Dr. Lance W. Haverkamp – Nov. 22, 2015
The Americans & the Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving. Just a few other countries do, and they were all introduced to the idea through us. A couple of years back, an online group was having a discussion; I mentioned that it was Thanksgiving day in the USA, and I said “thanks to all of you, who’s wit & wisdom I appreciate most every day.” One of the foreign members of this group wrote back: “Congratulations on not starving to death, I guess.” That’s pretty much the international understanding of the North American Thanksgiving tradition. They don’t understand, particularly the American, mix of religion and politics.
I think the confusion comes from the fact that Thanksgiving is uniquely Christian. There would be no Thanksgiving apart from Christianity. It’s not another secular harvest festival, there are lots of those. It’s also not a specific remembrance; all countries & religions have those, to remember one event or another.
Of all the things we are thankful for, as Christians, it all boils-down to God’s love for us, and we can find evidence of that all day long. Had it not been for God, we wouldn’t be here. A section of Psalm 33 says:
“The Lord merely spoke,
and the heavens were created.
He breathed the word,
and all the stars were born.
He assigned the sea its boundaries
and locked the oceans in vast reservoirs.
Let the whole world fear the Lord,
and let everyone stand in awe of him.
For when he spoke, the world began!
It appeared at his command.”
…we are thankful for God’s creation.
But, God didn’t merely turn us loose after creation: The Old Testament is almost an unending back and forth between God helping His people, and His people growing weary of God’s ways. We read about thousands of years of that rocky relationship, with God always willing to take His people back.
I see that Old Testament time, with the law, existing to teach humanity that we can’t make-it without His grace. There is simply no way for us to be good-enough without God paving a way for our salvation. Not some first attempt, that didn’t work-out; but rather the necessary educational process we, as a species, had to go through in order to realize that we can’t do it on our own.
…we thank God for His continued willingness to accept us back into the fold.
The sending of Christ was the only way to fix our relationship with God. Nothing we could do could restore a proper relationship. Despite everything God did up to that point, we continued to fail.
…we thank God for His sacrifice which restored us to a proper relationship with Him…a topic we’ll remember in greater detail next week when Advent begins.
While Christ was with us, he often taught in parable. An unusual trio of parables is recorded in Luke 15. Those three parables are: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son (or prodigal son). In these stories taken from daily life, Jesus talks about being thankful for finding that which was lost.
The late, great stand-up philosopher George Carlin did a comedy routine about “lost things.” He imagined that when something is missing it relocates to another dimension of lost stuff. When we find it, it has suddenly returned. In his view, “heaven is where we get all the stuff we lost back. That’s why it’s heaven.”
The coin mentioned by Luke was a Greek drachma, It was a silver coin, the common wage for a day’s labor. Some scholars have suggested that the coin may have been especially valuable to the woman if it was traditional jewelry; it was customary for Jewish women to save up ten coins and string them together for a necklace or hairdress. Other scholars wonder if it was one of 10 coins that was part of a marriage dowry, we don’t know—it’s not important to the story. The fact that there were 10 coins, in her story, and 100 sheep, in the other story, is important to the story. Throughout the middle east numbers carry meaning, and that meaning is often more important than the numbers themselves. Any multiple of ten, and particularly powers of ten; like 100, or 1,000 imply a completeness, a wholeness, an entirety of something. The woman’s coins were incomplete without the tenth, and the flock incomplete without the hundredth.
When she lost one of her 10 coins she searched high and low, not stopping until she found the one missing coin, so none would be missing from her set.
Likewise in the story of the lost sheep, the shepherd would not rest until the one missing sheep was found, and returned to the fold with the other ninty-nine.
There was a reformation era theologian, most of you have heard of, by the name of John Calvin. He taught that some people are predestined for Heaven, while others are predestined for Hell. I don’t know how Calvin could read these parables from Christ, and think that God was going to tolerate even one person being lost.
To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them the parable of the Lost Son:
A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now, before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. This would be a horrible thing to ask of his father, as he would obviously be living-off those assets. This is a metaphor for God’s desire for us to have freedom of choice in our life—even though He knows we will make some bad choices.
A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve.
He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and was sent into the fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the vegetable rinds he was feeding the pigs looked good to him, but no one gave him any. Any Jew of Jesus’ day would have considered going hungry, while feeding unclean pigs as some kind of personal Hell.
When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’ So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’ Did you catch that? The father was looking for his son to return! He was not surprised! Elated, yes, but not surprised.
The father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began. Think about that: He was family, he rejected his father, was punished by his failure, but was accepted-back without reservation! How’s that for metaphor?
Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fatted calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’ The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this prodigal son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf?’
I have to wonder if that jealousy, or misplaced rage is what brought Calvin to his beliefs of Hell.
“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead, and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”
…we are Thankful for God, who expects to find every lost soul.
This is the Gospel we have, to be Thankful for. This is the love of God for His Children. Thanks be to God.
Sunday Worship at Black Forest Community Church
Black Forest, CO
October 25, 2015 – Daniel & Fern Imbody’s Farewell Service and New
© Rev. Diane Kay Martin
“For God So Loved …”
For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Today we say farewell to Daniel & Fern Imbody, who have been active members of this congregation for many years. Many of you may not know that Daniel & Fern live in Fountain. Way down in Fountain—no kidding—a 40-minute drive on a good day. Daniel, a very young 90 years of age, and Fern, a very spunky 88. And that makes us appreciate all the more the fact that they chose this as their church that they faithfully attended, not to mention all of the amazing fellowship times they have prepared and provided for us.
I met with Daniel & Fern this week. We had a really nice visit—lots of laughs and lots of storytelling. They treated me to a lovely lunch at the Country Buffet and sent me on my way. I want to share with you a few things about Daniel & Fern’s life.
First of all, their favorite Bible verse is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who [or “whosoever”] believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” John 3:16 is the Christian faith in a nutshell. It just kind of takes us back to the basis of our faith—back to the beginning—back to why we became Christians in the first place.
Speaking of going back to the beginning … It was in 1720 that Daniel’s ancestors arrived in Pennsylvania from Switzerland. His great-great-grandfather served in General Washington’s army at Valley Forge. Another relative, named Daniel Imbody, served during the Civil War and is buried at Arlington Cemetery. Yes, the Imbodys go way back in U.S. history. And in UCC history. The congregation that Daniel grew up in was an Old German Reformed church—one of the predecessor denominations of the UCC—and it was founded in 1736. The services were held in German, and those who wanted a service in English had to build a new church across the street. Fern was confirmed Lutheran, but she joined Daniel’s church when they got married. For them, faith was a given, and church was an event. Daniel & Fern have eight children, and all of them always went to church in their Sunday best. It’s just how it was in Pennsylvania Dutch country. It’s just what you did. It’s how you honored the Lord. The girls wore matching dresses, purses, gloves and shoes; the boys wore suits and ties. You couldn’t receive the offering unless you were in a suit. It was a matter of respect. “For God so loved the world,” and this is one way God’s people reciprocated. …
Romans 8:38-39 is another of Daniel & Fern’s favorite Bible passages: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Speaking of angels … Daniel had a fascinating experience back in 1948. He had been assigned to patrol the border between Czechoslovakia and Germany, and his job was to rescue refugees and escort them to safety. His Jeep could carry four refugees at a time, and it was a perilous 8-miles, one way, to get them to shelter. One night his Jeep was already full of refugees and he became aware of a large group—maybe 12 more people—who needed transport. He knew how long this would take and what the risks were if it didn’t happen quickly. He remembers saying aloud, “Good God, I need help,” and in the next instant, seeing headlights approaching. He ran toward the vehicle to wave it down, and saw that it was an empty stake-bed truck that would easily be able to haul all of the refugees. When the driver pulled over, Daniel slipped him the customary bribe—a pack of cigarettes, which were worth their weight in gold in that war zone—and asked him to take the refugees to safety. The driver agreed, loaded up, and followed Daniel to the station. When both trucks got to the safe zone, they unloaded their precious cargo, and Daniel turned back to thank the other driver. But just as suddenly as it had appeared, the truck had already vanished. Truck and driver both were gone!
Daniel remains convinced to this day that that driver was an angel who was sent in response to his plea for help. I wondered aloud with Daniel & Fern about two things: Was there something special that God had planned for at least one of those refugees? And, assuming the driver was an angel, what does it say about him that he accepted Daniel’s bribe of cigarettes? J Hmmm…
Daniel & Fern’s third favorite Bible verse is Galatians 5:22-23: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity [in some translations, goodness], faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Speaking of the Spirit … Have you ever had an out-of-body experience? Have you ever felt your spirit was in a place outside of your body? I did, when I was 17 and crashed my boyfriend’s old ’66 Ford on an icy bridge on the Mississippi River Road. I fishtailed right into an oncoming car and went into shock just before impact. Just for a moment, I saw the accident from above, and in the next instant, I was waking up inside the wreckage.
Daniel & Fern each had a similar experience that to this day they cannot explain. Once during a very complicated childbirth, Fern found herself walking in a field of indescribably beautiful flowers with her mother. The puzzling thing is that in most experiences like this that we hear about, the person who meets us “on the other side” has already passed on, but in Fern’s case, her mother was still living at the time. Maybe it was a sign from God that Fern was also to return to the living—that her days on earth were far from over, but she just needed a brief respite from her current physical trauma.
Daniel’s experience may have been for the same reason. His happened during basic training. It was during an extended march. He doesn’t remember feeling particularly fatigued, but who can argue with the Spirit? Daniel remembers, for several minutes, watching the march from above, seeing his legs moving, stepping in perfect time, marveling that someone else must be moving them because he certainly wasn’t. Then, after several minutes, all was normal again. Who knows? Maybe God saw that Daniel needed a little break too.
There’s a common thread through all of these verses. There’s a common thread through all of these stories—from things as mundane as dressing children each week in their Sunday best, to things as mysterious as stake-bed trucks appearing out of nowhere in the night, to things as enigmatic as the feeling of escaping the physical for a moment. And that thread is God’s enduring presence with us—every second of every day. The common thread is God’s love—love—“for God so loved”—“nothing can separate us from the love”—“the fruit of the Spirit is love.” Daniel & Fern, you are loved, by God and by us. And you will be missed. May God be with you till we meet again. Amen.
Sunday Worship at Black Forest Community Church
Black Forest, CO
October 4, 2015 – World Communion Sunday & Jo Wasson’s Birthday
© Rev. Diane Kay Martin
“Afflicted But Not Crushed”
2 Corinthians 4:8-10
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.
I love these celebrations of people’s special days, don’t you? It started two weeks ago with Ruth Ann’s 90th birthday celebration. And last week, during Fellowship Time, when Fern Imbody said to Bev Turner, “Aren’t we doing something for Jo Wasson’s birthday?” and Bev came to me, and I went to Fern, and it was settled! Daniel and Fern signed up to provide food and decorations—thank you, Daniel and Fern and your family!—and a team went to work to get me Jo’s favorite hymns and favorite scripture, and here we are! Happy 86th birthday, Jo! It was your birthday on Thursday, and we’re all going to head downstairs after worship and help you celebrate your birthday week! Because your birthday week last year wasn’t quite so pleasant, was it? (We’re going to come back to that.)
But while we’re on the topic of people and events to honor, Bev and I also learned last Sunday that Daniel and Fern Imbody (our Fellowship hosts today) are moving back to Pennsylvania in early November. So we also decided to honor them, on the last Sunday of October—October 25—with a special service in their honor, and a potluck for fellowship afterward. I’ve got their favorite hymns and scripture from them already, and I’m sure we will all pitch in to provide a wonderful celebration that they don’t have to provide J to send them on their way.
(While I’m in “announcement mode”—October 25 is the day we will also be receiving new members into this congregation. Four people have approached me already about joining, and if you would like to be added to the group, please let me know.)
Now, at last, on to our scripture—the scripture Jo chose as the one that has meant the most to her. 2 Corinthians 4:8-10: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.”
We all know that around this time last year, Jo Wasson suffered a major stroke. I was the first one there at the hospital with her that day—grateful to have received the call—and glad that I was in town, especially because Kevin and Cathe and Dru were not. I was there with Jo when the doctors explained to her the procedure they could do—but they had to do it right away if they were going to do it at all!—that could possibly restore some of her physical capability. I was there when Jo said yes to that procedure. Of course Jo said yes to that procedure. Because Jo is a fighter. She is not a quitter. And she was not going to give up on life just because of a stroke. If there was something that could be done to keep her going, by all means she was going to have it done. And, to a large degree, it worked. Jo has full use of the left side of her body, full use of her mental capacity, partial use of the right side of her body, and some ability to express herself with her voice. And those who know her well would also tell you that she has pretty much retained the ability to fully express herself, even without the use of speech!
Take, for example, the day I visited her in her home about a week and a half ago. She knew I was coming, and so she had, sitting on her dining room table, the scrapbook she had made about a year or two after the death of her beloved husband Doug. She had pulled that out specifically to share it with me. And we spent the next hour and a half looking through the pages, Jo reminiscing and me living for the first time their many years together of faithful and selfless ministry to the body of Christ in several states, spanning several decades, in a variety of ministry settings and capacities. They were advocates for the Heifer Project, La Puente, and various hunger-relief causes. They were pastors at the Church at Woodmoor in Monument and other churches; they were leaders and teachers at Bible colleges. They were recognized for their true ecumenical spirit, their deep commitment to building up, not tearing down.
And there were the cards. From Doug to Jo, on birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day—sweet, tender, sentimental. Cards of commitment and love, and praise to God for bringing them together … and there was that one unsigned Valentine card that Doug had bought for Jo but had not had a chance to sign because his stroke occurred on Valentine’s Day, that year. Doug was with Jo for quite some after that, and she cherished those days—cherished them enough to spend many hours after he was gone compiling that great book in his honor, in his memory, as a tool of closure for her.
And Jo has chosen as her favorite Bible passage, the words of the Apostle Paul: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.”
Afflicted but not crushed. Perplexed but not despairing. Persecuted but not forsaken. Stricken but not destroyed. Why? Because even though we carry in our bodies, in our lives, experiences that sometimes feel like death, we must remember that death did not keep Jesus down! Even though we carry the marks (in Greek, the stigmata, source of our word “stigma”), of Jesus, we must remember that he overcame those marks; he rose again from that suffering; and in his power, with his help, so can we.
The Apostle Paul, of all people, had justification to get down in the dumps. Later in 2 Corinthians, he described what he had been through for the cause of Christ: “Five times I have received thirty-nine lashes. [That’s because it was illegal to give forty.] Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from [strangers], danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.” The Apostle Paul clearly bore the death of Jesus in his body, amen?
Few, if any, of us will most likely be called upon to endure such things. Few, if any, of us will most likely be called upon to give our lives for Jesus. I can’t imagine the terror those courageous students felt when the shooter in Roseburg, Oregon, said to them this week, “Are you a Christian? Good, because you’re gonna see God in about a second,” just before he pulled the trigger. I pray to God that none of us will be called upon to go through something like that.
But that’s not to minimize the impact on our daily lives of the things we do go through. Any combination of factors in life can conspire to make us feel like the bottom is falling out. And we’re holding onto the sides but somebody smeared them with motor oil, so it’s impossible to get a grip. And below us is a giant porcelain bowl that’s making a deafening whooshing sound. Sometimes things just do not look promising for us. But in Jesus, we are overcomers. With Jesus, we can find that “peace that passes all understanding”—peace that surpasses anything we can understand or reason through. Peace that defies logic. With God’s help, the life of Jesus can shine through in the times we feel like we’re dying. We don’t have to go it alone. Because he already went there—for us. Jesus has been there, done that, and bought us the tee-shirt, amen?
Every day, in our Christian journey, we don’t have to go it alone. And that’s what’s so beautiful about the church. The Rev. Frank Schaefer writes about how 1st-century Christians were regarded as a “new race,” a “third race,” because of their intense love for one another. They truly were one, just as Jesus prayed (a phrase that I love, from this congregation’s Bylaws). The fact that this unity was observed in the early church—even from people on the outside who had never witnessed that kind of behavior before—is evident in a letter that is extant from the early 2nd century. The letter is titled The Mystery of the New People. We don’t know who wrote the letter, but it was addressed to Diognetus, a Roman official at that time. The author writes:
To His Excellency, Diognetus: I understand, sir, that you are really interested in learning about the religion of the Christians, and that you are making an accurate and careful investigation of the subject … You would also like to know the source of the loving affection that they have for each other.
The author goes on to explain that that source, of course, is love, and that love, of course, is because of Jesus. Jesus, as we know from the Gospel of John, prayed to his heavenly father that his followers would all be one, and in the 1st century at least, they were living that out. They were holding each other up in prayer, in words of encouragement and exhortation, so that they, like Paul, would be, when afflicted, not crushed. When perplexed, not despairing. When persecuted, not forsaken. When stricken, not destroyed. … So that they would all be one.
Today is also World Communion Sunday. It’s the day each year that tens of thousands of Christian brothers and sisters around the world come to the Lord’s Table to remember our Lord, to celebrate his victory over death, and to proclaim his message of love, of unity, of inclusion: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whosoever believes shall be saved!” Whosoever! Anyone who believes! That’s what it means to be the church!
Schaefer writes, “We are all children of God. We are to be one in Christ; we are to be the new race made up of a multitude of diverse people. We are one, and in our oneness lies our strength; in our oneness will the world see the difference in us; through our love will the world see the love and grace of Jesus Christ.”
Let us pray:
Almighty and Ever-Present God, on this World Communion Sunday, help us examine our hearts. We confess our sins to you. We are truly sorry for our wrongdoings and shortcomings, for sins of commission and sins of omission. Forgive us, we pray, in Christ’s name.
Empower us to serve you fully, to share the resources we have with those who have less, to weep with those who weep, and to laugh with those who laugh. Help us to be good stewards over the earth you have placed in our care; help us to unite in love and concern for one another, not just in our local community, but with brothers and sisters in all the world.
As we draw near to your holy table, we thank you, Lord, for providing the Bread of Life for us. As we partake, impart to us your grace and mercy, unite us with Christ, our Lord, and with one another. May your kingdom be established in all the earth. Amen.
Sunday Worship at Black Forest Community Church
Black Forest, CO
September 13, 2015
© Rev. Diane Kay Martin
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Peter. Oh, Peter. These are tough truths you had to deal with. You hit the nail right on the head when you told Jesus that he was the Messiah—the savior, the anointed one—and not just a reincarnation of John the Baptist or Elijah or another one of the prophets, as others were saying. You got it! You saw that this man is an original—the incarnation of God; not just a remake, a remix, a re-incarnation of someone else. This man is the genuine article. God broke the mold with this one. Threw away the key. Not to be improved upon. Peter, you got that eternal truth!
I guess it’s not too surprising then, when you couldn’t grasp that Jesus was going to die. You scolded him when he said that. Why? Maybe it didn’t fit your plans—your dreams of glory—your hopes for a military victory over the Roman oppressors? Maybe even though you said he was the Messiah—someone who would bring eternal victory—you still wanted to feel the surge of power that comes with revenge in this world? You scolded him when he told you he wasn’t going to do things your way. Oh, Peter.
Did you forget what Jesus taught? It wasn’t about military victory. It was about taking the little child upon your knee, welcoming the weak, the poor, the sick, the stranger, the refugee… Did you forget that Jesus said, in Matthew 25, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Did you forget that Jesus said this is what separated the sheep from the goats?
Jesus was a stranger. In the deepest sense of the word, Jesus was a stranger. He started his life as a refugee. Matthew 2:13 tells us that after the three wise men left Bethlehem, an angel came to Joseph in a dream and told him to take his family to Egypt—to Egypt, another country—to flee the wrath of Herod who was looking for Jesus to kill him. They stayed in Egypt until Herod died, and even when they returned to the land of their people, the Hebrew people, they couldn’t go back to Bethlehem because Herod’s son was ruling there, and Jesus would still be in danger. To flee the wrath of the ruling class—to save their very lives—they all had to remain refugees. They went to Nazareth in Galilee—still refugees. Still displaced. Is it any wonder that Jesus had a heart for the outcast?
Peter, you must have forgotten that, when you became angry with Jesus for saying he wasn’t going to avenge your people. You were striving to get to the top, and Jesus’ heart was with those who were at the bottom. You were going in opposite directions, and Jesus sensed that you were embarrassed by his lack of drive for power. That must be why he said, “If you’re ashamed of me—a refugee, a stranger, one of the powerless ones—then I’ll be ashamed of you.” …
Hearts around the world were broken on September 3rd when a photo was released of Aylan Kurdi, a 3-year-old refugee boy from Syria, washed up on a Turkish beach after the boat he and 22 others were in capsized on the Aegean Sea. That photo took a situation that was halfway around the world and brought it right into our homes. How many here do not know a precious, sweet 3-year-old child? How many do not remember the delightful, funny things our sons, our daughters, our grandchildren (Happy Grandparents’ Day, by the way) used to say when they were three years old? … How many here could not look for very long at that photo?
After the wise men returned to Jerusalem and refused to tell Herod whether or where they had found Jesus, Herod was so angry that he sent out an order to have all Jewish boys age two and younger killed. And the edict was carried out. Matthew says it was as the prophet Jeremiah had foretold it: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” …
That is the kind of anguish the parents who pull up stakes and board a tiny boat to float to anywhere but home are trying to avoid. That is why they become refugees. To save their children. To save themselves.
Under both international and U.S. law, a refugee is an individual who has fled his or her country of origin because of a credible fear of persecution on account of their race, religion, political opinion, national origin, or social group. And since the war in Syria started in 2011, more than 4 million Syrians have crossed—or attempted to cross—international borders as refugees. Another 7.5 million have not been fortunate enough to leave the country but are internally displaced from their homes. These numbers combined represent more than half of the population of Syria. There are now more refugees and displaced persons in the world than at any time in history. That is staggering. Can you imagine how devastating (socially, financially, medically) it would be to have half of the population of the U.S.—or even of Colorado—displaced? It is beyond imagining.
… It makes our troubles seem a bit trivial, doesn’t it? …
It tugs at our heartstrings, but we don’t know what to do. We want to “follow Jesus” in his care for the oppressed, the downtrodden, the displaced, but we have so many questions.
For example: What is the difference between a refugee and an undocumented (“illegal”) immigrant? I know I’m touching a nerve here. I’ve seen the sign someone not a mile from here has painted on his fence supporting a candidate whose comments about immigrants from Mexico have offended many. But I hope I can help all of us move toward a new understanding on this issue. World Relief, a national voluntary agency that partners in refugee resettlement in the U.S., has initiated a campaign called We Welcome Refugees, and they are calling upon churches, today, September 13, 2015, to unite in the effort to help relieve the refugee crisis. This is not a political effort. This is humanitarian. This is Jesus. This is goodness. This is God.
Granted, we can’t open our borders to just anyone. No person gains refugee status without a thorough screening process conducted by the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, and the FBI, to ensure that the individual does not pose a safety or health risk to this country. World Relief says, “In the United States, anyone admitted as a refugee has legal status from the moment they enter. While these individuals could still face deportation if they committed serious crimes or otherwise violated U.S. immigration law, in the vast majority of cases they become lawful permanent residents and then become eligible after five years to apply for U.S. citizenship. … There are also processes to request asylum. Asylum-seekers arrive in a country either on a temporary visa or unlawfully, but claim that they meet the legal definition of a refugee described above. … If approved, in most situations they will be allowed to stay.”
In other words, we are talking about law-abiding individuals here. People who are in compliance with—or who are in the process of compliance with—the laws of the country in which they are seeking safety. And God would have us open our doors to these people.
The Hebrew word ger, translated into English as foreigner, sojourner, stranger, or immigrant—appears 92 times in the Old Testament, usually in the context of God commanding the people to love and welcome those who came as foreigners into their land. This is a prominent theme throughout the Old Testament! But not just the Old; the New Testament, too, repeatedly commands us to “practice hospitality,” which literally means to practice loving strangers—with the hint that, by doing so, we may be welcoming angels. Welcoming refugees is a tangible way to love our neighbors, part of Jesus’ Great Commandment (love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your mind, and your strength; and love your neighbor as yourself) and to practice the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you).
What would have happened if Egypt had closed its doors to Joseph, Mary and Jesus? What would have happened if Galilee had stopped them from settling in the town of Nazareth? Thank God they didn’t. “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.” Look into the eyes of little Aylan Kurdi, and see the eyes of Jesus. Look into the eyes of millions of others fleeing the homes they love, seeking safety in a strange land, and see the eyes of Jesus. And may they look into our eyes, and see the YES of Jesus. (I realize I didn’t stay as close to the text in this sermon as I usually do, but this issue of the refugee crisis has been calling to my spirit this week. And it’s at the heart of Jesus’ passion, too.)
I have prepared a handout that offers some suggestions of ways you might help in the Syrian refugee crisis, if you feel God tugging at your heart. Some of these are UCC-related; some are not. There is something every one of us can do. Let us not forget that Jesus was once a refugee. Let us take up our cross and follow him. Let us say yes to them. Amen.
What You Can Do to Help with the Syrian Refugee Crisis
September 13, 2015
- Watch the Global Ministries web site for information on relief and advocacy efforts in the Middle East and Europe: globalministries.org/mee.
- Also watch the UCC’s Middle East Initiative for opportunities to give financially to support Global Ministries’ refugee work: globalministries.org/mei_giving_opportunities; and to help with their advocacy efforts: www.globalministries.org/mei_advocacy_opportunities.
- To financially contribute to these efforts without going online, you may mail your check (with “Refugees” in the memo line) to UCC Global Ministries, 700 Prospect Ave. E., Cleveland OH 44115; or call (216) 736-2100.
- Go to World Relief’s “We Welcome Refugees” website at wewelcomerefugees.com for updates on ways you can help.
- Talk with others about what they’ve seen on that website—suggestions for partnering church to church; using your voice in advocacy efforts; supporting refugee rescue work; supporting a refugee family for 3-6 months; welcoming refugees in our community; and last but definitely not least, prayer.
- Write to World Relief at 7 East Baltimore Street, Baltimore MD 21202, or call (443) 451-1900 to give, or for more information on what you can do.
 From wewelcomerefugees.com
 Email from James Moos, UCC Global Ministries, September 7, 2015
Sunday Worship at Black Forest Community Church
Black Forest, CO
August 23, 2015
© Rev. Diane Kay Martin
“Bread of Life #5 of 5: Bread on the Waters”
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
Because of this, many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “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.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him.
Uncanny—isn’t it?—that last Sunday Sarah and David McHugh sang the song “Home,” which I interpreted as the words of Jesus, calling us to our eternal home, and this Sunday my husband Nathan is in Minnesota with his mother who has heard and is responding to that call. Some of the lyrics, again, are:
Now in the end it’s coming clear, you’re not alone.
‘Cause everyone you’ve ever loved is waiting here for you.
So don’t give up, no don’t give up.
Help will come. Yeah, you can come back home.
‘Cause help is on the way. Yeah, you can come back home.
So come back home.
Jesus came to bring us the words of eternal life. He came to tell us that in the end, we’re not alone. And that really is “the moral of the story,” amen?
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This is the fifth and final sermon in our series on the Bread of Life, based on the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. The bread theme is in the background in today’s scripture; it’s not mentioned in this passage at all. It’s in the background as the “difficult teaching”; in other versions, the “hard teaching,” the “hard saying”—ultimately, the offensive thing Jesus just said—that he was the Bread of Life who had come down from heaven, and that his followers must eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life. Yes, that was a hard teaching, tough to swallow, tough to digest. And then he puts the icing on the cake by saying that not only did he come from heaven; he’s going back to heaven where he came from. And that he knows that some of them don’t believe him. And will turn away.
And many of them do. They leave. Submit their letters of withdrawal from membership, ask to be removed from the email distribution list and the church directory, turn in their keys and throw away their name tags. Done. Gone. Kaput. It was good while it lasted, but it’s no longer a fit for them.
Jesus lets them go. … Sends them on their way with his blessing. Sad, but out of his control. And he turns to those who stayed. He asks them, “Are you going to leave me too?” And Peter, often the impulsive mouthpiece of the group, says, in a moment of prophetic faith—“Where can we go? We know you now: you’re the Holy One of God. You have the words of eternal life!” So they stayed.
This makes me wonder about something though. Where did all the others go? Remember Ecclesiastes 11:1, which I mentioned during the Children’s Message at La Foret? “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.” It will return to you. It will return to you. I believe that in many for whom Jesus’ message may have seemed too “hard” at first, that bread—that seed of faith—took a little longer to germinate. I just can’t help thinking that later, when Peter and Paul had gone on to found churches, and the Holy Spirit fell upon those churches, and God’s love was being preached and miracles were being done in Jesus’ name, that many of those “waters” upon whom God had “cast his bread”—his Bread of Life, his son Jesus—I believe that many of those people returned to follow Jesus’ teachings.
Maybe the mom—one of thousands in the crowd that day on the hillside—thought the teaching was too difficult, but the daughter remembered having sat upon the knee of that mysteriously kind man. Maybe the uncle, whom Jesus had healed of leprosy, died, but the nephew remembered what a miracle the last several years of his uncle’s life had been. Maybe the boy who had the five loaves and three fishes walked away empty at first, not believing, but later found fellowship with a group of like-minded believers. … I find it difficult to accept that they just “went away,” having seen, having heard, having been touched by Jesus in that way.
John, the author of this Gospel, wrote, “For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him.”
Jesus knew. He knew which ones were ready to hear his message. He knew which ones did not believe—yet—and he knew that Judas Iscariot was going to betray him. Jesus said, “Among you there are some who do not believe. … Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.”
Jesus called Judas a devil. After all, Judas betrayed Jesus, and Christianity has never forgiven him for that. We can’t forgive him, because human nature needs a Judas. We need a scapegoat. We need someone to hate, someone to blame. Someone who is so wrong that they are doomed to eternal punishment … We can’t imagine God forgiving Judas … can we?
Rev. Dr. Ray S. Anderson, senior professor of theology and ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary from 1976 until his death in 2009, saw in the early ’70s, some graffiti on a men’s room mirror. It said, simply: “Judas come home. All is forgiven.” In 1991, Anderson wrote a book titled The Gospel According to Judas: Is There a Limit to God’s Forgiveness? in which he sets up a series of dialogues between Judas—in the very place where he had taken his own life—and Jesus—fresh out of the tomb, resurrected and renewed with God’s glory, even before he appeared to Peter or any of his other disciples.
I want to share with you some excerpts from a couple of those dialogues. Cindy, will you come back up and help me with this? You can be Jesus. … J
Judas: Jesus, why have you come to torment me? Aren’t you satisfied that I perished from this earth by my own hands? Leave me alone! Let me go to the hell I deserve! I betrayed you; I delivered you over to your own death. I said I was sorry, but sorry isn’t enough. Sorrow doesn’t change anything.
Jesus: You are right, Judas Iscariot. There are things that do not change. Though I am not one who causes torment.
Judas: Yes, that’s true. I brought the torment on myself, and on you, by causing your death. Yet you do torment me. You will probably tell me that you still love me, but don’t you realize that for the betrayer, love is a cruel reminder of failure? Go away! I have enough pain without your love punishing me further.
Jesus: I tell you that you love me, and that is the cause of your pain and torment.
Judas: You’re talking nonsense. If I loved you I would not have betrayed you. After all, betrayal is not an act of love; it’s an act of treachery. You can’t deny the logic of that.
Jesus: Judas, betrayal is the sin of love against love. Betrayal uses love to try to destroy what is loved. Forgiveness seems impossible if betrayal is the final act. But betrayal is not final; it is not the end of love.
Judas: For me, betrayal was a single, final, and fatal act. I tried to deny the feelings of love I have for you. That’s why my betrayal of you hurts so much. But our relationship can never be the same again.
Jesus: True. We can never return to our innocence. But the love that has suffered loss is not a crippled love: it can be healed and made a stronger love.
Judas: You speak as though we’ve only had a lovers’ quarrel! I went beyond denial. I burned the bridge that made our relationship possible. I cut the cord that bound my heart to yours and my hand to heaven. There is no way back.
Jesus: That is true. But there never was a way back. There is only a way forward. The past can only be returned to us out of the future. Love is greater than faith and hope, because it can heal faithlessness and cure hopelessness.
Judas: In a way that I don’t understand, you place my act of betrayal, and even my death by my own hand, between us as something that can be forgiven.
Jesus: Do you still think that by betraying me, and by taking your own life, you sealed your fate and plunged into the realm that God has forsaken? I have been to that Godforsaken place, Judas. It was on the cross, not in the black hole in your own soul. God has not forsaken you!
Amen. Matthew 27:3 says Judas “was filled with remorse,” “repented,” and returned the thirty pieces of silver for which he had sold Jesus’ life. And God did not forsake him! God met him there in the black hole in his soul and forgave him. But Judas could not forgive himself. He was sure God could not forgive him, and he could not live with that. But Ray Anderson is right: Jesus is the only one who has been in a totally Godforsaken place. For a moment—just for a moment—God could not look upon the torment of his own son, hanging on that cross, and had to turn away. And Jesus, for the first time in his existence, felt the horror of God’s absence, and he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice, and God will never, ever look away again! Not even from Judas.
But we still have to deal with the fact that Jesus called Judas a devil! A devil—in Greek, diabolos, from the words dia (through) and ballo (to throw). To throw through. It makes little sense in English. In Greek, when it’s used with the definite article—the devil—of course it refers to Satan. But when it’s used with the indefinite article—a devil—as it’s used here, it means something else. It means slanderer, accuser, malicious gossiper—someone who disregards, “throws through”/speaks right past, the truth. There are several examples in the New Testament of it being used this way. As in 1 Timothy 3:11, describing the behavior of the wives of deacons: “[they] must be serious, not slanderers (diabolos), but temperate, faithful in all things.” As in 2 Timothy 3:3, describing the behavior of people in the last days: “For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers (diabolos).” As in Titus 2:3, Paul instructing Titus in establishing churches, “Tell the older men to be temperate, serious, prudent, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance. Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers (diabolos) or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good.” Tell them not to be people who throw their words right through that good thing which God is trying to do. Judas was this kind of a diabolos. When Jesus called Judas a diabolos, he was calling him out for being a slanderer, an accuser, a gossiper; he was not condemning him to hell. He was throwing Judas a lifeline—casting the bread of life, of mercy, upon the waters of Judas’ confused existence!
“Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.” The bread has been cast—far and wide. What is our task—we who have received God’s unfailing love through Jesus? Our task is to cast the nets wider still, to gather as much “bread upon the waters” as we can. Crusts, crumbs, and everything in-between. If not to our net, then to some other net, amen? It’s still Jesus’ net… Our task is to share with all the message of the Bread of Life, the true bread from heaven, who promises that we will never be hungry, never be thirsty, and will never die. And here ends the series. Thanks be to God! Amen.
 Writer: Casey Blue Crescenzo. Copyright: BMG Gold Songs.
Sunday Worship at Black Forest Community Church
Black Forest, CO
August 2, 2015
© Rev. Diane Kay Martin
“Bread of Life #2 of 5: The Work God Wants”
When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
The next day the crowd that had stayed on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there. They also saw that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
Last week, we started a five-week sermon series on the Bread of Life, based on the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John.
In that first sermon, titled “Crusts and Crumbs,” we noticed that John—and only John among all the Gospel writers—tells us two things about the bread on that day when Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes and fed the multitude. John tells us that the bread that Jesus fed the crowd that day was made from what grain? <<barley>> And John alone tells us that it was whose idea to gather up the leftovers (the klasma, the fragments) so all could be saved? <<Jesus>> And what do you think? If Jesus feels that way about common, everyday barley bread, how does he feel about us? … That’s right. It’s good news, any way you slice it. J … It’s the best news since … sliced bread, amen? J Plain, sweet, simple, barley-ish, good news. Jesus loves me, as crusty as I get sometimes. Such a life-changing truth to cling to.
Today we move from “Crusts and Crumbs” to “The Work God Wants.”
What is “The Work God Wants”—t he work God wants us to do? In short, it’s the same simple message we saw over and over in Mark’s Gospel: Do not fear, but have faith. Fear not; only believe. John, though, takes the idea a step further than Mark. John says we don’t have to muster up that faith ourselves. John (here, and later in this chapter; and later Paul, in several of his writings) says that God will give us the faith to believe. And all we have to do is receive it. Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So “the work of God”—the work God wants us to do—is really the work that God wants to do for us. All we have to do is receive it.
And that just bends the 21st-century brain, doesn’t it? I was thinking about this yesterday evening when I attended the Tri-Lakes Relay for Life. Our church’s team did a great job of raising money to fight cancer—$2,370 when I checked online at 7:00 this morning—and I had the honor of presenting the invocation for the opening ceremony—altogether a wonderful opportunity for our church to be out there in the community and become more well-known and trusted.
But when Nathan and I were out there, walking the first lap with the team, it occurred to me that all of the money raised by all of the teams was money that had already been given. It was already a done deal. Yet all those people—200 altogether, maybe—were out there in the crazy windy weather to take turns walking that track for 12 hours. (I didn’t stay that long; I had a sermon to finish writing!)
The money had already been given. So why the walk? Because it’s in our nature: we have to be doing something. It’s difficult for us to just receive! Of course, there are other intrinsic benefits to walking a track all night long—like team building and making memories, and the Simonoff family did a great job of heading all of that up. (Rumor has it that they’re heading up the entire event next year.) But the possibly oversimplified truth is that the gifts had already been given. They just needed to be received. Kind of like faith. Kind of like God’s love.
Our Hymn of Response today expresses this same thought. “Eat this bread, drink this cup. Come to me and never be hungry. Eat this bread, drink this cup, trust in me and you will not thirst.”
The gift has already been given. All we have to do is receive. We receive the bread (a symbol of Jesus’ body), we receive the cup (a symbol of Jesus’ lifeblood)—and we receive the gift of no more hunger, no more thirst. Gift upon gift. Un-worked-for, undeserved. Spiritual food, spiritual drink. Food for eternity. Bread of life.
After Jesus fed the people that day, and later they got into the boats and followed him and his disciples to Capernaum, he chided them. He said, “So you’re hungry already, and looking for another meal, are you? Well, I could give you another meal—more bread from heaven to fill your bellies—that’s really small potatoes for me. You know I was there with the Father when he created the world, don’t you? And I was there when the Father fed your ancestors in the wilderness. But do you remember what happened to the manna if they didn’t eat it right away? That’s right. It spoiled. It was filled with worms. So I have a different kind of ‘bread’ to offer you—bread that doesn’t spoil—eternal bread—bread that feeds your soul. And all you have to do is receive it.”
And they answered pretty much like I’m sure most of us would: “But surely, Lord, there’s something I can do—some way I can earn it—some work you need done around the place. A picture hung, a hinge tightened, a window cleaned. Give me something to do!”
And Jesus replied, “Yes, come to think of it, there is some work for you to do. ‘The work God wants’ is for you to believe—in me, in God’s gift of grace that brings eternal life. That’s all: only believe. In fact, God will help you believe. How does that sound?” (Pretty good, I’d say!)
The bread and wine of Communion that we will receive in a few minutes is the same way. We come forward and freely receive the bread and “wine,” symbols and reminders of Jesus’ gift to us of eternal life. All we have to do is receive. That can be so difficult, can’t it? But Jesus says, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent. Believe in me! That’s all God asks of you.”
I know—this is starting to sound a little redundant. It’s so simple; there aren’t many ways to say it. And I can think of only two appropriate responses to such a generous offer: Accept the gift, and be grateful.
And there are a million ways to express gratitude. It is, after all, out of gratitude to God for the free gift of salvation that we do the millions of things we do to keep this church afloat. And those things may involve hanging a picture, tightening a hinge, and cleaning a window. It could be … well, it could be any of a number of things that we see people doing around here all the time, out of the goodness of their own hearts, out of gratitude for God’s free gift of love and acceptance and forgiveness and fellowship.
In fact, let’s take a few minutes right now and lift up some of those things. I’ve got the handheld mic here. Stand up or raise your hand, and I’ll bring it to you. Share something you’ve seen someone doing here at Black Forest Community Church—not because they had to, but because they wanted to, out of gratitude for God’s free gift—and feel free to mention their names! … … …
One other way we demonstrate our gratitude is, of course, giving of our finances in the offering. We do this after Communion for that very symbolism. We freely receive, and then, in gratitude, we freely give. You may have noticed in your bulletin that our offerings are nearly $10,000 below what we budgeted for by this time this year. You may be aware that in the last several months, a few people, for various reasons, have chosen to suspend their personal and financial involvement with this church. That is their choice, and we will welcome them back if they choose to return. Or, we wish them all the best as they seek a new church home that better meets their spiritual needs. We pray for them, and we ask God to bless them. What that means, though, is that the rest of us must step up just a little bit more to fill the gap. Out of gratitude for this church—for its past, for its present, and for its future.
When Jesus sent his disciples out to preach the gospel, he instructed them, “Freely you have received; now freely give.” And they came back amazed, for through them God had done wonderful things!
Freely we have received, and freely we are about to receive again—the bread of life, the cup of blessing, and the faith to believe it. That’s the work God wants—the work God wants to do in us. And, in response, in gratitude, freely may we give. Amen.
Because of the very full agenda for November, the Church Board will be meeting one hour earlier than usual tomorrow, at 6:00pm on Wednesday, November 11th, instead of 7:00pm as usual. Church members wishing to attend to hear Pastor Diane's remarks may still come at 7:00pm when she is scheduled to speak, but of course are invited to attend earlier.