Pastor Roy's Sermons

March 2019

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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