Sermon: A Voice Crying Out

Sunday 7 December 2014
The Second Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 40:3-5

Mark 1:1-8

It was over 2500 years ago. The Northern Kingdom of Israel and its capital, Samaria, have already been conquered by the Assyrian Empire. The Southern Kingdom of Judah and its capital, Jerusalem, have already been conquered by the Babylonian Empire. All of the elites in society, the politicians and priests and scholars and aristocrats, have been hauled off in a forced migration to Babylon, not far from modern Baghdad. The temple has been destroyed. But now, King Cyrus and the mighty Persian Empire have risen up out of modern Iran and is on the gates of Babylon. After 40 long years of captivity, a Hebrew prophet declares: “A voice cries out, ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’”

The Hebrew people had been in exile. When the temple had been destroyed, many were afraid that the God who lived in that temple had been destroyed as well. Others were concerned that the God of Israel could not be with them in a foreign land. Everything they understood about God, everything they knew about religion, had been turned upside-down and inside-out.

Eventually, some of the exiles started to find new meaning and significance in the writings of their faith, scriptures that up until then had only been secondary to their experience of God. They found that in the reading and study of scripture, they could find God, even though they no longer had the temple and they were not in the land of their ancestors. Eventually they came to believe that the Spirit of God, the Shekhinah, that had once lived in the temple, had traveled with the exiles to Babylon after the temple had been destroyed.

But now things had changed. A liberator had come to set them free. King Cyrus of the Persians. Some thought he was the anointed one of God, the Mashiach, the Messiah. He had come from the east to set the prisoners free and rebuild the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem.

And now God’s Spirit would be able to return from exile along with God’s people. The Spirit of the Lord would travel back to its home on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. “A voice cries out, ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’”

More than half a millennium later, the people of Israel were in crisis again. The temple had been destroyed yet again, this time by the Roman Empire. Once again there were questions about whether God was still with the people if the temple was not there. Had God deserted the chosen people? Or worse, had God been defeated by the gods of the Romans? This time, the people were exiles even in their own land.

And once again, they turned to the scriptures to try to make sense of the situation. As some of them read the writings from 500 years before, they found new meaning in those words, “A voice cries out, ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” Perhaps now they had a new Messiah, a new liberator. Perhaps this Jesus of Nazareth, the traveling preacher who had been executed by the Romans, but who some said had been raised from the dead, had a new authority to bring meaning to their lives. Perhaps he represented a new way to reach God.

And if he did, then that John the baptizer character must have been the voice crying out in the wilderness, prepare the way of the lord. John preached a message of repentance, of turning away from sin and turning toward God. And John pointed to one who would come after who would be even greater than he was. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Christians looked to the scriptures and they found a new meaning for their day. Isaiah had been talking about God returning over a very literal desert from Babylon back to the land of Israel. It was about the people returning from a very real exile.

But those words took on new meaning for a new day. Now believers had to return from a spiritual exile. Now God’s path through the desert had to be cleared of the obstacles of the human heart. It was not sage brush and sand dunes that cluttered God’s way, it was sin and malice. It was hatred and greed and division. “A voice cries out, ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’”

So what are the things that stand between us and God today? What stands between us and the fulfillment of full discipleship? Which roads do we need to make straight? Which paths do we need to clear? How is it that we need to be prepare the way of the Lord? What is it that stands between us and the realization of God’s Kingdom?

It’s no accident that all this preparation happens in the wilderness. We know the stories of the Hebrew’s wandering in the wilderness while they sorted out their relationship with God. We know how Jesus was pushed out into the wilderness while he struggled with what it meant to be the Son of God. It is often in the wilderness that we make our most profound spiritual growth. It is in the wilderness where we see things more clearly, where we shed our distractions, where we struggle with our demons.

Of course, when we talk about the wilderness, we aren’t just talking about the outdoors. The wilderness we face isn’t just the arid desert or the threatening woods. Some of the most treacherous wilderness journeys we face lead us through the depths of our own hearts.

Some of us walk the wilderness of addiction. We have been led along false paths which go only in circles until we no longer know where we are are where we are headed. But God stands ready to take our hand and lead us, if we can give over our will and seek help.

Some of us walk the wilderness of depression and anxiety. We have begun to become comfortable with the loneliness, with the self-doubt. We no longer want to move, and when we do, we only want to move deeper into the darkness. But God stands ready to provide a light, to point us in the right direction, to bring us companions to help us find the way.

Some of us walk the wilderness of pride. We have become lost because we are unwilling to ask anyone for directions. We just forge boldly on, headless of the signs, harming not only ourselves, but others. But God stands ready to open our ears, to soften our hearts, and bring us home.

Some of us walk the wilderness of grief. The faster we try to get through it, the more treacherous the way becomes. But God is ready to take the slow and steady walk with us.

We walk together through a wilderness of inequality, prejudice, and violence. And sometimes we are discouraged when, despite all our efforts, we seem to keep stumbling down the same paths and getting caught in the same snares. We are shocked by our human capacity to harm one another. We still have a long way to go. But Christ walks with us. Wherever we struggle for justice and peace, Christ walks with us.

A voice cries out, ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD.” Now is the time to do it. Now is the time to remove the obstacles. Now is the time to knock down the barriers. Now is the time to make a path for Christ to enter into our world, into our church, into our hearts. “A voice cries out, ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’”

Notes-N-News

Good afternoon!

++           Decorating of the Sanctuary and Christmas tree will be this Saturday 13th at 10am.

++           Women’s Spirituality meets this Saturday 9am at church.

++           Bell Choir will now be meeting on Wednesdays at 4:45

++           Board meeting this Sunday 14th at 11:45

++           WELCA bible study will be Tuesday Dec 30th from 2-4pm

NEWSLETTER CORRECTIONS:

++The Annual Meeting will be at 11:45  (not 10:45) on Sunday January 11th. Sorry for any confusion.

++Photo bottom left from Christmas Bazaar was of Pat Crompton, not Ila Mae Schneeberg.

 

Blessings!
Jennifer Fowler

Sermon: Talents

Sunday 16 November 2014
The Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost, Ordinary 33A

Matthew 25:14-30

The parable of the talents is a fairly familiar one.  In fact, it’s been popular enough over the years that it has actually changed the English language.  The English word talent, coming originally from the Greek word τάλαντον, is in fact a unit of mass measurement, equalling somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 pounds.  In the sense it’s used in this parable, it means about 75 pounds of either gold or silver.  If you were to take a talent of silver to the metal dealer today, it would be worth about $12,000, and a talent of gold about $800,000.  But if you try to translate the value of a talent based on wages then and now, a talent of silver would be worth about $300,000, and a talent of gold worth about $3,000,000.  That makes the 5 talents received by the first slave worth around $15,000,000.  So we’re talking about a lot of money.

If you look up the word talent in a modern English dictionary, down at the bottom of the entry you’ll find something talking about weights and measures: the original meaning.  And you’ll also find a note saying that all the other definitions — skills, gifts, abilities — are figurative and are based on the interpretation of Matthew 25:14-30, the scripture we read this morning.  That means that pastors and priests, preaching from time to time on this passage over the years actually managed to completely change the word, so that instead of thinking of 75 pounds, when we hear the word talent we think of a skill or ability.  Now that’s the power of preaching.

That traditional interpretation that managed to change our language identifies God with the absent master and identifies us with the slaves who have been entrusted with talents.  We are instructed to use our talents to make more.  And if we squander them, they will be taken away.  Those who have will be given more, and those with nothing, even what they have will be taken away.

A more modern variation on that same theme leaves all the characters the same but chooses to talk explicitly about money, rather than speaking figuratively about skills and abilities.  In this interpretation, Jesus preaches a sort of homespun capitalism, encouraging his disciples to put their money to work to make more, telling us that God helps those who help themselves.  Those who have will be given more.

But you know, there’s something a bit unsatisfying about these readings.  There’s something that just doesn’t seem quite right.  The master in the story is an absentee landlord, a ruthless, shameless businessman who gathers where he hasn’t sown seed.  This is a harsh and cruel man, a thief.  And he rewards only those who are as cruel and ruthless as he is.  If we are going to accept this interpretation, then we have to accept that that’s who God is: a cruel and ruthless master.

An ancient middle eastern peasant like one of Jesus’ first disciples would probably understand this parable quite differently.  For them, the hero of the story is not the absentee master.  It’s not the slave who made ten talents out of five talents.  It’s not the slave who made four talents out of two.  No, the hero of the story is the third slave, the one who buried his master’s talent in the ground.

Now, I realize that may be hard to believe.  After all, we’ve been taught to vilify that supposedly wicked and lazy slave.  But for the ancient peasant audience, this slave is the only one in the story who behaved with any honor whatsoever.

Ancient peasants didn’t believe in capitalism, and they didn’t believe that wealth could grow.  The ancients believed that there was a finite amount of resources in the world and that those finite resources had already been distributed.  If one person were to gain more, it meant that someone else was losing.  Consequently, anyone who gained wealth was universally considered to be a thief.  The proper and honorable thing to do was to maintain the same amount of wealth you had always had and that your father and his father had always had.

By this standard, the master in the story is a shameless, dishonorable man who will do anything to cheat people and gain more wealth.  In fact, he even admits to being dishonorable.  One of the reasons that he entrusts money to his slaves to invest is that he knows this sort of gain is against God’s law and very shameful.  If he does it himself, then he will publicly lose honor.  But his slaves have no honor to lose.  If they behave dishonorably by exploiting others to gain more wealth, it won’t hurt their standing in the community, because they have no standing.  So their behavior is dishonorable, but understandable.

But there is one person who behaves honorably: it’s the third slave.  He refuses to participate in the dirty schemes of his master.  He refuses to use his master’s wealth as a means of squeezing wealth out of others.  He does the right thing, keeps his master’s money safe, but he doesn’t exploit it.

And when his master finds out, the slave is punished, just as we would expect from a cruel and ruthless man.  And then the peasants hear the words that they know to be a painful truism: “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”  The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  It is simply the way of things.

Now, that is a much more difficult reading.  It challenges the ways that we have always thought about this parable.  But it also explains many of the details that have never made much sense before, and it seems to be more consistent with who we know Jesus to be.  At the very least, we have to allow that this parable is not about Jesus preaching a gospel of wealth and prosperity.  But it may not simply be a fatalistic story about class warfare either.

Perhaps Jesus is using a very unusual example to teach us a core truth of the Kingdom of God.  God’ Empire is not about acquiring wealth, it’s not about making money work for you, it’s not about gathering where you didn’t scatter seed.  But it does have one thing in common.

The Kingdom of God is about putting God’s resources to work.  God’s bounty is not meant to be hidden away in a hole.  It’s not meant to be confined within the four walls of the church.  Instead, we should take a risk with God’s riches.  We should be bold enough to put God’s grace and love to work in the world.  We should be bold enough to share.  Because unlike money, there is always enough of God’s love to go around.  There is always more of God’s grace.  So we shouldn’t be stingy with it.  We shouldn’t hide it away, afraid that no one else would be interested, afraid that we might lose it if we let it be seen outside.  Instead, let us share the bounty of God’s kingdom.  Let us put God’s gifts to work in the world, confident that by sharing them, they can only grow more abundant.  Let us not be afraid of God’s message, but be bold to share it, to invest it in our lives and invest our lives in it, and to let it grow.  To the glory of our God of abundant love, Amen.

Notes-N-News

November : leaves still falling; frost on the pumpkins. Wait……those aren’t leaves and that is not frost. It’s SNOW!!  Winter is here; stay warm and safe everyone.

++           Memorial Service for Marjorie Oates, who passed away Nov 7th, will be this Saturday Nov 15th at 2pm at Asbury Our Redeemer. A reception will follow in the Fellowship Hall.

++           3rd Annual Empty Bowls Event on Tuesday November 186:30 PM at the Hood River Middle School Cafeteria

Money from this event goes to the FISH Food Bank.

Gorge Grown farmers grow the food; Ahi’s Ohana Catering Company makes the delicious soup; Pine Street Bakery bakes the bread; HRV High School students create the bowls for you to take home. All the soup you can eat and a wonderful artfully crafted bowl for only $30.00 a person  Tickets are available at Waucoma Bookstore and the Gorge Grown Farmers’ Market. A few tickets are available at the Hood River FISH Food Bank. This year there are 50 more bowls than last year.

++           Volunteer Training Opportunity for Warming Shelter

Nov 25, 7pm-9pm  St. Mark’s Episcopal Church

For more information, please contact   Anna Carmichael (revannacarmichael@gmail.com)   or   Andy Wade (hrws@hoodrivercares.org)

++        The 2015 Mt. Angel Women’s Retreat will be held from March 6 – March 8. The theme of the retreat is “The Rivers of Our Lives”. The cost of the retreat usually runs around $135, which includes 2 nights and all meals (from dinner on Friday through breakfast on Sunday) at the Shalom Prayer Center in Mt. Angel, Oregon. We are trying to get an idea of how many people will be attending. If you are interested in attending, please contact Carol Kyger at cckyger@gmail.com or give her a call at 541-386-6341. She will start collecting deposits for the retreat in January.

++           December Women’s Spirituality Group will be meeting on Dec 13 at 9:00am in the Fellowship Hall.

++           As many of you have heard in the news, on Thursday night November 6th at the Portland Trailblazers basketball game a woman suffered a medical emergency during the game and had to be rushed to a nearby hospital. Tragically, Sandy Zickefoose died that evening shortly after arriving at Legacy Emmanuel Medical Center. Sandy was the wife of Rev. Michael Cowan, a retired United Methodist Elder from our annual conference. Michael served most recently at Aloha UMC, before he and Sandy retired in 2012. Please hold Michael and his family in prayer during this very difficult time.

Warmly, Lowell Greathouse
Columbia District Superintendent

 

Blessings!
Jennifer Fowler

Sermon: Let Justice Roll Down

Sunday 9 November 2014
The Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, Ordinary 32A

Amos 5:18-24

Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. These are probably the most famous words of the prophet Amos. Let justice roll like a river, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. They are pretty words. They are beautiful words. They evoke the majesty of nature. The speak of God’s care for all humanity. They elicit feelings of serenity. Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. That is an image to revel in, to take comfort in, to want to stay in.

And that’s probably why these are the words of Amos which are the most popular, which are the most well-known. People write songs on this text, Let Justice Roll Like a River. But no one writes songs on the rest of Amos. I’ve never heard a choir anthem with the words, Doom to those who desire the day of the LORD! Why do you desire the day of the LORD? It is darkness, not light!

But, as you may have noticed, most of the reading from Amos this morning is darkness and not light. Most of it is doom. It’s only in the last two lines that Amos turns the corner and talks about justice rivers and righteousness streams.

So what are we supposed to do with that? What are we supposed to do with the harshness of the prophet’s message? What are we supposed to do with its seeming lack of grace? Wouldn’t it be easier to just keep humming the tune, Let Justice Roll like a River, and forget about the darkness?


What is it that Amos is all worked up about? What is he so upset about? Why is he calling for doom for God’s people?

In this section, much of Amos’ anger seems to be focused on worship practices.

I hate, I reject your festivals;
I don’t enjoy your joyous assemblies.
If you bring me your entirely burned offerings and gifts of food—I won’t be pleased;
I won’t even look at your offerings of well-fed animals.

Take away the noise of your songs;
I won’t listen to the melody of your harps.

So is that what the problem is? Does it have to do with how Israel is worshipping? Maybe God is upset with the practice of animal sacrifice. Maybe it’s been recognized as a cruel practice. Or maybe it has something to do with the rituals. Maybe they are distracting from God. Or maybe it has to do with the festivals. Is God angry with Israel because of the way they worship?

It might seem so, especially if we only look at this passage. But if we read a little bit more broadly in Amos, it becomes clear that God is not upset with Israel’s worship, per se. In fact, even though we might be scandalized by the idea of animal sacrifice now in the 21st century, it would not have been controversial at all in the time of Amos. Animal sacrifice to God would have universally been seen as a good thing, not only by Judeans and Israelites, but by every other civilization in the Mediterranean world.

And the fact that everyone would have thought animal sacrifice was a good thing should give us a clue as to what is actually going on in these words from Amos. If everyone knows that animal sacrifice is good, then why does God say, through Amos, “If you bring me your entirely burned offerings and gifts of food—I won’t be pleased; I won’t even look at your offerings of well-fed animals”? Why is God now not pleased with Israel’s worship?

Well, like I said, it doesn’t have to do with the nature of the worship. What it has to do with is the nature of the rest of their lives. That’s why Amos continues:

Take away the noise of your songs;
I won’t listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

There is a bit of irony in this passage. Amos’ words about God not wanting Israel’s worship are meant to shock. They are completely incomprehensible. It doesn’t make any sense until Amos says, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” God is not displeased with their worship because there is something wrong with their worship, God is displeased with their worship because there is something wrong with their justice.

We have to read the rest of Amos to find out the specifics of what God is upset about. To generalize, God is upset with how the powerful are treating the powerless. The rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer. The big farms are getting bigger while the small farmers are getting forced off their land.

And all the while, those who do have the wealth and the power aren’t doing anything to help those who are in need. They are very good at making their sacrifices in the temple. They are very good at the prayers and the worship and the offerings. They are very good at singing the hymns, very good at performing the rituals, very good at reading the bible. But they are doing nothing for the widow and orphan who have no protection. They are doing nothing for the poor who have no food. They are doing nothing for the alien who are locked out of society. That’s why God is angry with them, not because of their worship, but because of their lack of justice.

Amos’ words are meant to shock. Wouldn’t we be shocked if God said, I’m tired of listening to your prayers. All of your hymns, anthems, and songs sound out of tune to me. Your sermons don’t make me happy. The problem isn’t the worship, it’s the lack of justice. So long as they are unjust in their life outside the sanctuary, God doesn’t want anything to do with their worship inside the sanctuary.


And it should be the same for us. Our worship of God should not just be about what we do in this sanctuary. If we come here every Sunday, and we sing the songs, and pray the prayers, and we read the bible, and break the bread, how much is it really worth if we aren’t about God’s justice in the world? What we do in the sanctuary should inevitably lead us to work for God’s Kingdom in the world.

Next door to us a building is being built. It’s been amazing to watch the progress. For a while it seemed like not much was happening. And then it just popped up all of a sudden. It’s a really big building, have you noticed. It’s got a big footprint, and it’s really tall. Even without most of the walls, it already looks big. Once all the walls are up, it’s going to dwarf this building.

And if you ask me, that’s exactly how it should be. What a wonderful statement of faith it is. We could have done something else with that space. We could have tried to build a bigger sanctuary. We could have built classrooms. But that is not what we did. Instead, we committed to partnering with this community to build a food bank. We chose to commit those resources for God’s justice. We chose to be a part of a ministry to God’s children in need. What a wonderful statement that the food bank will be bigger than this building. It is a constant reminder that what we do here in the sanctuary is to prepare us for what goes on out there. The bread that we break in here is about the bread that we share next door.

It is good for us to gather here to worship. It is good for us to sing and to pray together. But good worship can never be an excuse of us to forget God’s justice. Good worship should never be a distraction from offering God’s love and care to those who are in need. Worshipping here in the small building, while the big building is dedicated to feeding the hungry, that is true to God’s Kingdom. That is true to God’s priorities. That is an ever-present reminder to us to let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Sermon: Blessed Are Those

Sunday 2 November 2014
All Saints Sunday

Matthew 5:1-12

The rich are held in high esteem. The happy are admired. The powerful are respected. The wealthy are looked up to. The shrewd are valued. Those who seize the opportunity are applauded. The war heroes are honored. The praiseworthy are celebrated.

If Jesus had just said those things, it would have been a whole lot easier. At least those things make sense. Of course people look up to the rich and the wealthy. Of course people admire those who are happy. Of course people respect the powerful and congratulate those who take advantage of an opportunity to get ahead. Of course we honor our war heroes. Those things just make sense. Everyone knows that that’s the way that things work.

Unfortunately, at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said the exact opposite of all of those things. The poor are held in high esteem. Those who mourn are admired. The meek are respected. The hungry are looked up to. The merciful are valued. The pure in heart are applauded. The peacemakers are honored. Those who are persecuted are celebrated.

The more we really look at the Beatitudes, the more we take them as something more than just pretty words that we learned in Sunday School, the more we are forced to realize that they simply don’t make any sense. Why would anyone look up to a poor person? Why would anyone strive to be hungry? Why would anyone aspire to be like someone who is grieving? We wouldn’t. No one would. So what is Jesus trying to say?


We might try to explain Jesus’ confusing words by going back to the culture at his time. Maybe these sayings made more sense in Galilee two-thousand years ago. But, unfortunately, they don’t. Honoring the poor seemed just as crazy to Jesus’ audience back then as it does to us today. Just like us, first-century Galileans respected people who had made it, who had power and wealth. People generally thought that if you were doing well and your life was good, that must be because God was blessing you, and if you were doing poorly, then God or some other force must be cursing you. Society honored those who were at the top, and they were considered the ones who were blessed.

What makes this story even more interesting is that Jesus wasn’t making up these sayings on his own. Most of these beatitudes are drawn directly from writings in the Hebrew Bible, books like Psalms and Proverbs. And if we were to travel back in time even farther, to when Psalms and Proverbs were in currency, we would find a similar situation. The people at the top were given the honor and considered blest. So whether it is three-thousand years ago, two-thousand years ago, or today, these words are equally confusing and backward. Even though we’ve heard them over and over, and we’ve had generation upon generation to consider them, they still don’t make any sense.


These days, we don’t use the word “blessed” very often. It’s not a typical part of everyday conversation. We mostly use it when we’re trying to sound religious. And we say things like, “We were blessed with a child,” “I was blessed to get a job,” or “We’ve been blessed with a strong pension plan.” When we count our blessings, the things that we think of would universally be thought of as good, pleasing, or fulfilling. We’re blessed with material things, like food, clothing, a house, plenty of money. We’re blessed with talents and skills, like intelligence, musical ability, personality. And we’re blessed with other intangibles, like family, friends, and love. All of these things are clearly and obviously good. They are things that we want and are thankful for.

But what happens when we don’t have those things? What if we lose a job, or lose a house, or lose our investments? Does that mean that God has stopped blessing us? What if we aren’t intelligent, or don’t know how to fix things, or have a hard time making friends? Does that mean that we aren’t blessed by God? What if we lose someone that we love? Does that mean God has turned away from us?


I know a woman with a son about my age. When he was born, he had all kinds of health problems. He had to have open-heart surgery as a newborn. He had developmental delays. He was in constant need of serious medical attention throughout his young life. She was a member of a church. And when she talked with the other church folk about her son and all his problems, this is what she said. “For a while I thought, ‘Why me? Why is God doing this to me?’ And then I started to think, ‘Why not me? Why should I expect God to shield me from the kind of tragedy that everyone faces, just because I’m a Christian? Why not me?’” Needless to say, most of the other church people didn’t think that made much sense. They thought, “If I am faithful to God, then God will bless me. I give God my faith and belief; God gives me blessings both here on earth and in heaven. God shields me from harm.”

It’s a very common belief, and a very reasonable one. If I do what God says, then God will look out for me, provide for me, and protect me. I will get special treatment based on my devotion to God. And if tragedy does come my way, it must be because I did something wrong or because God is punishing me.


But Jesus says something very different, very radical, and utterly countercultural. Even if you are poor, you are blessed by God. Even if you are hungry, you are blessed by God. The world may not think much of you, but God still does. Even if you are shy and meek, you are still blessed by God. Even if you fail to look out for your own self-interest, you are still blessed by God. The world won’t understand what you’re doing, but God still does. Even if you are a peacemaker, you are still honored by God. The world will think you’re foolish or a coward, but God doesn’t. Even if you have suffered great tragedy, even if you are grieving, you are still loved and blessed by God. The world will try to assign blame for your loss, to explain it away, but God will sit right there in the grief with you and love you all the more. Even if you have lost everything, you are still blessed by God. The world will think that you’re cursed, but God will prove to you otherwise.

This is a message of incredible and astounding grace. We want to assign values to God’s blessing based on a person’s wealth or accomplishments or happiness. But God says, “No. I am more than just a divine vending machine. You can’t just insert faith and get back an easy life. Blessing is so much different than that.”

Divine blessing comes in God’s love and care, in God’s comfort and compassion, in God’s presence and persistence. And it comes not only to those who seem to have it made here on earth. In fact, blessing comes most especially to those who most need it, to the poor, the hungry, the meek, the lonely, the suffering, the striving, and the grieving. Even in the worst times, in the most difficult situations, in the times of greatest trial and doubt and fear, you are still blessed by God. Thanks be to God.

Notes-N-News

Good afternoon everyone!

++  Charge Conference Thursday, October 30th at 7:00 In the Fellowship Hall with UM District Superintendent Lowell Greathouse. Members of the Board and standing committees are especially encouraged to attend.

++   Women’s Spirituality meets Saturday Nov 8th at 9am in the Fellowship Hall.

++   Faith In Action meeting: Nov. 10 10:30 at the church.

++  If you were unable to attend a “get-to-know-you” group with Pastor David, there will be one final session on November 9th, at 11;30 at church; a light lunch will be provided.  Pastor David will lead a fun, guided discussion, and you will learn something new, not only about Pastor David, but also about others you think you already know well.  Please RSVP to Linda Boris if you plan to attend so we can make arrangements for lunch.

++  The All Church Christmas Bazaar on December 5th and 6th from 10am to 3pm. Setup will be on Thurs Dec 4th at 9am. We appreciate everyone’s donations to our sale – cookies, candies, pies, special breads and homemade jams are all good sellers. Craft items would be appreciated too.   We also have a very popular “recycled” Christmas item table. If you have anything Christmas that  you are not using, bring them to church the morning of December 4 when we are setting up for the sale or any November Monday morning, Happy Hands meets every Monday 9-11 in the Fellowship Hall.

++  Our Youth Group raised  $119.21 “trick-or-treating” for UNICEF at their last gathering ! The rain luckily held off while going through the neighborhood where Linda and Nathan Boris live. Thank you to the Boris’ for having and feeding the group at their home.

++  The Women’s Retreat at Cannon Beach is this weekend. Safe driving to all. We are looking forward to this special time of fellowship and book study.

Blessings!
Jennifer Fowler

Sermon: 2014 Theses

 

Sunday 26 October 2014, 10:30 am Service
Reformation Sunday

I’ve been worried lately that you all don’t get enough fire-and-brimstone preaching from me. The problem is, I don’t do fire-and-brimstone very well. So instead, I’m going to let you see the master: Johann Tetzel:

So, on October 31st, 1517, Luther posted 95 theses on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, in what is now Germany. We got to see it in the clip. This moment is widely regarded as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

But Luther was not trying to start the Protestant Reformation. In fact, as you might guess from the portrayal by Joseph Fiennes he wasn’t really trying to upset the church hierarchy. There’s a reason that they’re known as the 95 Theses and not the 95 Complaints or the 95 Protestations. What do you use a thesis statement for? You use a thesis when you are writing a paper for school, right? Luther is a monk, he is priest, but he is also a professor. And when he posts his 95 Theses and sends courtesy copies to the bishop and archbishop, he is trying to start an academic debate.

So, what is a thesis statement? …. A thesis is a statement that you intend to argue. A thesis at the beginning of a paper is the main point of the paper, the thing that you are going to use the rest of the paper to try to prove.

Well, Luther kind of skips the arguing part and he just writes 95 different theses. He expects other scholars and clerics to make arguments for or against them. He wants to start a debate.

Several of the theses are rather technical. “12. In former days, the canonical penalties were imposed, not after, but before absolution was pronounced; and were intended to be tests of true contrition.” “20. Therefore the pope, in speaking of the plenary remission of all penalties, does not mean “all” in the strict sense, but only those imposed by himself.” Those, and many others of the theses have to do with indulgences.

Interestingly, Luther does not come out and say that indulgences are worthless, like he does in the movie. He just wants to put limits on indulgences. He thinks that other forms of repentance are to be preferred. For example, thesis 43: “Christians should be taught that one who gives to the poor, or lends to the needy, does a better action than if he purchases indulgences.” Or thesis 44: “Because, by works of love, love grows and a man becomes a better man; whereas, by indulgences, he does not become a better man, but only escapes certain penalties.” Or thesis 45: “Christians should be taught that he who sees a needy person, but passes him by although he gives money for indulgences, gains no benefit from the pope’s pardon, but only incurs the wrath of God.”

Luther also doesn’t want to the poor to be taken advantage of. Thesis 46: “Christians should be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they are bound to retain what is only necessary for the upkeep of their home, and should in no way squander it on indulgences.” Or thesis 50: “Christians should be taught that, if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence-preachers, he would rather the church of St. Peter were reduced to ashes than be built with the skin, flesh, and bones of the sheep.”

Luther is very upset at the abuses of indulgence preachers like Tetzel. He takes the position that the pope must not know what these preachers are doing, because if he did, he would certainly stop them. He is concerned that the poor are being squeezed. He’s concerned that the word of God is being neglected in favor of indulgences. He is concerned that indulgences are leading people to neglect the traditional forms of repentance, like confession and pardon.

So he writes these theses. Some are reminders of old truths. Some are counters to the practices of the day. A few are even questions.So, I want to ask you, what is your thesis for the church today? What message is it that you think the church needs to hear and debate? Maybe it’s a reminder of an ancient truth. Maybe it is pointing out the way the church’s current practices have become hurtful. Maybe it is a realignment of our priorities. What is your thesis for the church today?


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  • “Plays nicely with others” should be on the report cards of all churches and religions.
  • To love and serve one another.
  • The church should be an example of a lifestyle that cares about others, reaches out, and teaches about the responsibilities of receiving grace.
  • Love for neighbor means love for every neighbor.
  • Get going, break free, and welcome change!
  • Help all people. God’s Love is for all.
  • What happens inside this building is not as important as what happens outside of it.
  • I propose that music in church uplift–I propose also that said music move the body, mind, and spirit.
  • That the church should reach beyond its walls to embrace other persons who have difficulty understanding God’s Word and not hide behind closed doors or ancient rites that may have lost their ongoing meaning.
  • The church should reveal God’s universal truth so that all can be aware and embrace it, without confusion of inconsistencies, obscurities, and contradictions, and especially the myths that are so difficult for most of us to accept.
  • Total equality among people and churches. No Separation.
  • Don’t apologize for the faith; indeed, proclaim it with conviction in the secular world! “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Triune God.”
  • Worldwide Love to ALL people.
  • Understanding of one another’s needs.
  • The we be happy in Christ this coming new year.
  • Role of the church in election process–recommend local, state, and national?
  • The church is influenced by the culture in which it is located. We are drawn by the grace of our Lord to study and know and act out the grace of God by denouncing: racism, classism, sexism, ageism.
  • The church should encourage works of charity and kindness to help the needy, the poor, the elderly, and those who are struggling to survive.

Reformation is not just about what happened in 1517. The spirit of Reformation must continue today. We must continue to examine ourselves as the church. We must continue to ask in what ways we have been distracted, how we have lost our way, how we have failed to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. So as we mark what Martin Luther did 497 years ago, we also take up the gospel call to reflect, to question, to protest, and to repent. May God continue to lead us in the way that we should go.

Sermon: The Law of Faith

Sunday 26 October 2014, 9:00 am Service
Reformation Sunday

Romans 3:19-28

Its the same old question. What must I do in order to make God love me? What do I need to do in order to be saved? What does God require of me? How can I please God, and what happens if I fail to please God? The same old question. Paul struggled with it in the first century. Martin Luther struggled with it in the sixteenth century. Now in the twenty-first century, we are still struggling with it. What is the law? What is faith? And how on earth do they relate to one another?

Christians have taken many different stands on this issue. On the one hand, many Christians say that we must follow the law, the rules set forth by God for us to follow. We must do the right thing. We must follow each commandment. Why? Because in the end, God will judge us based on how well we did. If we have lived up to the divine standard, then we will be rewarded; we will spend eternity with God in bliss in heaven. If we fail, then we will be punished; we will spend eternity in the unrelenting fires of hell.

But other Christians say that it doesn’t have to do with works at all. Salvation doesn’t come from following the commandments or the words of Jesus, it comes from faith in Jesus as a personal savior. So long as you believe in Jesus, then you are going to heaven. If you don’t believe in Jesus, then you are going to hell. And it doesn’t matter what you do, or how you have lived your life, so long as you have accepted Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for your sins.


For Martin Luther, back in medieval Germany, these questions had life and death consequences, and he was tormented by them both day and night. Luther was an Augustinian monk, a priest, and a professor. He spent all of his life, every moment, trying to live a life worthy of God, trying to live as God would want him to live. He dedicated himself wholeheartedly to spiritual disciplines. He fasted. He spent hours praying. He went on spiritual pilgrimages. He went frequently to confession. And yet he was plagued by the feeling that he was unworthy of God’s love, that he was damned by his own sins. No matter what he did, he could not earn God’s love and forgiveness.


Many people today have a hard time with this very same thing. If we try to do the right thing with our lives, if we try to live as moral, ethical people, we can never seem to get it right. We make mistakes. We try to be nice, but we end up hurting people. We try to show love, but it is never enough. We try to conquer our addictions, but they just keep showing up uninvited. We try to fix the world’s problems — hunger, war, disease — but the problems are too big and we always fail. We try, and we try, and we try — but it is never enough. We always fall short of the standard of perfection.

And so in our complete and utter failure, we turn on ourselves. We blame ourselves for not being good enough. If I could only try harder. If I could only pray harder. If I could just stop messing up. It’s my choice, isn’t it? I could do the right thing if I chose to and really committed myself. If I used my time better than I do. If I could just cut out that sinful part of me that I don’t want anymore. If only I could just… if only… then everything would be alright. Then I would be worthy of love. Then God would love me. Then I could finally love myself.


Martin Luther—monk, priest, professor—was teaching theology at the University of Wittenberg. He was about as old as I am now when he was studying and teaching the scriptures: Psalms, Hebrews, Galatians, and the book we heard today: Romans. And as he was reading and studying and lecturing, he started to discover something new. It was something that he had never been taught before, something that no one he knew had ever heard of. In reality, it was not completely new, but at that particular point in history it had been forgotten. And Luther called it Justification by Faith.

What Luther was discovering was that no matter how hard we try to do the right thing, no matter how hard we work to do what God wants us to do, we never fully succeed, and can never earn God’s approval. And yet, God still loves us. God still forgives us. God still takes our broken relationship with God and makes it right again, makes it pure again, makes it justified again. And it is not by anything that we do. No, it is by the faith of Jesus Christ. Just as Paul writes, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, yet they are now justified by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” So it is not my own actions that make me saved, it is not anything that I do, because I can never do enough to earn perfection. No, it is God’s free gift that offers me hope, that heals my relationship with God, that sets things right. It is God’s free gift of grace through faith.

That is Good News! That is the heart of the Gospel message. Even though I am a sinner, even though I fall short, God still loves we. God wants to make things right between us. God wants to forgive me and call me back home and accept me as a beloved child. And God wants the same thing for every single person on earth. God wants us to be free from all of the guilt and torment that we subject ourselves to. God wants to set us loose from the burden of the sin that we insist on carrying around with us. God wants to accept us and welcome us home. And God is doing it, right now. That is Good News!


But we humans are sly creatures, aren’t we. We are always looking for a good deal, looking for a handy loophole. And it seems that Martin Luther, and Paul, and by extension God, have just offered us a big loophole. It’s a get-out-of-jail-free card. If God’s love and forgiveness isn’t based on what I do, but comes as a free gift, then I don’t have to do anything. I can do whatever I want, anything that my greedy little heart desires, and God will still forgive me. God will still accept me. So why shouldn’t I just go ahead and do whatever I want, live the most greedy, self-indulgent, gluttonous, lustful, debauched, conceited, selfish life that I can dream up for myself. It doesn’t matter, right? God will forgive me.

But that’s not the way that God’s grace and faith work. God’s grace may be free, but it is not cheap. You see, the problem is that when you accept God’s grace into your life, you get something else in the process. You get God. A direct relationship with God in your life. That is the cost of God’s gift of grace. You have to deal with God butting in to your life, even when you least expect it or want it.

And so we Christians are free from the law of works. We are free from it. But God sets us free from the law of works in order to make us open to the law of love. God sets us free from doing good works out of fear of divine retribution and opens us to the grace and love of God that call us to do good works in response to and as extension of God’s love. It is no longer out of fear or guilt that we act. It is out of love and devotion and praise and thankfulness.

Luther put it this way. He wrote, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”

God offers us a wonderful gift: freedom from our sins. And in response, we do good works and avoid evil. Not because we have to, or because it is a condition of our freedom, but because we want to, because we are transformed by the love of God, and we desire to be faithful to God, because God has been so incredibly faithful to us. Thanks be to God!

Notes-N-News

Good afternoon everyone!

++  Wear RED, if you like, this Sunday 26th for Reformation Day.

++   Asbury Our Redeemer raised $1205.00 for FISH Food Bank at last Sunday’s service! Columbia Gorge Chapter of Thrivent will do a 1-1 match. Thank you Bette Lou Yenne and Rose Miller for organizing this.

++  If you have been saving plastic or paper bags for FISH, please bring them to the church as soon as you can.  FISH is VERY low on the bags.  We are not able to use the small (produce, newspaper type) bags but rather the type of plastic bags used at store checkout.  Thanks for your help    -Kathy Terry

++   Happy Hands news:
  – Happy Hands will be meeting on Mondays in the Fellowship Hall.
– See’s Candies are being sold, and eaten, like…………..well, chocolate! Buy a bar for $2 and help raise money for moving the Asbury church bell to our partnership.
– Christmas is coming and Happy Hands is busy getting ready for their Christmas Bazaar on December 5th and 6th from 10am to 3pm. Setup will be on Thurs Dec 4th at 9am.

++           Gorge Ecumenical Ministries invites faith community members to attend an informational candidate forum on Thurs October 23 at 6:30 p.m.

The event will take place in Hood River at Riverside Community Church (4th & State) and will feature candidates for the position of State Senator, State Representative and Hood River Mayor.  Spanish language interpretation will be provided and all are invited.

++        Warming Shelter volunteer trainings         Volunteers are needed for the upcoming season of offering shelter and hospitality our community homeless.

Oct 23rd 6:30-8:30 Immanuel Lutheran Church (9th & State St)                  Oct 25th 9-11am Riverside Comm. Church (317 State St)

Contacts– Andy Wade hoodriverws@gmail.com and Rev. Anna Carmichael revannacarmichael@gmail.com

++   Study group is starting this week at the Pettits’. We will meet at 7:00 Thursday evenings in the Pettits’ yellow room so choir members can join if they wish following choir practice (no dinner but cookies will be served).  Gigi is going to be leading the study of Marcus Borg’s book “The Heart of Christianity; Rediscovering a Life of Faith.”  We have 3 extra copies at our house to share, so if you own the book, you should bring your copy.  Let me know if you have questions and also if you are planning to attend.   -Pat Pettit

++  Charge Conference Thursday, October 30th at 7:00 in the Fellowship Hall with UM District Superintendent Lowell Greathouse. Members of the Board and standing committees are especially encouraged to attend.

++           If you were unable to attend a “get-to-know-you” group with Pastor David, there will be one final session on November 9th, at 11;30 at the church; a light lunch will be provided.  Pastor David will lead a fun, guided discussion, and you will learn something new, not only about Pastor David, but also about others you think you already know well.  Please RSVP to Linda Boris if you plan to attend so we can make appropriate arrangements for lunch.

Blessings!

Jennifer Fowler
Office Manager