Phoenix Processional (Dan Locklair)
Here is an audio recording of this morning's Prelude played by our Music Minister, Anthony Tracia. Enjoy - we sure did.
We wish to thank everyone who donated to our Easter Flower collection this year so that our Sanctuary could help share the joy and wonder of this most blessed season of Easter.
The video link to our Palm Sunday Service will be uploaded tomorrow. Here are some photos in the meanwhile.
Blessing of the palms. The children and youth of the parish distribute the palms to those in the congregation. Shown here: Megan, Pari and Maya
And also Lizzie, Casey and Matthew, with dad Matthew too.
Thanks to Maddie for showing us all how to make palm crosses. That's Rev. Randy's poor attempt at cross making all the way to the right.
So Rev. Randy took credit for our Music Minister, Anthony Tracia's, perfect palm cross.
We read Luke's Passion account as today's Word of God. Thanks to our readers: Glenda, Carolyn, Maureen, Jeff, Bill, Becky, Mark and Rev Randy
On Holy Monday at 7PM, we will be reading the crucifixion account in Mark's Gospel. On Maundy Thursday at 7PM we will remember Jesus' Last Supper and the new commandment (mandatum) to Love One Another.
The church will be open on Good Friday from 9AM - 3:30PM for private prayer and meditation.
The community Easter Egg Hunt is on Saturday at 10AM.
All leading up to the glory of Easter. Sunrise Service at 5:45am across from the American Legion and back in church at 10AM.
All are welcome, and we do mean all.
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
I was visiting with a couple this past week. They’ve been going through some consistently difficult times. One of the things they mentioned is that it’s hard for others to understand their situation because others have never been in anything like it. And then there was this amazing statement, a thank you to Jesus for all of His suffering, because while others may not understand, Jesus does.
There were, of course, prayers that things would get better, but there was also this powerful statement of connection in the midst of their ongoing hardship that Jesus knew what they were enduring and that He could sympathize with it.
That was such a profound statement of Lenten faith. It was a prayer that captured the theology of Christ going to the cross, maybe not so much suffering for us or in place of us, but as suffering with us.
I’ve returned to that prayer many times this past week. It ties in with something we talked about on Monday at our Deacons’ meeting, and then was repeated at Wednesday’s Lenten Discussion.
We were talking in both cases about why we go to church. Often we complain about why others don’t go to church, but it seems more constructive to concentrate on the positive. What is it that brings us here? What is that keeps us here? What is that we can’t find anywhere else but here?
Rev. Barbara’s presentation this past Wednesday included taped interviews with people from her church who were asked that question of why do we go to church.
What our Deacons would like to ask now is that after this morning’s Service when you have a few moments at Chat and Coffee, that you take one of the slips of paper available on the table here to the side, and that you write down a few of your thoughts about why you go to church. You don’t have to sign your comments, but we’d like to collect them afterwards and reprint them on a bulletin insert for Easter.
Rev. Barbara, for example, mentioned, as a Minister would, that church is where she meets Jesus. I agree that Jesus is everywhere, but we need to remember that church is the community called together – by Jesus! This is the special place, time and people where Jesus has asked us to meet Him. He’s everywhere, but He’s especially here. Church is another powerful blessing of connection just like I heard in that prayer of “Thank you Jesus for your suffering.” Today’s Gospel ties in with this message. It shares the story about Jesus’ last anointing. He’s at the home of Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead. Lazarus has two sisters, Martha and Mary. Before we can fully understand Mary’s action in today’s Gospel, we need to go back to the story of the raising Lazarus. Jesus is delayed in reaching His friend and Lazarus dies. When Jesus finally arrives, Martha rushes out to meet Him, but the Bible is quite clear in that it says, “Mary stayed at home.” She’s angry and disappointed in Jesus. She doesn’t want to see Him.
That’s the background story to this morning’s Gospel, which is the story of their next encounter after the raising of Lazarus. Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with oil that was worth a full year’s wages for a labourer. Jesus says that this act is preparation for His own death, but for Mary, it was an extravagant gesture of appreciation.
She had missed her chance the last time Jesus came when she chose to stay at home. It would never happen again. Mary forevermore cherished her time with Christ. The act of anointing was extravagant, but it expressed the depth of Mary’s connection with Jesus.
That’s what Rev. Barbara was talking about. Church is her blessed chance to be with Jesus and she will not miss those sacred opportunities of connection. I hope we can all appreciate this gift, and in our own ways never take church for granted.
Let me share one more gift that helps me to answer why I go to church. There are some un-familiar sounding words from Jesus after Mary anoints His feet, and it’s actually too much to unpack right now, but Jesus says, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
The world can be mean and messy, and sometimes it can become too much. The problems that face us are always there and that can make our efforts to make the world a better place seem futile. It’s like Jesus said, “You always have the poor…”
But church keeps helping me week after week to hope.
On Wednesday we saw a great presentation on an effort called Ultimate Peace. Look them up if you have a chance. It’s a small but intense effort to bring young Jews, Arabs and Christians together in Israel by playing Ultimate Frisbee. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZonLGnkK8w
When these young people come together to meet each other and to see past the barriers of our differences, they bond. They form lasting friendships with people they thought they had to forever hate. And that gives hope.
Rev. Barbara’s son is one of the leaders of this group and he kept tying-in his work with Ultimate Peace with his own Confirmation as a teenager, with his decision as a young adult to belong to a church. His faith, his going to church, gives him the hope to make a difference.
That’s a blessing. And before we break and come together around the blessing that is Holy Communion, let me leave you with words that Linda read for us: “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing, [says God.]”
That’s hope. The old ways don’t have to remain and forever define us. A new world is possible, and for that gift of hope that I receive every Sunday, for this I am truly grateful.
And I hope you’ll take some time to think about why you go to church and then maybe share it with us by writing it down after Service.
And for all these things we pray in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Third Sunday of Lent
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps. 19:14)
I know a lot of people enjoy playing along with Jeopardy! on television. If you’re one of them, here’s some useful information that may come in handy someday. In the entirety of the Bible, the word manure is found but twice. Once in today’s passage and a second time about a page later. How many of you expected to come to church today and hear the word manure in the sermon? How many of you thought that word was even in the Bible?
I wonder if Luke was having a bad day when he was writing this part of his Gospel. Some-times we can forget that the Bible was written by people, real people living in real life situations. The Bible is a book from God, but there’s so much of us in there too.
I wonder if his quill kept breaking that day. Or maybe he had the flu. Or maybe things weren’t going well at work or the kids were screaming. Or maybe, like me living beside the corn fields, a farmer had just spread manure-fertilizer and Luke couldn’t get that smell out of his thoughts as he was writing his Gospel.
Whatever was going on, this is a real person, writing about the real world, for real people, trying to deal with real situations with help coming from a very real person. And that’s exactly what we hear in today’s Gospel in the words of Jesus.
Ordinary people around Jesus were talking with Him about front-page news. The Roman governor Pilate had tortured some of their neighbours. They’re not asking Jesus why; they’re just saying, “Hey Jesus, did you hear?”
Jesus answers with another ordinary story that everyone was talking about, the 18 people who died in an accident when a tower collapsed on them. Then, in this not unusual kind of conversation, Jesus works in the message that such things are not based on whether they’re deserved or not. Deserved has nothing to do with it, says Jesus.
But isn’t that a natural question to ask when accident or tragedy strike? Don’t we wonder “Why me?” Or even, how come it wasn’t me? Sharon and I were out on Friday evening. We’re sitting and talking with a very pleasant woman. She’s a nurse and she was volunteering her services at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and this was back in 2013.
That was the year of the Marathon bombing. About 15 minutes before the explosions, she and her team packed up and left. They were already on the subway when their phones lit-up with the news.
There was no way to get back to help because all the paths back into that area were closed as soon as the bombs exploded. She wondered out loud to us why they had decided to leave. She wondered what would have happened if she stayed at the finish line? And behind those questions is the other question of “Why?”
I read yesterday that a Parkland School shooting survivor committed suicide. She was suffering through survivor’s quilt. She couldn’t process why she survived that horrible school shooting while her best friend died? The question of “Why?” was so heavy a burden that she took her own life last Sunday at the age of 19.
Jesus wasn’t protected from any of this any more than we are. And yet, what comes out of Jesus’ mouth after the stories of tragedy and accident? He offers a parable, a parable of realistic optimism.
He tells the story of a practical and patient land owner who has given up on the usefulness of a fig tree. For one season, and then another, and then even a third, he has gone into his garden looking for figs and never was there one to be found.
This practical and patient man decides it’s best to give up on this tree, to free up its soil so that another may be planted. But the gardener intervenes. The owner shows up and wants to reap the benefits of the garden. He wants some figs. Completely understandable. But the gardener is the one who is out there every day, not only during the harvest season.
The gardener knows how hard it is to grow a tree. I tried this a bunch of times, but once I took an avocado seed. Hung it over a container of water. Watched as roots eventually started. Then I planted the seed. It started to grow. I thought how cool it was that I was going to have an avocado tree. Then, for reasons I do not know, it withered and died.
I’m sure that in ancient Israel a full-grown fig tree required a lot of effort and care, and even a lot of luck. Jesus’ Jewish faith started off with a rhythm of the seasons. The holy days were associated with times of plantings and harvests. God had to be involved because so much of a farming life was up to chance.
The gardener not only knowing all of this, but living it day in and day out, convinced the owner to give the fig tree one more try. He would give the tree special care in the hopes that next season would be different.
The parable is a message of optimism, but it is not a fantasy parable. The gardener must work extra hard to bring the improvement about. His optimism is not only based on luck, but on work, on dedicated, hard work, but he knows the value of the tree.
Jesus was not an ivory tower idealist, not an everything-will-be-better in heaven preacher. Jesus was planted firmly in the real world. Jesus could talk about manure-fertilizer, and Jesus could give those people struggling along beside Him a message of optimism, that if we work at it, there is the chance that we can turn things around.
Nothing is guaranteed in Jesus’ words. We don’t know what the next year holds. Will the tree thrive or will it be cut down? Jesus leaves His parable open ended. It’s up to us to finish it.
Jesus sees what we see. The world is not fair. Bad things happen indiscriminately. But even so, we can try to make a difference, and that’s the best way to make a difference.
Let’s trust in Jesus’ optimism. Let’s work to make the world a better place. Let’s figure out how to do this together, and on our own, and with Jesus.
May this be our prayer today. In spite of all the world’s evils and accidents, let’s make a difference and build a better world, and let’s find strength and encouragement in Jesus’ optimism, because change begins when we believe it is possible, and Jesus lets us believe that anything is possible.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Second Sunday of Lent
Here is the link to our Sunday morning Service for the Second Sunday of Lent. We had been experiencing technical difficulties with our videotaping. I thank John Novak for his help in fixing those problems. The sound is great. I hope you enjoy our Sunday worship, Rev. Randy
First Sunday of Lent
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
The Season of Lent always begins with the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. That can get us a bit too comfortable with the story, and comfortable is the opposite of what the temptation in the wilderness is all about, and it’s the opposite of what Lent is all about.
So let’s start somewhere else. Let’s start with the Old Testament tradition about offering the first fruits to God. I was reading the other day about a guy and his dog who were stranded out in the woods in his car. The car got stuck in the middle of a snowstorm. He tried to walk out of the woods, but the snow was too deep for the dog, and the guy would not leave his dog behind. They went back to the car and hunkered down. Overnight it snowed again to the point that he couldn’t even open the car doors. All he had was a few packets of taco sauce to eat.
He knew by now that people would realize he was missing. He was a builder and he had missed work. He trusted that people would be out looking for him, but how could he not worry sitting in a car buried in the snow? In such a situation, imagine how precious a package of even taco sauce becomes. When there is nothing much to eat, everything is delicious.
Now let’s imagine we’re subsistence farmers in ancient Israel. We grow enough to feed ourselves and nothing more. Not because we’re lazy, but because even this takes all of our efforts and skill. As winter lingers, food supplies dwindle. Spring arrives. We plant, but still must wait. We’re hungry and at the point where even taco sauce is delicious.
Finally, the first fruits mature. There’s not a lot, but there’s at least something. Now imagine taking those first fruits and giving them to God. What does God need with the first fruits? He’s not hungry. Is this just mean-spirited? Is this just a tradition of subservience? Or is something else going on here?
What about trust? Can the offering of the first fruits be a dramatic symbol of unwavering trust in God? In an age when a bad harvest wasn’t covered by farmers insurance, when too much rain, rain at the wrong time, too little rain, damaging storms, even literal swarms of locusts could lead to starvation, the offering of those first fruits to God were a powerful statement of trust.
I’ve told farmers around here that I would have ulcer on top of ulcer if I were one of them. No matter how hard you work, it can all turn to nothing because of so many factors outside of the farmer’s control. Imagine what it must have been like when a bad harvest meant that there was nothing to feed your family, not even taco sauce. In this kind of situation, the offering of the first fruits was an act of trust that God cared enough to help.
We shouldn’t take this insight for granted, this insight that God cares enough to help. Maybe you remember your days in school reading Greek mythology. The gods could be mightily selfish. Maybe a hero or a beautiful woman would catch their attention for a while, but for the most part, the gods didn’t care. The gods used to watch the battles of the Trojan War, the old myths tell us. It was their entertainment. The injuries and deaths didn’t cause them much concern at all.
Then came along these subsistence farmers of ancient Israel and they started professing belief in a God who cares enough to help. They trust in this God who knows who they are, these ordinary folk, these families scattered throughout the hills of the ancient Promised Land.
These become the people and the traditions of Jesus. This brave new idea that God cares enough to help even an ordinary, easily overlooked subsistence farmer was a foundation of Jesus’ religious upbringing. This is the seed of His spirituality. This is what was growing in Jesus’ soul throughout all those years up until the time we meet Him in the wilderness in today’s Gospel.
We hear today that Jesus is by Himself struggling to figure out His calling. Life in Nazareth was not the answer. Joining John the Baptist was not the answer. Now we read that Jesus has wandered deeper into the wilderness and that He has been alone and struggling with questions of identity and purpose for 40 intense days.
If we are willing to understand Jesus’ temptation by the devil as an analogy for Jesus’ own inward struggles, we see Jesus wrestling with the question of who He is: “Am I to become a provider so that wants disappear? That’s the temptation of the bread. Am I supposed to be powerful so that fears disappear? That’s the image of the kingdoms. Am I to perform miracles so that doubts disappear? That’s Jesus jumping from a Temple tower.
But Jesus rejects all these paths and really, these identities. We’re not told what He does accept, but right after this self-examination Jesus returns to Galilee and He explains His ministry by reading these words from Isaiah: “‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, 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 favour.’” And we’re back to the surprising notion of the God who cares about everyone.
I think it’s only natural that we would wish Jesus had chosen otherwise. How amazing it would be if He could provide for all our physical needs, no more hunger or poverty. If He could be powerful enough to end wars and conflicts. If He could swoop down and perform constant miracles so there would be no more sickness or accidents. But instead, Jesus chose differently.
Instead, Jesus reveals a God who cares about everyone and then goes out and preaches this message and shows it in how He lives and even how He dies on the cross, and then importantly, essentially really, Jesus asks us to follow Him by also committing ourselves to the same message that God cares about everyone.
In a way Jesus’ temptations are also our temptations. Can we accept God without the bread, the kingdoms and the miracles and see Him instead in His call for us to work with Him and care for everyone, the forgotten, the ignored, and the ordinary, to help Him let the ones who may not believe, trust that God can set them free, and to proclaim with wholehearted enthusiasm: “Whoever you are, you are welcome here.”
We had a visitor in church last Sunday who saw this message on our sign outside and she smiled throughout the Service. Now she’s back home in Philadelphia, but she’s taking a picture of our sign to show her pastor.
Maybe our Lenten journey can start by thinking about what a blessing it is to be able to deep down trust in a God who cares about everyone, and what a blessing it is to belong to a church that puts that gospel message on her sign for everyone to see, and maybe since Jesus even went to the cross to prove it, maybe we can continue His ministry of sharing this message of God cares about everyone with all whom we meet.
For this may we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Due to technical difficulties with the audio, the only parts that are provided in this tape from our Sunday Service is the Children's Sermon and the Sermon. We hope to have our technical problems rectified by the next time we tape on March 17th. Sorry for the background noise and for not being able to share the music and the congregational prayers. Rev. Randy
Seventh Sunday After Epiphany
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
Last year was the 150th anniversary of publication of the book Little Women. I had never read the book, but sometimes I feel obligated to read a classic. So I’m now in the process of reading Little Women.
It's my nighttime read. Usually Sharon will go to bed before me. I'll get into bed quietly, ready to read my book quietly, but for an unknown reason I'll start singing "Little women walking down the street." Guess that ruins all the quiet for Sharon who is trying to sleep.
I remember on the television show Friends that Joey almost cried when he heard about the death of one of the daughters. Last weekend I heard an interview on the radio and the woman was comparing herself to the high-spirited, independent daughter. Sharon and I were sitting in the tavern of the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge and the bartender’s favourite book is Little Women.
Plus, as a pastor I appreciate that Little Women intentionally tries to teach important moral lessons. And one of the most difficult lessons is the same one we’re talking about today: “Love your enemies.”
In Little Women, one of Mrs. March’s daughters had gotten into a jealous argument with one of her friends, but rather than return unkindness for unkindness, the daughter turns the other cheek. The mother praises her because of this, but the all-knowing narrator lets the reader know that even this most gentle of women offered her praise “with the air of one who had learned the difference between preaching and practicing.” (chap. 30) It’s fairly easy to say “love your enemies,” but it’s extremely hard to do so. It’s like we heard yesterday from Rev. Sanderson about church growth: it’s 20% idea and 80% work.
In this morning’s Gospel, we go to the source of this most difficult lesson that is easier to preach than to practice, but Jesus did practice what He preached. I mentioned this at the beginning of this past week’s Bible Study. We’re beginning to read the chapters in Mark’s Gospel that tell us about Jesus’ final days. Jesus goes to the cross because He will not return hatred for hatred.
This adds credibility to Jesus’ words when He shares with us what I think is the most counter-intuitive, most radical, most difficult teaching in all our faith. He says, “‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies …’” “But I say to you that listen …” Jesus knows that hearing this bizarre commandment is not the same as listening, as taking it in and giving it a chance to take hold.
There are a lot of other world religions that would call love your enemies excessive. There are a lot of nations that would call this suicidal. There are a lot of Christians who would call this impossible. And there were a lot of people who heard Jesus who thought the exact same thing. That’s why I have the cartoon on the front of today’s bulletin.
Crowds are politely hearing what Jesus has to say, but they’re not really willing to listen. The ones in the crowd are a defeated people. Their conquerors are the Romans.
You know how upset we get over the thought of Russian interference in our elections? Imagine instead that the Russians not only interfered, but that they defeated us and were in control of our lives. That’s just like the feelings the ones in the crowds would have had toward the Romans.
When Jesus preaches “Love your enemies,” they hear His words, but they can’t process them. They immediately start saying among themselves, “Certainly he doesn’t mean the Romans." "I would hope not,” says another in reply. But Jesus does mean even the Romans when He teaches: Love your enemies.
But before we settle for only hearing today’s Gospel rather than really listening to it, let’s put it in perspective. Somewhere at home I have an old editorial cartoon that shows one last Arab ready to throw a bomb at one last Israeli who is ready to shoot him with his Uzi. Everything around them has been destroyed and they’re the last two standing, and now they’re ready to kill each other. Does the Middle East feel like a safe corner of the world with this sort of generational revenge mentality?
I’ve heard also that we’re selling Saudi Arabia nuclear technology because Iran already has it. This means in the tinder box that is the Middle East Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia are going to try and protect themselves by all building their own nuclear weapons. Does that sound safer?
Last week in Kashmir a group from the Pakistani side killed about 40 soldiers on the Indian side. India has vowed to retaliate with a "jaw breaking response." And both of these countries are trying to feel safer by both building nuclear weapons. Does that sound safer?
Or how about the fact that the United States and Russia are pulling out of nuclear control treaties that limit closer range weapons. This cuts down on reaction times and a hastily made judgment mistake could easily escalate to full nuclear war. Does that make us feel safer?
Stephen Hawking, that famous wheelchair bound astrophysicist, said that we have not made contact with other intelligent civilizations in the universe because it is very possible that once a civilization makes enough progress to reach out into space that it has also learned enough to destroy itself. Maybe we haven’t heard from anybody else because that’s exactly what happens every time.
Maybe “love your enemies” is not as absurd as it sounds.
Or how about this from another perspective? I imagine that we’ve all seen movies where someone is being tortured, but the person can’t be broken. Then the villains bring in someone that the person cares about. The one who would not crack when harm was endured personally could not tolerate the thought of harm being done to someone they loved.
What if God in Jesus was willing to face the torturous death of the cross Himself, but God cannot bear what we do to each other, His beloved children? What if the agony of our harming each other is even more fearsome for God than the cross?
Imagine how our hatreds and violence, even to the point of nuclear destruction, must cause God to shudder? This is an offense at the very nature of who God is and the strangeness of “love your enemies” is only strange because it’s asking us to be like God.
Let me close with the words of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on this our last Sunday of African-American History Month. He had many a reason to return hatred for hatred, but he clung to Jesus’ Gospel instead and in the end he would say: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
Love your enemies, I believe, is the hardest lesson of Christianity, but it is essential to Christianity. There’s just no way to soften its severity. We can hear it or we can truly listen to it, but we can’t say Jesus didn’t mean it.
May we pray for peace and for lessening the number of our enemies so that this commandment is not as hard to bear, and may we find the strength in our worship to not only preach but practice this strange commandment in our lives. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Faith, love and chitchat.
Sunday 10-11am (9:30am July + August)
Children Sunday School 10-11am
Nursery care available during worship