Pastor Roy's Sermons

April 21-Easter-Remembering the Risen Christ

Luke tells us of women who noted where Jesus was buried before the Sabbath began and then returned early in the morning after the Sabbath to give Jesus a proper burial.  According to Luke, there were a number of women who went along to anoint Jesus and bring some closure.  They are met by the angels who ask, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee that the Son of Man must be handed over, be crucified, and on the third day rise again?  They remembered.



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March 31 Psalms as intimate prayer

We sometimes think of the time of the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament as a time in which the people of God were distant from God—a legalistic time in which sacrifices were God’s design for mercy.  But much of the Bible written before Jesus speaks instead of a simple invitation to trust God’s grace and wisdom and live into the fullness of that life.  Sacrifices helped show the way to mercy, helped the people to imagine grace, to be assured of God’s love and blessing.



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March 24 The long patience of God

Children: What are gardeners doing these days? Turning compost. Planting lettuce, kale, radishes, spinach, onions, garlic, and peas. What would you plant if you were growing a garden? Spraying trees and pruning trees. Do you have to do something to the soil before you plant? Compost, dig up the dirt. Mulch. Why do people plant things? Just to eat or is it fun to watch things grow? What is your favorite vegetable?
The curve of grace slopes gently, patiently, quietly. Grace never grows weary of her freedom. Mercy wins the day. Even when the journey strikes terror in the heart of the traveler. Perhaps mercy is undefeated because the Spirit of God is free. The Spirit is not confined by the things that confine us. Isn’t that good news? In a sense, that is the Gospel. Freedom. Mercy. Love.
Today I hear Jesus inviting us to step into the long patience of God. We are tempted to avoid taking chances, to stick with what we are sure of—so that we do not make mistakes or fail. We might even think, better to be too careful and stand still, than to leap forward into a wonderful possibility and fail. Grace gives perspective and courage to take chances because it grounds us in the creative love of God. And yet true love is not as much about courage as about the joy of perfect freedom. Free to take chances for the good of another, in love.
In the story of the gardener, Jesus is inviting us to follow our holy hunches.
Can you think of a time in your life when you acted on a hunch—hope in a good result. You could not prove that things would work out the way you were hoping they would. But you were convinced enough that you acted despite no guarantee. You moved forward. Perhaps others questioned your wisdom. But you decided to act.
So it is with our faith and how we act on our faith. In Jesus’ story, the gardener says to the landowner, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, go ahead and cut it down. The gardener does not say, “I’m pretty sure it will bear fruit next year, leave it alone and you will see. It will produce.” The proposition is simple--if it bears fruit, good, if not, cut it down. The gardener is taking a chance, by investing, by being patient for a year. Time will tell. Maybe it will work, maybe not.
Faithfulness is not about guarantees. It’s about opportunity, investment, and love.
This is as true for congregations as it is for individuals. If we have an idea for ministry, we don’t have to know for sure that it will succeed. It can be a holy hunch that we can compassionately bring wholeness to our community with a plan. If we wait until we are totally sure that it will work, we may never be all that helpful in the community. We are tempted to keep the grace of God to ourselves. We are tempted to mistrust our ideas. We may allow the fig tree to be cut down when all that was needed was a little fertilizer and tender loving care.
There are families that can be loved by this congregation. There are hungry people to be fed through a creative idea, or perhaps struggling family that could find affordable housing by an equally creative idea. Perhaps there is a lonely widow or widower who is open to being welcomed into a larger family, the family of God. Can we take a chance, make ourselves just a little vulnerable to take the first step for the idea, for the welcoming?
There is no burden of proof for those who faithfully set out to serve God, to serve neighbor. If an idea for ministry does not bring the harvest for which we hope, we pause, regroup, and move on to the next opportunity. We are not driven by success, we are driven by grace which sets us free to be faithful without fear. We have opportunities to share. Grace is an invitation, not a command. Faithfulness does not crush us with responsibility, it sets us free to love.
And there is no failure in love. Love grounds us, gives us courage, and sets us free to act. Those who love are free. Free to take chances for the sake of love. Free to take chances for kindness and friendship. Love provides its own energy. This is the energy of God, the Spirit. The more we love, the more we can love. There is no limit to love. There is no limit to friendship. There is no limit to the opportunities before you!
The gardener asks, “What do we have to lose by taking a chance for grace?”
This snapshot of grace is, “Take a chance, seize this opportunity, maybe it will bear fruit.”
The People of God choose grace because we see it all around us in creation, salvation, in love, and friendship. Choose grace friends, choose grace. You have the opportunity before you right now to choose grace. Please do.
There is no end with Grace. None. Constant new beginnings, new possibilities, new maybes. And every day is a new day ripe with possibilities. The value of being together as a congregation is that your efforts are multiplied as you work together. Work together. There is no other way.
Lead us God, show us the way of the gardener, the way of patience, the way of opportunity. The way of your love. Amen.



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March 17 the sermon I didn't preach - Abram's failures in faith and learning to trust

Here we stand with Abram, at our points of unknowing where our faith grows stronger because of our uncertainty. We want to know how the future will play out. We want to know. But faith does not offer guarantees for what we value. Faith is assurance that we live in the presence of God. Faith is an invitation to trust and to live in trust because we cannot lose when we live in God’s welcome and care. God’s unconditional welcome replaces our fragile, clenched-fist security with a grounding that is secure and free indeed. Abram learned this. We are learning it too.



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March 17 Faith in uncertain times

Perhaps one of the most humbling experiences for a pastor serving a congregation is when she or he begins to discern that her or his gifts are not what a congregation needs to thrive in the present and move into the future. I have been in discernment with Mt Zion’s call committee which is attempting to faithfully carry out its duty to bring a suitably gifted candidate to this congregation.



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March 10 - hunger and prayer

The three temptations of Christ at the end of his 40 day fast remind him to:
Be ok with hunger. From stones to bread--not every desire needs to be fulfilled.
Resist seeking political power over others, but live in the power of love and God’s mercy.
Refuse to make demands of God or to force your rules and agenda on God. It’s also helpful to avoid cheering crowds and any demands for miracles. If miracles come, they are a gift but not to be expected. Faith is not a miracle delivery system. Faith is not about seeking excitement or a rush. It is about humility in compassionate love.
Welcome to Lent!
Lent, the season in which we confess to ourselves and others our weakness, our fragile vulnerability, our total lack of control of the things we so desperately want to control. In Lent we are reminded that we depend on God. We are also reminded that we depend on each other.
This is why fasting of anything is encouraged during Lent. Because fasting is a dreadful experience. It makes us cranky, it reveals our true priorities. It begins to strip from us our unhealthy dependence on everything but God. Fasting convinces us that we definitely need help.
And the beauty of fasting is that even if we set out to give up something and fail, or if we are too afraid of failure to even try, we win, because we are humbled. We are reminded that of our dire need.
Fasting or not fasting reminds us that we are not as strong as we wish, or in our wildest dreams imagine ourselves to be. We are dust, dry bones waiting for the life-giving embrace of God. Fasting makes all of this crystal clear. The worse the experience, the more you fail, the better it is. Fasting is almost like spiritual magic. It’s a fast track to humility.
Regardless of fasting, life’s challenges, stretches, and disappointments come to us. Pain, disappointment, addiction—these point us in the general direction of God. If we listen and seek help, the trouble in our lives will strengthen our faith. The gift of God’s grace shown in Jesus Christ becomes stronger as we confess more fully our weakness, our sin, our idolatry. So every time we run into trouble in our lives, it is an opportunity to look to God for help. To seek true goodness, true love, true mercy. As Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” But the road to freedom is a dark, painful road. The sooner we embrace that road, that journey in faith, the sooner we will find freedom.
This is true for us as individuals, but also as congregations. All that Mt Zion is and does is the gift of God’s grace. In the challenging times in which the whole church finds itself today, we do well to seize the opportunity to be humbled and open ourselves to receive what God has for us.
The love of Christ invites us to let go and find the space to celebrate the fellowship, the friendship, the goodness of God which is reflected in this congregation. You are the vessel of God’s mercy and love in this community. You have opportunities and gifts which you must continue to cultivate together and offer up to God. This is God’s work. We are partners with



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Transfiguring prayer

Moses meets God and his face shines with God’s glory. The brightness stunning and the people are terrified. It’s hard to imagine such a thing. Or is it? I imagine we have all been with someone who seems to be particularly aware of God’s presence--in the way they talk, their influence. Perhaps you feel stronger in their presence--aware of the life, love, and power of God when you are with them.
We might be intimidated, and think that our experience of God is less valuable because it’s so different from theirs.
Paul reminds us that to meet God all we need is to be is open to the Spirit of God. We don’t have to know everything about God and the Spirit of Christ. But if we seek the glory of the Lord, we will be transformed into that Image. The Image of God. No effort required—only willingness to be pliable clay in the hand of God.
So it’s not about secret knowledge or having a spiritual personality--it’s simply about looking toward God. That inward glance Godward is the direct experience of God’s presence. As Paul says, “It comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” It’s not about us. And we can’t goof it up! But we do have to gaze upon God. -- to pause from our busyness, and distraction, and clear some space for God. Willingness. Then, God takes care of the rest. Grace. God forgives, God loves unconditionally, God invites us in prayer to meet face to face. --Of course, this not about whether or not God welcomes us. God’s welcome is unconditional. This is why we baptize infants. God does not demand some kind of response from us to be saved—to be welcomed. This is about whether we have peace, whether we have communion with God and one another. To commune in union with God, one must commune. One must make space. This is about blessing, about enjoying and growing in the presence of God.--
So the big question is, How do you directly experience God? How do you pray? We all pray. I wish we had time to sit with this question and listen to the wonderful ways each of us converse with God. The ways we touch God. The ways God touches us. The ways we shine with the glory of God. So Like Moses, like Jesus, how do you shine in the presence of God? You do it is mainly a question of how.
A concern is that we, as did the people of Israel and Jesus’ disciples, we compare ourselves to other people whom we think are more spiritual, or more prayerful than we are. When we disregard, disrespect, and fail to value our own prayer personalities, we deny the power of God and we miss out on the opportunity to enjoy God face to face. If we pray, but we don’t think of what we are doing as prayer, we miss out on the joy and gratitude of relating to God face to face, directly as children of God. It is a gift to pray as you have been created to pray.
As we transition from the season of Epiphany to the season of Lent, on this festival of the Transfiguration, may we be free of fear that we don’t know how to pray, and let us instead take some time to consider how we pray, and how God is inviting us to meet, to grow in relationship, to experience the delight and wonder of the presence of God.
Thanks be to God. Amen.



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February 24 - Deception, manipulation, grace, and trust

Put yourself in Jacob’s sandals. The deceiver has been deceived yet again. First, he deceived his father into blessing him and all but cursing his brother. He was deceived by his father in-law Laban and was tricked into marrying two daughters rather than one. He deceived his father in law by his shepherding practices and when his flocks became too numerous for all to stay in the same place, he took his growing family and their flocks and left under cover of darkness. Rachel, Joseph’s mother deceives her father Laban and steals the family gods likely because she thought they could bless the family. When Laban catches up to them, Rachel remains on her camel with the gods underneath of her in the saddle with the explanation that “the way of women is upon” her. Jacob is then upset with Laban for his accusations. They part on friendly terms and then Jacob offers many gifts to his brother Esau to make peace with him, though it has been upwards of 20 years since he left. Esau has moved on and forgives his brother.
But that is not the end of this story of deception and grace. Joseph is hated by his brothers because he is the favorite son and he is immature and arrogant. The brothers jump him and throw him in a pit and then sell him to traders to be sold into slavery in Egypt. (Really nice brothers. . .) They deceive their father into thinking he was killed by wild animals. Years ago. As Jacob slowly learned to trust by his failures, so did all of his sons.
Now his sons come back from their 2nd trip to Egypt for food during the famine, and they reveal that the paranoid man in charge in Egypt is actually Joseph, their brother, his son. When he sees the caravan which accompanies them, he is convinced and returns to Egypt to embrace his long thought dead son.
So put yourself in the sandals of the deceived deceiver. What are the chances that his son is 1-alive and 2-now second in command in Egypt? Hard to believe! Yet, he believed that the blessing he had worked so hard to find was coming to him without manipulation or control—as a gift. Jacob’s trust had grown slowly—his trust in God, his trust in his brother Esau, and in his sons. He learned the hard way that the more he tried to force, manipulate, and control, the more miserable he was. So over the course of his life, he learned that God’s promises were sure and he came to know that being blessed was not what he did but who he was.
And so our faith also comes to us slowly as we try to force our way into God’s grace. We like Jacob struggle to believe the God promises we are told in our dreams, in our Scriptures, in our relationships. Fortunately God is gracious and the promises are a gift no matter how slow we are to receive them.
Isn’t that what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians? Spirit follows bodily, earthly experience, even as Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection follow the life and death of Adam, the man of dust. We cannot pull off our own imperishable life beyond death. We cannot understand and manage all of our relationships. Our faith stories are filled with mistrust and unknowing, but we do learn to trust. As Paul says, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. And so, we wait with open hands, trusting that God gives good things to those who wait, hope, and slowly learn to trust.
Jacob demonstrates that our faith is not up to us, it’s up to God. Faith is foolproof. Yes, trusting is a healthy response, but not even trusting earns us the imperishable resurrection. Whether we trust or doubt, whether we hope or fear, God bestows the imperishable to those who finally leave behind the perishable. Our bodies inevitably wear out and everyone is forced to let go of their stubborn power and release it back to God. Even when it is not a conscious act, the release back to God is sure.
And so, Jesus calls us to love our enemies and give to those who will never pay us back--not as a test of our goodness, but because acting with love sets us free before we die. The children of God know and practice the love of God—who is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. We can be merciful because God is merciful. When Jesus says, the measure with which we give will come back to us, he is stating the facts. Those who are tight will live in a tight world. Those who are generous will experience generosity at every turn. We are not earning salvation, we are living the good life—participating in the abundant mercies of God.
This is the love of Christ. This is faith in Christ. This is what Jesus Christ demonstrated on the cross. Love sets us free to trust. Even when hanging on a cross.
May your journey be filled with opportunities to trust deeply in the mercies of God. The greater our challenges and brokenness, the greater our opportunity to release it all in trust to God. The greater our chance to know grace and love. Thanks be to God.



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February 17 The tough road into Trust

Blessed are they who trust deeply not in themselves but in God. They have roots. They are grounded. They are less blown about by instinct and fear, nor the temptation to take shortcuts to blessing and joy which lead to disappointment.
I think we all want to trust God. . .but it’s easier to read it on a coin than to practice it. Why is it we must keep deciding to trust? Why can’t we just choose once and then go on trusting because our mind is made up?
It’s as if our default setting is to worry. Perhaps that is a good definition of what we call sin or original sin. Worry, mistrust, the need to take care of ourselves and get things right—or else—all rather than trusting in God’s care which. . .really always has the final say anyway, right?
So the blessed life is not a life of worrying about getting it right. And yet, we worry. Faith is about trust, not about worrying ourselves into the Kingdom.
We worry about so many things, but fortunately, our salvation in this life and that to come is not about us getting it right but in finally getting that we aren’t ever going to get it right. That we will live every day struggling to trust and receive the love of Christ. . .
And God loves us unconditionally. Whether our faith is at a high ebb or low. So we needn’t worry. We are blessed whether we know it or not. But our readings today remind us that we are more aware of our blessedness when we understand that we broken people, by nature worriers, and that God still loves us.
In fact, it is true to say that the better and more worthy we feel, the further we are from knowing the joy of the God. For those who believe they are in charge of their own lives are truly mistaken and, therefore, lost. If I think I can pull off whatever goals I have for this life, myself, I am lost. Truly lost.
So faith is not about figuring out how to trust, how to have strong faith. It’s about giving up figuring out how to trust. It’s about leaving the trust in God’s hands.
Faith is not faithfulness, it is consecration and surrender in our day to day struggle. Faith is giving ourselves over to God’s purposes each time we realize we can’t really do anything ourselves. The cross of Christ is our highest example, our salvation, because in allowing himself to be crucified, Jesus becomes for us the greatest example of injustice, of despair, of poverty, hunger and thirst, grief, and having a shattered reputation. . .and he allows it. . .for love of all those who also experience these things. Jesus Christ is perfect in suffering and is welcomed by God.
The truth of the beatitudes I just read are fulfilled in his crucifixion and death. These blessings are points of despair. Who wants to be poor? Yet who learns to trust better than the poor. Who wants to be hungry? Yet, blessed are those who have no choice but to look to God to be fed. Who wants to be overwhelmed with grief? Yet, blessed are you who despair because you have lost loved ones? Who wants to be hated, exclude, reviled, and defamed? Blessed are you who find your reputation in God because yours has been destroyed. Rejoice, leap for joy, for only then will you ever be forced to abandon your addiction to providing for yourself/to take care of yourself/to be sufficient. Only then, will you find God and learn to trust God.
Jesus lists opposing woes, because those who never doubt themselves, those who are always able to take care of themselves, those who never abandon hope and give up on saving themselves--they will never give themselves over to trusting God because they don’t have to. Jesus suggests that those who cling to their own ability will miss out on the blessing and joy of faith.
Indeed, there is nothing good about being poor, or hungry, overwhelmed with grief, or excluded and despised, but until we run into significant trouble in our lives and actually need help that no one but God can provide, we are spiritually hopeless because we haven’t been forced to trust in anything but ourselves.
The good news is that everyone has ample trouble in their lives to discover the freedom of faith and the grace of God.
So we tend to think faith is easier for strong, wise, and good people. Jesus suggests that it is only with suffering that we learn to trust and love God. It is born not of our own goodness, but out of the desperation of our humiliation and trouble.
For it is there we learn that there is no hope except in the mercy of God who always welcomes those who seek help. Thanks be to God and may we be aware of our need so that we can allow ourselves to fall into the mercy of God



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Feb. 10--Consecration and Surrender

Children’s lesson: What do people say you are really good at? What if someone who wasn’t as good at it as you told you how to do it? What would you think? But what if what they told you, then, really helped you? What would you think about them? Some of the men who followed Jesus were really good at fishing. . .
Surrender/consecration
Imagine with Isaiah being caught up into the fierce presence of God. How do you react when you, however it happens to you, come face to face with God? Isaiah, like Jeremiah last week, doesn’t make excuses for his sin and unclean lips. He simply confesses his feeling of unworthiness and incompleteness. He is deeply humbled and now he is listening. And right away he receives a message.
As with Jeremiah’s call which we read last week, Isaiah is to assume the worst-- that the people will not listen until almost everyone is driven from the land in desolation. The nothing which remains will be the seed of newness, resurrection, the gift of God bringing new life. The seed is hopelessness and despair. It’s as if God cannot work with an Israel which is good enough.
God’s call to Isaiah is not about him and Israel getting it right. It’s about him and Israel giving up on their own abilities and success. It’s about them surrendering to God first. All the stuff he wants—he’s got to let it all go. That is how consecration works. It’s not about bringing our “A” game, our best effort, its about giving up that our best effort will ever be good enough or accomplish anything at all.
Last week Jeremiah was called to be willing to open his mouth and trust that God will fill it with the right words. God was calling Jeremiah to be surrendered and consecrated to God. So is Isaiah. That is the burning of his lips with the coals from the fire of the altar of God. It’s the opposite of what we expect. And that is how life is.
Hope is from God and God alone. To the extent that we try to save ourselves and everyone around us, we are doomed. Hope does not come from me and you. I cannot help you. I cannot help myself. I can only give myself over to God. The sooner I recognize and embrace that, the sooner I will change from being a fake, a pretender, even manipulatively violent, the sooner we can let ourselves go. . .into God’s grace—so that we can trust, and rest, and hope, so that we can live with compassion toward ourselves and our neighbors.
God’s coming in peace cannot be stopped and it cannot be started. All we can do is receive. Be filled with hope and joy. This is true for every aspiration, every hope that is within us. We can’t make ourselves be good neighbors, or good friends, or good parents, or good spouses. We can only surrender ourselves to God and then to the people we love and serve.
On to Luke. Jesus comes teaching from a boat. Simon must have thought to himself, “At least the boats are good for something since we failed last night.” Until Jesus suggests they go out again, “Sure, whatever you say, Master, we’ll put further out and drop our nets even though last night was a big zero. The fish are elsewhere. But, hey, you’re the boss. Whatever you say, we will do, even though we really do know what we are doing.”
Turns out the fish were closer than Simon realized. With Jesus there is unexpected abundance. Plus the invitation, “Now you will fish for people.” And they followed him.
The disciples were not called to produce their own abundance, but to give themselves over to the abundance of God. Jesus invites the disciples to consecrate themselves to the work of loving people, serving people, leading people back to God. And there will be unexpected abundance. But it will be God’s abundance not theirs.
Today, God is calling us to consecrate ourselves, to surrender to God’s mercy in exchange for our own strength. Jesus calls the disciples not to have all the answers or make good things happen, but to simply follow. To be open and willing to go where the Spirit leads. And chances are good, like the promise of a desolate land to Isaiah, that we will rise up in the strength of God only after we have fallen down in our own strength. The power of the church is in her ability to trust. Not in her ability to get things done. May we be such a church, such a people. Consecrated, surrendered to the mercy and love of God—in every way. Not strong, but lifting up our weakness in humility to God and one another.
And there will be unexpected abundance, in unexpected places and unexpected ways.
Thanks be to God.



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