“A Brand New Day”

A meditation preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“A Brand New Day” ~ John 20:1-18

Please join me in prayer … O 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.  In Jesus name we pray.  Amen.

There’s a children’s skit, “The Littlest Donkey,” in which the setting is a stable … three days after the crucifixion … and the animals … all descendants of the animals who were present in this same stable at the time of Jesus’ birth … and so they’ve grown up hearing the stories of the first Christmas … these animals are trying to come to terms with their grief.

The cat excitedly comes back to the group after witnessing the empty tomb, telling the other animals what she has seen.  Two of the animals ask an important question:  “What does it mean for us?”  The cat’s answer is quick and to the point, “It means our Lord and Master has risen from the tomb – he has been resurrected from death to life as proof of our salvation!”   That’s a rather astute observation for a cat, even one who has a human theologian putting words into its mouth! Read the rest of this entry »

“Just Love Them”

A meditation preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on Maundy Thursday, March 24, 2016 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“Just Love Them” ~ John 13:1-17; 31-35

The disciples were, no doubt, shocked and amazed when Jesus took up the basin and the towel and began to wash their feet.  He was their master!  He was their Lord!  Foot washing is just not something that masters do.  Imagine your surprise if you saw the President of the United States shining someone’s shoes.  What would you think if you saw the Queen of England giving someone a pedicure?

In the days of Jesus, foot washing was typically done by the servants of one’s household, and it wasn’t exactly a glamorous job.  People’s feet get really dry and dirty and calloused and cracked when they walk around for miles in the desert, wearing sandals.  To wash someone’s feet was an act of hospitality and care.  It was also an act of servitude and humility.  No wonder Simon Peter told Jesus, “You will never wash my feet.”  Not Jesus.  Not his master.  Not ever.  Still, there Jesus was with his wash basin and his towel.  He knelt in front of them one by one and washed their feet, calluses and all. Read the rest of this entry »

“Costly Discipleship”

A meditation preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on March 13, 2016 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“Costly Discipleship” ~ John 12:1-8

Please join me in prayer ….. “Holy God, we seek you in the temples of power, but you are found on the margins.  Broaden our vision, widen our understanding, that we may hear your liberating word with open hearts.  Amen.”

Today’s reading from John’s gospel tells a story of extravagant giving – the kind of giving that made Judas just as uncomfortable as it might make any one of us. Jesus is in the town of Bethany, on his way to Jerusalem for the very last time. He stops to spend the evening with Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead not long before. Mary and Martha, Lazarus’ sisters and Jesus’ good friends, are there as well, making dinner, catching up and sharing in fellowship. Read the rest of this entry »

“Seeking God”

A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on February 28, 2016 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“Seeking God” ~ Luke 13:1-9

Turn on the television news … pick up a newspaper … go online or turn on the radio … on any given day.  Without a doubt you will find a report on some catastrophic tragedy somewhere in the world. Only the locations change. Tornadoes, floods, earthquakes and tsunamis … all of them wreaking havoc and altering lives. And behind them … left unreported … are the larger … but somehow less visible … less dramatic tragedies … like the children who died this past Wednesday of hunger.

I don’t know the exact number, because statistics vary and statistics tell the story the statistician wants them to tell, but I do know that it’s roughly the same number who died on Tuesday and Thursday … and every other day, too … every day of the year. In every one of those deaths, families or loved ones grieved … in every one. And at some level, every one of those grieving people probably asked the same question: “Why?” It just doesn’t seem fair. What had any of those folks done to deserve such tragic deaths? Read the rest of this entry »

“Called to Imitate”

A sermon preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on February 21, 2016 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“Called to Imitate” ~ Luke 13:31-35

I think I’ve always found this scene where Jesus weeps over the great city of Jerusalem to be kind of touching, and sad.  “How often,” he says, “would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wing, and you were not willing!”

I can hear a father saying to his son, “You could have avoided so much grief and pain if you would listen and learn from my mistakes, but you were not willing.”  I can see a mother, reaching out to hug her teenage daughter, and the girl squirming away in embarrassment.

Resistant, rebellious Jerusalem … knowing itself to be the child of God yet insistent on finding its own way, marching to the beat of its own drum, making its own mistakes, some of them rather impressive.  Like, killing the prophets and all that. Read the rest of this entry »

“In the Wilderness”

A meditation preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC, Lancaster, PA on February 14, 2016 by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“In the Wilderness” ~ Luke 4:1-13

Doesn’t it seem as if Advent was just a few days ago?  Yet, here we are at the first Sunday in Lent.  During Advent and Christmas we considered the news that God entered our humanity in a specific place, at a defineable time, in the form of a particular man – Jesus of Nazareth. Then Epiphany came along and we watched as “God with us” was acknowledged by the wise of this world, the magi, and by the unorthodox of the religious community, specifically, John the baptist. We were caught up in the action as Jesus came up from the waters of the river to hear the words that would set him apart, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

How can anyone, even Jesus, hear these words and not feel frightened or ready to run away?   So, Jesus decides to withdraw for a while. He goes to the wilderness, most likely to think about these words and their meaning, about how they would affect the rest of his life. We know almost nothing of his previous years, but it’s clear at his baptism that he had spent them preparing for this moment. Otherwise, those crucial words, “with you I am well pleased,” would not have been spoken.  So we come to the temptations in the wilderness, the beginning of his ministry and the start of the road that would lead to crucifixion. Matthew and Luke tell us that the Spirit led Jesus to the wilderness. Mark says: “the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” Read the rest of this entry »

“How Is It?” Ash Wednesday

A meditation preached before the congregation at Hamilton Park UCC on February 10, 2016, Ash Wednesday, by Rev. Catherine M. Shiley

“How Is It?” ~ Psalm 51

Perhaps more than any other time in the Christian year, Ash Wednesday is a call for us to look inward.  This holy day calls us to take a journey to our own, hidden interiors, where we confront everything that causes separation between ourselves and God.

Ash Wednesday calls us to a personal and private journey in the sense that we look deep within ourselves – not at others.  We compare ourselves to Jesus Christ, not to our friends – or our neighbors – nor to anyone else living in our world, whether we consider them good or bad.

This day, and this season of Lent, is about a singular, focused, question: “How is it with you and God?”  If there’s only one thought you take away from our time together today, please make it this question: “How is it between you and me, God?”  How do we come to the place where we have a satisfying answer for that question?

Rather than the traditional practice of “giving something up for Lent,” I invite you to instead make this season a time of “taking something on for Lent.”  During the forty days that lie ahead, take a few moments each day to consciously set aside all the outside noise and demands … and quiet the inner chattering of your mind.  Then look yourself squarely in the soul and ask: “How is it between you and me, God?” Read the rest of this entry »

“Departures”

(A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. David R. Bushnell on February 7, 2016 before the congregation of Hamilton Park United Church of Christ, Lancaster, PA.)

Departures ~ (Luke 9:28-43a)

I have more than a few cherished memories of our church camp, Hartman Center.  But there is one that comes to mind today and if I needed to give it a title…. “Departures” would be as good as they come.  The Senior Pastor of Bethany UCC in Ephrata, in the early 1990s, was the Rev. Rick Mearkle.  He decided that he and his rather young family were going to go to England so he could pastor a church there.  He is still in England by the way.  His first wife died of cancer not too many years after they had settled in their new country.  He is remarried and works these day (or the last I heard anyway) as an administrator with a private school.

I directed a Pioneer Camp (that would be grades 4-6) the summer that the Mearkles were moving.  Their daughter and two of her closest friends would spend their last full week together at Hartman Center.  It was enchanting to see them that week together.  They were inseparable in those days.  Normally, I would have tried to break up a tirade like that, but not that week.  They deserved to be in a world of their own.  Their beds were next to each other.  They sat side by side at every meal.  If one volunteered to set the tables for dinner, the other two volunteered as well. They planned skits together and vesper services.  The volunteer staff and SSTs that week and even the other campers knew that something special was happening for the girls.  They were on holy ground.  Read the rest of this entry »

“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 »