A meditation preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on March 9, 2014 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley
“Lost in the Wilderness” ~ Matthew 4:1-11
There are so very many ways to get lost. And most of them include some kind of stumbling over love. Even Jesus had to wrestle with what it meant to be loved, and he had to do it more than once.
When the name Beloved washed over him at his baptism in the Jordan, he didn’t get to sun himself safely afterward. Matthew tells us (and Luke agrees) that he was immediately driven into the wilderness, alone, and beset by powerful temptations. According to Webster, temptation is the enticing, alluring desire to do something unwise. And so it was, for Jesus.
Power. Fulfillment. The freedom to go it alone. These were the temptations that came to Jesus, and it took him days … so many days … weeks of days … to rise above them. Wrestling with temptation seems to be an essential part of the human journey. And for many of us, the struggle lasts for years. And for some, the fall is profound; even into death. Read the rest of this entry »
A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on March 2, 2014 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley
“Transfiguration” ~ Matthew 17:1-9
Please join me in a word of prayer … Lord Jesus Christ, your light shines within us. Let not our doubts nor darkness speak to us. Let our hearts always welcome your Word and your Love. Amen.
Today is Transfiguration Sunday, and I know you’ll believe me when I say it’s one of those dates on the church calendar that’s really hard to explain clearly. Smarter minds than mine have tried to put Transfiguration Sunday into something like a “sound bite” that we can all understand. Perhaps the most that some will say about it is that it’s the last Sunday of the Epiphany season of celebration, Epiphany being the time when God-in-Jesus is revealed to us most fully. Others will claim it as the last opportunity for reveling before we begin the solemn season of Lent. That’s why we often have what we call a Mardi Gras celebration on Transfiguration Sunday, a last chance to “get it all out of our systems” before we move into a season of repentance.
I don’t like to reduce something as significant as the Transfiguration to an excuse to party, even though I enjoy a good party as much as the next person. After all, I grew up in the fastnacht capital of the world, the place right up the road that was even visited by former Today Show host Willard Scott! Read the rest of this entry »
A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on February 23, 2014 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley
“Go Beyond” ~ Leviticus 19:10 and Matthew 5:41 and 46
Please join me in prayer … Holy God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
I’m actually going to reference the book of Leviticus in my message today … something I never in a million years expected to do! It’s often said that every preacher has their favorite texts – the ones we go to over and over again, if we don’t have the lectionary to keep us diversified – and every preacher, as well, has their least favorite texts – the ones we never touch, whether the lectionary forces them on us occasionally or not. Leviticus is very high in the least favorite texts category for me.
A little history to set the stage … The Book of Leviticus gets its name from the Jewish Levitical priests who used it as a manual to help them in their worship plans, among other things. It is a book about worship. And about holiness.
But if you’ve only experienced Leviticus in the American culture wars, you might be thinking, “I’ve been reading the wrong book”.
Because, to our ears, it seems like a book of rules. Of who is in and who is out. Of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. It tends to be used to wound, to exclude, and to control people in today’s usage. But this is not the way it was written … not the original intention at all. Read the rest of this entry »
A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on February 16, 2014 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley
“Right Relationships” ~ Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Our message today takes a look at life through the eyes of some of the “greats” ….. people like Moses … Thomas Edison … and Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi. But, first, we need to start with a toast, because that is exactly what Moses offered the children of Israel in today’s scripture from the book of Deuteronomy.
Standing on the far side of the River Jordan … waiting to cross over … Moses prepares to give his last sermon to his people. Think about the importance of that moment. The Israelites had come out from under the rule of a brutal dictator … wandered in the desert for forty years … and were now standing on the shores of the Promised Land. It was a second chance, it was a new day for their people.
On this momentous occasion, Moses preaches a fiery message to his people, ending with one of the best, big, bring-it-home sermon lines of all time: “Choose life … so that you and your descendants may live.” Actually, I think it was less of a sermon line than a toast. I envision Moses raising his glass ….. like Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” ….. and giving the great Jewish toast “l’chaim,” ….. “to life!” Given what was at stake, I can also imagine Moses mumbling, “And don’t mess it up!” Read the rest of this entry »
A meditation preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on February 9, 2014 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley
“Salt and Light” ~ Matthew 5:13-20
There’s something I’ve noticed lately, and maybe you have as well. Have you noticed how sophisticated we’ve become about our food over the last two or three decades? Every year brings a new flavor trend: one year it’s truffle oil, another year it’s pancetta with everything, another year everything has to be caramelized. It’s as if our mouths are constantly craving new tastes. Even plain old salt isn’t good enough anymore—it needs to be black sea salt, pretending to be something other than sodium chloride.
But the fact is, no matter what the current flavoring trend is, good old sodium chloride is the best seasoning we have. The fact that we eat too much of it only underscores how good it tastes. Every cook knows that the recipe isn’t finished until the salt is added to the pot. Salt gives the best flavor when it’s added to the dish while cooking, not sprinkled on the top at the end—it works best invisibly, flavoring the whole dish. Read the rest of this entry »
A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on January 26, 2014 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley
“Free to Follow Jesus” ~ Matthew 4:12-23
Please join me in prayer … “Loving God, if you say, “Go,” we will go. If you say, “Wait,” we will wait. If you say, “Step out on the water,” and they say it can’t be done, we’ll fix our eyes on you and we will come.” Amen.
One of my favorite definitions of vocation comes from the book Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC by Frederick Buechner. He says,
“Vocation comes from the Latin vocare, meaning ‘to call.’ It means the work a person is called to by God. There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than the voice of Society … or the Super-Ego … or Self-Interest.
By and large, a good rule for finding out is this. The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work that
- You need most to do and
- The world most needs to have done.
If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement a … but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement b. On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement b, but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed “a” but you probably aren’t helping your patients much either.
“The place God calls you to,” Buechner concludes, “is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
I would say that vocation is more about who you are, than about what you do.
We continue this Sunday with the idea that God has called us, not just by name, but to a special purpose. When we find and claim our own vocation – that which fulfills us and creates good in the world – we are freed from the bonds of what others may expect of us or claim for us. Discipleship comes in many, and sometimes unlikely, forms. Read the rest of this entry »
A meditation preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on December 24, 2013 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley
“Sacred Being” ~ Luke 2:1-20
Well … the time for waiting is finally over!
Angels sing of great joy for all people … shepherds race to the small town of Bethlehem, to a barn behind the village inn. In the barn they discover a newborn child of peasant parents lying in an animal’s feeding trough. As unlikely as it would appear to the ordinary person, these shepherds working the midnight shift see a wonderful miracle. They return to their sheep, celebrating and praising God with great enthusiasm for what they’ve seen.
Believe it or not, this was not big news in Jerusalem that night. The great Roman Empire missed it.
Yet this is the event that brings cries of joy and celebration from the lips of kings and prophets of Israel throughout the ages.
“You have multiplied the nation,” our scripture claims, “you have increased its joy, they rejoice before you… For a child has been born for us, a son given to us…” Isa. 9:3&6
The writer of the New Testament letter known as Titus reflects back on the event and points to the reason for the joy and celebration. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all…”
And today, 2000 years later – we, too, come to celebrate the birth of a peasant child who was born in a barn. Read the rest of this entry »
A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on December 22, 2013 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley
“Love” ~ Matthew 1:18-25
Please join me in prayer … “I wait for you, God, with longing; I put my hope in Your word. My soul waits for God more eagerly than watchers for the morning – more eagerly than watchers for the morning. Amen.”
In this season of Advent waiting and Advent longing … in a year where John the Baptist gets not one but two Sundays to shine … today belongs to Joseph.
Tradition tells us that Joseph was the strong, silent type – an older carpenter who willingly submitted the rest of his life to a rather doubtful form of “fatherhood” … fatherhood in name only. That same tradition tempts us to see Joseph as something of a second-string player in the drama of God’s human birth.
That’s tradition, but according to scripture, none of this is true. All that’s actually recorded in the Bible is that Joseph was a dreamer – a righteous man who transformed the meaning of righteousness by taking his dreams seriously.
To be righteous, according to Torah, is to be law-abiding. And so, as a law-abiding Jewish man, Joseph could have had Mary stoned to death. That was the punishment commanded by Torah, in the twenty-first chapter of Deuteronomy, for engaged women who slept with other men. But, to be righteous, according to Torah, also means to be merciful – so Joseph, a man of compassion, decided that, instead of stoning, he would dismiss Mary as his wife, quietly. Read the rest of this entry »
A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on December 15, 2013 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley
“What Do You Expect?” ~Matthew 11:2-11
Please join me in prayer …. “Holy One … we are learning, in this season of Advent … important lessons about our expectations. Help us to see that we are shaped, as human beings, by what we anticipate. May our anticipations match your vision for our world. Amen.”
We say that the season of Advent is a season of waiting. We try to persuade ourselves that if we just say that often enough, it will become true. Advent is a season of waiting. Advent is a season of waiting. Advent is a season of waiting.
But it’s not. No matter how often we say that it’s a season of waiting, Advent is really a season of impatience. Sure, there are other times throughout the year when we experience impatience. But this season, the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, this season is the height of impatience, when all our anxiety and hurry and worry are concentrated into four short weeks.
We’re busy preparing, each of us in our individual way, for something special to happen to us. Is this the right gift, or should we seek another? Is this the right way for me to serve the poor, or must I look for another? Is this the party I was waiting for, or is it another one? Is this the moment with my family that I was waiting for, or was I waiting for something else? Read the rest of this entry »
A meditation preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on December 8, 2013 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley
“Peace – Advent Two” ~ “Matthew 3:1-12”
Please join me in a word of prayer … “Holy God, help us to give voice to the wonderful news: you, yourself are coming to dwell among us! Quicken our imaginations to find new and creative ways to proclaim your coming. Amen.”
Well, it seems there’s no getting through the Advent season without paying our dues to John the Baptist! Such a great, feel good, season of anticipation, with its messages of hope, peace, joy and love ….. but we’ve got to make a stop with John the Baptist … we need to digest his message of preparation ….. preparation by way of repentance. I’d just as soon bypass this man, the one who personifies the harsher side of Advent.
Have you heard the expression … “in John the Baptist’s message, there’s something to offend everyone”? There’s more than a little bit of truth to that claim. In today’s lesson he strikes out at the Pharisees and Sadducees … the religious establishment. We like it when he picks on them instead of on us … the “regular” disciples! John criticizes their ethnic pride … their lack of good works.
Then he starts to move a little closer to us “regular” disciples! He tells the tax collectors to stop fleecing the people …. even though this was their only means of livelihood. He told the soldiers to do violence to no one, to accuse no one falsely, and to be content with their rations or wages. The rich were told to share with the poor. “He who has two coats, let him give to the one who has none.” Read the rest of this entry »