Pastor Roy's Sermons

August 2018

August 26, Faith, trust as Bread

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the father, so whoever eats of me will live because of me. The one who eats this bread will live forever. Many turned away, but when Jesus asked the disciples if they too were going, Peter said, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Peter could have also said, “You are the bread of life. The life that you live, the death that you die, is more alive than any of the false hopes of everlasting good health, wealth, happiness, and security. You are true bread. If we follow you and your ways and your truth, if we trust as you trust, if we let go of our failing attempts, then we will fall into your gracious life of faith and hope, not in ourselves but in God who is beyond words and definitions and certainties. Your bread of faith is true bread. Yes, you have the words of eternal life. We will follow you wherever you go. No matter what.
And that is exactly what Peter did, and James, and John, and Andrew and the others including the women disciples. They all followed Jesus and released themselves into the mercy of God which is so much more helpful than anything we can possibly do for ourselves or anyone else. We can trust, and we can trust that even when we cannot trust, that God will hold us in our salvation, in mercy, in peace, in true safety. Our bread is trust. Our bread is faith in the utterly faithful mercy of God—without exception, without fail. God is good. God calls us to trust. To trust is the easiest thing to do when we run out of other options.
Once we learn to trust we are free. And it is a beautiful freedom indeed. I’m not saying that trust makes pain, trauma, tragedy, loss, disappointment, anger, fear, dread or anything difficult go away. But trust allows us to live into and through all these things. Trust gave Jesus the courage to lay down his life for the least, for the weak, for the poor, for the hopeless. It wasn’t easy, but he did it for love.
And so Jesus invites to pick up where his death and resurrection leave off. To learn to trust as he trusted. To learn to hope that God will carry us through the pain of our lives to find joy. To lay down our lives for love as he laid down his life for love. If anything will bring joy to our lives--that will. If anything will bring hope to our lives and those around us, that will.
So let us trust together, supporting one another every chance we get, trust in the Love of Jesus which is the gift of faith, the bread of life. Trust in God’s mercy for whatever we face as a congregation and as individuals. It’s all we’ve got. But we need each other to find the way. Faith is simple but it takes courage. Let us pray,
Lord teach us to trust. Give us courage to love and to wait, despite appearances of failure and hopelessness. Help us to put one faith foot in front of the other until we see your face. . .in love. Amen.

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August 19 Response to clergy abuses

We sometimes put others on a pedestal. Perhaps we think they are special, different, slightly superhuman. Oh, we know this isn’t true, but somewhere deep inside of us, we wish it were, we want it to be true. Physicians, police officers and other first responders, military personnel, nurses, pastors, bishops, teachers, sports figures, movie stars. Even attorneys and politicians who often get a bum rap, we tend to elevate above others. Or perhaps we are envious, or afraid of their power. As a society and church, I believe we are making progress toward holding all persons accountable for their actions regardless of their position. We aren’t their yet, but we are making progress. No one deserves a free pass based on their position.
As most of you know, this past week a grand jury report spelled out over a thousand allegations of sexual abuse by clergy against underage parishioners. Such violence perpetrated against powerless children is beyond tragic. Though the focus of this grand jury was Roman Catholic clergy, clearly there are pastors from every denomination who have violated the trust placed in them by abusing minors and adults.
Fortunately, many denominations including the ELCA have for many years performed background checks and psychological tests on those who enter the candidacy process to become clergy. And Mt Zion/Faith parish does background checks on those who provide care for children as part of our ministry. Yet even with these helpful policies in place in churches and schools alike, we as parents, family, and friends must be proactive to protect those most vulnerable among us. We can assume nothing. One of the best ways to insure our children’s safety is to have fairly regular conversations with them about these issues. It’s a tough issue to raise with a child in elementary school, but the conversation is healthy and opens the channels of communication which will always be helpful whether the topic is sexual abuse or about drug, tobacco, and alcohol. As I said, these conversations are challenging, but your relationship will be stronger as a result. Likely the earlier you start such conversations, the better. That conversation not only shines light on the past, but it also helps the child to know that some behaviors and conversations are never ok for children no matter what someone else may say or do.
Now, to my knowledge, few leaders take advantage of those placed in their care. But the few who have and have been allowed to repeat their behavior over and over again—these have left behind a great deal of pain. I’m guessing that some here have shared that pain in some way. And its all the worse that broken leaders have not been held accountable by their peers or supervisors because of some sense of loyalty to the institution of the church. This is a twisted, self-serving abuse of power and should never have been tolerated.
Jesus served and died for the vulnerable. He questioned the powerful and called them to accountability. When John remembers Jesus saying, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven,” and “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh,” he is lifting Jesus up not as one full of power who manages power and bestows it on others, but as one full of love who calls us to love and give our power away to lift up others. The source and nature of true power is not control but love, clearly not the ability to do what one pleases without being held accountable.
I regret that some here this morning, based on statistics, likely have been abused and mistreated by clergy, a teacher, a parent, or spouse. Perhaps some sought justice and were denied. Perhaps some have never had the opportunity to share their story and be heard. I am sorry that the church has often not been a safe place for victims to be heard and respected—for tears to be safely shared. The reality is that the same has made it impossible for abusers to find healing for their brokenness. Silence helps no one. Not victims, nor offenders. We have all sinned, we are all broken, we all need help. There is always hope. But silence does not bring healing and hope. Silence clings to pain. We need to be heard, to be validated, to be honored as we have been made in the image of God. Freedom comes to those who tell their stories in safe places. Those with significant sins against others find freedom and new hope by confessing and owning their actions to their victims. Healing is possible for all. But certainly the grief will continue since neither pain nor regret are erasable.
If you have a painful story to tell, and have never had the chance to tell it, please find someone you trust and tell them your story. I am willing to listen. If you are a woman and you wish to be heard by a pastor who is also a woman, I know of female pastors who would be glad to hear your story and pray with you. Emotional pain which is expressed and heard with compassion diminishes. Emotional pain bottled up tends to grow in intensity and effect. Please, allow yourself the grace of being heard in a safe place. And if you need to confess something significant, I can receive that. Confession reminds us that God loves us unconditionally. God’s love is non-negotiable. Forgiveness is guaranteed. That said, confession is only the beginning. Healing will never come if an offender is unwilling to confess guilt and become vulnerable to the one he or she has offended and violated. Yes, God loves you, but no, you will not be free until you confess your brokenness to the ones you have crushed. This is true for pastors, teachers, parents, spouses, as well as perfect strangers. If you wish to talk to be about this, I would welcome the conversation as I would welcome you and strive to be God’s love incarnated for you.
Healing takes time, raw honesty, and a supportive community. May this be such a community. Blessed are they who give it a chance. Amen.

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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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