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Do you know who you are?

 

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Luke 4:1-13

 

4: 1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'” 11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him. 12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ “13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:1-13, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: God of wilderness and water, your Son was baptized and tempted as we are. Guide us through this season of Lent, that we may not avoid struggle, but open ourselves to blessing, through the cleansing depths of repentance and the life-giving words of the Spirit. Amen.

 

In his autobiography, the actor Kirk Douglas tells about an experience he had as a young actor.  At the time, he was already a well-known Hollywood star.  On this day he was driving along the California coast when he noticed a young man in a naval uniform standing on the side of the road hitchhiking.  Douglas pulled over and gave the young sailor a ride.  He did not tell the young sailor who he was, but the sailor recognized Kirk Douglas immediately.

 

They talked about where the young sailor was stationed, where he was headed, and what he planned to do with his life after the Navy.  The conversation carried on but after a while, the young sailor couldn’t bite his tongue any longer and he asked, “Mister, do you know who you are?”[1]

 

Do you know who you are? It is the underlying question of our scripture passages for this First Sunday in the Season of Lent.  The Lenten season is a time to retell the stories of our faith, particularly the stories of our Lord, his teachings, his ministry on the way to Jerusalem, and his passion.   Telling stories— the stories of faith— reminds us who and whose we are.  The stories of our faith help to shape our identity and give us purpose and direction in life.  Because there is more to our identity than our name, our family background and our DNA.  Our identity is greatly influenced by the stories and the narratives that have influenced our lives.

 

The biblical narratives are one such influence. Take Moses, for example, He believed that remembering where he and the Israelites had been and their journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land would help to keep them faithful to God. So, Moses challenged the Israelites to remember that journey when they brought the first fruits of their harvest as an offering in the Temple.  Moses said, “You say this before the Lord your God: ‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor.  He went down to Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and then he became a great nation, mighty and populous. And when his Egyptian captors were harsh on him, he cried out to God and God heard his cry and delivered him and brought us out of bondage.’” Moses encouraged the Israelites to recite this history that was both a confession of their faith, and a statement of thanksgiving to provide boundaries and purpose to their lives.  To this day observant Jews continue to celebrate this history as they say, “Tell it again and again, so we will always remember who and whose, are.” These stories continue to form their collective identity and their faith.[2]

 

In Luke’s gospel we learn that Jesus’ identity is challenged in the wilderness by Satan.  You notice that Satan or the devil tempts or tests Jesus three times in this story.  You will also notice the devil doesn’t ask Jesus to do anything particularity bad.  The devil simply invites Jesus to forget who he is and whose he is.  Jesus has just been confirmed in his identity by the voice of God at his baptism. “You are my chosen, the beloved, in you I am well pleased.”[3]  Jesus had been called to live out a story of service for others out of love for God.  And the devil is inviting him to betray his identity and misuse his power.

 

That is the most insidious aspect of temptation.   It is not always an enticement to do something we shouldn’t do because it is bad or wrong.  Temptation can also lure us away from something – namely, our relationship with God and the identity we receive in and through that relationship and Baptism.[4]

Too often, we Christians, have focused on all the things we shouldn’t do, instead of pointing us to the gift and grace of our identity as children of God.  But the devil knows better.  Notice how each of the temptations seeks to erode and undercut Jesus’ identity.  Which is why this passage is really about identity theft.

 

Because all three of these temptations— and as best that I understand, all temptations— are fundamentally intended to shift our trust away from God and onto ourselves.  We see that very subtly in the language that sets up each temptation. Each one centers on the little word, “you.”[5]

If you are the Son of God…

To you I will give all these kingdoms…

If you are the Son of God…

 

This is one reason why we gather for worship each and every week to remind us of our identity as children of God.  We are under constant assault, maybe not as straight forward as Jesus and the devil in this story, but much more covert ways each and every day.

 

We are tempted in so many ways to lose our faith in God and confidence in ourselves.  So, we come to church to be reminded of our identity as beloved children of God. In the face of so many assaults on our identity we come to church to have that identity renewed and restored that we might live in the confidence of God’s abundant life and unending love.[6]

 

Tom Long, Presbyterian preacher tells the story about Hugh Thompson.  Do you remember Hugh Thompson?  On March 16, 1968, Thompson was a young helicopter pilot flying on patrol over the countryside of Vietnam.  When he and his crew flew over the village of My Lai, they saw something horrific taking place below.  The troops of US Army Charlie Company, under the constant pressure of danger and the madness of war, had lost control and their discipline, and their humanity, and they had begun slaughtering unarmed civilians in the village, most of them women, children and elderly men.

 

Seeing this Thompson had to respond. So, he landed his helicopter down between the troops and the remaining villagers.  Then at great risk to himself, he got out of the helicopter and confronted the officer in charge, Lt. William Calley.  Following this confrontation, he and his crew airlifted the few villagers who were still alive out of My Lai.  He then radioed a report of the scene and in doing so saved many civilian lives.

 

Thompson’s action went unnoticed for year’s even decades, until finally he was publically recognized. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by Emory University in Atlanta.  Standing on the platform at the University’s commencement, Thompson spoke, and he told how he found the courage and the strength to do what he did on March 16, 1968?  His statement to the graduates and the audience both shocked them and brought them to a thoughtful silence.

 

He said, “I’d to like to thank my mother and father for trying to instill in me the difference between right and wrong.”   “We were country people.  We didn’t have much.  I was born and raised in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and we had very little, but one thing we did have was the Golden Rule.  My parents taught me early on, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’  That’s why I did what I did that day.  It’s hard to put certain things into words.  You graduates are going to have to make decisions in your life.  Please make the right decisions, because we’re depending on yon. God bless you all.”

 

Why did he do what he did?  Where did he find the strength and courage?  Words taught to him in childhood and repeated over and over: “Do unto others…, Do unto others…, Do unto others….” Jesus said, “It is written …, it is written …, it is written …One does not live by bread alone.” There is a script to help you remember who you are.[7]

 

You are a child of God, created and claimed by the Creator of heaven and earth.  You have been claimed and redeemed so that you can live out your life by faith.

 

Let us pray: Holy God, you have claimed us as your own. May we rest secure in our identity as children of God. Amen.

[1] The Reverend Joseph S. Harvard. “Who Are You?” A sermon preached on February 29, 2004 at First Presbyterian Church, Durham, North Carolina. Based on Deuteronomy 26:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13.

[2] Ibid

[3] Matthew 3:17, NRSV.

[4] The Reverend Dr. David Lose. Lent 1 C: Identity Theft, Luke 4: 1-13 found at http://www.davidlose.net/2016/02/lent-1-c-identity-theft

 

[5] The Reverend Robert Montgomery. “Facing Temptation” A sermon preached on February 21, 2010, First Sunday of Lent at First Presbyterian Church, Pulaski, TN. Based on Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 and Luke 4: 1 -13.

[6] The Reverend Dr. David Lose. Lent 1 C: Identity Theft, Luke 4: 1-13 found at http://www.davidlose.net/2016/02/lent-1-c-identity-theft

 

[7] The Reverend Joseph S. Harvard. “WHO ARE YOU?” A sermon preached on February 29, 2004 at First Presbyterian Church, Durham, North Carolina. Based on Deuteronomy 26:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13.

The Opposite of Worry

Deuteronomy 8:7-18
Matthew 6:25-33

 

6: 25“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:25-33, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: O God, in your Son Jesus Christ you richly bless us with all that we need, bread from the earth and the bread of heaven, which gives life to the world. Grant us one thing more: grateful hearts to sing your praise, in this world and the world to come. Amen.

 

The world has changed a great deal since the time of Jesus. Think of all the technology we have that the people of biblical times did not, electricity, heat and air conditioning, cars and air planes, smart phones, the changes are too numerous to count. Other things have changed as well like our understanding of poverty, wealth, and life expectancy are much different today than they were over 2000 years ago.

 

One huge difference in our time and biblical times is the media. We are constantly bombarded with images and messages that encourage us to consume.  Buy this car and have a better life, buy this food and feel this good.  These messages define our sense of happiness.  On the flip side, these messages can make us feel unhappy with the actual life we have in the hope that we will buy and consume more.  Our media age can also show the harsh reality of our world.  We see everything today.  We live in constant fear of terror attacks and violence across the world.  As a result, we live with conflicting messages and concerns that distract us and divide our loyalties.  We seek security and stability but we can’t help but be worried about our future.

 

This current state of affairs causes a degree of pause when we read a passage like this one from the Gospel of Matthew.  Here, Jesus tells us not to worry about our life.

 

When someone tells me not to worry or to relax it usually doesn’t help, in fact it mostly makes it worse.   So, on this Thanksgiving Eve it is easy to hear Jesus words as a nice little self-help message, “Don’t worry be happy!”   Worry and anxiety are serious and no joking matter.   How do his words help?  Don’t they just heap guilt on us?  Of all Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, this is one of the more difficult ones to understand.   Jesus’ words seem so out of touch with our world and our time.  The implication of Jesus’ message is that the material aspects of our lives, ought not to be taken so seriously and all of life can be completely entrusted to God who loves us and cares for us. It is much easier said than it is done.

 

Worry may be the signature human condition, and its evil twin anxiety is a hallmark of our time.  Current research estimates reveal that 40 million adults in the United States are afflicted by some form of anxiety and that 12 percent of those people are debilitated by their anxiety.  Anxiety is the sign of our times…so, Jesus words about worry hit home but do they take the problem seriously enough?

 

I don’t think that Jesus is calling us all to abandon our lives and move to the desert to join a monastery or to empty our savings accounts and cash out our 401(k)s.  Instead, Jesus is addressing the basis for excessive worry and anxiety that can result from a life separated from God.   He is suggesting living by a different set of values.  Excessive worrying about ourselves and our lives takes us away from our relationship with God.   It just exacerbates that feeling that it is all up to us.   We do feel alone and lonely and overwhelmed so we worry and worry some more.   Just prior to this discussion about worrying, Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters.”  You can’t serve God and wealth.”  And, you can’t serve God and worrying.  Worrying becomes the all-consuming idol who takes all our energy and focus.  When we spend so much energy worrying about the things we worry about, we are taking away from our faith and trust in God.

 

When Jesus says don’t worry about your life, he is basically saying that we have two options for the way to live.  We can choose to worry about all the things that might happen and worry ourselves silly.  Or we can choose to trust that God is in control and put our lives in God’s hands.  Again, I know it is easier said than it is done.  But we all have to figure out how to remind ourselves over and over that God is in control.  So, Jesus reminds us that life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.

 

Joe, was a worrier. He worried about work and money and providing for his family and educating his children.  He worried a lot. Joe became sick. Feeling anxious over the poor state of his body compounded his illness and annoyed his family members.  Joe was consumed in a black cloud.  One day wife, Karen suggested that he get out of himself and do something for someone else.  And soon he forced himself to go local retirement home to visit some people.  Overtime he began to worry less and even though his illness got worse his worry didn’t.  He began to see each day as a gift. A strange thing happened the sicker he became the more grateful he became.  At his funeral, his family said that his life changed when he began to see life through the lens of gratitude.  He was grateful for all God had given to him and the blessing that each day was.

 

Gratitude does not come easily, especially when we are caught in the grip of worry.  Looking a life through a lens of gratitude is not a sudden conversion.  It comes through a slow turning, turning away from worry by intentionally looking for something, anything, to give thanks to God.  In the midst of worry, it can be a real stretch.  Jesus understood this.  So, he gives simple and common examples: a bird, a flower, a blade of grass. Anything will do: a breath of air, a friend’s hug, a child’s laugh, a dog’s loyalty, a glass of water. It is the small step of moving out of self to notice something or someone beyond the self that matters.

 

This small step leads to huge results.  It leads to finally getting what Jesus is trying to tell us: everything is God’s, and God is eagerly waiting to give us more and more – if only we would allow it.  Jesus wants us to notice what is in front of us, to believe that God is present and to be thankful.  Gratitude, the opposite of worry and fear allows us to see God’s abundance. Look at the birds of the air, consider the lilies of the field. Jesus wasn’t being idealistic; he was being practical. God will take care of you and me.  Happy Thanksgiving! Amen

I Will, With God’s Help

Deuteronomy 18:15–20
Psalm 111
Mark 1:21–28

 

1:21“They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.” (Mark 1:21–28, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: God of all wisdom and authority, you sent Jesus Christ to save us. Heal us, cleanse us, deliver us, and cast out the evil within us so that we may know your Word and heed your new teaching; through Christ, your Holy One. Amen.

 

Today is a big day. Sure it is super bowl Sunday when all the world will watch to see if the Patriots will try to deflate the Seahawks. It is also Volunteer Sermon Sunday and it is the day we ordain, install and commission our newly elected Vestry Session members. It is a big day.

 

It was also a big day on that Sabbath Day so long ago when Jesus entered the Synagogue and he taught. The Gospel of Mark tells us that the congregation was astounded at his teaching. Just like you are every week when Heather and I preach! When all of the sudden the scene shifts to a man described as being filled with an unclean spirit, or what we would called possessed.  A fight of spiritual proportions breaks out. Notice that it does not last very long and Jesus is clearly victorious. So, why is this the scripture and sermon for today?  A big day in the life of our church?

 

I find it very interesting that this confrontation with a possessed man is the first act of Jesus’ public ministry in the Gospel of Mark. The other gospels present a very different beginning for Jesus.  In Matthew, Jesus is portrayed as a teacher and as the fulfillment of the law. In the Gospel of John, Jesus miracles usher in his ministry as he creates unexpected and unimaginable abundance. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is portrayed as the liberator, the one who sets the captives free, he heals the sick, and he proclaims good news to the poor and the Lord’s favor to all. But the Gospel of Mark ushers in Jesus ministry with a fight as he confronts and casts out the unclean spirit.

 

This confrontation is a signal that Jesus has come to clash with all the forces that keep the children of God from the abundant life God wants for all of us.

 

That is the underlying message I take from this story. God does not want these things to possess us. Things that are real and difficult and life threatening and soul robbing and mood altering. Things that are subtle but no less destructive and spiritually deadly. Things like – anger, fear, workaholism, affluenza, substance abuse…. Things that possess us

 

Please don’t in any way hear me making light of these struggles because I deal with them too and I know that they are strong and powerful and can keep me from being fully that child of God I was created to be. I am not naive to believe or to suggest that with just the right prayer or well worded liturgy or healing touch that any of this things that can possesses us will magically vanish.

 

I believe that Mark is presenting Jesus as the one who is uniquely authorized, commissioned, or empowered to call attention to these possessive powers and the agent to disempower them. Jesus is the one to do it and as Mark shows he is not passive but instead he is intrusive.  He breaks down old boundaries and he sets free people from the powers that afflict us. He is the one to share the promise that God does not want these things for us, the church, or the whole of creation.

 

This story describes God as the God of the broken, and to be a member of Jesus’ disciples then or now is the ability to realize our deep need for and trust that Jesus has come to meet it.

 

But it is not a once and done kind of thing.  Jesus doesn’t conquer that one demon in us and leave us alone. Because you know what? That demon might rear its ugly head or something else will take its place. It’s a lifelong process of Jesus coming in and reminding us over and over and over that Jesus does not want these things to possess us. And there is another piece of this too. Once we realize who Jesus is and what he’s about we are compelled, called, commissioned to use our gifts and talents to help others in their life journeys…

 

So as we commit ourselves to something this Volunteer pledge season pay attention to where God might be needing you to serve, give your time, your talents, your energy, your imagination, your love and your prayers.

 

Later in the service we will ordain, install and commission our members of Vestry Session, the leaders whom you elected to serve and to lead us. Heather and I will ask them some questions, (you can read them they are an insert in your bulletin). Some of the questions they can answer, yes or no, but others are impossible for any human being to achieve. So, they will have to answer, “I will with God’s help.”

 

And so as you think of those places of brokenness or disappointment or fear in your lives, this is a good answer as you face those particular challenges “I will with God’s help.” This story reminds us that God does not stay away from us because we face these challenges or deal with shortcomings. No, instead, God draws nearest to us precisely in these moments as we face them and deal with them. God is still at work casting out the unclean spirits of the world, and God is healing of our possessions so that we can join our Lord and get to work.

 

Let us pray: We praise and worship you, O Gracious God. You have the power to save us, free us and call us to yourself. Amen.

Free to Give

Deuteronomy 34:1-12
Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17
Romans 8:31-39
Matthew 22:34-46

 

8: 31”What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31-39, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: Lord of life, we worry about the things we do not understand and cannot control. Remind us today to look to your Word for peace. So, that we may be reminded of the great joy in Paul’s words, that you will not let anything come between you and us. As we wait for that glorious day when you call us home, may we wait with joy filled hearts. This we pray in Jesus name. Amen.

 

Today is Stewardship Commitment Sunday.  And I had a sermon all prepared for today but then life happened….I was going to talk about how great it is that we have surpassed our budget and that we are overflowing with money, so much so that we have given our abundance to the poor, the hungry, the homeless and the sick. And that out of our abundance we have ended homelessness in Cincinnati, we have fed every hungry child in Hamilton County, Butler, Clermont and Warren Counties, and that all the hospitals in our region are empty because illness and disease are no more.  But you know I can’t preach that fantasy because we all know reality, and we know that life happens…

 

So this week, life happened and as you have all heard the Bishop has announced that we are ready for the next step in our life as a congregation and that Reverend Anne Wrider who has served us well. First as our Interim Episcopal Priest and for the last four years as our Episcopal priest—in—charge. We learn this news with mixed emotions; excited that we are healthy and prepared for the next step in our life as a congregation to embark on the process of seeking our next rector.  We are grateful for Anne’s service and leadership.  So life has happened, while this news is a shock to the system, it is something we must deal with.

 

Change happens all the time, some change we celebrate and other change we resist. It happens in every aspect of life and it happens to all of us, so what is important is how we respond.  How we get up and dust ourselves off and move on with the plan, the mission, and life.

 

So, my first I thought oh no, not today!  This isn’t the best day for stewardship…but then I realized it is an ideal day for Commitment Sunday.  It is about our response to God for all that God has done for all the world and more specifically for each of us in our lives.  By extension Stewardship is our response to life when it happens…The Bishop sees what is good and healthy here at Indian Hill Church and he witnessed that first hand on his visit October 7. So there is something good, strong and healthy going on here, it is a time to respond by be thankful. Thanking God for our health and strength.

 

I want you to know that our response to this change begins with the incredible staff we have in place and have the pleasure of working with. Karen, our church secretary, offers her warm and caring presence to visitors and others doing business here at the church.  Her calm and caring voice offers support to people who call the church looking for help or support.  We are blessed to have Brenda, such a talented and gifted musician as she serves us as our Music Director and Organist. Music is so important to worship and we are blessed to have Brenda to lead us and direct the choir in our worship and praise of God.  Barb, keeps our financial records and books and she faithfully monitors our financial situation. She pays the churches bills and keeps our pledges and giving straight each and every week.

 

The enthusiasm and energy around our children and youth ministry is so much fun to witness.  We are so blessed to have Michelle and Jennifer. Last week we held our first re{Discover} where parents joined with their children in Confirmation Class to dig deeper into matters of faith. Our children’s ministry is exploding with children and were are so blessed to have Jennifer coordinating and leading this vital ministry for the life and well-being our Church.

 

So, our response to change is to keep on doing the mission and ministry that God has called us to do and be the hospitable and caring congregation God has called us to be and to give thanks for the ways in which we see God at work in our world.

 

The word steward comes from the Greek word, “oikos”, which means house.   The concept of stewardship is to take care of the house, the things of household, whether it is money, worship, the building and grounds, the music, our people, the people of our community, the people of the world, the health and well-being of the earth.  God has entrusted all of these to us.

 

As God’s people, we are called to take care for these gifts are from God.  We are called to support God’s church and its ministry.  In the Old Testament scriptures, Israel was to give a tenth (“tithe”) of their income to support the ministry. This practice still continues within the church today as a baseline for giving.

 

Giving to the church is a commitment. Commitment is an investment of oneself.

 

Commitment is what this text from Romans 8 is all about. The Apostle Paul tells us how committed God is in this relationship: If God is for us, who is against us?  It may be the most comforting passage in the bible.  It is the one I turn to whenever life happens and change comes. It is the one I turn to in good times and bad.  It is the one I hang my faith on.  Nothing, nothing in all of life or death can separate us from the love of God.

 

Now that is commitment. God is committed to us no matter how sinful and broken we are.  He will not let anything in life or death come between us and him through the love of his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Not our commitment but God’s commitment to creation, to you and me.  Commitment is another word for a pledge or promise; engagement; and involvement.

 

The Bible is full of God’s promises.  First, God promises to be there for us in times of trouble.  We can count on God being there to strengthen us and carry us through difficult times.  God doesn’t promise to keep us from difficult times, but God gives us the strength to endure, to triumph, to be more than a conqueror over those things which would otherwise defeat us.

 

The second promise of God is that God is with us. In the midst of all the troubles, we can be sure that God is with us. We live in that hope and that expectation that no matter how dark it may seem, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, that God will bring something wonderful to pass.

 

The third thing that God promises, in addition to being there in times of trouble, God promises this: he promises that he will never stop loving you.  No matter what you’ve done, no matter what mess you’ve gotten into, God will not stop loving you.

 

Paul has been giving us different examples of God’s commitment to his people through relationship with us. Paul lifts up Christ as the ultimate example of God’s commitment.  God sent his only begotten son, Jesus, to save the world.  Christ humbled himself even to the point of death, death on a cross, so we might have life.  Now that is commitment!

 

How will we respond to God who keeps his promises, who is fully committed to us? God who promises, “I will be with you. I will be your refuge and your strength.” Even in the midst of all the terrible things of our lives, all the heartbreak, all the suffering, God is with us and God will bring something good out of the tragedies, out of the pain, out of the sufferings, out of the darkness.

 

What will you give in gratitude to God?

 

Let us pray: Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness to us. We thank you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ.  And, we pray, that you will give us an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may respond with praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to your service; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Remember to Give Thanks

April 27, 2014 (Easter 2)

Deuteronomy 8:6-18

John 20:19-31

 

8: 6 “Therefore keep the commandments of the Lord your God, by walking in his ways and by fearing him. 7For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, 8a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, 9a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. 10You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you. 11 Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. 12 When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15 who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, 16 and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. 17 Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.” (Deuteronomy 8:6-18, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: Almighty and everlasting God, increase our faith, hope, and charity; that we may obtain that which you promise, and help us to love your command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

 

Picture a dad, a mom, a grandparent; whoever it might be giving instructions to a high school graduate who is preparing to head off to college.

 

“Now son, remember who you are and where you came from.  Remember all the things we have taught you.  Remember what is right and what is wrong.  When you head off to college, you are going into a new world.  You will have freedom you never imagined.  You can stay up as late as you want.  You can sleep through your classes because no one is there to wake you up.  You can eat what you want. It is freedom unlike any other time in your life.  You will have the freedom to do all these things, but remember who you are and whose you are.”

 

That is the nature I imagine for the speech that Moses gives to the Israelites.  Their journey in the wilderness is finally over.  They have been wandering around for 40 years and now they have arrived.  In those 40 years they relied solely on God.  God provided them manna each morning to eat and water to drink.  But they grumbled loudly and often.  They were tired of manna and they hankered for more.  This is the backdrop for Moses as he is speaking to them.  The Israelites are staring across to the land that God promised to them.  A land flowing with milk and honey.  When Moses offers them some advice.

 

I imagine Moses, their leader, a father figure, standing before them and saying; “Before you head off, remember who you are. You will have choices you never imagined.  Instead of simply manna, you can choose from an array of wheat and barley.  Instead of being thirsty, there is a stream constantly flowing with pure, cold, clean water.  No more will you hunger and thirst.  But before you cross over, before you take that step, remember who you are and whose you are.  Remember God and how God has cared for you all these years.”

 

Just try to picture this large mass of Israelites craving to cross over into this land that had been promised long ago and Moses holding them back.  Moses, there wise leader, treats them like adolescents heading off into freedom.  Like a parent, Moses reminds them that once they enter this land of milk and honey, it will become much harder for them to obey and honor God.  He knows that once they inherit the Promised Land they will be able to eat their fill, they will live in fine houses, they will shepherd large herds and get silver and gold.  They will become wealthy.  But that wealth will come at a cost, because with wealth comes forgetfulness, and there is the danger that they will forget God altogether.

 

Instead of remembering that God provided for their every need, they will say to themselves, “my power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.”  Moses tells them, remember who you are and whose you are.

 

I have been serving with you for just over three months now, and I am learning about the history, tradition and commitment of the Indian Hill Church and while it may not look or feel that we are standing on the edge of the Promised Land, I want to offer some encouragement that we really are.

 

In some ways we are always one step away from the land God has promised.  We are looking into the future God has given us.  With God’s blessing there are great things on the horizon, here at the Indian Hill Church.

 

What greater gift could you give than the gift of your time, even if it is only one hour?  This year we are asking everyone to volunteer and to volunteer for one new activity.  This is a great way to make new friends and to build our relationship with one another and the community in which we serve.

 

Ministries outside our church

  • With God’s blessing, and your giving of your time and resources men in the Hamilton County Jail are visited and given bibles, youth in the Hamilton County Youth Center are visited and have someone to talk to through the 20/20 program.

 

  • With God’s blessing, and your giving of your time and talents inner city residents are receiving paid on the job training and help to overcome obstacles to pursuing and maintaining stable employment through Venice on Vine.

 

  • With God’s blessing, and your giving of your time and talents, Inter Parrish Ministry provides food and services for needy residents in Claremont County.

 

  • With God’s blessing, and your giving of your time and talents we host homeless families in our church through Interfaith Hospitality Network.

 

  • With God’s blessing, and your giving of your time and talents MEAC Madisonville Education and Assistance Center provides nutritious dinners for needy families in the Madisonville area on Monday evenings throughout the year.

 

  • With God’s blessing, and your giving of your time and talents, we are helping Matthew 25: Ministries to provide nutritional food to the hungry, clean water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, affordable housing to the homeless, medical care to the ill and humanitarian supplies to the poorest of the poor.

 

  • With God’s blessing, and your giving 2 youth from our congregation Avondale Ecumenical Consortium Summer Program provide enrichment in basic skills of writing, math, reading, computer, and recreational activities with children from the inner city children in grades 3-5.

 

 

Ministries inside our church

  • With God’s blessing, and your giving of your time and talents there is a joyful noise from our choir, hand bells and organ in care of our talented Music Director Brenda Waugh and the music ministry of our church.

 

  • With God’s blessing, and your giving of your time and talents, we have acolytes, LEM’s, readers and a beautifully appointed sanctuary in which to worship God each week.

 

  • With God’s blessing, and your giving of your time and talents, our children our learning the faith through Jennifer Taylor’s leadership you are teaching, acting and making the bible stories exciting for our children.

 

  • With God’s blessing, and your giving, of your time and talents, our youth are deepening their faith through Michelle VanOudenallen’s leadership and the work of our adult advisors and youth mentors are being confirmed.

 

  • With God’s blessing, and your giving, of your time and talents, the hard work of Karen Pauly and Barb Huffman and church members like you committees are making the church go, improving the buildings and grounds and providing help for those in need in our midst.

 

  • With God’s blessing and your giving, the word of God is proclaimed and the love of Jesus Christ is shared.

 

This is our community of faith that has faithfully proclaimed the love of Jesus Christ in this village since Thanksgiving Morning 1957.   But, just like the Israelites, we did not start the journey of this congregation, many dear saints laid the foundation of this church and faithfully responded to God’s blessings.

 

They responded, they remembered, and they gave.

They gave,

Their money,

Time,

Talents

And thanks for all that God did for them.

 

Just like the Israelites, we are about to enter a new land full of many blessings that are not of our own making.  They are gifts of God, blessings from God, provisions from God.

 

Take this as our reminder to remember all that God has done for us and to give thanks.

 

It is our job is to give back.

 

To say thanks.

 

To say we remember who we are and whose we are.

When you and I know and acknowledge that it is God who blesses us, then life is far different than when we think we earned it all on our own.  When you and I acknowledge that God is the owner and we are stewards then we can worship God and enjoy life.  If we think it all belongs to us, then we spend much of our life rationalizing, arguing, hoarding and trying to hold on to what we think is ours.  Life is not enjoyed.

 

So, you see that volunteering is really about God and what God has done for us, and our response is to give back.

 

Today, we have the opportunity to faithfully response with our commitment of our time, our talent and our commitment to the Lord.

 

Your giving will meet the needs of our neighbors, your giving will teach the faith to our children, your giving will help to maintain this gorgeous sanctuary, your giving will keep the choir singing and the organ playing, and the hand bells ringing, your giving will enable the sick, the homebound, the lonely to be visited, the Word of God to be proclaimed and the good news of Jesus Christ to reach the least, the last and the lost. Your act of volunteering and your great generosity of your time is a tangible sign of thankfulness to God.

 

I invite you to come, share your gifts and your talents and your time to make a difference in the name of Jesus Christ.  And remember God and always give thanks.

 

Let us pray:Living God, long ago, faithful women proclaimed the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, and the world was changed forever. Teach us to keep faith with them, that our witness may be as bold, our love as deep, and our faith as true. Amen.