Pastor Roy's Sermons

August 5 sermon What is it?

Children’s sermon: Do you ever ask, “What is it?” We wonder sometimes about new things or new people. Who is that? How do you get to know a new friend? We ask, “Who are you?” Stories tell us who people are or what things are. When there is a new student at school, it’s good to talk to them so you get to know them directly. You can swap stories.
The Hebrews complain in the desert. We are hungry. Hey Moses, did you bring us out here for us to just die? They were freed from the land of slavery. They are going to the promised land. But now they are hungry. Really hungry. God provides special food that they have never seen before. They ask, “What is it???” It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. What’s that? This food keeps them alive during the 40 years of their wondering in the wilderness. Manna bagels, manna burgers, manna cotti (Keith Green’s take on the possibilities). What is it?]
How many times have you asked “What is it?” As a child? --responding to a meal the first time your mom or dad served it. Remember the life commercials back in the 70s—Give it to Mikey, He won’t like it, he hates everything. We might ask how a friend is doing...What is it? What’s wrong? Or upon seeing an animal across a field. Looking at a type of nest on the ground which you haven’t seen before. Or, the Hebrews looking at something they’ve never seen before, but will be seeing a lot of over the rest of their lives.
When the people come looking for Jesus, his response according to John is, “What, are you hungry again, and are looking for more food to eat? Focus instead on food that lasts forever, that never goes bad or runs out, but is always available. A source of life which never ends.”
We find ourselves asking Jesus the same question, “What is it? What is this bread, this source of life that never runs out? Is this another parable? Perhaps Jesus originally spoke of the bread of life not to communicate an exact teaching, but to get his disciples to think about what and who is the source of their life. These kinds of questions and answers cause us to dig around, ask more questions, find more answers. Jesus is challenging his listeners to keep digging deeper, to keep asking, “What is it that truly fills, rather than leaves me wanting more, and more with little satisfaction?”
If we were able to ask Jesus, “What is the bread of life for you?” What do you think he would say? (…) God? The Kingdom of God, the Reign of God. Prayer? Yes. And in the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life.” We wonder, how is Jesus the Bread of Life? Is John thinking about communion? By the time the Gospel of John is written, the Eucharist, communion is pretty well established as an essential element of Christian worship. Bread and wine become the celebration, a great thanksgiving for Jesus’ life, for his gift of his love which saves, which gives life which never ends. Communion is an experience of Christ’s presence when we gather. I am the Bread of Life. Remember me. When you gather, I am with you..
Jesus is the beginning, the substance, the fullness of our life together in love, in mercy, in peace. Each of us find in Jesus a slightly different fullness. That is the beauty of Jesus, there is plenty for us to chew on, to learn, to hear, to be challenged by, for comfort, to be pulled into the embrace of God who sustains and is the source of everything good, all of life, and what gives us life.
Sometimes we are tempted to think that thinking the right thing about communion makes it real or true for us. That would us creating Christ’s presence. We simply need to trust that Jesus is meeting us at this table—in the bread, in the cup. Nothing we think, nothing we do will give us this experience. It is a gift. The only requirement is that we open ourselves to receive his presence. His presence in love, mercy, peace. What he brings to the table, we receive. Love is a gift. Always a gift. Never earned, never demanded, always received with an open hand or outstretched arms.
Thanks be to God. Here I conclude with the words of Teresa of Avila.
“Christ has no body now, but yours. No hands, no feet on earth, but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ looks compassion into the world. Yours are the feet with which Christ walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which Christ blesses the world.” Teresa of Avila



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July 29 Enough Bread

Children’s sermon: Todays Bible readings are about enough bread to feed a large crowd. Abundance. What did we have a bunch of in the last week. Last week we received 2 trillion gallons of water from the New York border to the Maryland border. An average of a foot over the middle part of the state. 3.3 billion large swimming pools. A baseball diamond 34,000 miles deep. Earth is almost 8000 miles wide. So that is a little more than 4 earths wide. 1/3 our usual annual rainfall. God gives us enough.
A man comes from Ba’al Shalishah bringing a gift of grain and bread for Elisha. The people are hungry. Elisha tells the faithful man to feed the people. Not enough! Oh, yes, it is enough. Elisha lives in the abundance of his God or he would not have shared the loaves and grain.
Jesus sees the hungry crowd. Gee, Philip, “How will we feed this hungry crowd?” 6 months pay would not be enough for cheeseburgers and fries. Andrew speaks up. “Well, a boy has 5 loaves and 2 fish but that’s not enough. Surely.” The leftovers make clear the point of this sign that enough has nothing to do with how much you have, or want, or need. Abundance is a gift of God.
The disciples are rowing desperately to get to where they wish to go. They don’t have enough strength to get there. Jesus comes to them walking on the sea. “It is I, Don’t be afraid.” Suddenly, they have reached their destination.
It is clear from the Gospel writers that the gift of God’s abundance in the Old Testament pales in comparison to the gift of God’s abundance in Christ. 20 loaves feeds 100 people. 5 loaves and 2 fish feed thousands of people.
Yes, the apostles found that Jesus is enough. God with us in Christ is plenty if we find his presence in this moment.
But we worry. What if we run out of good health, money, God’s grace, wisdom, friends, time, employment, hope? We are sorely tempted in our thoughts. . .and express it in our choices, “What if. . .there is not enough!” You know what we are doing? We are stockpiling “enough” for when God’s abundance runs low. We put up walls to protect what we didn’t produce and what we cannot keep.
The Psalmist sees a pattern. God is faithfully kind to those who seek help.
Upholds those who fall and lifts up those who are bowed down / Those who look to God expectantly, receive.
The open hand of God satisfies the desire of the living. / Those who call upon the Lord find God near.
The pattern is—those who are receptive, open, seeking. . .receive abundance from the hand of God.
Grateful humility is at work here. Anytime we realize we need help, our energy shifts from demanding something of ourselves or others, to being willing to receive it freely. Isn’t that what happens when we ask for help? Isn’t that why it is so important to confess our sin, to turn from our arrogance or our self-loathing back to God?
When we realize we cannot help ourselves, that we need to be saved, we turn to God or even to someone who is willing to step into the gap--as Christ, the very presence of God, did on the cross.
We turn to the Spirit of God for help. . .and at the root its all about love. God’s loving abundant provision.
The writer of Ephesians speaks of being strengthened in our inner being, the Spirit of Christ within us. This Spirit roots and grounds us in love—that we may know the love of Christ—and be filled with the abundance of God.
So in what ways are you tempted to think “not enough?” My invitation today is to pray. To be open. To seek whatever the Spirit is calling to you. God’s offer is love. Not a skimpy, demanding, harshness, but a welcoming abundance which always calls forth from us the same. Love. Not control, or some kind of perfection, but the embrace of lovingkindness.
Free food for the weary. Shelter from the storm. Salvation for those who are ready to give up trying to save themselves.
There is enough for God to accomplish far more than we can ask or imagine. Personally for you. Together for this congregation. We naturally think in terms of limits and not enough. Life and love are about abundance, without limit. Let us share in this abundance of God together. There are wonderful possibilities for those who are open to them. Let us be filled with hope. The Spirit of God is calling to us. Will we humbly follow? Amen.



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July 22, The Good Shepherd King

The Hebrews, the Israelites, and the Jews—these were the people of God in Palestine over the course of a 1500 years. The jobs of local and regional king, prophet, and priest had very similar qualifications. All were expected to lead with justice and compassion. Worship was not just what happened at the temple or at holy sites, the foundation and integrity of worship was how one lived with one’s neighbors. The law was written later to give examples of how to be a good neighbor. From time to time there were disagreements about how and who to worship. But these arguments ultimately went back to the meatier issue of living well with neighbor. The Baals, the Ashtoreth, and other lesser gods were not primarily concerned with how well neighbors lived together. They were sought by sacrifice when a farmer wanted a good crop, or good health, or maybe a king wanted to win a battle. Over the generations, the prophets and priests invited the people to seek Yahweh, El, who was the supreme over the lesser gods. Yahweh is not unreachable and distant, but concerned with faithful living, kindness offered to neighbor even as it is received day by day from the God’s hand. If a king was a faithful judge and sought to be faithful to the ways of Yahweh, he was a good king. Even David’s son Solomon is not judged a good king because he allows the ways of greed, fear, and enslavement to guide his decisions and leadership in the land. It’s no wonder the kingdom is divided as soon as he dies. His actions betray that for him political gain is more important than justice and freedom. When Jeremiah mentions shepherds, he is talking about all leaders: kings, prophets, priests, but especially kings. The shepherds of Israel have scattered the sheep and not attended to them. They have failed—thus Judah has gone into exile. But Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, has good news. “I will bring them back and I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord. The Lord will raise up many good shepherds. And then he looks further into the future. He will raise up a new great king, like David. He will deal wisely, execute justice and righteousness in the land. The old ways of enslavement, greed, and fear driven politics will be set aside and all will have the opportunity to overcome and be well. The good ole boy club of a privileged few will be overturned for the ways of true justice and mercy. Jeremiah proclaims even as Judah goes into exile that a people will return with joy and gladness because a new day is coming. Many good shepherds will make room for a Good Shepherd King whose Lord is “my shepherd.” The 23rd Psalm reminds us of the nature of God and also the qualities of a good king or pastor. God, and good leaders provide opportunity for the sharing of abundance. God, and good leaders provide for rest and peace—for refreshment by listening to and following the Spirit of God. The 23rd Psalm exalts God as the one who takes away our fear of evil and death because this God never lets go, never withdraws comfort and final protection. Each of us has known pain and loss. Clearly, some more than others, but if our eyes and ears are open, we know that there is profound suffering in our world. Yet God draws near in holy stillness to those in pain. God brings comfort. Its pretty clear that God does not shield us from pain and loss, but God, as Christ did on the cross, shares our pain and loss. We are not alone. No one is alone. A good leader is open to the God who is incarnated in pain and in healing. The Spirit of Christ is revealed on the cross. Suffering love. The good shepherd does not allow fear of pain and loss to distract or become an obsession. Fear is fear, there is nothing wrong with fear. In fact, fear can point us to the embrace of God. Over and over again. Fear is diminished when it is not feared. Imagine not being afraid of fear? Just allowing it to wash over us when it visits. The 23rd Psalm reminds us that God spreads a table before us, despite enemies, maybe, just maybe even at the same table as my enemies. Did you also feel something inside of you say, “Oh, no thank you. I’ll fast that meal, I don’t want to eat with my enemy. If my enemy becomes a friend, who will I pin my fears and suffering on? Thanks but no thanks, I need my enemy so that I can feel better about myself. Please Jesus, stop asking me to make friends with my enemies.” And yet, is not our freedom found in finding new friends?
The 23rd Psalm reminds us that God is healing us (anoint my head with oil, my cup runneth over) with abundance. That goodness and mercy will be with us every day, every night and I will be in the house of God, wherever I labor, or eat, or lay my head. The Good News of Jesus Christ flows from the 23rd Psalm. If we hear it, we are cut to the quick, we are challenged to live for the good of our neighbor, we are invited to live in the justice of God, not for a privileged few, but for all whom we encounter. Yet we fall short, time and time again. We forget that God will take care of us without fail, without exception. What are we to do? The Good News is not that we are free to live faithfully, the reality is that we will struggle with this till the day we die. The Good News is that God loves us no matter what. The good news is that, in the words of the writer of Ephesians, “Jesus Christ proclaimed peace to those who were far off and to those who were near. So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone (not a pretty decoration with a date, but the foundation upon which the rest is built.). The peace of Christ is among us not because we do the right things, but because the gift of God is free, requiring nothing from us at all. Christ, the Good Shepherd, invites us to live into God’s peace, not so that we can be saved, but so that we can experience the freedom of peace and rest and hope. The salvation of God in Christ is poured out with wasteful abandon for all regardless of how they respond. That is the nature of God who gives freely to all. Regardless. And so Jesus walked along and many were healed. Freely healed. Today, we continue to be healed. May we have eyes to see and ears to hear the healing and the abundance of God. Freely given. Amen.



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July 15 parable on power

Why does Mark go into such detail about King Herod’s execution of John the Baptist? Herodias, King Herod’s wife, hated John and wanted him dead. She liked her life the way she was living it and she didn’t want him calling her or Herod to repent of their very nice lifestyles and their relationship which replaced the one she had with Herod’s brother Philip. Herod didn’t want to kill him. So when she gets the chance she uses his values against Herod to get what she wants. There is the birthday party, his daughter’s dance, and the offer of a spectacular gift. In a few minutes John is dead. Herod cares about his own power. If asked, it sounds like he cared much less about justice and the reign of God. John’s death is regrettable to him, but keeping in the good graces of his powerful friends is more important. Despite his regret he likely enjoys, along with his guests, the power he has over this prophet. Everyone knows who is boss. Herod’s wife also enjoys his power and her own. Perhaps Mark includes this story of royal greed because it is so commonly different from the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Good News is radical openness to the world according to God rather than the world according to greed and fear. Herod lives in the complicated world of getting his own way by his own wits. How tempting it is to live our lives in that way. The temptation never goes away. It is our defensive nature to do whatever it takes to get what we feel we need. It is so tempting to use what power we have for our own benefit. That is why the prophets have always critiqued the kings. Because it is a rare king or queen that does not take advantage of the position. To be faithful to God’s love for everyone regardless of position, wealth, power, resources is to trust deeply in the mercy of God. John, Jesus so trusted. This is why our salvation comes from Jesus life, death and resurrection. Because he listened to God. He proclaimed this love, this faithfulness, this mercy. And so his life, death, and resurrection are our salvation. They lead us to the mercy of God so that we can be free from fear and be filled with a solid hope that does not disappoint. This is the Good News of the God’s Reign. John could have kept to himself his criticism of Herod. Jesus could have kept to himself his prophetic criticism of the religious leaders of his day. But they were more trusted more in God’s Justice than with their own well-being or ability to make things happen. Both John and Jesus are free, and yet in the end, someone else makes a decision about whether they live or die. This is a curious freedom. But our salvation and the mercy of God are revealed in this parable of power and freedom. It seems that most of the voices around us promise that if we do and have the right things, we will be secure and free. But it turns out that those voices reflect Herod’s Way rather than John and Jesus’ way--the Kingdom, the Reign of God. The salvation of Jesus Christ marks us with the cross of Christ and his resurrection brings joy. The salvation of Herod and other political and religious leaders which fall short of Christ’s cross and resurrection bring inward suffering leading to despair. Greed and fear do not lead to life and joy and peace. Mark is inviting us to listen to John and Jesus who gave of their lives as a sign of how to follow in the way of God’s Justice, love, and mercy. One last word, if you get a chance to read the opening chapter of Ephesians, take a few minutes to let it sink in. The writer explores Christ’s death and resurrection as redemption, forgiveness, grace lavished. The writer speaks of God’s plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. This is the justice of God in which we can place our trust. No one, nothing is left out. The Good News is not about who is worthy to be gathered up into Christ, that is a given. All of creation is gathered up into Christ. Creation is an expression of the Spirit of Christ. The Good News is that our choices to stand with the weak and the powerless as did John and Jesus did will bring us joy. Yes, hard work and sacrifice, but the path of faithfulness brings joy and peace. Not necessarily good times or ease, as the lives of John and Jesus demonstrate, but the path to Joy and Peace is the path of deep trust in God. And when we fail, God will hold us fast, so that we can continue to learn to trust. Thanks be to God.



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July 8 Christ's strength in our weakness

The lessons this morning give us a message about trouble and failure leading us to grace and faith. The Spirit reminds Ezekiel to faithfully proclaim the message and not worry about the results. His job is to communicate, not to convince. The Spirit will do the convincing as the people make up their minds how they will live their lives.
The Psalmist cries out to God for mercy. It doesn’t seem that this is the first time the Psalmist has called out for help. What if nothing changes? Will the Psalmist give up? Or might the Psalmist learn new forms of mercy? Might the mercy be in the prayer? Might the seeking be the finding? Is the Psalmist learning that those who truly seek mercy have already found it? In the psalmists words, “Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy.” The Jews were praying as they returned from exile, “Help us as we rebuild and rediscover our faith and community.” We can pray the same.
On to St. Paul. He finds strength in weakness. He hears the Spirit of Christ saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Or, in other words, as soon as he sought grace from God, he received it. Grace brings freedom from debts, trespasses, shame, and anxiety. Of course, all that we do has consequences. We also live with the consequences of others’ actions. But the love of God in Christ sets us free. Even from our stubborn pain and suffering caused by relentless shame, bondage to all of the shoulds and oughts which we have acquired from past relationships and experiences—overly negative views of ourselves. Not the kind of conscience that places us on the right path of faithful living, the kind that makes us powerless to do anything but fail, over and over again. I’m not good enough, strong enough, pretty enough, smart enough, old enough, young enough, enough like my sister or brother, on and on. Perhaps seeking and receiving grace in the same breath is the beginning of the undoing of those voices which do not come from God’s Spirit. When we see and confess our weakness, it is the beginning of grace and humility. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
On to Jesus. Early in his ministry, Jesus’ healing and preaching tour comes to Nazareth. The experience is so bad, Mark doesn’t even mention the name of the town. Jesus is amazed at the unbelief of his own hometown. It’s not that they are closed to Jesus’ message of turning to God for mercy. It’s that they knew Jesus before his quiet wisdom became public and his gifts became so popular. Who is he to tell them anything? And where did he come up with this stuff?
They were missing the point that weakness is the beginning of strength. That seeking mercy is the start of healing, freedom, and peace. Jesus was becoming great and they were being left behind. They were thinking strength was a rare thing that only a few special people might have. They were missing that strength grows out of weakness and need. Jesus, the Apostles, and Saints throughout the ages have learned and proclaimed that the more we are reminded of how great is our need and confess that, the stronger we become. Not the other way around. Humility, compassion grows out of deep struggle. It’s not that we discover a secret greatness or faith, it’s that all of our troubles and failures can lead us back to the God who provides for us all that we need from birth to death and beyond. The constant struggle can be the constant reminder that God provides mercy each moment we ask. The mercy is always there, we simply often fail to appreciate it and benefit from God’s presence and love for us. So, each time you struggle, let that draw you back to God’s mercy and peace. Our faith is strong when we are weak and allow ourselves to fall into the grace of God.
A Benediction:
May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise, and love. It is there for each of us. –Teresa of Avila



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