“Gospel-Worthy Living”

A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on September 21, 2014 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“Gospel-Worthy Living” ~ Matthew 20:1-16

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

Our scripture states … “And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us … who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’

This story of the workers in the vineyard can really offend our sense of fairness and justice, can’t it? Talk about an employer who doesn’t seem to have a clue!  What would inspire any CEO to pay a group of workers the same for one hour’s work as he paid for twelve hours?  Where’s the incentive to be a “go-getter” for the company good?

I say, it’s a wonder those “first shift” guys didn’t form a Vineyard Workers’ Union right then and there … and demand negotiations … and organize a boycott of the vineyard owner for unfair labor practices. At the very least, I’ll bet their spouses and families got an earful when they got home from work … about a lunatic landowner with no sense of fair play and no understanding of what it’s like to labor all day in the hot sun.

Imagine how different the scene might be in the home of one of those who only worked for an hour …  “Honey, you’re not going to believe what happened! I was really starting to get worried because I didn’t get hired early this morning, and I was afraid we wouldn’t have enough money for dinner. But the weirdest thing happened. At five o’clock this guy came around, and he said “Come on, I’ve got some work for you in my vineyard.”

So, I only got to work for an hour, but would you believe it, he paid me a whole day’s wages, just like everyone else! You should have heard them griping! I guess maybe it’s not exactly fair, but I’m really glad he did it. We desperately need the money, and I was more than eager to work for it.” Read the rest of this entry »

“The Power of Forgiveness”

A meditation preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on September 14, 2014 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“The Power of Forgiveness” ~ Matthew 18:21-35

“How many times, Lord, should I forgive?  Seven times is a lot of forgiveness … should I forgive seven times?  What are the guidelines here, Jesus?  Give me the exact number so I’ll know when I’ve done enough.  It’s hard to forgive some people even once, so seven times should be plenty.  Or is seven overdoing it?  I don’t want people to think I’m crazy, after all.”

“No, no, no, Peter”.. ‘no’ to all of us who are Peter .. ‘no’ to all of us who want limits on how much forgiving we’re called to do.  Seven times is nowhere near enough forgiveness for those of us who want to be called disciples of Jesus.  Seventy-seven times is much closer to the truth.

This is a hard passage, isn’t it?  Not only does Jesus say there are to be no limits on the number of times we forgive, he also calls for an unlimited “type” of forgiveness …. Jesus says we must forgive our brother or sister “from our heart.”  Another way of saying the same thing would be to say that, as disciples, forgiveness is to be a way of life for us, a spiritual discipline that never ends.  After giving Peter the hard facts about the numbers, Jesus goes on to give an example that seems almost as impossible as the “seventy-seven times” requirement. Read the rest of this entry »

“To Be Taken Seriously”

A message preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on September 7, 2014 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“To Be Taken Seriously” ~ Matthew 18:15-20

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.”

When considering the concept of community in this morning’s Gospel text, it’s interesting to note that the psychiatrist Scott Peck wrote, about communities, that they often pass through four stages of development. Peck called the most common, initial stage of building community “pseudocommunity.” And sadly, “pseudocommunity” is often the only stage that many communities will know.

In pseudocommunity, everyone pretends that they are already a community and that they really know each other, even though they really know very little about each other. In pseudocommunity, people assure themselves they have only superficial differences and no reason for deep conflict. In other words, “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”

Every sermon is “interesting,” or at least “thought-provoking.” Every paper deserves at least a B-plus.  In pseudocommunity, people mind their manners no matter what they might be thinking behind a polite smile. Conversation stays general: “How’ve things been goin’ lately?” “Good … busy. And you?” “Yeah, same here.” Read the rest of this entry »

“So Who Needs Shoes?”

A message shared with the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on August 31, 2014 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“So Who Needs Shoes?” ~ Exodus 3:1-15

Imagine what’s possible …… Do you ever just let your imagination run free with possibilities?  With “imaginings”?  With “what if” scenarios?  It’s an activity that invites big ideas, doesn’t it?  For example, What if:

*What if I were to get involved in a literacy program and help an adult or a child who’s struggling to learn to read?  Our “Book Review” group … and some members of our Mission Committee, as well, are reading Rob Shindler’s book, Hot Dogs and Hamburgers … the story of a man who was inspired to help other adults learn to read because he needed to find a way to help his struggling son do the same.

Do you want to know the reason one of the adult learners gave for wanting so desperately to learn to read?  He was sick and tired of eating just hot dogs and hamburgers, but those were the only words he recognized on menus, so that’s what he ordered every time he ate out.  He didn’t want to embarrass himself by asking for help with the other menu listings.  What if lives are enriched and people actually eat better because of Shindler’s book? Read the rest of this entry »

“Liminal Space”

A meditation preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on August 10, 2014 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“Liminal Space” ~ Matthew 14:22-33

Please join me in a word of prayer … “Eternal God, in the reading of the scripture, may your Word be heard; in the meditations of our hearts, may your Word be known; and in the faithfulness of our lives, may your Word be shown.  Amen.”

A Gospel riddle for you … When is a boat more than just a boat? The answer … When “the boat” Matthew is writing about is the Church. Typically, when Matthew says “boat,” we need to think “church.”  In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus and his friends spend a lot of time in boats. Matthew tells two stories about dark and stormy sailing trips on the lake. In today’s story, the disciples are in the boat, all on their own, without Jesus.

The fishermen among them know enough to be troubled about sailing the lake at night. They know that they will be helpless if a strong wind comes along. On this particular night the wind and waves are against them, but they survive.  Then, in the morning, Jesus comes to them. When they see him walking over the waves, they are terrified.

So…..if the boat is more than a boat, in this case, then Peter is more than just Peter. He’s the representative follower of Jesus—not just the representative of the first twelve, but a stand-in for all future generations of disciples, including you and me. He steps out, betting that Jesus is really there with him. He’s not so sure of what he can see, any more than Matthew’s church … or you and I … can be absolutely certain that Jesus is always with us. Read the rest of this entry »

“Wrestling With God”

A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC on August 3, 2014 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“Wrestling With God” ~ Genesis 32:22-31

Today, we’re treated to one of the more dramatic events in Jacob’s story … a story that’s filled with dramatic events.  We know that Jacob struggled from the very first … struggled with his twin brother, Esau, even while they were still in their mother’s womb.  “If it is to be this way, why is it that I live?”  Rebekkah demanded … as she let go of the illusion of sweet, laughing babies … abandoned her fantasy of twin brothers who would grow up to be the best of friends.

She had great fears about the future of her boys, and for good reason!  Even God told her that “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you will be divided.”  It certainly didn’t sound much like the beginnings of a great dynasty to Rebekkah.  Where had God’s promise of a great nation gotten lost?  Could such a promise be fulfilled in the midst of intense family feuding?

Jacob continued to struggle in every way he knew how, in every situation that presented itself where he didn’t naturally come first.  He couldn’t let go of the feeling of frustration that came with knowing that he was not the first born.  Jacob, as we know, grabbed onto his twin brother’s heel as they were born, struggling to get into first place.  From the very beginning he understood the significance of birthright and blessing, and he did everything within his power to get these things, whether or not they were rightfully his. Read the rest of this entry »

“Hurricane Sandy”

HPUCC, as most of you know, has a long history of sending commissioned work camp crews to various parts of the country in response to storms and natural disasters; and you heard Ned reference that in the course of our history the crews have become more “diverse”. When I first joined this church in 1999 there was a work crew preparing to go to Iowa to work on homes that had been damaged by a tornado. Naturally I was ready to pack my bag and hop on board. But I soon learned that the adult work camp trips were for men only, they had never had a woman go before and weren’t sure how that could be handled J Well 15 years later, I am very happy to say, we’ve figured out how to “handle it”, and this past June the crew that went to Staten Island numbered 6 women and 5 men. I’m sure it’s changed the dynamic of the trips but hopefully we are better work crews for it. At least now there are people along who are willing to ask for directions when the way gets lost! Read the rest of this entry »

“The Extravagant Sower”

A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC on July 13, 2014 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“The Extravagant Sower” ~ Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

The parable of the Sower is one of seven such stories in Matthew’s 13th chapter.  Very different stories, they’re all parables on the nature of the kingdom of heaven.  “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed,” it’s “like treasure buried in a field, like yeast, like a pearl of great price, like a net let down in the sea.”

I don’t know what the people came to hear that day.  If they were looking for a scholarly lecture in theology, they were certainly disappointed.  What they got were more like dreams, or poems, in which images of God’s kingdom are passed before them … images that are as familiar as the crops in their own fields and the loaves of bread in their own kitchens … but with a strange new twist.  Jesus seems to be saying that these ordinary things have something important to tell us about God’s purpose for us.  Jesus seems to be saying that these ordinary things are illustrations of some truth … a truth that seems clear to them one minute, and then hidden in the next minute. Read the rest of this entry »

“Yoked”

A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on July 6, 2014 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“Yoked” ~ Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Please join me in prayer … “Loving God, in the reading of the scripture, may your Word be heard; in the meditations of our hearts, may your Word be known; and in the faithfulness of our lives, may your Word be shown.  Amen.”

Some days, the Bible is more difficult than others. I don’t just mean difficult to live as it suggests; that’s nearly always challenging!  I mean, some days it’s just plain difficult to understand. Not only do we have to sort through a world-view that’s two thousand years old, where the earth is flat and the sun moves around it, and any kind of illness must be caused by a demon—we also have to translate its images and stories and metaphors into ones that make sense for our own day and time.

Here’s just one example … in the early twenty-first century, well over 50 percent of the world’s population lives in cities. Yet only about 100 years ago 80-90% of people were agriculturalists, and only a small percentage lived in cities. This was also true in Jesus’ time … lots of business and intrigue took place in Rome, and in Jerusalem … but most people lived in small towns or villages, and made their living from the land. So, you could tell parables about weeds and wheat, about sowing seeds on the path and on good ground, and about lost sheep…and your listeners would know immediately what those things were like. Read the rest of this entry »

“Rewards of Welcome”

A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on June 29, 2014 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“Rewards of Welcome” ~ Matthew 10:40-42

This morning’s Gospel according to St. Matthew tells us that the disciples are about to go on a mission. They’re heading out to share the gospel message … by casting out unclean spirits and by curing every disease and sickness. This is a tall order and they’re going to need serious provisions. But Jesus has instructed them to go out with only the clothes on their back … that’s it … no extra tunic, no money, no food. The only thing they have to rely on is the kindness of strangers. Hospitality is their only provision.

Behind Jesus’ instructions to the disciples, I hear a lesson for us all … hospitality is crucial to the message of forgiveness and healing, of justice and mercy, of righteousness and hope. No hospitality … no gospel message. So … if hospitality is so important, how do we go about practicing it? According to Jesus’ instructions, by offering a cup of cold water.

Really, Jesus? It’s that simple? It’s that small? You’re talking about the advancement of a kingdom! If something that big relies on hospitality, how is a cup of cold water going to adequately express it? How is such a small act of kindness going to change anything? How is “being nicer” going to bring God’s kingdom to earth, as it is in heaven?

How is that cold cup of kindness a meaningful expression of hospitality? In spiritual terms, that small gesture takes seriously the instructions Jesus gives to the disciples: “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” According to the Jewish law of Jesus’ time, a person’s messenger was the same as that very person. Like Paul says in Galatians, “You welcomed me as Christ Jesus.” To welcome a disciple with even a cup of cold water is to receive Christ, and to receive Christ is to receive God. Read the rest of this entry »