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.


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.


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.


Good Afternoon!

++  Newsletter items are due this week. I will be out of town the last week of September, so please send info soon/now!

++  Women’s retreat sign-up sheet is in the narthex, as well as roommate request, and carpooling info.

++  Men’s Breakfast is Sat 20th at the Charburger.

++  Food on the 4th is Sept 28th. Non-perishable items.

++  A gathering to plan a mid-week study group is Thurs Oct 2nd at 6pm at Roy  & Pat Pettit’s home. They will serve a main dish, and others can bring a potluck item.

++  Adult Sunday Study begins Sunday Oct 5th at 8am in the fellowship hall. Led by Pastor David.

++  Because of the change in school starting times, I will be in the office at 9am Mondays and 8:30 Tues, Wed, and Thurs.


Jennifer Fowler
Office Manager

Sermon: Not Unto Ourselves Alone

Sunday 14 September 2014
The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 24A

Romans 14:1-12

Melissa and I both graduated from Willamette University. And Willamette has a motto that was important enough to the life of the school that I still remember it: non nobis solum nati sumus, not unto ourselves alone are we born. The idea is that anything we might have or anything we might be is not supposed to be just for our own benefit. We have a larger responsibility. The things that we are and the things that we have are supposed to be for the benefit of others. We are supposed to live for the benefit of our neighbors. According to the motto, this responsibility is so great, so thoroughgoing, that it begins at the moment of our birth. Not unto ourselves alone are we born.

Paul is writing to a group of churches in Rome that he has not visited. He is planning a visit to Rome, and as a way of introducing himself and preparing the way, he writes this letter. It appears, though, that he has already heard something about them, something about the issues that the churches are facing in Rome, something about the squabbles and arguments that they are having. All groups of people have disagreements and arguments, and the Church is no exception. Even from the earliest times, it seems, Christians disagreed over the best way to be Christians.

In Rome, among other things, they are arguing about diet and about the observance of special days. So lets talk about diet first. The conflict is between those who eat meat and those who are vegetarians. Now, if these two groups were arguing today, it would likely be about how much land and water it takes to raise cattle, or about the relative health benefits of eating and not eating meat, or about how ethical it is to raise animals for meat, or how much pain they feel when they are slaughtered. These are all potentially interesting questions. However, none of these questions are the questions that Christians in Rome were considering when they had their conflict over diet.

For them, the issues were different. There were probably two main things in question for these early Christians. The first has to do with the method of butchery. There are specific regulations in the bible about the proper way to slaughter animals. This is part of what makes meat kosher or not. Living as they did, in the Gentile city of Rome, it would be hard to ensure that any meat they might have bought in the market had been butchered properly in the way prescribed by scripture. If it wasn’t possible to get Kosher meat, then maybe it was best not to eat meat at all. Or perhaps, these sorts of regulations did not matter for Gentile Christians. Maybe it was okay for Gentile Christians to eat non-Kosher food because the Kosher laws only applied to Jews.

But there was another issue that also had to do with the slaughter of meat. In the ancient world, nearly every religious tradition practiced animal sacrifice. When we modern people imagine animal sacrifice, we usually think of a cruel ritual in which an animal is killed and then its body is burned on the altar of some god. Occasionally the ancients did perform these sorts of whole burnt sacrifices, but most of the time things worked a bit differently. A person would bring their animal to a temple and hand it over to the priest. Then, through whatever rituals were prescribed by that god, the priests would slaughter the animal. Then they would begin the butchery process. Typically, only the undesirable parts of the animal, like the bone, fat, and blood, would be burned for the gods. The priests would take a portion of the meat for themselves, as payment, and they would return the rest to the person who had brought the sacrifice. They would take it home and use it for their meals, or to a market to sell. A temple of animal sacrifice was actually much more like a butcher shop than it was like the images we usually have in our heads. This is how animals were slaughtered at the temple of God in Jerusalem. It’s also how they were slaughtered at the various pagan temples throughout the Roman world.

This presented a problem for Christians in Rome, though. If they bought meat in the market, chances are that it had been offered to Jupiter, or Mars, or Isis, or some other pagan god before it ended up in the shop for sale. So if they bought that meat and ate it, wouldn’t it mean that they were practicing idolatry? Wouldn’t they, in effect, be worshipping other gods? If they were too poor to buy meat and had access to meat only when it was distributed for free at public festivals, then it was most definitely meat that had been sacrificed to foreign gods. For this reason, many Christians, following the example of the Book of Daniel, decided that as long as they lived in Gentile cities, where meat was offered to the gods before it was sold, they would simply refrain for eating any meat and be vegetarians.

Others, though, had a different idea on the matter. They argued that since there was only one true God, all of the pagan gods were really nothing at all. They didn’t exist. Therefore, even if meat had been offered up to Apollo, there really was no Apollo, so it hadn’t been offered to anything except some inanimate statue of wood or stone. If the pagan gods weren’t real, then what did it matter if meat had been sacrificed to them. It was fine to eat meat from pagan temples, because those pagan gods didn’t really exist anyway.

The other conflict was over the setting aside of days. Some people set aside certain days as holy. Maybe Saturday, as the Sabbath commanded in scripture, or maybe Sunday, as the Lord’s day. Other people said that every day was the same, and there was no need to set aside a special day for God. Ancient Rome, by the way, had no weekends. Every day was a work day, though there were plenty of holidays and feast days and days off to watch the games or the gladiators. The fact that Jews, and some Christians, took off one day a week for religious observance, seemed like a strange oddity to most of their Gentile neighbors.

And so, Paul is writing to Christian communities that disagree over what the proper thing is for Christians to do. We modern Christians still have our arguments. And interestingly, we still argue about things like diet and scheduling. Most Christians set aside Sunday for worship, but Seventh-Day Adventists insist that the proper day for worship is Saturday, the day prescribed by the bible. Jehovah’s Witnesses refrain from celebrating any holidays. Likewise, some Christians eat whatever they want whenever they want. Catholics and Orthodox Christians, though, abstain from meat on Fridays and certain other fast days. Mormons abstain from caffeine. Some Methodists and Baptists abstain from alcohol.

But our disagreements are not limited just to calendars and food. We disagree about worship styles; should it be medieval worship, or nineteenth-century worship, or contemporary worship? We disagree about music; should it be chant, or baroque, or gospel, or rock & roll? We disagree about how to take communion; should we use juice or wine, should we dip into a common cup, or drink from a common cup, or have individual cups, should the bread be leavened or unleavened, should we celebrate it once a year, once a quarter, once a month, once a week, or once a day? We disagree about mission; should we focus on helping people in need, or on righting the injustices of society, or on winning souls for Christ?We disagree on worship space; should we have an altar or a table, what should we put in the middle, the altar, the pulpit, the choir, or the organ? Should we have an empty cross, or a cross with Jesus on it, or a projection screen? Is Jesus a man, or is he God, or is he half man and half God, or is he somehow all man and all God? When is the proper day to celebrate Easter? What kinds of clothes are appropriate to wear to church? What age do you need to be in order to be baptized, and how many times should you be baptized? What kinds of prayers should we say, and what things should we pray for? When should we sit, and when should we stand, and when should we kneel?

As you might guess, I could go on and on. And these are just the strictly religious arguments. I haven’t even touched the social arguments or the political arguments that we Christians have with one another. Things like, what is the proper response to violence, and when, if ever, is it legitimate to go to war? We have plenty of things to disagree about, to squabble over, even to fight over.

This congregation has a rather unique opportunity for disagreement. Most congregations are a part of only one denomination, and so many of the potential disagreements have already been settled. There is not only the power of denominational doctrine, but also the weight of long-held tradition within the particular congregation. But we are one congregation with two denominations. That means that sometimes the Lutheran way of doing things and the United Methodist way of doing things are not exactly the same. And we are also the joining together of two historic congregations. That means that even when the UMC stance and the ELCA stance do not conflict, there might be differences in the ways that Asbury has usually done things and the ways that Our Redeemer has usually done things. We haven’t been together for very long, so we are still building our own traditions together.

To be clear, all congregations have conflicts and disagreements. All congregations are made up of people who have different expectations, different histories, and different needs. My home congregation in Salem still had hotly contested debates over whether or not they should bring back the dossel cloth, a sort of tapestry the used to hang in the front of the chancel. To give some perspective, the dossel cloth hadn’t hung in the sanctuary since before I was born, but some people were still hot under the collar about its removal and wanted to bring it back. All congregations have disagreement and conflict. But our particular situation and identity mean that we often find ourselves with different expectations. And the fact that we are one congregation with two denominations means that when there is disagreement or conflict, we are likely to frame that disagreement as Lutheran vs. Methodist, or as Asbury vs. Our Redeemer, even when that is not the most accurate way to characterize the disagreement.

One example I’ve heard about that is the Lord’s Prayer. We use a newer translation of the Lord’s Prayer in worship, one that is different than many of you might have learned as children, but one that is much less archaic. Now, I have heard Lutherans complain about having to use the Methodist Lord’s Prayer. And I’ve heard Methodists complain about having to use the Lutheran Lord’s Prayer. The truth is that both denominations have the exact same position on the matter. Both have traditionally used the version with ‘trespasses,’ and both have recommended shifting to the newer, ecumenical text for several decades now. But since it seems like something new and different, it’s easy for us to assume that it must be a denominational difference, even though it isn’t.

All that is to say that this message from Paul about disagreement in the Church is particularly important for us. So what does Paul say to the Christians who are squabbling in Rome? He tells them to welcome one another, but not for the purpose of arguing over differences of opinion. He says that Christians who abstain from meat do so in order to honor God, and Christians who eat meat do so giving thanks to God. Likewise, Christians who set aside special days for worship, do so to honor God, and Christians who see every day alike also do so in honor of God, a God who, after all, is not confined to Sunday mornings.

And he says something else that is very interesting. He says, “Let everyone be convinced in their own minds.” Translated another way, “Each person must have their own convictions.” That means that they don’t have to try to convert each other, or to put each other down. It is alright for them to have different beliefs, and opinions, and practices. They can do things differently and all still be Christians. They can all believe what they believe in their own minds, and yet still accept the differences they have, still embrace each other as sisters and brothers in Christ.

In the verses that immediately follow the ones we read today, Paul goes even farther. He says that it is fine to have your own convictions and your own practices, so long as they don’t become a stumbling block to others. He says that he knows that idols don’t amount to anything, and he has no qualms about eating meat that has been sacrificed before them. But, he says, he would rather never eat meat again if eating meat might cause someone else to stumble.

And that is a message we can still hear today. We can use that advice in this congregation. Yes, there will be times when we have differences. We might have different traditions around communion, or the celebration of holidays, or hymnody, or particular points of theology. And the first thing would should know is that it’s okay to have differences. It’s okay for us to have a variety of expression of our Christian faith.

But we also have to be mindful of how our convictions might effect others. Paul is very clear that we should not insist on our own way if it means that it might cause one of our sisters or brothers to stumble. Sometimes we have to rein in our own preferences for the benefit of others.

It’s not unlike that Willamette motto: not unto ourselves alone are we born. We are not only responsible for our own preferences. We are responsible for the welfare of our sisters and brothers. That includes the spiritual welfare of those we share this congregation with.

Now, we live in the most religiously fragmented society in the history of Christianity. There are more denominations now in the United States than there have ever been in the history of the world. It used to be that the church favored unity over what they called schism. It was more important that the church stay one than it was that everyone believe their own things, or the exact same thing. But these days, we’ll break off into different denominations over just about anything. And even though the Mainline Protestant denominations have started working together more closely, it still hasn’t led to much of what we call organic unity.

This is what makes us special. This is what makes our project here so important. We have been called by God to live that organic unity. We have been called to work against the trend. Christianity has been moving toward greater and greater division, greater and greater factionalism. But we have been called to live the unity that is so sorely lacking in the Church universal. We have the chance to be an example. We have the chance to lead the way, to show how Christians with different backgrounds can take seriously our belief that we are part of one body, that we are members of one family: God’s family.


Happy Sunny Day everyone!

++  This evening 6:00pm is a Safe Sanctuary Class for anyone who didn’t attend Sunday’s class. Soup will be served.

++  Sign-ups are needed for Coffee Hour, Ushers, flowers etc this month.

++  Sunday School for preschool and elementary youth starts during 10:30 worship, this Sunday 14th, upon the “passing of the peace” part of our service. Sunday School will meet the 2nd thru 5th Sundays of the month.

++  Confirmation Class/Youth Group-  middle/highschool youth and parents are invited to an introduction meeting at 6pm Sunday in the office house. Meal in included.

++   Happy Hands will be meeting at Pat Pettit’s home, 1809 Montello, every Monday during September at 9am. It is open to all women who like to do crafts. Bring your craft along and join the fun.

++   Recycling- Items brought to church to be recycled need to be free of food residue; CLEAN! Styrofoam must be tape free and SNAP; nothing bendable.  Sharon P. and Craig T.

++   Women of our church: WELCA meets this Saturday, September 13th from 10-12 noon in the fellowship room. We’ll follow with a salad and dessert potluck.  All women of the church are invited to come and enjoy the fellowship, help plan some activities and  enjoy a delicious lunch.  Please call Kathy Terry if any questions.

++   School Supplies:  A huge thank you to everyone who contributed school supplies and money for supplies for the Parkdale Elementary School.  After church on August 31st, we had 456 crayons, 32 markers, 47 glue sticks, 232 pencils, 12 scissors, 6 boxes of Kleenex, 5 large bottles of hand sanitizer, 21 rulers, 41 notebooks, 80 colored pencils, 45 pencil-top erasers, 9 large erasers, 4 boxes of Band-aids, 24 folders, 2 calculators, 450 sheets loose-leaf paper, and 10 backpacks!!  And more has come in since this count was taken.  Plus $78 to buy more supplies!!   The folks at Parkdale were so appreciative – you have made a big difference in our community.  Thank you again from Faith In Action.

++  The next Women’s Spiritual Group meeting will be on Oct 4 (Sat) at (9:00am) in the Fellowship Hall. We’re meeting there instead of the church office for easier access for members attending.  Carol Kyger

++  Card Class meets this Sunday 14th at 1:15.

++  The Emergency Voucher Program in Hood River is searching for volunteers. The program provides food, gas and lodging vouchers to clients who are in a crisis situation. The role of a volunteer is to listen to the client’s story, write appropriate vouchers, and refer to other services. Volunteers needed for 2 hour shifts, Monday-Friday, 12pm to 2pm. Please contact Rev. Anna Carmichael if interested. 541-386-2077



Jennifer Fowler
Office Manager

Sermon: Love One Another

Sunday 7 September 2014
The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 23A

Romans 13:8-14

Many Christians in our age define the faith in the importance of accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior. Accept Jesus Christ and you will be saved. This is, of course, an important message. But I wonder if sometimes we focus on conversion to the exclusion of everything else. People might be led to believe that once you have accepted Jesus in your heart, or once you are baptized, there is nothing left to do as a Christian.

The message from Paul in the Letter to the Romans today, however, tackles head on the question of what we do once we have already accepted Jesus as lord. Specifically, how are we to live in light of the love that God has shown us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus? How should our actions be different than before we were believers? How should they be different than before we knew Jesus?

Paul starts by telling us that we should pay off all of our debts and owe nothing to anyone. The idea is that if we have debts, in either money or favors, then we will be tied down, burdened, and fettered, and we won’t have the freedom to do the things we should as Christians. If we are beholden to other people, then our responsibilities to them may conflict with our responsibilities to God. It’s like the idea that a politician who takes tons of money from a special interest group may not be able to do what’s right for her constituents when the time comes.

Except, Paul says, there is one debt that you can never fully pay off: the debt of loving one another. Now, we don’t usually think of love as a debt that has to be repaid. But Paul is reminding us that the love God has shown us through the live, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is so immense, in fact it is immeasurable, infinite love. It is so great that we could never love God back the amount that God has loved us. And furthermore, the primary way that we are asked to love God is by loving our neighbors, by loving each other. And so it is that we can never fully pay back our debt of love to our neighbors, a debt that is not held by our neighbors themselves, but by God. Therefore, Paul says, loving your neighbor is the only debt that you should have.

And its not only the only debt that you should have, love is also the only law that you should have. The Hebrew scriptures are filled with laws and commandments, at least 613 of them, and in Paul’s time there were continual arguments about how to follow them, and which ones were more important, and when there might be exceptions to certain laws.

It’s not that much different for us. We Christians continue to have an awful lot of laws and rules. And we continue to debate which ones are more important than others, which should be followed at which times, and which have exceptions or should be ignored. What does it mean, for example, to keep the Sabbath? Is it on Sunday or Saturday? Should we really do no work? What about mowing the lawn or cooking dinner?

Or what about the other rules? Should Christians dance, or gamble, or drink, or smoke? How much money are we required to give to the church? Should we give money to beggars? What should we do for the hungry? Should we vote for Republicans or Democrats? Which sexual relationships are sanctioned and which are not? How should we treat members of other churches or of other religions? These are all serious questions for Christians in our modern world.

But Paul suggests that we don’t need a bunch of rules to cover every possible situation. We shouldn’t try to legislate our morality and keep score of who is behaving righteously and who is not. No, we don’t need a whole slew of rules: we only need one rule: love one another. That’s it. Just love one another. Paul says that every other rule and commandment flows out of that one simple rule. Love one another. If we truly love one another, and we live out our love for one another in every situation, then we will have surely fulfilled all of the other rules and commandments, because they all flow from love. They are all simply variations on the theme of loving God and loving one another. So stop arguing about the rules, stop taking notes and keeping score of who is following them, and simply love one another, and apply that love to every action that you take. If you do that, everything else will fall into place.

And don’t forget that the reason that we love our neighbor is not because they deserve it or have earned it. After all, we don’t deserve God’s love, we haven’t earned it, it isn’t our due. And yet, God loves us with an abundant, immeasurable love that we can scarcely imagine. That is the reason that we love one another: because God first loved us.

Let’s face it, a whole lot of our neighbors don’t deserve our love. Our enemies haven’t earned our love. But that is completely irrelevant in light of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Just because other people might hate us, it is not an excuse not to love them. It’s God’s love that we are responding to, not other people’s. And God asks that we return that love by passing it on, paying it forward, and loving all of the people in our world, whomever they might be and whatever they might have done.

And, Paul reminds us, don’t forget what time it is. The night is nearly over, the day is close at hand. Wake up! Salvation is closer now than when we were first believers.

Now, we might be tempted to discount this warning out of hand. Paul seems to be saying that we should be on our best behavior because Jesus is about to return, and we don’t want him to catch us while we’re misbehaving. But it’s been nearly 2000 years since Paul wrote those words, and the world still hasn’t come to an end, so why should we listen to Paul’s warnings. Hundreds of generations have gone by without Paul’s predictions coming true, it seems, so why should we trust him?

Well, that would be true, except that it’s not exactly what Paul is saying. He’s not just saying that it’s almost time for Jesus to return, so you’d better look busy, although he did probably believe that Jesus would return much sooner than now. Nevertheless, Paul is saying something more complicated and more pertinent than that.

He’s saying that we are at a point in time when the old age, what he calls the night, and the new age, which he calls day, are overlapping. We are still living in the night, but the day has already begun to break forth.

That is to say that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus have started something in motion. The Kingdom of God is already dawning, already breaking into the world. And even though we have not yet reached that time when the Kingdom of God has fully taken control of everything, it has already begun to do so. And we have a choice to live either in the old age, the age of darkness, or to live in the new age, the age of light.

In the age of darkness, people can get away with all kinds of evil things. They can get away with not loving each other, because in the dark, everything is hidden. You can’t see the wrong things that people are doing.

But in the age of light, everything is exposed. You can’t get away with anything, because the light reveals all. All of our actions, whether good or bad, are open for everyone to see.

So it’s easy to see why most people choose to live in the darkness. It seems like a much easier path. But we are called to live in the light, to live as if the Kingdom of God were already in complete control, to put on the armor of light that will protect us from slipping back into the darkness, where anything goes.

Let us then live in the light, loving one another as if everyone could see our actions, as if we were representatives and emissaries of God’s Kingdom. Because that is in fact exactly what we are. People look at us to see how Christians behave. So let us live as Christians. And let the world know that we are Christians by the love that we show, not just for each other, but for the whole world.


++ You may be asking yourselves, “how do we get to the office?!” People are doing two different options : you may come through our church building, and use the sidewalk out the backdoor of the fellowship hall, which leads to the office. This works only if you have a key, however.  The other option is to walk on the west side of the church, around the back and access the sidewalk from there. You also may call the office and I can meet anyone in front of the church if you’re just wanting to drop something off. Thank you!

++ Monday Sept 1st is Labor Day and the office will be closed.

++ Tomorrow, Thursday May 28th at  6:00pm  Choir Potluck at Morning Song Acres for choir members and those who may be interested in joining choir. Contact Marv Turner or Myrin & Audrey Bentz.

++ This Sunday, Sept 31st is a Designated Giving Sunday for school supplies for Parkdale School. You may donate supplies or a monetary amount noted on your giving envelope.

++ WELCA quilting meets Wed Sept 3rd at 9am.

++ Saturday, Sept 6th  Women’s Spiritual Group meets at 9am in the church office.


Jennifer Fowler
Office Manager

Sermon: Get Behind Me

Sunday 31 August 2014
The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 22C

Matthew 16:21-28

Today’s sermon is about Rocky. No, it’s not about the boxer portrayed by Sylvester Stallone. It’s about the apostle Peter. Peter isn’t his given name though. You might remember, when Jesus called him, his name was Simon. But Jesus gave him a nickname. In Aramaic, the nickname was Cephas. In Greek, it was Πετρος. And if you’ve spent any time studying for the SAT’s, you can guess what it means. Petros, as in petroglyph or petrified, means: rock. So, in English: Rocky.

Now, the passage we have for this morning has that famous phrase from Jesus to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan.” Quite a memorable moment. But how do we go from Jesus calling Peter, “the Rock,” the foundation, the stable one, to Jesus calling Peter “Satan”? To figure that out, we’ve got to rewind a bit. And we’ve got to rewind a little farther than the beginning of today’s passage back to Matthew 16:13.

We read it in worship last week. Jesus asks his disciples who people are saying that he is. And they report back what they’ve heard. Some people are saying that you’re John the Baptist. Other people are saying that you’re Elijah, returned from heaven. Other people are saying that you’re Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets.

Well that’s a little strange, isn’t it? Why would people think that Jesus was John the Baptist, especially since they were both around at the same time. John baptized Jesus, didn’t he? And why would they think that he was one of the Old Testament prophets? Israel doesn’t really have a tradition of reincarnation. What would they mean by saying that Jesus is Jeremiah?

The only suggestion of theirs that makes any sense is the suggestion that Jesus might be Elijah. You might remember the story of Elijah and the chariot of fire. According to the bible, Elijah doesn’t die. Instead, at the end of his life on earth, he is swooped up into heaven in a fiery chariot. Because of this, a lot of people thought that Elijah might return some day. But how could Jesus, at 30-years-old be mistaken for the now ancient prophet Elijah? It’s not entirely clear.

Whatever else they might be saying about Jesus, though, the crowds are clear that Jesus is something really special. He is not just some everyday traveling preacher. When they think of Jesus, they think of events on a cosmic scale. They think of long-dead prophets reappearing, of Elijah returning, as if it were the apocalyptic end of the age.

So Jesus asks the disciples who they think he is. Rocky, Peter, is the one who speaks up for everyone. He say’s, “You are the Christ, Son of the living God.” Now, at the time, those word probably meant something a bit different than what they mean to us today. Christ, and it’s Aramaic equivalent, Messiah, both mean anointed. So that means that Peter thinks Jesus is either a prophet or a king or both. Prophets and kings were both anointed as a sign of their office. It doesn’t mean that Jesus is God, and Jesus would not have been the only person who was considered to be a christ.

Peter also says that Jesus is the Son of the living God. As counterintuitive as it seems to us, he still might not have meant that Jesus was God. Son of God was a common title for the kings of Israel. It could also be used to refer to any extraordinary prophet, philosopher, warrior, or ruler. Son of God also happened to be one of the official titles of the Roman Emperor, printed on virtually every Roman coin, which is probably part of the reason that Jesus ends up getting crucified. When the Romans hear words like “anointed” and “Son of God,” they immediately think emperor or king—a political rival to the authority of Rome.

Whatever the case, though, Jesus seems very happy with Peter’s answer. In Matthew, and only in Matthew, Jesus showers praise on Peter, saying that he is the rock, and on this rock I will build my church; you have the keys of the kingdom, etc. etc. If you’ve ever read a Dan Brown novel, you probably know that these words became very important to later Roman Catholics, who regard Peter as the first pope. They use this text to argue that all future popes also have a special place as holders of the keys of the kingdom.

So, Jesus is very happy with Peter’s answer. He’s happy that Peter has recognized who he really is: God’s anointed, God’s son. Right after he finishes praising Peter for how rock-like and foundational he is, Jesus has a quick line telling the disciples not to tell anyone else that he is the Messiah. I’m not going to deal with that today, but next year, when we read the Gospel of Mark, we’ll get into it.

So there is Jesus with his disciples. Peter has just been congratulated for saying that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God. What are the disciples expecting?… They are expecting that Jesus is going to do what virtually everyone at the time thought the next messiah was going to do: kick out the Romans. That was priority number one for any new messiah. Raise an army, defeat the Romans, and reestablish the kingdom of Israel. It would have gone without saying. Everyone would have expected a messiah to lead a military rebellion.

But what does Jesus do? It’s at the beginning of today’s passage. Jesus starts talking about how he is going to, and I quote, “Go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and legal experts, and that he had to be killed and raised on the third day.”

Now, for us Christians twenty centuries later, that all sounds like exactly what Jesus, the Christ, was meant to do. But for pretty much anyone at the time, Jesus was talking nonsense. The Messiah does not go to Jerusalem to suffer and die. The Messiah goes to Jerusalem to be enthroned, to establish a Kingdom, to end the Roman military occupation.

And so, we should not be surprised by how Peter reacts. Peter says, essentially, “Um, Jesus… didn’t you just hear what I was saying? You’re the Christ. You’re the Son of God. Suffering and dying isn’t really on the agenda. Would you like us to start rounding up some swords? We could do that. I’m all for going to Jerusalem, but everyone knows you’re not going there to die.” I really like how the Common English Bible puts it: Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him.” If Jesus is alright with being called the Messiah, then he’s probably just a little confused about who the Messiah is, and Peter is there to correct him. You can be sure that all the other disciples were glad that Peter was doing it.

And Jesus turns on a dime. He goes straight from happy praise of Peter to angry rebuke: “Get behind me, Satan.” Wow.. It’s hard to imagine anything Jesus could have said that would have been harsher. And Jesus continues, “Get behind me, Satan. You are a stumbling block to me.” He had just been going on and on about how Peter was a foundation rock on which he would build the church. Now, he’s still calling Peter a rock, but he’s no longer a foundation stone. Now he’s a rock that Jesus is afraid of tripping over.

The problem is that Jesus and Peter have fundamentally different ideas of who Jesus is. They can agree on the words. Jesus is the Christ. He’s the Son of God. But when Peter says, Christ, Son of God, it means something very different than when Jesus says Christ, Son of God.

And that’s not a problem that we have overcome in the intervening two millennia. We have an awful lot of churchy words that most Christians know and throw around, but we don’t necessarily agree on what they mean. It’s not just Christ and Son of God. We have plenty of words to build misunderstanding around. Salvation, atonement, justification, righteousness, justice, peace, Kingdom, belief, faith, disciple, heaven, hell, even Christian. All of these words are crucial to understanding and describing who we are and what we believe. And yet, it would be very difficult for all of the Christians in Hood River to agree to common defitions of these key words, let alone to get all the Christians in the world to do so.

And there’s another word in our passage for today that can be equally problematic. That word is ‘cross.’ Now, at first glance, it wouldn’t seem like such a controversial word. A cross is a fairly recognizable physical object. I can make one with my arms. I can trace the sign of the cross across my body. I can look up on the wall and see a cross. Many of you are probably wearing crosses around your necks. What’s to misunderstand?

Today, a cross seems like a fairly obvious symbol for Christ, for Christians, and for Christianity. It’s a bit like a brand marker. If you see a cross on something, you know that that thing is supposed to be Christian. A building with a cross is probably a church. A book with a cross might be a bible. A person with a cross is a Christian. It functions in the same way as the McDonald’s arches or the Nike swoosh.

The first few centuries of Christians didn’t use the cross like we do, though. They, unlike us, still had first hand knowledge of what crosses were used for. And what crosses were used for were torture and execution. Imagine if instead of a cross up here on the back wall of the chancel, we hung an electric chair, or a gas chamber, or a noose, or a collection of lethal injection drugs. It is only because crosses are no longer used for execution that we can avoid the horror of the image of the cross.

And so when Jesus says, “All who want to be my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me,” those are much more radical words than we usually admit. We are usually prepared to admit that following Jesus might be difficult at times, that it’s not always easy to be a Christian. Jesus suggests something far more revolutionary. Jesus says that anyone who wants to be a disciple should be prepared to die. Jesus seems to suggest that being a Christian means doing things that would be so radical that it would get them killed.

There are still some Christians in our age who live their faith loud enough to be killed for it. Martin Luther King and Óscar Romero come to mind. And there are others.

But most of us are more like Peter in the story. When things get dicy, we are ready to get out. When there is conflict or struggle or disorder or controversy, we are so quick to say, “God forbid it, Lord! This must not happen!” But Jesus invites us to look struggle in the face, to look hostility in face, to look inertia in the face and to keep walking.

Whoever would be my disciple must deny themselves, pick up their cross, and follow me, Jesus says. When we encounter opposition to the progress of God’s Kingdom, when the going of our faith gets tough, we should not be fooled into thinking that the Christian thing to do is to not make any waves, to be quiet and polite. If we are really followers of Jesus of Nazareth, then we should expect to do quite the opposite. If we follow Jesus, then when we encounter opposition, we must keep walking. We must even be willing to take up our own cross as we move ahead for the Kingdom of God.


Good afternoon!


++ You may be asking yourselves, “how do we get to the office?!” People are doing two different options : you may come through our church building, and use the sidewalk out the backdoor of the fellowship hall, which leads to the office. This works only if you have a key, however.  The other option is to walk on the west side of the church, around the back and access the sidewalk from there. You also may call the office and I can meet anyone in front of the church if you’re just wanting to drop something off. Thank you!

++ Monday Sept 1st is Labor Day and the office will be closed.

++ This Sunday, Aug 31st is a Designated Giving Sunday for school supplies for Parkdale School. You may donate supplies or a monetary amount noted on your giving envelope.

++ WELCA quilting meets Wed Sept 3rd at 9am.

++ Saturday, Sept 6th  Women’s Spiritual Group meets at 9am in the church office.



Jennifer Fowler
Office Manager