“On Saving Lives”

A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on March 1, 2015 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“On Saving Lives” ~ Mark 8:31-38

Please join me in a word of 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.”

Two weeks ago, on Transfiguration Sunday, it was all about the glory. We celebrated as we walked up the mountain with Peter, James, and John to see Jesus shining, and talking with Elijah and Moses. Three days later we came to this communion rail, and on our knees we bowed our heads, receiving a smudge of ashes.

Lent is just full of the emotion we try to protect ourselves from every day we awake. It calls us not only to look at God’s story—but invites us to become involved in it and feel it, to walk the journey and to know that God’s story is our story.

This morning let’s put ourselves in Peter’s place for a bit, and imagine his life with Jesus so far. We’re about half way through Mark’s Gospel today, chapter 8, and I wonder what stories Peter would tell us about his journey. Perhaps he’d start with the call at the Sea of Galilee, “Follow me and fish for people.”  Or their first worship together:  when the man with the unclean spirit burst into the synagogue where Jesus was teaching, and he healed him. Or later, at dinner on that Sabbath day, where Jesus’ power and authority gave way to care and tenderness as he healed Peter’s mother-in-law. Read the rest of this entry »

“God of Covenant”

A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on February 22, 2015 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“God of Covenant” ~ Mark 1:9-15

Please join me in prayer … “God of call, God of transformation, God of the Lenten journey; help us to discern your still, small voice.  Open us to change and growth that we may walk in the wilderness with Jesus.  Amen.”

We often think of Lent as a journey, a journey made up of all the places Jesus stops – as he makes his way from his Transfiguration to his Crucifixion. But in truth, the forty days of Lent represent his forty days in the wilderness, where the only goal worth mentioning was the goal of survival.

Then too, the forty days of Lent represent the forty years the Hebrew people spent wandering in the desert, getting nowhere for two generations. In the Bible, forty means a lot, and those forty days spent going nowhere on the outside represent a huge journey on the inside.

So Jesus spent a lot of days in the wilderness, where the Spirit drove him after his Baptism. Matthew and Luke also tell this story, with a much more elaborate description of the ways Satan tempted him.  Mark is economical. One verse: “He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” (Mk 1:13, NRSV).  That’s it.   Read the rest of this entry »

“Return to God”

A meditation preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC on Ash Wednesday, February 18, 2015 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“Return to God” ~ Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

The prophet Joel tells us that God, like the sound of a trumpet, calls us to return.  Return from where? … Where have we been? … Take a moment to think back over the past week … or the past month … or the past year.  Consider what we’ve done with our time … how we’ve used our abilities … how we’ve spent our money … what we’ve done with our energy … Where has our heart been?

Seasons of the Spirit, Congregational Life, Ash Wednesday liturgy

This idea of repentance, of returning to God … to what we know is good and pure and holy … can be hard to nail down.  Deep down, we may really want to repent, but it’s not always easy to know what “repent” means for you or for me.  Maybe it would help if we looked at an example of what repentance is not.

The story is told of a man with a nagging secret who couldn’t keep it in any longer.  In the confessional he admitted to the priest that for years he’d been stealing building supplies from the lumberyard where he worked.  “How much did you take?” the priest asked.  “Enough to build my own home and my son’s house.  And houses for my two daughters.  And our cottage at the lake.”  “This is very serious,” the priest said.  “I’ll need to think of an appropriate penance.  Have you ever done a retreat?”  “No, Father, I haven’t,” the man replied.  “But if you can get the plans, I can get the lumber.” Read the rest of this entry »

“Transfiguration”

A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on February 15, 2015 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“Transfiguration” ~ Mark 9: 2-9

Please join me in a word of prayer … “Lord Jesus, your light shines within us.  Let not our doubts nor darkness speak to us.  Let our hearts welcome your Word and your Love.  Amen.”

Today is Transfiguration Sunday, and I trust you’ll believe me when I say it’s one of those dates on the church calendar that’s really hard to explain well.  Smarter minds than mine have tried to put Transfiguration Sunday into something like a “sound bite” that we can all understand. The most 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 most fully.  Others will see it as the last opportunity for reveling before we begin the solemn season of Lent.

As I see it, the Transfiguration is more about worship than it is about revelry … it’s about ending the Epiphany season with an exclamation point … before we move into a different kind of worship season.  Worship is what we might really need to explain, if we need to explain anything, on Transfiguration Sunday. Read the rest of this entry »

“What He Came Here For”

A meditation preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on February 8, 2015 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“What He Came Here For” ~ Mark 1:29-39

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.”

In today’s Gospel the whole city is gathering around the door, pressing in to see Jesus. The demands on him were already piling up. He had cured many, cast out demons, and taught constantly.  Jesus was, no doubt, tired – both physically and emotionally. He knew he needed time to withdraw. The Gospel tells us that he left early in the morning to be alone and to pray.

And, of course, his disciples went to find him. When they found him they said, “What are you doing, everyone is searching for you?”

Jesus, I imagine, must have had a moment of real frustration. You know how it is .. when you’re trying to retreat from the demands of your schedule and someone continues to interrupt you. Just how do you “enjoy the journey” when everyone and everything is searching for you, wanting a piece of you, demanding your time?  In Jesus’ case it was even more intense … he had just healed Simon’s seriously ill mother-in-law … so the expectations were enormous. Read the rest of this entry »

“Called, Yet Again”

A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on January 25, 2015 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“Called, Yet Again” ~ Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Mark 1:14-20

Please join me in prayer … “Holy God, we ask you to open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that as the scriptures are read, and your Word is proclaimed, we may hear what you are saying to us today.  Amen.”

The whole world was rocked a few weeks ago by the terrorist attacks in Paris.  Afterward, we witnessed forty world leaders and throngs of ordinary people walking arm-in-arm to signal solidarity and protest against monstrous evil.  In the streets … and on selfie twitters … and on Facebook … and any other way they could, people loudly proclaimed, “We are Charlie!”

Even the magazine Charlie Hebdo did it … on the cover … with their usual satirical twist, showing Muhammad holding the “Charlie sign” – under a headline that said “All is forgiven.”  There were marches across Europe and heightened tensions everywhere, softened only by the fact that one of the French policemen killed was a Muslim.

For most of the 21st Century, the west has lived in fear of Islamist fanaticism.  We have fought a long war, calling it a “War on Terror.”  In the last year or so, our fear and distrust has become even more focused on the group known to many as ISIS, the Islamist State, a very scary army that is attempting to create a new country from parts of Iraq and Syria. Their basic technique is sheer brutality and intimidation.  They have been particularly rough on the Christians, many of whom trace their roots back almost two thousand years in the area. Read the rest of this entry »

“Called”

A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on January 18, 2015 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“Called” ~ 1 Samuel 3:1-20; John 1:43-51

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.”

We are a people, aren’t we, who are preoccupied with jobs and careers – not only with fulfilling the requirements of our own jobs and careers, but with an unwarranted concern for whether our neighbor’s work can be rightly termed job or career.  This is where the question comes from at parties or picnics or wherever two or more are gathered – “What do you do for a living?”  We want  to know these things!

A job, for those who care about such distinctions, is paid employment. For many, it’s a means to an end. It gives us the money we need to live and raise our families. A career is what happens when we have a series of jobs over time. Careers carry a sense of increasing experience, greater responsibility and more money.

And then there’s the calling. It links what we do to some-one else or some-thing else. People often follow a calling even when there’s no money, or power, or notoriety ? they follow a calling because they believe it’s the right thing to do. A calling is there even when we don’t have a job. A calling is there even when we’ve never had a career. A calling is there even after we’ve retired from the world of work. Read the rest of this entry »

“Beloved Child”

A meditation preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on January 11, 2015 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“Beloved Child” ~ Mark 1:4-11

 A poem, instead of the usual prayer, to begin this morning’s message.  Listen, if you will, to this piece about Jesus’s baptism called “The Crossover Point.”

“Here is the crossover point: between Jesus the carpenter and Jesus the preacher; between the private citizen and the public ministry; between the “what if’s?” and the “now what’s?”

Here is the crossover point: through the water of that auspicious river; through the ancient prophecies and the baptizer; through the hopes and longings of the people of God.

Here is the crossover point: and do we stand and watch – or do we find our feet in the water,

hearing that voice within us that says: “I love you.  I am with you.  You are mine”?

Here is the crossover point:  not just Jesus’, but ours, for a voice that has held our names since spoken at our rebirth, calls us once more and says, “Will you come and follow me?”

From “Seasons of the Spirit” worship resources for January 11, 2009 Read the rest of this entry »

“Shining Lights”

A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on January 4, 2015 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“Shining Lights” ~ John 1:1-18

Please join me in a word of prayer ….. “Holy God, you have caused light to shine in our hearts.  That light is the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  Amen.”

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Beautiful, powerful words, but also very deep—and let’s face it:  Very hard for us to fathom.

In the beginning, in the time before time, the Word of God, Jesus Christ, existed … creating the worlds and us.  Coming to us as Bethlehem’s child, the Word made flesh that dwelt among us is full of grace and truth.

The term used for Word in the original text is logos … The same term from which we get our word logic. Logic means ‘an organizing principle’ … in other words, the thing that organizes other things so that the essence is realized. Biologists tell us that DNA is the organizing principle of organic life. DNA is the thing that organizes other things. Without getting too scientific about it, we can say that the code … or logic … of a strand of DNA is what organizes life.

On Christmas Day several years ago, an angry man strapped explosives to himself in an attempt to blow up a plane-load of innocent people. The organizing principles at work in that terrorist act were hatred, anger and a misdirected sense of injustice that he aimed against innocent life.

There are lots of organizing principles at work in our world and at work in us. But the main one, the first one, and the best one is the Word of God— the Word of God who is Jesus Christ, who is Love. That divine organizing principle of compassion, forgiveness, redemption … of God’s love made real, is the essence of the best life of all. Read the rest of this entry »

“The Word Became Flesh”

A meditation preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on December 24, 2014 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“The Word Became Flesh” ~ John 1:1-14

 

Our Advent time of 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 Read the rest of this entry »