Pastor Michael

working in God's ministry

Party Rules: Part II – Deuteronomy 16:13-15

We will continue this morning with our sermon series titled, Celebrate the Harvest, where we are looking at the harvest and harvest celebrations in the Bible. Last week we looked at a passage from the book of Exodus that focused on the Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of Booths. This morning, we read from the book of Deuteronomy where we find this feast again mentioned and more outlined about it.

We like to party don’t we? When you look at our culture and society, I think that’s a fair assessment. We enjoy celebrating birthdays, graduations, baptisms, anniversaries, retirements, and much more. Any major milestone or event in our lives deserves a celebration, whether big or small. We celebrate holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s Eve. We gather with loved ones and decorate and eat a lot of food.

We even have stores dedicated to parties. From the party stores we find within and around our town, to places like Party City where you can get all kinds of decorations and balloons and anything else you could possibly want for your event. You want a Hawaiian luau theme for your son’s graduation party? They have it. Want to have a Disney Princess theme birthday party for your daughter. Done. There is a whole industry dedicated to parties and celebrations.

So I have to wonder, what kind of person are each of you at a party? Are you the “life of the party”, right in the middle of everything with a crowd around you? Or are you the one who is busy making sure everyone else is having a great time, filling drinks and helping out wherever needed? Or perhaps you are the DJ, keeping watch over the music and making sure every gets to hear at least one of their favorites? Or are you maybe more of the wallflower or people watcher, observing others and just enjoying all the activity?

I have my guesses, and have even witnessed some of you first hand at events we have held. But there are lots of different personalities and types of people at parties and gatherings from those holding court to the storytellers to the observers. They are each different in their own ways, but they all come together to make for an enjoyable time as family or friends. And that’s why we have parties right? To have a good time. To have fun. To make memories. To spend time with those who matter to us.

Author and theologian Frederick Buechner once wrote, “The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.” And did you know that God wants to us have a good time when we are having a celebration or a party? I mean, that’s one of the things that this passage tells us. One translation of these verses reads as, “Thou shalt rejoice in thy feast, and, because the Lord shall bless thee, thou shalt surely rejoice.”

This is saying that it is the will of God that his children should be a joyous people. Let’s think about this. In the Old Testament the people of Israel, those under God’s law, were instructed to rejoice and celebrate before God. And they did! But what about now? As God’s children living in the new covenant that comes from God’s grace in the Gospel, isn’t it our responsibility and honor to rejoice and celebrate not only at times like these feasts and traditions, but also to always rejoice. Because we have that Good News. We have that salvation found in Jesus Christ that is more appropriate than anything else to celebrate!

As much as the ancient Israelites had to celebrate in the love of God back then, look at how much more we have to celebrate now. And I don’t mean our technology or our medicine or anything like that. I mean our eternal salvation that Jesus died for and rose again after defeating death and sin. We have that new covenant of love with God that came through those saving acts of Jesus. I’ll be honest, I feel like we should be celebrating that very reality every single day.

But there is more we can take away from this passage in Deuteronomy. As we continue in verse fourteen it says, “Rejoice during your festival, you and your sons and your daughters, your male and female slaves, as well as the Levites, the strangers, the orphans, and the widows resident in your towns.” So it’s not just that we ourselves should be celebrating, but that we should be bringing others to celebrate with us. The more the merrier right?

Seriously though, when we are rejoicing in the love and grace of God ourselves, we should also be working to bring others to rejoice with us. We should be doing everything we can to help others to know the joy that we know in God. And we are called to be rejoicing in God not just because of the blessings and things we receive now in this life. No, we should also be celebrating because of that promise, that Good News – that is our future.

So here in these few verses we have two more commands or rules from God about how we celebrate. The first, to celebrate with joy and happiness the promise and hope we find in our God. And second, to share that celebration with all people and bring people to the celebration. So how do we do that? How do we take these rules given so long ago, and apply them to today? How do we live into these expectations that God has given to his children?

Well, that’s up to you. You see, as we come together to discuss the future of this congregation and the role we hope to play in our community and our world, that is just what we will be figuring out. Because if we celebrate the Good News every day of our lives, and share it with others, that is the ministry that God calls us to. And we know that, so we just need to decide exactly how we are going to do it.

How are we going to celebrate the blessings and promise of God’s love and grace? How are we going to live joyously and rejoice daily in the Good News of this new covenant? How are we going to blow the roof of this place with an outcry of celebration of God’s love for his people and his creation?

And then we must answer the question of how we are going to bring that celebration to the world. How are we going to share it with others? How are we going to invite our community into the party? How are we going to spread the joy and happiness we have in God’s love and grace throughout the world?

Are we going to shake the very foundations of this building with our cries of joy and excitement and rejoicing? Are we going to wear God’s love upon our hearts for all to see? Are we going to let God’s love shine in us to be beacons of hope for the world? Are we going to open those doors and invite the world to join us in this worship space? Or maybe we are going to go out of those doors into the world and seek out the world to share the Good News.

Whatever the plan will come to be and look like in the end, the goal, the mission is clear. We are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I have asked you many times before to imagine a world where people lead their lives with love, or do something else counter to what we tend to do. Now I am asking you to imagine a world that raises a joyous sound in celebration of God’s love and grace.

Imagine it! A world-wide party based on love, acceptance, care, and joy. What would it look like if everyone knew about God and Jesus and the love for creation that led to eternal salvation? Care you picture it? Can you see the smiles on people’s faces? People of every race, every nation, every age, every gender? Can you see that beautiful image?

But that image is a little ways away yet. We are not yet there. There is much work to do and the Church needs help to do it. That is why we are coming together to plan and pray and discern what God is calling this congregation to do. We are working to understand what role we play in this great celebration that is yet to come. We are working to build the foundation for that celebration.

So we must think about what ministries we are being called to engage in. We must think about where God is pulling us. Should we be doing the same ministries, but make some adjustments? Should we be doing different ministries that are focused in a different way? Those are the kinds of questions we must begin to ask and consider.

The goal is not in question. The endgame is very clear and has been given to us by God. To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are called to share the celebration with everyone and bring them all to the party as we celebrate God’s love and grace for all humanity and all creation. That part of the work is done.

We must now work with God to figure out how we will get there. And if you ask me, we could not ask for a better partner to be working with. Our God wants us to be a joyous and happy people! Our God wants us to be in relationship with Him and to know His love. Our God sent His only Son to die a horrible death to win for us eternal salvation. And our God is an all-powerful God, who has always been and always will be. We will never be alone in these endeavors.

Now every week I always leave you with a challenge or a request to do something over the coming week. Well today is going to be a little different. I still have a challenge for you, but it is not just for this week. I am asking that each and every one of you take five minutes every day in prayer. But not just in your regular prayers about your life, your loved ones, or the other things you bring to God.

No I am asking for an extra five minutes each day to pray and ask God for direction for our congregation. Ask for clarity in how we can achieve God’s mission. Ask for peace that we can work together in harmony. And most of all ask for love. Love for each other and for our congregation. I ask that you do this every day from now until the end of the year.

If you start today, that’s only forty-six days. That comes out to two hundred and thirty minutes. Not even four hours between now and the end of this calendar year. If we can all do come together and dedicate that time in prayer, any time during the day that you can spare that five minutes, can you imagine what we might hear? I do not claim to know what the future will be for this congregation, but I am beyond excited to see where God is calling us and direct us to go. Won’t you join me in that excitement and celebration?



Party Rules – Exodus 23:16-17 & 19a

We are in the second week of our sermon series, Celebrate the Harvest, where we are focusing on the harvest and harvest celebrations as described in the Bible. As a community with deep roots in the farming industry, the idea of harvest is definitely not new to many of you but what we find in Scripture may be for some.

Rules. They are everywhere in our world. From STOP signs and track signals to how we do our taxes to the laws of our nation, rules are quite literally everywhere. And that’s probably a really good thing, at least in some cases. Without rules that people agree to follow and obey, we would be in a world of complete chaos. As it is, we struggle enough right now in our world when people choose not to follow the rules and cause harm to others.

But where else do we find rules? I know growing up when I was in school, our teacher had a set of classroom rules like not talking out of turn and sharing with others. We find rules with our money from our banks and lenders about making payments on time. It really does seem that there are rules in everything we do doesn’t it? Well at least there aren’t any rules we want to throw a party right?

Hmm…that may not be true today…Let’s see, you have rules about the drinking age. Rules about noise levels. Rules about the number of people in a given space. I guess even when we are trying to celebrate something there are rules to contend with. And again, not that those are bad things. It just adds to this idea that our world is surrounded by rules.

And I think because of that, it might be easier for us to relate to the Israelites in the Old Testament that we read about in our Scripture passage for today. In fact, a lot of the books of Exodus and Leviticus are about rules. Rules on how to live, or what to eat, or how to reconcile issues between neighbors. And while some of what is there we might not agree with for our world today, these rules were important to prevent that chaotic existence we would fear even today.

So let’s look at the rules from our reading about celebrating the harvest. The festival mentioned here, this festival or feast of ingathering is also known as the Feast of Tabernacles, or Feast of Booths. It happened to coincide with the general fall harvest for the people, but not just the harvest of grain-type crops. It was also for the harvesting of crops from trees and vines like olives and grapes. This festival was a way to honor God and give thanks for the food and good harvest they enjoyed.

But then, in verse seventeen, there is another rule or command given. It says, “Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord God.” Now what this was meaning was that they should come to the courtyard of the tabernacle and stand there facing the opening of the tent where the tabernacle was kept. They believed that God would then be present there with them, at least symbolically, through the Ark of the Covenant, which was kept in the tabernacle. Then, the heads of the families, which were all men at this point, would stand to worship together in the courtyard.

Then we come to our final part of the reading, the first half of verse nineteen which reads, “The choicest of the first fruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God.” This is focusing on bringing an offering to God for the harvest and life and blessings. But it is a little more than that. It is more than just a command to bring some type of offering to God. It is very clear that they are to bring “the choicest of the first fruits” or the very best of their harvest for God. This command is also about what is an appropriate offering to bring.

So in this short passage the Israelites get three distinct commands to follow. One, to celebrate the harvest festival. Two, to come and worship God during this time as family. And three, to bring with them the best offering they are able to. Three different commands, yet they are serve the same purpose. They are all ways to worship and praise God for the good things God has done for these people.

But how does this relate to us today? We don’t really have harvest festivals in the same way that these ancient people did. Yes we might have some celebrations around the time of harvest, but ours are probably more well-known for hayrides and apple picking than for worship and offerings. That is not to condemn what we do by any means, just pointing out the differences. And we should expect those differences because we live in a much different world than the one the ancient Israelites knew.

But I think that we can still recognize and act upon the tree commands or rules given the Israelites in our own way here today. Let’s start with the first one. Celebrate the harvest festival that aims to give praise to God for a bountiful harvest. Sounds simple enough right? Now we may not chose to, or even be able to, celebrate in the exact same way as they did back then. But I think we can still celebrate and give praise and thanksgiving somehow right?

Hey! Thanksgiving!! Isn’t that a time of celebrating with family when we remember all of the things we are thankful for, or you know…blessings? Isn’t that a time when we give thanks to God for all of the good things in our lives like family and friends? And it’s right around the harvest time and we eat a lot of foods that fit into that harvest schedule. So maybe we are already doing this in a way. But maybe we could add to it or focus a little more on the thankful part than the shopping for the next big holiday that tends to creep into that time. Just a thought…

How about the second command or rule? Come and worship God together as family. Well, while we don’t usually have a worship service on Thanksgiving Day, we do have many around it. So are we already doing this one too? Well I guess that might depend on how we define family. If we think of family as blood relatives, or in the same way our legal system acknowledges family members, then it probably depends on where your family lives.

If you are fortunate enough to have your family members living close by, then you may be able to worship together as a family during this time. But what do you do if your family doesn’t live close by? What if they live in another city? Or another state? Or even another country? Then what? Or what if your family doesn’t always get along and you don’t celebrate holidays together? Then what do you do?

Well, as we have talked about before, family can be defined in many ways. If instead of limiting our understanding of family as blood relatives, we expand it to include our family of the Church, our brothers and sisters in Christ, then it looks a little different. Then we can be surrounded in worship with our family. And while the Israelites had the male held of household to lead them, we have the head of the Church universal, Jesus Christ to lead us. Not bad huh?

And then our last command or rule. Bring with us to worship the very best of what we have to offer, our greatest offering. So is that just mean to bring the most money we can? Does that make those who are better off financially than others better givers? Not at all. You see offering does not just mean money. Offering is a gift, a gift that given of one’s self. When we have our offering in a little while today you will hear me say something very specific about offerings.

As I do every worship, I outline our offerings as our time, our talents, and our tithes. So it’s not just about our money. It’s about sharing all of the gifts God has blessed us with whether those gifts are financial, our giving our time to God’s ministry, or using the talents we have for God’s ministry. If you give your time helping out at a rescue mission or with a food pantry, that is an offering of your time. If you help repair something here at the church or for someone in your neighborhood who can’t afford to hire to someone to do it, that is an offering of your talents.

Because in those selfless acts, you are witnessing to others through your actions the love of God. You are that light to the world. You are being Jesus to others. You are living the love of God for the world. The passage talks about bringing the best offering you have. Well you know what that really is? It’s not money. It’s not even really just your time and talents. The absolutely greatest offering that you have been blessed with that you can bring back to God is your life.

What I mean is that the greatest offering you can give to God to be dedicated to God’s ministry in the world is your entire life. Your words. Your actions. Your efforts. Your time. Your talents. EVERYTHING! If you live your life with love, with God’s unconditional love for all the world, you are giving your life in offering. If you are Jesus to the world, through your words and actions, you are giving your life in offering. If you let God’s light shine through you in your life as a beacon of hope and promise for others, then you are giving your life in offering. How awesome is that?

And how awesome is it that we can find a connection like this to those ancient Israelites? How good does it feel to know that even though it may not be in the same ways, we are still honoring those same rules and commands that they were given by God so very long ago? I’d say it feels pretty good. I’d say it is very awesome to have that connection. Yes our contexts are very different between then and now, but there is still one impossibly strong constant that continues to exist. And that’s God and God’s love.

Well as I look to bring this message to a close, I will again bring to you a challenge that I hope you are willing to take up and own. As we prepare to meet together as a congregation and look towards the future and where God is calling us to be active in His ministry and in the world, I want you to very seriously consider that third command or rule. I want you to think long and hard about what your very best offering that you can bring to God is.

Think about what you currently are bringing in offering to God, whether your time or your talents or your tithes. Think about why you bring what you bring. Think about why it is important to you. And then think about what else you can bring in offering to God in thanks and praise for all of the blessings in your life. Think about bringing all of you, your life and your very being. As we begin to dream and plan together it is those offerings of ourselves, our entire selves, that will move those dreams forward and see those plans come to fruition. So what can you bring in offering? Amen.



Seasons Change – Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Well it’s the start of a new month as we enter into November, which also means that it’s the beginning of a new sermon series too. “Celebrate the Harvest” is the title of our new series and we will be following it for the next four weeks.

Now this one probably won’t have any sound effects like our last sermon series, but I think you will enjoy it just the same. We will begin to look at what the Bible tells us about the time of harvest and harvest celebrations. So as the leaves continue to change and the season of fall moves along, let us explore together the Scriptures and messages of God.

When we think about seasons changing, we probably think about leaves changing colors, the first snow fall, the first signs of plant life after a thaw, or the daylight lasting longer and longer from the summer days. In the short time that I have been here with you all I feel like I have been able to fully experience both the summer and fall seasons, with a little bit of winter and spring thrown in there.

Winter because of how quickly it seems to have gotten cold and the frost on the lawn that greets me some mornings. And spring because of all of the rain storms we have had already reminds me of the old saying, “April showers brings May flowers.” Although in our case it may be something more like, “July storms chases away October warms…” Sorry, that sounded a lot better in my head I think…

Anyways, as humans we tend to think of seasons in only the terms of our weather and calendar usually. Summer is time for fun outdoors swimming and running around. Fall is the time we focus on the harvest and the holidays begin. Winter is all about snow and cold and for those who are Christian, celebrating the birth of our Savior. And then Spring with the rain and signs of new life, and a time when we celebrate the resurrection of our Savior that brings us new life.

These seasons have also been used in the past to help track the passage of time. Just like sunrises and sunsets and other reoccurring things in nature, the changing of the seasons has been used to show the passage of time for record keeping, storytelling, and more. As seasons come into our reality and then move along, making room for the next, we are continually blessed in each of those times. I do realize the apparent irony of that statement given the conditions of last winter. But trust me, even in the coldest times God is blessing us and sometimes in new ways we don’t even realize.

But is a season, the word season, only talking about the four seasons we acknowledge in nature? Or depending on where you are from the two seasons, winter and construction. Let’s take a look back at our Scripture reading for today from the book of Ecclesiastes and read again what we find there…

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.”

So it would seem that when it comes to seasons, we can find more than just the four in nature we commonly acknowledge.

Now this Scripture has been used for many faith-related events and happenings. It has been used most commonly for funerals and memorial services. And it is a very appropriate passage when we talk about the different times for things, as well as acknowledging the many times and things in life that happen. This passage is just as much about the time for things as it is about naming the realities of the human experience.

A time for birth and a time for death. We were all born and one day we will all pass on. A time to plant and a time to harvest. I don’t think I even need to spend any time on that one given the number of farmers we have in this community. A time to kill and a time to heal. This one could be taken a few different ways including a time to kill relationships, and a time to heal from them. Or it could be taken the literal sense of taking a life, which happens not only amongst humanity, but in all levels of creation.

A time to break down and a time to build up. Sometimes we have to help those we love to break down a little in order to build them back up. A time to weep and a time to laugh. That one’s pretty self-explanatory. A time to mourn and a time to dance. As is that one. A time to throw away stones and a time to gather stones together. I had to look this one up I admit because as you know I love rocks and I cannot for the life of me imagine why you would throw away stones. And when I did look it up there does not seem to be a very clear answer as to what was being discussed here.

A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. Again, this could be referring to relationships or to the issue of cleanliness. A time to seek and a time to lose. Nothing in this world lasts forever and we have to let go of some things at times. A time to keep and a time to throw away. We all know this one pretty well don’t we, with our rummage sales?

A time to tear and a time to sew. I think our crafters definitely understand that one. A time to keep silence and a time to speak. Whether referring to prayer, or moments of injustice, or any other situation, I think this one can carry lots of meanings. A time to love and a time to hate. This one may not seem very Christian-like given how much we talk about loving one another, but the truth is as humans there are times we love and there are times that we hate. A time for war and a time for peace. This one as well is all too familiar for humanity as we throughout history have continued along the rollercoaster of war and peace.

But I wonder what this passage might look like if it had been written today. Or even if we just updated it for today… Maybe something like this:

a time to send email and a time to receive email;
a time to take selfies and a time to Instagram;
a time to Tweet and a time to post;
a time to DVR and a time to Netflix;
a time to shop at the farmers market and a time to shop at Meijer’s.

Or what about if we looked at it from the perspective of the church? How about these additions:

a time to welcome and a time to invite;
a time to hold traditions and a time to change;
a time to pray and a time to act;
a time to share the Good News and a time to live the Good News.

You see, this passage is talking not about what we should be doing but what is the actual reality for humanity and creation. There is war in humanity. There is hatred in humanity. There is death in humanity. But while this passage is talking about the reality of humanity that does not mean we can’t imagine and think about a reality that we are hoping for humanity. We can work to create a reality that does not live into all of these things listed in our reading, but instead builds for the kingdom of God.

Now I admit some of these cannot be changed by humanity. A time to be born and a time to die are out of our hands. But we can acknowledge death in a different way. We can see that yes, we will move on from this world at some point, but it is not the eternal death once feared because through Christ we have eternal life.

But what if we worked to change some of the other ones. How about the last two? What if we could get rid of the hate and the war and just have a time to love and a time for peace? How amazing would that be? If there were no hatred in the world? If there were no war? If people all over the world together led their lives with love and had compassion for each other, think of what that would look life! I believe that we would begin to see the kingdom of God in all its glory and majesty.

But there is more to this passage as well. Because as we talked about before, seasons change. And seasons bring about change. For humanity to realize any of these new things, there must be change. And as we talked about last month, change is a scary thing. Change means letting go of control. Change means trusting God and each other. Change can be terrifying.

But change can also be wonderful. Change can be part of new life. Change can be new hope. Change can be the beginning of something greater than what we know and experience right now. As we look ahead to meeting together to discuss and discern God’s plans for this congregation in the coming weeks, we must acknowledge that change will be a part of those plans.

Now I am not saying everything will change or that everything even HAS to change. There are many things that we do now that we will want to carry forward and because of what those things are and do, we believe that God wants us to continue with those things. We are not talking about throwing everything away and starting over.

Rather though we are looking at what things we can add to what we do. What things need improvement or adaptation to be more relevant to ministry of God? Where is God pulling us to be more active or more aware in our community and within the world? Those are the questions we will be asking and looking for guidance on.

As you head home today, or wherever you may be headed next, I ask that you think about all of this. Yes change can be scary, but change can also be exciting and powerful and uplifting. Think about where you feel God calling you and this congregation. Think about the traditions we hold most important to us. Think about what you can bring to the table and to God’s ministry. The seasons are always changing and there is always new hope and new life waiting for the chance to spring forth within the current life that we live and cherish. And while the seasons may change, the unconditional love of our God never will.



Defeating Evil – Revelation 12:3-4 & 7-9

Well it is the final week of our sermon series Things That Go Bump In The Bible…gonna miss that…and our Scripture comes from the book of Revelation and tells us about a seven headed dragon. But now, after talking to our children this morning about baptism and being family, how can we connect these two concepts? How does the baptism of a small child coincide with the supposed threat of the Apocalypse and a rampaging seven headed dragon? Well, let it be said that I always liked a challenge…

Let’s start with the Scripture reading first. The book of Revelation is one of the most theologically contested sections of the Christian Bible. Some people feel very strongly that it outlines without question what the end times will be. Others feel that it describes the rise and fall of the Roman Empire in relationship to the Jewish people and the Christian followers of the time. Still others feel it is just the ramblings of an isolated and exiled man who began to lose his grip on reality and wrote down the dreams and hallucinations he began to experience.

Did you know that the Book of Revelation was not included in the original groups of texts for the Bible? It was not included during the Council of Nicaea, but was added several years later at another gathering of faith leaders. Regardless of whether you take these passages as literal truth, theological interpretation, or just some crazy stories, there is a lot of value here for everyone regardless of where you fall on the theological spectrum.

Let’s look at the Scripture reading again. “Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.” So we are not just talking about the kind of dragon we see in most movies like Disney’s animated classic “Sleeping Beauty” or even the fantasy action film “Reign of Fire” where dragons have taken over the earth and humans hide in fear.

No here we are talking about a huge, monstrous create with seven, SEVEN, heads, ten horns and a crown on each of the heads. And this things does not sound very friendly like the creatures featured in the children’s film “How To Train Your Dragon.” No, we read that its tail knocked a third of the stars of heaven down to earth. Let me say that again. It knocked a third of the stars of heaven to earth.

I have a very powerful imagination and I’m still not sure I can even begin to fathom what that might look like. This is some serious power and a very real threat to humanity and creation. This thing, this seven headed dragon is not messing around here. This is without question one creature I really would not want to cross paths with.

But as we continue to read, we find the hope and salvation that we have in God. It continues with, “And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.” So we find that God’s army of angels is not only able to defeat this dragon, but the dragon’s army of angels as well. Victory is secured! Right?

So all is well then? The threat has been neutralized and happy ending yeah? We can all go live happily ever after in joy and peace, playing music on harps and lutes. Just like a Disney cartoon or a fairy tale story. Good times… Well…not quite… You see, if we continue to read on we see that the battle continues on earth and there is much more to come. The dragon continues to attack and verse seventeen goes on to tell us that the dragon was angry, and went off to make war on those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.

Guess what people? That’s us. That is all Christians in the world. The dragon is now focusing its anger and attack against people like us who claim Christ and are in relationship with God. But there are some things that we claim in our faith tradition that bring us hope. We believe in an all-powerful God that loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. We have read here that God’s angels can defeat this great dragon, so we know we are not alone to fend for ourselves. God is with us.

Let’s take a few moments now to step away from the scary dragon running around eating things and spraying fire all around, to look at our theology of baptism. And when I say “our theology”, I mean the United Methodist Church theology that we claim when we are in this space together in worship, as well as when we are out in the world. I know many of you have already been baptized but I am guessing for the large majority it happened when you were very young and you might not remember most of it, if at all.

But regardless of when it happened, some very important things are recognized as happening in that moment. One of those things is that we claim a new identity. When we become Christians, we are said to be “putting on Christ.” And baptism is a celebration of this new identity in Christ. That is why we start the baptism with renouncing the evil and sin of the world, and then move to pledging our loyalty to Christ.

Another that is happening during this time is that we are entering into a covenant with God. But this covenant is not initiated by us through our pledge of loyalty, but rather it is initiated by God. And that is recognized through the words we have said, “The Holy Spirit works within you, that being born through water and the Spirit, you may be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.”

Baptism is just the beginning of our relationship with God. It is one of the doorways through which we enter into relationship with God. And I say one of the doorways because there are more than just this one. In the United Methodist Church we do not believe that you must be baptized to be saved. But we do believe that baptism is a gift of God’s grace that we receive as part of the journey of salvation. So those who have not had the opportunity to be baptized, or don’t even know about it, are not lost.

And the God we claim, our faith and our theology, is one of what I believe to be a God of love. It is because of God’s love that God invites us to be baptized and be in relationship with God. It is because of God’s love that Christ came to suffer, die, and rise again after defeating death and sin. That love wrote a new covenant and established us all as children of God.

So what does the seven headed dragon we read about from the Book of Revelation have to do with our baptismal covenant with God? Well, if we look at both situations we find two separate examples of the same thing: God’s love. We find God’s love in the battle against this evil dragon, and we find God’s love in the covenant of baptism. And I think that some would argue that the covenant that we enter into through our baptism is not only recognized in the moment when the dragon attacks, but it is upheld when God retaliates against the dragon and defeats it.

Now that is not to say that those who have not been baptized would not be saved from the attack and wrath of the dragon. As I mentioned before, baptism is not required for salvation. But the covenant is also upheld in that moment. But that also assumes that moment will come in the way it has been described to us.

The truth is we do not know exactly what will happen in the end, or for that matter when the end will come. Many people have tried to determine when the world will come to an end, and so far they have not been correct to this point. The Gospel of Matthew even affirms this where it says, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

What we do know, or rather we believe we know through our faith, is that our God loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. We know that because of what we find in our Scriptures. We know that because we believe that Christ came to this world, became human and divine, and then suffered, died, and resurrected after defeating death and sin. God made that sacrifice because God loves us and we matter to God. We know God continues to love us through the blessings we receive every day. We know God continues to love us in those moments in our lives that we feel the presence of the Holy Spirit.

So as we close this sermon series about the monsters and scary things we find in the Bible, I hope you have come away with some important lessons and ideas about our God and our faith. We talked about the monsters in our dreams. We talked about the monsters of the unknown. We talked about our fears and where they come from. And today we have talked about one of the evilest monsters in the Scriptures, the great seven headed dragon.

But we also talked about God’s love. We also talked about God’s protection. We talked about being in relationship with God and trusting God. And today we talked about the new covenant that God invites us into through our baptisms. We have talked about just how powerful God’s love is, and that is stretches to all humanity and all creation. In every dark place, we found God’s love there. In every scary moment, we found God’s love there.

It is my sincerest hope that these past four weeks have given you some new perspective on the fears in your life and the scary things in this world. I hope that you have found new strength in God to stand up against those scary things. I hope that you have found new levels of trust in God to go into the dark places in your world, knowing God’s eternal light will guide your way.

And, as I always do, I want to leave you with a challenge for when you head out from this place today. And that challenge is one that I know will itself be scary for some of you, but it is a very important one. I want you to go from here and share what you have discovered about God and fear with someone in your life. Share it with someone who may be facing some of their own scary situations. Share it with someone who is living in fear in their lives. Share it with someone needs it the most.

Because that is what we have been charged with doing. As United Methodists we claim our mission to be to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And it is through sharing these messages and our faith that we accomplish that mission. It is a mission we must always lead with love, and do in a caring way. Fear mongering and coercion are never appropriate methods. But go out with God’s love as your guide and share it with all you encounter in all that you say and in all that you do.



What Are We Really Afraid Of? – Jonah 1:1-17

We are now in our third week of our sermon series “Things That Go Bump In The Bible”. Our first week we talked about monsters on land and in our dreams. Last week we entered the depths of the oceans and the depths of our fears. Today, we stay in the water but much closer to the surface and try to discover what we are really afraid of…

Last week I spoke about as humans we fear the unknown because it brings us to the reality that we are not in control or may not have power in a given situation. And that’s a hard thing to admit sometimes. We are human. We are the dominate species, at least in our own minds often. We have Scripture that tells us that God has placed humanity over creation to care for it.

So it is easy to see why we like to think we are in control. We’ve been granted free will. We are able to make decisions. So it’s not really a far jump over time to get used to the idea that we are in full control of our lives and everything in them. Some scholars have even said that as humans, we have an incredible arrogance about us in our views of our control in the world. But I think sometimes, even though it may be hard, we can admit that we are not always in control or that we believe that there are other forces at work in our world.

Let’s look back at our Scripture reading about Jonah to get some more insight. I have to be honest that this is one of my favorite stories in the Bible, partially because of the VeggieTales movie of the same name. And while I acknowledge that the VeggieTales versions of some of these stories are not always 100% in-line with the text in the Bible, I do feel that they still get the overall message right. And besides, how can you not love a talking tomato and cucumber?

Anyways, back to our Scripture. We enter at God commanding Jonah to go and speak out against the wicked and evil city of Nineveh. As you may have guessed, Jonah was a prophet of God who went around sharing God’s message to the different intended peoples as God instructed. But rather than follow God’s command, Jonah goes the opposite direction.

But why? Why does he do this? Is he afraid of God? Is he afraid of Nineveh and its wicked people? Well our Scripture only says that, “Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.” The VeggieTales version shows Jonah as not wanting to deal with the evils and horrors of Nineveh. It also portrays him as believing that they are not only unlikely to change their ways, but not worthy of God’s forgiveness even if they did.

So Jonah tries to run away from God and the responsibility that God has given to him. And that’s where things get interesting… Because you see, Jonah tries to escape by getting on a boat headed far, far away from Nineveh and God. Or at least he thinks so. And while on the boat a great storms rises up and tosses the boat around like a child might with a toy during their bath time.

And the poor sailors are panicked. They start praying to their gods and throwing cargo overboard trying to regain control of their ship. And the whole time, Jonah’s down in the hold taking a nap. A nap! During a storm of what I can only assume was especially rough and life threatening. And this guy is fast asleep while everyone else is scattering to just try and survive. I have to say, Jonah doesn’t seem like such a great guy right now does he?

So they finally go down and wake him up and figure out that he is the reason for the storm. He even tells them that he is trying to run away from God. And the sailors continue to panic, trying to figure out what they can do to appease God and save their lives and their ship.

Then something surprising happens. Jonah tells them to throw him overboard to appease the storm. They resist at first, but when things look their worst they pick him up and overboard he goes. And as soon as they do, the storm quiets and they recognize the power of God and begin to make sacrifices to him and promising to serve him.

And then everything is good right? End of story. Jonah swims to shore and everyone lives happily ever after right? Hey did you guys hear something? There it goes again. Okay I’m starting to get a little freaked out now.

Well while Jonah did not meet his fate at the jaws of a shark like the victims in the movie Jaws, God did send a great whale to swallow him whole. And that’s pretty darn scary if you ask me. Can you even imagine that? You’re treading water, or even swimming along, and you happen to look down and see a huge dark hole coming up at you from below. And you realize that you cannot swim fast enough to get out of the way. It’s only a matter of few seconds and you’re done. That’s pretty terrifying.

And even though the Scripture passage does not give any insight to what Jonah was feeling I cannot believe it was good. I don’t get the impression that even back then, people were getting swallowed whole by large whales on a regular basis. Even if he recognized God’s hand being active in the moment, human fear had to overtake him at some point in this nightmare.

Now nowhere can I find any indication that after God set Jonah free from the whale and again called him to go to Nineveh and deliver his message, did Jonah do what God asked out of fear. He just went out and did what God told him to do. And I think that is interesting because I am guessing most of us if we had been swallowed by a whale because we disobeyed God would not falter again given the chance, and at least partially out of fear.

I am thinking the threat of being swallowed by a whale only needs to happen once to take hold with most people. So is that what we should be afraid of? Our God? Well there is Scripture that offers that idea. And I am not saying that I don’t have some fear of God, but there is a difference between a healthy fear of God and doing things out of coercion because you fear for your life.

So what are we really afraid of? Are we afraid of God? Are we afraid of perceived dangers in following God’s call to us? Are we afraid of failing in those calls and disappointing God and ourselves? Or is it just really a fear of lack of control over our lives and our destinies? What are we really, truly in the depths of our very beings afraid of?

Well I think any and all of those things are possible answers for almost anyone. Obviously as we are humans and live the human existence, there may not be one, universal answer to this question of fear. For some, the fear is over lack of control. For others it may be fear of failure. For others still it may be a fear driven by lack of trust. These are normal fears that almost everyone will experience at one time or another.

But as I think about this Scripture and the book of Jonah in general, something jumps out at me. Jonah was called by God to tell the people of Nineveh to change their ways. God gives them a second chance. Just like God gives us a second chance through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. So in a way, I would argue that Jonah was being called by God to go and evangelize to the people of Nineveh.

Now obviously his message was not about Jesus because this is well before that time in history. But it was a message of God’s love. And I know that might sound kind of funny because the message talks about the wicked ways of the people, but remember what else it says. “Go to Nineveh, that great city, and speak out against it; I am aware of how wicked its people are.” Did you hear the key phrase there? “I am aware.”

Think about it. If God didn’t love the people, would God even care to pay attention to them? Would God be aware of their wickedness? Would God send them a prophet to share this message if He did not love them? I don’t think that God would do any of that if God did not feel love for the people.

And do you know what the best part of that message is about God’s love? God’s love means we do not have to be afraid. God’s love means that we do not have to fear death. God’s love means that we do not have to fear eternal suffering. God’s love means that we do not have to fear the evils and dark places in this world.

So does that mean we should live our lives without any fear? Probably not. While it’s a nice idea to live that boldly through our faith and trust in God, I think as long as there is evil in our world it would be irresponsible to live life without any fear. But we can find opportunities to live without fear and do something bold in the world.

Have you ever wanted to share your faith with someone but were not sure where to start? That’s an opportunity to fight our fears and do something bold! And I don’t mean drag them kicking and screaming to church. While kidnapping is a bold move to be sure, that goes a bit beyond what I am thinking of.

But you could be bold and ask them to come to church with you. And it’s okay if they say no. At least you asked. If you never ask, they can never say no but they can never say yes either.

You can be bold by offering to help a neighbor with work around the house. You can be bold by spending time with those who are not able to get out and travel. You can be bold by getting more active in the missions and work of this church. There are countless ways that we can be bold and push against the fear we have in our lives.

Fear is a very powerful thing. Look at the story in Luke when Peter denies knowing Jesus three different times. Jesus told him that he would do it, but Peter swore he never would. And then, in that terrifying moment when he teacher was taken away and everything seemed to be falling apart, fear took over Peter and he denied the man he had come to follow and respect and love.

So we should not be ashamed of our fear. But we do need to fight against it. We cannot let our fears drive us away from God as Jonah did. It can lead to even scarier realities. But we need to also remember that if we do falter and find ourselves running from God, we cannot ever escape God’s love. God will still be with us in those times when things look their worst. Because God loves us.

So I ask you today to do something. Go and do something bold. Reach out to the neighbor who needs help. Reach out to the friend you have wanted to invite to church. Share your faith in a loving way. Do not the let fear overtake you and remember that God is always with us. God is all-powerful and can conquer the fears. So be bold and open yourself to God so the fears can be defeated.




Monsters Of The Deep – Job 41:1-14

As we begin our second week in our sermon series “Things That Go Bump In The Bible”, we move from the creatures found on land to those that inhabit the depths of the ocean. And while Daniel’s monsters that he described came from a dream he had, the beast we have just heard about in our Scripture reading was surely no dream…

It’s been reported that anywhere from half to four fifths of life on earth is actually found in the ocean. It is also estimated that the oceans contain about ninety-nine percent of the living space on earth. But in spite of that, humanity has explored somewhere between five and ten percent of the oceans. Now that may have to do with the fact that roughly eighty-five percent of the area is the dark, cold environment that we have called the “deep sea”.

And let’s be realistic here, how many of us here today would want to dive down into waters so dark that you cannot see anything? Show of hands? Yeah…me neither… And why are we afraid? Is it just the darkness? Is it that feeling of falling into the void? Or is it unknown? The unknown of what creatures may be lying in wait. Creatures unlike anything we have ever seen.

Did you know that in those depths are crabs over twelve feet long? Or what about the fangtooth fish who’s teeth look like a scary Halloween mask or something from a horror movie? Vampire squids and Pacific viperfish also roam the depths of our oceans. How about dragonfish that have the little thingy hanging in front of them that glows? That one showed up in Finding Nemo if you have ever seen it.

Or how about giant squid and sperm whales who have had legendary battles beneath the waves and in the darkest depths? I don’t know about you, but I hope I never run across a stargazer. And I mean that literally. They bury themselves in the sand and leap up to attack their prey as it goes by. Plus apparently several species of these darlings are electric and capable of delivering lethal level shocks. Makes you want to just go run of and dive into the ocean doesn’t it?

But can you imagine how the people of the Old Testament and ancient times must have felt? They didn’t even know that some of these things existed, which might actually be scarier. People’s imaginations and the power of a good legend or story can be much more frightening than the reality of a situation. And these stories weren’t about who caught the biggest fish like some friends share these days. These stories were about some truly amazing creatures.

Let’s look at our Scripture reading from the book of Job for this morning. We enter at a description of the Leviathan, a great beast that brought fear into the hearts of men, or at least of the author of this passage. It has been debated over the years that this Leviathan was a whale, or a crocodile, or even an elephant. I’m not sure how the last one works to be honest as the first two are typically at least found in the water and would be near the area where we assume Job was living.

The argument for the whale is improved by the fact that the creation of whales was historically looked on as a greater example or proof of God’s eternal power due to their sheer size and nobleness that many attributed to them. Modern Hebrew even translates Leviathan to whale. Interestingly though, later Jewish sources explain the Leviathan to be a dragon that lives within the deep. There are also some that believe that the names Leviathan and Behemoth were given to dinosaurs which they believe to have existed in Biblical times.

Even Scripture does not completely agree. In Psalm 74 it says that God “crushed the heads of Leviathan;” and “gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.” Psalm 104 mentions Leviathan as the author is praising God for the creatures God has made. Then in Isaiah 27 it says, “On that day the Lord with his cruel and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will kill the dragon that is in the sea.

I would say based off that last bit from Isaiah the idea of the dragon or serpent seems somewhat more convincing. But does it really matter? If you were swimming along in the ocean or sea and were faced with a great whale about to devour you or a giant dragon or serpent creature intent on the same, would you feel any different? I cannot really imagine someone faced with the whale would be sitting there treading water thinking, “Oh, well at least it isn’t a huge water dragon that’s about to eat me, it’s only a gigantic whale. Well that’s a relief…”

But let’s look at how the author in Job is referencing this unruly creature of the depths of the sea. “Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook, or press down his tongue with a cord? Can you put a rope in his nose, or pierce his jaw with a hook?” It sounds like to capture and overcome this beast is near impossible because normal fishing methods would not be enough or contain and subdue it.

“Will he make many supplications to you? Will he speak to you soft words? Will he make a covenant with you to take him for your servant forever?” Again, can they possibly think they can tame this monster of the deep? Will they somehow be able to control this giant of nature and make it obedient to their command?

The next verse, number five, is one of my favorites. It just sounds so funny to me. “Will you play with him as with a bird, or will you put him on leash for your maidens?” I am trying to picture a maiden, or young girl, sitting by the seaside holding a leash that is attached to this huge sea beast, petting it, talking to it like a cat or dog. The image of this just makes me laugh.

But we go back to this ferocious sea dragon or whale or whatever other image we may have for the Leviathan, and it starts to sink in even more what makes it so scary. It’s not just its size or its teeth or its strength. Where is this beast encountered? In the sea. A place where people drown. A place we cannot put our feet on a solid surface. A place that humanity especially then, but even some now is at the mercy of the waves, the weather, and the very whim of the water itself.

We have no authority or power in the water. Sure we have boats, we have submarines, and we have floatation devices. But is that really that much? Boats can sink. Subs can fill with water. Floatation devices can be popped or broken. We are truly powerless in many ways when we are upon the water. So as scary as the beast is, the home of the beast is just as scary sometimes.

And I think it is scary not only because the sea and ocean are not literal solid ground on which we can stand, but in the figurative sense too. Those deep, dark depths of the ocean holds the unknown. And as humans we tend not to like the unknown very much because if something is unknown then we are not in control and have no power, or very little. We like to think we are in control and in power and when something challenges that, well we don’t really like it.

But this passage is actually telling us more about the power of our God than the strength of this great sea beast. If the creatures that God created and put humanity over to care for and rule over are so powerful that we are in awe of them, how awesome and powerful must our God? The God who has dominion over us and all creation. God’s power so far exceeds anything that this sea beast can muster up, it is almost beyond our comprehension, and maybe even is beyond it.

And the good news about that reality, the knowledge of God’s power is that it is limitless and everlasting. That God has placed humanity over creation to care for it shows us how much God loves us. That power and that love are reflections of a God who wants what is best for us and provides us the protection of that love through that power. God does leave us alone to battle the figurative creatures of the darkest depths, nor the actual physical ones either.

Our God is always there. So in those moments where something touches our foot and frightens us, God is still there. When we are faced with what seems like an abyss that falls forever into darkness because of an illness or depression or whatever may be weighing us down, God is still there. And God will always be there, even when we are unsure or faltering in our faith.

But you know what one of the best things about facing that darkness and unknown with God? God does not let that darkness last. Yes, it may seem to drag on at times or seem unending, but we have to remember the Greatest News of God’s love. The light. God sent the light into creation in Genesis and God sent the light into the world when Jesus came to save humanity and all creation from sin and death.

And that light is brighter than the brightest sun or star. It is warm, it is clean, and it is safe. It reminds me of a children’s song called “This Little Light Of Mine”. I am sure many of you know it, but for those that don’t it talks about letting the gospel, the love of God and Jesus, shine in the world. That light will make that abyss explode in brightness. It will cause the evil things to run and hide. And it is everlasting.

As scary as this Leviathan creature may be, it is still a creature of God’s creation and one that God has placed us over to care for. We must work to not fear these dangers. Respect them yes, but not fear them. We must work to put our trust in our God, the God of the light and all power and love. There will always be unknown things in this life. There will always be things that scare us. There will always be beasts, both figurative and literal, that cross our paths. But the light will never be extinguished.

As you go about your time this week I ask that you carry the lyrics from that song with you everywhere you go. They go something like this: “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”

I challenge each and every one of you to do just that. Let the light of God’s love and grace and the saving acts of Jesus Christ shine brightly through you and in everything you say and do. Be a beacon to others of love. Can you imagine just how bright this world can become? Can you picture the darkness of our world fading away into the loving, warm light that is our God? I think I can, and I hope you can, and I am excited to try. Won’t you try with me to light up this world?



Nightmare On Babylon Street – Daniel 7:1-8

Pre Sermon Prayer

Strengthening God, we ask that You quiet our minds, bring peace to our hearts, and remove the distractions of our lives so that we might here the message of Your love and grace. Our sleep is filled with both happy dreams and scary nightmares. Help us to turn these things over to You and be strengthened in our faith.

And now, may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, together in this place, be pleasing in your sight ‘O God, Our rock and our redeemer.

Nightmare On Babylon Street

Well, here we are in a new month and that means we have a new sermon series. In honor of how October is often associated with Halloween, trick-or-treating, and scary movies, our new sermon series is called. During this month we will be focusing on some of the monsters and scary things that we find in the Bible.
I think when a lot of us begin thinking about Halloween we think about kids getting dressed up in their costumes of favorite characters like super heroes, cartoon characters, ghosts, Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and many other classics. Most aren’t really scary, but every now and then some can be a bit frightening. Probably not many we would get nightmares from usually.

Now is also the time of year that many TV stations begin to show all those scary films, and children and adults alike may experience nightmares from some of them. Some of the classics include Omen, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Psycho, The Exorcist, and of course, A Nightmare On Elm Street.

Those are some scary movies. They feature people losing their grips on reality, the presence of evil, murder, torture, and complete mayhem. Personally I’ll take a good comedy or kids cartoon any day myself. Not that I am afraid of these films, I just don’t get into that genre much. I’d rather laugh and smile than scream and be freaked out. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just my personal preference.

So what do these movies have to do with our Scripture reading from the Book of Daniel? Well, in our reading today Daniel is describing a dream he had the night before. And as we read along we find him describing a fairly odd occurrence. Four great beasts coming out of the sea? Each one more deranged than the first? A lion with eagle’s wings. A bear with tusks in its mouth in addition to its teeth. A leopard with four wings and four heads.

And then the last one. “…a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth and was devouring, breaking in pieces, and stamping what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that preceded it, and it had ten horns. I was considering the horns, when another horn appeared, a little one coming up among them; to make room for it, three of the earlier horns were plucked up by the roots. There were eyes like human eyes in this horn, and a mouth speaking arrogantly.”

I don’t know about you, but those four things definitely sound like the things nightmares are made of. They may not be serial killers hunting down people to murder like in many horror films, but these might be worse. Even though serial killers are very really in our world today, we have seen them defeated by local and national law enforcement. Creatures like these may not be ones we have come across in our lives, but if we did do we feel confident they could be overcome?

These four beasts were meant to represent four kingdoms that were going to arise in the neighboring lands and rule over the area. From Babylon to Medo-Persia to Greece and then finally Rome, these beasts were symbolizing a progression of time under the rule of these different beasts. And it’s interesting the description of the last beast that was meant to symbolize Rome. A creature so terrifying and frightening because of its power and devouring of its prey, which in this case was the people and kingdoms of Israel.

Just put yourself in the shoes, or rather sandals, of Daniel or another Israelite. As you see these different kingdoms and empires come through and they overtake you and rule over you. And there is not a whole lot that they could do. At least not if they wanted to live. So not only is the dream itself nightmarish, but so was the real world reality. People were being taken over and forced to live under the rule of some of these other kingdoms as they rose to power.

Let’s think about this in somewhat more recent events. Imagine what the people of France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium, and other European countries felt when Germany began to invade their countries during World War II. How nightmarish would it have been to see your friends and neighbors being subjected to the ravages of war, being removed from their homes, and if you were Jewish, being sent away to concentration camps and the horrors that were found within. Thankfully that the war came to an end and these countries were freed, and the survivors of the concentration camps were rescued.

Or what about the people of Kuwait when the troops from Iraq were taking control of their country. How frightening would it have been to see armed soldiers coming through the towns and taking over? How do the locals protect their children and loved ones? This again sounds like the things that nightmares are made of when we look at it in the context of what Daniel was experiencing. Thankfully Coalition forces were able to free the people of Kuwait and return their country to them.

Or what about some of the most recent unrest in our world? We are still in the midst of the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine, and the challenges there. Can you imagine what it would feel like to see armed troops coming into your neighborhood and declaring their rule? Sounds awful scary to me, especially when we consider the history of this part of the world and how some of the past rulers of Russia have dealt with people, including mass execution.

So our nightmares are not just in our dreams, but can be real life events right in front of us. Daniel’s dreams of the four beasts can be seen as very nightmarish all on its own. But then when we look at what it symbolized and the aftermath, the reality was just as bad, if not worse. The nightmare of the dream became a nightmare in reality. And that might be the worst part of it.

So what are we to do? How do we combat these nightmares, both in dreams and in reality? What are we to do? Well, if we read a little further in chapter 7 we find the following, “As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient One took his throne, his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and flowed out from his presence. A thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him. The court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. I watched then because of the noise of the arrogant words that the horn was speaking. And as I watched, the beast was put to death, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.”

So some great being has come and proclaimed judgment on these four beasts. But the story continues on and we read, “As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.”

Hmm…kinda sounds familiar doesn’t it? One like a human being? So one that maybe was both human and divine? This one is given dominion and glory and kingship. Hmm…dominion that is everlasting and kingship that cannot be destroyed…who could this be talking about potentially? I feel like we have heard this story or a similar one before…

Of course I am talking about Jesus. Now I am not claiming that Daniel’s dream is definitely proclaiming the coming and rule of Jesus. But you have to admit there are some definite similarities found here. Jesus was both human and divine. Jesus and God have dominion over all creation and are everlasting. So it is easy to see how a reader would see Jesus being described here.

And what is great about these passages that follow our original reading is that it offers us some comfort and confidence. They tell us how the beasts are defeated. The scary, nightmarish creatures that we feared have been defeated. And the real life nightmares they symbolized have also been defeated. God is triumphant over all nightmares and reigns forever.

But does God still do this for us today? Is God still defeating the nightmares in our dreams as well as the nightmares of our world? Well I suppose that depends on what you believe and how you understand God’s work in our world. It depends on how you understand the world and creation in which we live.

One could make the argument that God and Jesus were active when World War II ended and countries were freed, and the survivors of the concentration camps were rescued. One could make the argument that God’s hand was active during the conflict in Kuwait and helped to free those people. One could even make the argument that God is active in the situation with the Ukraine and Russia as news that might have been buried in the past have instead come to light through the Internet and social media.

When it comes to the nightmares of our dreams, God can be active there too. We awake from our dreams and nightmares. We still may be upset or feel stressed by the dreams, but we have been freed from them by waking up. And for some, things like prayer can help to lessen that stress and bring us peace from the memories of those nightmares. God’s presence and action can be found here. It all depends on us.

And I say it depends on us because it ultimately comes down to how we interact with God and our relationship with God. Do we easily allow God to be present in our lives and active? Or do we push God away and ignore His desire to be in relationship with us? Do we turn to God when we are afraid and shaken, asking for his peace and comfort? Or do we try to just deal with everything on our own and ignore the Holy Spirit’s presence? God is always there, but it still at some level comes down to our free will and if we want to be in relationship with God who desires to be in relationship with us.

We have to remember that there are scary things in life and in our dreams, and it is how we chose to deal with them that affects us and our lives. As you leave here today I ask that you contemplate your relationship with God. Do you trust God? Do you bring everything to God in prayer? Do you open yourself up to God? Do you seek the protection and grace of God? Consider these questions and think about what your answers might be.

Our God is all-powerful. Our God is the God of grace and unconditional love. Our God wants to be in relationship with us. Our God can defeat the nightmares of our dreams and our realities. I pray that you always open yourself up to God’s love and grace, and find joy in that relationship with Him.



The Greatest Teacher. EVER! – John 13:12-15

This week we are wrapping up on our sermon series, “Back To School” where we have focused on teachers and important lessons about teaching that we find in our Scriptures. We have talked about the important of practicing what we teach. We have talked about parents, and those who have been like parents in our lives, and how they teach us. And last week we talked about the Holy Spirit as teacher and as a guidance counselor. For this final week, we will be talking about the greatest teacher ever…

When we look at popular culture, whether books or movies or television, teachers are often featured or at the very least play important roles. Let’s take for example the character of Dewey Finn, played by comedian and actor Jack Black, in the film School of Rock. If you haven’t seen this one, in the beginning of the film Finn is a wannabe rock star trying to make it big and earn some money. He ends up pretending to be a substitute teacher at a school and attempts to turn his classroom into a rock band. Now despite his original motives, Finn ends up being a great teacher and one who is encouraging and nurturing.

How about the movie adaption of the book Matilda. In this one teacher Miss Honey, played by Embeth Davidtz, is not the main character but a supporting one. She provides the main character, Matilda, with safety and trust while nurturing her learning and exploring of her world. I won’t spoil the ending for those of you who have not seen the film, but it shows a great deal about the character and positive motivations of Miss Honey.

But it is not just in children’s stories that we find some influential teachers. In some of the dramas that have been produced we also find the teacher in the role of main character or very important supporting one. Take for instance the character of John Keating, played by Robin Williams in the film Dead Poets Society. Here we find a teacher who tries some unorthodox methods to reach his students and inspire them to find a love for poetry and to go out and seize the day. His passion is evident throughout the film and is itself inspiring.

Or how about Bill Rago, the character played by Danny DeVito in the film Renaissance Man? Originally a businessman who is struggling with things going on in his life he ends up taking a job as a teacher in the U.S. Army. There is he tasked with teaching a group of students deemed “behind” the rest of their class and in need of some additional instruction. Here again, the original motivations of the teacher are not what we might expect but in the end are turned around due to their character and passion.

Finally what about Louanne Johnson, Michelle Pfeiffer’s character in the movie Dangerous Minds? As an ex-Marine, Johnson struggles in her job as teacher at an inner city school as she tries to find ways to connect with her students. While a dark film at times given the context and subject matter faced, it still speaks volumes about the character of Johnson as she works to make that connection with her students.

So what kind of teacher do we think Jesus was? Would he have been encouraging? Would he have been someone we felt we could trust? Would he be someone we felt safe with? Would he be the kind of teacher that we would look back on fondly and remember not only what he taught us, but remember his mannerisms and his ways? Would Jesus be the kind of teacher that we would always think of as one of our favorites?

In our Gospel reading this morning we find Jesus and disciples together and Jesus has just washed the feet of the disciples. He tells them that he has given them an example by washing their feet and that they should go and do the same. He was teaching them about the importance of doing things for others regardless of the position of either person in the world. Here Jesus, the Son of God, was washing the feet of his followers. Usually we would expect that to go the other way around. But Jesus was teaching them an important lesson. He was teaching them about love.

And Jesus did that a lot. Jesus is referred to as teacher over sixty times in the Bible, and possibly more depending on the translation you read. We can flip the pages of the four gospels and pick a page at random and almost every time find a time where Jesus is teaching a lesson. And whether explicitly or implicitly, the lesson is about love. From the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount, to the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the two greatest commandments to love God and love neighbor, to his ultimate death and resurrection, Jesus was always teaching about love.

When I look back at those teachers in those films, I try to think if they were teaching their students about love in some implicit way. And I am sure some of them were. But they were also doing something else really important. They were teaching WITH love. From showing patience to offering encouragement to making the learning environment safe and inviting, these people were all teaching with love. Whether a love for teaching itself, a love for education and learning, or even just a love for children and young adults, these people all taught WITH love.

And just like those teachers, Jesus too taught with love. He showed compassion for children and healed the sick. He offered the people not only his words, but his hope and ultimately his life. Even when the disciples continued to not fully understand his plan, he still continued to work with them and teach them and love them. He didn’t get fed up, tell them all to get lost and start over with a new group of followers. No, he continued to teach them and prepare them for what was to come.

Jesus also taught with love through implicit lessons. He fed the five thousand. He made the blind see. He made the lame walk. He cured leprosy, one of what I can only imagine is of the worst diseases you could get at that time. He washed the feet of the disciples. He raised Lazarus and others from the dead. And he did this because he loved the world.

But even more importantly than any of these things, was when he taught with love as he gave his life for ours. I mean think about for a second. This is the Son of God! The all-powerful one. The King of kings, and Lord of lords. He could have called upon the army of angels to come and free him. He could have made the ground shake and the seas boil over. He could have rained down on his captures a power greater than anything we could ever imagine. But that’s not what he did.

God could have looked down at the world and said, “You know what? This isn’t worth it anymore.” Jesus could have ascended right there out of the garden the night he was captured and said, “Peace. I’m outta here!” But again, that’s not what he did. Jesus did not give us on us. Jesus did not bail when things started to get really bad. Jesus made the biggest display of his teaching with love when he gave himself for us.

Because as most of us have already heard or read for ourselves in John three sixteen and seventeen, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” That was the ultimate act of love.

Jesus died for us. For us! Jesus gave his life and defeat death so that we might be saved from eternal death. Instead, we have been reborn and given a new opportunity. All because he loves us. And by doing this huge thing, by dying for us and saving us for eternal life with him, he taught the greatest lesson about love with love.

Take a second to consider this. If Jesus, the Son of God and all-powerful one, could give his life to save ours and grant us eternal life with him, what can we do for each other? Jesus didn’t just get crucified and die to save us. That was a really big part of it sure, but it also provided an important lesson about love. What he did was done with love. But he was also teaching about love.

What we if followed the teachings of Jesus and made a sacrifice for others? I am not saying to go get arrested and executed, but there are other things we can do. Already I know most of you are doing many things for others and doing them out of love. From our Food Pantry to the money we raise for different missional needs to the outreach work, I know you are all already doing a great deal for others because of Jesus’ example of love.

And whether you realize it or not, by the work you do, you are teaching others about God’s love and teaching with love. See that is one of the greatest things about love. You can’t really teach someone about love fully, if you don’t also teach WITH love. That is exactly what Jesus was doing. Whether through his parables or his healing or his ultimate sacrifice, Jesus was ALWAYS teaching ABOUT love and WITH love. And that, at least in my opinion, along with everything Jesus did makes him the greatest teacher. EVER!

As you leave here later this morning and go about your week, I want you to think about some of your favorite teachers. What made them your favorite? Which ones had the biggest impact on your life and education? Which ones will you never, ever forget as long as you live? Which ones taught you something you still hold onto today? And what was that lesson?

I want you to take those things and then also continue to look at yourself as a teacher. Whether in a classroom setting, out in a field, shopping at the grocery store, or just spending time with those you love, you are always a teacher. And because we are always teachers, remember that whole explicit and implicit thing – what we intend to teach directly and the lessons we convey indirectly, we should always strive to be the kind of teacher that Jesus was.

We should always try to teach both ABOUT love and always WITH love. I would make the argument that you cannot do these authentically apart for one another anyways. But we should make the effort to be aware of the explicit and the implicit as we teach. And that goes for ALL teaching moments, not just with children. We are always learning from each other and with each other. Let us always do that with love as well.

I preached at the beginning of this month about how we must practice what we teach. Jesus was doing that with everything he did, and so must we. Jesus is the greatest teacher our world and all creation has ever and will ever know. But as students of that teaching we must continue to put into practice what we have learned and then go forward to share it with others.

Class is in session folks and the list of teachers is a long one. From parents and family and friends to the Holy Spirit and Jesus our Savior, there are many voices and influences of teaching all around us. May we always hear them with an eager ear and a heart that burns to learn and love more.



Bone Marrow Donors Needed

Hi All,

The brother-in-law of the my church secretary is in need of a bone marrow transplant. I am copying the information from our upcoming newsletter below and through other social media sites to try to help raise awareness not only for his situation, but hopefully for bone marrow donating in general. Please consider this if you are willing. I’ve been told you must be between the ages of 18 and 44 (or at least that is what they are currently looking for). I plan on registering on the site this evening and hope you will consider it too. Thank you for your time and consideration.

God’s Blessings,

Pastor Michael



My brother-in-law, Paul, is in need of a bone marrow transplant. He has a rare form of Multiple Myeloma (blood cancer) and also a rare immune system which makes it hard for him to find a suitable donor. I am asking for your help – sign up with to be a donor. It is really simple – all yo do is go on-line and sign-up and they mail the stuff right to your home – you then just swab your cheek and mail it back.

Paul is in Houston, Texas right now looking for alternatives but without a bone marrow transplant his prognosis is not good. Paul’s daughter is getting married next August and he would really like to walk her down the aisle but without help, he’ll be lucky if he sees Christmas.

Thank you & God bless you!!
Your secretary, Michele


Not A Substitute Teacher – John 14:26 & 16:12-15

Today, we continue in our sermon series “Back To School” that focuses on teaching in the Bible. Last week we talked about parents as teachers, as well as others who have been like parents in our lives and taught us important lessons about faith and life. This week we are looking at some passages from the Gospel of John about another teacher that is in our lives, the Holy Spirit.

When I was growing up and in grade school I can remember being excited for having a substitute teacher on the rare occasion that our primary teacher was ill or absent. Not that I didn’t like my regular teacher. I actually think I was rather blessed with good teachers throughout my entire education, and especially in grade school, junior high, and high school. But there was still something exciting about having a substitute teacher every once in a while.

Usually a substitute teacher meant that something would change in the regular routine. Maybe we skipped a quiz that day or got to do some other special project or assignment. As I got older and into high school it usually meant additional quiet time to work on homework or studying, depending on the substitute’s familiarity with the topics and subjects we were working on at that time.

And I have to imagine that the job of a substitute teacher, at any level of education, can be an especially challenging one. You don’t get the time to really develop a relationship with the students as you are often only with them for a day or so most of the time. Even if you always sub for the same schools in the same districts where you might run into the same children from time-to-time, you still don’t get that constant interaction that the regular teachers do.

And on top of that you are coming into the classroom having to teach someone else’s teaching plan and schedule, not one that you got to create and develop. For those of you who are not teachers, think about having to go into a different workplace and do someone else’s job just for one day. It’s a job you know how to do, but you don’t really know anyone there and things are not setup the way you are accustomed to. Doesn’t sound all that easy to me to be honest.

So what do substitute teachers have to do with our Scripture passages this morning? Well for the past two weeks we have been talking about teachers and teaching in the Bible. This week we are looking at the Holy Spirit as a teacher. But what kind of teacher is the Holy Spirit? Let’s look back at our reading and see what we find there.

The first passage reads, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” Almost kind of sounds like the Holy Spirit is going to help us review and study everything doesn’t it? Maybe like a substitute would if we had a big test coming up once the regular teacher was back? Hmm…

Well let’s look at the other passage. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” He will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears. Almost like a substitute might just read from the textbook or the handout the teacher provided if they aren’t familiar with the focus of that lesson.

So is the Holy Spirit a substitute teacher? Well that would not be a bad thing from one perspective, at least to me. I remember many of my substitute teachers growing up actually and liked almost all of them. I learned a lot from them and even kept in contact with a few all the way through high school. They have a challenging job, and it requires a great deal of dedication and passion to do it. So in that respect I don’t think comparing the Holy Spirit to a substitute teacher is bad at all.

But the truth is that the Holy Spirit is not a substitute teacher for some very key reasons. Let’s look at some of the characteristics of a substitute teacher again. They are often only there for a day or so in most cases. They are not always experts on the topics being taught, it all depends on who is out and who is available to teach that day. And they don’t always get to have that constant, every day contact with the students since they are only there for a short time.

Now let’s look at the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is in our lives every second of every day. The Holy Spirit helps us to know God and be in relationship with God, so clearly the Holy Spirit is an expert on the topic being taught. And because the Holy Spirit is always with us we are in constant relationship with the Holy Spirit. So from that perspective, the Holy Spirit is almost the opposite of a substitute teacher.

God has acted as teacher or entrusted others to teach on behalf of God from the beginning of time. In the creation story, God teaches Adam and Eve about the garden and about the consequences for sinning when they are banned from the garden for eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Later on God uses Abraham, Moses, and many more prophets to teach the people about God. Further on Jesus comes to the world and teaches the people about God. When Jesus leaves, the disciples and apostles are entrusted to teach the people.

But throughout all of this time, the Holy Spirit is present and working. The Holy Spirit is the one who helps us to know God and be in relationship with God. The Spirit was present with God when creation began. The Spirit was present with the prophets when they heard God calling them. The Spirit was with Jesus as he taught the disciples. The Spirit was present with them after Jesus left and they went out to teach the world of his wondrous love and sacrifice.

And I think sometimes we forget about the Holy Spirit and the work done. When we think about our faith and our God it is easy to remember and think about God the Father, the Creator, the all-powerful loving one who watches over us. And it’s easy to remember Jesus. I mean, he did play a pretty big role in the whole Christianity thing right? His story is our salvation. His story sparked something in the world bigger than anyone could have ever imagined.

But what about the Holy Spirit? Outside of Acts chapter 2 when the people speak in tongues and flames are resting above their heads, the Holy Spirit does not seem to get nearly as much attention or have many big stories that focus on the Spirit. God has a lot of stories, especially in the Old Testament. Noah and the flood. Moses and the Israelites escaping Egypt. There are tons of them! And then Jesus is the star of the beginning of the New Testament with the miracles he performs and then this death and resurrection. But the Holy Spirit does not have as many “big stories”.

So does that make the Holy Spirit somehow less than God and Jesus? Not at all. We must remember that we believe in a triune God, three in one. The Holy Spirit is always with us, sometimes guiding us, sometimes leading us, sometimes pushing us, sometimes shaking us, but always, always there. And always trying to teach us more about God so that we can continue to be in relationship with God.

I think I would rather think of the Holy Spirit as the guidance counselor. Growing up, and especially in high school, I remember the guidance counselor was someone you could go to for help or advice. They would try to help guide you, or in some cases even lead you as needed. They watched over your development and educational path. And when struggles in life came up, they could offer important life lessons and ways to help cope. They were still teaching, just not in the normal classroom.

In high school I had the same guidance counselor that my sisters had been assigned to years before. She was a very kind and patient woman. She cared very much about each of her students, and even those who weren’t assigned to her. She helped us plan our class schedules and talked to us about our future plans. She was always there with a shoulder to cry on or words of advice. She was a great listener and a great teacher as well, even if she didn’t teach in a classroom.

And like that guidance counselor, the Holy Spirit is concerned with each and every one of us. The Holy Spirit works to help us know God and to be in relationship with God. The Holy Spirit works to guide us in our lives, which in a sense impacts our future and our well-being. The Holy Spirit is always there, even if we cannot see the Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is a great teacher, with the world as the classroom.

There is another important similarity between the guidance counselor and the Holy Spirit too. If we chose to ignore the lessons and wisdom being taught to us by the guidance counselor, we might have missed out on some important things we needed to know later on. So too if we ignore the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit we may miss out on some important things about God and God’s love for the world.

I ask that each and every one of you make the effort to listen for the Holy Spirit and where it is guiding you, leading you, pushing you, or shaking you. The voice of the Spirit may be one you hear through the words of a friend or loved one or even an enemy. The voice of the Spirit may be one you hear through something you see or witness. The voice of the Spirit may be one that you hear through your feelings and quiet thoughts. Whenever and however you hear the voice of the Holy Spirit I pray that you always listen and listen closely. We may not always know where the Spirit is guiding us, leading us, pushing us, or shaking us, but we will never know if we do not first listen.