Monthly Archives: July 2013

07-28-13 JESUS TEACHES ABOUT PRAYER

JESUS TEACHES ABOUT PRAYER

Luke 11: 1-13

 

In my sermon before vacation I addressed the complete version
of our Lord’s Prayer. Continuing from that point today we look at an expansion
of the topic of prayer which includes the brief version of the Lord’s Prayer
that Luke records. Even in Jesus’ day people wondered about prayer. Then and
today, some would go to a priest, or a holy place, or speak with someone who
seemed to be especially spiritual, and ask for him or her to pray for them. In
Jewish tradition it is interesting to note that few Jews ever ask another
person to pray for them; it is believed that it is the person, himself or
herself, going to God in prayer, which is most effective. The Christian
tradition, which has evolved over the years, has a practice of asking pastors,
friends, family, prayer warriors to pray for them. Roman Catholics even ask
Saints or the Blessed Mother Mary to pray for them. Some people, who are not
totally familiar with concept of prayer, think it should be like a vending
machine: they think if they go to church and put in their money and pray for
something they need or want, it will be given to them. And some of them even
point to part of today’s passage and in their concrete way of thinking and say:
“Look! Even Jesus said I would get what I pray for! He said ‘Ask and it will be
given to you!” So they are guilty, along with others in our world, of taking a
line from the Bible as a black and white promise without considering what the
rest of the Bible says. For example, Jesus of Nazareth, the one said those
things, asked that he be spared from death by crucifixion and yet his request
was not granted. But in spite of that, Jesus is a prayer advocate. Again,
prayer is not to be treated like a vending machine; nor is it to be treated
like a casino slot machine, where you put in your money and sometimes you win, but
most of the time you lose. And do I think it helps to ask others to pray for
you as well? Absolutely; even though all of us should be in prayer with God
regularly, sometimes our hearts are not in the conversation. For example, there
are days when I feel like I’m running on 7 cylinders instead of 8; or running
on 3 cylinders instead of 4; or times when my spiritual battery just won’t hold
a charge. But a good mechanic can get my car running right again. There are
times when others’ spiritual cups are nearly full when mine is nearly empty. We
pick each other up! We can pray for someone else who is downtrodden, rattled,
or blue with better focus, conviction, and intention than they can themselves. So
we have a prayer list in church every week. It can get quite lengthy; and we
who are hitting on more cylinders than someone else, whose cup is more full
than someone else’s, can pray for others. We even have people who pray for
those on our prayer list in their homes, or pray for others through our
Knee-mail ministry. I do indeed believe, as the author of the Biblical book of
James does, that we should “Pray for one another … the prayers of the righteous
are powerful and effective.” But again, there have been thousands who have
prayed for someone else to be healed and it didn’t happen; and at other times
another person gets better without intentional prayer. What should we conclude
from such results? This upcoming school year our Christian Education classes
will be studying and practicing prayer.  Today, let’s look at what Jesus says about it.

 

First we note that Jesus himself was praying in Luke 11:1. I
hope that doesn’t escape anyone; Even
Jesus prayed.
It was apparently vital to his strength, his spirit, and his
ministry. And he hardly got time alone to engage fully in prayer! Some passages
say he went off to “a lonely place” to pray. But even then his disciples found
him. You might have a place that is conducive to your prayers, or a time of day
that is best for you. I believe that in the 21st century, when so
much is occurring electronically, there will be a growing need for spiritual
places; places like beautiful sanctuaries or lovely chapels; peaceful prayer
labyrinths or seaside meditation spots; wayside chapels off the highways of
life; or even a prayer room at home. While we were in some Mediterranean towns
on our vacation, and when we took people on pilgrimage to Israel several years
ago, we were surprised to find a prayer room even at rest stops on turnpike
service plazas and in the convenience stores at the edge of highways. For some
Muslims, some Jews, and some Christians, pausing along one’s journey to honor
and pray to God gives them both respite from and strength for their travels.
Prayer matters; not just the hurried ones before tests or while driving, but
ones that say to God: “This matters; you matter;
this is not just about my needs, O God; it also about your glory.” Jesus
prayed.

 

Second, Jesus gave a
model for prayer
that we call “the Lord’s Prayer.” I addressed that June 30th.
It’s an example of what to say and how to pray.

 

Third, Jesus taught
that we are to be persistent in prayer.
He tells a story of a friend
testing and trying the limits of friendship when he asks for 3 loaves of bread
at midnight from a neighbor because he had late-arriving guests! Now remember,
bread didn’t store well in those days so he was either asking his friend to get
up from his or her sleep and bake some
bread, or he was asking for the bread that was already made for the next
morning to be given, meaning the friend himself or herself would have no bread
in the morning! This was a beyond the pail, sacrificial asking! The friend,
rightly, protested: “Don’t bother me! I have locked up for the night, the lights
are out, and my family is sleeping! If I get up I will wake my whole household
and be without bread myself!” (My own paraphrase.) Our translation then says
that the sleeping friend chooses not
to get up and do what his friend has asked. But the neighbor did not send his
request by telephone or text; it was with a knock on his friend’s door. The
neighbor has already awakened his friend, and our translation says “Because of
his persistence the friend will get
up and give him whatever he needs.” The word for “persistence” has a nuance of
“shameless persistence.” This request would test any friendship. But this
account is not an allegory about God; it is a parable about human actions, with
the implication: “If a friend would get up and respond to an outlandish
request, how much more might God consider
(not promise, but consider) our prayerful requests. This is Jesus’ message
to be persistent in prayer.

 

Finally, Jesus encouraged people to ask for their needs in
their prayers. George Painter was fond of quoting “Ye have not because ye
asketh not!” So we ask for things in life; we do not always get them, perhaps
because the person cannot fill our needs or grant our request; perhaps because
people have decided they shouldn’t grant
our request. Just because an alcoholic asks for money for a drink doesn’t mean
someone hands it over, or should hand
it over even if they have the money. And sometimes we do not get what we ask
from others because their answer is “No.” It is their right to say no to our
requests, even as it is our right to ask. Even good parents say no to the
requests of good children; sometimes they say yes. But children won’t know
unless they ask, and they ask plenty, don’t they? The captain of the ship on
which we sailed for our anniversary was Inger Klein Thorhauge, Cunard’s very
first female captain. While aboard the Queen Victoria, I attended a question
and answer session with the captain. When asked what led to her being selected
to such a high position, she said “It’s a long story.” The cruise director
said, “We have time, Captain!” So she said “When I was girl growing up I had
two brothers. My mother and father were both loving and firm, but as daddy’s
daughter, I could get away with more than the boys did! As I grew into my late
teens, I asked my dad for a horse; I used all my daughterly charms when I
asked. He said ‘no.’ I was rather shocked. He said ‘No Inger, it is time that
you learned how to make your way in the world. You can’t get everything just
because you ask for it.’ So it was clear that my dad expected me to get a job!
I started out cleaning homes and later, since the Faroe Islands from which I
come are so tied to shipping and fishing, I got jobs as a cabin steward cleaning
rooms on ships. I learned that I didn’t want to clean up after others for the
rest of my life! So I began to take nautical training courses and found that I
excelled in them. I speak 7 languages which didn’t hurt. I began my career on a
cargo ship before applying to be a cadet With Scandinavian Seaways. I earned my
Master Captain’s License and sailed on a number of lines such as Seabourne and

P & O, holding a number of officer positions. After a
number of years I even became a Staff Captain. I worked and excelled. Then in
2010, (when she was just 43 years old!), I became the first female Captain of a
Cunard Line vessel, in large part because my father showed me kindness but firmness
by saying ‘no’ to my request for a horse!”

 

Children test boundaries, often ask persistently, and
sometimes are naïve to dangers or costs. “Knock and it will be opened to you,”
is a message of persistence, not of guarantee. As asking a parent for things on
earth can bring yes, no, or a plan, so our asking for things in prayer can do
the same. But as Jesus says rhetorically, “What father, if his son asks for
bread, gives him a stone; or if he asks for fish gives him a serpent, or asks
for an egg and gives him a scorpion?” The goodness of God means God does not
deceive, or trick us, or abuse us. But God can see things we can’t, and know things
we can’t. God’s “no” can create a splendid “yes” in our lives when a door
closes and a window opens. Prayer is about our asking, and then our trusting
the answer. It is not just the asking; it is also the trusting.  A girl on the Faroe Islands asked her father
for what she wanted, and he said “no.” She became a Master Captain. And a man
born of a woman and of the Holy Spirit, who was faithful all his life, asked to
be spared the agony of crucifixion. It did not happen. His Heavenly Father’s
silence led to an event that not only gave him eternal life, it offered
salvation to the people of the world as well. Ask; seek, listen. What amazing
things can come from God’s “yes,” God’s “not now,” and even from God’s “no.”

 

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                          July
28, 2013

07-21-13 I WILL FOLLOW

The book of Ruth is one of only two books in the Bible named after a woman. We all know the story about how Ruth, after following the advice of Naomi, caught the attention of Boaz and married him. In doing so, Ruth the Moabite became the direct descendent of King David. And after him, Jesus.

But I think the real story in this book, is not that between Ruth and Boaz, but between Ruth and Naomi.

Now, to understand this text of Ruth, we have to look at what the world was like for Naomi and her daughters in law. It’s located after the book of Judges, a book filled with stories of violence and lawlessness.

At this time, women could not hold property. They could not inherit, save for in trust for a future husband. Anything their husband might have had when he died, always went to the children.  They had no real way of making a living. Women were dependent entirely on the men of their lives to survive. They went from father to husband without missing a step. And if your husband died, you were taken into his brother’s house. If his brothers had died, or wouldn’t take you, you were dependent on the mercy of your sons. And if like Naomi, your sons were gone to, you had nothing and no one to turn to.

So many of the Old Testament laws are written to care for these widows. The law of gleaning, which comes to play later in this book, is specifically put in place for them.

This is the situation Naomi finds herself in at the beginning of Ruth. She has nothing, and can only hope to return to her homeland, where she has a better shot at surviving, thanks to the laws of the Israelites. There she can glean and seek help at the temple. But Naomi doesn’t know if that will be enough. She certainly doesn’t know if it will be enough for all three of them.

But her daughters in law have some sign of hope. They are still young, and more importantly, their father’s are still alive. If they go back to them, if they go back to their homeland in Moab, they will be taken care of. Chances are good that they might get a chance to marry again.

So when Naomi sends her daughters in law away, she is really taking care of them. It isn’t dislike that makes her tell them to leave, but rather a care for their future. The knowledge that the best and safest place for them is back there.

I want to take a minute now and speak to Orpah, who occasionally gets a bad rap for leaving. Orpah is only doing what most women of the time would have done. Indeed, she is doing the sensible thing. Naomi will have an easier time NOT taking care of another person. Gathering food for one as opposed to three will come easier. And while she will miss Naomi, she is returning home to the land she has known and a family who loves her. Many of us would make the same choice I think.

But then there’s Ruth. Ruth has been dismissed by Naomi; she plainly is not in any of Naomi’s future plans. She is given a better option: to go home and perhaps still have the family that is the best the women of the time could hope for. Yet, she says this: “Do not force me to abandon you, or to turn away from following you.” (1:16)

Even though it makes more sense for her to leave, she is adamant that she will not leave Naomi. Her devotion rings through the ages. “Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!” How often do you see such devotion from anyone? It is a powerful speech and one that is often used for weddings.

But, I think it’s important not to just look at it from a romantic angle. After all, this isn’t the promise of young lovers. This is the promise of a woman to her mother in law. Love isn’t always about romance. In fact, it isn’t usually about romance. This is a promise of deep and abiding friendship.

And this is a very difficult promise to follow through. Ruth is a Moabite. The passage even stresses this. Moab is not a country with a particularly friendly relationship with Israel. Moabites worship a variety of other gods and many of them dismiss the Israelite’s monotheism.  So not only is Ruth is a foreigner, an outsider, she’s also a gentile. And Israel just went through a period of time of exiling the outsider. Ruth’s reception in Naomi’s homeland will be anything but friendly. She would be far better off in her own homeland.

Yet Ruth persists. “I will go.” Ruth knows Naomi. She’s seen what has happened to her over the last short bit. She will not let Naomi who is overwhelmed with grief at the loss of so many dear to her heart, go forth alone. Ruth will not abandon her to her sorrow and loneliness, but instead pledges her devotion and goes with her, even though it will be a hard path for Ruth to walk. <
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This is radical devotion. This is love that the Greeks call Agape. Selfless love. Love that has nothing to do with our own concerns but everything to do with another’s needs. This is the love that Jesus speaks of over again over again. Agape is the word he uses in the famous commandment “Love the lord your God with all your heart mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” How Ruth acts here is how Jesus is calling us to act.

This isn’t the reasonable response, like Orpah had. This isn’t the logical way to behave. Jesus calls us to go outside our comfort zones. To go beyond what we think is reasonable and instead to love selflessly. Even when it is inconvenient.

And we are all capable of acts of selfless love like Ruth’s. The trouble comes when we have to keep doing so.

See, saying she would go with Naomi was one thing. Going and living among people who disliked and distrusted her is something else entirely. Every day she would have had to make the same choice to stay with Naomi. To continue on with her sorrow.

Fred Craddock puts it like this: “To give my life for Christ appears glorious,” he said. “To pour myself out for others. . . to pay the ultimate price of martyrdom — I’ll do it. I’m ready, Lord, to go out in a blaze of glory. We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking $l,000 bill and laying it on the table– ‘Here’s my life, Lord. I’m giving it all.’ But the reality for most of us is that he sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $l,000 for quarters. We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there. Listen to the neighbor kid’s troubles instead of saying, ‘Get lost.’ Go to a committee meeting. Give a cup of water to a shaky old man in a nursing home. Usually giving our life to Christ isn’t glorious. It’s done in all those little acts of love, 25 cents at at time. It would be easy to go out in a flash of glory; it’s harder to live the Christian life little by little over the long haul.”

Ruth commits to Naomi over the long haul. And it does work out for her. She marries again. She gives birth to a son and becomes part of the lineage of our Savior. But first she committed to Naomi out of simple love and devotion.

There are days when we act more like Orpah than Ruth, doing the reasonable thing instead of the self-sacrificing one. And there are days when we act most like Naomi, focusing on the sorrows of our own lives.  But we should all be striving to act like Ruth more often than not. To over and over again choose the path of love, to choose the path of Christ. So that we might say to him “I will follow you.” Amen.

Rev. Cara Milne Gee

July 21st, 2013

 

07-07-13 YOUTH MISSION SUNDAY

For our sermon today, three of the
youth who went on our trip will speak to you about their mission experience. We
served at a number of different types of groups, including food kitchens,
gleaning at a farm, working with a domestic abuse shelter and visiting with
people in a rehab facility that rarely had people visiting with them. We had a
chance to worship with a group that worshiped very differently than we were
used to and we went through devotions every morning and night. Now I will let
Aubrey Osiborski, Courtney Mueller and Casey Timbs tell you about their
experiences in their own words.

“This past week in Raleigh, we
learned about what it means to be desirable. One of the things we focused on
was how brokennes fits in with being desired by God. Sin breaks us. It hurts
us. Even though our sin hurts us so much, we all do it. And in doing it we
become more and more broken inside.

“This week we focused on how we see
ourselves when we’re broken. We begin to see ourselves as negative things such
as undesirable, unimportant, and sometimes even unloved. At times like this, we
need God to come and fix us. That can be hard to do when we believe we are
undesirable or unloved. But that is not who we are.

“In Psalm 139, it says “I praise
you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works that I know very well.” We weren’t created to
be broken. We were created by God so that every one of us is wonderful. One of
the projects that we worked on this week while in Raleigh was making a video
for a public service announcement to help prevent domestic violence. We were
all very passionate about making that video. We would hold up cards with
derogatory words that women are labeled as on one side. Words like insecure,
anorexic or stupid. On the other side of the card would be an explanation for
why a woman would be labeled that way. Then we would tear the cards up and
digitally produced on the screen a positive word would appear. A word like
beautiful, creative or independent.

“I found that video to be symbolic.
The derogatory words were symbolic of how we are seen by ourselves and how
others see us when we are broken. The positive words were symbolic of how Jesus
always sees us. Even as sinners. Even when we are broken. Jesus can see beyond
the sin and brokenness because he desires us. He loves us so much.

“In John chapter 13 it says ‘Having
loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.’ One of the
speakers this week  was able to put this
statement of love into understandable terms for the youth. He said that if
Jesus’ love for us could be measured in distance, it would be on the cross.
Jesus’ immense love for us and desire for us. That’s the first step to healing
our brokenness, but that’s not all there is to it.  We have to put our faith in God and take that
step toward healing our own brokenness. God’s love can’t wait around for us
wanting him to heal us. God will always love us and desire us, but it’s up to us
to put our faith in God before we can be lifted from our brokenness and truly
feel desired.” (Aubrey Osiborski)

“This week we learned a lot about
what it means to be broken and we took time to reflect on what parts of our own
lives are broken. During one of our evening worship times we wrote that
particular part of our life down on a popsicle stick, held it above our heads,
and snapped it in half. The idea behind this activity was to make a promise to
ourselves that we would not allow our brokenness to define us anymore. Even
though our brokenness will never simply disappear, God looks past that and sees
the positive qualities that we have to bring to the world. The qualities that
He created us with because he knew the impact he wanted us to make.

“During the time we spent
volunteering at Interact, it was fascinating to learn about the services that
they offer. Women come to the shelter, completely broken from the horrible
situation they have recently escaped, and are given counseling, legal assistance,
job training opportunities, and a safe place to live. The reason the video we
created means so much to me is that it lets people know that their negative
labels, the areas in their lives that they are broken, aren’t the only
qualities that are seen when somebody looks at them. Another thing I hope our
video does is teach the people it reaches to not only understand that God sees
positive qualities in them, but to see those positive qualities in themselves.

“While we were in Raleigh we also
had the opportunity to volunteer at Kindred, a rehabilitation center. Our job
while we were there was to entertain the patients with games and other
activities. We decided to perform a few of the energizers that we’ve learned
here at church and play charades. In order for us to get in front of all those
people to share our energy and enthusiasm about what we were doing, we first
had to have confidence in ourselves. This is the confidence I hope our video
teaches people to have.

“In our first bible lesson today we
learned that God knows us better that we can possibly imagine. This means He
knows the ways in which we are broken, the ways in which we have sinned against
Him, and loves us as his children anyway. Just as our video is going to help
encourage people to see positive qualities in themselves, our week in Raleigh
helped me to discover the positive qualities that I possess. It is the strength
I received through knowing God accepts me for both the good and the bad, and
accepting both in myself, that allowed me to serve him this week and will allow
me to do so for the rest of my life.” (Courtney Mueller)

“On Tuesday, the second day of our
mission trip, our group visited a food pantry where we acted as grocers. People
who were in need of food and clothes came in and used a shopping cart to gather
the food and clothes they needed. When they were done, they came to a table
where two people from our group were standing, ready to bag their items. A
young lady in line had come inside with her mother and her little baby, and after
we were done bagging her food she got a few extra loaves of bread and went to
stand in a corner to wait for her mother to finish. At a glance behind me I saw
her, carrying all those separate loaves of bread along with her bags and
decided to offer her another plastic bag to put them in. She said if it
wouldn’t be too much trouble, and told me that she normally goes by local
Wal-Mart to give some of the homeless people outside the loaves of bread.

“It took me a while to really let
that sink in. But now I am amazed. Even in her impoverish state, she never
stopped thinking about those who were less fortunate even than herself. When
sometimes, I don’t even take a second to realize how much I have, and how much
more I can give to those who barely have anything, yet …  still find a way to give to others with even
less than themselves. She gave so much care and love in her act, that it
inspired me to understand, sometimes, that’s all it takes. All we need is God’s
love, and believe it or not, we all come with that. But what we also come with,
is the choice to use it.

“In everything we do, God’s love is
with us. But love isn’t meant to be kept to ourselves. It much better to be
given out and shared with those who are unaware of the treasure of God’s love.
Danny was one of the youth leaders who inspired me because he said something
like this; I believe each one of you has the capability of changing the world.
I know this, because everyone one of the people before you who had changed the
world were one your age. This made me realize that I can do something to change
somebody’s world, even if it’s not everybody’s.

“I can live my life, so that
everyone I meet, can become aware of the love God has for each one of us. We
always give reasons for inspiration to serve others, thinking that if we do,
then that will be how God will love us. But I’ve learned that believing that
all these years, I’ve had it backwards. We don’t serve so God will love us, but
we serve because God already does. Don’t serve for God’s acceptance, but serve
God because you are so captivated …and overjoyed by the love he has for you,
that you feel the need to share that joy with everyone around you, wherever you
may be.” (Casey Timbs)

Part of the reason we ask the youth
to do this service after their trips is to share their experiences with all of
you. None of the amazing things they saw and did would have been possible
without the support and care of this congregation. Thank you all for this
incredible experience that you made possible for our youth. Hopefully you’ve
learned something from them as well today. Now let us stand and sing together
“They’ll know we are Christians by Our Love”