“When I Was a Child”

A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on January 31, 2016 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“When I Was a Child” ~ Luke 4:21-30

Please join me in a word of prayer ,,, “Holy God, when we were children, we spoke, thought, and reasoned like children.  As people emerging into an adult faith, help us to put an end to childish ways, while retaining our child-like sense of wonder. Amen.”

The story we just heard from Luke is of Jesus’ first sermon…actually it’s the first thing he says at all in Luke’s Gospel.  Jesus had just come back from the Wilderness where he had been tempted by Satan for 40 days – and returning to his home town he entered the temple where he chose to read these words of Isaiah “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” Jesus preached, “because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. . The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him and I’m sure everyone was like, “wait. What just happened?” Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Read the rest of this entry »

“Filled With Expectation”

A meditation preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on January 10, 2016 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“Filled With Expectation” ~ Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Once again, this morning’s Gospel reading takes us back into the season of Advent.  If we were to begin our scripture just a few verses sooner, we’d hear those familiar words from December, those challenging words John the Baptist uses when he calls the people coming to him for baptism a “brood of vipers” … we’d relive those words John uses to accuse them of running to him for their baptism of repentance … to submit to him in order to flee harsh consequences for their behavior.  To his credit, John doesn’t just rant against the people.  He gives illustrations … he tells the people what it means to repent, he instructs them on how to bear fruit worthy of repentance.  The words are familiar … have two coats?  Share one … tax collectors, don’t take more than you’re required to collect … soldiers, don’t use your position to extort money.

In addition to being familiar, the words are both ancient and contemporary … how can we miss the parallel messages for then and now?  Two coats?  There’s someone just around the corner with none and you know what to do about that.  Credit card companies?  People living on the edge depend on you to be fair in your charges.  Big business and financial institutions?  Treat your workers AND your customers fairly … Use the “golden rule” if you don’t know what fair treatment looks like.  Everybody knows and understands the golden rule.  Any one of these scenarios could be, literally, life or death for the powerless.  Sharing resources and sharing power does not make the giver weak.  Quite the opposite, in fact, but we aren’t always conditioned to see it that way. Read the rest of this entry »

“Gifts Fit For a King”

A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on January 3, 2016 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“Gifts Fit for a King” ~ Matthew 2:1-12

Please join me in prayer … Loving God, who comes to us in the gurgles of a newborn child … as the wise ones of old, we too wish to bring gifts.  What would you ask of us?  What can we bring to you?  Help us to ask this question each day, every day … for you come to us each day, every day.  Amen.

We’ve just completed what might have seemed like a long season of waiting and preparing ourselves for the coming of God’s light into the world.  Some might wonder why all the fuss.  For them, the world is already a place full of light and joy, full of all they could ever want or desire–family, career, success, prestige.

But for many people – even in our own communities and neighborhoods – their experience of life in this world is full of darkness.  Theirs has been a life of grief and loss, a life of broken dreams and shattered hopes, a life of failure and shame.

This is that time of year when there’s more darkness than light during the day.  But the kind of darkness I’m talking about is a darkness that does not depend on the season of the year or the time of day.  It is a darkness that can and does come at any time. Read the rest of this entry »

“The Best Gift of All”

A meditation preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on December 24, 2015 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“The Best Gift of All” ~ Christmas Eve

Heartwarming Christmas stories are plentiful this time of year, whether you look for them on the internet, in books, on television, or listen for them on the radio.  Here’s a particularly meaningful story I recently ran into on the internet … it’s a story about a man named Henry and his unusual encounter with the holy, on this holiest of nights.  Let’s listen together to Henry’s story: Read the rest of this entry »

“Advent Joy”

A meditation preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on December 13, 2015 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“Advent Joy” ~ Luke 3:7-18

Please join me in prayer ... “Create in us clean hearts, O God, so our lives may reflect the generosity, integrity, and contentment worthy of Christ’s followers. As we journey to Bethlehem in this season, we pray the gates may open wide for us, and for the many others who wish to love and welcome your Son and stream into his presence. Amen.

Well, Christmas is nearly here, so there’s probably no one here not looking towards Bethlehem with real longing. Do you want to go to Bethlehem? Getting there hasn’t ever been easy.

Let’s face it, John says, your tender feelings aren’t enough. And your pedigree as children of Abraham isn’t enough, either. What matters most, John says, is what you do, and how you live.

A number of years ago Norman Cousins wrote an editorial in The Saturday Review in which he reported a conversation he had on a trip to India. He talked at length with a Hindu priest named Satis Prasad. The man said he wanted to come to our country to work as a missionary among the Americans. Read the rest of this entry »

“Longing for Peace”

A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on December 6, 2015 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“Longing for Peace” ~ Luke 3:1-6

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.”

Well, here we are on the second Sunday of Advent, the Sunday dedicated to PEACE, and I have to admit I’m not feeling very peaceful.  This past week’s killings in San Bernardino are typical of behavior that has become all too common, both in our nation and in our world.

They leave me churning in a way that is cynical at best.  How many of these events can our collective psyche tolerate?  They need to be addressed, yet what do we say that is the least bit helpful or enlightening?  The whole world, it seems, is becoming undone. Read the rest of this entry »

“Looking for Signs of Hope”

A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on November 29, 2015 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“Looking For Signs of Hope” ~ Luke 21:25-36

Please join me in a word of prayer … God, the words you speak have power: power to create, power to disturb, power to heal.  Help us to hear your Word for us today.  Amen.

“Be on your guard!”  This is Jesus’ advice to us … advice given in no uncertain terms … better to call it a warning, actually.  This warning comes straight out of today’s reading from the 21st chapter of the Gospel of Luke.

We might be tempted – I’m tempted, in any event – to think of this as odd, out-of-place advice, coming as it does at the beginning of the Advent season.  This is a time when we’d rather anticipate the joy of the coming Christmas season than to be “on our guard” against unspecified dangers. Still, mindfulness is Jesus’ warning to us this day. Pay attention to the details – to the signs around you. In other words, “Be alert.” Read the rest of this entry »

“Thy Kingdom Come”

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

“Thy Kingdom Come” ~ John 18:33-37

Here’s a little “preaching secret” I’ll share with you … When I sit down to begin my sermon preparations each week, one of my favorite tasks is to go to the websites where different preachers weigh in with their commentary on the scriptures of the week.

Hands down, the best part of their writings involve stories – real-life stories from their own lives or others’ lives.  These are stories that are in some way connected – in their minds, at least – with the scriptures of the day and they are often delightful – sometimes worth sharing, sometimes not.

Rev. Tripp Martin of Day 1 ministries tells the following story related to this morning’s Gospel reading … Read the rest of this entry »

“Holy Ground”

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

“Holy Ground” ~ Mark 13:1-8; 1 Samuel 1:4-20

Please join me in a word of prayer … Loving God, your Word is a lamp to our feet, and a light to our path.  Give us grace to receive your truth in faith and love.  Amen.

Over the course of the past two Sundays, we’ve taken a look at some scripture texts that are often used one way, when, in reality, something else was intended when they were written.  Two weeks ago Ruth told her mother-in-law Naomi “wherever you go, I will go.  Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.”  The temptation to use this scripture in weddings is strong – if we forget that marriage is a two-way proposition, with both parties giving AND receiving, while Ruth’s offer puts her in the position of being the only one doing the giving in the relationship.

Last Sunday, we considered the widow who gave “all she had to live on” to the temple treasury.  Again, we resisted the temptation to misuse this text as a lead-in for a sermon on stewardship, when our style of stewardship – be it a 10% tithe or something similar – comes nowhere close to giving our all.  Instead, we considered this widow’s relationship to Jesus’s own all-encompassing gift.

Well, today is a different story!  “What large stones and what large buildings!”  There’s a stewardship sermon lurking there and it’s time for us to explore it.  Think about it … We love bold. We love big. We love better. That’s the human motto, in every form, it seems. The bigger, the better. The disciples are no different than we are and we are no different than the disciples were back then. Read the rest of this entry »

“Better Off?”

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

“Better Off?” ~ Mark 12:38-44

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.”

“Everything she had.” That’s what she gave. Not a portion. Not a tithe. Not a percentage. The Greek is clear.  She gave “all she had to live on.”  Her whole living.

Her whole living? Is that even fathomable?  None of us can give that to the church, or to anyone or to anything, for that matter. So we can’t reduce her donation to a percentage or a portion. We can’t rationalize her offering for the sake of dedication to a stewardship campaign, as we’re so often tempted to do with this story. Mark is telling us that she gave her whole life to God. If we turn this into a stewardship sermon, we have most certainly succeeded in undermining this widow’s gift.

Her whole life. Why would she do that? Out of obligation? Respect? Demand? Expectation? Religiosity? Piety? All of the above? She gave her whole life because there were no other options. She gave her whole life because that’s what was expected of her. She gave her whole life because her life literally depended on it. Caught in a system of quid pro quo, trapped in expectations that demanded more from her than she could practically give, knowing that her future depended on her present, she had to do what she did. She acted out of assumptions and assertions and assessments that located her, managed her, and determined her life. There was no other recourse than to give her whole life. Read the rest of this entry »