Where There is Despair, Let Me Sow Hope – Sunday, August 21st, 2016

8-21-2016 Where There Is Despair, Hope

Where There Is Despair, Let Me Sow Hope                    Psalms 46:1-11; Matthew 7:7-12

Rev. David Goode

August 21, 2016

The rainbow was God’s promise to Noah that God would never flood the earth again. It was a promise given during a time of rebuilding from the waters that damaged the earth. We all encounter damaged lives that have lead us to despair and sometimes even cause us to lose hope. We struggle to overcome these devastations and with God’s help there will always be hope. After each storm, God sends us rainbows. Where there is despair, let us sow hope.

Some of you may remember the song written by Buck Owens and Roy Clark from the TV Show Hee-Haw (1969-1992):

“Gloom, despair, and agony on me
Deep, dark depression, excessive misery
If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all
Gloom, despair, and agony on me”.

Despair: to be hopeless; to have no hope; to give up all hope or expectation for a better tomorrow. We can feel that way. Others around us can feel that way. We pray: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is despair, let me sow hope.”

A man approached a little league baseball game one afternoon. He asked a boy what the score was. “It’s 18 to nothing; we’re behind.” The man said, “I bet you’re discouraged, aren’t you?” “Why should I be discouraged?” the little boy said. “We haven’t even got up to bat yet.” Now that is a boy who sows hope!

We cannot live without hope. When life hurts and dreams fade; nothing helps like hope. Without hope, prisoners of war languish and die. Without hope, students get discouraged and drop out of school. Without hope, athletic teams slump and keep losing. Without hope, addicts return to their habits; married couples decide to divorce; inventors, artists, entertainers, and entrepreneurs lose their creativity. Without hope, we are doomed to a dark, dismal existence of despair.

The good news is that we can find hope in God. When we are trapped in a tunnel of misery, hope points us to the light at the end of the tunnel. When we are overworked and exhausted, hope gives us fresh energy. When we are discouraged, hope lifts our spirits. When we are tempted to quit, hope keeps us going. When we struggle with a crippling disease or a lingering illness, hope helps us persevere beyond the pain. When we fear the worst, hope brings reminders that God is still in control. When we say our final farewell to someone we love, hope in the life beyond gets us through the grief.

We desperately need the substance of hope in our lives! We have all heard those words; “There’s always hope!” However, sometimes we find it hard to believe them. All of us suffer through bouts of discouragement. In fact, to that “D” word, we could add doubt, doom, dishearten, defeat, and despair. The mind dwells on them and life makes us an emotional wreck. One Church sign said, “Don’t give up: Moses was once a basket case!”

The Bible has a lot to say about hope in what seems like hopeless situations. God does not give us a false sense that “everything will be perfect.” The Bible tells us that discouragement, despair, and defeat are all a real part of life.

Let me tell you one story from the Bible when God’s people were feeling hopeless. They were building a wall around their city as God had asked them, and they were losing hope. In Nehemiah 4:10 we read: “word was going around in Judah, the builders are pooped, the rubbish piles up; we’re in over our heads and we can’t build this wall.”

Those losing hope are experiencing fatigue, frustration, and failure. Vince Lombardi once said, “Fatigue will make cowards of us all.” Here they are, rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. When they got halfway through, fatigue was catching up with them. And when energy runs short; so does courage and hope. I have found out that if I push too hard for too long, I am going to see diminishing returns on the investment of my time and talents; and the flood of discouragement will begin. The people were weary, they began to lose hope, and they became discouraged.

Fatigue has come for some here at Hamilton Park United Church of Christ and frustration has followed. Some have worked so hard and given their all to build the church. Now they are stepping back and wondering if all our efforts have any significance today. That is what happened to the workers on the wall. All they began to see were broken bricks, the mud, and the debris. Nehemiah 4 tells us that they were frustrated with the ever-present rubbish and rubble of heavy construction.

They were suffering from what we would call Burnout. Some people think that burnout means that they have been working too hard. However, that is not exactly true. Many people work hard and never burn out. The difference is that some work hard with hope, with a vision, with a purpose; while others have been fatigued and frustrated and have lost the focus of their efforts. Burnout comes when we are working too hard at the wrong thing, or when we are doing the right thing the wrong way. When our efforts seem worthless and ineffective, we get burned out; we get frustrated with the fact that we have “wasted” our time, our talents, and our energies.

First fatigue, then Frustration and then comes feelings of Failure. The Israelites threw up their hands and pronounced their failure. “We’re tired, we are fed up and we can’t do it anymore.” Negative thoughts become negative talk, and negative talk is infectious, spreading like a virus through the community. If you listen to them, it will poison your purpose. The Bible says, “All have sinned…” therefore, in one sense of the word, we have all failed. The difference is how we deal with failure or those feelings of failure.

Jesus says, “Come unto me you who are weary and fatigued, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28-30). Paul says to the frustrated, “My dear friends; stand firm and don’t be shaken. Always keep busy working for the Lord. You know that everything you do for God is worthwhile.” (1 Corinthians 15:58). For those who feel like a failure, we know that God is a God of a second chance. With God, all things are possible and there is always hope.

There are also enemies of hope, who war against hope, but God is a God of hope. Peter expresses it this way, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Because Jesus lives, hope lives. Perhaps it has never been better said, than by Bill and Gloria Gaither when they wrote the words:

“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow; Because He lives, all fear is gone; because I know, He holds the future; so life is worth the living just because He lives.”

When you are in despair and feeling hopeless, remember the words of that song. Or, pray the words of the hymn we are about to sing, “Precious Lord, take my hand”. There is always hope, because of God’s great love for you and me and for the entire world.

Where There Is Doubt, let me sow Faith – Sunday August 14th, 2016

8-14-2016 Where There Is Doubt, Let Me Sow Faith

Where There Is Doubt, let me sow Faith
Hebrews 11:1-40; John 20:24-29
Rev. David Goode
August 14, 2016

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…where there is doubt, let me sow FAITH. Doubt IS NOT the opposite of faith. Disbelief is the opposite of faith. Doubt is merely a part of how we live a life of faith. Nowhere in Scripture does God express disapproval of a believer who has doubts.

Just look at Jesus response to doubting Thomas. Jesus did not condemn Thomas for his lack of faith; Jesus showed him his hands and his side and said, “Stop doubting and believe.” Do you think Doubting Thomas ever really stopped doubting? NO WAY – Thomas was one of the seven disciples who gave up following Jesus and went fishing shortly after seeing Jesus hands and side. This is good news for all of us doubters.

Doubt means we ask questions, we voice concerns or we may even want to walk away from God and Christ’s church. Doubt is probably a permanent part of the faith. Just as life is a permanent battle against disease, so a life of faith is a permanent battle against doubt. Doubt about our relationship with God reminds us that we are in need of growth in our walk with God. This morning I want us to consider how to feed our faith and starve our doubt. We are going to look at six characteristics of what it means to walk by faith. These printed at the end of this sermon.

Walking in faith is believing when we do not see it. Faith is different from proof. Proof is a human desire. Faith is a Gift from God. We heard at the beginning of the Hebrews reading: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for; the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, RSV). Faith believes even when we do not see it. Some things in life have to be believed before they can be seen. We tend to think, “Seeing is believing.” Faith says, “Believing is seeing.”

Walking in faith is obeying even when we do not understand it. Saint Bernard said, “I believe though I do not comprehend, and I hold by faith what I cannot grasp with the mind.” By faith, Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt, having no idea where they were going and how they were going to get there. All the saints mentioned in Hebrews 11 stepped out in faith when they did not understand: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Esau, Joseph, Rahab and many more. Sometimes God will tell us to do something and we will think, “There’s no way this is going to work!” Yet, God says, Do it! And guess what? When we do it works it works!”

Walking in faith is giving even when we do not have it. “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings” (Hebrews 11:4). Isn’t that interesting? Giving and faith go together. God uses our time and talents and treasures to test our faithfulness. God watches our giving in determining our faith. Walking in faith is giving even when we do not have it.

Walking in faith is persisting even when we do not feel like it. How do we keep going despite all the problems, difficulties, and obstacles? How do we develop the kind of persistence that keeps us going when every bone in our body says, “Quit?” Where do those Olympic athletes get the kind of determination that we see? They have their eyes on the finish line. Moses is our example. By faith, he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he was able to do this because he had his eye on the One who is invisible. Notice the key to persistence in that last phrase – he could see the invisible. Only as we see the invisible God, the finish line if you will, can we accomplish the impossible. The key to persistence is keeping our eyes on God. Corrie Ten Boom says, “If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. But if you look at Christ, you’ll be at rest.” So it all depends on where we have our eyes.

Walking in faith is thanking God even before we receive it. A good illustration of this is Joshua. By faith, the walls of Jericho fell after the people had marched around the walls for seven days. Jericho was the most fortified city in the world at that time. God said, “There’s no way a bunch of slaves are going to take this thing, but here’s what I want you to do: March around the city seven times a day for seven days and then I’ll cause a miracle.” So, what were they doing seven times a day for seven days? Thanking God in advance! Praising God before the miracle happened as they marched around the city!

Faith does not mean that you believe God can do something. God can do it, whether you believe it or not. Faith believes God is doing it! That God has already put into action the solution to our problem. That the answer God has for us is already on the way.

Finally, walking in faith is trusting even if we do not get it. Elton Trueblood says: Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservations. Walking in faith does not mean we do not have problems. We all have personal problems, some more than others. Our Hebrews passage ended: “All of them pleased God because of their faith! Still they died without being given what had been promised. This was because God had something better in store” (Hebrews 11:39-40). Anybody can trust God when things are going good. Real faith trusts God in the valleys of life, when the situation looks impossible, when the people look hopeless, when the tide has turned against you, and when you are tempted to ask yourself, “Why is this happening to me?” Faith is trusting even if we do not get what we want.

We are people, who pray;
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, let me sow pardon,
And where there is doubt, let me sow faith.

Six Characteristic Of What It Means To Walk By Faith

1. Walking In Faith Is BELIEVING When I Don’t See It
2. Walking In Faith Is OBEYING When I Don’t Understand It
3. Walking In Faith Is GIVING When I Don’t Have It
4. Walking In Faith Is PERSISTING When I Don’t Feel Like It
5. Walking In Faith Is THANKING Before I Receive It
6. Walking In Faith Is TRUSTING If I Don’t Get It

“Where There Is Injury, Pardon (Forgiveness)” – Sunday August 7th, 2016

8-7-2016 Where There Is Injury, Pardon (Forgiveness)

“Where There Is Injury, Pardon (Forgiveness)”
Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 18:21-35
Rev. David Goode
August 7, 2016

Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy times seven.” Seventy times seven means always forgive. There is no limit on how many times we are to pardon those who have injured us. That may sound impossible, but with God all things are possible. God is always with us, helping us to live lives of forgiving love.

We have been hurt over and over again in life and we may find it difficult to forgive over and over again. We have all received injury from people that we do not know and from people that we do know. Being hurt by others is common. Being truly forgiving; not so common.

Today we want to learn to pray; God, where there is injury, let me sow pardon. Some people do try to sow pardon, but then they cancel it. We offer forgiveness and then we try to get back at them. We forgive and then try to get in the last word. We forgive and then insist that we are right.

You know the saying, just forgive and forget. Let me tell you about one couple who tries to practice that. One partner really hurt the other. It was so serious that it could have ended their relationship. After a long time of working things out, the injured partner forgave the other. However, from time to time, the forgiver would bring it up in conversation. “Honey, why do you keep bringing that up? I thought your policy was ‘forgive and forget.” It is – I just don’t want YOU to forget that I HAVE forgiven and forgotten.” Most of us can forgive and forget; we just don’t want the other person to forget that we forgave.

What was your response the last time someone hurt you? You all know about our built in flight or fight response when someone wrongs us. We run away from those who harm us or we attack them. Maybe when you are hurt, you feel the urge to get back at them. Maybe you want to cause them just as much pain as they caused you. Maybe when you are hurt you take no action, but instead hold bitterness in your heart. We do not want to run away or attack as our natural urges tells us to do; we want to forgive.

We heard read, “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times? Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.’ (Mt.18: 21-22). Seventy times seven means always forgive; forgive over and over again. There is no limit on how many times we are to pardon those who have injured us.

It is clear that Jesus is serious. There is no wiggle room when it comes to forgiving. I am a little uncomfortable with the story Jesus tell next. It comes immediately follow his teaching on forgiveness and it’s called The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. Matthew 18:23-35 Good News Translation:

Once there was a king who decided to check on his servants’ accounts. 24 He had just begun to do so when one of them was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. 25 The servant did not have enough to pay his debt, so the king ordered him to be sold as a slave, with his wife and his children and all that he had, in order to pay the debt. 26 The servant fell on his knees before the king. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay you everything!’ 27 The king felt sorry for him, so he forgave him the debt and let him go. 28 “Then the man went out and met one of his fellow servants who owed him a few dollars. He grabbed him and started choking him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he said. 29 His fellow servant fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back!’ 30 But he refused; instead, he had him thrown into jail until he should pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were very upset and went to the king and told him everything. 32 So he called the servant in. ‘You worthless slave!’ he said. ‘I forgave you the whole amount you owed me, just because you asked me to. 33 You should have had mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you.’ 34 The king was very angry, and he sent the servant to jail to be punished until he should pay back the whole amount.” 35 And Jesus concluded, “That is how my Father in heaven will treat every one of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

Jesus taught us to pray, “God…Forgive us our sins, AS we forgive those who sin against us”. We forgive others, AS we have been forgiven – No more, no less. The good news is that Jesus did not only tell us to do it, but He modeled it for us. The ultimate act of forgiveness was going to the cross for all. I am not sure how redemption is finished on the cross, but I do know that this is the ultimate pardon for all. As Jesus was dying on the cross he said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” We forgive, because we have been forgiven. We forgive, because forgiving others precedes forgiveness from God – “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” We forgive, because forgiving others represents Christ to them and to the world. We forgive because we can find healing in forgiveness.

Where there is injury, sow pardon – why? When you hang on to anger and resentment, it only boomerangs back on to you. It is like locking yourself in a prison of your own making. The moment you decide to forgive, God provides so many ways to heal us and help us move on. Unforgiving people are bitter. People who forgive can move on. They are released from the negative holds of the past. They are freed from the burden of bitterness.

Forgiveness is the key to open the door to the abundant life Christ offers. When our heart is open, we are like a magnet and can draw good things into our life. Each act of forgiveness begins with a personal decision, when we wish to be free from the tyranny of anger, resentment and fear. And each act of forgiveness brings us closer to having the life that we truly desire and that God wants us to have.

A woman in a previous church of mine could not get over her hurt. Her husband had left her and it was hard for her to think of him with another woman. She was upset and angry to the point that it affected her appetite, concentration and sleep. Finally, she came to the point where she was afraid of becoming a mental wreck. So one of the things that she tried in order to move on was to pray for him. Although at first it was hard, it began to work for her and eventually had miraculous results. Gradually her anger, frustration and bitterness which was filling her heart became a forgiveness that helped her move on.

How do we forgive? We acknowledge that we have been seriously hurt. We give up the right to get even. Maybe we look for the good behind the wrong doer. And then, with God’s help, we say I forgive you. Maybe you cannot face the person who has hurt you – That is ok. Why not try the prayer of affirmation to Forgive Others found in your bulletin (turn to it). Picture the person in your head and pray:

“I forgive you completely and freely, I release you and let you go. So far as I’m concerned, the incident that happened between us is finished forever. I wish the best for you. I wish for you your highest good. I hold you up to God. I am free and you are free, and all again is well between us. Peace be with you.”

If that is too hard, simply say the person’s name to God, trusting that God knows best. Our natural ways are not God’s ways. When we seek the higher ground and let our best selves come forward, something happens. We can turn the other check. We can sow pardon where there is injury.

Where There is Hatred, Let Me Sow Love – Sunday, July 31, 2016

7-31-2016 Where There is Hatred, Let Me Sow Love

“Where there is hatred, let me sow love”
1 John 4:19-21; John 13:31-35
July 31, 2016, Rev. David Goode

With all the hot weather this week, I thought I would start the sermon with a poem about a frigid night. Six humans trapped by happenstance in bleak and bitter cold; each one possessed a stick of wood, or so the story goes. Their dying fire in need of logs, the first man held his back; for on the faces around the fire he noticed one was black. The next man looking across the way saw one not of his church; and couldn’t bring himself to give the first, his stick of birch. The third one sat in tattered clothes; he gave his coat a hitch. Why should his log be put to use, to warm the idle rich? The rich man just sat and thought of the wealth he had to store; and how to keep what he had earned from the lazy, good-for-nothing poor. The black man’s face spoke revenge, as the fire passed from his sight; for all he saw in his stick of wood was a chance to spite the white. The last man of this pitiful group did naught except for gain. Giving only to those who gave, was how he played the game. Their logs held tight, in death’s still hand, were proof of human sin. They did not die from the cold without; they died from the cold within.

Sin. Selfishness. Hatred. When we withhold our love and care (or firewood as in this poem), it brings death to US. It is not a physical death, as occurred in this poem, but spiritual death. Being dead spiritually allows us to hate others and believe that we are justified in our hating. We pray: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Some of you may be following the United Church of Christ National Youth Event this week. The youth have been doing many different mission-oriented and social justice projects. One of them is Locks of Love, where the youth donate their hair to make wigs for children who have lost theirs. The Roman Catholic Youth event in Poland is also going on. In his message this morning, Pope Francis focused on the theme “reject hatred”. In Russia on Thursday, the trial of 14 people charged of propagating religious hatred began. Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday, “Germany stands against the terrorists’ culture of hatred”. On Wednesday in Paris, Archbishop Cardinal André Vingt-Trois said at an interfaith gathering; “we need to overcome hatred that comes from the hearts of terrorists.” Last week out of Cleveland we heard many words of hatred.

When we hate someone, we want to see them destroyed and we rejoice in their suffering. In other words, hating is vengeful. Hate sets itself in direct opposition to love. Love wants what’s best for the other person; hate wants what’s worst for another person. And we pray: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 LB)

Let’s break this down in some practical ways. Love thinks before it speaks. Love cares about the feelings of others. Love forgives. And we pray: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

First love thinks before it speaks. This is hard for some of us; I know it is hard for me. My friends say that I tend to have a weak filter; speaking before thinking. How many times have you thought, I wish I didn’t say that? Thinking before speaking means we have tact – the ability to avoid what would offend or disturb someone. Tactfulness is the lubrication of relationships. It reduces friction between people. Tact is the ability to know what to say and how to say it.

A new minister’s family received a pie baked by a well-meaning woman who, frankly, could not cook. The pie was just inedible and so, reluctantly, the pastor tossed the pie into the garbage. The pastor was then faced with the dilemma of thanking the baker, while at the same time remaining truthful. After much thought he sent a note with this tactful response: “Thank you for being so kind and thoughtful. I can assure you that a pie like yours never lasts long around our house!” Love takes the time to consider its words and chooses them carefully, realizing that one can never truly take back the words they speak. And we pray: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; help me think before I speak

Second, love cares about the feelings and concerns of others. Love causes us to be more concerned with the feelings and needs of others and less concerned that we get what we want. To put it another way, love is courteous. Robert Fulghum wrote a popular book years ago entitled “Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. Some of us need a refresher course!
• Share everything.
• Play fair.
• Don’t hit people.
• Put things back where you found them.
• Clean up your own mess.
• Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
• Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
• When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic,
hold hands, and stick together.
Love cares about the feelings and concerns of others. And we pray: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; Where there is hatred, let me put others first.

In addition, love forgives. Here are some things the Bible says about forgiveness: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, FORGIVING EACH OTHER, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32). “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But IF YOU REFUSE TO FORGIVE OTHERS, your Father will not forgive your sins.” God does not ask us to forgive others when we are ready to forgive them. We forgive others because we know that in Jesus Christ God has forgiven us. And when God forgives, God forgets. When the writer of the book of Hebrews was trying to explain the work of Christ in our lives, he quoted from the prophet Isaiah, “I will be merciful to them in their wrongdoings, and I will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:12).

One evening, Lucas and Matthew had a fight. Lucas went home and said, I am never going to play with Matthew again. However, the next morning he got ready to go and play with Matthew. Surprised, his older brother said teasingly, “You’re going to play with him again? I thought you two had a fight last night and you were never going to have anything more to do with each other. Funny memory you have.” Lucas looked a little sheepish and as he walked away he said, “Matthew and me’s are good forgetters!” We pray: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; Where there is hatred, let me sow forgiveness.

We want to love as God loves us. Some make fun of my emphasis on loving God and loving all. Our Scripture lesson from first John makes it clear: The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both God and People. Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:37-39). We pray: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love. Amen.

“Lord, Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace” Sunday July 24, 2016

“Lord, Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace”
Psalm 133; Philippians 2:1-8; Matthew 5:9
Rev. David Goode
July 24, 2016

This morning we begin a seven-week sermon series based on the well-known prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. The prayer is printed on the front of the bulletin this morning. What a wonderful prayer for those who want to make a real positive difference in the world today: Lord, Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace.

We pray for peace in a world of conflict and chaos and war. Back in 1935, Gen. Douglas MacArthur stated, “In the last 3,400 years only 268 have been free from wars.” Since 1935, I do not think there has been a day without war in the world! Someone has said, “Peace is that glorious moment in history when everyone stops to reload.” Today all over the world, there are people who espouse hatred, violence and oppression. Lone-wolf attackers; militantly self-righteous and power hungry; xenophobes and fear-mongers. And we dare to pray, Lord, Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace.

We pray for peace in our nation. This week, we heard the acceptance speech of a presidential candidate. John Davidson, a writer for the conservative online magazine The Federalist, began his article summing up the speech in this way: “A great darkness has descended on America. Poverty and violence increase across the land. Armed gangs roam the streets. Illegal immigrants pour across cross our borders. Some of them harbor wicked schemes. Others simply want to steal American jobs.” John Daniel Davidson, July 22, 2016.

Listen again to the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Matthew 5:9 – “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” I wonder what his disciples thought about when they heard these words. You see, at that time their country was under the occupation of the hated Romans. One of Jesus disciples, Simon, was a member of the Zealot party. The Zealots were the “freedom fighters” of the day, who believed that liberation and peace would only come through war. Does that remind you of a few Muslims today? James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven on a group of Samaritans that they were angry with. Peter used to carry a sword under his garments and was quick to use it. Remember when Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter hacked off the ear of Malchus, the servant of the High Priest. During their days, they had battles of divisions, feuds, aggression and hostilities between nations, ethnic groups, and political parties – the troublemakers “out there”.

There was also much conflict in the church. Paul wrote, “I hear that there are divisions among you.” James wrote in his letter to the church, “Where does all these wars and fighting among you come from?” In our reading from Philippians today, Paul addresses a problem of disunity in the church. We learn from the letter that Euodias and Syntyche are fighting and the members of the church are taking sides. Instead of “see how they love one another”; the church can be a place of conflict and fighting; causing pain and hurt.

One day a man decided to conduct an experiment. He put a dog and a cat in a cage together. Initially there was a great struggle. Then they began to live peacefully together. Then he put in the cage a monkey, a tiger, and a bear. After an initial conflict, they began to live peacefully together. Then he put three Christians in the cage. In a short time, nothing was left living in the cage. We laugh, but unfortunately, Christians sometimes cannot seem to get along.

Maybe it is safer to be like the tortoise, pull our heads inside our shell, and try to keep our minds occupied or entertained with less troublesome matters. However, some of us turn to God and to the church to find the peace we so desperately seek. We should be able to find peace in the church. Paul addresses this problem with the most comprehensive and beautiful text on church unity in the Bible. We read this earlier from Philippians 2:1-8. If we are going to be used by God to promote peace and unity in our world, in our church and in our home; Paul says there are some things we need to do.

There can be no peace until we are at peace with the one who created us. Our peace comes from Jesus Christ. Only Christ can bring about a change of heart that we need. Only Christ can forgive the sins that separate us from God. Only Christ’s peace can bring true peace that is everlasting. In Ephesians 2 we read, “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For Christ himself is our peace”. We can be at peace with God because of our savior and lord Jesus Christ.

So the first step to peace is to realize that we are at conflict with ourselves and with our creator. Our will and God’s will are at times far apart. We separate ourselves from God by what we call sin. God came to us in Jesus Christ so that we can be in a healthy, peaceful relationship with God and ourselves.

Second, we accept God’s way of peace in Jesus the Christ. It does not help to hide from God. It does not help to cover up our sins by doing good deeds or denying our wrongdoing. Peace with God comes from being honest with ourselves and letting Christ show us the way.

A child got splinter in her finger. Her father took her to the restroom and set out some tweezers, oint¬ment, and a Band-Aid. She did not like what she saw and said, “Daddy, I just want the Band-Aid.” Sometimes we are like this little girl. We do not want to take a good look at ourselves. We come to Christ with our sin, but all we want is a band-aid. We want to skip the treatment. We want to hide our sin. However, there is no real peace in that. We need to do the hard work of accepting God’s way of peace in Jesus the Christ.

Paul then says, Practice Meekness: “in humility consider others better than yourselves.” This means that we are to place their needs above our needs. When it comes down to a conflict between their needs and ours, we are to yield to them. John Wesley and one of his theological opponents met on a narrow bridge. They could not both cross at the same time. The clergymen said to Wesley, “I never yield to idiots”. Wesley backed his horse off the bridge and said, “I always do.” Seriously, we are to place the needs of others above our own. This cannot happen unless a divine work is occurring within our hearts. Human nature creates conflict saying “me first”. Healing and real peace requires daily attention in prayer, constant submission to God and true meekness with all.

We receive peace in Christ in order to bring peace to others. That is why we pass the peace of Christ with one another most Sundays. That is why at the end of worship are given a commission to go and share God’s peace with others. The Great Commission commands us to make disciples. The purpose of our life is to Love God, love others, and share Christ’s peace with all. We are Christ’s ambassadors of peace and reconciliation to the world. God calls us to be peacemakers, offering real peace to the world. Peacemakers are required to humble themselves and admit their wrongdoings. Peacemakers confront injustice and falseness with truth. Peacemakers go out of their way to make a positive difference in the world. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

“A Brand New Day”

A meditation preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“A Brand New Day” ~ John 20:1-18

Please join me in prayer … O God for whom there are no barriers, no stones too big to remove, roll away our resistance to you.  Let your words fill us with new life and bring us out from the tomb of indifference, alive again in you.  In Jesus name we pray.  Amen.

There’s a children’s skit, “The Littlest Donkey,” in which the setting is a stable … three days after the crucifixion … and the animals … all descendants of the animals who were present in this same stable at the time of Jesus’ birth … and so they’ve grown up hearing the stories of the first Christmas … these animals are trying to come to terms with their grief.

The cat excitedly comes back to the group after witnessing the empty tomb, telling the other animals what she has seen.  Two of the animals ask an important question:  “What does it mean for us?”  The cat’s answer is quick and to the point, “It means our Lord and Master has risen from the tomb – he has been resurrected from death to life as proof of our salvation!”   That’s a rather astute observation for a cat, even one who has a human theologian putting words into its mouth! Read the rest of this entry »

“Just Love Them”

A meditation preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on Maundy Thursday, March 24, 2016 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“Just Love Them” ~ John 13:1-17; 31-35

The disciples were, no doubt, shocked and amazed when Jesus took up the basin and the towel and began to wash their feet.  He was their master!  He was their Lord!  Foot washing is just not something that masters do.  Imagine your surprise if you saw the President of the United States shining someone’s shoes.  What would you think if you saw the Queen of England giving someone a pedicure?

In the days of Jesus, foot washing was typically done by the servants of one’s household, and it wasn’t exactly a glamorous job.  People’s feet get really dry and dirty and calloused and cracked when they walk around for miles in the desert, wearing sandals.  To wash someone’s feet was an act of hospitality and care.  It was also an act of servitude and humility.  No wonder Simon Peter told Jesus, “You will never wash my feet.”  Not Jesus.  Not his master.  Not ever.  Still, there Jesus was with his wash basin and his towel.  He knelt in front of them one by one and washed their feet, calluses and all. Read the rest of this entry »

“Costly Discipleship”

A meditation preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on March 13, 2016 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“Costly Discipleship” ~ John 12:1-8

Please join me in prayer ….. “Holy God, we seek you in the temples of power, but you are found on the margins.  Broaden our vision, widen our understanding, that we may hear your liberating word with open hearts.  Amen.”

Today’s reading from John’s gospel tells a story of extravagant giving – the kind of giving that made Judas just as uncomfortable as it might make any one of us. Jesus is in the town of Bethany, on his way to Jerusalem for the very last time. He stops to spend the evening with Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead not long before. Mary and Martha, Lazarus’ sisters and Jesus’ good friends, are there as well, making dinner, catching up and sharing in fellowship. Read the rest of this entry »

“Seeking God”

A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on February 28, 2016 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“Seeking God” ~ Luke 13:1-9

Turn on the television news … pick up a newspaper … go online or turn on the radio … on any given day.  Without a doubt you will find a report on some catastrophic tragedy somewhere in the world. Only the locations change. Tornadoes, floods, earthquakes and tsunamis … all of them wreaking havoc and altering lives. And behind them … left unreported … are the larger … but somehow less visible … less dramatic tragedies … like the children who died this past Wednesday of hunger.

I don’t know the exact number, because statistics vary and statistics tell the story the statistician wants them to tell, but I do know that it’s roughly the same number who died on Tuesday and Thursday … and every other day, too … every day of the year. In every one of those deaths, families or loved ones grieved … in every one. And at some level, every one of those grieving people probably asked the same question: “Why?” It just doesn’t seem fair. What had any of those folks done to deserve such tragic deaths? Read the rest of this entry »

“Called to Imitate”

A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on February 21, 2016 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“Called to Imitate” ~ Luke 13:31-35

I think I’ve always found this scene where Jesus weeps over the great city of Jerusalem to be kind of touching, and sad.  “How often,” he says, “would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wing, and you were not willing!”

I can hear a father saying to his son, “You could have avoided so much grief and pain if you would listen and learn from my mistakes, but you were not willing.”  I can see a mother, reaching out to hug her teenage daughter, and the girl squirming away in embarrassment.

Resistant, rebellious Jerusalem … knowing itself to be the child of God yet insistent on finding its own way, marching to the beat of its own drum, making its own mistakes, some of them rather impressive.  Like, killing the prophets and all that. Read the rest of this entry »