Weekly Words of Wisdom 10-28-20

God’s Yearning 

Sermon 10-25-20 by The Rev. Lorrie Skinner

Exodus 33:12-23

12 Moses said to the Lord, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ 13 Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” 14 He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 And he said to him, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.”

17 The Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” 18 Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’;[a] and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” 21 And the Lordcontinued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; 23 then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

The book of Exodus is full of drama and suspense.  The people are captive in Egypt; will they escape? Moses escapes Pharaoh’s wrath but questions his own ability to respond to God’s call to be a leader; the Lord appears in a burning bush and then promises freedom; Pharaoh is caught short by the plagues; the first Passover is instituted; and finally the Red Sea is crossed and the long journey in the wilderness begins.  Will they make it to the promise land? We know they do but not without much struggle and hardship.  Guidance is provided in the Ten Commandments but impatience and uncertainty rule the day making it necessary for Moses to go to the Lord, over and over again for help.  While he is away on Mt. Sinai receiving the covenant — 2 tablets of stone as the scripture tells us, “written with the finger of God”, chaos erupts as the people rebel, angry at Moses’ absence, frustrated with a perceived lack of direction and leadership, fearful of what the future holds, grumbling and complaining to Aaron who wasn’t up to the task of reassuring them.  He succumbed to their wishes.  This is the famous story of the Golden Calf, a substitute for the Lord to whom they had promised not to worship false gods. Aaron, in his attempt to restore the status quo gave them what they wanted.  When Moses returned he was angry.  He smashed the stone tablets and destroyed the golden calf… but, too late.  Things were already out of control and the result was the death of 3 thousand people.  And God is so angry that God tells Moses to go ahead and lead but now God will not go with them.  

And that brings us to the passage we read earlier.  Princeton Seminary professor Dennis Olson says that God’s yearning to be “with” Israel and in their midst is the reason why the people’s rebellion in worshipping the golden calf in Exodus 32 is such a devastating event. Israel’s worship of the golden calf violated the first and important commandment about worshiping God alone. This covenant-breaking act endangered God’s whole project of deliverance, God’s intent to stay with the people of Israel, dwelling in their midst. 

So we find Moses interceding for this “stiff-necked” nation of people.   He is persistent.  The Message translates it this way: “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us?” If we are looking for a lesson in how to pray, here it is.  Here is prayer that is not afraid to hold God to God’s promises, prayer that is not afraid to appeal to God’s love for God’s people, even over and against God’s anger. Moses, through this audacious prayer, succeeds in securing God’s promise that God will indeed abide with the Israelites throughout their long wilderness wandering.

The Biblical witness makes it clear:  Through it all we are made aware of God’s own yearning, a consistent yearning to become Immanuel — God With Us.  In Exodus 33, we hear a powerful echo to a future witness to the unfolding character and name of God: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory … full of grace and truth (John 1:14).” (Olson)

Thus it is the church that embodies the way of Moses, that provides the kind of leadership he models for us, the efforts he puts into searching for and struggling with a relationship with God, his determination to hold up his people before God, his ability to persist and finally change God’s mind, his pleading with God to be shown God’s glory. It is the church who brings hope in the midst of despair.

Two months from today we will celebrate Christmas.  That’s when the church brings us into focus is on Immanuel, the coming of God into the world to live among us and to show us the way.  That’s how much God yearns, longs to be with humanity. The church, grounded in that certainty of Immanuel, God with us, a life-giving God in Jesus Christ, keeps the Covenant with God made so many centuries ago, held firmly in God’s promises of hope, and of presence,  to be with us no matter what. 

Weekly Words of Wisdom 10-21-20

Sermon 10-18-20 The Rev. Sherm Skinner Matthew 5:43-48

             I want to share two verses of Scripture with you.  The first is from the Good News Bible, where Jesus said, “No pupil is greater than his teacher, but every pupil, when he has completed his training, will be like his teacher.” So, we who follow Jesus Christ, who are his disciples, his pupils, have, as a goal, to be more like him, to be more Christ-like. 

            And then, from the passage we just read, from the Sermon on the Mount, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Someone has pointed out that to be perfect, in this sense, is to be perfectly human, just as a tree is perfectly a tree, and God is perfectly God. It means to be fully what you are, fully human, to be fully like our teacher, Jesus Christ.

            Professor William Hamilton once wrote, “Jesus is a figure of sufficient clarity. . . to be for us the center for Christian faith and life. . . .Jesus is the one. . .before whom I stand, the one whose way with others is also to be my way.

            And David Woodyard comments: “I find here a clue to the shaping and styling of an authentically human life. . .I struggle with being a Christian in joy and humility, because, in the event of Jesus Christ, I find the depth and breadth of what it means to be a human being. And I find it nowhere else with the same clarity and contagion.” He goes on: “Jesus provides me with an image of what my life is called to be. . . .By standing over against me in all my imperfections, he stands for the person I could become.”

            And then he has a passage of such stirring beauty that I have used it, on occasion, in worship, as a Litany of Confession and Faith: “Jesus Christ keeps me from being a lesser self, from falling short of the very humanness I could achieve.  He stands against my impulse to hate another who has offended me, and challenges me to accept in another the defects I tolerate in myself. He stands again my indifference to the plight of others, and challenges me to confirm their goodness and sustain their dignity.  He stands against my desire to possess everything for myself, and challenges me to share my abundance with others. He stands against my unruly love of self, and challenges me to love my neighbor with the same fervor.  He is forever calling forth a depth and breadth of humanness, in a way no one else can.  And from time to time in his claim upon my life, I recognize more than the action of a human being.  I must confess to seeing “The glory of God in the face of Christ.”

            That’s the kind of teacher we have on our hands and in our midst – this Christ, who stands over against those things that warp and limit human life and make us less than human, and who challenges us and frees us to live fully human, and loving, lives.

Weekly Words of Wisdom 10-14-20

October 11, 2020 Sermon, Rev Jen Van Zandt – Philippians 4:4-7

“Rejoice, and again I say, Rejoice!” With all the things that we are contending with now, that certainly seems like a tall order.  I’ll tell you what…let’s come back to that. 

“Let your gentleness be known to everyone.”  Gee that seems like a hard one too, these days. Perhaps you are gentle.  Perhaps you are gentle to your spouse or you are gentle to your spouse and your children, or you are gentle to your spouse, your children, and to your neighbors.  But maybe you are NOTgentle to yourself.

Paul also writes “Do not worry about anything.” Huh…How many of us are sleeping like a baby right now?  How many of us are just gliding through life without a care in the world?  And how about thanks- true thanks-givingin our prayer life?  Supplication… (things we ask God to supply for us) … Yeah, we are good at that.  But a true, glad-hearted thanksgiving in our prayer life…well…maybe not so much.

The exhortations in Paul’s letter here keep coming… “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just… pure… pleasing… commendable…excellent…worthy of praise…”

My friends, I don’t think I have to tell you what a long, deep and challenging list that is, and then he says,”Keep on doing these things (as if we are alreadydoing them) and the God of peace will be with you”?  I feel like I haven’t even started and I definitely need that peace of God.  

We wantto be all these things.  We seekto be all these things.  But right now, it just seems like it’s awfully hard to be anyof these things with the worries on our minds and hearts.  How is Paul writing all of this, upbeat, inspiring and confident, while he himself is in prison?  I don’t know about you, but I kind of feel like I am in prison right now with all of the things that are hanging heavy on my heart and all of the places and the people I can’t see, including all of you who are not here today except for Kim, who is thankfully sitting in front of me so I am not preaching to a truly empty sanctuary.

So how do we get all of these things to be the first thingson our mind: when we wake up, and during the day when things go badly, and then before bed?  Well, Saints, the secret is actually hidden in the text itself.  In verse 7, Paul writes, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  I am going to read that again, and I am going to invite you to close your eyes and see if you can’t get that deeper into your soul.. “And the peace of God, which surpasses ALL understanding, will guard your hearts and your mindsin Christ Jesus.”

Now when Paul writes this, the Greek translation literally means stand sentry watch. Guarding your hearts literally means stand sentry watch.  Because God stands guard, we not only canaccomplish this long list, but we canrejoice.  Fred Craddock, who unfortunately is no longer with us but was a beloved scholar and pastor who did not carry the ego that sometimes comes with scholars, says it like this…“Because God’s peace is on duty, we do not have to be anxiously scanning the horizon for new threats.  Alert? yes, but anxious, NO.”

BOOM – That’s a mic drop!  

Friends if God is guarding our hearts and standing watch for us, then indeed we do not have to be anxious,

we don’t have to be fearful, we don’t have to worry.  We CAN, but it certainly eats up a lot of our time, and for some of us it is a chronic habit.  But if God’s peace is “on duty”, then we CAN sleep through the night; we CAN stop worrying about our future because it’s with God, no matter what!  We can also rejoice in small things that somehow we swat away because we’re still worried about the future and certainly there is still plenty on our minds.  

A few weeks ago I was looking for some peace,and I sat on my deck which faces the woods and I was trying to find peace–sometimes that is a good exercise for us.  Spiritual directors will say if you are really struggling to hear God’s voice,get back into nature.  And so I was sitting there and I was) ignoring all of the squirrels that were running around my deck), but then, these two little boys ran around my deck and around the entire building.  They startled me. When I moved to that condo 7 years ago, there were no children in the neighborhood.  Now it seems that there are more children than adults. I don’t see how that is possible but it is.  And then…the quiet. Ahhh.

Then a little girl, who had on a headpiece of some sort and some sort of cape, came running around the corner and said to me “Which way did Zotor go?” and I said “He went THAT way!” and she said “Thank you so much!”  And with the deep intensity of a 4-year-old trying to capture the ‘evil’ person, (who is probably her older brother) …I am getting chills just thinking about the purity and intensity in her eyes.  All she wanted to do was capture that person, with her cape on, and her headpiece and restore peace to the neighborhood!

Friends, God’s peace is on duty.  It doesn’t mean that everything’s going to be happy clappy, but it does mean that we can rest, we can trust, and we can shed the worries and help others do the same, because that is our calling as Christians. Now more than ever, the world needs our faith and the modeling of rejoicing, even in the midst of difficulty.  

May it be so.

Amen.

Conversations

Dear Saints,

In now, month (7!) of Pandemic life, I want to share an experience with you, in case it’s helpful. It was for me. I had a Dr’s appointment. It wasn’t an appointment for nothing, but I hoped it wasn’t anything.

After checking in, I sat down, and waited my turn.

In they came.

An elderly couple. Either of them could barely walk. He had a cane but could have used a walker. She was ambulating under her own steam but looked like the wind could blow her over. They checked in and sat down, 6-8 feet away.

They started to converse. As you all know, conversations in a Dr’s office are rather audible and this was no exception. They weren’t particularly loud but they were clearly discussing something.

I tried to go back to my meditative/prayer practices, closing my eyes, paying attention to my breathing…but they kept at it.  Because there were just the three of us, it was next to impossible to shut out the conversation. They were spirited for sure and likely unaware I could hear them.

They weren’t discussing the appointment, potential maladies/diagnoses or current symptoms. Nor were they discussing an article in a magazine, complaints about transportation, aches and pains, or what the Dr. might say.

I was actually in amazement because…I was sorting out most all of those things in my head, as I waited for the Dr. visit.

While I was “spinning plates” for all of my concerns about my Dr. visit, they were spending their time… wait for it…Trying to figure out… how to sign on to the local WIFI while they were in the Dr’s office! Hilarious.

10 years ago (ish) we were just getting smart phones and our parents and grand parents were just learning how to use (and answer) flip phones. We all thought that the technology would leave a gap between us and the previous generations. First it was cell phones but then older adults started getting them. Then it was texting and they learned how to do that. Then Facebook showed up (because it was the only way people could see their kids and grands). Then came Facetime. And then InstaGram, TikTok and Zoom.

Friends, if 80 and 90 and 100 year old’s can adjust to the times (and the technology) we find ourselves in, then we can too.

We are having to adjust and endure times that we never knew were possible. We are having to adjust and endure times that we have no frame of reference for, no training for, no solutions for.

Yet, this is where we are. We can sit and worry and wonder and disaster-ize, or we can get about living, adjusting and re-tooling so that we can enjoy and appreciate the gifts God gives us, even in the midst of the unpleasant, the unpredictable and the unknowing.

Seeking God’s conversations with you,

Jen