WHAT OUR PRAYERS REVEAL
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, October 23, 2022
Luke 18: 9-14
9 [Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other, for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Today’s parable or teaching story from Jesus sounds a lot like some sayings we hear. Sayings about two kinds of people. For example: there are two kinds of people, those who wake up in the morning and say “Good morning, Lord” and those who wake up and say “Good Lord, it’s morning!”
- “There are two types of people. There are those who make excuses, and those who get results.”
- Marlo Thomas said: “There are two types of people, givers and takers. The takers may eat better but the givers sleep better.”
This parable seems to give credence to the idea that there are “two kinds of people.” Those like the Pharisee and those like the tax collector. But, you know, I think we need to look at this a little closer because it might not be as cut and dried as we think. Author Tom Robbins once said: There are two kinds of people in this world. “Those who believe there are two kinds of people and those who are smart enough to know better.” I think he may be onto some deeper truth for today’s lesson.
Let’s look a little closer at the two groups Jesus uses in his story. First the Pharisees. This very religious group in Jesus’ time adhered strictly to the requirements of their faith. Their religious practice was based on prayer and the study of God’s law. As a matter of fact St. Paul was a proud member of this group. In Acts 26: 6 he exclaims, “I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees.”
It was a Pharisee named Nicodemus who came by Jesus by night to to ask questions about Jesus’ teaching. In fact it was from this encounter that the most famous verse in our bibles came about: “For God so loved the world he gave his only son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eveerlasting life.” [John 3: 16] It was this very same Nicodemus who claims Jesus body after his death and provides a tomb for him. So maybe all Pharisees aren’t so bad.
The Pharisee in this story is praying in the temple. A prayer of thanksgiving. “God, I thank you that I am not like other people.” And then proceeds to list out a couple of his activities–following the spiritual discipline of fasting and giving generously. It sounds like he is pretty religious. Aren’t we pretty religious too? When we see ourselves as the Pharisee sees himself.
If someone were to ask you how do you live out your faith what might you answer? Participate in worship? Give offering to my church? Have my children baptised? Not everything about Pharisees is bad. But the Pharisee in Jesus’ story ruins what he prays with his words – “Thank God I’m not like other people.” Jesus does not commend this haughty, prideful prayer.
But, let’s be honest, haven’t we ever thought as we were praying, thank goodness my family doesn’t have that problem? Or, I’m so glad my life or my son or my daughter didn’t turn out like that? Or, I cannot even imagine how he or she can survive that bad luck? Haven’t we been like the Pharisee?
Let’s return to the other type of person in this teaching story–the tax collector. The tax collector prays: “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” He doesn’t even feel worthy enough to pray in the Temple, but instead he offers his prayers “standing far off.” He feels totally sinful. Not deserving of God’s love because of the sins he has committed. When we compare ourselves to the great saints of history–like the Mother Teresa’s–who have served Christ all around the world wherever poverty or suffering occur, we fall far short. Sometimes we feel we don’t measure up to any expectations at all. When self-righteous people, like the Pharisee, alienate others with their lists of spiritual accomplishments, people like the tax collector feel empty and worthless inside, totally dependent on God’s grace.
In the not so surprising ending to this teaching story Jesus says: “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” While we are certainly encouraged to be the best people of faith we can be, it is the tax collector who reminds us that there is nothing within us that makes that possible. Paul says in one of his letters: “Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.” [1 Timoty 1: 15]
If we are to take some treasure from today’s scripture, it might look like this. First, God does not expect us to be perfect when we come in prayer. I remember a member of a church long ago who asked to see me and then shared that he was so angry about something happening in his life that he could no longer pray. He wanted to pray. He needed to pray but couldn’t pray because he was filled with bad thoughts. I suggested that prayers don’t always come out in pretty, flowery words. Pray honestly. You might even swear in that prayer. You might be angry with God. But you know what, God loves an honest prayer. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect when we come in prayer.
Secondly, to be in a right relationship with God we must stop comparing ourselves with our neighbors. “Thank God I am not like others.” Instead, we need to measure ourselves by God’s word instead of “rejoicing in the failures of others because it makes us look better by comparison.” [sermons.faithlife.com, Bruce Goettsch, 2010]
As I mentioned before, Paul was humble because he was aware of his need for God’s grace. He knew to keep his focus on God and not on others. This is the kind of humility or humbleness that Jesus praises in this teaching story.
Finally, this story reminds us that when we worship or pray, we are to be genuine and sincere, not showy. Someone warned “the battle for spiritual sincerety and genuineness is one we must pursue constantly.” [Goettsch]
Are there two different kinds of people in this teaching story? Pharisees and tax collectors? Or, is there one type of person in this scripture–because both are created in God’s image? Both are created in God’s image and both are fallen and in need of forgiveness and God’s grace. Poet Maya Angelou in her poem “Human Family” shares “we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” So, in conclusion remember that there is one kind of person not two kinds. One kind, beloved child of God, forgiven and filled with grace for good works in Christ’s name. You can’t get much better than that!
Let us pray.
Good and Gracious God, Help us learn humility in prayer, love in service, grace in dealing with our fellow human beings so that we might be pleasing in your sight. Amen.
A PROMISE WRITTEN ON OUR HEARTS
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, October 16, 2022
Jeremiah 31: 27-34
27 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. 28 And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. 29 In those days they shall no longer say: “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” 30 But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of the one who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.
31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord, for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.
Today we look once more at Prophet Jeremiah and his words for the people of God. As you will recall, Jeremiah worked as a prophet in Jerusalem and throughout Judah for forty years during a very difficult time in that country’s history. One hundred twenty five years earlier the Northern Kingdom of Israel and it’s capital Samaria were conquered by Assyria. Now, these many years later, the Southern Kingdom Judah and it’s capital Jerusalem were conquered by the newest world power, Babylon. Jeremiah’s original message to the people of Judah and Jerusalem was concise and to the point. “Repent, change your ways, treat your neighbor well.” Stop being sinful. “Don’t just be people who claim to trust God, really trust God.” But there came a point in Jeremiah’s career when it was no longer his job to denounce sinners. Instead, he did an about face. One commentator remarked that “Jeremiah grapples with God’s love of a disobedient people.” [workingpreacher.org, Garrett Galvin, 10-20-13]
Nothing worse could possibly happen to the people of Jerusalaem than had already occurred. Ten thousand men, women and children were exiled to Babylon. But now in his about face, Prophet Jeremiah focuses on “a future with hope.” [29:11] No longer is he reminding the people of their sins and God’s punishments, instead he now lifts up hope.
Jeremiah gives his listeners three promises to count on. This passage begins first with the promise of the repopulation of Jerusalem. God says: “ And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant…” [v.28]
We cannot imagine how that was received. Probably with disbelief. Practically no one was left in that city of Jerusalem. The Golden City—reduced to rubble. It most likely resembled the scenes we see of Ukraine on the evening news. Cities reduced to rubble.
Then secondly, as part of his new prophecies, Jeremiah corrects the misconception that children suffer for the sins of their parents. Even 600 years later Jesus was still being questioned about this. What did these parents do wrong that their son was born blind? Jesus answered according to Jeremiah. Nothing. The punishment for their sins did not cause their son’s blindness. Instead, Jeremiah helps us see past the idea of common guilt and helps us see that each person is responsible for his or her sins. Children will not be punished for the sins of their parents. A new way is coming. Everyone will know who God is and the forgiveness made possible for them individually.
Finally, and most importantly,God is making a new covenant with the people. Not like the old covenant written on tablets of stone and given to Moses as the Israelites journeyed through the desert escaping slavery in Egypt. This new covenant or promise from God can never be broken; and it is a unilateral covenant, that is, God makes the contract terms but there are no promises demanded from humans.
This new covenant will be written on their hearts not on tablets of stone. For our spiritual ancestors, the heart was understood as the center of decision making. To have God’s law written on the heart is an internal compass. A GPS to navigate us through the hills and valleys of life.
So for Jeremiah the new prophecy has to do ultimately with God being present in a new way–available to everyone, forgiveness for an individual’s sins, promise that resides in our hearts and will never leave or desert us.
As each of us lives in that new reality of God’s presence, we must ask ourselves “What does it look like to faithfully live with the new covenant inscribed on our hearts?” What does it look like?
- That we recognize God’s promise in every one of God’s sons and daughters. We are all family. Kinder and gentler.
- That we fufill our role as children of God not out of obligation or dreary duty, but out of deep appreciation for the love that Christ pored out for us on the cross when he paid the price for our sins and made this new covenant
- Finally, that we know that wherever ill fate or fortune takes us, God is with us. In the green pastures and by the still waters. In the valley of the deep shadows. There is no where to go to escape the reaches of God’s love.
Prophet Jeremiah changed his message from punishment to hope for God’s people. A promise that was fulfilled in the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Let us pray.
Gracious God, How unbelievable yet wonderful it is that you have written your covenant promise on our hearts. Promise of a future with hope and that someday we will dwell in your house all the days of our lives. Thak you, thank you, thank you! Amen.
Finding God in Unexpected Places
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, October 9, 2022
“...Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you…”
TEXT: Jeremiah 29: 1, 4-7
1 These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 4 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
The scripture assigned for today picks up where we left off a couple weeks ago. Jeremiah worked as a prophet in Jerusalem and throughout Judah for forty years during a very difficult time in that country’s history. One hundred twenty five years earlier the Northern Kingdom of Israel and it’s capitol Samaria were conquered by Assyria. Now, these many years later, the Southern Kingdom Judah and it’s capital Jerusalem have been under siege by the newest world power, Babylon.
Jeremiah’s message to the people of Judah and Jerusalem was concise and to the point. “Repent, change your ways, treat your neighbor well.” Stop being sinful. “Don’t just be people who claim to trust God, really trust God.” Because of this, Jeremiah was not a popular prophet. He urged people “Flee from Jerusalem.” [6:1] People ignored his prophecies; the priests did not listen to him; other prophets paid him no heed; various kings through his lifetime imprisoned him.
Babylon’s armies eventually surrounded and laid siege to Jerusalem the last stronghold of the Israelites. Jerusalem fell in 597 BC. The temple was destroyed. Many people were killed during the siege and others taken into exile to Babylon. Ten thousand captives: soldiers, officers, craftsmen, skilled laborers and administrative leaders were taken to Babylon. All the treasures in the palace and the temple were looted and removed to Babylon.
But Jeremiah remained behind unable to leave Jerusalem. He became known as the weeping prophet, he wrote: “My joy is gone; grief is upon me; my heart is sick.”[7:18] “Is there no balm in Gilead?” [7:22]
And then, to make matters worse, super power Egypt decided to try to take over the city and the land from the Babylonians and the puppet government set up in the city! Jerusalem was now caught between Babylon and Egypt. It was a very tense time. Because Jeremiah supported Babylon as God’s instrument of discipline for the sinful Israelites, he became even more unpopular. In fact, he was charge with treason.
And then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah which he prophecied in the letter read this morning. A letter carried to that far off land to be shared with the thousands of exiles in Babylon:
- “Build houses and live in them”
- “Plant gardens and eat what they produce”
- “Take wives and have sons and daughters”
- “Take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease”
- “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
“For in its welfare you will find your welfare.” God seems to be saying to the exiles “make the best of where you now live.” You miss your families, your homes, your language, you miss your familiar foods and shops and places of work. All the things that made your lives full and rich and comfortable.
These words of God are perfect for us in this day and age as well. As one commentator explained, God encourages you “Find meaning in your situation even in suffering; continue to choose life. Rather than growing bitter, resentful or cynical seek the shalom–the success and prosperity of the place where you live…[and] pray to the Lord on its behalf.” [brewsterbaptistchurch.org, “Seeking the Welfare of the Place You Live,” Rev. Doug Scalise, March 9, 2015]
Think about this. Find meaning in whatever you encounter. Maybe we’ve lost a loved one; maybe meaningful work has ended or changed for you; maybe you have a medical issue that makes everyday uncertian or painful, whatever your current situation. Find meaning. Keep on keeping on.
No matter what, God encourages you to embrace that reality because in doing so you will find God. Sometimes that will be in very unexpected places. Seek the welfare of those in your situation, friends and enemies, pray to God on their behalf. Because in the welfare of the place you find yourself…the shalom, the peace, the wholeness, the wellbeing…there you will find your welfare as well.
A facebook post by Rebekah Gregory, a victim of the Boston Marathon bombing, illustrates the spirit of going forward in life regardless of the suffering or hardship one is facing. She wrote to the bomber.
“My name is Rebekah Gregory. We don’t really know each other and never will. But over the last two years, I have seen your face not only in pictures, but in almost every one of my nightmares. Moments before the first blast, your stupid backpack even brushed up against my arm, but I doubt you remember because I am no one to you. A complete stranger. And although I was merely just a blip on your radar, (someone that happened to be standing 3 feet from your designated “good spot” for a bomb), you have been so much more to me. Because you have undoubtedly been my source of fear since April 15th, 2013. (After all, you are one of the men responsible for nearly taking my child, and for the permanent image embedded in my brain of watching someone die.) Up until now, I have been truly scared of you and because of this; fearful of everything else people might be capable of.
But today, all that changed. Because this afternoon, I got to walk into a courtroom and take my place at the witness stand, just a few feet away from where you were sitting. (I was WALKING. Did you get that?) And today I explained all the horrific details, of how you changed my life,…I looked at you right in the face….and realized I wasn’t afraid anymore. And today I realized that sitting across from you was somehow the crazy kind of step forward that I needed all along.
And I think that’s the ironic thing that happens when someone intends something for evil. Because somehow, some way, it always ends up good…Because now you have given me (and the other survivors) a tremendous platform to help others, and essentially do our parts in changing the world for the better.
So yes…you did take a part of me. Congratulations you now have a leg up…literally. But in so many ways, you saved my life. Because now, I am so much more appreciative of every new day I am given. And now, I get to hug my son even tighter than before, blessed that he is THRIVING, despite everything that has happened.
Can’t you just hear Jeremiah’s words from God? “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Rebeccah sought to find solace in and to share comfort with the persons in this tragedy. Many of you have done that as well. Share with others from the wells of experience and blessings that you encountered in the midst of your tragedies or difficult situations. No matter where we find ourselves in life, we can find God. And this is the Good News. Take it to heart.
Let us pray.
Lord, Let us always remember to pray for the welfare of wherever or however we find ourselves. Let our hearts be receptive to your guidance in each situation and be filled with your peace so that we might live fully. Amen.
Is Your God Too Narrow?
Rev. VIvian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, October 2, 2022
TEXT: 1 Corinthians 10: 14-17
14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from the worship of idols. 15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
One of the things I think we all enjoy is meals with our family, especially holiday meals. I’ll bet every one of you here or at home can share a particularly memorable Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter meal with family and friends. Holidays may be the primary way that we gather as families now. And, World Communion Sunday is the biggest meal of all! As I said once in a children’s sermon: it is served on the biggest table in the world!
Let’s step back just for a moment and think about the meals we have every day in our homes. Research shows (and I quote) “having dinner together with parent and family is a strong predictor of academic success [and] psychological adjustment…” [Sermon “We Are All One,” Clair Sauer, October 3, 2012] Probably many of us grew up having dinner together with our parents at the end of each day. Sitting together, reviewing the events of the day, appreciating each other’s company.
Rob and I would ask our daughters and ourselves at every dinnertime, “Good or News?” Each of us would have an opportunity to share noteworthy things about our day at work or at school with the others. We still occasionally do this. As a matter of fact, everyone who comes to me to get married…through all my years of being a pastor…gets asked to draw me a picture of what their dinner table looked like when they were in elementary school. What room did they eat in? Who was at the table? Parents, grandparents, siblings, friends? What was the room like where you ate? Kitchen, dining room, tray in front of TV, the local diner? Finally, what were you eating? How were you feeling?
It tells so very much about a couple when they share about their families in this manner. Especially the lessons they can learn and bring to their new family as they married. To reassure them I would always add that important lessons can be learned from every family no matter what. Some lessons might be I want to be as loving as my parents. Other lessons might be I don’t ever want to be like that and I will be loving instead.
One future groom had a big “X” over a couple spots in his drawing. He shared that his dad often was angry and lost his temper. The “X’s” were the things he had destroyed during dinners. A future bride had an empty spot at her table for a beloved grandmother whose presence was deeply missed when she passed away. Sometimes it was just one parent and a child. One person ate every supper at the small restaurant his single mother worked at. If I asked you this same exercise, how would you draw your family?
You know, the family of God is just like this. Every Sunday we gather to share the “good and news.” The “good” is God loves us, forgives our sins, restores us to God’s good graces. And the “news” is that we are to share and invite others to the table. The angels announced this the very first Christmas eve: “Don’t be afraid! I have good news for you, a message that will fill everyone with joy.” [Luke 2: 10]
On this World Communion Sunday we are reminded of the broadness of God’s love “for God so loved the world.”
- Not “for God so loved the Protestants”
- or “for God so loved Americans”
- or “for God so loved everyone who speaks English”
- or “for God so loved people who voted a certain way”
- or “for God so loved straight people”
- or “for God so loved only the people I love.”
No, the Good News that brings joy to all hearts is “For God so loved the world He gave His only son so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
St. Paul in today’s scripture lesson reminds us “because there is one bread, we who are many are one body…” Shortly we will be sharing in the “one bread.” All around the world today we are sharing in one bread, or wafers, or rice cakes, or tortillas, or crackers, or bagels, whatever we are sharing. And we are reminded as the hymn [UMH #120] says: “Your love, O God, is broad like beach and meadow, wide as the wind and our eternal home.” The significance of World Communion Sunday is that God’s table calls us to “a different way of living replacing hatred and divisions with peace and unity, grace and love.” [Sauer] And understanding this truth, though we have different nationalities, different customs, different languages, even different ways of praying, we are one family, God’s big vision for our world.
Let us pray.
Gracious God, sometimes we forget we are part of a larger, inclusive family whose temporal home is earth and whose eternal home is forever. Thank you for your love that binds us in acceptance, reminds us of our true family, and fills our hearts with joy. Amen.
Hope for a Hopeless Situation
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
September 25, 2022
TEXT: Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. 2 At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, 3 where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.
6 Jeremiah said, “The word of the Lord came to me: 7 Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, ‘Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.’ ” 8 Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.
9 And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel and weighed out the silver to him, seventeen shekels of silver. 10 I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the silver on scales. 11 Then I took the sealed deed of purchase containing the terms and conditions and the open copy, 12 and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. 13 In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, 14 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. 15 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.”
Jeremiah worked as a prophet in Jerusalem and throughout Judah for forty years during a very difficult time in that country’s history. A hundred twenty five years earlier the Northern Kingdom of Israel and it’s capitol Samaria were conquered by Assyria. Now, these many years later, the Southern Kingdom Judah and it’s capitol Jerusalem are under siege by the newest world power, Babylon.
Jeremiah’s message to the people of Judah and Jerusalem was concise and to the point. “Repent, change your ways, treat your neighbor well.” “Don’t just be people who claim to trust God, really trust God.” He had warned the people that superpower Babylon was coming to destroy them. At the time there were two groups of prophets! Some strongly were convinced that Jerusalem would never fall to an enemy but Jeremiah and the other prophets were not so sure. They proved correct.
Jeremiah was also not a popular person because he called people to return to God and stop being sinful. People ignored his prophecies; the priests did not listen to him; other prophets paid him no heed; various kings through his lifetime imprisoned him; in fact, at the time today’s scripture lesson he was imprisoned by King Zedekiah.
And now Babylon’s armies surrounded and laid siege to Jerusalem. Time was growing short. Prophet Jeremiah knows this is the end. Jerusalem will fall. The temple will be destroyed, people will be killed and others taken into exile to Babylon, their beloved land will be taken over by a foreign empire. Jeremiah is trapped in Jerusalem.
How you ever felt like your life was under siege? That so much was happening you feel crushed. Maybe heading toward a big change in your life; maybe it was the breakup a relationship; maybe a financial crisis; maybe the loss of meaningful employment; maybe the loss of a loved one. through death; maybe whatever is happening, sometimes it feels like our faith is becoming frayed.
Usually when we feel like this, it is not a moment to take a chance or make a change or put our trust in something that will most likely have no potential to change our outlook and fading faith in the face of discouraging situations. But this is exactly what happens to Jeremiah. The word of the Lord comes to the prophet and tells him that his cousin Hamamel is coming from Anathoth, a city three miles north of Jerusalem. A city that the Babylonian army was already occupying.
This is not exactly prime real estate. I’ve been looking at a lot of real estate ads over the past year. Vermont, Maine, South Jersey, Pennsylvania. Without exception each real estate offering has at least one or two selling points. WIthout fail, however, the location of the property is of utmost importance. A house on a flood plain or too close to a river is problematic. A house next to a power line, or refinery, or on a busy corner is not a good choice.
Well, Prophet Jeremiah’s cousin has a really nasty piece of real estate to unload. A property in enemy occupied territory. Not a really prudent buy. But Jeremiah trusts the voice of God and buys the property, has the deed signed and witnessed, and then instructs his scribe Baruch to place the deed in a clay jar to keep it safe. This was a radical act of hope in what to every sensible person looked like a completely hopeless situation! But Jeremiah trusted God. Scripture tells us: “For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.” God’s word, the final word for Jeremiah, Jerusalem and Judah is a word of hope.
This is the world that God loves. This is the world that Jesus died for. This is the world in which Jeremiah so patiently called his people to repent, to remember who they were as God’s children, and to trust and hope that God will forgive and restore their future. No matter how crazy that sounded.
That those captured and taken into exile to a country far from home, would someday return to Jerusalem. That was Jeremiah’s crazy hope. That was why Jeremiah bought the land that he might not ever see again in his lifetime, but when the exiles would return to Israel at some unknown future date, someone will find the deed in the clay jar and claim this property that Jeremiah bought to prove his allegiance to the promise and goodness of God. That “houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.”
We live in a time of great upheaval, not Babylonian armies, but climate change, gun violence, political corruption, wars and famines, and now the displacement of millions of persons from their homelands for many different reasons. God calls us, his beloved children, to be the hope for our world by showing others the rule of God in our hearts.
“What great or small action is God asking of us, that would be an investment in the future?” “A signpost of hope” in a world that has turned from God. What act of hope is God calling you to be for others?
Let us pray.
Gracious God, Help us to be hope for the world. Let us truly believe that as the hymn goes “tho the wrong be oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet.” Help us live into the future that God has prepared for all who love Him and follow his commands to love. Amen.
A Good Lesson From A Bad Example?
Rev. Vivian L Rodeffer
Sunday, September 18, 2022
TEXT: Luke 16: 1-13
The Parable of the Dishonest Manager
16 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly, for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much, and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If, then, you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters, for a slave will either hate the one and love the other or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
This is a surprising parable that Jesus shares. There is a dishonest manager about to lose his job so before that happens he decides to gain some favors by a sneaky move. He summons his business owner’s clients and one by one, fixes the books and reduces the amount that each owes. That way they will be inclined to help him when he is out of work and needs some assistance. But the big surprise in this teaching story is that the boss commends the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.
In the gospel of Luke, this teaching story comes between the Story of the Prodigal Son [15: 11-32] and the Story of the Rich Man and Lazarus [16: 19-31]. There are similarities among the three stories. Just like the prodigal son squanders the inheritance that was given to him, the dishonest manager has squandered what was entrusted to him too, his boss’s trust. In the Rich Man and Poor Lazarus as in this parable, there is a similar reversal of fortune. It goes like this:
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things and Lazarus in like manner evil things, but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.
In the Gospel of Luke all three of these stories illustrate what happens when Jesus and the Kingdom of God come close! Things turn upside down. There are surprises! Jesus turns life upside down in this story and uses an evil person to make a point.
We may ask as we think about today’s parable of The Dishonest Steward why did Jesus commend him to us? I’m going to offer four possibilities that we might consider.
First, there is shrewdness. Jesus is telling us that “the children of light” [that’s us] could learn alot from the shrewdness of those who operate in the dark. Elsewhere scripture reminds us to be wise as serpents, innocent as doves. Use your brains–don’t have the wool pulled over your eyes.
Second, better relationships through release of debts. Like the dishonest steward we too could benefit by working in positive, honest ways that release others “debts” to us. This is a tough one. We may be feeling that someone owes us something. But as we learn to release those obligatory debts, we find that we are in new and better relationships with our sisters and brothers because we are committed to the kingdom with all our heart.
Third, there is a connection between being faithful with very little and with very much. Jesus says: 10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much, and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.” Jesus reminds us that how we use our resources matters! Paul in his letter to Corinth says: “Sow sparingly, reap sparingly. Sow bountifully, reap bountifully.”
Fourth and finally, slaves serve one master. Jesus warns: 13 “No slave can serve two masters, for a slave will either hate the one and love the other or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” Church Father John Calvin said: “When riches hold the dominion of the heart, God has lost his authority.” Instead, Jesus urges us to build up the wealth, the “true riches” that lift us to eternal life not the riches that purchase the temporary things of this world.
Today’s scripture has a lot to teach us–receive this good lesson from a bad example. Let us pray:
Gracious God, Thank you that you gave your lesson of the dishonest steward’s shrewdness to teach us how to live. So that we might enter your kingdom in the life to come. Help us daily to learn to use our privileges to heaven’s advantage. Amen.
THE INVISIBLE FRUIT: FAITHFULNESS
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, September 11, 2022
TEXT: Hebrews 11: 1-3 & 2: 1
11 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. 2 Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.
Today we are looking at the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit called faithfulness–which we may wish to think about it as the invisible fruit. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” An easy way to understand faithfulness is that it is a lifestyle operating under God’s grace.
Sometimes it is difficult to live with the assurance of God’s grace when we cannot see what tomorrow holds for us. Have you ever been anxious or worried about something in your life? This grace of God compels us to live faithfully. And living faithfully means keeping the faith no matter what is happening allaround us or to us. Applying the gardening theme, a faithfilled person is characterized with deep roots, firmly planted in the soil of God’s garden.
There are quite a few weeds that threaten the successful growth of the fruit called faithfulness.
- The weed I don’t need anyone’s help.
- The weed of claiming that my accomplishments and successes in life are de to my own efforts–nobody helped.
- The weed of feeling that I have to be and to act a certain way to be loved and accepted by God.
- The weed of disappointment toward God or anger toward God by what feels like God not answering my prayers or letting bad things happen to me, my family, my friends.
The Fruit of Faithfulness is found in lifestyles that have simply accepted God’s grace. Listen once again to the scripture for this morning: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Scholar William Barclay shared his thoughts on this verse: “The Christian faith is a hope that has turned to certainty. This Christian hope is such that it dictates all a [person’s] conduct. [We] live in it and [we] die in it…”
As we consider that fateful September day twenty two years ago, faithfulness grants us the ability to cling to the “certainty” of goodness that emerged despite the horror:
- strangers banding together to help one another in each of the scenes of attach that day
- congregations opening their doors to offer respite and prayers for anyone and everyone,
- people offering comfort and care to those they knew and those they’d never met. And so on and so forth.
These are the fruits of faithfulness that ripple down through history. These are the acts that reveal our sure power to bring redemption, reconciliation and resurrection out of the depths of death and despair.
Perhaps the most wonderful example of what the fruit of faithfulness is about is the Survivor’s Tree at Ground Zero. Let me share it’s story. Almost a month after the 9/11 attacks, a surviving pear tree was found in the ruins. Extensively damaged with its roots and limbs snapped and its trunk blackened and burned, rescue and recovery workers pulled this Callery pear tree from the rubble. The tree was placed in the care of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and was nursed back to health. In 2010, the tree was brought to the 9/11 Memorial site. Now known as the Survivor Tree, today the tree stands next to the South Pool as a living reminder of resilience, survival and hope.
Then, in 2013, in partnership with Bartlett Tree Experts and John Bowne High School in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum launched the Survivor Tree Seedling Program. Each year, the 9/11 Memorial gives seedlings from the Survivor Tree to three communities that have endured tragedy in recent years.
Some examples are seedlings that were donated to Parkland, Fla., where a gunman killed 17 people in February 2018, including students and staff members, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School; seedlings were sent to London in memory of those who lost their lives, and on behalf of the bereaved, survivors and all those affected by the tragic Grenfell Tower fire; and seedling were sent to Puerto Rico, after the catastrophic Hurricane Maria left an estimated 2,975 people dead in its wake. In every case the offspring of The Survivor Tree signified the hope and assurance that others noticed and cared deeply about their losses.
Each recipient has committed to nurture their Survivor Tree seedlings so that one day, they too will stand as beacons of resilience and hope in their community. The seedlings are a reminder that healing is possible with time, hope and unity.
Embodying our nation’s spirit and strength, this one-of-a-kind tree “Survivor Tree” stands out from the rest of the trees on the 9/11 Memorial. In the spring, it’s the first to bud and the last to lose its leaves in the fall.
There are three ways this invisible fruit of the spirit called faithfulness is manifest. First, it is a belief in an unseen God with whom we are engaged with the world. “If we follow the world’s standards we may well have ease and comfort and prosperity; if we follow God’s standards we may well have pain and loss and unpopularity. It is the conviction of the Christian that it is better to suffer with God than to prosper with the world.”
Secondly, this fruit of the spirit called faithfulness is belief in an eternal reality beyond what we can taste and touch and see and hear. Our senses encourage us to grasp the reality of the moment; the spirit tells us that there is an eternal reality beyond that because the Christian believes in the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Third and finally, the fruit of faithfulness is belief in a future over against the present. The same way “It looked as if Pilate had crushed Christ; but the verdict of the future reversed the verdict of the moment.” We may ask why we should trust the outcome of a future we cannot yet see clearly. Something hoped for but not yet visible. The answer for us is that “the future is not uncertain because it belongs to God.”
“If we can grip that fact, two things follow. First, we will…remember that everything is God’s and we will try to use it as God would have us use it. Second, we will remember that, even when it may not look like it, God is in control.”
If we can believe this and put our trust in Jesus Christ, our faithfulness naturally grows out of the well-tended soil of our lives. And we produce that invisible fruit of faithfulness.
Let us pray:
Gracious God, prepare the soil of our hearts to reflect you so that the invisible fruit of faithfulness might take root and flourish in our lives. Weed out self-sufficiency and replace it with trust in our savior Jesus Christ. Help us to remember that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Amen.
THE FRUIT OF GOD’S HOLY SPIRIT:
A Heart of Goodness
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
August 31, 2022
TEXT: Luke 8; 4-15
The Parable of the Sower
4 When a large crowd was gathering, as people were coming to him from town after town, he said in a parable: 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed, and as he sowed some fell on a path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. 6 Some fell on rock, and as it grew up it withered for lack of moisture. 7 Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. 8 Some fell into good soil, and when it grew it produced a hundredfold.” As he said this, he called out, “If you have ears to hear, then hear!”
The Purpose of the Parables
9 Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but to others I speak in parables, so that ‘looking they may not perceive and hearing they may not understand.’
The Parable of the Sower Explained
11 “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away. 14 As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart and bear fruit with endurance.
Since the beginning of summer in previous messages we have been looking at the various fruits of God’s Holy Spirit: Galatians 5:22-23 tells us, “The Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control.” And we have been reminded that if we are to bear any fruit at all we must abide in the True Vine, our Lord Jesus Christ, and just like all fruits need time to grow and ripen, the fruit of the Spirit will not ripen in our lives overnight. As we mature in our faith, God causes our spiritual fruits to flourish and bear much harvest.Today we will examine the fruit called goodness.
What is goodness? How is it similar to the other fruit and how is it different? We use the word ‘good’ so often in our everyday lives that it almost loses its meaning. For example, how often do we say, “good morning” or “good luck” or even “good bye”? In scriptures the word ‘good’ means holy, pure and righteousness. Goodness is literally godliness.
It is important for all gardeners to have the right conditions to grow what it is they are trying to grow. A few years ago someone at Cranes Mill approached me after the worship service and shared with me about her tomato plant that wasn’t able to bloom. I must have mentioned that I loved to garden. So, I asked her if she would show me her plant.
We went to her apartment and it was instantly apparent why her good looking, apparently healthy tomato planted failed to bloom. She had placed it on a shady enclosed porch. Fortunately she lived on the ground floor, so we opened her porch door and carried it out into the sunny yard. The plant had been lacking one necessary ingredient…enough sunlight each day to cause it to bloom and produce the flowers that would grow into tomatoes.
Just like that tomato plant sometimes we can look on the outside like a healthy plant but are unable or unfit to bear the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit. Just like in this teaching story in today’s scripture. One in which seeds are sown onto four different growing mediums but only one contained what was necessary for the seeds to germinate, to grow and to thrive.
In Jesus’ first example, the seed would have been sown on the narrow paths between the strips of cultivated land. These walkways would insure that any seeds present would be trampled underfoot.
In his second example, the soil looks like promising but is actually only a thin layer of soil over top of rocks. Any seed trying to grow here has it’s roots stunted and it dies.
Then Jesus offers a third possibility, but it’s a patch of soil that contains so many weeds that they choke out the growth of the good plants.
Finally, Jesus mentions the seeds that fall upon the good soil. Soil that is deep and weed free and well prepared. We are taught in Jesus’ parable that we should be like this fourth kind of soil…the good soil. Because that is the only way that God’s seed planted in our hearts will sprout and grow and produce fruit.
Goodness or godliness is the characteristic fruit of people who have been able to grow deep roots in agreeable soil. Listen once more to how Jesus describes the goodness within that enables a believer to bear fruit:
“But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones, who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.”
Here are the three conditions that allow goodness or godliness to flourish.
The first condition, is to prepare our lives as carefully as gardeners and farmers prepare the soil they are about to plant. It is imperative that we take good care of our souls if we want to see goodness blossom. We remove the stones and weeds–everything that would prevent a future harvest by learning to listen carefully to the word of God and to obey. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.
The second condition is that goodness can flourish when we do what Jesus commands in this teaching story–”hold [the seed of God] fast in a good and honest heart.” We do this when we treasure or hold fast what we learn in the bible, and when through prayer and fellowship we are hold fast with other people of faith. John Wesley, founder of Methodism, said: “If your heart is as my heart, take my hand.” He meant that all other differences can be overcome. All Christians can hold fast with one another.
Finally, we are reminded to always be hopeful, no matter what happens to us, because that too makes a good seedbed for the fruit of goodness to grow. One commentator [William Barclay] wrote: “every farmer knows that some of the seed will be lost; it cannot all grow.” In other words, we will have setbacks, discouragements, enemies and opponents but no setback can defeat the ultimate harvest of God.”
Today’s take away? Prepare your life to nurture God’s precious seed in your heart. Act upon the goodness planted in your heart. Fear not, live boldly and lovingly, and “bear fruit with patience endurance.”
Let us pray.
Gracious God, Let your seed fall upon the fertile soil of our hearts. And let us tend it with attention and caring so that we might be patient in our goodness–never failing in love for each other. Always growing toward our eventual harvest, your heavenly kingdom. Amen.
THE FRUIT OF GOD’S HOLY SPIRIT WEEK 6:
KINDNESS: BEARING THE BURDEN OF LOVE
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
August 28, 2022
TEXT: Galatians 6: 1-10
2 Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way
you will fulfill the law of Christ.
My brothers and sisters, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. 4 All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. 5 For all must carry their own loads. 6 Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.
7 Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.8 If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh, but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. 9 So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all and especially for those of the family of faith.
Today we are thinking about yet another fruit of God’s Holy Spirit. In many places throughout his letters to the earliest churches, St. Paul lists these important fruit that Christians are to nurture. We’ve already talked about Love, joy, peace and patience in previous messaages and today we will examine kindness. The key verse from today’s scripture is “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
When I looked up the word “burden” in the dictionary I found three results. First, in ancient times, a “burden” was the refrain or chorus of a song. Second, in nautical terminology, a burden is a ship’s carrying capacity. Like “the schooner Wyoming is about 6,000 tons burden.” Finally, the word burden as we’ll be thinking about it today is “a load, typically a heavy one.”
What are “heavy loads”? The dictionary offers many “heavy loads”: things like responsibility, duty, obligation, trouble, worry, anxiety, tribulation, affliction, trial, difficulty, misfortune, strain, stress.
Where do we begin with this simple injunction to bear one another’s burdens? Perhaps it is the epitome of being kind to one another.
Every one of us probably can think up a personal example of someone being kind to us or us being kind to someone else. “Bearing another’s burdens” however lifts the bar higher.
Here are the kinds of things I think burdens are about. Instances where it “costs” us. Where we give of ourselves along with our assistance. Perhaps a grandmother is bearing a burden by helping out a teenaged mother with her baby so her daughter can finish high school. Perhaps a group of friends bears a burden by caring for a person in physical or mental need for whom they need to bear the burden of his transportation;his medical appointments. Maybe another type of burden you are bearing for someone is a financial one–housing or medical or educational. You may be giving generously to your college to help with scholarships; or you may be giving to a fund for Alzheimer’s or Cancer research
For the people of faith, St. Paul reminds us that the special kind of burden bearing he lifts up is about following the law of Christ. That is to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. Just as we each bear our own personal burdens in life, we are to look beyond ourselves to other burdens we can bear.
So very often, I see that kind of burden bearing right here in our own congregation. You may have been caring for an older person with no family. And you have helped her bear her burdens day after day. And you have been her 24/7 family out of your generosity of time and love.
I’ve seen you care so deeply for the burdens of the homeless that you have taken your time and your resources to feed and clothe and yes, even be friends and share your home with those who have so very little.
There is a business man in our town who immediately steps up when a family cannot afford a funeral. This business man bears the financial burden out of his own pocket to ensure a respectful and financial worry free burial for their family member.
The kind of bearing the burden that St. Paul talks about most often involves us interacting with persons who have done nothing to earn or deserve our help. These are actions chosen out of freewill and performed with love and caring. They are not forced nor are they expected by the person being helped. We people of faith have many opportunities to exhibit the kindness that bears one another’s burden’s with love. And something else that bears upon this is that we do not “count the cost” for these actions of love. Some of our actions cost us very deeply.
Just this week on Facebook one of the West Essex Squad members shared these words: “...The universe can be divided into two kinds of people: 1) I had to go through it, so you should too. 2) I had to go through it, so I’ll work to make sure you don’t.”
As we are all aware, this past week a bill was signed to reduce Student Loan Debt. A pastor friend of mine put a meme up on social media that said: “If you’re Christian and you’re big mad about the possibility of student loan debt being cancelled, let me remind you that the entirety of your faith is built upon a debt you couldn’t pay that someone stepped in and paid for you.” So I reposted it on my Facebook because I realized he was asking in his posting about the connection between our faith and the actions of our government. I baited my Facebook post and went fishing.
Here are some responses to this fishing. Although people of faith come at this hot topic from many differing viewpoints, we recognize that to be “burden bearers’ for someone else is a basic tenant of the Christian faith. Every single person who weighed in on this controversial topic this week may very well be right. Listen carefully. Here we go:
- “Financial debt and religious debt are two different animals.”
- “We need to resolve why college costs far exceed what they were when I and my children attended. I paid all of my debt as well as my children’s but there is something wrong today, and we need to examine it. I fully support granting this token of help to others. Understand a 4 year college degree in a state college exceeds 100K. That should not be.”
- “It’s true Jesus paid a debt for all our sins. This move by the administration is illegal…If someone can’t pay back a loan who already makes 125 K, it is because they are irresponsible in many ways. It wouldn’t surprise me some of these people are still living at home with parents rent free. I have seen so many struggling seniors who worked hard all their lives and paid their “financial” debts, who live in poverty.”
- When I went to college many years ago, my parents were not financially able to support me, so I took out loans that I gradually repaid over the years. I didn't mind doing that nor regreted the cost of my education.
- Now I'm reading about how many people are upset over the college debt elimination or debt reduction. I tell you I never made a decision in my career that someone didn't disagree, even when I felt justified by the decision. Case in point now: because some aren't getting a reduction or elimination in their college loans they are upset. It doesn't matter that someone who is more financially hard off is. It's about "me." Well, I'm sure it isn't financially feasbile to do a complete elimination of all loans. Wow, the cost of that! I'm just happy that some will get some relief.
- “No one paid for my college but me. I went to a county college because I couldn’t afford the ‘better’ schools. I was ridiculed because I went to county college…I got a job and worked my but off to pay off my debt.”
There’s much to read about every aspect of Student Loan Debt Reduction. Someone wisely wrote:“The question of whether to forgive student debt isn’t simple, and doing so won’t be a silver-bullet solution to all of the institutional discrimination endemic to higher education. However, the assumption that hard work and a college degree are all that’s needed to be financially successful ignores the reality that some students will unfairly face a greater burden than others.”
Each person had important thoughts to add to the mix. Did you know we Methodists are taught to examine hot topics by using what we call the Wesleyan Quadrilateral–four aspects we address through the lenses of Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience.
No one of us has the “correct” response to this student loan forgiveness issue, but every one of us is called to carefully evaluate, set aside partisan politics, and ask if this qualifies as a faithful response to sharing the burden of others? And how in our past experience have we ourselves benefitted by others who have helped us bear our own burdens? Have your grandparents or parents passed wealth down to you, helped pay for your education, gave you the downpayment for a car or a home? Many persons have not had that privilege. Including many of us, who worked hard for what we have.
Finally, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral asks how scripture informs us in the maelstroms of all hot topic issues like LBGTQ+, like Women’s Reproductive Health Care, war, capital punishment, student loan debt forgiveness, and the list goes on. There are no easy answers. Each of us is called upon to prayerfully and with kindness respond as we deem fit. I will end with two scripture touchstones for today’s reading that we would all do well to obey:
2 Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ…. 10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all and especially for those of the family of faith.
Let us pray: Gracious God, how easy it is to forget how often you have helped us with our heavy burdens. How almost without our awareness, doors were opened, grey skies were filled with rainbows, unbearable situations were made bearable as you walked with us, your rod and your staff comforting us. Let us be your beloved children as we willingly and joyfully bear burdens for others to help the family of faith. Amen.
WEEK FIVE: THE FRUIT OF GOD’S HOLY SPIRIT:
Patience, Endurance in Love
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, August 21, 2022
TEXT: James 5: 7-11
7 Be patient, therefore, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9 Brothers and sisters, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers and sisters, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Indeed, we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the outcome that the Lord brought about, for the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
The fruit of God’s Holy Spirit that we will be examining today is patience, a marvelous blessing we would do well to hold out both of our hands and open our hearts to receive. Someone has written "Patience among the virtues is like the pearl among the gems. By its quiet radiance it brightens every human grace and adorns every Christian excellence."
In Jesus the fruit of perfection reached it’s finest manifestation! Although he had many trials and tribulations to endure because he lead a life right in the center of human day to day life, He was Emmanuel, God With Us. He understood and loved all even those who were persecuting him and denying him.
It is amazing how perfect his patience was despite, as scripture relays, "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not." Jesus was God’s gift of love to all–but many rejected this gift. But Jesus never failed in his loving patience no matter what. Even as he was being executed on a cross, he was patient with those who were torturing and killing him. “Father, forgive them.” Always blessing others with his patient love, not once did he refuse to be patient, with those who may not have fully understood that the Son of God was in their midst.
His patience was also an organizing principle for teaching and relating to his own disciples. Patience he was called to draw upon time after time. When they asked questions like: “How can this be?” “Where will we get enough food to feed this crowd?” “No, we don’t know where you are going.” “Can I sit on your right hand when we get to heaven?” “If you came when I called, my brother wouldn’t have died.” “Which one of us is the best of all?” The patience of our Lord was sorely tried throughout his entire life even by his dearest friends.
We also witness Jesus’ patience as he dealt with the persons who followed him. Asking him all sorts of questions: “How can we be born again?” “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Don’t even the dogs lick the crumbs under the master’s table, can’t we Samaritans have your love too?” To all their questions he responded with thoughtfulness, truth, and love.” He gave of his infinite patience to each. As Holocaust survivor and writer, Eli Weisel said: “Everything becomes possible by the mere presence of someone who knows how to listen, to love and to give of themselves.”
Jesus’ patience with his followers made things happen that changed hearts and lives. Patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit that we all need. When we moved here to north Jersey one of the first things I noticed was how prevalent impatience was. It was especially noticeable while driving. Wait one millisecond after a light turns green and horns begin to blow. Anywhere there is even the slightest wait, there are eruptions of anger and meanness. Soon after coming here I was driving up the parking garage ramp at the John Theurer Cancer Center. The car in front of me was going very slowly looking for a spot to park. Well, the car behind me wasn’t too happy with that and began angrily blowing their horn. The worst part was the car in front thought it was me and gave me the one finger salute.
When I think about our struggles with patience, I believe that hurriedness may just very well be the prime enemy of patience. Hurriedness is the weed that chokes out the growth of the fruit of patience in our hearts and lives. We are all in such a hurry. We don’t want to wait–for our turn at the store; to wait for the light to change; to wait patiently at the slowness of someone we are caring for; to wait to hear out a disagreeable family member or friend; to wait for our own kind words to share when angry ones pop out faster.
Patience can’t be hurried. It requires that we slow down, and pay attention all around us. That we truly listen to others, pay attention, gently navigate situations that might not always go as we had hoped, that we constantly give others the benefit of the doubt, and that we stop equating busyness with importance.
Jesus was patient with everyone, and we are called to imitate Him. If we are impatient with anyone or in any situation, we miss the chance to be the goodness of God to that person or in that situation because our actions and our loving words, can turn a bad situation into an avenue of hope and kindness.
Finally, we especially need the fruit of patience when dealing with trials in our own lives. To be able to bear with illness, to bear with with difficult people, to bear with turns of events or difficulties patiently, to know that God is with us, that God is watching over us, to know as the hymn goes “tho’ the wrong is oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” We need this fruit of God’s Holy Spirit to meet the trials of life.
The take away today is to weed out hurriedness from your life and replace it by growing patience. I’ll repeat the quote I shared earlier as I close: "Patience among the virtues is like the pearl among the gems. By its quiet radiance it brightens every human grace and adorns every Christian excellence."
Let us pray:
Gracious God, How difficult it is to slow down our lives so that we might patiently approach life with intention and caring. Please help us become the bearers of the Holy Spirit’s fruit of patience and harvest it daily in our lives. Amen.