June 21, 2015 Sermon

Sermon:  Mark 4:26-31

Dance in the Hurricane

Thursday night the African American Episcopal Church in Lebanon had a vigil to pray for and with their sister congregation, Mother Emmanuel. A colleague and fellow UCC pastor went to the vigil both to find a space and place to share her own grief and to offer support to a community reeling from the surreal reality of the week. This pastor is not new to being in difficult situations. She’s not new to standing up and speaking out in places that might put her in danger. She’s not new to knowing that following Jesus can and does include risk. However, she had a new experience Thursday night. During a time where all gathered were invited to speak, A young white male stood in the back and said these simple words:

I was hoping that I would find a gathering like this tonight.

Chills ran down this pastor’s spine.

FEAR

FEAR followed by a barrage of what ifs

Could be’s

And back up plans

She shared with me it was her first time she truly tasted lethal fear. Lethal fear in a place where you should never have that feeling. Lethal fear that now seems reasonable after the massacre in the South Carolina AME Church.

 

It turns out that her fear was not founded. This young white man was looking for a community to grieve and lament with. This young white man was upset about the shootings. It might have been otherwise.

 

Fear can fuel otherwise.

 

Fear is a powerful emotion: it quickens the heart; heightens the senses.

Fear transforms the body. In a life or death moment, it gifts us with super human strength. It is a very real and necessary emotion for survival.

 

Over the course of a lifetime, living in a sea of fear corrodes the body. It chisels away at the immune system, strains the cardiovascular system, and eats away at energy and vitality. Fear, though necessary in some moments, can take the human out of humanity. If unchecked, fear can divide people from themselves, their families, friends, and faith.

 

Fear is a potent feeling that when worshiped leaves little room for

Rational thought

Love of neighbor

The bigger picture

Hope for a different tomorrow

God.

 

Fear convinces us that we are in our boat alone.

We need to take care of it ourselves.

Anything different from us or our plans is to be tamed, controlled, condemned—and in some cases even killed.

 

But fear–life or death, lethal fear is indeed potent.

 

It is that kind of fear that Mark first writes about in today’s Gospel passage. The disciples in the boat weren’t just afraid. They weren’t just unsure. They feared for their very lives.

 

They disciples ask Jesus–

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

That’s fear.

Life or death.

Lethal fear.

 

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

 

I imagine in addition to being afraid; they were angry. After all, it was Jesus who told them to get in the boat. It was Jesus who decided to take a siesta below board. With Jesus in the boat, they shouldn’t have had to worry about storms anyway, should they? That’s what having Jesus in your boat means, right? A map to sail a smooth course. A guarantee to glide to the other side without storms. I know I have heard a lot of Christians talking about the power of having Jesus with them.

The power of Jesus to Save. Rescue. Fix. Cure.

Except in this story, Jesus is in the boat—and they sail into a storm.

Except that following Jesus—for the disciples and for us—often means sailing into the hurricane rather than away from it.

Except for some people the storms don’t seem to stop, and their ship really does go down.

 

Storms happen–with or without Jesus in your boat.

 

In this case, the disciples don’t even ask Jesus to calm the storm. They ask if he cares what’s happening to them. From his apathy below the deck, it can seem like he doesn’t. I don’t know that I believe Jesus doesn’t care, but I can understand how the fear of the moment would lead the disciples to believe this. I also know that Jesus’ snarky questions to the disciples –Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?–

might make me feel a little mad.

 

Really? Jesus? Really?

The boat was literally being swamped.

I imagine the disciples thinking

OF COURSE WE WERE AFRAID?!?

 

It can be easy for us as 21st century people to forget that we know what the disciples are just beginning to figure out.

Jesus is not your ordinary rabbi. Jesus is the incarnation. God with us.

In this story, they witness Jesus’ authority over the wind and the rain. His authority is beyond our wildest imaginings and how he chooses to execute his power confounds and confuses.

 

With Jesus the disciples may enter storms, but it will be possible to find a peace. In the midst of the turmoil, there is a deeper peace that can be found. What we know, that the disciples don’t, is that this storm is just the beginning. It is a simple foreshadowing of what is to come. For they will follow Jesus to the end. The disciples will witness his death, and their faith will be further tested. The disciples will see what seems to be the storm conquering. But what the disciples discover, and we proclaim as the Good News is that even death does not have the last word.

We know that after crucifixion comes resurrection.

We worship a God that not only knows what it is to sail in the storm but also to go down with it.

Our God also knows what it is to be raised from this drowning.

That is the promise of our faith.

 

It can be easy to loose sight of this when fear looms large.

Let’s face it

Fear looms large right now.

We live in a culture of fear. A simple glimpse at the news is enough to make anyone paranoid about any other. See a person in a hijab. Sure enough that is a possible terrorist. See a person of color. They are taking over “our” country and a threat to the USA. See a Mexican immigrant—they want to sell drugs or take “your” job. See a police officer—they just want to brutalize people. The gospel of fear will convince you that anyone and everyone that is the least bit different from you is suspect. Go on high alert and be ready to tame, control, contain…and in some cases kill.

 

As Christians, we are not called to preach or practice the gospel of fear. We are to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.

 

In a week like this, what could that possibly be?

 

Friends, this week we need to remember that the nine women and men gunned down in South Carolina are our sisters and brothers in faith. We are part of one body. And when one part hurts–ALL hurt. When one part suffers–ALL suffer. When one part is targeted or terrorized–WE all are.

 

Friends, the women and men who were murdered at Emmanuel AME are our sisters and brothers

Our mothers and fathers

Our daughters and sons.

They have perished at hands of senseless violence

Like too many of our sisters and brothers of color.

It is just one more story in a long litany of stories of violence, murder, and betrayal.

 

Do we not care that they are perishing?

 

I can understand if our sisters and brothers of color would ask us the same question that the disciples asked Jesus.

 

Do we not care that they are perishing?

 

I don’t know about you, but I know I care.

My guess and hope is that you care too.

That you care more than you know or realize.

Perhaps you too have been mired in fear

Fear of losing

Fear of risk

Fear of change

Fear of not knowing what to say or what to do

Fear of doing something wrong

For doing nothing is better than doing something wrong.

 

Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase or seen the hashtag

#blacklivesmatter

I believe that hashtag is a way of asking us that question

Do you not care that we are perishing?

There has been a bit of pushback against this phrase. Most notably a counter statement that proclaims

#alllivesmatter.

To that I say, of course all lives matter!

We might do a good job of saying that

But sisters and brothers in Christ,

We had better start practicing it.

 

We can no longer afford to live in the paralysis of our fear. We are already in the storm. What matters now is how we choose to sail through it knowing that we have Jesus in the boat with us, knowing that we are not the authority over the wind and the rain, but we follow the One who does.

 

I was reminded of the importance of choosing how we sail shortly after I heard the news reports about the shooting in Charleston.

I heard a song on the radio called “The Eye” and the refrain continues to haunt me. Brandi Carlisle sings, You can dance in a hurricane

But only if you’re standing in the eye.

 

We may be in a hurricane. But I believe that our faith will lead us to the eye and keep us in the eye. Sisters and brothers from the eye we can accomplish most anything:

We can find the courage to ask for and truly listen to stories of people of color.

We can find voice to speak up, and when we see something, say something. And say it again And again, and again. Until change begins.

We can find the strength to take a stand against hate.

We can find the theological conviction to name the sins of racism and bigotry. We can name terrorism for what it is. Even when—especially when—it happens on our own soil by one of our own against one of our own.

 

Most importantly, we can find the audacity to dance. When terror strikes at the heart, we might be tempted to turn in, lock our doors, and say a prayer that it is not us or in our house. We might be tempted to turn away the other. This is the time to do just the opposite. It is time to fling our doors wide open. To take to the streets and sing the Good News at the top of our lungs. It is time to dance in the eye of the hurricane.

Sermon Preached on June 7, 2015

Impression is a complicated word.

An Artist makes impressions of objects with paper and a pencil or crayon revealing details. An impressionist painter shows his/her way of interpreting a scene, painting with unmixed primary colors in a certain way showing reflective light. Literary context in literature emphasizes mood and sensory impressions through words rather than recreating objective reality. 

A psychological impression is an event when we form a mental image of someone we encounter. I’m sure you are familiar with some of the many sayings about first impressions. “You will never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Or –“The strangest part about being famous is you don’t get to give first impressions anymore. Everyone already has an impression of you before you meet them.”

My impression of you may not be accurate if I am basing what I see, hear and feel about you on irrelevant criteria or heresay therefore inappropriately determining whether or not you are worthy of my time. Right or wrong we interpret others based on our own history and backstory, creating assumptions by we know to be true.

In our reading from 1st Samuel, Humanity called for a King and it was determined by Samuel that those calling for a human King were rejecting God. In the Gospel of Mark we see that God broke the boundaries between heaven and earth and through Jesus is bringing Gods kingdom to the people. There is a clear difference between earthy kings and scribes and this Jesus figure that is proclaiming a new and different approach. It is difficult for those in authority to perceive a positive impression since Jesus seems to be breaking all the rules.

The people who are born into priestly heritage are trying to discredit Jesus because we know in Old Testament times there were defined borders between the clean and unclean. Jesus seemed to be defying the hierarchy ranks of society and therefore was being discredited as evil. Their impression of Jesus was based on their personal knowledge and history. Impressions we know can change lives, at least the way we perceive our own and others.

This was the case of teenagers story I recently had the opportunity to hear.  What she spoke about was the impression she has on some others. It seemed there were certain actions, certain appropriate codes with which to engage this extended faith family. Much like the priests and scribes in ancient history. Respectful of their beliefs she was open to what was said.

As this artsy fourteen year old talked about her new understanding of what Christianity is to those by those she met – this gal relayed thoughts that it would be put it in a box tied neatly with a bow. This is her impression. To her this was troubling because she didn’t fit the standards. Her reaction was specifically – I know if I went on a missions trip with my church, though not old enough yet, “I bet those kids would accept me.”  Knowing because I have been there, my response was “Absolutely they would”.

In the times when the Old Testament stories were written there were also standards of the Temple and priests. If a person had a disease or was paralyzed we have learned they were considered unclean and not able to enter the Temple, some even the city. Rejected. In Biblical history there was a hierarchical understanding that priestly descendants had authority and therefore Jesus must have been teaching on evil authority because it was not what the chosen religious leaders were proclaiming.  This Jesus was choosing to heal on the Sabbath, eat with tax collectors and so on. Who is this person that is proclaiming what He is doing is the way of God?

I imagine that this young lady felt like Jesus did the day we read about in Mark where all were tightly closed in around Jesus. We have, as in the ancient history, set standards in our world that even in the most innocent of actions can show our prejudices and expectations upon first look.

I believe that there are clues through our Mark passages – people thought Jesus “crazy”. Crazy enough to go against all that religion meant to the world at large – this must be evil. Otherwise why would he be doing this? What we can see is that Jesus was teaching outside the boundaries of the Temple to bring God’s kingdom to the masses. Offering an alternative to those who had no other way of reconciling to be a part of the Kingdom. God’s kingdom.

Changing minds of those who were self minded as he ate and talked with them presented change. Good and positive change, opportunities for all. The association with those on the fringe was intended to give opportunity rather than be tainted. Jesus was not concerned that he would become unclean by spending time with others who didn’t meet the worlds standards, rather Jesus was focused on helping all people to become part of Gods family.

God preserves all in order for Gods blessings to be received. God gives all humanity the opportunity to be forgiven and receive life eternal. When the young lady I met kept hearing rejection she felt the message was clear. Listening to the heart of a teenager that longs to be accepted for who she is in the way God created her in today’s world is much how I imagine those living in the margins felt. Grateful that this Jesus would be accepting because he believes in them and in turn they believe in him.

That’s what Jesus did. He sat with, ate with spoke to and heard from others. Jesus refrained from assumptions or negative first impressions. He had the courage to push through all of the prejudice and greed to show others that what he had to offer was for real. God is here. Forgiveness is waiting for you. Everyone has the opportunity to repent of their sins and accept God. Those who do the will of God are my mother, brothers and sisters.

Much like Jesus mother brothers and sisters, I imagine they were worried about him in all the blasphemy. Mark does not make it clear, however, I know that the young lady’s mother was worried for her babe. I see this passage to say that Jesus was teaching even in this moment. When we are sharing the love freely given through our commitment to God, our family continues to grow beyond our blood relatives. Who are your brothers and sisters? They are abundant any many around the world.

We are ministered to and minister to others daily. Our families, friends, coworkers, neighbors and even our communities gather together to fill a need, pray for healing, and build hope in the name of Jesus beyond the walls of this church community that we hold dear to our heart. We celebrate living out our covenant with God, the church and others sharing the Gospel, giving a helping hand and showing love, Gods Love.

Next week we have a group of work campers leaving for Staten Island to continue reconstruction work. Excited for these adults and youth reaching out to help others with no reward, continuing what Jesus began is a blessing to them as individuals, their families and the church they represent. We welcome new ways our congregation is able to reach out to the greater community and there’s more. You. Each of us as individuals has the capacity to take Jesus from this community, serving others with your words, actions and love. Jesus equipped his disciples to do what he could no longer do as the resurrected Christ as he was ascending to the father. 

Whether this teenager new it or not she was ministering to me through her story. I wanted to tell her you are beautiful and accepted for who you are. My part in that conversation was to truly listen. To hear her need for acceptance and how her story affects my own ministry ignited a passion inside me. Opening the door for conversation and actions that are reflective of God’s light begin with getting past my impressions of another and learning who they truly are.

Will everyone I meet become family? Well that is up to them. I am called to share the opportunity. It might mean that I am called crazy for sitting with someone that appears different, it might mean that people wonder why I spend so much time focusing on helping others. Let them wonder, when others see who you are in the Holy Spirit, they will begin to want what you have, the love of Jesus. Open the door for opportunity. Open the door for those who don’t know Christ or who have stepped away from their faith. Talk over coffee, invite them to church or an event pay it forward in a way that shows the authentic you. Those who do the will of God are Jesus adopted brothers and sister of faith. Take courage, God is with you.

 

Sermon Preached on June 14, 2015

Sermon Preached on June 14, 2015

 

Throughout your life, name the most influential person who helped to guide you on your faith journey.

The person that has influenced me the most to step out in faith is my dad. Both my parents I am lucky to say are faith influencers but it was the short conversations we would have about the Bible that helped develop my faith journey. This has been followed over the years by strong faithful people that I have both watched and learned who inspire me to step out of my comfort zone. When you get to a point of saying you are comfortable with the uncomfortable it seems a new level of confidence may have been reached. I will be working on that and other things for eternity.

Whether your answer was your parents, a Sunday school teacher, friend, coach or youth leader, we have times when we are called to reach out to another we may not expect. There are times when we feel the nudge of something unexplainable with words, maybe more a strong feeling to say, I am supposed to send this person a card today, I should call this person, or something random happens and we respond in kind for nothing more than because in the name of Jesus, we care. Maybe for you it was being put in a situation that was unexpected and you found a new gift or talent you didn’t realize you had.

Life happenings, insecurities, unsure of our own capabilities, or fear itself can draw us away from the seeds for growth that are planted in our lives. Surely you don’t mean me, says Abraham, a baby no way, old age… David a young shepherd, an unlikely choice among his many capable brothers, is anointed as the next king. These people didn’t wake up one morning and say this is what is going to happen today. But God knew them, God knew more about them than their looks or their ages, God knew their hearts and said, “You my child – I have called you to great things.”

There are many ways that we as individuals have learned about life. There are also many ways in which we encourage others. Elizabeth and Mary the mother of Jesus formed a bond while both pregnant with babies who would go on to influence the world for God.  They said yes to Gods direction and trusting in the call from God, they were filled with the courage and strength to pursue Gods’ will. However that didn’t mean that life was without trials and unrest.

Sometimes as in the story of Jonah and Ninevah, it takes some prodding for us to understand the importance of our task. Now is the time to stop pushing against the nudging from God. Setting the fear aside or better yet, pushing through the fear of what holds us back enables us to find a deeper connection to God. Sometimes as we see in the biblical stories I mentioned it’s the unknown, unlikely individuals sent to bring the good news to the masses.

The learning is not over just because we accept and follow the path we are called. Jesus took his disciples aside for further teaching when the parables he told required greater understanding. He shared, and repeated as often as needed for those following him to truly understand. It is a matter of trust. Trust in the fact that Jesus is caring about me, my future, wanting me to be the best faithful follower I can be but why? There are plenty of others out there who have far greater talent than I. But that is the point. There are others out there but God wants YOU. He wants you now.

God desires for you in your vocation, in your friendships, in your free time – whatever the calling, to be the voice of grace and love. The voice that when called listens and follows through.

Should you wonder why me, when no one around you seems to be acting faithfully – maybe that is the reason you are there, to be the Christlike person showing others the message of Jesus. We are all ministers of the Christian faith. And even thought we are one, God has a way of using the impossible to make all things possible.

Learning together, being in this space praising God we learn of Biblical times and situations and we learn new things as the world around us changes. As we change.

Agriculture was a prominent way of life that Ancient communities could relate to and planting seeds is a process. One must first till the soil, fertilize the soil, plant the seeds – most of the time in rows, specifically so far apart. Then comes the weeding and watering to ensure growth and production of the plants that grow from the planted seeds. Some plants require much work and watering for growth, others not as much and produce their own seeds that reproduce, however when neglected chaos happens. Weeds infest, or the plants wither and turn yellow, the fruit becomes diseased.

We are a lot like seeds. Our bodies are designed in a way that involves wonder and continues to grow and change over time. We become shelter for others just like the trees are shelter for the birds. The reality is that we also need work, taking care of ourselves both mind and body, finding ways in which be healthy and grow. As our families and friendships are nurtured, we branch out and share the fruits of the spirit, the Holy Spirit with others.  The need for relationships is at our core, both spiritually and figuratively.

The kingdom of God comes from God. As much as we may try to determine how we or others will grow, which of our seeds will provide rich fruit or fend off a drought, our human limitations keep the accuracy to a minimum.

 Jesus wanted to assure clarity for the disciples and those who were open to the Good news he was bringing then that is relevant today. He spent time teaching and reviewing the same concepts for his followers. Repetition is a good reminder especially in our busy world when so much happens in a day.

The ways in which we see God are not always through the big moments in our lives, rather quite often the small ones. Have you ever been prompted or not sure why you have the urge to do something for another only to find out later the timing was exactly right? How about a feeling or reoccurring thought that you should do something, or speak a certain message to others, maybe you put off sharing your gifts until one day you give in and you are affirmed? God pursues his people finding ways to reach us, even when we try to hide under that big sheltering tree.

God reaches us and we grow. Our trust in God’s will for our lives helps us to overcome fear. The fear that holds us back. The fear of judgment from the world. Putting our trust in God casts out fear. God wants you. Yes, you!  Through faith the size of a minute mustard seed, God will do great things when you believe.

Trusting in God, the words of Jesus sustain us and helps us to understand even our smallest task or gift is good enough for God. We do what we do because we are living out the faith we have in Jesus. It’s not about what you do.  You are enough. God’s grace is enough and God provides love that reaches the deepest part of us.

Be open to Gods calling for you, recognize the good seeds planted in your life, thank God, and pay it forward. God calls even the unsuspecting to do big things remember the young shepherd David and the person who influences you? Continue to listen for God’s call in your life. In all that you do continue to reach out and love one another with grace.

Step outside your comfort zone and trust Gods leadership. Go outside and share the gifts and talents you have been given. If others don’t seem to “see” initially, know a seed is planted. Time is needed for growth, and it is not always our job to cultivate the soil or tend to the watering, often it is just opening the door for God to do the work.

Sharing their gifts as ministers of Christ, our workcampers will experience many things. May we pray for growth to occur not only in the hearts and minds of the people our church friends reach for God, but growth in their personal lives as they experience God at work.

May we all humbly reach out to God for direction and guidance in the unfamiliar territory. May you also be open to the great things that God has in store for you and those you meet. Hold a door open, give a smile, pray for others, reach out to those on your heart. Share in love, pray often and trust in the Creator God.

As we look forward to the part of our service where we break bread together adopted children of God,  take a moment now to remind those sitting beside you of Christ’s love as you say “You are a child of God”.

While it is necessary for us to share the love of Christ, open yourself to the power of the Holy Spirit, that Christ may be seen through you to others.   

May it be so.

Amen.

“To Tell the Truth”

A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC on May 17, 2015 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“To Tell the Truth” ~John 17:6-19

“That they may be one.”  This is the deep-seated prayer of Jesus as it’s relayed to us through this morning’s Gospel reading.  This is what Jesus wants for us in our relationships with one another, and he isn’t afraid to put it out there – before God and everyone else – as he prays just before his arrest and crucifixion.  It seems odd, doesn’t it, to revisit this scripture that actually took place prior to his arrest and crucifixion?  But this is where we’re led and so this is where we’ll go.

“That they may be one.”  We might be tempted to say, “Who are you kidding, Jesus? It didn’t happen in your time, so why would you imagine it would ever happen in our time?”

Jesus was relentless, though, in telling his followers that they should be one in this world, in their culture and their time. It goes along with Jesus always reminding them that the Kingdom of Heaven is here – not something that will come in the next world, but here and now. So, this may be one of the most puzzling verses in the gospels, and Jesus says it several times, in several different ways. He says it always as a very positive statement, not as a question, like, “Wouldn’t it be nice if they became one as you and I are one?” He says it as if he expects it to happen. He says it as if he thinks we even understand what he’s talking about.

Jesus so often has a way of talking about us as if he expects the very best from us, no matter how many times we’ve proven his faith in us to be misplaced, or misguided, at best.  It’s enough to make us sometimes wonder if Jesus knows what he’s talking about. Read the rest of this entry »

“Abiding in Love”

A meditation preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on May 3, 2015 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“Abiding in Love” ~ 1 John 4:7-21

Please join me in a word of prayer … “God, for whom there are no barriers, no stones too big to remove, roll away our resistance to you.  Let your words fill us with new life, alive again in you.  Amen.”

When we take a good look around us, we often find ourselves living a world where many people – according to the popular song lyrics – are “looking for love in all the wrong places.”  We are one of the most “connected” generations of all time, and yet we are more isolated from those around us, more separated from friends, family, God, even ourselves – and therefore lonelier – than any generation of humankind.

In a recent news article, one observer argued that all of our “connectedness” through social media, like Facebook, is in fact only an unsatisfying substitute for real relationships.  The study shows that it seems the more “connected” we are through our social networks, the more lonely we’re likely to be! Read the rest of this entry »

“An Active Love”

A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on April 26, 2015 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“An Active Love” ~ 1 John 3:16-24

Please join me in prayer … “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.”

President of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Michael Jinkins, tells an intriguing story in The Christian Century magazine …  “The first thing that struck me about First Presbyterian Church in Dallas was not the imposing building, but instead, it was the wording on the church sign that grabbed my attention … “Justice is love distributed.”  Justice is love distributed.

“I turned that sentence over and over again in my mind as I made my way into the church.  It was an appropriate sign for my mission that day.  I had come to talk with Associate Pastor Bob Lively about bringing a group of young people and their adult sponsors from our church in suburban Irving to join First Presbyterian’s “Stew Pot ministry.”

Jinkins goes on to say that a friend had shared an article with him about the beginnings of the “Stew Pot ministry.”  Pastor Bob had been walking along the sidewalk in front of the church one day when he passed a homeless man sleeping at the base of the steps.  Lively walked into a colleague’s office and said, “That is my Lord out there.”  And a new ministry was born. Read the rest of this entry »

“You Will Be My Witnesses”

A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on April 19, 2015 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“You Will Be My Witnesses” ~ Luke 24:36-48

The preacher Brett McAfee has created a fictitious scene telling us what it might have been like to be a part of the early movement of the Christian Church.  His imagination tells this story:

“On the fourth Wednesday evening in May, 90 AD, First Church, Caesarea, is having a business meeting. The chair of the evangelism committee is presenting a report: “Our Monday night visitation program has slowed down. The numbers aren’t as big as I wish they were. Some of you know that Second Church claims to have more people in Sunday school than we have, but I suspect they’re counting babies in the nursery and anybody that walks past the sanctuary.

Anyway, this Saturday we’re going to start a new program that just came from denominational headquarters. This program will lead to “Pack-a-Pew Sunday” and, I believe, a new record for the most verses of “Just As I Am.”   At 9:00 on Saturday morning, we’ll have a thirty-minute training session to memorize our lines. We’ll wear gold letter S lapel pins. When people ask, “Why are you wearing an S?” “We’ll answer, “We’re Super Christians. Would you like to be a Super Christian, too?”  Our experts estimate that for every one hundred and eleven houses that we visit we’ll find a prospect. Are there any questions?” Read the rest of this entry »

“O, What a Morning!”

A meditation preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“O, What a Morning!” ~ John 20:1-18

Please join me in prayer … “God, for whom there are no barriers, no stones too big to remove, roll away our resistance to you.  Let your words fill us with new life and bring us out from the tomb of indifference, alive again in you.  Amen.”

In her memoir, Kitchen Table Wisdom, Rachel Naomi Remen remembers … “All through my childhood, my parents kept a giant jigsaw puzzle set up on a table in the living room.”  As a preschooler, Rachel wanted to help with the puzzle one morning. She climbed on a chair next to the table and spread the loose pieces out.  She remembers that some were bright and cheerful looking … and some were “dark and shadowy.” To the pre-schooler, the dark ones looked like spiders or bugs, so she stuffed them under a sofa cushion so she wouldn’t have to look at them!

For a couple of weeks, whenever she was alone in the living room, she hid a few more of the “ugly” pieces. Her mother eventually realized that the puzzle wasn’t coming together because more than a hundred pieces were missing! She asked Rachel about them and, of course, Rachel showed her where they were hidden.  After her mother used those pieces to complete the puzzle, Rachel remembers being astounded that the dark pieces didn’t spoil the picture but actually made it more beautiful. 1

The grown up Rachel tells us, “I have been with many people in times of profound loss and grief … when an unexpected meaning begins to emerge from the fragments of their lives. Over time, this meaning has proven itself to be durable and trustworthy, even transformative. It’s a kind of strength that never comes to those who consistently deny their pain.” 2

This, I believe, is a good image for the resurrection experience in John’s Gospel. Peter, another “beloved disciple,” and especially Mary Magdalene, have come to a transformative place in their lives. They move from profound loss and grief to a brand new focus on life and meaning. Their stories will help others see Jesus. We’re invited to grab hold of the pattern or, better yet, to let the pattern grab hold of us.  In doing so, we can trust it to inform our lives as well.

At first, all that Mary can see are dark pieces. Jesus has been killed, and now his tomb has been disturbed. She runs and tells Simon Peter and the other disciple that “they have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” The two men run to the tomb, enter it in turn, and see the linen wrappings but no body. The one whom Jesus loved sees and “believes,” but he believes without understanding. They go home. The dark pieces just don’t fit together.

As for Mary … even though she sees bright angels in the tomb … she’s too distraught to let them clear up the puzzle for her. A man comes up to her. She turns around. The picture hasn’t yet emerged, for she sees him as a gardener, someone standing between her and what she wants. But of course it’s Jesus. He calls her name: Mary! She knows his voice, just as any sheep knows the voice of its own shepherd. She turns to him. The gospel writer deliberately keeps using this verb: She turns to him.

Then Jesus talks about his work and gives Mary her work. “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God….Go, tell my brothers!”  What she hears is, “Mary, you are my sister. Mary, I am not alone any longer as child of God. Mary, welcome to the family of God. That is what my resurrection life means for you.”

She tells the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” … tells them all that he has said to her. Out of the dark puzzle pieces, transformative meaning has come to Mary. She is the first apostle of the risen Christ.

Easter is when God puts the entire puzzle together, and the beautiful pattern of new life emerges to astound us. Easter is God’s vote of confidence in Jesus Christ … and at the same time Easter is God’s vote for us as beloved sons and daughters with Jesus … disciples invited to join God’s mission to love and bless the world.

Easter is about God’s profound “yes” to Jesus: his life, his ministry, his vision, his outreach, his self-giving love, even to his death on the cross. The darkest pieces still have their place in this pattern.

Easter is God’s profound yes to us, too.  We have been ushered to a place at the table.  Here we are surrounded by family. We are strengthened and sent out to tell what we have seen of the Lord.  What we have seen is that the love of God in Christ comes through even death and the tomb to find us.

We have seen that the dark pieces of life – and we all experience them – can be placed alongside the bright promises of God for a fuller picture. Through it all, Jesus calls us brother, sister, and beloved.

We have seen the gifts that emerge: healing, wholeness, hope, and obedience to the larger purposes of God in our lives.

Jesus meets us at our tombs and in our gardens. He is living; and he is here. Especially on Easter morning, we invite him to bring all the pieces of our broken, complex, wonderful lives together in the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.

Finally, on this glorious Easter morning, following the shadowy pieces of Lent and Holy Week, we can finally bring forth our Alleluias as we see the puzzle completed!  Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Thanks for the inspiration belongs to Joan L. Beck, Lectionary Homiletics

Notes
1. Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom (Riverhead Books, 1996), 169.
2. Op. cit., 170.

“Love in Action”

“Love in Action” ~ Maundy Thursday, April 2, 2015

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

In his book, The View From the Cross, John Clarke tells the following story:

During the American Revolutionary War a man dressed in civilian clothes rode past a group of soldiers who were repairing a small defensive barrier. Their leader was shouting instructions at them but doing nothing to help them. Asked “why?” by the rider, he answered with great dignity, “Sir, I am a corporal!” The stranger apologized, got down from his own horse, and proceeded to help the exhausted soldiers.

When the job was done, he turned to the corporal and said, “Mr. Corporal, next time you have a job like this and not enough men to do it, go to your commander-in-chief, and I will come and help you again.” The helper, you see, was none other than George Washington.  Like all good commanders, he was giving his leaders an example to follow.1 Read the rest of this entry »

“Heart Scripts”

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

“Heart Script” ~ Jeremiah 31:31-34

Please join me in a word of prayer … “Ever faithful God; train us by Christ’s teaching, school us in Christ’s faithfulness, that as we walk in Christ’s way, we may come to share in your glory.  Amen.”

God said, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”  These are some of the most beautiful words in scripture … they are a promise … telling us that we are important to God, telling us that God longs for relationship with us, as much as we long for relationship with God.

Imagine a community where God’s people know the promises of God deep in their hearts – a community where God’s people sense that the power of God’s saving love is at the very core of their identity.  Can you picture such a community?  Have you ever seen such a thing played out in “real life” … in “real time”?  What does this kind of community look like?

We’ve talked about Koinonia Farm on other occasions … it fits our conversation today, as well.  The documentary film, “Briars in the Cottonpatch,” tells the story of Koinonia Farm and its founder, Clarence Jordan.  Koinonia is a Greek word meaning “to live in fellowship and community” and this is what the folks who founded Koinonia Farm in 1942 aimed to do … to live in fellowship and community.  It’s what those who live there today still strive for … but there’s an awful lot of struggle between those two dates … from the beginning until now.  Read the rest of this entry »