By Gordon Barbosa, Lay Leader
Based on Luke 24:44-53 & Acts 1:1-8
Israel is a very small area in comparison to the rest of the world. Although our God created this world – His ways are not the ways of this world!
The ways of this world tells us that if you want to bring change – if you want to better people’s lives, then you go to where those with power are – where people with money are. And that may work up to a point, but that is not the way that God brings change.
God brings change from within. He takes our hearts that this dark world has hardened and he softens it and then infuses it with the Spirit of Jesus so that through us he can bring light to the world through our good works!
A lot of us tend to think that we are incapable of doing what we know God wants us to do in our lives, and that whatever we do will have very little affect upon the world. Yet we see throughout our scriptures God telling people with this kind of defeatist attitude to “Fear not, for I am with you!”
The thing we can’t seem to wrap our heads around is that when we become followers of the way of Jesus, we are inviting the Spirit that created this universe to live within us. That same Spirit gives us the capability of doing amazing things if we have faith in it.
Keep in mind that it took the Apostles years of disciplined training with Jesus before they were ready to perform their miracles of healing and raising people from the dead.
So, to help build up our confidence to do great things like raising people from the dead, let’s start with some simpler tasks…
For instance, many of us have done volunteer work at the Food Pantry or helped serve food at the Presbyterian Church during Thanksgiving and Easter. But simply saying “good morning or good evening” with feeling to a stranger can have a great effect on them. Sincerely asking someone how her day has been or smiling at a passer-by. These simple acts of kindness can open doors of opportunity for you to help transform the world / one person at a time.
In the title song to the Broadway play “Jesus Christ Superstar”, there is a line sung by Judas Iscariat, “If you'd come today You could have reached the whole nation - Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.”
Today – through social media – we have the benefit of having access to mass communication in order to reach a wider scope of people. We can use Youtube and Facebook to communicate with people beyond our walls. In fact, it was through Facebook that David and Olivia found out about us! But Jesus had a bigger picture. He knew it isn’t just about mass communication – it’s about interpersonal communication.
He started with a few close friends in what the world considered a small, has-been nation. He traveled with them; taught them what he knew about his Father; ate with them. He healed them, laughed with them and cried with them…. and over time – through people like you and me – his Spirit has turned his disciplines, his teachings of the way to the kingdom of heaven, into a world-wide body of people.
I want to try to explain to you what I mean by his teachings of the way to the kingdom of heaven. I believe there are many pathways that lead to the kingdom of heaven. For some it is Hinduism, Islam, or Buddhism. For Jesus it was Judaism. For me and many of us it is the teachings of Jesus and his Way of understanding Judaism and how it relates to the kingdom of heaven.
My understanding of Jesus’ teachings are that if you live a life in the Way of Jesus – loving, forgiving, uplifting others – then it doesn’t matter if you are a Christian or not – it is that condition of the Way you live your life that will bring about the kingdom of heaven on earth.
You know the people of Israel make up two-tenths of 1 percent of the world’s population. Our Christian scriptures – and much of Islam’s – are derived from the story of the Jewish people….
Many of its greatest leaders didn’t think they could do – or didn’t want to do – the things that God asked of them. What did God say to them? .... “That’s okay, it was just an idea!”… No! He said, “Fear not, for I am with you.”
In Matthew Chapter 5, Jesus says, “You are the light of the world…” Friends, if you follow in the Way of Jesus, the Spirit of the living God is within you! That’s not something I made up. Yoshua – Jesus the Christ said it, not me! Don’t hide that light! Don’t deny the light within you because God wants to show you what He can do if you put faith in Him!
You are the light of the world! So, “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify the Holy One in heaven.“
Remember, the God who created you has renewed the divine image within you. Therefore, go out and share God's redeeming love with all of creation and know that you are blessed so that you can bless others. Amen.
By Rev. Kristina Russell, Associate Pastor
The good Shepherd. This is one of the most iconic images that we have of Jesus. I grew up with paintings of Jesus with the sheep carrying a lamb. I still have one of those pictures that belonged to my mother on my personal altar. It is a lovely image that our scripture from John sets up the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Jesus describes himself as the shepherd that gives up his life for his sheep and goes on to elaborate on how the sheep recognize the shepherd and the shepherd goes the extra mile to protect them.
In the gospel of Luke, Jesus tells the naysayers, the ones accusing him of fraternizing with sinners, that he is the shepherd that goes and looks for the one sheep missing out of the hundred and that celebrates when that one lost sheep is found.
Even in the Old testament, in today’s psalm and further, especially in Ezekiel 34 the image of the shepherd is everywhere in scripture. In Ezekiel 34 the good shepherd will protect his sheep from false teachers and disguised shepherds. God, manifested in Jesus Christ is the ultimate shepherd and today’s passage from John points out just how good, this good shepherd is.
Just prior to today’s reading, in John 10:10 Jesus says that he will give his sheep life and give it abundantly. He tells them that he will protect the opening to the sheepfold. He will guard against those false shepherds or hirelings just out for money and profit. The Hired hands protect the sheep out of greed, our shepherd protects us out of love. Further, Jesus emphasizes that the shepherd will be recognized by his sheep and that there are other sheep, in other places that he will also care for.
Today, I’d like to briefly talk about a couple of these themes. Namely his tender care and the other sheep. Jesus does not mince words here in John. He says twice that he is willing to lay down his life for the sheep. I just mentioned that in Luke he will go search if just one is missing. We are tenderly and lovingly led. As it says in the beloved Psalm we read today that no matter where we go, the shepherd is with us.
It’s important to point out that that includes the valley of the shadow of death. Our journey is not perfect and without challenges, the promise here is that we will go through none of it alone. We are always shepherded and guided.
In my mother’s original Methodist church in Polk Nebraska, there is a huge old stained glass window in the back of Jesus the good shepherd. Little lambs run around his feet and look up at him lovingly and in his arms? A little black sheep. I love that! He’s going to pick the imperfect, the broken, the different and hold them closest to his heart. As someone who falls into the different category on a couple of lists this thought was very reassuring. This brings us to the other sheep.
Theologians and scholars have debated since the 2nd century on who Jesus was talking about. Most religions of today have their own definition and scholars tend to agree it meant any non jews. I like to think it denotes radical inclusion. That Jesus’ message is for everyone regardless of anything. Last week Don read a statement about God’s love including everyone. Male, Female, Jew, Gentile, Gay, straight, black, white, brown, everyone!
I had a therapist at one time named Carl. Carl had once been a Church of Christ Pastor. A very conservative denomination. The reason he was no longer a Pastor was because of a sermon he shared about this very quote. His thesis was that you love Christ that and just think about it for a moment. We love Christ only as much as we love the person we like the least. That’s harsh, especially for someone like me who has a long list of folks that rub me the wrong way. But it harks back to the “others” that Jesus lives and dies for as well. Jesus’ love is again for everyone. It is for the Arab man, the Syrian refugee, the undocumented worker, the woman who cleans your toilets at the Motel 6 on main street, the homeless guy at the hospitality center. It’s for the transsexual teenager contemplating suicide. It’s for the black man, the prostitute, the least and lost. Let us strive for a love that looks more and more like the good shepherd everyday.
To close I’d like to remind you that we are called to be shepherds as well. The sign of spiritual maturity, says Jean Vanier, is “to grow in responsibility to care for others and to become good shepherds: servant leaders.”
Today is earth day and I think part of God’s call to us is to shepherd creation. We are living in perilous times for the earth. De regulation of polluters is threatening to reverse all the progress made since the first Earth day over back in 1970. Today we are okaying new oil pipelines and we have a plastic island the size of New Jersey choking creatures in our oceans. This is not to say that everyone has to immediately make drastic lifestyle changes and march en masse. What I’m suggesting is little shepherding choices made at the simplest of levels. Use something other than plastic once in a while. Recycle, recycle, recycle. Tell others about organizations that protect the earth. If you walk in our glorious area up here take a trash bag with you and pick up any trash you see. This can go a long way in shepherding the earth. I saw a statement on Facebook that I like for this shepherding theme. It talked about stepping over the ant, letting the bee outside, not killing the spider. Little gentle loving actions that celebrated the life of the smallest “others” in our midst.
So we are profoundly cared for. Even in the face of our mistakes and challenges we are led and guided to our highest good. Even if we can’t love all the “others” that Jesus calls us to serve we are loved and led. No matter the circumstances of our lives we are led beside cool waters and into green pastures. And we are called, since the days of Genesis, to care for and shepherd this miracle we call earth and it’s creatures into rest and recovery. The Good shepherd is madly in love with you and I call you to celebrate and emulate that love everywhere you go. Amen
By Don Sheffel, MD
This is the day that the Lord has made, may we enjoy each moment of it! Oh Lord, open our eyes that we can see, open our ears that we may hear, open our minds that we may understand that you are the ground of all being, and in Jesus ,who manifested that gift of being, there is neither east nor west, tribe nor ethnicity, male or female, gay nor straight, true believer nor heretic, Christian nor Jew, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist. We are only a God-filled humanity, wonderfully diverse, yearning to live, eager to love, daring to be, and wanting to journey in community into the wonder and mystery of the God who is being itself. In love, show us the way we pray.
This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Life is difficult, this is the opening line of a best-selling book entitled, “A Road Less Traveled” written by a psychiatrist, Dr. Scott Peck. Life is difficult, we really do not have any past experiences to help us, and of course we do not wish to listen to the advice of parents, teachers, siblings or preachers. We want to make our own mistakes and muddle through in our own way. We think,” if you are so smart why have you made so many mistakes in your life?” We treasure our failures, hold them close and carry them about with us so that we may relive our moments of travail and remind ourselves of our imperfections. No one of us wish to miss any unpleasant experience that listening to the advice of a loving parent or sibling might spare us. Why would we wish to miss any of life’s difficulties? Why would we wish to take the hand that is extended to us, to listen to the one who is the Alpha and Omega, who knows the past present and future, who created us in the very image of the divine and calls us to love each other, love ourselves and above all to love the Lord our God with every fiber of our beings. We are told in Genesis that we are created in the image of God, but not endowed with His wisdom, judgment and courage. At times God seems so far away, we wonder if he created the world in seven days, established natural laws and sent us spinning through the cosmos and has turned to other creations, now too busy to hear our cries of concern. Did He give us free will so that we could not blame Him for our mistakes or did He give us free will so that we would have the opportunity to be at choice, the chance to direct our own activities and take responsibility for the consequences of our actions. Do we experience growth and maturity as we enjoy this life? When do we grow up? When do we appreciate His innumerable gifts. When do we say Thank You to our creator who loves us more than any earthly parent love their child. Why would anyone deny themselves the opportunity to address God as Abba, our loving father? Thanksgiving gives us the opportunity to take time out of our busy lives, to reflect on our walk with the Risen Christ. Have we searched for him in those that we meet, do we recognize Christ in the strangers to the door of our fellowship? Do we remember his words, “I come not to judge, but to bring you life, life in abundance” when we judge ourselves and our neighbors. Are our sins as serious as those that we judge in others or are we all sinners desperately in need of Christ’s redeeming presence?
Returning to Scott Peck on the last page of his book and hear these words, “the fact that there exists beyond ourselves and our conscious will a powerful force that nurtures our growth and evolution is enough to turn our notions of self –insignificance topsy-turvy. For the existence of this force indicates with incontrovertible certainty that our human spiritual growth is of utmost importance to something greater than ourselves. This something we call God. The existence of grace is prima facie evidence not only of the reality of God but also the reality that God’s will is devoted to the growth of the individual human spirit. What once seemed to be a fairy tale turns out to be reality. We live our lives in the eye of God, not in the periphery but at the center of His vision, His concern. It is probable that the universe as we know it is but a single stepping stone toward the entrance to the Kingdom of God. This stepping stone has been laid down to prepare a way for us. Through grace we are helped not to stumble and through grace we know that we are being welcomed. What more can we ask?
At the time that Dr. Peck wrote these words he had traveled a spiritual road that I shared. He began life as a child in a marginally religious family, left organized religion in his college years, then in his 50s discovered to his wonder that he was viewed by his readers as an Orthodox Christian. The wonder to his eyes was that it became true, he is a practicing Christian, a follower of the Risen Christ, and a member of the Episcopal Church.
In my own life I left organized religion in college only to return to church in my 50s. I had lost a son and was deeply troubled when God directed me to the Methodist Church and to minister with whom I felt a particular kinship. It seemed that we had walked in the same moccasins, had shared many experiences and were now willing to take the hand that God extends to all of us at any time we are willing to avail ourselves of His redeeming presence and welcome the guidance of His Spirit.
A recently release motion picture entitled, “Conversations with God” is available on video disc and tells the story of Neal Donaly Welsch who was seriously injured with a fractured neck, lost his job and home and lived “on the street” until God literally put him back together and inspired him to write three books entitled, Conversations with God. He has had no special religious education, and he attributes the words to the Lord.
“I have heard the crying of your heart. I have seen the searching of your soul. I know how deeply you have desired the truth. In pain you have called out for it, and in joy. Unendingly have you beseeched Me, show myself. Explain myself. Reveal myself. I am doing so here in terms so plain you cannot misunderstand. In language so simple that you cannot be confused. In vocabulary so common, you cannot get lost in verbiage. So, go ahead now, ask Me anything. Anything. I will contrive to bring you the answer. The whole universe will I use to do this. So be on the lookout; this book is far from my only tool. You may ask a question, then put the book down. But watch; listen; the words to the next song that you hear; the information in the next article that you read; the story line of the next movie that you watch; the chance utterance of the next person that you meet. Or the whisper of the next river, the next ocean, the next breeze that caresses your ear – all of these devises are mine, all these answers are open to me. I will speak to you if you will listen; I will come to you if you will invite me. I will show you then that I have always been there; all ways. -------------You are goodness and mercy and compassion and understanding. You are peace and joy and light. You are forgiveness and patience; strength and courage; a helper in time of need, a comforter in time of sorrow, a healer in time of injury, a teacher in time of confusion. You are the deepest wisdom and the highest truth; you are the greatest peace and the grandest love, you are these things, and in moments of your life you have known yourself as these things. Choose now to know yourself as these things always.
These words are modern English, the concepts are right out of the Bible. Welsch presents many biblical themes united by the concept of God the creator who loves us so completely that He makes his Spirit available to accompany us in our lives without judgment; wants only our greatest good and awaits our invitation to walk with us into the beauty of today and the wonder and promise of tomorrow.
We are in the Easter season, let us take a few moments to reflect in gratitude on the multiple blessings with which we are endowed. Let us remember the mighty deeds and the quiet guidance, the gentle touch of the summers breeze and the roaring storms of winter. Let us give thanks for family and friends, the bounty of the harvest, the beauty of our land and to God, whom we may call Abba, who extends his unmerited blessings and Grace in love to all. For God all things are possible, God is love; he has a plan for us, He is in charge. Thanks be to God, the Holy Spirit walks with us and guides us when invited; we have only to ask.
Based on John 20:1-18
By Rev. Kristina Russell
Alleluia! Christ is Risen, Alleluia! Good morning and happy Easter to all of you! It is Easter and it is the defining holiday of the Christian Calendar. If not for Easter Sunday, the Christian church would probably not exist. Because of that morning over 2000 years ago, witnesses down the centuries have braved persecution and peril to share Easter’s story. It is our promise and our message to the world that Christ is Risen, Creation is made new and life is good.
Easter is God’s answer to evil. It is the flipside of despair and the time to dance and rejoice. It is the ancient festival of Spring and equal light transformed into an affirmation of the Creator’s love for creation. The Holy week journey to Easter is long and harrowing. It is full of sadness and mourning. But as the prophet said, God turns mourning into dancing and with the Easter story turns all that sadness on its head.
Speaking of Prophets, listen to Isaiah for a moment as he speaks of God making things new:
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
Easter is the ultimate new thing and is the river in the desert of our lives. So again, with me, Alleluia, Christ is Risen, Alleluia!
Our gospel is one of my favorites. I absolutely love John and this is one of the passages that gives me truth bumps. Pastor Lucy Lind Hogan likens this story to a play in three acts. The women and the tomb, the disciples running to see and Mary’s singular encounter with the risen Jesus. This story is so full of sermons. That women, the underdogs of the New Testament time, discover the empty tomb first and that Mary is the first to carry the gospel to the disciples. A woman was the first to share the gospel! Then there is the fact that they go in the darkness of early morning and end up experiencing the dawn of the defining moment of their new lives. John’s gospel begins in the darkness of the depth of creation until light bursts forth in the incarnation of the Word, the appearance of the Christ in our lives.
But I think the moment that most resonates with me and has been widely covered by far better theologians than I, is the moment between Mary and who she believes is the gardener. Once Jesus says her name, ‘Mary’, she responds with the joyous “rabbouni” or master teacher. Mary recognizes her beloved master when he says her name. This is a wonderful theme for my life and I believe for ours as Spiritual Seekers.
Again, pastor Hogan says this moment harks back to Jesus first words in the Gospel of John. Jesus asks John “who are you looking for?” Here at the culmination of Christ’s story he again asks Mary who she is looking for. Two things stand out here to me. First God recognizes us before we recognize God and knows us better than we know ourselves. Second, Jesus asks us every day, “who are you looking for?” Let’s explore these thoughts just for a moment
In light of the Easter celebration these truths are transforming. We often obscure our true selves with sadness, work, fear, mistrust and despair. But even in these uncertain times, God knows exactly who we are. There was a time that that idea scared me silly. But today I realize that God is in love with me and sees me for who I am and most importantly for who I can be in Him. Easter confirms this relationship with a triumphant shout.
What hides who you are from the nurturing gaze of love? What Easter moment do you need to recognize your master? Today we will be nurtured at the banquet table of the Christ as we share in communion. Here at this table, we are all equal and fed by the God who is in love with us. Let us strive to recognize our master in those who feast with us here today and in the world.
As we think about this mutual recognition, this calling by name of our true selves let me finish this thought with a quote from brother John McQuiston:
As I sit on this porch, … I have been brought to this morning by a process that began billions of years ago; I am an amalgamation of stardust that has miraculously been made aware; I am cradled in the hands of God; I am part of the living, conscious expression of the Infinite.
That is it! That is who we are, we are expressions of Creation, of God’s love and Christ’s resurrection. We are Easter messengers and bringers of the love right here, right now on Easter morning.
Finally, who are we looking for? Where are we to find them? Well, Easter is part of the answer. This creator, who laid in the earth for 3 days and burst forth in glory and triumph is the answer we are seeking. Those of us who understand God best through the lens of Jesus Christ are uniquely qualified to share love. In a few weeks Christ will send his lasting gift to his disciples. The Spirit will fall on them and others to preach the gospel and serve all who seek. There is our Easter commission! There are our marching orders if you will. Prepare the world for love, prepare the world for the Spirit and Kingdom of God.
Jesus clearly told us where we were to find him and serve him. In the marginalized, the suffering, the captives, the hungry. All those souls who are still stuck in the darkness of Friday, not knowing that Easter Sunday is on the way. We who know Sunday comes must daily strive to find our Christ in these sacred precious ones. Let us seek the one we are looking for at the communion rail, at the workplace, at the homeless shelter, at the grocery store, at the corner of Oak and Franklin and there carry our joyous message to them. Christ is risen, Creation is renewed. We can be renewed. All can be renewed with the beautiful, glorious message of Easter morning each and every day. Christ is risen and we share that truth in love and service. Amen
Diana Hunter is our Senior Pastor;