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?


IMG_0722

  • “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

Notes-N-News

Good afternoon!

 

++  Charge Conference Thursday, October 30th at 7:10 in the Fellowship Hall with UM District Superintendent Lowell Greathouse. Members of the Board and standing committees are especially encouraged to attend.

++  Special Offering Sunday, October 19th will be a special opportunity to support the FISH Food Bank with a financial offering for their food distribution program.Columbia Gorge Chapter of Thrivent will do a 1-1 match. Please make your contribution for this special offering to Asbury Our Redeemer Partnership and note it is for the Thrivent special offering for FISH Operations.

++  FISH Food Bank Duty
Mon October 20th
Wed October 22nd
Fri    October 24th

++  Warming Shelter volunteer trainings. Volunteers are needed for the upcoming season of offering shelter and hospitality our community homeless.
Oct 21st 6:30-8:30 Mid-Col. Center for Living (1610 Woods Ct)
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
Rev. Anna Carmichael revannacarmichael@gmail.com

++  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.

++  Confirmation/youth group meets Sunday 19th at 6:30 in the office building

++  This coming Sunday at the Celebration 10:30 service, our worship will be enhanced with an  interpretive dance by Emelia Gendreau and assisted by her brother Alden.  Emelia and Alden are children of this past Sunday’s worship leader, Pastor Jill Rowland.         -Audrey Bentz

++  Asbury Our Redeemer Partnership received two thank you notes for our recent donation of school supplies to Parkdale Elementary School — one from Parkdale Principal Gus Hedberg and one from the Hood River County School Board.  The letter from the school board is posted on the announcement board if you are interested in reading it.           -Linda Boris

 

Blessings!
Jennifer Fowler

Sermon: Press On

Sunday 5 October 2014
World Communion Sunday

Philippians 3:4b-14

Paul is in the midst of an argument with Judean missionaries who are trying to convince the Christian community in Philippi that they need to adopt the practice of circumcision in order to be truly right with God and be accepted members of God’s family. They seem to be making their argument based on their own position as circumcised members of the Jewish community, with good genealogies to back it up. They are appealing to their own holiness as validation of the message that they have for the fledgeling church at Philippi.

And so Paul engages in a bit of one-upsmanship. If those people think they are righteous under the law, let me tell you, I am more righteous under the law than they could ever hope to be. I was circumcised when I was eight days old, in exact accordance with the law. I come from a good Jewish family with deep roots. You may remember that other guy named Saul—remember him, the first king of Israel—well I come from the same tribe. My whole family has been observant and faithful to the law for generations. In fact, I’m so observant of every detail of the law that I’m a Pharisee, and I was so devoted to the cause that I persecuted the church. I have never broken a single commandment. So take that! If you think your observance of law gets you any clout, just try to beat my observance of the law.

No one has ever accused Paul of being too modest. No one has ever suggested that he had an underdeveloped sense of ego. And here he is putting his self-confidence on full display. Paul is engaging in a bit of braggadocio. He’s fronting. He’s grandstanding. If he were writing it today, no doubt he would say something about how he never drinks or smokes, about what a good parent he is, about how much money he’s given to Lutheran World Relief and the United Methodist Committee on Relief, about how he only uses organic locally sourced produce, and about how his entire life is carbon neutral. The specifics aren’t that important. What’s important is that whatever his opponents are, he is more. If Paul’s opponents want you to listen because they are good, you should listen to Paul because he is better. Paul is trying to be the Chuck Norris of ancient Philippi.

But then Paul turns the argument around. These missionaries, he says, take a lot of pride in their pedigrees and their works. On the other hand, I have an even better record, but I don’t take pride in it at all. In fact, I think it all adds up to a stinking pile of garbage in comparison to the grace that comes through Christ Jesus. I’d much rather have the power that comes from Christ’s death and resurrection than be the most blameless observer of the law. And you Philippians have that. You have the Spirit of God already working in your midst, so don’t give it up for a bunch of rules and regulations, and certainly don’t give it up for a surgical procedure that proves nothing so long as your hearts remain unchanged. Put your trust in Christ, not in a scalpel.

So let’s you and I do what Christ did. Remember, he had all kinds of honor given to him as a birthright, but he gave it up in order to be obedient to God and receive an even greater glory. So let’s do the same thing, give up any honor we might have from our birthright or from our flesh in order to be obedient to God, and thus receive an even greater righteousness through Christ.


Now, that’s all pretty standard theology. But Paul is about to get a bit more unorthodox. He’s about to say something that tends to make Protestants a little uncomfortable.

Paul continues by saying, “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal.” That’s trouble. If Paul has already accepted Jesus, then isn’t the story of his salvation finished? It’s about faith and belief in Jesus, right? So how can he now say that he hasn’t reached the goal of obtaining resurrection in Christ. Doesn’t that seem contrary to the doctrine of salvation by faith alone?

It’s because despite what we have made out of Paul’s words in the ensuing 2000 years, the truth is that the Christian life, the Christian journey does not end at conversion. It does not end the moment you accept Jesus as your personal savior. The Christian journey continues.

John Wesley called it Sanctification. Sanctification is the process by which the Holy Spirit continues to work on Christians to make us more holy, to bring the fruits of our lives in line with the words of our mouths. It moves beyond the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone to the Doctrine of Sanctification, by which our works are brought in line with our faith. It’s not that we are justified by works: we are not. But if we are indeed justified by faith, then works will follow. Works will follow in response to our experience of God’s overwhelming grace and the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. God works in us to make us more holy, to sanctify us.

Paul says, “Press on. The journey isn’t over yet.” Too often modern Christian churches have gotten so caught up in the singular goal of conversion that we have neglected everything else. Just get people to say yes to Jesus, just accept him in your heart, and the story is over. Now you’ve punched your ticket for heaven, and no one can take it away from you.

But Paul says, “Press on.” Press on to make resurrection your own because Christ has made you his own. It may not be a question of salvation, but it is a question of faith. Are we done once we have punched our ticket? Or are we called to something more? When we say yes to Christ, shouldn’t we also say yes to Christ’s message? If Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captives, liberty to the oppressed, shouldn’t we as his followers work toward those ends. If Christ came to usher in the Kingdom of God, shouldn’t we live as citizens of that kingdom first, instead of as citizens of this nation? Shouldn’t we seek to live out our faith for the benefit of the world?

Paul says, “Press on.” Now that you’ve accepted Christ, it’s time to do the work of the Kingdom. It’s time to show the world a good example of what it means to be a Christian, and prove to the world outside that we aren’t just a bunch of hypocrites. It’s time to move our concern beyond the four walls of the church and put our faith to work in the world. It’s time to address the problems of hunger, poverty, and violence that dwell all around us. It’s time to love our neighbors as ourselves. It’s time to love our enemies, even, and pray for those who persecute us. It’s time to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. It’s time to refrain from judging others, lest we ourselves be judged. It is time for us to die to sin and live for Christ.

“Press on,” says Paul. Don’t wait for your life to end before you are transformed by the grace of God. Let your life be transformed now. Let the Spirit work on you now. Be made like Christ now. And enjoy the fruits of faith now.

“Press on.” Take a risk for your faith. Step out boldly. Don’t worry about looking silly or losing face. Give up your ego and let Christ live in you. Live your whole life, every part, every moment, for the glory of God. Press on, as Paul said, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, press on toward the goal for the prize of the elevated calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Press on justice for all God’s people. Press on in care for the sojourner among you. Press on to correct the wrongs of our society. Press on to welcome all to the love of God. Press on to expand our understandings of who it is that God is capable of loving. Press on as the whole people of God, gathered around the world, to live the love that God has poured out on us. Press on. Press on.

Sermon: Two Sons

Sunday 28 September 2014
The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Ordinary 26A

Matthew 21:23-32

This isn’t the only parable of Jesus featuring two sons. The other one is much more famous. Those two brothers divided their father’s possessions between themselves. They took their inheritance before their father was dead. Not very loyal. One of them traveled away and lost his inheritance. When he returned, his father welcomed him, but his brother could not accept him. That is the more famous parable of two sons. It’s found only in the Gospel of Luke, and it is one of the most beloved of all of Jesus’ parables.

But the parable of the two sons that we heard today is much less familiar. It appears only in Matthew. And it’s quite short, isn’t it? A father has two sons. He instructs them each, in turn, to go to the vineyard and work. The first one agreed, but he never went. The second one refused, but in the end, he went and worked. “Which one did his father’s will?” Jesus asks.

And it’s not a terribly difficult question, is it? Whatever they each might have said, the one who actually showed up and worked is the one who did his father’s will. And while most parents would prefer their children to do what they are supposed to do without giving any lip about it, given the choice between having them do the right thing with lip and getting no lip but not doing the right thing, most parents will choose the right thing.

So is that it, then? Talk is cheap? Actions speak louder than words? Talking the talk vs. walking the walk?

Well, if it were, that wouldn’t be such a bad message, would it? After all, if what we are supposed to be is disciples of Jesus Christ, then that involves some doing, doesn’t it? Disciple, from the Greek word μαθητης, can mean student, pupil, or apprentice, but its most basic meaning is follower. A disciple is one who follows. A disciple of Jesus is someone who seeks to follow Jesus.

Following Jesus means going where Jesus goes, and it means doing what Jesus does. And what does Jesus do? He associates with undesirables. He shares meals with sinners. He offers hospitality, food, and healing to those who are in need. He loves his neighbors, and he shows that love not just with words, but with action.

And so, if we are trying to be disciples of Jesus, it would make sense that we would need to focus on what we do. Faith in Jesus Christ is not just a matter of intellectual assent. Faith is not about saying the right words, and then going on with our lives as if nothing has changed. Faith in Jesus Christ is faithfulness in Jesus Christ. Faith means seeking to do what it is that God has called us to do. Faith means following the way of Jesus. Faith means loving our neighbor as Christ has loved us, and seeking to put that love not only into words, but into actions.

And so we might ask, who does the will of God? Is it the one who says they will feed the hungry, but never manages to do it? Or is it the one who first refuses to feed the hungry, but then has a change of heart and actually does it? Clearly, it is the one who does it.

Which is a reminder that our faith is not just about good theology and good doctrine. Certainly good theology and good doctrine are good things. But if I know all the right answers, it is of very little use unless I actually put those right answers into action.

It’s not to say that we have to be perfect in order for God to love us. That certainly isn’t the case. God has shown love for us by coming to us while we were yet sinners. God loves us without condition. There is nothing we can ever do to earn God’s love, because God’s love is not for the earning, it is for the giving.

But it is a warning to us against a false sense of self-assured complacency. It is a reminder that God expects more from us than good doctrine or right speech. God expects right action. God expects us to step out of the safety of just speaking the right answers but never having the courage to do anything about them. God calls us to cast aside our fears, to leave behind our trepidation and to step out into the way of Jesus, to walk out into the messiness of the world and to get to the work of being disciples. Which one does the will of God? The one who does, not the one who says.

But there is more to the story than that. After all, this parable does not stand alone. It is spoken in a particular context. And within the Gospel of Matthew, what point is it that Jesus is trying to get across in this particular context?

I suggest to you that it is a message of broken expectations. There are two sons, and they each have a verbal response to their father’s request. And their words set up a particular set of expectations. We would expect, based on their words, that the son who says he is going to work will actually go out in the vineyard and work. And we would expect that the son who refuses to work will follow through with his promise and not do any work at all. That is what we would expect.

Likewise in Jesus’ context there are expectations. It is Jesus last week. He has already come to the temple the day before. What would one expect to find at a temple? Prayer, sacrifice, devotion to God. But, contrary to expectations, Jesus finds something else. And what he finds makes him angry, and he causes a disturbance. Jesus’ cleansing of the temple is quite likely the main action that gets him killed. While he was just a traveling preacher and healer, he could still be dealt with. But once he disrupts the operation of the temple, once he disturbs the Roman peace, then he has to die.

And now Jesus has shown up at the temple again. Before he has done anything else, the religious authorities confront him. They don’t want him causing any more trouble. So they pose a question to him to which they know there is no correct answer. “Who gave you authority to do these things?” They know that he doesn’t have any institutional authority. He is not a recognized member of the priesthood. He is not a member of the tribe of Levy. He has not been approved or certified by any of the religious authorities, neither by the temple authorities nor by the Romans. He can claim no human authority. If he is going to answer the question, then he is going to have to claim authority directly from God.

But, of course, that would present its own problems. If he claims authority from God, then they’ve still got him. He cannot claim authority from God without committing blasphemy or without incurring the wrath of the Romans. If, for example, Jesus claims to be the Son of God, then he is not only committing blasphemy by Jewish standards, but he is also claiming one of the official titles of the Roman emperor. Stamped on every Roman coin, next to the head of the emperor, was the title Filius Divi: Son of God. It’s a catch 22 for Jesus. He cannot win.

So Jesus plays the same game with his opponents. He asks them a question they cannot answer. He asks about John the Baptist. Did his authority come from humans or from God? It’s really the same question they were asking Jesus to answer about himself. And his opponents have similar trouble answering. If they say that John’s authority came from God, then Jesus will shame them, because they had not followed John. But if they answer that his authority was merely human, then the crowds would revolt, because now that John was dead, it was safe for everyone to believe that John was a real prophet. They can’t answer either.

So Jesus tells the parable of the two sons. Which one did has father’s will? They are forced to admit that it was not the one with the right words, it was the one with the right actions. And Jesus follows up, saying: “I assure you that tax collectors and prostitutes are entering God’s kingdom ahead of you. For John came to you on the righteous road, and you didn’t believe him. But tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. Yet even after you saw this, you didn’t change your hearts and lives and you didn’t believe him.”

See, who would you expect to listen when God calls for repentance, when God calls for change, when God calls for a transformed life? Would you expect the priests and the pastors and the bible scholars to answer God’s call, the people who are paid to be righteous? Or would you expect the people who make their living from sin to answer God’s call? The prostitutes and those who sell out their own people to the foreign oppressors?

You would expect the religious types to answer God’s call, wouldn’t you? They spend all day thinking about God, studying the scriptures. They have all the right answers. They can speak righteous words. Of course they would be the ones who would answer when God calls through the voice of John the Baptist. Just like you would expect the son with the obedient words to be the one who actually obeys.

But they don’t. John said, “Change your hearts and lives! God’s Kingdom is coming!” But the religious authorities didn’t answer. Tax collectors and prostitutes did, though. No one would have expected it, but they did.

And so, we must ask ourselves: who would we expect to follow God’s call to love our neighbors, to care for the least of these, to be good stewards of God’s creation? Would we expect people inside the church to do it, or would we expect people outside the church to do it? And do we too often leave the work of God’s Kingdom up to others? Are we too often the one’s who say, “Yes,” but answer No with our actions, while others who would never darken the door of a church are out doing the work of the Kingdom?

May we be inspired to put our faith into action. May we be brave enough to follow the path that Jesus has forged. May we not only proclaim Jesus with our lips, but show forth his love with our lives.

Notes-N-News

Good afternoon and happy 2nd day of Fall !

++   Food on the 4th is this Sunday 28th.  Bring your non-perishable food items to worship to be distributed through FISH Food Bank. The food bank is out of canned tomatoes, diced or whole. Another needed item is cooking oil in the smaller sized bottles.

++   September 27th Drug Take Back Day, the Hood River Fire Department, Hood River Police Department and Hood River County Prevention Partnership will be hosting a drug take back collection site at the Hood River Fire Department, 1785 Meyer Parkway from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (The program is anonymous and all efforts will be made to protect the anonymity of individuals disposing the medications. No questions of request for identification will be asked during the drop off).

The participants may dispose of the medication in its original container. When submitting the container, the individual is encourage to remove any indentifying information from the prescription label. This can be done by removing the label or utilizing permanent marker.

All solid dosage pharmaceutical products and liquids in consumer containers will be accepted. Liquid products, such as cough syrup should remain sealed in their original container. The depositor should ensure that the cap is tightly sealed to prevent leakage. Note: Intra-venous solutions, injectables, syringes, chemotherapy medications or medical waste WILL NOT be accepted due to potential hazard posed by the blood borne pathogens. Thanks for helping keep Hood River a safe place to live, work and play!

++  Women’s WELCA bible study is Tuesday Sept 30th from 2-4pm in the fellowship hall.

++  The FISH building foundation will be “curing” for about a week.

++  Happy Hands sent out 15 UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) Health Kits on Friday to Utah where they will be sent to people who have been forced to leave their homes because of human conflict or natural disaster.  Health kits are also used as learning tools in personal hygiene, literacy, nutrition and cooking classes.

And with that we reach the end of September! The month went by quickly with regular school starting but also our own Sunday school. Next week begin group studies with Pastor David and also another study at the Pettit’s. I will be out of the office the week of Sept 29th. Contact Pastor David with any questions or office needs.

Blessings!

Jennifer Fowler
Office Manager

Sermon: The Usual Daily Wage

Sunday 21 September 2014
The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Ordinary 25A

Matthew 20:1-16

It’s absolutely not fair. No self-respecting American worker would stand for it. We’d go straight to the boss and complain. We’d file a union grievance. We might even sue the company or lead a walk-out: equal pay for equal work. It stands against everything we know about freedom, equality, and fairness. And it is simply unforgivable behavior in the modern workplace.

Everyone knows that the way to get ahead is to work harder, and that those who work harder and longer are supposed to be rewarded for their trouble. But this landowner ignores all that and pays everyone the same, even though they didn’t work the same. Any good capitalist will tell you that that only encourages laziness and ill attention to work. After all, if everyone is going to get paid the same each day, whether they work 1 hour or 12 hours, then of course everyone will choose to work just one hour and collect their full paycheck. None of the work will get done, and the landowner will soon go bankrupt.


He goes to the marketplace in the early morning, and hires some of the day-laborers standing there to go and work in his vineyard. They don’t come looking for him. They don’t mail in their applications. He goes out and finds them. He promises them one denarius, the usual daily wage.

A few hours later, he sees more workers standing around idle. He hires them too. But he doesn’t say how much he’ll pay them. He does the same throughout the day, right up until quitting time, telling each new group of workers, “I’ll pay you what’s right,” but never specifying an amount. They don’t come to him. He goes out and finds them.

When they get in line to be paid at the end of the day, everyone is surprised when the workers at the front of the line, the one’s who had been working only an hour, receive a denarius, the usual wage for a full day. It doesn’t say, but we can imagine they were pretty happy on getting such a windfall. Or maybe they were just glad that they would be able to feed their families — after all, they had been ready to work all day, they just hadn’t been hired.

But the folks farther back in line were having different thoughts. The ones who had been working for two or three hours were probably still pretty happy to get a full day’s wage, even if they had been working longer than the ones farther ahead. But the ones at the very back of the line, the ones who had been working all day, knew how much longer they had worked than everyone else. They knew how much more they had gotten done. They knew how much more tired they were, they knew how much more they had sweat, and they knew that they deserved to be compensated for what they had done. It was only fair that they get more; they had worked harder and longer.

Jesus uses a very special phrase to describe the way that they felt. In the version we read today, the landowner says, “Are you envious because I am generous?” Some other translations say they were jealous. The Greek actually says, “Is your eye evil because I am generous?” The people in the back of the line have the evil eye.

That detail isn’t included in English translations of the Bible because most English speakers aren’t very familiar with the evil eye. But in the Ancient Middle East, and still today in many parts of the world, the evil eye is a very serious matter. While beliefs about the evil eye vary, the basic idea is that if someone looks at you enviously, it can cause you physical harm. The envy inside the person comes out of their eyes in rays, and enters your eye, causing disease, illness, or general bad luck. And that’s what’s happening with those workers at the end of the line. The envy that they are feeling toward those ahead of them is becoming dangerously powerful and could cause physical harm to the landowner. The only reason he is not harmed is because of his inherent goodness.


There are a lot of Christians who really don’t like this parable. Not only does it offend our economic sensibilities, it offends our religious sensibilities as well. After all, it suggests that whether you have been a Christian your whole life and have worked really hard to do everything that God asks, or whether you have lived a life of vice and sin and only accept Jesus on your deathbed, you’ll still receive the same reward. No difference between the holiest saint and the most evil person, as long as they say they’re sorry before they die. It doesn’t seem fair. It seems wrong.

There was an old lady in the church I grew up in. She’s in the top ten of the holiest people I’ve ever met, was involved and active in the church forever. I can hardly think of anyone who would be a better Christian role-model. She took the Bible pretty literally, but this is the one passage that she just couldn’t handle. It’s because she was one of those people at the back of the line, one of those who had been working in the vineyard of the Lord for a very long time, and she simply could not abide that eleventh-hour Christians would have as good a place in heaven as she will.

And that’s a feeling that is common to many Christians. We are resentful of the idea that God would treat a deathbed convert just as well as us. Part of it is that we secretly wish that we could just slack off, live a life of sin, and then convert at the last minute. Wouldn’t that be more fun, after all? What’s the point of giving up all the pleasures of life if we’re not going to get anything for it? Why should we make that sacrifice, when we could get all the benefits without all the work?


And that’s exactly the idea that Jesus is trying to help us avoid. It’s that evil eye, that envy, that causes harm not only to those around us, but also to ourselves. It separates us, one from another, and it separates us from God and from God’s plans for us. If we are so jealous of others living it up in the world, then we will become useless as servants of God.

And it comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of the life of faith and the Kingdom of God. You see, we think that living a worldly life is more fun, more exciting, more enjoyable than living a godly life. We think that if we choose to live close to God, then we will be missing out on all the pleasures the world has to offer.

When in truth, the opposite is the case. There are many things in our world that promise pleasure and fulfillment, but apart from God, they are all just illusions. They may offer a diversion, or a temporary fix, but in the end, they amount to nothing. They can never fulfill that deep longing in our hearts that can only be filled by God.

But nothing could be more fulfilling than living your life for God. Nothing could be more rewarding or pleasurable than staying close to God and knowing God’s deep love. It may not be the same instant gratification, but it has much deeper power. If you need proof, just think back to the happiest times in your life, those times when you felt most at peace, most whole and complete. Were they times when you were far away from God? Or were they times when you were close to God?

Living a faithful life, working in God’s vineyard, should not be simply a chore. It is not a way of earning a reward or gaining salvation. Luther was terribly clear about that. Salvation by faith and not by works. And yet it is so easy for us to forget that living a faithful life is not something we do in order to get paid with divine blessings. It is a privilege, and a joyful response to the love we have found in God through Jesus Christ, who doesn’t wait for us to apply, but seeks us out while we are standing idle. We don’t live the way God asks us because it’s some kind of duty or burden, or because we are afraid to offend God. We live God’s way because it is the most fulfilling, most rewarding way to live. That’s why God recommends it, not because God is vindictive and generally a party-pooper, but because God is gracious and kind.

Now, that doesn’t always make it easier to make good choices. The lures of this world are many, and there are temptations all around us. Advertisers are constantly telling us that this will make us happy or that will bring satisfaction to our lives. Don’t believe it. What it will bring is more money in their pockets. The only thing that brings true and lasting happiness is the love of God. So why do we wish we could wait longer to experience it?

I wonder if part of the reason that we feel jealous when God offers grace to others is because we have a hard time accepting God’s grace ourselves. We feel like we should have to earn God’s blessing and we have a hard time believing that God would love even us without condition.

Luther, in a sermon on this same text, puts it this way. He says, “Hence the substance of this Gospel is that no mortal is so high, nor will ever ascend so high, who will not have occasion to fear that he may become the very lowest. On the other hand, no mortal lies so low or can fall so low, to whom the hope is not extended that he may become the highest; because here all human merit is abolished and God’s goodness alone is praised, and it is decreed as on a festive occasion that the first shall be last and the last first. In that he says, “the first shall be last” he strips you of all your presumption and forbids you to exalt yourself above the lowest outcast, even if you were like Abraham, David, Peter or Paul. However, in that he also says, “the last shall be first,” he checks you against all doubting, and forbids you to humble yourself below any saint, even if you were Pilate, Herod, Sodom and Gomorrah.”

God’s grace demands that we not exalt ourselves over others. And it also demands that we not humiliate ourselves below other. No, it’s not fair. But grace isn’t fair. Grace is by definition unfair, in that God loves us all, regardless of how we might or might not merit it.

So let us celebrate in God’s radical grace. And let us turn away from jealousy and from the delusion that living a life estranged from God is somehow ‘getting away with something’ and to be preferred to living a life in close relationship with God. Let us say yes to God now and open the door to that new and joyous life. And let us not be envious of the ones who come after and receive the same reward. It is not a reward anyway, it is a gift. Instead, let us rejoice with God that they have come home, have come to the joy that is only found in the love of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.