LOVE EVERYONE, ALWAYS
Rev. Vivian Rodeffer
July 3, 2022
TEXT: 1 Corinthians 13: 1-8a
If I speak in the tongues of humans and of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions and if I hand over my body so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable; it keeps no record of wrongs; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends.
Today we continue the sermon series Growing the Fruit of God’s Holy Spirit. The fruit we are looking at today is “love.” Scripture has a lot to say about the priority of this holy fruit. St.Paul wrote in this morning’s scripture passage “the greatest [of all the fruit] is love.” When Paul lists the fruits elsewhere, love is at the top of the list, the most important! When Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment, he answered LOVE. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Gospel writer John lends a warning: if you say you love God and don’t love your neighbor, you are a liar.
OK. So where do we begin? How do we prepare ourselves to grow love? What inner weeds get in the way? What seeds must we sow? We use that word “love” all the time. I love ice cream. I love my family. I love to travel. So on and so forth. This is not the kind of love we are talking about today. This is a different, deeper rooted in our very own souls, kind of fruit.
Scripture reminds us first and foremost that we are created in God’s image. Every one of us. But it is not about being king of the universe, or powerful, or ruing over or judging others. To be made in the image of God is to be the beloved children of our heavenly parent. To be partners with God who loves all people without exception.
What weeds do we need to pull to grow a love that honors God’s intention for us as made in God’s image? Old Testament Scholar Dr. Walter Bruegemann warns that we need to pull up the weeds of worshipping ourselves. Because when we ut ourselves in the center of our universe, people around us become objects to be used, or labeled, or treated as less than.
This wrong love is all about our personal comfort and plans. There is little concern how this affects the others around us. I’ll give you an example from my lfe. One of am ashamed of until this very day. Many years ago before I became a minister, the non-profit agency I worked for sent me to Syracuse to a seminar about how to better serve the handicapped in our agency programs. It just so happened that another participant who lived in Philadelphia and did not drive needed a ride and contacted me. From our phone conversation I learned that she was other abled most likely with cerebral palsy.
But rather than offer to pick her up because I wasn’t feeling like taking the time from my busy schedule and with no real thought of how this would impact her…I told her that she needed to meet me at the Trenton train station and I would drive from there.
The day arrived and I went to the train station to pick her up At this station you still had to step down from the train onto the platform. The door opened, many people got off and then I saw her. A conductor and another person were helping her slowly down the steps. Another person carried her suitcase. She was perhaps the most disabled person I had ever seen traveling by herself. And I had told her to take the train. I was too busy to pick her up in front of her apartment building. I had subjected her to this ordeal of who knew how long it took her and how early she had to leave to take the train, and how uncomfortable and worrisome it could have been for her. I was stricken with shame. I had only loved me and my comfort. I had totally ignored the love for my neighbor.
God created us to be the reflection of God’s heart here on earth. We cannot love self first as I had done and share that glorious light. To plant and grow the fruit of love is learning to see and to respond to everyone around us…no matter who they are or how they act. You cannot love self first.
Some other gardening advice for growing the fruit of love is practicing and knowing in advance how you will respond to anyone no matter how they act. No matter how they treat you. I’m going to repeat this–respond to everyone, without exception, from the heart that God has placed in you. Because when we respond in this manner–sometimes very difficult to do–it is a recognition that we see in them this very same image of God that we carry within ourselves.
William Sloane Coffin, retired pastor, NYC’s famed Riverside Church, Chaplain at Yale’s Divinity School, WW II infantryman liaison with French and Russian armies has some great advice in his book The Courage to Love. He instructs about love using The Lord’s Prayer. You’ll notice, he writess, it is OUR Father not MY Father. And why is that? He says: “Because ‘our’ includes that horrible divorced husband, that wayward chid, it includes muggers, rapists, [wartime enemies], all the people who jam thorns into our flesh.” [The Courage to Love, W.S.Coffin, p.25]
Growing the fruit of love isn’t easy but it is what we are called to do. I encourage you to work on this during the week to come, to practice seeing in everyone you come in contact with, everyone, the image of the divine, and most of all become a person who responds always in love and not a person who reacts to others out of an emotionality of offence, dislike, anger or fear. That’s your assignment! Let me know how it goes.
Let’s close in prayer.
Gracious and Loving God, thank you for creating us in your image, for calling upon us to share your love with others and in doing so remind them and us that you are God and it is our partnership with You that determines our holy place on this earth. Help us with the task of growing this kind of awesome love. Amen.
Week 1: GROWING THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT
READY TO GROW
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, June 26, 2022
Colossians 3: 1-15
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on the things that are above, not on the things that are on earth, 3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. 7 These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. 8 But now you must get rid of all such things: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, enslaved and free, but Christ is all and in all!
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
Today’s message begins a series of messages for summer on how we can grow the fruits of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives and in the church so that we might restore growth and vitalness in our faith community. Having been a gardener for many years, I’ve been taught and learned many lessons from other gardeners which I’d lie to share with you. Here are some things to get our gardens and our hearts ready to plant.
First of all you need inspiration. My personal inspiration for my love of gardening was my grandfather Owen Freeman. It is his hoe that you see in the altar display this morning. He gave me that nearly fifty years ago. As a child, I loved to walk through his garden patch and see the loving care he bestowed upon everything. Every summer evening after dinner he weeded and harvested veggies under the setting sun and the twinkling lightning bugs. His fresh tomatoes and corn were like food for the gods.
Faith is exactly the same. We need someone or something that inspires us, breathes into us– as the word inspire suggests–breathse into us a desire to follow, to find out more, to fall in love with the faith. If we were to go around the congregation this morning I bet that everyone of you can tell me who inspired your faith as a child. Who instilled in you that prayers and service and generosity were inspirations for your young ears. Every community of faith had those men and women who were discussed years after their passing. She would give you the coat off her back. He was there at every event to help, to clean up, to carry heavy things. She taught Sunday School her entire life. He was the song leader. She was the women’s circle president. They gave all the bibles to the children. And so on and so forth.
Miss Annie Orr was that woman in the church I grew up in. She had been dead and gone at least twenty years before I was even born but tales of Miss Annie Orr helped her live on for generations. She had been the emotional and spiritual center of her church and her community. All were touched by her life. When she died, as they dug her grave, they came upon the stone foundations of the very first Presbyterian meeting house from the 1600’s. Proof to all of us that she too was a foundation of our church. Inspiration. It’s a must!
Not only does preparing for growth involve inspiration, it involves teaching as well. The person who taught me the hard knocks school of gardening was Jim Todd. He was the caretaker of the gentleman’s farm Robb and I lived on shortly after we were married. Jim gave me a quarter acre to make my own garden. Needless to say, my gardening ambitions were far beyond my gardening knowledge. I remember toward the end of that summer there were so many weeds that I mowed between the rows to get to the plants. That was an important lesson for me. I loved how Jim taught me, he allowed me to experiment and make mistakes and to learn from that! That’s a good teacher.
Jesus was precisely that kind of teacher too! He would ask people questions. Do you want to be healed? Do you? Do you want to leave all behind and follow me? Do you you really want to drink the cup that I drink? Who do you say I am? Do you believe? Why are you so afraid?
We have each had Sunday School teachers, Vacation Bible School Teachers, Youth Group Leaders, Choir Directors, Pastors, Confirmation Sponsors. Women and men who took their pledge seriously to “do all in your power to increase [our] faith, confirm [our] hope, and perfect [us] in love” from the baptism vows. As we prepare and get ready to plant the seeds of God’s Spirit, we must have teachers. People who have gone ahead of us preparing the way for God’s seed to be planted in our hearts.
A final “getting ready” this morning involves choosing a location and committing to a garden or flower bed in that spot. Every parsonage we are sent to, I search for the spots–be they large or small–where I can locate a garden. If I’m lucky someone has previously found the perfect spot and has left it for me to find as well.
For us here at our church we are in the process of beginning a new, a post pandemic, a very different garden than what we had traditionally in the past. We will be looking for a new gardening plot, a new inspiration as we search how we can be a vital part of the communities surrounding the church. How our own younger families living in a very different culture that the one we grew up in can grow with us. I can guarantee that we will fail at some efforts. What used to work may not work at all any more for our location and circumstances but we need not be upset by that. And we will be needing to ask a lot of questions that may not have easy or apparent answers. But that’s OK.
And we may even be asking various conference resource teachers and coaches to help us out as we learn some new ways to become a vital congregation once again with children, youth and young families in our outreach and hopefully eventually in our midst as well.
This year as we begin getting ready, preparing to grow our fellowship once more, I invite you to join with me, bring your spiritual hoes, shovels, rakes and watering cans as we prepare the soil of our church for growing the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit. Let’s explore this further these coming weeks.
Let us pray:
Gracious God, Inch by inch, row by row, gonna see this garden grow. And it will grow by the inspiration and power of the Holy Spirit in our midst. Lord, send us people to inspire, to teach, to help us plant the seeds of faith that will grow here in our church. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
A Tribute to Fathers
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
June 19, 2022
TEXT: Matthew 7: 8-11
8 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asked for bread, would give a stone? 10 Or if the child asked for a fish, would give a snake? 11 If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
On this Father’s Day we’ll take the opportunity to think about fathers and about the ways our earthly fathers interact with us and can teach us many important and vital lessons. And as we do so we’ll see how those very same lessons are echoes of our Heavenly Father’s nature as well.
Today’s lessons are the result of online searching about some agreed upon top fatherly characteristics. As we examine them, every one of the important characteristics of a good father has a faith lesson tucked in there as well. As we proceed through the list, I invite you to think about fathers you know, your own father, and also if you happen to be a father or grandfather, how you compare with this list of godly traits. As we proceed feel free to fill in the “complete the blanks” a the bottom of your bulletin.
Trait Number One: a good father is a disciplinarian. A good father loves his children but doesn’t let them misbehave. He strongly disapproves of his children’s misdeeds and uses the power of well chosen words to correct his children not harm them. St. Paul warns: “Fathers do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” [Ephesians 5:4]
Throughout the Bible we see God calling his people to obedience and holding them accountable for their actions and deeds or lack thereof. All of the prophets reminded the people of God of their shortcomings and the resultant removal of divine favor that would occur as a result of poor choices and disobedience.
None of the Israelites who escaped from Egypt with Moses were permitted to enter the promised land because of their many acts of disobedience on the journey. Only those born during the forty year sojourn in the wilderness were allowed to enter. Even Moses himself could not enter the promised land but only gaze at it from a distance. A good father is a disciplinarian. We learn from our fathers that our actions have consequences.
Trait two: a good father understands that his children will make some mistakes because that is part of growing up but allows them necessary freedom. Young people often are found wasting money on frivolous things; partying; getting into minor car accidents; dating folks their parents don’t approve of; you name it. A good father makes it clear that irresponsibility won’t be tolerated. He wants his children to be the best they can be so they grow up into responsible adults. However, that does mean giving them some liberty to resolve situations on their own or with some help from him.
Central to our faith as Christians is realizing that even after we give our lives to Christ, we still have the freedom to make our own decisions. And there will be many times in our lives when we wish a decision would be easier to make or that God might tell us exactly what to do. It is not always so clear cut but we have guidelines to base those decisions upon. A good father allows and knows his children will make some mistakes. When we repent of our mistakes, God is forgiving and removes our sin from us as far as east is from west.
Trait Three: a good father exhibits open-mindedness. A good father knows that times are different today than when he was a child. Many things have changed. He recognizes that his children live in this day and age. One of the most remarkable things I’ve discovered is that the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ are truly timeless. The admonition to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself holds up as well in 100 AD as in 2022 AD. As always, Jesus calls us to apply the touchstones of our faith to any modern situation we encounter–is it loving, does it respect people, does it model a lifestyle that points to God, does it bear witness to God’s love for the world, does it promote justice for all people? If you can answer “yes” to these questions, you have embraced the changes that come with our modern world.
Trait Four: a good father teaches his children to appreciate things. To not take anything for granted! The meals on the table, education, clean water to drink, a place to live, an education. A good father is not a human ATM. He teaches his children the value of money and the value of earning it themselves.
A basic tenant of our faith is that everything we have is a gift, a blessing from God and we are merely stewards or keepers of what we have in trust for God. If you are a generous adult, most likely you had generous parents! God our father is the most generous giver of all. “For God so loved the world he gave his only son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.” [John 3: 16]
Trait Five: a good father spends quality time with his children. He takes time to go to their school activities and sports, he makes time to help with their homework, he is always available to listen. Likewise, our Heavenly Father never slumbers or sleeps but watches over us 24/7. We can fly to the farthest country, descend into the ocean depths, walk on the surface of the moon, and never be beyond God’s love and care. God is always nearby and involved in the daily events of our lives no matter where we are or what we are doing. God cares about us.
Trait Six: a good father leads by example. He lives out the values he wishes is children to follow. Our Lord Jesus Christ humbled himself and gave up all his heavenly rights as the son of God to come to be with us, to live among us, to suffer and die on the cross and finally to rise again from the dead so that we might have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. He showed us how to live in a self-sacrificial way as servant leaders, willing even to kneel and wash the feet of his friends as he did at the last supper.
Trait Seven: a good father challenges his children.
The challenge around the house could be helping with a task like taking out the trash, caring for a pet or mowing the lawn. Our challenge as Christians is to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in Christ’s name.” Pretty clear marching orders! A wonderful challenge for Christians for the past two thousand years. A father challenges his children. Our Heavenly Father challenges us to deeper discipleship.
The final trait, Number Eight: a good father shows unconditional love. A good father loves his children no matter what even if they have not attained what he has wished for them or have disappointed him in some other way. There is a special word for God’s unfailing, steadfast love for us throughout the Bible.. That word is hesed or steadfastness. It is an unconditional love that never lets us go; it is a love that surrounds us from cradle to grave and beyond; it is a love that restores us to the image in which we were created as children of God. We love because God first loved us.
As we end this morning, think about the traits that good earthly fathers embody: discipline, understanding, open-mindedness, appreciation of all things, spending quality time with their children, challenging them, loving them unconditionally! And while our earthly fathers may not measure upor fail or fall way short of these traits, our Heavenly Father is perfect and never lets us down.
This is the good news of today’s message. Even when our earthly fathers are wonderful, God who is perfect is even more wonderful. God has in store for every one of us a future with purpose and meaning, and forgiveness and healing for the times we have fallen short of our Heavenly Parent’s teachings. Let us pray.
Our Father, who art in heaven,we love and adore you. We thank you that every father here this morning can come to you for guidance and strength as he parents his own children and grandchildren. Lord, strengthen and guide fathers in your ways, make them wise and understanding, challenging, comforting, and loving throughout their lives. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
STANDING IN GOD’S GRACE
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
June 12, 2022
TEXT: Romans 5: 1-5
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
Today’s scripture is one of St. Paul’s most beautiful passages because it speaks to all the possibilities of standing in God’s grace. One comentator wrote: “[Paul] almost sings the intimate joy of his confidence in God.” [The Gospel of John, William Barclay, p. 84] When we think about this passage, truly stop and consider the promises therein, our hearts will be moved.
If you’ve ever found yourself standing on the wrong thing, you know how dangerous that can be. Standing on a dining room chair to change a light bulb instead of getting out the stepladder. Standing on a wet rock over looking crashing waves at Thunder Hole in Acadia in order to take a good selfie. Standing on an icy surface trying to get up your driveway. You know what I mean.
Today’s scripture promises that the only thing worth standing on is God’s grace. St. Paul hits the nail on the head when he highlights the benefits that “standing in God’s grace” makes possible. First of which is that we can “boast” of our afflictions because they lead to endurance. “Afflictions” can cover a multitude of things in our lives. Difficult situations, sad times, being unpopular, bullied, lonely or even persecuted.
This past Wednesday Caldwell held a ceremony dedicating the Pride Flag that the town now flies. A flag that signifies our town is open and welcoming to LGBTQ+ persons. Rabbi Ari Lucas and I both spoke. Another speaker at the ceremony was a young woman who grew up and attended school here as a child. She shared how she and fellow gay students were prevented from having a club for themselves and their allies. No amount of persuasion and visits to the school board could bring about a welcoming club for them at their school. In fact, they were ridiculed and laughed at.
We now know that this very type of nonacceptance by parents and other adults or by other students bullying actions result in the fact that LGBTQ+ youth are four times more likely to consider, plan and attempt suicide versus their peers. One LGBTQ+ youth attempts suicide every 45 seconds in the United States. [www.thetrevorproject.org] How thankful we can be that our congregation accepts persons of all genders and backgrounds for all are beloved children of God.
Another thing St. Paul would have us remember is that our afflictions can produce endurance. This endurance or fortitude is “the spirit that can overcome the world” and that “overcomes the trials and tribulations of life.” [The Gospel of John, William Barclay, p. 86]
And then Paul takes it further, this endurance can produce character. The Greek word for character here is dokine and it describes a metal that has been passed through a fire and all impurities melted out.
Afflictions can produce endurance and endurance produces character and finally Paul says that character produces hope! A chain reaction made in heaven! How do we obtain this hope? Paul writes that it is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. On this Trinity Sunday it is important to note that in these five short verses, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, all three, the Trinity, figure prominently.
The take away today quite simply is to be careful where you stand. Your accomplishments, your successes, your privileges mean nothing unless you are standing in God’s grace, maturing and developing as a child of God through every episode of your life from nursery school, through high school, through middle age and beyond.
When we stand in God’s grace we have firm footing and God supports us and accompanies us no matter where our paths may lead us. We need never be afraid or anxious because our hope is based in the grace of God. Let us pray.
Gracious God, how good You are. How loving our Lord Jesus is. How our hearts have been filled with Your glory by the Holy Spirit. Some things are too marvelous for our minds to wrap around. But help us keep our spiritual balance as we stand in Your grace! Amen.
WINGS AND SAILS
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, June 5, 2022 PENTECOST
TEXT: Selections from Acts 2
2 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every people under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each…. 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” …14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Fellow Jews and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say…. This is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh...
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
Today is Pentecost Sunday. The day when we commemorate the coming of God’s Holy Spirit to the Jews gathered from all over the known world in Jerusalem for one of their annual feasts. It is the occasion of the arrival of the Comforter and Divine Advocate that Jesus promised would come after his resurrection. The symbols for this holy day are “wind” and “flame.” One commentator shares this:
“This passage does not claim that the Holy SPirit is a ‘wind’ or a ‘fire’; rather, the Spirit is compared to the sound the wind makes and to the flames fire produces. The narrator’s intent is to create a vivid impression of the Spirit’s presence among the community of the Lord’s disciplesasmits distinguishing mark.” [The New Interpreter’s Bible, Acts, p.54]
This morning we’ll concentrate on the “vivid impression” that the symbol of wind still conjures up for us modern day disciples. I’ll remind us all that in our bibles, wind and spirit and breath are the same word and interchangeable. You can substitute one for the other throughout the bible and many translations do just that. The wind in the creation story that blew across the face of the waters can also be translate, the breath or the spirit that blew across the waters.
When Jesus was with his disciples after his resurrection, the bible tells us that he “breathed” on them so that they would receive the gift of the spirit. Wind is a wonderful metaphor for the breath and spirit of God in our lives.
Let’s begin with some real life examples of wind power. Unlike fast and exciting sports noted for their reliance on fossil fuels such as Nascar and aerobatic planes and cigarette boat races, the activities of soaring and sailing depend on wind power alone.
The former senior pastor at Haddonfield United Methodist Church, Bill McElwee, one of my favorite pastors, is a pro at flying a glider, also called a soar plane. In addition, he also flies an antique plane, a 1946 Ercoupe, but it is the glider he loves best! He has logged over 800 hours in his glider and has taken it up to 20,000 feet. Robb has flown with Bill and they soared above the ridges of Kittatinny Mountain.
Can you imagine flying above the earth at a height of 2000 feet for two hours with no fossil fuel or an engine? The only fuel used is by the small plane that tows you up to an altitude where you can catch an updraft of wind current and soar on your own. And, in Europe, I’ve seen gliders capulted into the sky without even the use of an airplane.
Here’s a memory question for you! Do you remember when the Tall Ships toured the eastern seaboard shortly after the Bicentennial? Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore. How amazing it was to see those huge, heavy sailing vessels gliding effortlessly, wind in their sails. Whenever I am on someone’s sailboat, large or small, I marvel at how the sails catch the wind and power the boat forward. With the right amount of sail, even the heaaviest boat can be moved by the wind. The metaphor of wind as the presence of God is a strong one!
Sometimes people ask, what does it matter? Who cares about Pentecost? It’s an interesting story but how does it have anything to do with my life or the church?
I appreciate when people ask questions because it shows a willingness to risk an answer that might be a gamechanger or a lifesaver. Let’s take on those questions because some might be yours as well.
The first question: what does it matter what happened two thousand years ago at Pentecost in a faraway country? Good question. Part of the answer to this is that there is a running theme through our faith that goes like this: God is faithful, God’’s steadfast love endures forever, God keepss his promises to his people.
The event recorded in Acts in the New Testament reminds those who will hear this story one hundred years later, one thousand years later, two thousand years later, that God keeps His promises. After Jesus’ resurrection when he appeared to the disciples who were hiding in fear for
their own safety, Jesus shared with them that God was sending the Comforter also called the Advocate or the Holy Spirit to be with them. God would not leave them orphaned, fearful or alone. The events of the Pentecost holiday when Jews from all over the world gathered in Jerusalem for one of their great yearly feasts, became a staging area for a fulfillment of a divine purpose–the coming of God’s Holy Spirit to His people.
What does it matter? It matters because it reminds us that a central tenant of our faith is that god is faithful, God’s love endures forever, God keeps is promises to us his sons and daughters. How we live each day is affected by whether we believe that the Holy Spirit is or comforter, our guide, ourpower for living both in our personal lives and in the life of the church.
For the Methodist Church right now, it has great meaning for us because it assures us that even during times of transition, GOd’s Holy SPirit blows through the church empowering us and encouraging us to more forward, sails unfurled. For our personal lives, it has great meaning because it suggests that the church is a center for us for encouragement, love and prayer for our personal lives in whatever circumstances or situations we find ourselves.
The second question we may ask is: who cares? You may protest that the remembrance of Pentecost seems to have nothing to do with events in our everyday lives…my graduation from school, my upcoming wedding, my move to a new place, my job search, passing the math final, buying a new car, caring for a family member with special needs, and so on and so forth. Fill in your own situation here. Who cares?
The “who cares?” question often indicates that one has not found within “organized religion” any meaningful or geenuine answers to real life concerns. I have visited many churches where the morning prayer neglects to mention the concerns of the congregation let alone the concerns of the world. Churches as the great novelist Flannery O’Connor put it so well: Churches “where the blind don’t see, the lame don’t walk and what’s dead, stays that way.” Her great description is of a church that is in the spiritual doldrums, whose sails hang limply, that has no meaningfu motion, it is a church where “God has left the building.”
The Pentecost story reminds us that we are to lift anchor and to unfurl the sails because God cares for us. That is who cares! God loves us so very, very much that he gave His only Son so that those who believe in Him will have everlasting life. So that those who believe in Him will no longer be blind–but have vision; so that those who believe in Him will no longer be lame–but have the ability to move toward places that need healing ad care; so that those who believe in Him will no longer be dead but alive in Christ–showing and sharing what love can do.
The final question: this is an interesting story but how does Pentecost effect my life or the church? Our answer to this final question is determined by how we live our lives. If we are not learning from our faith history, if we are not being guided by our holy scriptures, if we are not placing ourselves and our church in position to sail or soar on the currents of God’s breath/ wind/ spirit, then we are missing out on something beautiful that God has in store for us.
How do we commandeer the wind? How do we raise our sails? How do we find the upward thermals of air above the mountains? It is simple and it is difficult at the same time. If you operate a glider or a sailboat, you depend upon the wind at that time and place.
Yesterday’s air currents will not keep you aloft today nor will the winds that filled your sails yesterday move you on your journey this morning. Every day requires a new infusion of spirit, breath, wind. Every day requires that we place ourselves in position to catch the updraft or fill our sails with God.
People of faith do this in time tested ways. Placing ourselves daily before God. Reading the bible, praying for loved ones and enemies, living in a manner that promotes justice, being kind and gentle to others, offering forgiveness even when it is not requested, taking time to quietly listen to God, worshipping together every week. And most importantly, inviting others to take this journey with us–neighbors and friends, family members, people we meet at work and school. And that, my friends, is what Pentecost is about and why it matters. Hopefully that answers a few of the questions about this church holy day. Let us end with prayer.
Almighty God, We thank you for the outpouring of your Holy Spirit that continues to this very day so that we might have life and have it abundantly. Help us to let go of the anchors we hold so tightly to. Help us not to be afraid to find ourselves moving by the power of your spirit, wind, breath. We give you thanks and praise for your steadfast love down through all the generations of those who love you. Guide us, guard us, give us forward momentum. Amen.
AT HOME WITH GOD
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, May 22, 2022
TEXT: John 14: 23-29
“...We will come to them and make our home with them.” v. 23
23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words, and the word that you hear is not mine but is from the Father who sent me.
25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 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 let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur you may believe.
I’d like to talk about our homes today. Where we live and what are the features we are looking for when we relocate, when we downsize or when we upsize as our family grows larger. Did you know that Methodist pastors have no choice or input over the kind of housing where we will live?
We Methodist pastors mostly live parsonages though that has been changing as time goes on. I have been appointed six times and we have moved to six entirely different types of houses. We started out in a true Victorian with gas jets still in place for original lighting, a Cape Cod, a new two story home at the shore; a lovely split level; a modern large home with numerous rooms, bathrooms and a two story garage; and currently a lovely 1893 not quite Victorian parsonage with a walk up third floor.
Many of you have searched for new places to live over the past few years and I thought I would ask you to remember the list of features that you were seeking in your new abode.
I’m surveying you this morning to see what you admire and value the most where you live. The top three things only. Take one of the one cards you were given, stop a moment to think and write on your card the three most important features to you of your home or apartment or condo that you appreciate. We are talking about physical things here, not love, kindness, etc. Nor the response–”it’s paid for.” [Time to fill out cards, collect them, share them.]
Card responses: Peaceful wooded area; beautiful lake; wonderful people;space; out of doors; front yard;kitchen; view in living room; office area; community; walkability to town; feeling of warmth and character; space in house and yard; a home with my sons; a partner who serves God and shares my condo; land; peacefulness; a place to paint; location; safety; security; neighbors; my office; prayer area; close to outside;location and proximity to schools; garden space; size of kitchen and rooms for entertaining and family; large kitchen forfamily gatherings; officespace; closet space for storage; perfect size; peace and serenity; neighbors; all on one level; no outside maintenance; underground parking with an elevator; bright big windows; space for gardens, flowers and vegetables;built in book shelves; sunshine in rooms different times of day; kitchen windows in front with good view of our cul-de-sac; skylight in cathedral ceiling.
We all seem to be able to pretty easily think of what it is that we appreciate or want in a home. We also know which things are more important and which are less important. Tops on our list are sunny, bright rooms; a wood burning fireplace; a gas stove.
In today’s scripture from the gospel of John, Jesus says to his disciples that when they love him and his Father, “we will come to them and make our home with them.” v. 23 This got me thinking about what it would be that Christ would look for in us for him to make his home in us? Here are some thoughts based on the passage. Only hearts with the following features would be presented to God by the heavenly realtor as a possible home.
First and foremost, we must have love in our hearts to be a home for God. This is the most important feature. Gospel writer John assures us that those who “keep” Jesus’ commands are bound together by his love. Love also means rejoicing. Rejoicing that Jesus was resurrected. Death could not restrain him. Love has overcome death.
Secondly, God would make his home in our hearts with modern day disciples who are learners. Christians who are continually open to learn more about scripture, prayer, good deeds, one another. That’s because the passage says that the Holy Spirit will teach us everything. A feature of the home within us is to be open to learning through the teaching of God’s Holy Spirit. Learning to be a better Christian as we learn what God desires.
Thirdly, the home for God in our hearts must feature peace. This peace or shalom is defined not as absence of conflict but rather as “everything that makes for our highest good.” [The Gospel of John, Vol.2, William Barclay, p.199] It should be noted that the peace within us is not dependent upon what is going on outside of us. In my studies of Family Systems this is the authentic self, the differentiated self. The best self that centers us and from which our decisions and responses emanate. Peace enables us to live from the inside out! No longer are we blown around by other people’s emotions, no longer do we feel slighted or hold grudges, no longer are we angry toward others. Jesus in this passage tells us not to allow our hearts to be troubled or to be afraid.
Let’s review, the heart home within us for the Divine must feature love; teachableness; peace. And a final feature for now is obedience. We are obedient when we trust and obey the Greatest Commandment. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind…the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” [Matthew 22: 37]
How does your heart rate as a home for the Divine? Is it move in condition or do you need to do some renovating? Maybe it’s a handyman special and needs some tender loving care? Whatever shape it is in, today’s passage encourages us to daily prepare our hearts so that God might continually dwell within us and our faith might flourish and grow! Let us pray.
Gracious God, Let our hearts be home, sweet home, for You. Help us learn to focus on your grace and love as we design our lives to follow Jesus’ teaching and as we share His hope and joy with others. Come into our hearts today, come into our hearts to stay. This is our prayer. Amen.
ALL THINGS NEW
“I am making all things new!” v.5
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, May 15, 2022
Revelation 21: 1-6
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.
Today’s scripture is about “new”. A new understanding of heaven. It is about how God is still creating anew. And finally, it is about how we partner with God in this new creation. Let’s begin with a little background.
Today’s scripture is from the Book of Revelation and was written by a man named John, though not “disciple John.” This John was alive during Jesus’ time but didn’t write until his later years. Most likely sixty some years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The book was written to give hope to Christians who were being severely persecuted by the Romans and perhaps the most interesting thing of all is that it is written in a code that believers would have understood but not understandable to others.
That’s a heads up! Don’t read Revelation and take it at surface value. Everything in it is a secret code to bring hope to believers and to keep them safe if the writing was ever discovered by the Romans.
Now back to the scripture. Let’s begin with a new understanding of heaven. How often do we talk about us going up to heaven when we die? Heaven. Up there? Right? Not so in this passage! I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And also, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.”
The word for “dwell” is actually better translated “to pitch a tent.” God is pitching a tent among us. No longer is heaven far off and up above and only reachable after death, this passage informs us that God has come down to us, and lives among us. This heaven is already here in our midst.
Remember when Jesus shares with his friends that “the kingdom of heaven is nearby”? Same exact thing. Heaven is here. This new heaven is not just a spiritual utopia. It is a heaven of physical, economic and ecological reality because it is the world we live in. It is our true home.
In addition to this new understanding of heaven, this passage also reminds us that God did not just create the world and everything in it those eons ago, but God is still creating anew. In Genesis, God creates everything. And on the seventh day God rested. However, this passage assures us that God is not finished with creation. God is no longer resting. God is “doing something new.” “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’”
And God is keeping his promises, doing something new and timely even this very day for those who are in pain, those who are confused, those who are sorrowful. We have only to think of the one million death mark this week of covid-19. And not just one million deaths but four or five additional million grieving family, friends, coworkers, children, parents.“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
As one commentator noted: God’s new creation is busy replacing this “deadly, torn, raped, angry, sick, evil, revengeful, hurtful, and a painful world” with a new creation. [www.workingpreacher.com, Israel Kamudzandu, April 24, 2016] The writer of Revelation does not deny the notion of eternal life but “he believes that this New Jerusalem begins in the present moment and every human being must experience its joy and goodness in the present moment.” [www.workingpreacher.com]
The final lesson in today’s scripture passage is that we partner with God in this new creation. Just as Jesus’ disciples were reflections of Jesus for their world, loving as he loved, we too are encouraged to reflect his love and light to our world. To be co-creators alongside of God. While not everyone can see the new world yet, the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has already ushered it in and piece by piece it is beginning to take shape.
When you leave here today, through your actions of love and kindness to others you will be giving others “a glimpse of heaven on earth.” [www.sermonsuite.com, “Heaven on Earth,” Steven E. Albertis] You will be partnering with God to show the world the power of God. You will be the disciples that enable others to see “how God will transform what we know today into something that is beyond human imagination.” [www workingpreacher.com]. Remember Jesus’ words: “See, I am making all things new.” [v. 21:5] Let him make you anew this day. Let us pray.
“God, Open our ears and eyes to the newness of your creation and make us actie partners so that your dream willbe realized here on earth. Amen” [www.workingpreacher.com]