Brenda preaches from 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. In his letter to the church at Thessaloniki -- which is the earliest Christian writing in the New Testament, even earlier than the gospels -- Paul reassures his disciples that they have what they need to survive anxious times. They have their faith in Christ and the mutual support of their community. We, too, have these things, and like a spiritual emergency kit, they help us to weather the anxious times of our own day.
We are called, as people of faith, to be good stewards of all that God has entrusted to us. Some of that is money. But it is also that is that which is harder to measure: love, grace, compassion, gratitude. May we be generous with all these incredible gifts. May we remember that we are agents of grace, on a journey that makes known the generosity of God through our own practice of the same.
This is first in a series on stewardship, looking at the Journey to Generosity. In this sermon, Russ invites us to consider the difference between what Miroslav Volf differentiates the richness of having and the richness of being. One is outward, the other is inner. Sadly, we are too easily distracted by the external things. But James reminds us there are trials and more along the way, but the great test in life is centered on finding the path to the richness of being.
God’s way of working in the world to alleviate suffering, injustice, and pain, is not to intervene miraculously, suspending the laws of nature, sending angels to make things right. No, God works through people. God hears, sees, and knows the suffering of others… and expects us to do the same. And God’s response is to call US to step up as instruments of God’s help.
Could it be that God doesn’t take us away from life’s horrific experiences, but promises us that through them all we will never be alone? What we discover in the midst of our suffering is that God is there, not as the cause of the suffering, but suffering with us, standing alongside.
In looking at the Creation poem of Genesis 1, perhaps the poet is saying, "In the midst of creation there is so much to do, accomplish, build, create… so much to administrate, many emails to respond to, bills to pay, calls to return, so much to create, manage, do… BE CAREFUL that in the midst of all that you don’t become so consumed that you find yourself enslaved again, back in another sort of Egypt, making bricks, bricks, bricks…"
In the final sermon of the series of women in the Bible, Russ looks at Mary of Magdala. A lot of stories are told about Mary of Magdala, but ultimately she gets to tell her own story – the truth about who she really is and what she stands for. Ultimately that is our privilege and responsibility as well.
Even though at in one letter Paul says that women should remain silent in church, in other places he lifts up and recognizes several women who serve the church in wonderful ways. As far as we know, these church ladies did no heroic deeds or had miraculous experiences. They just served God the way they knew how. Like them, most of us live pretty ordinary lives, but yet, through us, God can do extraordinary things.
Talking about another fierce woman of the bible, Russ looks at the Canaanite woman who, out of desperation, begs Jesus to heal her daughter who is tormented by a demon. When rebuffed (and insulted) this woman from the wrong side of the tracks points out to Jesus that the wideness of God's mercy is bigger than even he can understand, and that God offers more than crumbs, but a place at the table.
Our guest preacher, Rev. Sara Steenhouse, looked at the story of Ruth who resolved to stay with her mother-in-law Naomi, and they found a way, when it seemed no way was to be found. Through Ruth's story we are invited to consider who we are responsible for, noticing that regular, everyday people can find courage to lift one another up, finding a way forward, even when it seems no way is to be found.
The story of Rahab is an important piece in the history of Israel taking over the city of Jericho as they moved into the Promised Land. The part of the story that we tend to focus on, however, is the idea that she was a prostitute and how beautiful she was. Most interesting thing about Rahab has nothing to do with looks or profession.
All too often our culture views women as objects of our affection rather than complex people with feelings, wants, and needs of their own.
What we see about Rahab is that her life is not easily defined. She was complex. She was not just a prostitute. She was not just a hero. She was not just a body. She was smart, cunning, and faithful. Her story is part of an epic narrative about how to be human to one another.
Note: at one point in the sermon, portions of a video clip is shown. The video, in its entirety, can be viewed here.
In this first sermon in the series, Russ looks at the story of Eve and how she grew through her curiosity and heartbreak. In so doing, she teaches us that it is ok to want to know more, be more, and to keep finding ways to push the envelope.
One of our favorite guest preachers, Rev. Sandhya Jha, preaches on the story of Hagar and weaves it in with the story of Khadijah, the prophet Muhammad's first wife. She invites us to stand with our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters, living in true community.
Like the churches in Galatia, there seem to be a great deal of division among us in the world today. But, ultimately, we belong to one another; depend and count on one another. If we are going to see this through, we need to do so together. In many ways, that's what Paul was telling the Galatians: There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for we are all one in Christ Jesus.
In this Pentecost sermon, Russ points out that on that day, each heard the Good News in their own language. There was not one way that the message was received. The message was clear: ALL people are loved by God. And if the church is to be vital and thrive: we need to reclaim that Spirit of reaching out to all!
All are invited to receive the grace of God.
All means all, or it means nothing. Blacks and whites; gays and lesbians; Native Americans and immigrants; liberals and fundamentalists and even aging bald white guys – ALL are invited to the table, or no one is.
As the church, our job is to open our doors as wide as God's heart and proclaim that there is room in the family of God for everyone. But it goes beyond making sure people are welcomed, they need to know they are wanted; and they are not just accepted, they are loved. For some people, when they find a place like that, it’s like finding water in the desert.