“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 »

“Advent Love”

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

“Advent Love” ~ Luke 1:26-38

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 Christ’s coming.  Amen.”

According to Luke’s Gospel, the Christmas story begins in the realm of a rich and powerful king. For the early Christians, the name Augustus meant more than a single decree, and Caesar’s birthday was the biggest holiday of the year. People burned incense to Caesar, and Augustus was worshipped as a god.

While the emperor was busy impressing the rich, the powerful, and the famous, God was at work with the downtrodden. Nazareth is a rundown village in the corner of an obscure province. It’s there that we’re told an angel comes to a simple peasant girl.

Throughout the centuries, artists have shown Mary as the picture of femininity, dressed in silk, her oddly golden hair (gold hair on a middle Eastern peasant girl?) braided like a crown around her head, her nails perfectly manicured. She looks so composed that it’s hard to remember she’s just a young girl with very little experience of men, angels, or the world.

Luke makes a stunning understatement, “Mary was perplexed by the angel.”   Well, yeaah! Read the rest of this entry »

“Advent Joy”

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

“Advent Joy” ~ Luke 1:46b-55

Please join me in a word of prayer … “Loving 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.”

It’s bedtime for the nine-year-old boy and, after his prayers, he has one last question for his dad, “Dad, what is praise?”

Surprised by the question, but undaunted (as dads tend to be!) the father responds, “If you go to a standard dictionary you get things like, praise is the ‘act of expressing warm approval or admiration of something or someone.’” The look on his son’s face says that this response doesn’t sound quite right.

“I’m guessing that you’re asking about the word used at church.” Yes. “’Warm approval and admiration’ don’t really cut it, do they, when we’re talking about praising God?” No, they don’t. Read the rest of this entry »

“Advent Peace”

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

“Advent Peace” ~ Mark 1:1-8

Please join me in a word of prayer … “But as for me, I keep watch for the Lord; I wait in hope and in peace for God my Savior.  My God will hear me.  Amen.”

At one time or another, most of us have known the absolute frustration of staring at a blank sheet of paper marked, “Page one.” Getting started is often the hardest part of writing anything, so how hard would it be to begin writing the greatest story ever told? How would you start with recording the story of Jesus?

The Gospel of Mark … and we heard the opening verses read this morning … doesn’t begin like Matthew, Luke, or John. Mark has no shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night … no Mary … no Joseph … no manger … no wise men … no Herod … no expressions like “In the beginning was the Word,” and no baby Jesus. Mark either doesn’t know the stories of Jesus’ birth, or he doesn’t think they’re important enough to keep in the final draft.

Mark starts his Gospel with a wild man in the desert: “This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Child of God.  In a similar vein, Isaiah wrote, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you.  He’s a socially, religiously, politically incorrect prophet.’”

John is the voice crying in the wilderness, the honking horn, the buzzing alarm clock. He wears animal skins and his breath smells of locusts dipped in honey – and that’s on a good day. This John has never seen the inside of a barber shop. Read the rest of this entry »

“Advent Hope”

A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on November 30, 2014 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“Hope” ~ Mark 13:24-37

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 the coming of the Christ Child.  Amen.”

Have you ever known what it means to be really hungry? It starts as a sense of appetite, a feeling that you could really do with a bit of something, maybe a snack. And then it grows, and if you’ve got no way of finding a meal, you begin to feel how fragile you are — an ache in the stomach, your concentration beginning to waver.

Then it becomes hard to do ordinary things, so you look for distractions — something absorbing that takes your attention away and enables you to lose yourself. You start to doubt your own judgment, and you realize you’re becoming incredibly selfish, because you find yourself so caught up in your own desperation that you can’t consider the needs of anyone else.

And when finally you do find food, your ache for the pain to go away is so great that you don’t truly enjoy the food … you don’t savor its taste or texture. You greedily wolf it down, because your body’s taken over and the rest of you has been elbowed aside. Hunger’s drained all the joy, and you’re left with a kind of savage need. Read the rest of this entry »

“Surprised by the King”

A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on November 23, 2014 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“Surprised by the King” ~ Matthew 25:31-46

Please join me in prayer … “God of Love, the words you speak have power … power to create, power to disturb, power to heal.  Help us to hear your creative, disturbing, healing Word for us today.  Amen.”

All through November, our scriptures have been made up of prophesies and parables of what we call the “end times.” These are grand and sobering themes in any season, but they come with a special sense of urgency in this season … this season when we have less light and more cold.  In this season’s darkness, it seems as if the anxiety that so often comes with nighttime is sharper.  In the midst of beheadings and bombings, surrounded by murder in a synagogue in Jerusalem and murder in our cities in North America, we feel a growing concern for our country and our world … we focus on the shadows that may have fallen on our own lives.

The liturgical year—which is what we call our calendar of worship—comes to an end today, in this dramatic Gospel story of the end of time. It’s the grand finale—a blaze of light in the darkness, as we announce Christ the King Sunday.  Then a new liturgical year begins, the season of waiting in the darkness, with Advent blue, the color of the night sky.

The gospel for us today is the third of three parables in Matthew. It’s a story about judgment, a theme presented so often by our friend Matthew, with those unsettling stories and scary warnings. Six of them end with weeping and gnashing of teeth, as someone is cast into the outer darkness. Read the rest of this entry »