Pastor Roy's Sermons

July 2018

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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July 1, Fear - by Steve Kauffman


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