Reflections Upon the Sunday School Lessons Uniform Sunday School Lessons Teacher: Esther Kletsch
Feb 17, 2019 Theme: Pur Mighty God Scripture: Psalm 66
Fire and Water
The lesson for last Sunday was Psalm 66. Upon first reading this psalm seems to express the self-contentment of one who is convinced of their own self-righteousness. They are eager to inform everyone that they have played by the rules and done what would be expected of a faithful and pious soul. Read from that perspective, the psalm offends rather than inspires Nobody enjoys listening to someone brag about how good they have been.
There is so much more in this psalm. Right in the middle of the psalm the author suggests that they have been tested severely in their lives. The psalmist knows that life has not been easy. Just the opposite of this is true. They have paid their dues. Their life has been very difficult. They have experienced trials of every kind. This is affirmed in the middle of this psalm. Listen to how the psalmist puts it:
10) For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. 11) You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our back; 12)you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.
Fire and water symbolize the extremes of human endurance. Nothing tests us, finally, like the destructive force of fire and water. Using these symbols, the author is not talking literally about fire or water. The authors is referring to the entire range of difficult tests and challenges that we must go through and answer to in our lives. As fire and water could be thought of as opposites, they serve here as symbols of extreme situations that test us. It is like saying, " I have known hardships of every kind, from one end to the other, and everything in between."
The high sounding pious affirmations in this psalm are not the self-satisfied declarations of one who feels like he or she is better than us. Rather they are the deep conviction of one who understands that they have come through the hard tests of life, of everything from fire to water, only because God was there, all along; to help, to guide, to rescue and to save. Pastor Joel
Feb 10, 2019 Theme: Our Loving God Scripture: Psalm 48:1-3, 9-14
Measuring the Holy City and the Temple
An important principle of biblical study is to regard with heightened appreciation those things which are repeated. Some important themes and ideas recur repeatedly. These we should give extra thought and consideration.
One theme which is repeated is the act of measuring the temple or Holy City. In Psalm 48, the psalmist is directed to walk around the Holy City, considering the walls , defenses and counting the towers. This activity of measuring will renew faith in God's providential care both in the present and the future. We are reassured by what we can see, touch and measure.
The act of measuring is a favored theme in the Bible, It occurs in Ezekiel, where in a vision, an angel measures the temple. It occurs in Zechariah. We find it in two places in Revelation where it is ordered that the temple be measured and then the City of Heaven is measured as the culmination of God's ultimate plan for humanity.
In difficult times of change or peril, you can tell someone not to be afraid. That usually doesn't work. If someone has to tell you not to be afraid, you probably need to be afraid.
A better approach is to invite someone who is afraid to come out of their fear and see the reality and dimensions of those concrete things in our lives that we can depend on, take stock of those solid, knowable and dependable resources we have in our lives. We have the example of those who have lived before us, of challenges mastered in the past, of our present friendships, of what we know to be true, the force of our convictions, the power of prayer and of faith. Regard those things. Measure them. Don't dismiss the obvious things around you.
Today, it you need help, there are many ways to turn, You can go to church for understanding, insight and prayer. You will find people who will listen and forgive. If you are in need, there are a myriad of resources, including mental health professionals who will give aid. We give away too much of our power to our fears and not enough credit to all the concrete steps we can take, and the resources available which render aid.
Guess what? If you seek out aid you will find people who have gone through the very thing you are facing. Get help. You are not alone. The computer and internet machine are excellent places to connect with the right resources. Get busy.
Take stock of what you have going for you. God will help us in this. The thing we need to do, like Psalmist, is to go out and measure and count what we have going for us in the environment in which we live. That and our faith are our ultimate security. Pastor Joel P.S. If you are in need, you may contact us on our Contact Page, call us or visit the Community Resource page within this website for more help ideas. You don't need to be alone. Better yet, come visit us on Sunday. Editor
Theme: Press on in Christ Scripture: Philippians 3:1-16
Addition through Subtraction
Paul includes in chapter 3 of this beautiful letter to the Church with a paradox. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (v. 7,8) Paul uses the contrasting notions of gain and loss as a way to discuss his growth in faith. Of course he understands the working of gain and loss in his life. His life before his conversion became a loss gladly accepted in view of the exceeding gain he knew after his conversion. A wonderful trade-off. The fortuitous grand bargain. Yes, he must have thought, I will gladly give up whatever I had become for everything in Christ I now am.
The call for growth in our spiritual lives could well follow this principle of gain and loss. We instinctively think of what we might gain or add to our lives to make things better. We add activities, pursuits, busyness, material gain and whatever else the heart desires in order to add to our life. But that addition might end up subtracting from a sense of those basic, simple, noncomplicated moments of quiet or peace or connection with others that are passing us by. Our lives are lost in variousness, distraction and divided passions.
One eventually finds, as I think Paul finally did, that there is a fullness of grace ready to pour into our hears when we slow down, calm down, and just receive it. Paul writes this letter, it is believed, while in prison. Gone were all his freedom, material benefit, the reputation he had fought so hard to maintain. But in this situation of loss, he finds his greatest gain. It was right there, so close, so accessible all the time.
I think we all just need to take a chill pill. We need to look around and see all the good God has put so near us and just simply lose ourselves in wonder. Pastor Joel
Jan 20, 2019 Scripture: Philippians 2:1-11 Theme: God Uses the Humble
Humility is something prized among the virtues associated with our faith. Monks who follow the Rule of St. Benedict take humility as one of the chief virtues. Chapter 7 of the Rule is entirely devoted to humility. That is what Christian life is all about, a striving after perfection, a following and imitation of Christ, who, meek and humble of heart, loved us with an unfailing and redeeming love.
Humility is the "foundation of prayer." If we who are called by God to a life of prayer do not cultivate humility, then we fail in the work God has given to us. Saint Augustine, has stated, "Man is a beggar before God."
The Lord chose a special person to be king of Israel at a very important time. At the time the search was taking place, we read the following: But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7
God chose a very special person to be the mother of the savior of the world. And of this woman it has been spoken. "He has regarded the humility of his handmaid; and behold all generations will call me blessed."
Humility is a great gift. The scriptures time and time again relate how God loves the humble. From Zephaniah, "Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth, who have observed his law; seek justice, seek humility;" and "I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly, who shall take refuge in the name of the Lord: the remnant of Israel."
And from Psalm 146, "The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down." The virtue of humility is the foundation of a strong, Christian faith and witness. Pastor Joel
January 20, 2019 Theme: Rejoice in All Circumstances Scripture: Philippians 1:12-21
Strength and Courage from one Another Paul is writing his beloved friends in Philipppi. The Christian community established there was the first church in Europe. Paul refers to these beloved friends affectionately as brothers and sisters. There is a warmth and a connection between Paul and this church conveyed in this letter.
It is important to note that Paul is writing this, it is believed by at least some scholars, from Rome near the end of his life. Paul exhorts this church to maintain joy and courage throughout whatever trials they may know.
It may seem unlikely to maintain jot throughout all the trials and challenges of life, but one important secret in doing so is expressed in this book. It is evident that Paul considers this church like family. And that is the secret to courage and joy. We do not need to go it alone in our Christian journey. In every community, small and large, there are Christians gathered to worship and serve. We know that when we are a part of this larger group, we actually can have joy and courage in the face of hardship. In a church there are people who pray for us and with us. There are Christians who provide wonderful support and comfort when we are needing that. There are friends there whose lives inspire us with the power and possibilities of Christian faith. We do not go it alone. We have strength in one another.
January 13, 2019 Theme: Submit to God Scripture: James 4:1-10
James is a letter written to early Jewish Christians living outside Palestine in various regions of the Roman world, particularly in Asia Minor. The culture in those regions would be decidedly hellenistic in language and belief. Living in those regions would impose challenges and hardships upon those with varying cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds. I am sure many of these challenges would involve economic hardship and increased difficulty in social advancement.
Therefore, I believe this letter is sent as an encouragement to those who are poor. James advances the theme of envy as a threat to the spiritual well-being of these early Christians. They might look around them at others, of different beliefs, having a much easier time of advancing their social and economic interests, and being therefore tempted to relinquish aspects of their own faith to fit in and advance. The epistle acknowledges the power of envy to knock us off our fundamental commitments in following Christ in advancing spirituality amidst the struggles of life.
Envy is a pervasive issue in the Bible. Envy is there as the root of human violence and destruction. Cain and Able, or Jacob and Esau are early examples. Envy is a sin that must be acknowledged and repented of in our lives as well. Envy leads us to surrender to superficial, wordly values, forgetting who we are, abandoning our gifts, talents and beliefs, and living a life vulnerable to external forces rather than inner spiritual resolve. Envy cuts like a knife into family, marriage, business, and church relationships. Envy is a denial of each of us being made into the image of God. Envy propels us into materialistic competition and futile division. In other words, envy is bad, Trust in God is good.
We are reassured that if we reach out for God's help in restoring our humanity from the disfiguring effects of envy, God all lift us up.
Jan 6, 2019 Theme: Walk in Love Scripture: 2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5, 2 John 4-11
Loving One Another We are summoned to Paul's admonition in both of these letters to walk in love. As stated in 2 John 6: And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning--you must walk in it.
But what is love and what does it require? For myself, guidance has been provided in Eric Fromm's book, The Art of Loving. (1956) The title of the book is a deliberate comment on the ancient Roman writer, Ovid, who wrote The Art of Love. Fromm wanted to draw a contrast between Ovid's manual regarding how we make ourselves more attractive to others in order to be loved, and Fromm's own view of what love involves.
Fromm believed that love was not some magical, mysterious power that comes over us. Neither was love something we could entice from others by making ourselves attractive or desirable. Love was the work, skill, discipline, insight, courage, faith and humility needed to love others. Loving was a skill. It was something to be learned and nurtured. Love is not easy or magical. It does not arise from wishful thinking. It requires the full resources of the human personality. Love is not about making yourself desirable to others. It is about the employment of sophisticated human resources that are needed to love others.
Fromm's book is absolutely essential to read, understand and appreciate.
Our culture, particularly our industries of advertising and entertainment, persuade that to find love we must possess those qualities that makes us lovable. In contrast to this we have the example of Jesus. We see how he loved. We see him loving those who were not at all lovable. He desired not so much to be loved, but to love others. That was the important matter of his last talk with Peter.
Isaiah prophesied that Messiah would not draw us by means of external qualities of attraction. In fact it was quite the opposite as found here is Isaiah 53 (NRSV)
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.
When we look up and see the man on the cross, we don't see a person desperate to be loved, but a man who was desperate to love us. Pastor Joel
December 30, 2018 Theme: Love God and Serve Others Scripture: Matthew 25
Matthew's gospel moves towards its conclusion here in this chapter. Jesus is offering up a final teaching to his disciples as he moves to the cross. The teaching involves the Last Judgement, when Jesus shall return in glory to separate the sheep and the goats.
This judgement, will be founded upon how each individual has responded to those in particular need. We have here the special needs of those in distress, including those in prison, those who are without clothing, the thirsty, the sick and the stranger.
The principle Jesus illustrates in this teaching is a solid, ancient prophetic message. It is similar to many such statements such as that found in Micah 6:6-8
'With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first born for my transgressions, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?' He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
You can go to church four times per week, sing out on the hymns and serve on five committees, but if you fail to respond in some way to desperate human need in the world around you, then your faith is not real. I guess that is the message here.
But I would caution anyone who gets upset wondering if they have really ever done enough good in this troubled world to merit the favor of God. No amount of good works or righteous conduct can ever merit the favor of God or purchase the ticket to heaven, We are saved by grace. Period. End of sentence.
Now quite naturally, when grace is in your heart, it will show in how you live in this world of need. Salvation is not predicated on doing good or being good, We can't earn it or deserve it anymore than anyone can.
The famous passage in the 25th chapter of Matthew is useful not so much in showing us what we have to do to be saved. Its more relevant value is in showing us what and whom God cares about. And, if God's grace is alive in us, then this grace will guide us toward living out some kind of compassion for those in need.
Besides, we may think we are better off than those who are sick, in prison, or whatever. But when it comes down to it, we are all in the same boat as those who are in distress, because, equally, we are all in need of God's grace. No one more than another. Those who are sick, or troubled, or treated like strangers are all just pictures of our own absolute dependence on God's grace and help. There is no difference in that need, We are all in the same boat. Pastor Joel.
December 23, 2018 Theme: Quirinius, Governor of Syria Scripture: Luke 2
A Small Detail in Luke's History of the Birth of Christ
Lukes's account of the birth of Christ begins with a short history lesson. We find it in the first verses of Luke's second chapter: 1) In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2) This was the fist registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
There is legitimate exegetical debate about when this census took place. Regardless of the historical circumstances, I believe Luke had a theological purpose in his rendering of events.
Quirinius, Governor of Syria, was a Roman aristocrat and political operator. He is known to the ages not for any of his power or influence, but because he happened to be associated with the birth of a peasant child in Bethlehem. I guess we should allow God to figure out who is really important in this world, and why.
Anyway, Quinirius was born in a wealthy family near the city of Rome. He lived a long life. He married twice. His second wife tried to poison him. He was politically ambitious. He tutored a grandchild of Emperor Augustus. He lead military campaigns.
As governor of Syria, he had authority over Judea. As such he ordered a census, a necessary first step to imposing effective taxation. With this action, Quirinius becomes an actor not in the advance of Roman rule but in God's story of salvation.
The administration of taxation was, not surprisingly, very unpopular and led to the organization of opposition groups including the Zealots. Opposition led then to revolt and then to disastrous warfare.
Jesus was born in the real world. Luke's historical prelude to the birth of Jesus declares that the world he lived in would be very much like the one we live in. Political turmoil is an unmistakable, recurring consequence of human pride, conflict and lust for power.
The consequences of our destructive folly are not the only factors in our lives and fate. God is putting God's hand on our lives and our history. That is the glory and everlasting hope of the narrative of the brith of Christ in Luke. Pastor Joel
December 16, 2018 Theme: Love and Worship God Scripture: Psalm 103:1-17, 21, 22
Beyond the Present Day
I believe one of the most important benefits the Bible shows us is a life lived in anticipation of greater things. Blessed are those who live in hope. They are resilient people. They are able to look beyond the present situation toward a future in which God's promises will be more fully revealed.
Rereading Genesis recently reminded me of how many times the promises of God were restated again and again in every generation. The narrative of the patriarchs is pulled along by the force of this future hope. They keep moving along, through their mistakes, tragedies and set-backs, always towards this promise of a better day. Genesis is the revelation of the power of hope. Oftentimes, along the way in this story, the hope seems lost and the promise undone. Yet the miracle of human faith finds a way through to a reappropriation of the ancient promise. The power of the promise of better days is never defeated.
Psalm 103 is a beautiful statement of the power of God at work in our lives. God has power to heal, forgive, redeem, restore and renew. I believe that is the case. However, the full reality of the promise of these blessings await a future fulfillment. Not all of what Psalm 103 describes is every really completed fulfilled in the present. Psalm 103 is a promise for the future. These are hopes of fulfillment set before us like the promise of a future land and people given to Abraham. Plasm 103 looks as much to the future as it does describe our current situation.
The joy of our Christian faith is to live toward always increasing hope that align us and guide us toward a future that exists beyond the present day. Pastor Joel
December 9, 2018 Theme: Love and Serve God Scripture: Joshua 24
Choose This Day Home You Will Serve
The First twelve chapters detail the securing of the promised land through warfare and divine help. The next chapters outline the distribution of this land among the twelve tribes of Israel. In the last chapter of this book, Joshua, the leader of the people, calls upon all the tribes to promise their devotion and faithfulness to the God who released them from slavery, sustained them in the wilderness and now leads them into the future in the promised land.
There are times in our lives when making decisions becomes very hard. Career path, relationship issues, doing the right thing when it is not popular, choosing between competing values, standing up for those who have suffered wrong or need our help. Our modern life is a maze of choices that need to be made.
I have found that it is easier to make these choices once a foundation of values and commitments has been established. Sometimes we have to remember who we are, what we believe in, what we value and were we have come from. This day, on the verge of a new life in the promised land, Joshua calls all the people to establish a strong connection and faithfulness to the God of Israel.
In a like moment in our lives, we need to continually remind ourselves of our values and commitments to the God of Israel and our call to follow Jesus. Pastor Joel
December 2, 2018 Theme: Love and Obey God Scripture: Deuteronomy 6:1-9
Shema Shema is the first word of Deuteronomy 6:4 "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might."
These words are recited in contemporary Jewish worship. The use in private devotions was as a statement of faith to be recited at night. The Bible instructs the faithful to recite these words in the morning and in the evening. It goes on to urge parents to teach these words to their children.
Jesus, when asked what was the most important commandment in the Law, replied by quoting the Shema (Matthew 23:34ff) extending the command with an additional command: to love one's neighbor as oneself.
The Shema can be a transformative prayer. It can empower and guide us to live a life of significance and positive influence. It is primarily through our own adherence to these principles that we show the world that our faith is real. Pastor Joel
November 25, 2018 Theme: God's Blessing Scripture: Genesis 30:22-32, 43
The first book of the Bible might well be thought of as the story of God's blessing. The critical role of the blessing comes to full expression in the lives of the three Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jacob in particular lives his life in pursuit of and possession of this blessing. The blessing is God's gift. But in the story of Jacob, the blessing is obtained often through subterfuge. I guess the message in this is that God's blessing comes to and is expressed in the lives of imperfect, grasping, people.
The blessing in Genesis moves through the lives of these three patriarchs beginning in the 12th chapter and continuing until the concluding chapters of the book. In chapter 49 and following, Jacob, now advanced in age, reaches out and blesses his twelve children and grandchildren. The blessing will move through those who are blessed and out toward the distant horizons of the future. These varied blessings are beautiful.
Marc Chagall, a modern painter, beautifully illustrates these blessings in the last chapter of Genesis. They are contained now in a synagogue located in the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. These windows convey how the blessing of God gives life in all its magnificent variety and splendor.
November 18, 2018 Theme: Jacob's Dream Scripture: Genesis 28
Jacob's Ladder (Stairway)
After the deception of Esau made it necessary for him to flee his home, Jacob stopped for the night on the way to Padam-aram, gathered a stone for a pillow, and lay down to sleep. He dreamed that night of a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. There were angels going up and down on the ladder. Then the Lord spoke and promised the land to him and his descendants. It is a beautiful story of the hope that comes from heaven and revives our spirits in times of trial and upheaval.
There are times in our lives where change and transition come and it feels like we are far away from the familiar supports and comforts of home. A rock for a pillow certainly suggests the discomfort of these moments of change. Israel, in the distant future would know such a time in their exile when, defeated by a hostile foreign power, many were taken to a distant land to live. Those living in time of exile understand this hope of a God who moves with us in and through periods of change, Jacob discovered the truth that God comes to us whenever and wherever we need God to be.
Psalm 139 memorializes this truth: Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there, (7,8)
November 11, 2018 Theme: Jacob's Deception Scripture: Genesis 27:1-28:5
In this passage we encounter the deception Jacob and his mother Rebekah use to secure the blessing of Isaac for Jacob rather than Esau. This scheme echoes a pattern of life Jacob has shown throughout his life. The pattern is so deep in his nature that it is reflected in his name, which is interpreted as meaning, "the supplanter."
It is not useful to overlook the wrongdoing of Jacob in his successful attempt to deceive his father and secure his blessing that was intended for his older brother. Perhaps many might justify his deception as serving a larger purpose in the history of salvation. Others may admire his pursuit of advantage over another through morally questionable means. But wrong is wrong. The deception caused a primal conflict between brothers that would widen historically into violence around nations.
The ethical question arising here is this: It is right to do wrong to do good? You might think of the plight of the powerless or oppressed. Is it right for those who have been trampled on, to employ evil means to redress wrong done to them? Tricky questions.
To interpret this passage it is helpful, in my view, to see it being less about Jacob and his supplanting and deceptive behavior, and more about a sovereign God who works through imperfect people. The heros of the Bible are often conflicted and always imperfect. Yet the story of God's sovereign grace is shown and told in these lives.
November 4, 2018 Theme: Siblings' Rivalry Scripture: Genesis 25:19-34
Fortuitous Rise of the Second-Born
It is a consistent theme throughout the Bible that the second born rises to prominence over the first born. That theme is clearly seen in the birth of Jacob and Esau. Jacob, born as the second twin, battles with his brother even before birth, to secure advantage. The conflict continues through their lives as second-born Jacob rises in power and privilege over his brother.
We repeatedly notice the Bible's tradition of the rise of the second born to great privilege and blessing. As examples of this we may include Cain and Abel, Ephraim and Manasseh as well as Issac and Ishmael. The sorry of the Prodigal's Son in the New Testament also emphasizes the ascendency of the second born over the elder son who fumes over the fuss the father lavishes on the wayward younger son.
Further, if instances of children born later to previously barren women are included, like Samuel or John the Baptist, then this tradition becomes even more compelling. If you go on to include children born later in the family birth order, you can also include King David and Joseph.
Affirming this continuing pattern, we should ask ourselves, "why?" Why does the Bible continues to emphasize the ascendancy of the later-born? I am able to think of two theological affirmations that can be made.
1. God's grace is disruptive. Like the parables of Jesus which upset conventional understandings of who is blessed and who is not, who is included and who is not, who is first and who is not, grace is seen as transforming conventional understandings and attitudes.
2. God favors those who are disadvantaged in some way. The second born in ancient days would tend to be overlooked in conventional understandings of status. God's grace, like the ministry of Jesus, reaches out to those who have been pushed aside or dismissed.
October 28, 2018 Theme: Marriage of Isaac Scripture: Genesis 24
The Kindness of Rebekah
This is a beautiful and detailed account of the arrangement of the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah. Isaac, as is customary of him, plays a passive role in this. A faithful servant of the family is sent off the the original homeland of Abraham to the north to find a wife for Isaac. The journey there is a great distance, but this servant is full of faith and hope.
Upon arrival at the ancestral homeland, the servant stops at a spring for water. There he sees a beautiful woman, which will be the future bride of Isaac. The servant asks of her a drink, which she provides. Then she goes on to water the camels until they all have had enough to drink. The servant is watching carefully as this happens, his faith confirmed that this woman truly is the one God intends to be Isaac's wife.
The story of the initial encounter of the servant and Rebekah is similar to the meeting of Moses with his future wife Zipporah, one of seven children of the priest and and shepherd of Midian. While there, Moses saved the daughters from some shepherds who were up to no good. Moses not only saved them but watered their flock.
In both of these stories we see the operation of kindness. Kindness is the important matter that comes into focus in these stories. For men and women, kindness is the issue.
Kindness is a thoughtful and willing consideration of the needs and feelings of others. Kindness is a key ingredient in human well-being. It is what our faith affirms and promotes. It is that quality that should be most prominent in the life of Christian men and women.
Even if you are having a rotten day, you can still accomplish the good of being kind to another. Then the rotten day can be redeemed by good. Maybe you feel bad, but you did good.
Certainly, kindness comes ultimately from God. Psalm 145:9 declares: The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.
Saint Augustine wrote: He that is kind is free, though he is a slave; he that is evil is a slave, though he be a king.
So, be kind and considerate to one another. Pastor Joel
October 21, 2018 Theme: The Birth of the Promised Son Scripture: Genesis 18:9-15, 21:1-7
Living In Hope Abraham and Sarah were already quite, quite old by the time the promised birth was spoken to them by the visitors sent from God. That is why Sarah laughed when the time came for that promise to be realized. She and her husband had lived most of their lives with this promise out ahead of them, somewhere in the very uncertain future. I especially think of Sarah. This hope of a child seemed lost for most of her life, She watched others around her enter the joy of possessing children, but she was left out.
In the years before the promise came to be, Sarah had to push on with her life, living each day wondering, hoping, doubting, questioning, but always continuing to do what each day demanded of her. All the work of raising a child, and it is considerable, can, and often does seem light because of the bond between mother and child. You see the hope of the growth of a child, the joy of seeing someone progress toward adulthood and become their own unique person. Childless for so many decades, Sara was not a part of that hope and satisfaction. She was left out.
But then the day came when the messengers of God brought the unbelievable news. Sarah laughed. A son would be born to them and a future would open up for her.
I want to lift up in appreciation the many decades Sara lived without a child of her own. I want to lift up everything in her soul that kept her going, living, working, praying and loving all those years in advance of the miracle birth. She never really gave up, however remote the hope of that birth had become for her. She lived through so many challenges, changes and trials. When the one thing you long for is denied, just getting up and through the day can be a challenge.
Sarah kept herself together, year after year, until that fateful day when the strangers of God came and found her and her husband camped outside of Hebron. Good for her! She helped it together as long as she needed to until her faith in God turned into laughter and joy.
Oct 14, 2018 Theme: The Call of Abraham Scripture: Genesis 9-12
Against All Odds Abraham is named Abram by his father Terah. Terah took part of his extended family and courageously traveled the vast distance (in those days) from Ur to Haran to the North. From Haran, Abram is called to continue the journey into the land of Canaan. Abram never really settled down anywhere, but was always a nomad.
He was driven by a promise that he would be the progenitor of a great people and that God would bless him and through him, "all the families of the earth." ( Gen. 12:3)
We have already learned, at the end of the preceding chapter, that Sarai is barren. The promises given Abram are beyond amazing, but the path to their fulfillment is extremely unclear. So, in this story of the "Father of our Faith," we have, one one hand, brilliant hope, and on the other, boundless uncertainty.
Uncertainty and hope: So it is in this story. So it is in our lives. I remember the birth of my son. I could not have been more amazed or grateful at this gift of the miracle of life. Later, after we brought my son home, I would look at him in various moments and feel uncertainty about this new life before me. I wondered about the uncertainty of the future, and how things would be for this baby as he grew and how the world would be in the years to come, and how all the contingencies in life would arise. This experience helps me to understand the central dilemma of human life: hope vs uncertainty.
I believe this is the Bible's portrait of what it means to be alive, I also believe that the Bible shows us the answer: It is faith. Abraham has faith. Now we know that Abraham and his wife experience uncertainty. Faith doesn't banish uncertainty. Faith makes uncertainty manageable and permits us to live our lives in hope.
Oct 7, 2018 Theme: The Righteousness of Noah Scripture: Genesis 6
Few stories in the Bible are as well known as the story of Noah and the Ark. Details of the story are sung and its message of faith is cherished.
The church is frequently conceived as a type of ark. The church holds in safety those who are rescued from a troubled world. The church with its message, mission and fellowship is a saving escape from a perishing world.
The association of the church and the ark is elaborated in great detail by Hugh of St. Victor in De Areca Noc Morali: (Theologian of Mystical Theology --1096-1144). St Victor declared that the ark's height expresses the hierarchy of the Church, its squared beams the learned members of the church, its rooms the many mansions in heaven and the dove the Holy Spirit, and on and on and on. St. Victor found a vast hoard of spiritual insight in Genesis as many theologians have.
The association of the church and the ark continues with church architecture . The area between the narthex and the sanctuary was called the "nave". This word comes from the Latin navis, or ship and was meant to portray the reality that the Church is a ship, protecting those inside from waves and buffets of the world.
For me, the power of this story resides in a theme that runs through the entire scope of scripture. That story is God's salvation of many though a few. At some point in early human history, and several moments along the way, God rescues humanity using either using a single person or a small group. In Genesis 18, Abraham stands before God and pleads that Sodom not be "swept" away if only for the sake of a few righteous people who dwell there. In the course of this argument, God is more than willing to spare the city if only a few righteous people dwell there. Abraham talks God down to 10 before going the argument. We are left to conclude that even if a single person in Sodom was righteous, the city would be spared.
Anyway, it is evident that, for God, the faith of one or two, or ten people can bring about the salvation of many. Ultimately, this principle holds to the time of Christ, were many are saved by the faith of one.
Don't ever, ever, underestimate your faith. It may seem like it ebbs and flows, and sometimes we feel our faith is weak. Other times we may wonder. "Oh, what difference does it make, this matter of my faith." Today we like to talk about "personal faith" as if our faith just sits there with no saving impact on the world around us. Guess what. I don't like the term, personal faith. Our faith has to do with God saving the world and its future. You have faith. It matters. And it is a lot more than merely personal. God uses women and men in their faith to save the world. Pastor Joel
September 30, 2018 Theme: God Confronts Sin Scripture: Genesis 3
So, Adam and Eve share in the sin of rebellion against God, partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil which is in the midst of the Garden of Eden. That was the only stated prohibition, and they could not resist violating it.
It has become a doctrine shared among Catholic and Protestants that this sin is passed on through the generations, so that all are now corrupted. This is called the Doctrine of Original Sin. The concept of Original Sin was developed by St. Augustine in the Fifth Century. Really, it took some four hundred years to come to this doctrine in its present articulation. Some might cynically propose that this doctrine was employed to scare people into the church.
I have heard people argue against this doctrine, asking "How in the world can we think of a baby as being born in any way corrupted by sin?" Those favoring the doctrine may point to the overwhelming and devastating historical witness to the terrible evil human beings are so inclined towards.
Presbyterians may turn to our confessional standards for direction on this matter and will discover a firm insistence on this doctrine when we do. Discussion of Original Sin is found near the beginning of Chapter Six in the Westminster Confession of Faith. It is very harsh. Here is just a bit of our historical understanding of the inevitability of human sin.
They (our first parents Adam and Eve) being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity, descending from them by ordinary generation. iv. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to do evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.
That is not all that is said on this matter, but I think you get the drift. We are in a heap of trouble.
Personally, I just don't know. The doctrine of Original Sin raises perplexing questions. It takes seriously the dire situation of human sin and our inability, unaided, to rise above it. But it does not sufficiently regard the beauty and power of the natural order and our original innocence, So, I don't know.
Be that as it may, we have the grace of God in Christ which may be embraced even as we ponder all the other mysteries of faith and life. Pastor Joel.
September 23, 2018 Theme: God Creates the Family Scripture: Genesis 2:18-24, 4:1,2
After man created, God recognizes that man needs a suitable companion. God creates all the animals and brings them, one by one to this man to name. But none among any of these animals proved an appropriate companion.
So, God set the man into a deep sleep, then took a rib out of that man and fashioned a woman. The man woke up and saw the woman and declared that this is: "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh"
This event anchors human relationships and destiny in a primal act of creation. That it is a rib taken to make the woman means that man and woman are equal. If the woman were fashioned from say a foot, then woman would be created to serve man. If the woman were taken from the head, the woman would be created to rule the man. The rib is located in the middle of the body, not the top or the bottom. A suitable companion for a man is one who is radically equal in all ways. From the beginning, the Bible acknowledges that human well-being begins and ends in this equality.
Further, this passage affirms that our deepest human well-being resides in connection with others. Jesus, one day, was asked by some Pharisees, (Matthew: Chapter 19) "4 is it lawful fora man to divorce his wife for any cause? Jesus answered, Have you not read that the one who make them at the beginning "made male and female", 5 and said, "For this reason man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh"? 6 So they are no longer tow, but one flesh. Pastor Joel
September 16, 2018 Theme: God Creates People Scripture: Genesis 1:26-2:7
We have spent three Sunday's looking at the fist chapter of the Bible as it presents the account of the creation of everything that is: stars, galaxies, light, cells, life, water and on and on until humankind is made is God's own image. There is just no way to speak of or imagine the wonder of that moment what God's light broke out through the primal darkness.
The Austrian poet Rainer Rilke must have been familiar with the sight of the Alps catching the burning majesty of early dawn light. That experience helped him to imagine the first moment of creation.
"Early successes, Creation's pampered favorites. Mountain ranges, peaks growing red in the dawn of all beginnings - pollen of the flowering godhead, joints of pure light, corridors, stairways, thrones, space formed from essence, shields made of ecstasy, storms of, emotion whirled into rapture." For me, to contemplate the wonder of creation, particularly the wonder that is our humanity, it is best to consider the most ordinary of things, and that is: human memory. I haveno great powers of memory myself, but I am in awe of the miracle of remembering. Consider how much is in our memory: people we have met even if we don't remember their names, songs we have heard, events of the past, the feel and fragrance of a rose, words we have spoken or heard, and on and on.
And think about what a memory is. We have brain cells called neurons that carry electrical energy and interact with an incalcuable array of other cells and chemicals. Somewhere in all of that activity is the memory of the first time we saw the face of our beloved, the taste of an apple, the smile of a child, our own sense of self and everything else. I have known people who possess no short-term memory, but can recall a moment when they were a child sitting on their parent's lap.
The Bible again and again calls us to remember. Our memory and how we use it makes us human. God created us to remember. And yet this is just one of the many wonders of creation. Pastor Joel
September 9, 2018 Theme: Creation Scripture: Genesis 1:1-14
Our pastor is on a well deserved vacation so no comments from him this week. But the editor would like to say that she encourages all to come to our SS. Our teacher Esther spends hours every week to present a well thought out study. And we all have something to add in an welcoming setting where we can freely discuss. It is a wonderful time to share God's word and our fellowship. All are welcome. We look forward to Pastor Joel's comments next Sunday.
September 2, 2018 Theme: Creation Scripture: Genesis 1:1-13
When God Took a Chance and Created the Universe
The Sunday School lesson today concerned the account of God's creation contained in the first verses of the Bible.
One of my favorite stories about the Bible comes from the traditions contained in the Haggadah. The Haggadah contains the recited traditions which include the Exodus. It also refers to the collected stories of the Jewish faith told to illustrate a passage in the Bible.
In one such story, God is about to create the universe. Just before God begins creation, began, a hesitation occurs in the mind of God. This hesitation is represented as a debate between God and Torah. You may think of this as an internal debate in the mind of God an instant before creation.
God and God's law, the Torah, are the two sides in this debate. The Law is arguing against God creating the world. The Law, arguing from the standpoint of God's holy justice and high purpose for humanity, points out that creation, with all humanity in it, will not work. Humanity, prone to error, will surely violate the guidelines of God's justice and upset God's good intent. Human beings will mess things up. God replies that with the aid of God's gifts of repentance and the temple, humanity can restore itself to health after such violations. The promise of a Messiah is added to the benefits humanity shall have. God knew that justice by itself would undermine the world, so God associated mercy with justice.
I like the story. It is almost as if God is taking a chance creating the world, by putting very fallible human beings in the midst of it. God's high regard for justice and right ordering will surely be offended with these human beings running around messing stuff up. But God knows, not only from the beginning, but before the beginning, how necessary mercy will be to make this thing work.
Christ of Creation Colossians and Ephesians contain the final development of Pauline thought. The book affirms a cosmological Christ that is Lord over all creation. This statement is contained in the first chapter of Colossians and is one of the most incredible and liberating parts of the Bible. It is a description of Christ as the Lord of Creation and does so in these terms. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers--all things have been created through him and for him. (v 15 NRSV)
This statement of Christ's majesty opens up brave new avenues of human life, devotion and faith. Creation is made, sustained and renewed in Christ. The natural world bears witness to the power of Christ. Creation is involved, like each of us, in the drama of salvation and redemption. This understanding of Christ widens the scope of our involvements and commitments.
From this affirmation in chapter one we move to chapter two to realize there that our source of power and moral courage comes from the Lord of Creation. We live as we do because Christ is "in all and through all." We are involved in what Christ is doing not only with human souls, but the hope of all the world. We draw power from that constant source which is now a part of our lives. Pastor Joel
August 19, 2018
Theme: Loving and Just Behavior Scripture: Romans 12:9-21
We cannot earn our salvation. Romans 12 begins a whole new direction in Paul's message to the church. The first eleven chapters establish a theology of God's grace offered alike to Jew and Gentile. This grace is about a salvation that comes from God which we did not and cannot earn. In this 12th chapter we have a description of the "therefore" of this grace. Since we have been saved by grace, we respond by living our lives appropriately. Christian ethics are the "therefore" of our faith. Loving and just behavior are the "therefores" of faith.
Now I can get to what I really wanted to get to. This matter of earning our salvation concerns me. Paul makes clear that salvation is not something we can earn. Period. And I guess we can, for the most part, accept that. Except for not really. Something in us wants very much to believe that we earned our salvation one way or another. We can talk all day about God's grace, but deep down inside we want to cling to the idea that, despite God's grace being all that it is, we had something to do with it as well.
There is this rolling anxiety in Christians that is hard to get rid of. It is something like this: " Gee, I wonder if I am good enough to go to heaven." We keep wanting to make salvation a matter of our merit or deserving. We talk about grace but we bargain with merit. Let's come clean. We want to believe in our merit and in our part of earning salvation, even if we talk up grace all day long. Maybe we cling to our merit in salvation because we do not want to give away our control. Maybe we cling to this sense of merit so we can feel superior to others and make distinctions between "us" and "them." I can feel good about salvation because I have earned it.
But, that is not Paul's affirmation. God's grace knocked Paul silly. He never sought God's grace. He certainly did not earn it. He had a deep understanding of the necessity of grace in salvation.
So, there is this. We are saved by grace. We cannot and did not earn our salvation. Let us order our hope and our thoughts not according to our merits but God's grace. That would make Paul happy.
August 12, 2018
Theme: Giving Justly Scripture: 2 Corinthians 8,9
Paul encourages the church in Corinth to "excel in the grace of giving." Paul was particularly interested in raising a collection for the poor in Jerusalem. The Apostle employs various arguments and rhetorical devices to persuade this Christian community to be involved in this purpose.
Paul argues that Corinth ought to respond generously to this cause in order to live up to their own high standards of what it means to be a Christian. Paul then adds that the Christian communities in Macedonia, every though they were suffering issues of persecution of their own, had responded generously to the call to aid the poor in Jerusalem.
There are three Christian communities that are highlighted in this passage: The churches in Macedonia, the church in Corinth and the church in Jerusalem. Each of these churches had their own struggles and issues. The church in Jerusalem had its poor. Perhaps they were poor because their walk of faith had compromised their social and economic standing. The communities in Macedonia struggled with persecution. The church in Corinth was torn by differences of culture and tradition.
Paul reminds Christians that we are all in this together, despite our differences. We help each other out. We look out beyond our own needs and respond in kindness to others. Paul is the Apostle of Christian unity, not only within a particular church, but among all churches.
The church today needs to heed the call of Jesus, in his prayer in the gospel of John: 11 Andnow I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. (John 17---NRCV) Pastor Joel