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.
A PRAYER FOR BOUNDLESS GRACE
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
July 23, 2021
Ephesians 3: 14-21
Today’s scripture begins with St. Paul on bended knee in prayer. A prayer that illustrates Paul’s “sense and wonder and adoration at what God has done, is doing and is going to do.” [The New Century Bible Commentary: Ephesians, C. Leslie Mitton, p.130] It is his prayer for every one of us.
Have you ever had someone pray for you? Maybe as a prayer request? Or maybe you came up to the altar rail and pastor Karen or me placed a hand on you and prayed. Or maybe a loved one—your parent or grandparent—your child or pastor or friend—prays for you every day. I know that my grandmother prayed for me every day without fail.
Sometimes we pray for ourselves…we pray and pray and pray but it seems like nothing changes. When Paul shared that very same thought to God about that thorn in his side that would not go away, the Almighty’s response was “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” [Ephesians 1: 9]
What do you need prayer for today? Think about this. Be honest. Jot it down and later when you are invited to silent prayer before The Lord’s Prayer, lift up the prayers of your heart. Remember that whenever we are weak, God is strong. [Ephesians 1: 10] God’s power is made perfect in our weakness.
We’ve been looking at Ephesians these past two Sundays. In this letter Paul invites hearers “to join in praising God for the plan of salvation” [New Interpreters Bible, Ephesians, p.352] because they live now as new creations in Jesus Christ.
Last Sunday in the second chapter of the letter, we were reminded:
- The cross brings us near to God and to each other because Jesus Christ has broken down the “dividing walls of hostility” so that we might all be sons and daughters of God—new creations
- And the cross brings us near to God and each other because all of us, like stones, are built together into a holy temple of which Christ is the cornerstone. This building is the dwelling place of God among us.
Originally Paul composed his letter for what would have been most likely the second generation of Christians. People who if they did not see it firsthand certainly were aware of the number of Christians arrested and martyred for their faith. Their deepest question may very well have been—can the church survive this persecution? It is out of this context that Ephesians was written and continues to be a source of hope for the Church and for Christians even to this day.
As one bible scholar noted: “Paul is providing prayers for the witnesses, prisoners, martyrs for the gospel and their friends—everyone whose life is fragments in need of sorting.” [NIB, p. 418] Fragments. Brokeness. Paul prays for everyone experiencing brokenness –then and now. Let me share with you just what he lifts in prayer on bended knee.
First, he prays that believers “may be strengthen in [their] inner being” and that Christ may dwell in them. A repetition of the letter’s earlier theme of how we grow into a human temple, a dwelling place for God when God’s Spirit is with us. We become the dwelling place for God so that the Almighty would be located right in the midst of his people. Present and accessible.
Then, Paul continues with a second prayer petition. He prays that those who read the letter will be “rooted and grounded in God’s love.” [v. 17] [Imitators of God: A Study Book on Ephesians, Letty Russell, p.61] Another translation, The New English Bible, reads like this: that they will have “deep roots and firm foundations” through God’s love. Deep roots has to do with planting and growing, firm foundations has to do with building and building upon. Both come about through the power of God’s Spirit.
The final petition of Paul’s prayer begins in verse 18 when he prays that his hearers may have the power of God’s Holy Spirit to understand the awesome dimensions of God’s love. A love without easy measure—whose breadth and length and height and depeth are immense. A love that can most certainly handle anything, anywhere, anytime for whatever reason. Here’s what the apostle Paul has prayed for in a nutshell. He has prayed that Christ will dwell in us; he has prayed that this will enable us to be rooted and grounded in God’s love; he has prayed that these first two prayers will open our eyes to the spiritual vista of the awesome and limitless power of God! Whew! What a mighty prayer.
And how does this happen? Paul saves the very best until last. This all happens because “…God by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine…” [v. 21] No matter what we can trust God’s boundless grace! No matter what happens to us. No matter what people do to us. No matter how we feel. No matter who you are. No matter where you are.
Paul and I have covered a lot of ground this morning and I hope you were able to glean at least one or two things for your life. Something that will reinforce your faith or give you a new understanding of God’s tremendous love for you or bring some hope to a difficult situation with no easy answer. Let us pray:
Almighty God, Thank you that Paul prayed for us. Thank you that we can turn to you with the difficult and broken things in our lives. Thank you that your boundless grace can do far more than we ever can ask or imagine. Amen.
A GRACE FILLED DWELLING
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, July 18, 2021
TEXT: Ephesians 2: 11-22
Do you ever tend to forget the things you should remember and remember many things you wish you could forget? I know I do, and I’m sure that might happen to you occasionally as well! In today’s passage the apostle Paul begins by asking us to "remember" something very important. What is it that is so important that he repeats the word twice in two verses? Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, knows how important it is to remind us what we were and what we have become in Christ Jesus.
Do you ever see those before and after photos in Weight Watcher ads or ads for Cross Fit? Paul is sort of lifting up a before and after scriptural picture so we remember the “before Christ” in our ancestors’ lives of faith and can claim and celebrate “the after.”
Let’s check out the “before Christ.” Paul reminds us about the absolute barrier that had existed between Jews and Gentiles previously. It was believed at that time that “Gentiles were created by God to fuel the fires of hell” and “it was not…lawful to give help to a Gentile woman in childbirth because that would bring another Gentile into the world.” Likewise, if a Jew married a Gentile, “the funeral of the Jew was carried out.” [Ephesians, William Barclay, p. 123] This barrier between Jews and Gentiles was as absolute as any Berlin Wall or Iron Curtain.
Also, before Christ, Gentiles lived what might be described as pragmatic lives…not forward thinking or filled with hope. The Jews on the other hand had the understanding that history had meaning and direction and that it would culminate in in a glorious ending. It was sort of a “march to God” verses the Gentile’s “progress to nowhere.” [Barclay, p.123]
Paul has us remember that before Christ, Gentiles were also “strangers” to God’s laws and covenant promises. The Jews were a covenant people with special privilege and also responsibilities. Gentiles were not yet part of the covenant people.
Then Paul switches gears from “before Christ” to “after Christ.” The important things we are to remember. How the barriers are down now because Gentiles have been “brought near.” Jesus has “broken down the dividing walls of hostility.”[Ephesians 2: 14] The phrase Paul uses “brought near” is the same that described Gentiles who converted to Judaism in Paul’s time. But instead of having Gentiles become Jews or vice versa, Paul says that Jesus removes the barriers and brings about unity.
The gifts of unity are threefold. First, Jesus transforms us into new beings. We are all new creations in Jesus Christ. More than we were before, and not yet what we shall become. That has not yet been revealed. As new creatures in Christ we see life in brand new ways. In each person we encounter, we can look past the exterior and see a heart that God loves no matter what. We can learn to love as God loves and we can even love our enemies and pray for them. That leads directly into the second gift of unity.
The second gift of the unity of Christ is that of bringing together the children of God who have been estranged from each other. Enemies can become coworkers or friends. It is removing the barriers. Because we are all God’s children, Jesus showed that we can be friends with one another. It is the natural thing to do because we are full members of God’s family. This is vital as we learn to coexist alongside our politics, and in negotiations with one another in godly and loving manners. Christians are peacemakers.
The final gift of unity is access to God. We Gentiles, who were previously far off, are now covenant people as well, having special privileges and acknowledging our special responsibilities as well. We have been set apart and consecrated by the Holy Spirit for God’s work. We are called directly into service.
As you are aware, our main responsibility is bringing the love of God to bear on the human situation. I have seen that countless times here among you, exercising your privilege and responsibilities in caring for the homeless; for moms and children in shelters; building houses alongside Paterson families; packing thousands of meals for school children in Africa; having dinners to raise money for mission; reaching out during the pandemic in caring caravans, small groups, and caring calls. And last but hardly least, your volunteering in so many, many different community organizations. We are a church that is living out our Christian responsibilities.
In the final section of this morning’s scripture, St. Paul gives us a stunning image of everyone of us as a stone, mysteriously growing together into a “holy temple.” It is understood that Jesus is the cornerstone of this eternal dwelling. And just as important every stone, every one of us here this morning, is an important part of this “dwelling place for God.” Amazing thought! We are the house that Jesus’ love builds! Growing, becoming secure, stones forming walls, an ongoing building project in which we bring God close to his family, have him live intimately with us, have walls that shelter and protect us from sin and death and rooms and roof that provide shelter from the storms. Within the house, the dwelling for God, a light burns brightly, signaling that Christ is the light of our lives and Christ is the light of our world.
There is no darkness in the family of God. No unwanted people, no misfits, no one is outside of the circle of this healing welcoming light within the circle and fellowship of our lives. This is the church at its best! And this is what Paul would have us remember. Your place in the building up of the house where God dwells.
Let us pray:
Good and Gracious God, We thank you for the life and sacrifice of your son whose death and resurrection brought us closer to you; clothed us with privilege as your children and with responsibilities as your servants; and built us into a home where you can visit among us sharing lighgt and strength and hope. Amen.
RICHES OF GRACE
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, July 11, 2021
TEXT: Ephesians 1: 3-14
“In him we have redemption through his blood,
the forgiveness of trespasses, according to the richness of grace.”
Ephesians 1: 7
Once when daughter Robin was little she curled up next to me on the sofa one evening and she asked: What if a little kid doesn’t have a mom, who would take care of her? I thought a moment and answered: Well, I suppose that child’s father would take care of her. There was a pause. And then another question: But what if that little kid doesn’t have a father? Another pause. I replied: Why I suppose a grandparent or an aunt or uncle or a friend would take care of the child. And then her real question: What if, what if that kid doesn’t have anybody at all?
What if? “What if?” is that existential question. What if there is nothing else. No divine being or any purpose to life at all…Like Peggy Lee’s song “Is That All There is?” What if? Even as adults we want to value the certainty that there is a plan, that there is someone or something looking out for us. That life has a purpose, a meaning greater than ourselves.
In today’s scripture Paul assures us that there is more to life than meets the eye. He expresses words of assurance and joy, as one commentator put it “a lyrical song of praise…gift after gift, wonder after wander” concerning our place in God’s plan. [Ephesians, William Barclay, p.87]
The riches of God’s grace is a favorite theme of St. Paul. In last Sunday’s scripture, Paul in his letter to the Corinthians prayed that God would remove what he referred to as the thorn in his side, but that did not happen. Instead, God enabled Paul to continue his work, to follow his calling despite the things that troubled him. God answered Paul like this: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” [v. 9] And Paul esponds: “Therefore I am content…for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” [v. 10] That promise of sufficient grace is for us as well.
In today’s lesson Paul shows us additional gifts of God’s grace. Perhaps the first point and most special of all is that God has chosen us to do God’s work. Jesus repeats this in John 15: 16 “You did not choose me but I chose you.” What really is special about this choosing is that it was God’s choice to bless us deeply. Haven’t we heard adoptive parents saying this to a child. We have chosen you. To love you, to care for you and to treat you as a member of our family. You are special.
God says the same thing to us. Paige, you are special, Bill, you are special, Ken, Jane, Max, Robb, Ruth, Amy, Jeannie, Jackie, everyone of us, you are special. We are special because God has chosen us for adoption into his family. That we might be the children of God. Imagine that.
Sometimes people brag about their families. You’ve heard them. Things like my dad was a Super Bowl referee. My mom sells fashion on QVC. My uncle has his own podcast. My cousin is vice president of her own hedge fund. You know those folks. But it is us who have something to really brag about. We can say with assurance. I am the daughter of God. I am the son of God. I am a child of God. This is the first of the“riches of grace.”
Secondly, God is overwhelmingly generous in sharing with us goodness and peace of mind. There is never any worry necessary that we might not have anyone to watch over and care for us. Instead, our hearts and minds are at peace because this great God of the entire universe and of the tiny sparrow, has seen fit to provide a peace that passes understanding for our troubled souls.
How do you welcome the peace of God into your life? So many different ways. Setting aside a time each day to read some scripture or a devotion. Maybe engaging in meditation or yoga or a time of silence or walking in nature opens hearts to the peace of Christ. When Jesus is preparing to leave his disciples, he explains his gift of peace. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” [John 14: 27]
Let’s move on to yet a third aspect of God’s grace. Perhaps the greatest gift of all the riches of grace is being “sealed” with the promise of the Holy Spirit. Paul writes: In [Christ] you…were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit…” [ v. 13]
In the sending of scrolls or important packages, a seal was often applied to show who owned the scroll or the package that was being transported. Just so, Paul uses the same word for the “seal” that the Holy Spirit affixes to the believer. It is this “seal” that identifies us as belonging to God.
Then Paul describes the Holy Spirit like this: “ the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people.” [v.14] In the New International Version [NIV] it is translated this way, this seal is “a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.” [v. 14 NIV]
Paul uses the Greek word arrabon here which described “a regular feature in the Greek business world…a deposit paid in advance as a guarantee that the rest would in due course be paid.” [Barclay, p.100] In other words, God has paid a deposit on us in advance. As one commentator shared: it is “a foretaste of the blessedness of heaven.”[Barclay, p.99]
All of the riches of grace bless us, the children of God, and bring us peace for all that troubles our hearts, and promise us eternal life in heaven. The take aways?
- Serve your heavenly parent with reassurance,
- invite God’s peace into your hearts and lives,
- live every day knowing that the best is yet to come.
Let us pray.
Gracious God, sometimes we forget how rich we are! How your grace pours through our lives like a mighty rushing stream. Help us to “dive deeply into the living waters of loving fidelity”* and to someday reach the shores of eternal life and the “blessedness of heaven.” Amen.
*Canadian poet and social activist Jean Vanier
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, July 4, 2021
TEXT: 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10
“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Cor. 12: 9
‘While I was changing channels this week watching TV I came upon one of the strongest man competitions. The event in the contest I watched was to see which man could pick up the heaviest barbell from the ground, straighten up and hold it for a few seconds. The winner picked up over a thousand pounds. That was pretty incredible but what captured my attention was how the winner seemed to use absolutely every fiber in his being, he mustered every iota of his powerful muscular strength in the gargantuan task of lifting the barbell.
That’s the gold standard for strength. The muscular capability of a human to lift over four times his weight. Wow. Our scripture today from St. Paul’s Letter called Second Corinthians is also about strength and heavy weights. But in a very different way. Let’s check it out.
In the beginning of today’s passage there is an odd story about a person who visits heaven and then returns to earth. Kind of puzzling and then one realizes that Paul is talking about himself… that this man is Paul, and that experience happened to Paul. He writes as if he is in the third person: “I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven….and was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.” [vv 2-4] A mystical kind of experience.
It seems that Paul’s spirit somehow rose up to heaven and experienced God. “Things that are not to be told….not to be repeated.” [v. 4] Paul recounts that he was caught up “into Paradise.” We sometimes use that word for heaven but Paul seems to be referencing Paradise the way Persians referred to it. Paradise represented a “walled garden.” So, Paul was not only transported to heaven, he was admitted to God’s special garden. A walled garden where he would have had conversation and companionship with God.
I wonder if this scripture helped inform the favorite hymn “In The Garden”? Remember the lines? “He walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am his own. And the joy I feel as I tarry there none other has ever known.” It is clear from this scripture that Paul has had a life changing mystical kind of experience!
The thought process that follows next for Paul is a bit surprising. He doesn’t boast because he has smelled the roses in the heavenly garden, instead, he shares that just the opposite happens! He writes “to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh.” [v.7]
There have been many theories over the centuries as to what that “thorn” was. It may have been the continuing opposition and persecution he faced; it could have been worldly temptations; it could have been his physical appearance; many medical “thorns” have been surmised from epilepsy to migraine headaches to eye difficulties. Proponents of each have scripture passages to support their views. A well known pediatrician from Philadelphia has gone on the record convinced that Paul had autism.
Paul prayed that God would remove the thorn in his side, but that did not happen. Instead, God enabled Paul to continue to follow his calling despite that thorn. As one Bible scholar put it so well: “[God] does not spare us things, but makes us able to conquer them.” [Second Corinthians, William Barclay] God answered Paul like this: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” [v. 9] And Paul esponds: “Therefore I am content…for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” [v. 10]
Even when we are feeling incapable of doing something we feel called to do, Paul’s words remind us that we are not the world’s strongest people on our own. Instead, God’s strength and power is our energy source.
The founder of Methodism, John Wesley preached 42,000 sermons in his lifetime; travelled 4,500 miles yearly by horseback; and preached three sermons per day average. At age 80, Wesley wrote in his diary: “I am a wonder to myself. I am never tired, either with preaching, writing or travelling.”
This power and strength of God can help you and me through our weaknesses so we can proclaim along with John Wesley “I am a wonder to myself.” God’s power and strength can respond to so many trying things in our lives. Maybe it is physical weariness, we are tired and feel worn out; maybe it is some kind of pain or ailment that hampers us; maybe we are struggling with our faith; each of us has a thorn in the flesh that reminds us of our need for God.
The great good news in or lesson today is that when we reach down to pick up that very, very heavy barbell, it is not us alone lifting it. God loans us strength for all the heavy lifting we have to do in our lives from parenting to growing older, from caring for friends and neighbors in need to serving in our local church. God’s strength and power are made perfect in our weakness. Never forget the weightlifting miraculous power of God. For whenever you are weak, God is strong.
Let us pray:
Gracious God, Life can be very tough at times. Some responsibilities seem too much. Some tasks too daunting. Some pain feels as if it has no end. Be present in our weaknesses, fill us with your strength, let us feel your power in the everyday opportunities in our lives. We thank you and praise your name. Amen.