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Mark 1: 9-15


Today I am glad to examine Mark’s version of Jesus’ being in the wilderness. Instead of going into extensive discussions brought on by Matthew’s version, regarding the tempter, and bread, and the temple, or Luke’s version that has similar details, today we are told that the Spirit—that means God, by the way—drove Jesus into the wilderness where he faced certain darkness, hunger, and images or voices that sounded evil.

If that is the case, could it be that God also drives us, or allows us, to enter places that seem like a wilderness compared to the life we had been living? Could the wilderness be a way to refine and harden our mettle—m-e-t-t-l-e, which is “a person’s ability to cope well with difficulties or face demanding situations in a spirited and resilient way?”  Could God actually be intending to strengthen us for what is ahead in life, instead of trying to break us down? Jesus did not just stumble into the wilderness; he was made to go into it by the Spirit. His initiation into ministry, almost still dripping from his baptism, included being dropped by God into the deep end of the pool.  It was his wilderness, and today we’ll explore ours.


As the world was watching the Olympics this past week, stories of valor and strength have abounded, but so have stories of struggle and testing. Olympic skater Scott Hamilton told the story of being diagnosed with testicular cancer, and then being treated for 4 cancerous tumors in his brain. When he learned the news, he was reminded of his own mother’s struggle with cancer 20 years earlier, and he said his fear of it was unbelievable. But then he said, “You know, it’s a really weird thing, my fear was replaced with a sense of determination, like I wanted back on the ice and I didn’t want this to be the end, but the beginning of something else.” And so it was. Because of cancer, Scott met the woman who would become his wife in 2002.  “Because of cancer,” he said joyfully, I met my wife, I became a father, and it’s like none of that would have happened without cancer. I look at every one of these things and say there’s always something on the other side if we choose for that.” Over time, Scott and Tracy made another choice: While Traci was helping out in Haiti after the hurricanes, she fell in love with two Haitian children and she and Scott decide to adopt them: 11 year old Evelyne, and her 13 year old brother, John Paul. They brought them to their home in Nashville, Tennessee. And it all was started by a time in the wilderness with cancer. What a test. Scott concluded in his interview: I think we are designed for struggle; we’re more in touch with who we are as individuals in the struggle more than in the good fortune.”


What might your wilderness be?  Here’s another one. In his book The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, writer and professor Belden C. Lane wrote about his wilderness. With all the geography described in the book, his wilderness was a mother’s diagnosed illness. He put it this way:

First, you weep. The starting point for many things in grief, at the place where endings seem so absolute….When my mother was diagnosed with bone cancer, she was given six months to live.  It seemed like such a sudden and abrupt ending, so inarguable. But she was eighty years old and signs of Alzheimer’s disease had already begun to appear….In the coming weeks I would travel with her through surgery, radiation treatments, and the painful experience of being uprooted from her house and placed in a nursing home. Roles were reversed, as I (am only child, the last of my family) became mother to my mother, wondering at midlife who would be left to mother me. It was an experience of discovering an unlikely grace in a grotesque landscape of feeding tubes and bed restraints, wheelchairs and diapers, nausea and incontinence.  [Oxford University Press, NY, 1998, p. 25]


That wilderness was made up of beeping monitors, tubes and a mother who wets her pants. It seemed heinous, wrong, and testing. It is so foreign to the pulled-together and otherwise obliviously grace filled people we were before the wilderness. In that wilderness, grooming gets done sporadically; eating is often from vending machines, with bad coffee, and public restrooms. What a wilderness. What is yours? Surely, instead of thinking of the desert outside of Jerusalem as the wilderness you can think of your own. Some wildernesses will surprise you, test you, and if you will let them, teach you.


Here’s another: Award winning author Karen Armstrong, who wrote more than a dozen books including The History of God, and Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths, says her wilderness was, surprisingly, in a convent. She left her wilderness and wrote about it in a book called The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness. Listen to her words:

[I’m telling] the story of my seven years as a Roman Catholic nun. I entered my convent in 1962 when I was seventeen years old. It was entirely my own decision. My family was not particularly devout, and my parents were horrified when I told them I had a religious vocation. They thought, quite correctly it turned out, that I was far too young to make such a momentous choice…. I wanted to find God….And because I was seventeen, I imagined this would happen pretty quickly. Very soon I would become a wise and enlightened woman, all passion spent. God would no longer be a remote, shadowy reality but a vibrant presence in my life….At the end of nine months, we receive the habit and began two years [as a noviate.] This was a particularly testing time, and we were often told that if we did not find it almost unbearable, we were not trying hard enough. [Anchor Books, NY, 2004, pp. vii, viii, xiii.]

She cried almost daily over three of those years. Later she left her place of testing. One commentator put it this way: “After 7 brutally unhappy years as a nun, she left her order to pursue English Literature at Oxford. But convent life had profoundly altered her….Her deep solitude and a terrifying illness—diagnosed only years later as epilepsy—marked her forever as an outsider….What she found, in learning, thinking, and in writing about other religions was an ecstasy and a transcendence she had never felt [before.]” [Back cover of the book.]  She had come through what she said was a wilderness of testing, and when she came out if it, she was different. She became the gifted writer who is still changing the world with her words.


How would you word your story about a wilderness time? Or might God be preparing you for such a time? Wilderness places mold us in a cauldron of testing. The wilderness of testing may be a casino to a gambler, a shopping mall to an obsessive spender, or a school to one being bullied or feeling isolated. What are the events that have tested you, ones that have made you who you are today? And what might still be in store for you ahead? Remember the story I said at the beginning, of the Spirit taking Jesus, practically dripping wet from his baptism, and dropping him in the deep end of the pool Mark calls “the wilderness?” It was a desert outside of Jerusalem. Remember this: in that pool God was the lifeguard, nearby and watching. In that desert, God sent angels to assist Jesus as he can do for us. God is not far away or absent in our trials; God is with us in all the dangers and temptations of life. Perhaps today you will join me in now believing that tests and wilderness times are to strengthen us, not to break us. May God’s angels minister to you as you endure your wilderness times.

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                           February 18, 2018

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Matthew 17: 1-5


Some words, intended to be an announcement, can double as a blessing.

Words like: “This my son, Chris! I’m so pleased with his life choices!” Or “This is my son Matt! I’m so pleased with his life choices!” or “This is my daughter Jenny! I’m so pleased with her life choices!” I’m announcing that sentiment to you, but if they read the sentiment, I think my children will feel blessed, even though I have told this to each of them. I felt blessed when a parent introduced me with pride. Sometimes an announcement is a blessing.


As a boy, Sir Walter Raleigh was left weak and lame by a severe fever, much the way the daughter, Beth, was left after being sick in the classic book and film “Little Women.” Some thought Walter Scott would not be able to do anything with is life because of his weakened condition.  When he was a teenager, he was a guest in a home where some famous writers were gathered. The Scottish Poet Robert Burns was among them. After a brief encounter, Burns put his hand on top of young Walter’s head saying, “Ah lad, I’m certain you’ll be a great man in Scotland someday!” Walter Scott took the words of the blessing as sincere, and they were a source of encouragement the rest of his life.


Long ago, a voice came from Heaven, and the Spirit of God—like a dove—came down to bless Jesus as he was baptized. The announcement was heard by many, but the blessing was especially received by Jesus: “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” And because God certainly knows the power of repetition to underline words, a voice came from Heaven again, as Jesus was on a mountain transfigured (changed before the eyes of his disciples) into a new brightness, and that same voice, that familiar voice, the voice he longed to hear, said to the disciples:  “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased! Listen to him!”  What a special time! In an earlier place in the Bible, Psalm 2 verse 7, God spoke through a Psalm writer for the blessing of a king, saying, “You are my anointed king; today I have begotten you.” I have heard from grown men and women who are hampered as adults because they are missing the part of their lives when their parent’s words blessed them. They keep living, but if their image were on a jigsaw puzzle, a piece would be missing: the piece would have words written on it saying something like: “You are my own dear child. I love you and am proud of you!” That’s the piece so many wish they had heard from a parent. And so they go through their life, as writer Shel Silverstein puts it, “lookin’ for their missing piece.” Like a stone disc with a triangularly shaped pie piece removed, they bump down the road of life. [The Missing Piece] Joyous announcements matter; and blessings matter. Can you think back to a time when someone said they believed in you, or accepted you the way you were?  Friends we have the power offer such words to children, workers, or friends. On this Scout Sunday we honor those adults who have mentored Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Brownies, or Girl Scouts in entrusted to them.  Those leaders, like teachers and pastors and youth leaders, have the power to bless young people just wanting to be loved and accepted.


One minister who did that very well was the later Fred Rogers of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”  He was a Presbyterian minister and went to Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.  His ministry sent him to the public broadcasting studios in Pittsburgh to write, produce, and tape his award winning children’s shows. Some adults may have found the show “simple.” Some teenagers found it boring. With little or no technology, Mr. Rogers put out a message, one that told viewing boys and girls, “I like you just the way you are.” He took his philosophy right from the Jesus of the New Testament. Now his work continues on PBS with staff and family members still producing the cartoon, “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” We still have new children who need to feel affirmed and loved.


Every time you come to a service here, it is intended that you receive a blessing before you depart. The raised hand at the end of the service comes from practice of the head of a Hebrew household symbolically placing his right hand on the head of guests as thy departed. Perhaps Robert Burns knew the power of the blessing when he placed his hand on Walter Scott’s head that fateful day. At the end of a service I will seek to bless each of you if you will receive it. I hope it will encourage you. I always ask God to guide my choice of words. If we understand that we have been blessed, then we can be a blessing to others! I’ll close with these classic words from Oswald Chambers’ book My Utmost for His Highest:

Whenever you get a blessing from God, give it back to him as a love gift. Take time to meditate before God, and offer the blessing back to him in a deliberate act of worship.  If you hoard it for yourself, it will turn into spiritual dry rot, as the manna did when it was hoarded in Exodus 16:20.


Today I tell you, you are loved! Prepare to be fed at the Lord’s Table, so you can be a blessing to others.


Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                           February 11, 2018

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Going About Your Business

Thomas Merton says it beautifully “It is by the Holy Spirit that we love those who are united to us in Christ. The more plentifully we have received of the Spirit of Christ, the more perfectly we are able to love them: and the more we love them the more we receive the Spirit. It is clear, however, that since we love them by the Spirit Who is given to us by Jesus, it is Jesus Himself Who loves them in us.”

One of my favorite books of the Bible along with all the other books of the Bible is our first reading, the book of Isaiah.  Chapter 40 is part of the books that are said to be thought of through recent research, to be the books that presume that Judgement has been pronounced and restoration follows soon. It can thus be read as an extended meditation on the destiny of Jerusalem into and after the Exile. (40-55)   The book’s essential unity has become a focus in this current research. Isaiah 1–39 promises judgment and restoration for Judah, Jerusalem and the nations, while the later books 56-66 describes how God will make Jerusalem the center of his worldwide rule through a royal savior (a messiah) who will destroy her oppressor (Babylon); this messiah is the Persian king Cyrus the Great, who is merely the agent who brings about Yahweh’s kingship.   Isaiah speaks out against corrupt leaders and for the disadvantaged, and roots righteousness in God’s holiness rather than in Israel’s covenant. Isaiah 44:6 contains the first clear statement of monotheism: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no God”. This model of monotheism became the defining characteristic of post-Exilic Judaism, and the basis for Christianity.  Isaiah was one of the most popular works among the Hebrews in the Second Temple period (c. 515 BCE – 70 CE). In Christian circles, it was held in such high regard as to be called “the Fifth Gospel”, and its influence extends beyond Christianity to English literature and to Western culture in general, from the libretto of Handel’s Messiah to a host of such everyday phrases as “swords into ploughshares” and “voice in the wilderness”.  John the Baptists quotes Isaiah as he states from the book of Isaiah 40:3, “A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the Lord [YHWH]  in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.”

William Barclay explains the wonders in this text of Isaiah as “The imperatives of the first part of this chapter “Comfort,, prepare, cry,, get you up,, fear not, contrast with the theoretical questions of the second”  verses 12- 31  The logical connection between the two parts is the deliberate contrast between, on the one hand, the frailty of chastened, frightened Jerusalem, and on the other hand, the incomparable power of God as revealed in the sheer cosmic scale of his creative activity, as the scripture states “Put your faith in the former and you will wither like grass; put your faith in God and you will “mount up with wings like eagles”  How glorious a sound”

This first reading shows us how our past can live in our present; and how our present will live on in our future.  As it ties to the readings in Corinthians and lives in the second reading of Mark, it shows not just the reality of God and how God is our true power and savior over all things; it shows us just how connected we are to that power and how all things were and are created by the lord, showed to us how to live as he gave himself for our sins and lives through us as the Holy Spirit; the Christ.

This is a comfort for us to live and move as he did; to know the creation of God is doing wonderous things all the time that we cannot even fathom.  As easy as our hair growing; well your hair growing; haha our fingernails growing; The grass and the trees growing.

It’s the day of Sabbath and the people of the town are celebrating the lord’s day.  A woman sits in the dark; in a room by herself as she shakes and writhes with a fever.  Her son in law is very concerned about her and what has become of her.  She has collected a bad sickness. The people of the time call it a “Burning Fever” as it will read later in the Talmud.  She doesn’t know what to do as her son and law leaves for synagogue.  This was normal during the time as Paul of Tarsus the Disciple often had bouts of a fever that he had gotten from were he lived in the swamps of Tarsus.

As Peter talks to the others they converse over the mother and laws sickness and what to do about it; as they speak to each other; as they ask around for a cure they are told by the ones that know, the teachings of the time taught by the priests.  This is the practice that is handed down and is to be done for her.  They figure out the plan as they discuss what must be done as she becomes sicker and sicker; they need a Knife, a knife entirely made of Iron.  They need a braid of hair as they are to take the braid of hair, tie it to the knife.  After they have tied the lock of hair to the knife, then they are to tie both to a thorn bush.  After successive days of this there is a magical formula pronounced and thus the cure is to be achieved.  As much in the time that there were exorcists in practice along with Jesus as Jesus was starting to show to the world that he was Jesus son of man; Son of God; others also claimed to have these same powers but not really powers at all.  But this was the ritual cure of the Burning Fever; this was the way that it was done.  So why would anyone think that Jesus, this man from Nazareth; would be the reason for this women’s cure; for this woman’s freedom.  Freedom from pain; from here fever; freedom from all sin as we are shown.  Why would he be different than the exorcists that ran about.

So, the men followed as all good Hebrews did on the Sabbath and went to synagogue.  Jesus preached that day by showing his true grace to all by the exorcism of demons; maybe not by what we think as demons as thought of in those times but maybe as we think of demons to be today; as the pain and hate of someone, that their freedom may be held at bay but brought to life; that they may be brought to life again resurrected by the Christ, to serve the Lord.  After Jesus performed this great feat of Grace that he is the living God; the son of man; the truth they left the synagogue; Jesus joined his friends and went to Peter’s house.

They were astonished by what he had done; that Jesus had brought out these demons that as even as they followed him they followed him blindly; with a faith that had not even really been defined; the faith of a mustard seed; as they all had more trials and tribulations to overcome, their whole lives to overcome; to be followers of God as much as we all do, they put their faith in this man who showed them love.  They put their trust in a man that showed them as we are shown everyday that he is our way; our path to Love; the truth; the way; and the Life.

Jesus joined Peter and John as they came out of the synagogue and they went to the house of Simon and Andrew.  As the mother in law still suffered from here sickness this was no time for pleasantries as it says in the scripture. “Immediately after they went to the house of Simon and Andrew.  Peters mother in law was in bed with an attack of fever. Immediately they spoke to Jesus about her.  He went up to her and took her by the hand and raised her up, and the fever left her, and she attended to their needs.

As we look a little deeper into the time and all that it entailed; the day of Sabbath was and is a lot different then what it was then.  Sundays for Christians have changed and even we have maybe become a little jaded as we might be thinking of what were going to cook for the game today rather than what the Sermon is on.  But as we are shown on a constant basis; as it speaks of in Isaiah of our strong loving God, as Jesus is our loving action our reason of a new life.  We are shown this Love; this unstoppable love every day; every minute.

Th time of Sabbath was a time of celebration as it should be; to celebrate the love of God much like we do here every Sunday in celebration; in fellowship; in fellowship of the Church; of the Christ.  Of the true action of the Holy Spirit; in us and through us.  In the synagogue Jesus spoke and acted in the most amazing way; the true action of Love, the authority of God.

According to Jewish custom the main Jewish meal came directly after the service at 12noon.  The Jewish day started at 6 A M and the hours are counted from then.  Jesus might well have been tired of such an exercise as in the synagogue but again his grace was appealed to; once again he gave himself for others; as he shows us the way; to give ourselves for others.

This seems to show us a couple of realties about Jesus and what Jesus truly was and is as God.  Jesus did not need an audience to be the power of God.  He was the healing spirit of God in everything and everywhere; as he is now.  He was the love of God in all places, whether it was in front of a huge crowd as in the synagogue or when he died for our sins; as well as in the little places; the little ways that Jesus is Love.  Like seeing the sun through the trees; or looking a loved one in the eyes.  Or just being happy to be alive.

He is never too tired to heal no matter who it is.  The need of others took precedence over his own desire for rest as he shows the reality of Gods endless love to us in action.  But as I spoke of earlier about the exorcists, Jesus shows us the true Love of God that he is.

As I spoke of earlier about the knife with the braid of hair tied to it; tied to the thorn bush and how the knife was to heal the woman; the exorcists of the time used many elaborate incantations and spells and formulae that would baffle the crowds as a magician showing his wares at the fair; or like the fire eater; or the juggler.  But as Jesus healed in the synagogue with one authoritative word; no fire; no fakeries; he healed the women in the same way.  The disciples were changing as they’re faith was growing as they were starting to see the Messiah, much like all the people that were there were changed; as they were all starting to believe that Jesus was who he was; the Messiah the true answer to the question. Our question.  Maybe not the one everybody expected or expects; maybe not even the one everybody wanted or wants.  But the true messiah; the unswerving; unending grace of God.

The disciples in this growing to Jesus started to take all their problems to him, as we should take all our problems to our Lord in prayer.  As we might follow the simplicity of conversation with our best friend as conversation with God.  Paul Tuornier states as I believe “We should talk to our lord as we have known our Lord and savior all our lives, as he has known us all our lives; a close fellowship that Jesus, as Jesus lives, lives in our lives, every part of them.”


Let me read to you this great hymn; lyrics written by Nolan Williams Jr.

What a friend we have in Jesus All our sins and grieves to bear What a privilege it is to carry Everything to God in prayer Have we trials and temptations Is there trouble anywhere Our precious Savior He is still our refuge Take it to the Lord in prayer Some things we have not Because we ask not When we have a friend who’s there When we’re weak and heavy laden Cumbered with a load of care We should never be discouraged When we take it to the Lord in prayer Some things we have not Because we ask not when we have a friend who cares Oh what peace we often forfeit Oh what needless pain we bear Oh what peace we often forfeit Oh what needless we bear Oh what peace we often forfeit Oh what needless pain Oh what needless pain Oh what needless pain we bear We should never be discouraged when we Take it to the Lord in prayer.

This is the basis of our life with God; as shown to us in the action of the Disciples as they started to see; as we start to see; see more; more and more.  As we form and reform again; we should bring all our problems to our Lord in prayer.  This is a habit of a life time as shown to us through all in the Bible.

The end of the reading shows the loving action of God healing the women of her fever as that same love heals us every day.  That same simplistic love that isn’t fake; that isn’t a juggling act; just pure true love.  As soon as she was healed she went about her business to be the action of God to Jesus; As we are called in Pregabalin for purchase 12: 28-31 The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

As the mother in law shows this commitment it seems as she was washed clean of her sickness of her fever; of her demons; that she is reformed in the grace of Christ.  That in this resurrection; this reformation that she is cleansed of her past and lives now in the true commandments of the Lord.  To be Love.  As a great Scottish family’s motto says, “Saved to Serve”

Jesus shows this same commitment to us in the morning as when his Disciples came to him as he was meditating he said “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

This is his commitment to us as we are called to make the same commitment.  As the mother in law showed her saving grace to be the action of God.  How Jesus shows us through his action to be that same love.  How the Holy Spirit acts through us to all we meet and see; how God acts and reacts in our lives in creating and recreating all day every day.  We are called to join in this same action of grace that was given to us by God, one on three and three in one.  The way the truth and the Life.


Martin Luther wrote “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”  We are apart of the living Gospel to act; to love; to be; all that Jesus is; all that Jesus shows us.

Let us commit; commit as God commits to us every day.  As the Disciples committed to Jesus; as the Mother in law was saved to serve.  Let us wash ourselves in the grace of Christ, let us be about his business.  May Gods peace be with you: