Message - Karen Lackey Ryan - Sept. 15, 2019 A lost sheep, a lost coin, and if we read further in this chapter from Luke, the lost prodigal son. Lost is the key word of the day. Initially, I started listing all the things that can be lost. Most are not things at all, but qualities, opportunities, relationships, health, eventually our bodies; and things get really grim if we lose our minds! This became very dark, very fast, so I reset my focus on the lost sheep. Lucky sheep, Found and carried home to safety across the shoulders of the Good Shepherd. At least that is the usual image. I imagine that wayward sheep, off having an adventure, a warm, woolly, mostly good-natured grazing animal, with only a little brain, easily distracted and needing constant direction. Needing a shepherd. A shepherd or sheepherder is a person who tends, herds, feeds, or guards herds of sheep. As caretakers, we also assume responsibility for the well-being of children, elderly and ill family members, or anyone else entrusted to our care. And what about those other 99 sheep, the ones who get only a passing mention? Where were they? They were left, “in the open country,” while the good shepherd was out and about, rounding up the little delinquent! It is not a stretch to consider the “99” to be like the older brother of the prodigal son, responsible, obedient, who nevertheless felt neglected. Isn’t the lost coin equal to the lost sheep, a symbol of something of value that must be found and order restored? And the woman seeking diligently for the coin like the Good Shepherd who goes looking for that one errant sheep?
/2 Who hasn’t lost something, and searched high and low until it is found? Luke is asking us questions. What are we looking for? And where are we looking? How badly do we want to find what we are looking for? It must be of great value for us to search so diligently. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.Matt:6 NIV In the scripture from Exodus the people were the sheep who grew restless and felt abandoned by the great Moses, the faithful shepherd who had led them out of Egypt. How quickly they threw over Moses and the principles of the one God, and needed to fill the empty space in their hearts and lives! How quickly they threw their gold and silver to build a tangible object of worship, the Golden Calf! And then they gave themselves over to eating, drinking and being merry. Or, as the Good News version puts it, “ the people sat down to a feast, which turned into an orgy of drinking and sex.” Exodus 32: 6 The more I read the Bible the more modern it seems. Meanwhile, Up on the mountain, During the intimate conversation that Moses is having with God, God advises Moses to, “Hurry and go down, because your people, whom you led out of Egypt have sinned and rejected me.”Good News version, Exodus 32: 7. How easy it is to be distracted. We don’t always know what we want, or where to find it. We don’t always have the wisdom and stature of a Moses, nor the tenacity of the woman who lost her coin. We don’t always know what it is that we are missing, and we so often believe that it is the material world, the Golden Calf, that will satisfy our longings.
/3 Psalm 14:1-3 NIV clearly defines the problem: The fool says in his heart, “there is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men, to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. Are we all sinners and lost sheep? Some of us, like the prodigal son, have the sense to admit our limitations and seek the Father. Some, like the “99,” are already safe in the fold, faithfully following the Lord on a daily basis. Blessed is the sheep that the Good Shepherd looks for until it is found. Jesus needs us! As Paul writes to Timothy, 1Tim.1:15, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Jesus is the Lamb of God, slain for us. Christ Jesus is the treasure which we seek. Jesus has love to spare, arms and shoulders waiting to carry us safely home. We are assured that he is looking for us, until we may be found. As for us, We are to look for our heart’s desire with the determination of the shepherd looking for that lost sheep, or the woman looking for her lost coin, that irreplaceable resource without which our lives are in distress. Let us rejoice with the Good Shepherd, who, “When he finds it, joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” Likewise the woman who finds her coin, “calls her friends and neighbors together and says, Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.” And, “In the same way, I tell you there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” /4 We are called to share our joy. Let us rejoice. Let us rejoice that there is hope that we may be found. Let us rejoice that the key word is not just lost, but also Found. Let us rejoice that, in a world of so much stress, death and destruction, worry and woe, there is a Reality and a Resource that is available to all who search, with the assurance that the good Shepherd is also searching for us. Let us pray that all may have freedom from a hard heart, the heart that denies the deep need for a Good Shepherd. May all have a heart that accepts the Reality of an everlasting love, the answer to our prayers, the one true treasure. Let us pray that our lives may reflect that hope and joy and faith in a Love that is the essence of our courage and confidence, that we may be faithful followers and witnesses of our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
Message - Karen Lackey Ryan - Aug. 11, 2019 “As a man thinketh in his heart so is he.” This is the title of a well- known little book by James Allen, first published in 1903, which takes the title from verse 7 of Proverbs 23. As a man thinketh in his heart so is he. Of course the same applies in the feminine sense, As a woman thinketh in her heart, so is she. It occurs to me, more than ever, that it is necessary to guard and guide my/our thoughts. Thought quickly becomes speech, which is then translated into action, which creates our everyday Reality. Accepting this premise means that I must also accept that my life is the way I have made it. Unfortunately, we tend to think the same thoughts every day. However, women especially are often accused of changing our minds quickly and for no apparent reason, but it is actually difficult to have a new creative thought. At the best of times we are said to use only 10 percent of our creative mental potential. An argument can be made that the questioning of reality, and the process of conflict resolution forces us to consider new ways of solving problems. Inventors and artists, for example, are stereotypically considered to be questioners, explorers, people who are not afraid to challenge boundaries. Charles Darwin is quoted as saying, “the highest possible stage in moral culture is when we recognize that we ought to control our thoughts.” I wouldn’t say that I am at the highest level of moral culture, but I have certainly been preoccupied lately with the idea of how I think and what I think. As an individual of a certain age, I am asking myself questions about my life so far, and trying to adapt to the older aging process. Perhaps you have asked yourself similar questions: Have I done my best? Have I learned the lessons that life /2 has posed? Am I still willing to grow and learn? Am I living and thriving, or just surviving and sliding into old age? Am I ready to give an accounting of myself now and after my death? Diana Ross sings the questions, “Do you know where you’re going to, do you like the things that life is showing you? These questions may arise at any age and any stage. For the longest time I was angry with Rene Descartes for his quote, “I think, therefore I am,” which I thought expressed the tyranny of relentless analysis and reason above, and even excluding, all else. I have always found the quote of Blaise Pascal much more agreeable: “Love has reasons which reason cannot understand.” But, like most things, it is really a combination of both love and reason which makes for a sensible life. A further quote from James Allen describes this process: Just as a gardener cultivates his plot, keeping it free from weeds, and growing the flowers and fruits which he requires, so may a man tend the garden of his mind, weeding out all the wrong, useless, and impure thoughts, and cultivating toward perfection the flowers and fruits of right, useful, and pure thoughts. By pursuing this process, a man sooner or later discovers that he is the master-gardener of his soul, the director of his life. He also reveals, within himself, the laws of thought, and understands, with ever-increasing accuracy, how the thought-forces and mind elements operate in the shaping of his character, circumstances, and destiny. This is a great undertaking and a great responsibility. Not everyone has this as a personal goal, or wants to accept the personal responsibility of it. There is a great deal of moaning and complaining about the younger generations. Perhaps this is a universal phenomenon, the elders wondering if the young will ever /3 find the wisdom and discipline to be ready for the tasks that every adult and every society faces. Luke 12: 35 gives the same message as Baden Powell gives to the Scouts and Girl Guides: Be prepared! “Be dressed, ready for service and keep your lamps burning.” As Christians we must be ready for the coming of the Lord, we must be ready to serve the Lord, we must be ready to give an accounting of ourselves to the Lord. How do I do this? How do I grow as a Christian? I woke one morning recently with the thought, “Identify with the spiritual.” I find myself wanting more structure and discipline in my spiritual life. More intention. On purpose. What must I do differently? What to add, what to subtract? My thoughts turned to Spiritual Disciplines. What did previous followers of the way of Christ do to develop their inner directed being? Common spiritual practices include: Bible study, prayer, fasting, worship, solitude, evangelism and worship, to name a few. For me saying “no,” enjoying moments of laughter, and “making a joyful noise unto the Lord,” are also essentials. Saying “no” would probably considered the discernment process. Knowing what to keep and what to let go, what to join and what to avoid, what to affirm and what to deny. Laughter is healthy, healing, and best when shared. Singing, praising, speaking to lift up are ways of Making a joyful noise unto the Lord. It is evangelical in the sense of the expression of radical love, the celebration of life and love and forgiveness and freedom that is the steady diet of a grounded faith, a faith that gives stability no matter what the storm, and draws upon the waters that quenches every thirst. /4 The purpose is to build up “spiritual muscle,” to avoid praying in desperation, petitioning God in the middle of the night for rescue from some peccadillo/drama of my own making. Psalm 51 is considered to be the poem of remorse by King David, after his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. King David saw Bathsheba and made decisions that led from one bad choice to another. The psalm is a lesson in identifying our sin, expressing regret and responsibility for the sin, the need for divine guidance and instruction, the promise to repent and do better, and sharing the new insights with others. Both Isaiah 1 and Psalm 51 mention “being washed whiter than snow.” This is only possible after acknowledging the supremacy and righteousness of God, admitting our sin, and being willing to change our ways. In university I was introduced to the poem, There was a child went forth, by Walt Whitman, whose initial words scared me. “There was a child went forth every day, And the first object he look'd upon, that object he became, And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day, Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.” What am I looking at? What do I see and identify with which becomes a part of me? With what am I filling my heart and mind? Am I filling my life with hope and love, or with doubt and fear and shame? This creates for me, the idea and necessity of fasting with the eyes. Be careful what I look upon, what desires are aroused, what greed is initiated. To not make Nature an idol, nor to be captivated by the material riches of modern, urban, Western life. This certainly applies to the recent influence of social media, where people absorb and perpetuate all kinds of hateful images, texts, and then perform murderous actions.
/5 For me, to age well requires renewed attention to the constant sense of grief and regrets, and the sense of persistent injustice that is so prevalent in human life, and the encountering of walls that block progress, and walls that don’t move despite all efforts to overcome them. How to deal with grief that persists, and how to cross walls that are solidly blocking my way?
Two words come to mind, words that don’t seem totally natural: surrender and obey. After a lifetime of adult capability it seems too passive and defeatist to surrender and obey. But amid our joys and blessings, we are lucky indeed if our life spares us from illnesses, disappointments, and daily tragedies that don’t go awayno matter what. In ancient days, and in not so ancient days, burnt offerings and other sacrifices were given to appease the gods, in efforts to influence circumstances in our favor. Both the reading from Isaiah and Psalm 51 inform us in no uncertain terms that, “16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.17 My sacrifice, O God, is[b] a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. The reading from Luke has the answer:35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. Be prepared to serve the master in faith, and love, and joy. Amen
Message - Frances Jones - July 28, 2019 If you or I had been among the disciples who followed Jesus around learning about the kingdom of God, witnessing his many miracles, and noticing how he poured his heart out to God in prayer, would we be surprised by this particular prayer that Jesus taught them to say when they made the request: 'Lord, teach us to pray'?
Jesus was no stranger to prayer. Countless times, his followers had witnessed him in deep conversation with his heavenly Father. Sometimes for himself – for guidance and leadership; courage and strength. At other times for blessings upon food about to be shared, or for spiritual power before performing a miraculous healing. And sometimes Jesus even prayed in anguish as he did just before having to face a cruel crucifixion for no fault of his own.
For whatever reason Jesus was praying, it was with praise and thanksgiving, always giving the glory to his Father in heaven. Most of the time, he prayed in solitude, away from the crowds, where there would be no distractions, and where he would be able to spend quality time in personal conversations with God. And when he concluded, it was clear thatJesus left all final decisions in God's hands – 'not my will, but thine be done'.
We know that Jesus often prayed for himself, for direction and wisdom, but he also prayed earnestly for others – for his disciples, and for all who came to believe because of the disciples' witness.
And the choosing of these particular ordinary men from various backgrounds whom Jesus called was left entirely in God's hands. Some rugged and burly fishermen; a tax collector; quiet, unassuming individuals; as well as boistrous fellows called 'Sons of Thunder'; and one who talked big, but was unable to stand up for his teacher and friend when the time came.
I sometimes ask myself if Jesus wondered if God could be serious about this group of individuals. Would they ever be able to carry on this important ministry in Jesus' absence? Do you think that maybe Jesus scratched his head in wonder as he gathered these fellows all together?? Was this God's will?
But, these fellows watched and they learned. Some even experienced serious transformations as they digested Jesus' example of love, compassion and kindness. However, there seemed to be something lacking in their prayer life. They had learned prayers from their childhood, but when they prayed, their prayers didn't seem to have the same effect that Jesus' prayers did. They realized that something happened whenever Jesus prayed. His prayers had an effect - not only on Jesus himself, but on the lives of those around him as well.
So, in response to their request, 'Lord, teach us to pray', Jesus taught them what seemed to be a general prayer that touched on life as a whole; covering basic needs like daily bread, along with the need for pardon. However, along with our own need for forgiveness, Jesus mentions that the one praying must also be willing to forgive others. 'Forgive us as we forgive . .' And we know that forgiveness is not as easy as it sounds.
And does the phrase, 'Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven' mean always – in every situation? Does that mean that we're expected to put God's will first and foremost every time we pray? How easy is that? Allowing God to be in the driver's seat at all times is not always easy for us. We tend to be 'back seat drivers', attempting to influence the direction in which God leads us – 'shouldn't we turn left here?'. It's difficult to step back and not to take the lead; to 'let go and let God'.
There was something very noticeable about the way Jesus addressed God as he began to teach these fellows to pray. Jesus didn't say, 'my Father', but 'our Father'. He included those who follow him in the family of God. He treated them all like siblings. And we know that, as a member of a family here on earth, we all have jobs or responsibilities in order for the whole family to function smoothly. Wouldn't the same be true in the family of God?
Jesus had prayer under lock and key. As he opened his door in the early morning to a brand new day, before anything could take his attention away, Jesus prayed - for guidance, for leadership, for wisdom. And, as he settled in for the night, his lock to keep danger out was prayer – constant communication with his heavenly Father.
And Jesus urges us to keep on praying – asking, seeking, knocking. Only then can we be transformed into what he wants us to be.
As this prayer began, so it ended - with God as ever-present and holy; with God having the final say.
Our Father, whose name is holy, we are needy when it comes to provisions, to forgiveness, and to deliverance. We need to be revived and transformed so we can become instruments of your will here on earth – in a kingdom that belongs to you alone – our Father who possesses all power and glory – forever! Amen!
Message - Karen Lackey Ryan - July 14, 2019 What must I do to have Eternal Life? Who is my Brother? Who is my Neighbor? The scripture of Luke asks these fundamental questions, which persist despite much personal and philosophical consideration across the ages. Scripture always has something to teach us, however familiar the stories may be. Recently, on the street, I ran into an acquaintance, who in the course of our conversation, made a statement that I found totally surprising. She said something like this: “I don’t like conflict, so I leave any group where people are not getting along.” I responded by saying that I didn’t know of any group that didn’t have conflict of some kind…the conversation petered out shortly after, and I was left feeling that she was missing out on deepening any and every relationship; And left feeling that the whole process of interpersonal communication remains a mystery, a challenge, and a miracle. The Christian doesn’t have the luxury of avoiding conflict. Scripture is explicit in describing desired behaviors, such as(Luke 12:57-59),quoting Jesus,21You have heard that it was said to the ancients, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be subject to the fire of hell. 23Therefore if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. (Luke 17:3) further advises,So watch yourselves. "If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.
/2 In my experience this is often easier said than done. I do not know many who welcome feedback of this kind. Despite our best intentions, we are usually protecting our own egos. In these situations I pray for super amounts of tact and courage. It always seems to be damned if you confront the person and damned if you don’t. We all have our preferred methods, passive, assertive, aggressive, indifferent, defensive, or mature and graceful. Communication is a slippery eel. To quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he tells us that,We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. In other words, there will always be someone who needs something from us, people who, in moments of impatience, we might label “difficult and needy,” who make demands on our time and energy. The Good Samaritan was interrupted on his journey and his plans were changed; and of course, the man who was robbed, stripped and beaten was definitely interrupted in his journey, apparently minding his own business and just randomly selected to experience an evil onslaught. Perhaps we can identify with either, or with both! The twelve verses of Luke 10: 25-37 are the practical essence of the Christian message in a nutshell. These twelve verses are like a Broadway play, with six characters, including Jesus, inferred Mosaic Law and the more global moral considerations suggested by Jesus, both of which entreat us to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” The teacher of the Law asks two key questions for all of us. What must I do to earn eternal life? And who is my neighbor? In true Socratic fashion, Jesus answers these questions with questions. /3 Jesus does not indulge in lengthy discussion of ethical theory, but illustrates his message of right behavior through this classic parable of the injured man by the side of the road. It is easy to identify with the man who is robbed, stripped, beaten, and left for dead. Life has a way of threatening to remove (or removing) the things and persons most near and dear to us. When I was younger and first introduced to the idea of the Good Samaritan, I thought that the point was to be as much as possible like the Good Samaritan. Only to then be overwhelmed by needs near and far, needs that I could never hope to fulfill by myself, without human or Divine assistance. In our “Job moments” we may crave a Good Samaritan, a rescuer who heals our wounds and gives us hope. The website catholicculture.org states that St. Augustine identified the Good Samaritan as Jesus, and the “wayward man” as Adam, or all of mankind. It seems so obvious, why didn’t I think of that before? We can also identify with the priest and Levite, who, as educated and elite men, with more resources than most at that time, noticed, but moved to the other side of the road, to avoid any involvement. When the question, “Who is my brother, who is my neighbor” is asked, it is an avoidance of being implicated in the actual care of that person. The person asking is trying to avoid the responsibility for the Other. This is the ethical dilemma of walking past the homeless person, mentally ill person, or other lost soul lying on the sidewalk or begging for money. Or, even someone in our own small community-We know better, but as Paul describes in Romans 7: 18, 19, For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. /4 Even the innkeeper has his role, providing shelter and food, a home away from home. This represents automatic hospitality, one of the highest values in many cultures. Enemy or not, stranger or familiar, everyone has the need/right of basic care and comfort. Matt. 7: 1-3reminds us, Judge not that ye be not judged.“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? Jesus is the ultimate Good Samaritan, we are the everyday Adams, the wayward persons subject to the trials and tribulations of life. Some of us make a career of it, others do their best a little at a time. It is a lifelong journey and practice. In an age of “me-first” narcissism we need good Samaritans more than ever. In our story, Luke 33 tells us that the Samaritan, “when he saw him, he took pity on him.” A feeling which immediately translated into action. The front cover of this month’s Maclean’s magazine is of the New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Adern, hugging a Muslim woman after the attacks on the Christchurch mosques. The caption is “Join the Compassion Revolution, or we’re all doomed.” The 4 ½ pages of the article describe the lack of compassion in politics, medicine, and society as a whole. “Ardern, and her call for “kindness over fear,” as she put it in a United Nations address last fall, is viewed by many as a flower growing through concrete at a time of rising isolationism, tribalism, racism and authoritarianism.” (pg. 49 Maclean’s July 2019) Although kindness is proven to improve health recovery rates, and improves the bottom line in business, there is an epidemic of cruelty
/5 and indifference, and an increase in people wearing clothing with the words, “I don’t care.” Kindness now has to be taught. In a world where the mythology is that we each become a self-made person, or pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, it is humbling and realistic to confess how much we are interdependent, giving and receiving untold amounts of help over lifetimes of effort and good works. We are good Samaritans to each other, we are innkeepers, we are hurt pilgrims, we are the leaders and teachers who may hesitate to go where angels fear to tread. We are called to answer the question that Jesus poses. We are called to care. Who is my neighbor? It is Mr. Miss and Mrs. Anyone. Anytime. Anyplace. In practice we all make judgments about the Who, Why, When, and Where of helping. Once we make up our mind to help, the How usually can be figured out. Edward Everett Hale, American author and Unitarian minister, has a quote that is appropriate to this theme: I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do. Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/edward_everett_hale_393297 Let us obey the higher calling to do what we can with what we have. Let us do the right thing and care with kindness.
Message - Karen Lackey Ryan - June 23, 2019 In an article on-line by Antonia Blumberg (HuffPost), she writes that, “According to data released by Amazon on the most highlighted passage in Kindle ebooks, the most popular passage from the Bible is one on reducing anxiety and finding trust in God.” The specific passage is Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV), which states,6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. We are now in the season of Ordinary Time. During this period between the Easter season and Advent, we have 33 weeks to decide: What makes our ordinary daily lives extra-ordinary? What is the difference between being a good ordinary person, and being a good Christian person, day by day? We have celebrated the resurrection and received the Holy Spirit; Now what? How do we celebrate and demonstrate the Love of Christ from Pentecost to Advent? Between June and November, there are no major church events to anticipate, no celebrations to mark the passage of days. So, as Christians, what do we do? Accepting the resurrection, and receiving the Holy Spirit changes us, and separates us from the world. We are reunited with the Sacred; Eden is restored, at least symbolically, in our hearts and minds, as our commitment allows. We are reminded in the 10 Commandments to, “have no other Gods before me.” Do we live in an age of anxiety or not? In the 1940s W. H. Auden wrote a book length poem, called The Age of Anxiety. The title became more famous than the book, which apparently is difficult to read to the end. He addresses the /2 irreversible effect of change which war brings, and how we are all self-conscious actors going insecurely through life. Then, the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima raised global anxiety to another level. In reality anxiety is nothing new to the human race. In the remote past, we had mastodons and dinosaurs to contend with. In other ages and times, we had plagues and famines to contend with. Now we are more familiar with superbugs and climate change. There are always threats, real or imagined, that disturb our peace of mind. Change is the only constant. Tragedies over which we have no control are on our hearts and minds daily, thanks to our 24/7 news media. In our own cities, in an age of affluence for some, others are hard pressed to find the bare necessities work, food and housing. Anxiety is closely related to distrust, which is epidemic in our time. Combined with financial stress, emotional stress is a major source of worry for many, and easily becomes a vicious cycle. Stephen M. R. Covey, (son of Stephen Covey who wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), wrote The Speed of Trust (2008). I quote from one summary: There is one thing that is common to every individual, relationship, team, family, organization, nation, economy and civilization throughout the world — one thing which, if removed, will destroy the most powerful government, the most successful business, the most thriving economy, the most influential leadership, the greatest friendship, the strongest character, the deepest love. On the other hand, if developed and leveraged, that one thing has the potential to create unparalleled success and prosperity in every dimension of life. That one thing is trust. /3 Trust is emotional safety. As Christians, we have the advantage of belief, and some expression of our committed spirituality through participation in a Christian community. This gives us a strong basis for a resilient faith. Hebrews11: 1, 2, gives us the classic definition: Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. The fact that we call ourselves Christian is extra-ordinary. This is our freedom, but also our responsibility. How often are we like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, after the resurrection, walking and talking with the risen Christ, who remained a stranger until the breaking of bread! We are called to live a Christ-centred life; to put God first, all other choices second. Mark 10: 17-22 gives us a vivid illustration: 17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[a]” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. We must have our priorities straight. Wealth is a blessing. God is the source of all abundance. This is the radical message, that Love is primary, Love is the foundation, Love is the purpose. The ability to love, through thick and thin, is the only security.
/4 As followers of Jesus, we are the bread broken for others. In an age of “Me first,” this also is extra-ordinary. In Philippians 2: 12-15, 12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. 14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”[a] Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. We are called to the care also for ourselves, in the renewing of our minds and hearts,as inRomans 12: 1-2:Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. The eternal questions of life are answered by faith, a deep trust in God. Who am I? A beloved child of God. What is my purpose? To Love. What is my freedom? That I am forgiven as I confess my sins. Who do I trust? I trust in the Holy Spirit and the grace of God that fills and blesses my life. Who am I going to call? I call on the Lord, who is my help and my redeemer. Not everyone finds the answer in a Christ-centred life. Scripture is full of advice against distractions that seem like pleasant fixes, but lead away from truth. The seven deadly sins: no lust, no gluttony, no greed, no sloth, no wrath, no envy, no pride, and “No other gods before me.” Remarkable, that what seemed like nagging scripture, and the sinfulness of every tempting activity, is now the truth that sets me free! /5 1 Peter 3: 15, 16 advises, 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. In this long period of so-called Ordinary time, let us continue to be extra-ordinary in our God-fearing, generous, patient and helpful ways, as we grow in faith, grow in stamina and the confidence that belief in God can bring. In the words of Matthew 7: 24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.26 May the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you, and remain with you always. (Book of Common Prayer).
Message - Karen Lackey Ryan - June 9, 2019 Today is a dramatic day, the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit, Pentecost, the 50th day after Easter. Imagine waiting as the followers of Jesus were told to wait for the helper that was promised. Imagine waiting in a group of like-minded people, believers and followers of Christ, not knowing what to expect, when a roaring wind and tongues of flame appear, and everyone starts talking in a variety of languages. This can be a characteristic of Pentecostal churches, and is considered a sign that the Holy Spirit is directing the event, active in the individuals involved. As eager as some people are to “speak in tongues,” speaking in tongues is not required as evidence that we have the Holy Spirit. Perhaps speaking in tongues is a special gift not given to everyone. Perhaps this event is a way that the spirit becomes manifest, a kind of spiritual ecstasy. Perhaps this is a distraction. Is it the Spirit talking, and how do we know? What are they saying? Do we need an interpreter? I think we would all be surprised if any of us suddenly started talking in tongues. Communication is difficult enough even when we are all speaking the same language. We have been suffering the effects of the tower of Babel for a long, long time. Since we here today are all baptized Christians and regular church goers, it is safe to assume that we have all been blessed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. In some congregations this would mean that we are all “born again,” although this is not a term that is usually heard among us. Intentionally or not, we do invoke the Holy Spirit to be with us as we worship in the name of Christ. What, or Who, is the Holy Spirit? Matter or Spirit, person or essence? How to nail down the idea, the Reality of the Holy Spirit? /2 Is that even necessary? Is it all just a matter of faith, to “only believe?” This is the challenge, to explain the Holy Spirit to someone else, Christian or non-Christian, believer or non-believer. The Spirit has been present, and recorded in scripture, from the very beginning. Genesis 1: 1,2,In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. In Hebrew, this is described as “Ruach Elohim,” literally the spirit, wind or breath of God. And there are many references to the Spirit of God throughout the Hebrew bible or OT. Some would question whether this is the Holy Spirit of Christianity, but the example of verses from Ezekiel 36:26-27describe the Holy Spirit as I understand it. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. The Holy Spirit of Christianity is one third of the mystery of the Trinity. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one and the same, in differing aspects, a mystery of its own, and equally difficult to explain definitively. Luke 1: 35 describes the Holy Spirit working at another beginning. 35 The angel answered (Mary), “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. The birth of Jesus was the beginning of a new story, the story of the saving grace of the Messiah, the story of one Holy man who offered freedom and forgiveness to all, forgiven lives that could know true freedom.
/3 The Holy Spirit appears again as a significant part of the baptism of Jesus. We read in Matthew 3:16-17: 16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Ideally, Aren’t all babies sacred and special in their mother’s eyes? Doesn’t every culture have rituals that signify the child’s place in the universe? Are we not all born children of God? Therefore, are we not also all full of the Holy Spirit? Or, is it only by the intentional naming and ritual presentation of ourselves to the Holy that we become “saved?” This is the importance of baptism, when we are presented in our community of belief, to God. As believers we are baptized with the Holy Spirit, who is then supposed to fill us with this Godly, spiritual essence. How do I know that I have the Holy Spirit in me? Can I claim to be full of the Holy Spirit? What would that look like? How would I behave? Is my life being led by the Holy Spirit? 1 Corinthians 3:16 asks this question: 16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? How will I know if I am not told? Here we confront the Great Commission, which at one time was to preach the Gospel to the great unwashed and uneducated, somewhere else, whereas it can no longer be assumed that those close to us are aware of spiritual gifts. After the baptism of Jesus, we move from the Spirit of God, present everywhere and always, to the Life and Death of the Son, who, after the resurrection, promises to send the Holy Spirit. John 14: 16, 17,states, 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever-- 17 the Spirit of truth. /4 The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[a] in you. Lives are changed by Christ and by the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5: 22-23: The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. These are the characteristics and behaviors that show that I am following a spiritual guide, following a spiritual path, listening to an inner Helper and Comforter. We also have the benefit of Scripture, as a key resource and source of comfort and instruction as well. 2 Timothy 3: 16, 1716 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God[a]may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. The Holy Spirit is in my life due to the choice of my parents to baptize me, my own choice as an adult to accept the freedom in Christ that forgiveness gives, the choice to accept the premise and promise that Christ has filled me with the Holy Spirit, the choice to study the Scriptures and be inspired by the Word, the choice to participate in a believing community where love and fellowship are evident, the choice to listen to the inner workings of loving guidance that distinguishes between right and wrong, the choice to be in relationship with the sacred, and the commitment to live by these values and accept the consequences. Or, like the prodigal son, to return to the fold after a time of exploration, rebellion or self-will. This certainly didn’t happen all at once, but has been a slow fermentation process over most of my adult life. Not everyone makes these choices. Is it the Holy Spirit that quietly guides us to make sensible decisions? Why do some listen and others do not? Are we wrestling with the Holy Spirit during some of our most difficult times without even realizing the work of the sacred in our lives? /5 It takes wisdom and time to progress from a prodding idea, which may build to a passion, then to actions reflective of commitment. Deuteronomy 30:19 gives us the choice: This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live. The Holy Spirit is my best self, and my best friend, the best gift. The Holy Spirit is available to all. There is an almost identical quote that occurs in both the Old and the New Testament, that relates to the gift of the Holy Spirit.Joel 2: 28:And afterward,I will pour out my Spirit on all people.Your sons and daughters will prophesy,your old men will dream dreams,your young men will see visions. and Acts 2: 17:In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. As John 8: 32 states: 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Holy Spirit, love divine, glow within this heart of mine. Kindle every high desire, purify me with your fire.... Holy Spirit, peace divine, still this restless heart of mine. Speak to calm this tossing sea, grant me your tranquility. —from "Holy Spirit, Truth Divine" (Voices United 368), words Samuel Longfellow 1864,
I titled the message “Eternity” this morning because I thought we could explore the idea of forever, of always, of infinity. As humans, we love the notion of eternity. From a young age we read stories that end happily ever after or forevermore. Perhaps even as young children the need for eternity comes from the fear we have of endings. And even as we become adults, we don’t want what is good to end, we don’t want what we have built foundations on to disappear. This is true for the people in our lives who we wish could stay with us forever whether they be our parents or friends. This is also true concerning our very own lives. We will fight and struggle to live as long as we can, both biologically [the body is not built to give up] and psychologically [the mind fears the unknown]. Of course, there are those few humans who can stare the end in the face and accept it softly, but as a whole I don’t think that is the general truth. We are afraid of the unknown and the end of what has been. We also hate endings to events in our lives as well as losing people. Sometimes people dread retiring...what we will they do now with their time? Some teenagers dread leaving high school and the building/family that had taken them through such crucial years in their lives. The end of any era can be very sad, whether it’s saying goodbye to a home we have lived in for many years, watching a familiar tree being cut down or, arriving at the end of a really good story, which most recently happened with the television show Game of Thrones. I bring this up not only because I am a fan of the show and sad it has ended, but because it illustrates so well how hard people had accepting this end. There were actual psychologists making themselves available online for people to contact if they were finding it difficult to process the fact that it was all over, never to return again...and this trauma some people experienced was only over a T.V. show. As humans, we never want the party to end so to speak, but alas, in life there are endings and we have to experience them, willing or naught. Yet, to comfort us during these experiences, to shield our hearts from the pain and to protect our minds from the despair of what the end feels like, we have this beautiful word and it is the word eternity. But what does it mean? What are we telling ourselves when we talk about forever? Eternity is defined as unending time. It does not function in what we have built around us. Eternity doesn’t have Mondays and Thursdays, it doesn’t have 5 O’clock and midnight, it doesn’t have 1965 or 2019. Eternity is outside of time, with no beginning and no end; just continual existence. While we in this world experience births, growing pains, and death, eternity encompasses our life and sees only transitions. It would be so nice to feel only transitions, but our beings feel the joy and pain that comes with all change. Yet, in our very brains, we are able to conceive of transitions even though we do not experience them. For example, when a babe is born we can conceive that their soul came from a place before ours with God, and when someone dies we can conceive that their soul is returning to whence it came from to forever rest with God. We can understand birth and death as change in an eternal existence even when we feel like we are experiencing the beginning or the ending. But it is not just in our brains that we can conceive of eternity. God has helped us to imagine the eternal by revealing it to us in scripture. The gospel of John tells us that God has given us eternal life, that we will live forever in God and that we will never really die. The Psalms write of how we will have a heart forever, an inheritance forever, and how we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. The Psalms say, “from everlasting to everlasting you are God” and “you are the same and your years have no end”. Jeremiah tells us that “he is the living God and the everlasting king”. And Isaiah says, “the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” and he also says most interestingly, that God “inhabits eternity”. From this we know we believe in a God that did not begin and will never end. A God that does not track time but is timeless. But knowing about or understanding eternity does not mean we grasp it. Being able to imagine something is not the same as experiencing it. Perhaps this is why in his Farewell Discourse, Jesus had to tell his disciples to not let their hearts be troubled, to not let their hearts be afraid. At this point, the disciples have literally given everything of themselves to a cause and a man. They have left their families behind, have quit their jobs, have let go of any comfort they knew and now Jesus is telling them that he will leave them soon. It must have felt like their journey and purpose was coming to an end itself. The miracle-working, social-revolutionary, fountain-of-love leader and teacher who has been with them from the start is about to die, to stop existing. We try to imagine what that must have felt like for them, maybe like a child losing a parent, a student losing a teacher, a lover losing their partner...but I don’t think we can really imagine fully that feeling of despair they must have had. The disciples’ hearts were right to be troubled and afraid; this wasn’t just another goodbye to family and friends, this wasn’t the loss of a job or a house. For them this was the end everything. It felt like their ministry and pilgrimage was coming to an end and they did not know what would happen after Jesus left them. We read too this morning of John, the visionary author of the Book of Revelation. Has anyone read Revelation through? If you have, you know it is a vision with many endings, where all we know in this universe ceases to exist. It’s interesting to note that the book’s author, John, is writing this vision very much during a time of endings himself. He has seen the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem and has bore witness to Jewish and Christian communities that are displaced, unorganized and persecuted. He is writing this vision on an island called Patmos, where he was alone and cut off from everyone. This isolation, this destruction, it must have created great fear in John, fear that we sense in his vision of many endings. They really are terrible endings too, with fiery pits and hail storms of blood that destroy all the Earth and people. As far as endings are concerned, John gives us an epic tale. There’s even a part with a dragon in it. The dragon tries to devour a baby at the moment of its birth, but before the dragon can do so the angel Michael and a group of his angel friends show up to fight the dragon. But they cannot defeat it and the dragon continues to chase the woman giving birth and just before it can get to her she grows wings and flies away. So yes... if you haven’t taken the time to read the book of Revelation I can confirm with you today that there are dragons in the Bible, and if that’s the only thing you take away from this today I think I’m ok with that. Revelation can be almost fun and exciting, if it wasn’t also really terrifying. If I asked you to imagine an apocalypse, would it be as destructive as Revelation? Maybe, maybe not. The ending of the world that John envisions is uniquely terrible, and perhaps that’s because he himself is experiencing an end that feels just as evil and absolute. He fears the loss of his life, the loss of the communities he once knew, of the friends he once spent time with. And most of all, he fears what will come after all the dust has settled down and the demolition of the world is finished. But as endings come our way, whether in visions or realities, whether with Jesus’ departure or the end of the world, we are left still with this word: eternity. Even in our darkest moments, humans can believe that life will continue to go on. This morning’s scriptures tell us of this continual existence of life. In John’s vision, where all is destroyed, the world does not end, but becomes a temple of God whose light shines on all things. Life is made anew, transformed into a Jerusalem that shines like crystal with gates that are always open. We read not of destruction, but of change, as heaven comes to Earth where Kings bring only glory to the people. The Spirit of God never abandoned its creation, rather in the New Jerusalem, it is the spring of the water of life that is given to the thirsty. The Spirit of God never abandoned John as it carried him through the carnage away to the great high mountain so that he could see the holy city. And in our other reading, we see with the disciples that their mission is not finished even though Jesus leaves them. They continue on with the peace of Christ by their side, a peace that no longer comes from Jesus who has been their human leader, but a peace from the Holy Spirit who will now teach them as they move forward. They were not losing but gaining from this Farewell. Their journey did not end but now had more focus and purpose. When you really look at today’s passages, you see that we are reminded of the eternal world of God. Although they are filled with images and stories of this human material world, they are calling out to that invisible reality that speaks of forever and always. And a common aspect they both share to do this, is the Spirit. When you think about it, every Sunday could just be one sermon after another about the Spirit. The Spirit was there at creation, it was the mighty wind that swept over the faces of the water. It was the spark that lit the bush for Moses. It was what made Saul begin to prophesy. It is what carried Ezekiel to Chaldea. It is what blesses us in baptism, what heals us in communion, it is the one thing that is always truly with us. And knowing it is always with us, how could we then not conceive of the Spirit as anything but eternal? The Spirit is eternity. The Spirit is what brought our souls here to Earth and what will one day take us away to the other realm. The Spirit is what Jesus gave his disciples when they feared his end because he knew the Spirit would always remind and teach them of his eternity. The Spirit is what showed John that although all may be falling down around you, you are not alone, the world has not ended, and there is a holy city where God wipes the tears from our eyes and where mourning and pain will be no more. The Spirit is what speaks to us at each finale we encounter in our lives and whispers to us...this is not the end! John’s gospel says in 3:6-8 “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to Spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again”. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit”. ‘You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going’...does that not sound like trying to grasp eternity? We know God’s world is eternal, we have faith, but we can’t always tell where that eternity came from or how it will come to be. But the Spirit lets us know it is real just the same. Born again in the Spirit, it allows us to take hold of the eternal so that we need not be afraid or trouble our hearts. We need not fear the end or the unknown, for all things are known and exist in the Spirit. Now if at this point, if you’re still thinking about how awesome it is that there’s dragons in the Bible, I don’t mind, but there’s just one other thing I really hope you take away from this discussion on eternity today, and it’s this quote I saw in one the commentaries I was reading. It says, “God has put a passion for eternity in man’s heart and then has given to him a thirst which only eternity can satisfy”. We thirst for the ever after, the forever, because eternity is the Spirit that God placed in our soul. That’s why when we encounter change, such as death, loss, displacement, reordering, we sense that the eternal may not be true... and so we fear, we grieve, we despair. But I hope that going forward, whenever we encounter these moments of change in our lives that we open our minds like the gates in New Jerusalem, and allow the Spirit to teach us and remind us that we are simply thirsting for what God has already guaranteed in our hearts. And this thirst will be satisfied if we turn away from our fear and let the wind blow on our face and in our soul. The Spirit has revealed to humans before us the promise of eternity and if we look to it also, it will reveal the same to us. The Spirit will show us what forever means, it will allow us to experience transitions in life, and it will allow us to grasp an eternal God. No human experience is a match to its timeless wisdom. I wish to leave us with the words of Paul this morning 1 Cor 2:6-13: 6 Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. 7 But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”-- 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. 13 And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.
Eternity is a gift bestowed on us by God and taught through the wisdom of the Spirit. So this morning Lord, let us give praise to this Spirit who always was, who always is, and who always will be. Amen.