change!).
God, as shown in Jesus, is both redeemer and protector. In Jesus, we are offered a fresh start and freedom from the oppressor. Yet, in a fight between a fox and a hen, a fox is much more likely to win. Jesus once again defies expectations by choosing the gentle strength of a hen instead of the violent strength of a fox. This continues a pattern that has been established in the Gospel of Luke just prior to this text (Luke 13:18-30), where the lesser or apparently “smaller” turns out be greater (e.g., yeast, mustard seed, the least, and the last).
Jesus is lamenting over the city he loved and tried to minister to, but they refused him. Jerusalem is known for killing those who were sent by God (prophets, such as John the Baptist). This is another example of how humanity resists the change that God offers that will lead to salvation. Note: Jesus quotes Psalm 118:26 saying, “you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” This is also a reference to/foreshadowing of the Palm Sunday narratives when Jesus enters Jerusalem lauded as Messiah before later being crucified that week. Jesus knows, even at this point, that his purpose will lead him to and through both the praise and the rejection of the people. Nothing (neither others’ praise nor their rejection) will stop him from his ministry, the fresh start he has to offer the world.
As we end this morning, I’ll invite you to remember that whenever God offers a fresh start, God will offer strength from unexpected places, sometimes in ways that will not be recognized by the world or those around us. It may be in a personal relationship; it may be in conquering an addiction; it may be in attempting to solve a problem that has resisted solving.
Be ready for a fresh start here at Caldwell UMC; be open to God’s vision for the church; be mindful that openess to change, prayers for acceptance, and the outreach of being a welcoming congregation, will go far! Let us pray:
Gracious God, Thank you for fresh starts and for fresh infusions of the strength and energy that yor Holy Spirit inspires. Help us to embrace our future with a welcoming heart, a prayerful manor and a playful acceptance of the future. Amen
ARE YOU SURE YOU’RE UP FOR THIS?
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, January 8, 2023
TEXT: Mark 8: 27-38
27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi, and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes and be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34 He called the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
This is the very beginning of a brand new year so let’s think for awhile about fresh starts–the kind of things we sometimes put into our New Year’s resolutions. And we all know that for a fresh start to be successful it takes resolve, willpower, changing the way we think about certain things and dedication to the practices like exercise or dieting or meditation or whatever that will help us attain the goal.
Have you ever had a time in your life when you were successful at a fresh start? Perhaps it was learning to cook as a young adult when you first moved away from home, or it was learning to build something by yourself. Maybe it was beginning a new relationship or retooling an existing one. Perhaps it was learning how to live a single life after the passing of a loved one? And at the very center of every fresh start is an attitude or perspective within us that has to be changed in in order to make room for doing something new or doing it differently.
Often difficult times necessitate a fresh start. A few chapters before today’s scripture reading, John the Baptist, who had come to prepare the way for the Messiah, was killed. A new leader was sought. While the religious people are trying to decide if this Jesus is that new leader, Jesus himself is giving them a fresh understanding of who the Messiah is and what he is supposed to do. It is not what they expected.
Disciple Peter especially could not comprehend a Messiah who would be rejected and suffer. No one of the time could imagine that Messiah would be rejected by the religious leaders, be put to death, and ultimately rise from the dead. This new kind of “suffering servant” Messiah was offering a very big picture “fresh start.” This was difficult for Peter to understand but it was God’s way of bringing about the fresh start needed by the world.
Jesus did not suffer just to become a victim. The purpose of his suffering was to lift others up, especially those on the margins, and to bring them to healing and fullness of life. Just listen to this passage from Mark 6:
53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him 55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.
Jesus was sent to suffer and to take risks and to associate with the downtrodden for the sake of the big picture, God-sized, fresh start. The gospel of Mark in our bibles is about expectations and who you are in Christ. The tone of the gospel is imperative–the time is now, for a new thing is happening. Jesus is announcing that to be is followers, people need to be willing “to take up their cross and follow him.”
This command is about following Jesus’ way of paying attention to those on the outside or on edge of society, it is about letting Jesus live in and through us, even when that is not easy to do, even when we risk losing popularity or we risk not being popular with the “in circle.” Taking up one’s cross, pointing to Jesus’ final sacrifice, leads to salvation. Our being willing to deny ourselves will mean that our lives will be lead in unity with Jesus.
Last night at the annual dinner for the West Essex First Aid Squad, I read something in the program written by Naomi Moylen that I felt spoke perfectly to what this scripture is about. She gave me permission to share it with you this morning. Naomi wrote:
“For all the [Squad] members I have worked and rode with for over forty years, the one constant that shines through is the desire to help those in pain….That desire to help patient and family was no more evident then thirty some years ago, on a Sunday morning as a friend and I were doing a transportation from a hospital to an area home. Along with the assistance of many of our members, this transportation was done every Sunday for almost two years. …This particular Sunday was our turn, and my friend and I were just passing St. Al’s in Caldwell when she said, that she felt awful that she was missing Mass. I started to laugh, and then said, “seriously, what are you thinking?” This is Mass. What you are doing is living the Mass. This is God’s work. How much more holy can you be then when you are able to put God’s work into action? Sitting in church? Doesn’t even come close. You are God’s hands and you are doing his work. This is truly living what you believe.”
I would say that this is what “take up your cross and follow me” is really about. “Truly living what you believe.”
As we close let’s think about how following Christ in this new year, how “truly living what we believe” might lead each of us to a fresh start in our faith. We all know that for a fresh start or a New Year’s resolution to be successful it takes resolve, willpower, changing the way we think about certain things and dedication.
How will each of us be open to carry the cross in our own lives and what will that look like? What will it look like for us to bear the cross in our families, in the neighborhoods where we live, in our schools, our places or work, the places where we gather? Can we resolve together as God’s people to make the effort that a fresh start for our faith calls for in this New Year?
Let us pray.
Gracious God, We are eternally grateful for a Savior and a faith that challenges us to be better selves, to grow a faith that brings a harvest of goodness and light to those less fortunate, those in dire need, and those for whom love is a stranger. Thank you for loving us and giving us a fresh start in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Possibility of Joy
Rev. Vivian Rodeffer
Sunday, December 11, 2022
Isaiah 35: 1-1
The Return of the Redeemed to Zion
35 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 2 it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and shouting. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.
3 Strengthen the weak hands and make firm the feeble knees. 4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance,with terrible recompense.He will come and save you.”
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be opened.6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. 7 the burning sand shall become a pool and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp; the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
8 A highway shall be there,and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
9 No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.
10 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Have you ever had one of those days where nothing seemed right? Where you felt so very blah that nothing could cheer you up? No joy. I had one of those days a couple months ago and decided to try to cheer myself up with a Jersey Mike’s sub. Yes, that can work for me. I drove over to pick it up and parked my car near a gas station’s chain link fence. I turned off the car and noticed that directly in front of my car, through the chain link fence was an oily dirty puddle on the asphalt and a couple of birds had approached it.
I continued to watch as the first couple of starlings stepped into the water and started to splash. More starlings were arriving on the puddle’s shore. They too entered the water. The activity was increasing. Splashing, wing flapping, foot lifting. Then a whole army of starlings arrived and they too joned in the fun. Splash, dash,jump, flap, bum into another bird, the activity level reached a new apex! Suddenly I began to laugh. This was truly a marvelous sight. The birds were hysterically funny. I got out my cell phone and recorded their antics. To this day I marvel how merely paying attention to the world around us can provide exactly what our soul needs! In my case, some joy.
The prophets too, could sense what the human soul needed and foretold “the coming of Jesus,” something many didn’t think possible, a source of joy for all creation. This type of joy was not simply a state of happiness or good pleasure. Joy is dependent on who Jesus is and what Jesus offers, rather than on what is happening around us. It is a deep seated and pervasive way of being that can sustain us even through difficulties and times when we don’t feel happy.
In this Isaiah text we see three ways joy is at work. I’ll cover them in the order they show up in the reading.
First, Prophet Isaiah describes the joy of all creation. [1-2 and 6b-7] The earth itself blossoms in the desert where that didn’t seem possible and creation itself sings out praises to God. Just like with peace and hope in the last two weeks’ readings, the prophet is describing a promised future here. This joyful celebration of all creation may seem impossible and hard to imagine, especially as our planet and environment face grim challenges today. But in the gift of Jesus, God in the world with and for us, we have been given a promise of redemption for all creation. This promise is the source of our joy, and it allows us to experience joy here and now.
In the meantime, Advent teaches us to wait actively for that day by preparing for it. Only God can make “the dry land glad and the desert rejoice and blossom”; however, if we believe in God’s promise to do this, it belongs to us to prepare for its fulfilment through mission like earth care and environmental stewardship.
The second type of joy that Prophet Isaiah mentions is transformative joy. [3-6a] After describing a future joy-filled creation, the prophet describes the people being encouraged, praying for strength and courage for those who are suffering, weak, and afraid. Verse 4 says, “Here is your God.” This is the message of Christmas too, that here, in this Jesus, is our God. “He will come and save you.” It may not be the type of salvation pictured in Isaiah, but it is most definitely a salvation that strengthens and casts out fear! This God, the God we see in Jesus, is the source and reason for our joy. The joy of his salvation is what transforms us from weakness and fear to strength and courage as we await the day when all creation will celebrate!
Thirdly, Prophet Isaiah proclaims that human joy on the way. The image of a path, journey, or way comes up a lot in scripture. We saw it in first week of advent too, when we talked about learning God’s ways of peace that we may walk in his paths. Here, again, in verse 8 we learn about a holy highway to this place of peace, hope, and joy. Jesus is the Way (John 14:6) that we travel on this Christian life.
In the waiting time of Advent, the image of a highway reminds us that waiting is not passive or stationary. While we wait for what only God can do, we also move forward on God’s way. And, as described in verses 8-10, we get to experience joy along the way.
Joy is not reserved for the destination. It is a deep abiding presence on the journey. This joy can lead us towards seeing the impossible become a reality.
As we close this morning I would challenge us to encourage one another as we journey the path God is calling us to follow. What can each of us do this week to lift one another up in our journeys of faith? Can you pray for someone? Visit someone? Donate a poinsettia for someone? Write a note of appreciation for that person? Can you simply ask “how goes it with your soul?” The sky is the limit.
And finally, we also might consider what needs to shift within us to start looking for and experiencing real joy in what Jesus has done instead of expecting to find our joy in temporary things. Things that can only give happiness that is often fleeting. How might we tap into that deeper source of our joy as we travel toward Christmas this year? Work on these things this week.
Let us pray:
Gracious God, thank you for the “joy, joy, joy that’s down in our hearts to stay” as the Sunday School song goes. Let us live out your joy on our Christian journey through life so that others might come to know Jesus and his power to transform lives for the good. Amen
Peace Made Possible
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
December 4, 2022
TEXT: Isaiah 2: 2-5
The Future House of God
1The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
2 In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.
3 Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4 He shall judge between the nations and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more.
5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
While the Christmas season brings excitement, it can also be difficult. Many have shared with me how difficult it can be celebrating the holiday the first time without a loved one–whether the loved one is far away in the service or recently moved out of state for school or marriage or has passed away. Any holiday with an empty seat at the table is a difficult one.
Sometimes just the busyness around the holidays can cause us and others to be impatient and irritable with one another. In college I worked at a big department store at a mall near Philadelphia, I can vouch that working Christmas eve til the store closed at 10PM was hell. Mean and demanding customers pushed us clerks to the edge. Instead of silent night it was violent night. Be kind when you shop at Christms time.
The other place this irritability and bad will crops up is around the holiday table. It is no mystery that when many members of a family gather, what can also gather is a history of slights, grudges, bad behaviors and meaness. Many families mistakenly focus their ill will on that one person instead of considering the family as a whole. Afterall, the family not the individual is the emotional unit.
Whatever the trying situation is, God is at work offering peace in our personall lives and throughout the world. Peace is “shalom” in Hebrew and it is not simply the absence of war, but rather, an abundance of life. In today’s scripture, the kind of peace that Prophet Isaiah talks about almost seems impossible to us in our present day world where nations strive against nation in warfare, in economics, in philosophy of life.
The peaceful scene in today’s passage (“the days to come” 2:2) still seems far, far away even to us these 2500 years later. During the Advent season, we too are in a period of waiting and longing for a time of peace that might seem far away. But we are also invited to prepare, to “go up to the mountain” and receive instructions on the path of peace. This Path of Peace is God’s way, not our own way or the world’s way. In Jesus, we are given a model of “God’s ways that we may walk in his paths” (2:3) We are taught to prepare for, work for and walk in the peace that we trust God will bring to full fruition.
The prophet talks about beating “swords into plowshares” and “spears into pruning hooks.” God’s peace does not just stop conflict, it brings about transformation. The tools once used for violence and destruction in war, are now used to bring new life in harvest. Every one of us is invited as well to the mountain to have ur mindset reshaped too, just like those swords and spears. Jesus has already transformed a tool for death (the cross) into the gift of new life (resurrection).
One question for us this morning is: how can we let Jesus transform us and reshape the way we approach our own lives especially during this Advent season? As God’s people, we are called to be agents of peace–”not lifting up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (2:4) Being an agent of peace is not about keeping everyone happy or ignoring problems.
Today’s scripture passage ends with an invitation-”Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” (2-5) In other words we are to model for the world how to walk in the light of the Lord so that others will see Jesus’ light in our lives as peacemakers. As we end this morning, we will take the next few minutes to write our prayers for peace on the paper doves that will decorate our tree in the front of the sanctuary. Here are your instructions.
Dove 1–Think of a relationship that causes you stress and pray about it. Write a prayer on the first dove asking God to help bring about peace for that situation.
Dove 2- Who in your life has modeled peacemaking for you? A parent, a teacher, a political leader, someone on the news, a child, a Nobel prize winner, and so on and so forth? Think about that peacemaker, how they helped, and give God thanks for them on your prayer dove.”
Finally, Dove 3- What do you need God to change in you, or to help you with, for you to become an “agent of peace”? Attitude, acceptance, more understanding???
At the end of our service today, during the Postlude, you are invited to come forward and have your prayer dove placed on the Christmas Tree. These doves will remind us to use this season of Advent in preparation for the coming of the prince of Peae, or Lord, Jesus Christ.
Let us pray.
Gracious God, We give you unending prause for Jesus, the Prince of Peace, who came to bring shalom for everyone. Let each of us and our congregation also be agents of peace for our lives and the world in Chrst’s name. Amen.
HOPE MADE POSSIBLE
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
November 27, 2022 ADVENT ONE
Text: Isaiah 11: 1-10
The Peaceful Kingdom
1 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see
or decide by what his ears hear,
4 but with righteousness he shall judge for the poor
and decide with equity for the oppressed of the earth;-
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
6 The wolf shall live with the lamb;
the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the lion will feed together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
Return of the Remnant of Israel and Judah
10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
Have you ever felt lost, overwhelmed or hopeless? What was it like for you? Where did you turn? [Pause for all to think about this for their own lives.]
For me it was when I was around thirteen and my mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Back then there weren’t as many treatments as there are now. After my mother’s surgery, she was left paralized and unable to speak. Over the next five years until her death, she recovered some speech and was able to walk haltingly with a cane. My dad, my sister and I took care of her at home.
I remember how hopeless and awful it all felt. Coming home from school every day. Going places with my dad like to the store without her. Never sitting together as a family at church. Those days felt pretty grim. What got me through those times I believe was a real turning to prayer and journaling daily and people at church and neighbors who reached out to us..
We’ve all been in situations where we have been overwhelmed or didn’t have the answer we were looking for or lacked the hope that we could get through the challenge we were facing. Sometimes just watching the news is overwhelming as we are reminded of the injustices and oppression happening to many people throughout the world.
The good news is that always in the midst of the overwhelming and hopeless times, God is at work. The people who received Isaiah’s prophecy were living in fear of Assyria’s army. It must have been difficult for them to have hope with such a strong and politically unjust enemy. Isaiah, chapter ten describes some of what it was like.
1 Woe to those who make iniquitous decrees,
who write oppressive statutes,
2 to turn aside the needy from justice
and to rob the poor of my people of their right,
to make widows their spoil
and to plunder orphans!
When a power like Assyria relies on a strong army, unjust rulers, and manipulation to get their way, they will find themselves without help when all of that crumbles. Prophet Isaiah, speaking from God’s perspective asks them: “What will you do on the day of punishment…to whom will you flee for help?” [Isaiah 10:3]
On the other hand, Prophet Isaiah offers hope to God’s people who rely not on human tactics to get what they want but who rely on God, trusting God to give them what they need. Today’s scripture recounts all the qualities that will belong to the promised Messiah:
1 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
It is a confident expectation that something good will happen because God has promised it. Biblical hope indicates a trust in the Lord. We can live out that hope every day as we embody the virtues of wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge and fear of the Lord.
We become part of the plan of redemption that began as Isaiah foretold the “shoot that shall come forth from the stump of Jesse.” [Isaiah 11:1] While Israel was expecting a new political leader from the house of King David, it instead received Jesus, like a tiny shoot growing up into a strong branch, a baby given in hope for the world. Jesus is the hope for our whole lives and for all of creation.
Finally, how have you witnessed in your own life examples of people who have offered hope to you during overwhelming situations? How can you share that very same hope with others who are feeling hopeless? Act on this in the coming week. And in our communities, where can we as a congregation be helpers? Are there families or individuals who are struggling with hopelessness because of lack of resources? How might we as a congregation support them and offer them as well hope of a brighter future? Think on these things.
Let us pray.
Gracious God, keep us ever mindful and thankful for your hope poured out for us in every situation. Help us trust in your goodness and teach us how to be that source of hope and help for others. Amen.
RE-MEMBERED BY JESUS
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, November 20, 2022
CHRIST THE KING SUNDAY
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” v.42
SCRIPTURE Luke 23: 33-43
33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by watching, but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Doesn’t it feel good to be remembered. Like when others remember our important days with a note, an email, a phone call across the miles, a simple gift, a card, a flower from the garden. Isn’t it nice when we are remembered by a former classmate or neighbor. We all want to be remembered because it validates us, it makes us feel loved and accepted. We belong and are affirmed.
Just this weekend I received a call from a member of the church that my family attended. I left there around age 19 to go to college but every year in November, I receive a call from Cathy Gregg. I believe she was a friend of my mom and dad. My mom has been gone over fifty years and my dad over thirty years, but still Cathy remembers our family and calls each year to ask if I would like to give poinsettias in their memory which I always do.
It’s nice to be remembered. Just two weeks ago we did a lot of remembering here at church on All Saints Sunday. We remembered fellow church members and loved ones who passed this past year. We brought photos and lighted candles. We sung hymns in which we remembered the saints of God.
“And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
and one was a shepherdess on the green:
…and one was slain by a fierce wild beast:
They lived not only in ages past;
there are hundreds of thousands still;
the world is bright with the joyous saints
who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea;
for the saints of God are just folk like me,
and I mean to be one too.”
Remembering is honoring and celebrating and setting before ourselves blueprints of faithfulness.
It is no coincidence that on Christ the King Sunday which helps us transition from the season of Pentecost to the season of Advent and Christmas, we return to the terrible events of that first Good Friday, the day Jesus was executed on the cross because the theme in our scripture lesson is about remembering. The thief on the cross next to Jesus says to the other thief: “This man has done nothing wrong….Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus, remember me.
It is no stretch of the imagination that he is requesting a life changing plea–not just to be remembered but also for Christ the King to fix him, to re-member him, to restore him as a beloved child of God no matter how bad his past has been. The thief on the other cross mocks Jesus: “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” Jesus ignores him but responds with a mighty blessing for the first man: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Perhaps more than anything else, in his words of forgiveness and invitation to the thief, Jesus illustrates re-membering. Just like the thief on the cross, every one of us needs to be re-membered as well. Not one of us is worthy to be with Jesus in Paradise. We have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Sin has dis-membered us.
“We have not loved you with our whole heart.
We have failed to be an obedient church.
We have not done your will,
We have broken your law,
We have rebelled against your love,
We have not loved our neighbors,
and we have not heard the cry of the needy.”
“Re-member us,” must be our prayer to our Lord Jesus Christ this day and always. Re-member us. Forgive us. Restore us as your sons and daughters, beloved children of the Heavenly Parent. Put our pieces back together–our brokenness, our suffering, our unfilled dreams. There is way too much dis-membering in our lives and in this world. Wherever there is resentment, anger, prejudice, criticism, gossip, backbiting, perfectionism, there is a dis-membering of another to satisfy one’s own desires.
Re-member us, Lord Jesus, because these things are not your dreams for us. On this day two thousand years ago Jesus died that we might be re-membered as God’s people. As Pentecost ends, memories of God’s Holy Spirit have sustained us until we once again remember during Advent and Christmas, the coming of the little baby to Bethlehem on that first Christmas eve. We are re-membering the faith story and re-telling it, and re-living the promises of the coming of Messiah to past generations. It is a promise that comes between the crucifixion and the nativity.
As we enter the Advent season next Sunday, I invite you to prepare these next four weeks through prayer and scripture reading. Take time for yourself to remember and reignite the true spirit of Christmas in your hearts and lives.
Let us pray.
Gracious God, Please re-member us as well when you come into your kingdom. Forgive our sins and remake us in the image of your son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
WHEN IMITATION IS BEST
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
November 13, 2022
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
6 Now we command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from every brother or sister living irresponsibly and not according to the tradition that they received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not irresponsible when we were with you, 8 and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day so that we might not burden any of you. 9 This was not because we do not have that right but in order to give you an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: anyone unwilling to work should not eat. 11 For we hear that some of you are living irresponsibly, mere busybodies, not doing any work. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13 Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
Today’s scripture passage is from the two oldest writings in our New Testaments. Both are instructional letters written by St. Paul as he says “in my own hand”! It is always good to read these two very short letters together because they are witness to Paul, Timothy and Silvanus’ work in that city. Probably Paul’s favorite congregation of the many he founded. Here are his reasons why.
“2 We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
They have worked in faith, they have labored in love, they have been steadfast in their hope no matter what. And secondly, Paul continues to explain his love for them:
6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy from the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” [1 Thess. 1: 2-3 and 6-7]
The Thessalonians followed the examples of Paul, Silvanus and Timothy in faith and perseverance. They were joyful in the Lord despite persecution. And in doing so, the followers of Christ in Thessolonica were an example to other believers nearby.
Let’s focus awhile on Paul’s words at both the beginning of the first letter and in today’s scripture lesson as well “to be imitators.” paul writes 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us.
Have you ever tried to imitate someone you admired? Remember in grade school the boy or girl who was popular. You may have noticed the lunch box they carried or a special outfit thay wore, or the way they kept the contents of their desk neat and in order. There was a girl in my fourth grade class who had a notebook that opened on the top. It had special paper with holes at the top. How I wished to have one of those notebooks to imitate her!
As we grow older, this desire to imitate grows even more important because no one wants to be on the outside of the in group. What are the right clothes to wear, the current words to use, what songs will be our favorites and what places to hang out are the post popular. In our lives imitation ofter has to do with making ourselves look better to our friends.We often find ourselves imitating the wrong things and persons who are far from worth imitating.
A few years ago Robb and I took a large group from our church to Israel and Jordan. A special requested stop for our tour was at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum.
While the adults were checking out the museum and grounds, I took a few of the children with me to what used to be called “The Avenue of the RIghteous Gentiles.” We walked along this tree lined road and we read outloud the plaques that noted to whom each tree was dedicated. All were non-Jews during the war who had assisted their Jewish neighbors putting themselves in peril. These were persons of faith well worth imitating and I knew it was important for the children to learn their names and their deeds.
The museum shares this:
“The Righteous Among the Nations, honored by Yad Vashem, are non-Jews who took great risks to save Jews during the Holocaust. Rescue took many forms and the Righteous came from different nations, religions and walks of life. What they had in common was that they protected their Jewish neighbors at a time when hostility and indifference prevailed”
“The price that rescuers had to pay for their action differed from one country to another. In Eastern Europe, the Germans executed not only the people who sheltered Jews, but their entire family as well. Notices warning the population against helping the Jews were posted everywhere. Generally speaking punishment was less severe in Western Europe, although there too the consequences could be formidable and some of the Righteous Among the Nations were incarcerated in camps and killed.”
“Most rescuers were ordinary people. Some acted out of political, ideological or religious convictions; others were not idealists, but merely human beings who cared about the people around them. In many cases they never planned to become rescuers and were totally unprepared for the moment in which they had to make such a far-reaching decision. They were ordinary human beings, and it is precisely their humanity that touches us and should serve as a model.”
“They were ordinary human beings, and it is precisely their humanity that touches us and should serve as a model.” Paul and Silvanus and Timothy were ordinary human beings. Yet they lived in ways that should serve as a model and be emulated by the Thessalonians and by us today as well. Paul asks them and us to pray that this will come about.
- Pray for opportunities to share God’s word. That our church remains vital and engaging.
- Pray that hearts be open and receptive to hear the gospel
- Pray for people in your church, your neighborhoods, your workplaces, your schools
- Pray for the sick and for the spiritually sick
- Pray for strength to as Paul says “to trust in the Lord and remain steadfast.” [3: 3-5] God is faithful and will supply what is needed.
- Pray for your own walk through life. Paul’s warning is watch your walk. He discourages idleness and encourages doing good. He cautions us to avoid certain people who are bad examples, who are not worth imitating. Stay clear of them.
- And finally, Paul teaches us to pray and to not grow weary of doing good.
The Thessalonians lived in a fearful time during which many were persecuted and some put to death because of their faith. Paul encouraged them in these two ancient letters. “Imitate us,” he said. “Don’t ever get weary of doing good.” “When you encounter hostility and indifference to any of your neighbors, do not let it prevail.” Let us pray.
Gracious God, We live in a very different time and place from Paul and the Thessalonians but we see around us many in need of justice, others who suffer poverty and homelessness, still others whose very livelihood is tenuous. Let us imitate the children of God as we pray, walk in the path they traveled and never tire of doing good. Amen
AN INHERITANCE SHARED WITH THE SAINTS
Rev. Vivian Rodeffer
ALL SAINTS SUDAY, November 6, 2022
Ephesians 1: 15-23 Paul’s Prayer
15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may perceive what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
This past Friday as Robb and I traveled to Lancaster County, we made a stop off at the church where my family worshiped. Across the road is the cemetery that the church has been using since it was founded in 1720. A cemetery where my parents, my dad’s parents and some of his siblings are buried. And where an aunt and uncle on my mother’s side are also. It is the cemetery where my friends from childhood and their parents are buried. Past beloved Sunday School teachers and youth leaders and just lovely, friendly people from my youth and growing up years, they are all resting there.
Every time I walk through that graveyard, I see the graves and the tombstones but perhaps more so, I feel the presence of so many who have touched my life in so many many ways. It is a sacred moment. I give God thanks for those remembrances.
Maybe you are feeling this way this All Saints Sunday morning as well. As we look at the photos. As we light the candles in remembrance. So many memories. I love when you share stories with me of past church members and pastors. All of these stories together have made this a church home, a place of comfort and reassurance, a lighthouse in the storms of life.
And you and I are making those stories even this hour as we have come together as God’s people. And that it is why it is important to come together, to sit near one another in the pews, to blend our voices in song, to bow our heads in prayer. To hold each others’ hands, to look into each others’ eyes. So we will remember the love that surrounds us each day of our lives. To dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of our lives.
I was also thinking about another dimension of this day that has only been possible in the last couple of decades. How every one of us carries part of the genetic codes from our parents, grandparents, greatgrandparents, back and back and back way beyond any genealogy chart. We are living, breathing reminders of the folks in our past who made it possible for us to be here today.
We share a remarkable genealogy with our spiritual ancesters as well. All those brave women and men in our religious history and in our biblical past. They too are part of us, our past, our beliefs, our very beings. Just as surely as the ancestors voices can still be recognized in our hearts, we recognize the voice of Jesus, our brother, we recognize the voices of the gospel writers, Matthew and Mark, Luke and John. Of King David and Jonathan, of prophets lie Jeremiah and Habakkuk, of brave women like Esther, and Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi. We recognize the voices of the Great Reformer Martin Luther and civil rights advocate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., of missionary Albert Schweitzer and concentration camp follower of Christ, Corrie Ten Boom, of Isaac Watts, hymnwriter and John and Charles Wesley. And so many, many, many more.
So many voices, many memories surrounding us this day, a cloud of witnesses for All Saints Sunday. We are pressed in all about by their august presence and their loving glow of blessing! Can you feel them?
In his letter called Ephesians St.Paul reminds us of what to expect as believers both now in this present age—“the immeasurable greatness of God’s power” and in the life to come — “the riches of his glorious inheritance.”
On the first Sunday of every November, All Saints Sunday, we remember and give thanks for the many saints we have known and loved in our lives and we light candles for them as we pray and celebrate their lives. Grandparents, mothers and fathers, siblings, aunts and uncles, friends and neighbors, comrades in war, children and infants, people we have worked with, the list is as endless as the lives God has loaned for the living of their days, be they long full lives of many years or brief lives cut short.
On this Sunday each year we remember the cloud of witness who have gone before us and who worship with us. Our sacred space is filled with their memories this morning as we sing and pray, hear the message, share the bread and cup of communion along with them.
And when the worship ends this morning we know both the light the saints have shed on our journey and the strength God gives each of us for the living of these earthly days until such time we join the saints above.
Let us pray: Gracious God, With joy we join the saints today in praise and prayers, songs and servanthood. And may we look forward to the “riches of your glorious inheritance” we will share with them some future time. Amen.
THE ART OF WAITING
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, October 30, 2022
“For there is still a vision for the appointed time…if it seems to tarry, wait for it.”
Habakkuk 1: 1-4; 2: 1-3
1 The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw. 2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?
3 Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4 So the law becomes slack, and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous; therefore judgment comes forth perverted.
1 I will stand at my watchpost and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me and what he will answer concerning my complaint. 2 Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. 3 “For there is still a vision for the appointed time…if it seems to tarry, wait for it.”
Let’s talk about waiting. If you are a gardener, you have probably mastered the art of waiting. We wait for the right time to plant the seeds. We wait for them to germinate. We wait for them to grow and flourish. We wait for the time of harvest.
If you are a young couple expecting a baby, you eagerly wait the nine months with anticipation. If you are waiting the results of a biopsy or a medical test it may be with dread. If you are waiting for a big refund check in the mail, it seems like it may never arrive.
On this Reformation Sunday I would like to share what the great reformer Martin Luther did during a long wait. I’ll read you the story: “God can use the time that we spend waiting for His Glory…one [story] that stands out in my mind is an episode in Martin Luther’s life. Even as he worked boldly to reform the church, he also had a time of waiting on God….
“In 1521, four years after Luther posted his 95 Theses, Emperor Charles V summoned Luther to the Diet of Worms to have him publicallyaffirm or renounce his teachings. Although he was promised safe passage to the assembly and a safe journey home, Luther was aware that safe passage was not guaranteed.” He went and we remember his answer, “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”
“After the Diet of Worms Luther was promised 21 days of safe passage to return home, after which he would be arrested and punished for his teachings. Although the Emperor did honor this promise of safe passage, many doubted whether he would. So on his journey home, Luther was kidnapped by Frederick the Wise of Saxony. Frederick did not intend to hurt Luther, but rather kidnapped him in order to hide him and keep him safe from harm. Luther was taken to Wartburg Castle, where he spent the next year in hiding.”
“In this year of waiting Luther was anything but idle. Much of his time in the Wartburg Castle was occupied with translating the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into German. He would finish the New Testament during this period and would complete the Old Testament over the next 12 years following.”... I remember those who have come before us, like Martin Luther, and find inspiration from how they waited. Though Luther spent his time hidden in exile, he worked hard and did not give up hope, thereby taking great strides for the good of church. His translation of the Bible made the word of God available to the common man in a way that had not been possible before. God used Luther’s time of waiting for His glory. We can take comfort…from knowing that whatever we are waiting on God for, his glorious purposes are going forward, even during our waiting.” “Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.” Psalm 27:14 NIV [claphamschool.org, “waiting on God with Martin Luther,” Becky Hovis, December 18, 2012.
Once again in a Sunday morning lectionary passage we encounter an Old Testament prophet whose prophecies ultimately involve the art of waiting–a spiritual art without a doubt. We learn about Prophet Habakkuk in the book called by his name, Habakkuk. From clues in his prophecies, we can determine that he was a contemporary of Prophet Jeremiah around the sixth century BC.
We know that because he warned the Israelites that the Babylonians were coming to take the Jews into captivity because of their sinfulness. And because just like Jeremiah he laments the people’s sinfulness. “Wickedness surrounds the righteous” he laments! Why are they wicked? Because they have not obeyed God’s laws and have not cared for their neighbors. The prophet asks God “How much longer must I wait for you to answer my prayers, to save your people from the upcoming invasion?”
So God responds to Habakkuk’s question: he is sending the Babylonians to punish the the people because they are oppressing their neighbors. In some later verses of the scripture, Habakkuk continues his lament about this horrible judgment of God. He even implies that God’s judgment is more unjust than the behavior that he is punishing. This is a prophet’s prerogative–who is called both to love of God and to love God’s people.
Then comes the second answer from God to this lament by Habakkuk…the Lord promises a vision for an appointed time. God tells the prophet make sure, very sure that people will see this vision–make it big enough that even a runner could read it as he ran. For us, it would be–put it on a billboard so no one misses this good news.
The message is “Don’t give up. Keep the faith. Trust in God, the promised vision will come.” This message took another fifty years until the people taken in exile from Jerusalem to Babylon were offered their freedom by King Cyrus the Persian who had conquered Babylon. Habakkuk died two years before the captives received their freedom and never got to see the vision coming true.
Despite this, Habakkuk ends his prophecies with a song of thanksgiving in response to the vision God had shown him of a vision of redemption and return of the captives.
17 Though the fig tree does not blossom
and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails
and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold
and there is no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.
The gift of the Prophet Habakkuk is his instruction about righteousness and his own living out that righteousness in his life. No matter what happens, he says, no matter what “I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation.”
The message of today’s scripture is two fold. Two ways we Christians can practice the art of waiting. First of all, to trust that God holds our future. No matter what. When things go badly for us, when we experience suffering, we musn’t give up or think that God isn’t with us. This is difficult to do because often in the back of our minds we think something is our fault or we have done something to cause the bad stuff that is happening. We are not waiting on God’s vision for the situation, we are waiting on the next shoe to drop, our own faulty thinking. Instead, we are reminded to trust in God through everything.
For those of us who think that God may be punishing us for something, Christ Jesus came along to fulfill Habakkuk’s vision of the good that is coming down the pike. That is God’s loving grace and forgiveness of our sin. A promise of salvation for all who love the Lord. This is the theology of the cross. Christ meets us in our suffering.
The second take away we can glean from today’s scripture is that righteousness has to do with being able to rejoice in the Lord no matter what. It is easy to rejoice and give God thanks when good happens. But it is even more righteous to be like Habakkuk and to rejoice when things are not.
To sum this up, someone wrote that the ultimate way to live righteously is to have “a heart that loves God, rather than merely in the blessings God gives–a heart that rejoices in God the giver, rather than merely in the gifts of God.” [workingreacher.org, Rolf Jacobson]
Let us pray.
Gracious God, Help us remain the righteous people you have called us to be even when things in our lives seem out of our control or bad. Help us remember that you are with us no matter what and that we are to wait patiently, and rejoice knowing that our trust in your love and grace is strong and true. Amen.