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March 23, 2018, 4:09 PM

Patience with the weather!


One of the songs we sing at Easter is the “Hymn of Promise”, and the first verse contains this line:

In the cold and snow of winter, there’s a spring that waits to be,

Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

I have about run out of patience with waiting for spring. But, of course, patience is a virtue in which I’m frequently deficient. Perhaps some of you summer-lovers have made the mistake of praying for more patience!

The Biblical author James writes: “Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You, too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” (James 5: 7-8).

James was writing of a time when there were rich people getting wealthier, in part by being unjust to the poor. He was reminding his people—and us today—that the world we live in is deeply unfair, and that God is waiting patiently for the Day of Judgment in which all things will be made right—"God will fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty.” (Luke 1: 53).

One of my favorite children’s books is “Dog Heaven” by Cynthia Rylant. In it she describes what happens to dogs when they go to heaven, and includes a bit about dogs that haven’t been treated well on earth. If they haven’t had a real home, she writes, they get one in heaven, with a bed that has their name on it and a place under the table where people drop lots of crumbs.

It’s very cute, but I think it captures an important aspect of God’s justice—that those who have suffered in this very unjust world of ours will, in the Last Judgment, be rewarded with everything they were deprived of on earth.

What about those of us who have been given much in this life? Well, then, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48). If we have been blessed in this life, we are responsible for getting on board with God’s justice right now.

So we are always being called to be both patient and active in this time of waiting for justice. Sitting around and whining and complaining about the state of the world isn’t any better than complaining about the cold weather—it’s worthless! God is asking us to participate in making the world a better place and wait with patience for God to make it truly just and right.

Spring is coming. Easter is coming. Jesus is coming. Rejoice!

God loves you and I love you! See you in church! ~Pastor Julia

 




November 28, 2016, 10:09 AM

Advent


So, Thanksgiving is over, and the world around us is moving full speed ahead into Christmas. So many of us are already putting up decorations and buying gifts. The radio stations have been playing Christmas music since around September!

Have you ever wondered why we are affected so deeply by Christmas? Why does a piece of music or a commercial on TV with children in the snow bring us to tears? What is it about Christmas, anyway?

This is what I believe: the Christ child broke into the world 2000 years ago, and the world has never been the same. God broke in and became human—became Emmanuel, “God with us”. It was such a momentous event that the Bible records the entire host of heaven –the angel armies of God—were singing with such joy that they filled the skies.

On May 20, 1964, American radio scientists discovered that there was background radiation—known as “Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation”—which was a remnant of ancient light created during the “Big Bang” at the beginning of the universe. In the same way, I think that we are still surrounded, as human beings, by the echoes of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. It was a moment when eternity broke into the created world.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 states “God has placed eternity in the human heart.” Perhaps there is something about Christmas that touches us deep inside, as we catch a glimpse of God’s eternal love and presence.

God made us to respond to Emmanuel’s breaking in! So naturally, we respond to Christmas in an emotional way, as the joyous song of Jesus’ birth still echoes in the universe.

The problem here is that human beings often worship the feeling rather than the real thing. So, instead of seeking to follow the star and bring our offerings to Jesus, we are content with the warm feeling we get when we listen to Christmas music on the radio. We worship “Christmas” as an idea instead of worshipping God who broke into the world that day.

Tomorrow is the first Sunday in Advent. It is a time to wait, to worship, to pray, and to fast! To prepare ourselves for Christ’s coming—in Bethlehem, and at the end of time.

The third verse of O Little Town of Bethlehem says all this better than I can:

     How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given;

     So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.

     No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin,

     Where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.

 

Let’s worship Christ instead of Christmas! See you in church! ~Pastor Julia




November 8, 2016, 12:00 AM

Election night


So, last night I gave the invocation at the County Commissioner’s meeting. It seemed rude just to pray and walk out, so I stayed…and I was really glad I did!

Not that there was anything earth-shattering that happened. There were reports and discussions about property tax reassessments, and water hook-up bills, and salary for a new building code inspector. But I was so delighted to hear our elected officials talking with each other about the ordinary problems Vance County citizens face, and what would be right, and fair, and just. An ordinary man got up and said he felt misled about the water bill contract. The Commissioners listened and debated his particular issue.

Why did I find that all so uplifting? Because, in the crazy run-up to this election, both Republicans and Democrats have been encouraged to believe that if the other party’s candidate wins, it will be the end of life on earth as we know it. But the truth is that we have NOT lost control of our lives. The politicians in Washington have some influence on us, certainly, but most of the impact on our lives comes from our own decisions, and the decisions on our own family and community.

Today, I hope you vote, I hope you pay attention, but I also hope you get out of the house and look around you at this great place we live in. How can we make it better? How can we make a positive change in someone’s life? How can we give back some of the blessings God has given us?

One of the amazing things about the life of Jesus is that he always has time for that individual person on the road. The woman who just happens to be at the well drawing water. The blind man on the road to Jericho. The short guy in the sycamore tree. We know and love these stories, and there are a thousand more, I’m sure, that were never even written down.

Jesus didn’t worry much about what was happening in Rome. He paid attention to the people in his circle of influence—most of whom were poor and living on the margins. But his careful attention and compassion became the stories of the revolution that was, and is, Christianity.

Friends, we are all more powerful than we think we are. All the more when we have the Holy Spirit himself leading and guiding us.

NO MATTER who wins tonight—do not despair! Jesus said, “In this world you will have many troubles. But take heart!—for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

See you in church! ~Pastor Julia




September 3, 2016, 12:00 AM

Remember Who the Real Enemy Is


There is a scene in one of the Hunger Games movies where Katniss is ready to kill someone with her bow and arrow, and the man about to be killed shouts out, “Katniss! Remember who the real enemy is!”

You see, in this story, Katniss and others are being manipulated by powerful forces into fighting—and killing—one another. This serves to entertain the elite occupants of the Capital who watch the Hunger Games, but also to drive a wedge between potential allies so that they do not rebel against the government.

Well, perhaps this is a stretch—but I feel that we’ve come to a place where we need to “remember who the real enemy is.” Our nation has become so polarized that for any given issue about 50% of the people are against the other 50%. We have come to see each other as “enemies” when others believe things that we don’t believe.  

There is a book on marketing that suggests that this requires a new way to reach the public—if you want people to buy your product, you should no longer try to tell them what good thing you do, but tell them who you are against. So, for instance, if I say that “our church stands against gun violence”—that is a seemingly harmless statement that will attract people who are for gun control and repel those who are for a broad reading of the Second Amendment. Or if I say “our church is against abortion”—roughly fifty percent of people who read that will see that as offensive. And it goes on and on. Our polarized segments of society are getting farther and farther apart from one another, to the extent that many folks quickly see those who disagree about one issue or another as “enemies”. We have forgotten who the real enemy is.

There are spiritual forces that work to divide people and create hostilities and hatreds. The Bible calls these “powers and principalities.” In Ephesians 6:12 Paul reminds his readers that “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Our enemies are not other people!

This is not some random Biblical suggestion that Christians can ignore. The very center of the Gospel is our belief that Christ died for us—sinful people—out of love. Christ died not for the 50% of people that we agree with but also for the 50% we disagree with. Christ died for black people and white people; Syrians and Yemenis and French and Americans; Trump voters and Clinton voters; gay people and straight people and everyone in-between. We don’t have to agree with everyone but we must love everyone. As John Wesley put it, “we may not all think alike, but we must all love alike.”

We believe in the universality of Christ’s love. And the implication of that is clear: our love, too, must be that big and universal. The Apostle John states in 1 John 4:16-21:

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

Tomorrow I will begin a month-long sermon series on reconciliation. We need to seek reconciliation with God, with families and friends, and with those we consider to be our enemies. Reconciliation is the heart of the Gospel, and we are called to continue the work of reconciliation in the world. I hope you will come to worship this week with open hearts and open minds!

See you in church!  We need you! ~Pastor Julia




August 1, 2016, 12:00 AM

Running the Race


If you run races, the last thing you want to see in your stats are the letters “DNF”. That stands for “Did Not Finish”, and a lot of those indicate that someone doesn’t really have what it takes to run a 5K or a 10K or a marathon.

Why do people start races and not finish? Well, it could mean that there was an injury that made it impossible to finish. But sometimes people just quit. They get tired. Their resolve fails them, and they think, “This isn’t worth it.” Experienced runners know that those thoughts and feelings happen in every single race. So perhaps the most important part of being a successful long-distance athlete is learning to push past the inclination to quit.

One word that keeps popping up in the Bible is “perseverance”. The dictionary definition of perseverance is: “steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.” So, for athletes, the ability to persevere at training even when it’s difficult is incredibly important. How to keep going even when you keep losing—that is perseverance.

Allow me to switch metaphors for a moment. Think about sowing seeds. Preparing a garden and putting in seed is perhaps the most labor-intensive part of the work. Weeding and cultivating—waiting for the plants to bear fruit—can take many long months and is often accompanied by all sorts of unforeseen circumstances: drought, and hailstorms, and excessive heat. Perseverance is required of all good farmers and gardeners.

When Jesus spoke of sowing seeds, he was referencing the spreading of the good news—the gospel—of the Kingdom of God. And words, like seeds, are fragile things. There are lots of failures and difficulties in the work of ministry. And yet we keep sowing seeds anyway. We persevere.

The greatest danger in all ministry is coming to a place where we think, “Is it worth it?” Is it worth it to keep feeding people who stay hungry? Is it worth it to help people who sometimes act as if they don’t want help? Is it worth it to keep preaching to people who don’t really want to change their lives?

The only place I know to go when I feel like giving up the race is to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus asked his three closest friends, Peter, James, and John, to stay and pray with him in his most desperate moment. Yet they repeatedly fell asleep. What must Jesus have felt?

Yet he persevered in his journey to the cross—out of pure love for God’s people.

Friends, in the middle of a heat wave, persevere in whatever tasks God has set before you. Sow seeds of good news, as the Psalm says, “beside every stream”. Keep going past discouragement and frustration and failure.

Because his race we are running—this effort to follow Jesus—is worth it. I believe that with all my heart.

See you in church!  We need you! ~Pastor Julia


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