Sunday, November 25, 2018

Go Where You Go



Sermon Ruth 1:1-18 November 4, 2018 Ordinary Time Communion. All Saints.

Go Where You Go.

Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. “Be still,” they say. “Watch and listen, you are the results of the love of thousands.”

How many of us know the name of our great grandmother? How many of us have known our great grandmother or heard her stories? Thinking back that far gives us a reference point for thinking about the woman of Scripture today, Ruth.

Ruth became the mother of Obed, who became the father of Jesse, who became the father of David, who became king. Her story became the redemption story not just for one family but for all the people of Israel.  Her story has been spoken for thousands of years and we know all about her. We care about her, we love her, and we too speak her story because in it we too find redemption and we find ourselves.

We stand upon the ground facing the day ahead of us. 
The day can be filled with obstacles and challenges that seek to prevent us from having the strength to go forward and do the things that need to be done. 

Yet, we remember we are not alone when we stand. 
We remember we are standing on the shoulders of several generations who have overcome obstacles. 
We remember their strength as they forged their way in a new country. 
We remember their resilience as they fought against disease, famine, injustice, and discrimination.

You look at me and say, but my ancestors were Irish or Italian. 
It seems that in every age when people have come to this country in droves escaping from places where they have been suffering they have been rejected, disliked, and discriminated against. 
The Irish were not to be trusted and could not find work. They were poor and could not find housing. No one would dare allow their child to marry, let alone, be seen with ‘one of those’. 
These large influxes into our country over the years, the German Catholics and Lutherans to the Midwest, the Irish and Italians to New York, the Cubans and South Americans to Florida all came to be greeted with great animosity at first. 

But, as the century went on, these very diverse people became the interwoven fabric of our nation and who we are as a people. If our family has been in this country for more than three generations we have a powerful legacy to learn about. We have the shoulders of those people to stand on. We have the shoulders of those people to push us up and get us on our way.

Ruth was a Moabite, the enemy of the Israelites. 

The irony of Scripture is it turns our understanding of things upside down. 

God will always come and open our hearts to receive love and to receive acceptance no matter who we are or how we are. God will stand us on our head with stories that force our hardened hearts to open to grace. This story of Ruth is exactly one of those life changing opportunities.

Ruth becomes the saving grace for Naomi and for all the generations who follow her. 
Ruth becomes this one person whose resilience and faithfulness to a person and God she doesn’t know sustains Naomi through her grief, bitterness, and emptiness. 

Do we know anyone in our story like that? 

Perhaps God is calling us to be that person for the generations to come. 
Who are the nieces, nephews, cousins, grandchildren of our future or our present? 
Perhaps, without even knowing it, they are already standing on your shoulders as you pray their way in the world. 
Perhaps you are building their story of resilience and strength long before you will hear how you were an instrument in their life. Looking back allows us to look forward.

Looking back to Ruth and her response to Naomi allows us to look forward to our responses to others in our life story.
Naomi had gone to a distant land in the time of famine, a land of her enemy, to survive. There she was met with one disaster after another. Her reliance on her own abilities and her anger at the God of her birth only brought her bitterness. 

But can we blame her? I don’t think so. 

We are all too much the same. 
Often our circumstances cloud our perspective. 
We make quick decisions in our heightened anxiety, 
we assume things are urgent 
and require immediate responses-we react,
 knee jerk, 
freaking out, 
kind of action. 
We shove everyone we love out of the way, 
while we try to fix our own problems 
and leave room in our heart for no one.

God’s grace is amazing because it is often extended to us through unsuspecting carriers of grace. 

God finds circumstances or people to extend grace even if they themselves do not know God. 
There are angels unaware everywhere. 
An open heart is open to the unexpected 
and can receive the gift freely. 

Ruth refuses to receive the rejections from Naomi and chooses to live by her name. 
Ruth means woman friend or companion. 
Three times Naomi tries to make Ruth go away and three times 
Ruth proves her love and her faith. 
According to Jewish tradition three times is the test of faithfulness.

Where you go, I will go, 
where you lodge, I will lodge, 
your people shall be my people, 
your God my God. 
It is her faithful heart that saves the generations to come. 
It is her story that is the story that opens our hearts and changes us. 
It is her story that gives us strength to be the shoulders for the ones who come after us.

Friends, we are standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. Be still,” they say. “Watch and listen, you are the results of the love of thousands.”

Let us be the same. Let us be the ones who extend grace unsuspectingly to change the hearts of those we have yet to meet. We have a story to tell, keep it alive, keep telling it. Amen.

Reverend Monica Gould
PCUSA



Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Finding Abundance



Sermon Matthew 6:24-34 November 18, 2018 Thanksgiving

Finding Abundance

Today’s troubles are enough for today. 
These words from the Scripture strike so strong that it’s worth noticing them and spending a few minutes on these words.

Jesus speaks these sound words to his disciples. They hear him give them some serios practical advice. It’s time for serious conversations from the Savior to the followers. Jesus is preparing the disciples to learn how to live life without him. He is showing them some things about life and commitments that are important.

Many of us have grown up in practical households with families that offered solid advice on how to become a grown up. We heard their words at crucial times in our life as we were about to embark on our adult journey.  Their words formed us and helped us and guided us. But, they also helped our relationships with them to appreciate them in the present and to change our focus and love them in the here and now in a new way.

Jesus’ conversation with the disciples here was more about helping them in the present, the here and now. He was helping them stay focused on the day to day life they had.
And perhaps that’s what’s important for us today as we head into Thanksgiving. Let go of our anixeties and focus on the here and now.

Anxiety often spins around a life of ‘what ifs’.

Energy is used up focusing on unresolved real troubles, worrying how to repair a hurt relationship, being paralyzed into procrastination, seeing a big picture and unable to handle simple daily tasks. 

Getting dishes done on a regular basis or the laundry, or paying bills on time, or getting kids to their practices, helping with homework, cooking dinner are enough trouble for one day

And when these other things of life keep tumbling in around us it can be debilitating.

Here in Matthew’s gospel Jesus is calling on the disciples to look at the ‘what is’ around them. There is a wonderful world right here. The grass is lush and green. The trees are strong and tall. The birds find homes for their nests. Creation is all around us and it is abundant and beautiful. 

Jesus is letting the disciples know that God is here in front of you, talking to you, loving you, pouring out compassion to you, offering the abundance of presence in this real time and space.

Jesus was doing his best to help them see, to help us see, the power of God’s fullness and presence; the power of God’s real time love and grace.

Tomorrow always has worries he says,
but today’s troubles are here,
so let’s get to them together.

When we take time to be aware of the things we have-we tend to recognize the richness and the value and the treasure of all we have. Ask anyone who has recently moved about their ‘stuff’, it’s hard to miss how much we have that we didn’t even remember we had when we’re packing up moving boxes and loading trucks.

We go to the pantry to get an idea about what to fix for dinner. We look blankly at all the cans and food stores and think there is nothing to eat. But, in reality our pantries are full but our imaginations and energies are lacking.

During the month of November we focus our energy for the month, or the week of Thanksgiving or perhaps only on Thanksgiving day, to think of all the things we are thankful for. Kids make paper plate turkeys and write on them that they are thankful for family and food. We recap our year and say the same thing in more than a few words. It’s a good practice to think about what there is to be thankful and then to say it. It takes our conversation away from always being about what I don’t have to what I do have.

One of the truths about psychology is that when we can change the negative conversation going on in our heads to a positive one we become positive in all other aspects of our life.
If our brains are programmed to operate out of scarcity then everything we look at and everything we do focuses on eliminating that scarcity.

If our brains become programmed to abundant life then all of our operations of daily living focus on all we have the joy and the wonder, the energy of good, the power of a sense of fullness and appreciation.

Even if we have nothing, when our thoughts are on the wonder of all we have in God’s love and presence, we can feel satisfied.

When we are awakened to the world of what we do have we are also for more free to give and to offer ourselves to help others and to offer our financial gifts to bells ringers in front of grocery stores and to places where good things are happening.

We want to give to places where see lives changing and people growing.

Friends, in Christ we have abundance, believe this good news. Believing this gives more than hope, it gives assurance and strength and new life.

The story Stone Soup, told in its many different cultures, 
tells the truth of how an entire village 
can be transformed by the actions 
of one person

The story focuses on the collective abundance of the people in one town and the ability for everyone to have plenty as they come together.

One of my hopes and dreams in these communities I serve is for the churches to open the doors and work together and commune together.

My prayer is that our community Vacation Bible School and Community Youth Group and Community choir grows and flourishes.

My prayer is that our Community Lenten services become year round services among our churches.

My prayer is that our ministers in the community come together to create an association of cooperation with our town managers and our police, sheriff, and emergency services.

My prayer is that there is a continuous Community Bible study taught by a variety of ministers.

My prayer is that our congregations continue to share the abundance we have in love, generosity, joy, talents, and fellowship beyond our walls.

Why are these my prayers?

I trust there is an abundance of possibilities for the Kingdom of God right here, right now, for the love of God to rain down on all of us.

For this I am thankful.

I honestly believe as we, God’s people, come together we too can create an abundance of the resources we already have among us for the sake of others and for the glory of God.
We have much to be thankful for so let us give thanks today.

Todays troubles are enough for today,
so we will rejoice in the abundance of the lilies in the field.

Amen.

Happy Thanksgiving.
Reverend Monica Gould
PCUSA


Monday, November 12, 2018

Sacrifice and Honor November 11, 2018 Veteran’s Day 100th anniversary of the end of WWI



Sermon Mark 12:38-44 November 11, 2018 Veteran’s Day 100th anniversary of the end of WWI

Sacrifice and Honor

The widow’s mite, the last two pennies of her existence, offered up to God, is a strange Scripture to use for Veteran’s Day. What Bible verse ‘better fits’ this occasion of honoring those who have served, fought, died, and lived for this nation of the United States?

There are times in the life of faith and our life in the world that they intersect. Some have this idea that we give our hour of faith on Sunday mornings and then we go out into the world and that faith doesn’t exist there.

They actually intersect in every moment of every day.
As people of faith we do not live in a bubble.

All that we do and believe affects our perception of how we respond to the world in which we live. And how we worship is dependent on how we experience God in every moment of our day. We live our lives with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other and there is a positive balance. We ignore neither, we lift up both. We remember that we are people of faith, people of the Covenant. We have a heritage that comes to us from the Torah, that is part of our legacy of faith and hope.
So we come to this story in the gospel of Mark tells of a woman filled with grace and faith. She has enough courage to trust God and the world for her life.

You see, Jesus is watching these people going in and out of the Temple to pray and give their tithes and offerings. He observes more than just what is being given, he witnesses the hearts of those who enter to pray, to worship to give, to sacrifice. He discovers quite the variety of those who come.
He also notices the widow who goes unnoticed.

She is the one the rulers and congregation are called to look after and offer what they have for her wellbeing.

 Yet, here she is offering up as a sacrifice the last two pennies of her life, and no one notices. No one stops her, no one intervenes to help her. The powerful just keep puffing themselves up as righteous and wonderful and neglect the commandments to love their neighbor and to care for those in need. She is more often caught in the debate of the powerful deciding how she is justified or not for being poor. She is caught in a system that denies her very existence as a woman and as a person of faith.

Today is probably a good day to remember that our veterans are often found caught in the middle of people’s debates.

Our veterans are often found at the end of examples people in power use to either lift them up or dismiss them as irrelevant. Veterans are also often left to the mercy of the powerful making decisions about their future, they are often lumped into one category or another and not looked at for the individual service for our country.

They are sandwiched between the power of one administration to the next.

More and more veterans are homeless and without the resources to care for themselves. More and more veterans are disabled and suffer from serious mental illness and yet the hospitals called to care for them are underfunded and understaffed.

Until a day like today, they go unnoticed.
Until there is someone that witnesses the sacrifice they have made they go unappreciated.
The fact is we have men and women who made the decision or who said yes when they were to called to arms is one the greatest and most honorable sacrifices a person can make.

Whether a person served as a cook on a ship, or a communications officer along the coast, or went deep into the jungles of battle, these men and women gave up all they had for future that was completely uncertain.

As we look again to the widow we recognize, there is no glory in poverty or widowhood. Shame on us as ministers who this woman as an example in stewardship.
There is no glory in war or battlefields.

BUT, there is glory and honor in sacrifice even to broken systems and broken worlds. Yes, to broken systems and broken worlds, there is glory in honor in sacrifice.

We have often been frustrated with the church and the corruption of so many pastors and priests, the greed of various Christian denominations. We have been angry about wars that have been fought that are called ‘lost causes’. We have been disappointed in our country’s engagement in corrupt societies and broken corners of the world. 
But, we, as a people, would we really prefer to walk away than to support things that seem to have no future for good? 
We have a tendency to justify our inactivity and our dismissiveness by saying, “well, it’s all corrupt” and we choose not be involved or part of any system.

We even pat ourselves on the back and we find ourselves quite self righteous in our attitudes.

There are very few of us who know what it is like to give up everything as a sacrifice.
There are very few of us who know the life of one who has served our country in battle.

Also, there are very few of us that can wrap our heads around what it is like to be destitute.
We don’t have any kind of frame of reference for things like these.

No one in his or her right mind would say to someone else go and be like the poverty stricken widow.
No one in their right mind would go and tell their sons and daughters to go into battle and put themselves in harms way.

But, we would say there is great honor in those who offer there lives for freedom, for a future of peace, for the hope of love to flow down, for the power of grace to cover the world.

We hold up Christ who was the ultimate sacrifice for a future of love and mercy for all, for a future of peace and God’s glory to cover the earth forever.

We lift up those who put faith, hope, trust, and one’s very life in the hands of the One who is greater than systems and institutions.

The widow had the power of faith to trust God who is greater than all things put together to receive her sacrifice and to still care for her.
Jesus points her out to the disciples because he too will go and offer up all that he has and is to the God he trusts beyond this world.

Jesus was not depending on a broken system or a broken world to save him or anyone else. He gave his life for the life of many through his sacrifice on the cross. His faith, hope, trust was in the One Creator who will ultimately bring all things together for good.

Those who serve and have served are loyal to the power of freedom, to the power of sacrifice for the sake of others. They offered their lives for wars to cease and for nations to rise up and be just.
WWI-the war to end all wars didn’t happen.

But, brave and courageous men and women get up every day and go into danger zones with the greatest trust that there will be a day when peace will be all over this land.
We owe them honor for their courage and hope and faith that what they have done has been for the honor of freedom.

All glory and honor belong to you O God, and we offer you our sacrifice and praise. Amen.

Reverend Monica Gould
PCUSA



Sunday, November 11, 2018

Liturgy for Veteran's Day 100th Anniversary of the end of WWI



(Insert) World War I ended on November 11, 1918, with the signing of the Armistice by the Allies and Germany. In the first Armistice Day proclamation in 1919, President Woodrow Wilson called for the nation to remember those who had died in their country’s service and to make the day an opportunity for America to "show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nation."
In 1927 Congress called for the display of the U.S. flag on government buildings, and in 1938 Congress called for the observance of Armistice Day in churches and schools — again dedicating the day to the cause of world peace.
Since that time, observances have been held all over the nation, but especially in our national cemeteries and monuments and at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, D.C. The president and many state governors have issued proclamations. Countless communities, veterans groups, and civic clubs and organizations have held local observances. Armistice Day became Veterans' Day by an act of Congress in 1954. President Eisenhower called on the nation to remember the sacrifices of those who fought in all our nation’s wars, to celebrate the contributions of all veterans of military service, and to rededicate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace. It is Eisenhower’s call that remains the three-fold purpose of Veterans' Day: remembering those who fought and died, celebrating all veterans, and promoting an enduring peace.
(From Suggestions for Observing Veterans Day, United Methodist Church, by Dean McIntyre and Dan Benedict)



Bulletin November 11, 2018 NMPC Patriotic Sunday Veteran’s Day 100th anniversary of the end of WWI the 11th hour of the 11th day and the 11th month of 1918. Brass Quintet
Prelude
Choral Opening-Choir-Sing
Call to Worship
L: In this land of freedom and beauty, let us give thanks to God.
P: Let us praise the Holy One who created the blue lakes and grassy prairies, the vast desert, and the breathtaking mountains of our homeland.
L: Let us unite in worship of the Creator who formed all lands and all people, and declared without hesitation "it is good".
P: Let us worship God.

Opening prayer
Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Opening hymn #562 Eternal Father Strong to Save
Young disciples message
Recognition of our Veterans
(insert) A Litany from The Book of Worship for United States Forces (1974), no. 625
(One-time permission to print and use this litany in congregational worship has been granted by The Armed Forces Chaplains' Board, Washington, D.C.)
L: Let us give thanks to God for the land of our birth with all its chartered liberties. For all the wonder of our country’s story:
P: We give thanks, O God.
L: For leaders in nation and state, and for those who in days past and in these present times have labored for the commonwealth:
P: We give thanks, O God.
L: For those who in all times and places have been true and brave, and in the world’s common ways have lived upright lives and ministered to their fellows:
P: We give thanks, O God.
L: For those who served their country in its hour of need, and especially for those who gave even their lives in that service:
P: We give thanks, O God.
L: Almighty God and most merciful Father, as we remember these your servants, remembering with gratitude their courage and strength, we hold before you those who mourn them. Look upon your bereaved servants with your mercy. As this day brings them memories of those they have lost awhile, may it also bring your consolation and the assurance that their loved ones are alive now and forever in your living presence.  Amen.

Prayer of Confession
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.
Words of Assurance
Expression of Faith
Jesus taught us to speak of hope as the coming of God's kingdom. We believe that God is at work in our world turning hopeless and evil situations into good. We believe that goodness and justice will triumph in the end
and that tyranny and oppression cannot last forever. One day all tears will be wiped away; the lamb will lie down with the lion, and justice will roll down like a mighty stream. True peace and true reconciliation are not only desired, they are assured and guaranteed in Christ. This is our faith.
This is our hope.~ 20th century South African creed

Readings: Psalm 46; Mark 12:38-44

Anthem  Brass Quintet America the Beautiful & power point scroll of photos of Veterans

Sermon: Sacrifice and Honor

HymnMine Eyes Have Seen the Glory(insert)

(Insert) Prayers of Thanksgiving for National Life
(The Book of Common Prayer page 838)
L: Almighty God, giver of all good things: We thank you for the natural majesty and beauty of this land. They restore us, though we often destroy them
P: Heal us.
L: We thank you for the great resources of this nation. They make us rich, though we often exploit them.
P: Forgive us.
L: We thank you for the men and women who have made this country strong. They are models for us, though often fall short of them.
P: Inspire us.
L: We thank you for the torch of liberty which has been lit in this land. It has drawn people from every nation, though we have often hidden from its light.
P: Enlighten us.
L: We thank you for the faith we have inherited in all its rich variety. It sustains our life, though we have been faithless again and again.
P: Renew us.
L: O judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
P: Amen.
& Lord’s Prayer
Announcements
Minute for Stewardship
Offering/Offertory
The Doxology and Offertory  Prayer
Closing Hymn#564 PH O Beautiful for Spacious Skies (America the Beautiful)
Choral Closing The Lord Bless you and keep you….

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Power & Wealth



Sermon Mark 10:17-31 October 14, 2018 year B Ordinary Time

Power & Wealth

As I was seeking or I should say, sifting through my books and papers for an opener related to power and wealth for this sermon, I ran across a book titled, “The Last Lecture”.
 A man named Randy Pausch, an engineer who taught at the University of Virginia, wrote a book based on his last lectures. 

In his introduction to the book he wrote this, “I have an engineering problem.” “While for the most part I’m in great physical shape, I have ten tumors in my liver…” Randy goes on to explain the purpose of his book. 
He asks the question of “How to live his limited time left in this life.” 

He explains the book is his way of talking to his children who were too young to understand the grown up world. He wrote, “Engineering isn’t perfect about solutions; its about doing the best you can with limited resources.”

This story in the gospel of Mark is about a man who comes to Jesus with an abundance of resources and wonders what he can do with his life. It is a story of perplexity that we all face. Where do we fit into the scheme of life? What are the questions we are to ask and what do we do with the answers we receive? This man wants to know how to inherit eternal life. I think we all want the answer to that question.

Jesus tells him to obey the law and learns that this man has been an obedient faithful man. This mas seems to be waiting for Jesus to tell him more. He seems to understand as he looks at Jesus that obedience to the law is not enough. He looks at Jesus waiting to be able to ‘do’ more.
And Jesus looks at him and loves him.

Jesus loves him.

Before Jesus says anything.
Before Jesus does anything else with this man.
Before Jesus judges or instructs, or gives advice…before anything….Jesus loves him.
If we could hang on to this before we go any further, we can learn a lot about who we are and how we are in this world.
Jesus loves us.

Before any instructions we get from God, Jesus loves us. Before any work we do well, Jesus loves us. Before any turning our back on the commands of God, Jesus loves us. Perhaps, that’s the most important phrase to remember today.

No matter what, Jesus loves us.

Jesus challenges this man to go. To sell. To give. And to follow

He is shocked when Jesus instructs him to do this. He is grieved deeply. It is clear he wants to be engaged with Jesus in some way. But, there is a part of him that cannot fulfill even one of the four actions Jesus demands of him. 

Go. Sell. Give. Follow.

When I began the final preparations for this text, I found it difficult to be preaching about someone with so much wealth when there has been so much devastation around us and people have lost everything. I had a hard time wrapping my head around what it looks like to lose everything. How can Jesus ask someone to give up all they have? And if they do, does it look like what these folks who have been through a storm where they are lucky to be alive? Gosh, I hope not.

We have heard about those in the tsunamis, in the earthquakes, and the hurricanes. I have watched the news over and over again as Hurricane Michael tore across the panhandle of Florida and even here on the Eastern Shore. These dear people have nothing left. They don’t even have a roof over their heads, no cars, nothing. It is too hard to imagine. I am stunned in thinking what this means for people and communities to try to move forward.

Where does what has just happened around the world fit into today’s lesson from Jesus? I struggle with the tension of it all. The situation of losing everything at the will of disaster or the situation of offering up everything to the will of God. What’s the difference if we end up with nothing either way?
Maybe it’s like Randy Pausch describes engineering-it isn’t perfect about solutions; its about doing the best you can with limited resources.” Our limited understanding of the words of Jesus now in the 21st century only give us a glimpse of what he might have meant. 

We can only speculate. We only work with our limited resources to try to understand.

In this life today, how do we respond to demands and commands from the world in times of disaster? Are we able to let go of our limited resources for the sake of others? Can we offer a dime to the person homeless on the street? Are we able to cope with going on vacation when others in the family are struggling to pay their electric bills?

These are the questions that hit hard. And yet, that is exactly how Jesus is talking to this man in the Bible. Jesus is requiring this man to let go of the control of his life. That’s what go, sell, give and follow are all about. The storms that come along our way in life remind us all to well how we relinquish control of our possessions and even our life. We are not in control as much as we would like to think we are. And if we offer the control to the One who is the creator of the universe, the one who loved us enough to become one of us, perhaps this is where can begin to live the command to go, sell, give, and follow, just a little. Not because we are trying to earn something, but because we have offered the control of it to God.

Jesus turns the question around from ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ to the statement ‘for God all things are possible’.

 It is no longer about earning God’s favor, but receiving God’s love.

Perhaps, Jesus is trying to help this man and his disciples to understand the danger of wealth and how people proudly proclaim, ‘I did it my way’; ‘the self-sufficiency ideal’; which has a way of taking control and power that becomes all about the self rather than looking outward towards a relationship with others and the world.

This man is honest with Jesus when asked to go, sell, give, and follow.

He can’t do it.

He grieves over the fact that he can’t do it.
His heart wants to, but his head says no.
He is honest with Jesus and with himself.
He confesses before him that it is too much to ask of him.
He walks away grieved.

This story is a chance for our honesty to come forth too. It is our chance for transparency.
It is our chance to say to Jesus you are asking too much of me.
It is our chance to witness that even when we walk away grieved Jesus loves us and that never changes.

We all have a limited time.

Whether its five years or fifty years, we have to wonder how we live this life. Jesus is giving us a solution.

Offer this life to God.

In doing so, we will receive abundance here and forever.
When we let go of the worries of this world and this life we discover the treasure of heaven and the abundance of wonder here on earth freely given.
That friends, is abundant life.

To be loved. Always.

With God all things are possible.
Jesus loves us. Now and forever. Amen.

Reverend Monica Gould
PCUSA

Resources: Feasting on the Word; Working Preacher


Our Common Faith



Sermon Hebrew 1:1-4; 2: 5-12 October 7, 2018 World Wide Communion

Our Common Faith

Our opening hymn this morning was Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty. It is a hymn people know. I know because the congregation lets me know when we sing hymns that are unfamiliar. It’s uncomfortable to sing a hymn that we have to learn. But, this hymn we know it within our bones. It’s been around a long time, it’s easy to sing, and we like the words. When we sing the words it makes us feel pretty good.

The words tell a story
They tell us a story about God

The words tell us who God is; and how we respond to God because of who God is. God is merciful and mighty, God is holy, God is in three persons, God is evermore, God is perfect in love and power. All things fall down before God. Even if the darkness hides the glory of God, God’s glory is still there. 
That’s a lot about God in just one hymn.

That’s what our text from the letter to the Hebrews is like as we read it. 
It’s like a hymn. 
It tells us a lot about God. 

It begins very much the same way the gospel of John begins. It has words about God as if a creed of faith is being shared. The second chapter of Philippians has a creedal hymn as well. These moments in Scripture where we get a glimpse of how the early followers of Jesus sought to understand him and God are powerful testimonies of faith.

The hymn being sung by this unknown author of the letter, takes us back into the history of the prophets. God spoke to these prophets to speak to the people but then God chose a son to speak to the people, yet this son was not just a historical figure in one time and space. This son was also there in the beginning of creation with the reflection of God’s glory. Wow. Just wow. Not only are we hearing that Jesus was a real human sent down from heaven to engage God’s people as an example of God’s love and mercy. But, this same Jesus was there with God and also sustains all things by his powerful word. 

Now if you ask me that’s a lot of God speak. It’s a lot about a God way up there. But, perhaps, it’s really more about the God we have down here.

The God we have down here is a God who puts us into relationship with one another. The God who came down here is the thread that pulled all people back together from every corner of the world and every faith, color, oddness etc.

That God is still here.

We call him Jesus.

The work he did historically we have written in our gospels. We have a creed written about his healings, and his mercy, and his care for the widows and the poor. This creed wasn’t written until 1991. The Nicene creed that we read this morning is full of the substance of who and why God became flesh and dwelt among us.

It is full of the stuff that takes the historical 33 years of Jesus and expands his history from the beginning of time to the end of it.
The alpha and omega.

H. Richard Niebuhr says that Christ is revealed in our history as we view God through our experiences. Our experiences become our story and from our story we reason and interpret that which has value, to us such as economy, politics, and the human race. Niebuhr says we experience God, Jesus Christ, through our own inner history.

Our experience,
our story
becomes the thread
through which God
in Christ is revealed.

Roger Nishioka, a contemporary theologian, says that which we value is the thing that shows us authenticity. He says we want a connection with the God beyond ourselves that also binds us to the world in which we live.

How we encounter our relationship with God
in Jesus Christ is our story
to hold up to the scrutiny of others
and is one that has a need to be told.

Let’s take for example, as he does, the commercials on TV that grab our heart, the ones that deliver a message of unity and of relationship. The beer commercial with the Clydesdale horses, the coca cola commercials, even Cadillac cars have been coming out with ads that stir our hearts. Can our message of the church do that? Can our stories of our inner history with God do that?



Our faith in Christ is what drives us into history and into the world. The apathy that so many say they feel today was also happening in this church that this letter to the Hebrews is written. Can you imagine the church in the first century experiencing boredom? We thought that was just today. We thought the trouble we have with getting people excited about the church was a modern problem.
It’s not.

Apathy and boredom occur when we don’t know our story,
when our story can’t relate to the one around us,
when our story doesn’t come alive within us. 

We can’t make a story come alive within someone else.

The story itself has to be revealed within one’s own inner history.

We can’t force faith to be alive within another.
We can’t pressure anyone into the salvation history of God in Christ.
It doesn’t happen that way.

What we can do is sing the hymns, read the stories, tell of our encounters that have radically formed us and turned us on our heals into the world of faith.

The more we talk about how the powerful love of Christ came alive in us-
even if we don’t understand it we can speak it,
the more this becomes the experience of those who hear it.

These stories become the sustainers of the faith history.
The more we come together,
the more we listen to each others story,
the more we gather and sing,
the more these become part of our inner story.
In this way, faith is revealed,
Christ is seen,
and we become alive.

We come around the Table together. We eat the bread. We drink the cup. We do it together. God is here. And something is revealed deep in us.

We are changed forever.

God is at work. Holy, holy, holy, Lord God, Almighty. Amen.

Reverend Monica Gould
PCUSA




A Sprinkle of Salt



Sermon Mark 9:38-50 September 30, 2018 Ordinary Time

A Sprinkle of Salt

A sprinkle of salt on food is a good thing.

Sodium is essential for nerve and muscle function and is involved in the regulation of fluids in the body. ... Chloride ions serve as important electrolytes by regulating blood pH and pressure. It is excessive amounts that lead to poor health.

A sprinkle of salt is also good for healthy faith and practice.


We are on the road with Jesus as he is making sure his disciples understand what it will be like to be his follower after he is gone. And as he is teaching them they are experiencing real life practical ministry dilemmas. They are still trying to wrap their heads around how to live into being a servant that puts the least of these first in life. What does that look like? How does that work, we asked last week. Before these people of Christ have a chance to experiment this new ideal, they witness other people who are not part of their group doing things in the name of Jesus. They don’t know what to make of this.

John is confused; isn’t he the one following Jesus?

Aren’t John, James, Peter, Mary, and the rest of them with Jesus day and night.

Jesus is their teacher and not someone else’s. Who has the rights to the real Jesus anyway?

Perhaps, the most powerful proclamation from Jesus is here. No one has a corner on Jesus. No one has the claim to Jesus.

Anyone who does the simplest, kindest act toward another is proclaiming Christ and therefore is one of Christ’s disciples.

We live in communities scattered with churches of so many names. We have an obligation to one another to seek to understand and to work together for the sake of peace, grace, and love. Those who are faithful to the love of Christ, to his mission, to all he promises will find his peace fulfilling their hearts and lives.

We are people who live in community and need community.
It is what protects and supports us.
It is what shapes us and forms our faith.

In community we learn, we listen, we discover, we grow. In community we discover our identity, our gifts, our strengths. In community we find our safe space to share the things that frighten us and the things that discourage us. Perhaps this is why Jesus is so adamant about protecting the integrity of anyone who chooses to follow him, whether they are powerful, weak, accepted in society or not. And he is letting the disciple John know there needs to be many communities in the world in Jesus’ name.

The new community is taking shape as the new church in his name and his disciples are wrestling with what that really looks like. Today, here and now, in this 21st century we are still doing the same-wrestling with the shape of the community of faith in Jesus Christ.

And that’s a good thing.

We are still people with some saltiness sprinkled on us to get us in the right balance of healthy faith. We are still people with grace filling us with peace to share. We are still claimed by God as children of God.

And because of this:
We are still wrestling with how we live this faith and what it looks like to others as we share it.
We are still wrestling with who belongs in the community of faith.
We wrestle between including people and excluding them.
We really struggle over many ideas,
we struggle over things like baptism and what is right.
We struggle over communion, and marriage, and ordination, and faith statements, and buildings, and worship.

So many things cause us to wrestle over the community of faith that Jesus is calling us to be.  
We come back to this text and we hear Jesus say, “Give a cup of water in my name, do a good deed in may name.” Return to the simple commands of practical faith. Do good.

Do not do harm.

Jesus is pretty harsh when it comes to how we treat others. When we study him in Scripture we discover he is intolerant of any abuse to anyone of any kind. And so he takes time to give some harsh commands to match his firm foundation of love, mercy and grace.

He uses the word scandalize. We translate scandalize from Greek to the word, stumble in English. Jesus is extremely protective of those who are marginalized and who are young and small or as he calls them, ‘the least of these.’ He would rather anyone in the community of faith be removed if they dare scandalize, create a stumbling block, for any of these people. It really calls us to task even today as to how we really need to be on guard with our actions and our words with one another. May we never do anything to scandalize another person, Jesus warns.

Jesus continues to talk about some rather gruesome things such as cutting off and poking out body parts. Jesus is not joking that the integrity of his community of faith should not threatened. He wants those who are tearing others apart with dishonor or deceit or disregard to remove their offensive nature by whatever radical means they can in order to be filled completely with mercy and love. Remember friends this is metaphorical not literal.

As a community of faith these instructions from Jesus give us opportunity to put ourselves in check on a regular basis.

All this brings us back to salt. Jesus continues to teach and train the disciples in the practical ways of ministry. His lessons for us are still the same. We are some seasoned folk. We have what it takes to dispel the stuff that would dare to scandalize others. We have what it takes to build a strong community of faith. We have been through some tough times and our faith has been tested in many ways.

We have the power of salt within us to face the world with peace.
Let us get out there and sprinkle a little salt. 
Amen.

Reverend Monica Gould
PCUSA


Monday, September 17, 2018

Following Jesus…to where?



Sermon Mark 8:27-38 September 16, 2018 Ordinary Time

Following Jesus…to where?

Life is messy.
We know that more due to the events of this past week than we really might want to admit. A hurricane was coming and we had to decide how we would respond to it. Was it really going to come to the Shore? It doesn’t usually.
Do we pray it away?
And if we do, where does it go?
But, would we just accept it the way it was?

No.

We decide to pray for it to go away,
to be just a storm,
anything to keep the chaos away.

And that is ok according to the words of Jesus about prayer.

Schools were closed. Our VDOT folks had to go into disaster mode. Our local first responders
had to stay alert and be ready for the next phase. The stores had to triple their supplies. Homes had to prepare, stock up, clean up, check on their neighbors. People had to evacuate Zone A areas. Churches, restaurants, and theaters cancelled events and shut down. It was messy for our regular way of life.

The storm went south and has decimated areas of North Carolina and is relentless there. It is far from over.
So, we keep praying for the storm to go away.

And we ask ourselves why are we still praying?

And we answer ourselves (because that’s what people like me who talk to themselves do),
‘we are still praying because we know God shows up.
In our prayers, God is there.
In our messes, God is there.
In our fear, God is there.
In the storm, God is there.
And in the absence of the storm, God is there.
God shows up.
This is what we believe.

When we read in the gospel the question Jesus asks, ‘who do you say that I am?’ Are we like Peter and state clearly what we believe?

We believe that God shows up in Jesus Christ.
That God shows up in Jesus as our Savior, the Messiah.
God showed up in the beginning of creation sorting out the chaos and bringing order to it. God is still showing up in the chaos and sorting it out and bringing order to it.

If I believe that, really believe it, then when Jesus asks me the question about who I think he is, what is my answer?

This is my chance to say what I really believe.
This is my chance to be authentic about my faith.
This is my chance to be honest with myself, with Jesus,
and with the people around me who will hear my answer.
Because when I give my answer
I am telling all, everyone,
how I believe about me.

Huh?! What’d you say?

You see, how we live our lives,
how we work out our faith,
how we commit ourselves to following Jesus and who he is
is the measure of our discipleship.
It is our answer to the question who we say Jesus is.
Who I am is how I am a follower of Jesus.



Following Jesus…to where, then?

Have we been in conversations about shaming others and blaming. Have we been pointing our fingers at ‘those people’? Have we been more accuser and judge? Is our Jesus we follow the right Jesus, and all the others are wrong because they look different from us? If so, then we are telling everyone exactly who we are and the Jesus we believe in.

OR…

Have we been the ones who have sought to lift up those in need? Have we been in conversation where we have held up the integrity of human love. Have we looked to those who are beyond our understanding and reached out and called them neighbor? If so, then this is the Jesus people see and this is how I believe about me.

We hear a lot about integrity these days and we hear a lot about being Christian. It is Christians against Christians in several arenas. And it bruises my soul to hear it and to watch it.

When I come back to the gospel and read the words of Jesus again, I hear Jesus speaking to me and asking me if I’m willing to take up the cross. Now, what does that look like in my life? How do the anxieties of our finances, of our jobs, of our children, of our communities fit into this cross carrying kind of life?

Jesus is calling us to live lives where we are healthy in our bodies, in our minds and in our spirits. Perhaps, cross carrying is assumed to be suffering as Jesus suffered. 
Perhaps, cross carrying is assumed to be as it was in the crusades where people were oppressed and persecuted into believing.

But, maybe the suffering of the cross is not about self-abasing but about self-reflecting.

If Jesus asks us to take up our cross without thinking about who we are and what we are doing when we carry it, we are doing the cross carrying a disservice.

Jesus is asking us not to be ashamed of what we believe nor how we carry our cross as disciples.
As we self-reflect,
we open up our vulnerability.
We open ourselves to places of pain,
places of hurt,
places of sorrow,
places of regret,
places of shame,
places of vanity,
and violence.
Jesus asks us to lift up our cross and
be released
from the things
we have allowed the world
and our own heart
to define us.

Let us be fully aware that God loves us and that God shows up all the time.

As we carry this cross, God is taking our insecurities and turning them into profound strength.
When we choose to carry our cross, Jesus is present in every action and every circumstance we face.
We deny ourselves-but we do not disregard ourselves.
We deny our desire to run the show for God.
We deny our notion that we have a better way of running missions and care for the poor than Jesus does.
We deny our self-importance and offer ourselves fully and totally to the God who has named us and claimed us.

When we become fully lost in Christ, his love increases, his presence in seen and known, his essence fills every space.

I now have the ability to live responsibly and to live with courage because as I go I pick up my cross. As I carry my cross I can see everyone else and their crosses. I’m not stuck in self-pity. I’m not stuck in my depression. I’m no longer stuck in self-criticism. Jesus offers us his presence as we are propelled into the world. He grants us grace to live.

Following Jesus…to where?

Following Jesus, everywhere, cross and all.

Life is messy.
God shows up.
This is what I believe.  

Amen.
Reverend Monica Gould
PCUSA

Resources: Feasting on the Word; 11th Hour Preacher Party-Terri Cole Pilarski