Your Life and Your Money

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Mark 10:35-45

Many people cringe when their pastor begins to talk about money.

The story of our faith tells us that, in the Beginning, God created everything that we see and that God created it all to be “good.” In his explanation of the 4th Petition in the Lord’s Prayer, Martin Luther reminds us that, when we ask God to “give us this day our daily bread,” God responds to our prayer by providing food, drink, shelter, shoes, clothing, our homes, faithful rulers, good weather, peace, good health, good neighbors, and even the gift of money. Signs of God’s faithfulness are all around us; in fact, God’s continuing love and faithfulness is what keeps us alive.
And so, a natural question emerges: “How do we respond to God’s faithfulness?”

In today’s reading (Mark 10:35-45), James and John ask an interesting question. They have been following Jesus for some time. They have seen Jesus perform miracles and heal the sick. They’ve heard Jesus talk about Heaven and they decide that they want special seats in Heaven; and so, they ask Jesus to give them those coveted places.
But Jesus surprises them.

Jesus describes being a Christ-ian as being a person who serves. Following Jesus is not about honor and prestige, and being great and visible. Following Jesus is not about power and authority and getting your own way. Christ-ians follow Jesus by living lives that are dedicated to loosing bonds and setting people free. Christ-ians untie bonds and help people move toward “wellness.” But, in a busy world, we don’t have enough hours in the day to support every good cause, do we? In a busy world filled is many obligations, we can’t set everyone free, untie all of the bonds that we want to untie, and help all of the people that we want to help move toward “wellness.” But, what we do have is a “vehicle” that we can use to do just that.
What would happen if you began to look at money as something that someone else gives to you in exchange for a part of your life that you can never get back?

That’s the truth that this week’s message, “Your Life and Your Money”, lifts-up. Our lives and our money are intimately connected. And our money is a “vehicle” that we can use to do things that we, otherwise, wouldn’t have the time or the physical ability to do.

We may not have time or the physical ability to visit the ill and the home-bound people in our community – but, through the “vehicle” of money, we can offer a part of our lives to restore people who are suffering and lonely to wellness by supporting the ministry of a person who makes those life-changing visits. We may not have the time or the physical ability to feed hungry people in our community – but, through the “vehicle” of money, we can give-up a part of our lives as Christ-ians to untie the bonds of hunger and place food on people’s tables by supporting the work of a local food bank. We may not have time or the physical ability to fight the raging battle against addictions in our communities – but, through the “vehicle” of money, we can give-up a part of our lives as Christ-ians, so that people who are battling addictions have a safe place where they can gather in supportive communities to fight their battle with the help of other people. We may not have time or the physical ability to rebuild homes after a hurricane has destroyed them – but through the “vehicle” of money we can restore hope and rebuild homes, and we can provide help to those who are traveling through one of the most difficult times in their lives.
When we give money to the Church, we offer a gift-of-life that will be used as a “vehicle” to restore people, to untie bonds, and to bring God’s people to a better place in life that’s marked with both health and wellness.

Money that’s given to the Church isn’t just used to support an institution or social club. Money that’s given to the Church isn’t just used to pay ongoing expenses, so that the doors of an aging building can remain open for another week.

The money that you give is a “vehicle” that we use to share our lives with others. Money that we give to the Church in thanksgiving is a “vehicle” we use to share time and energy and life with folks who need to be restored and who need to be brought to a better place in life in the name of Jesus.

Our Partners in Mission

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Mark 9:38-40

Have you noticed that the world’s changing?

We live in a world of instant access where people can watch hurricanes move across the Atlantic, and where we’re invited to sit in the courtroom while people like Bill Cosby are being sentenced to time in prison. We can watch President Trump address the General Assembly of the United Nations, and listen to people question Brett Kavanaugh after his nomination to serve on the Supreme Court. Every “pop” and “ding” and “vibration” on our cellphones means something. And, as the world’s quickly changing all around us, the Church is changing, too.

Most Americans continue to believe in God, but fewer and fewer people are sitting in church pews on an average weekend. Churches that were once filled to capacity with bustling crowds are facing tough times as once-filled pools of volunteers have emptied and as rising costs fuel growing deficits. But people are still doing “good things,” aren’t they? Organizations all across America were mobilizing volunteers and were asking for financial support long before Hurricane Florence made its landfall. People can send money to feed hungry children – support their local women’s shelter – provide medical care for children with cancer – or even save an abandoned puppy or kitten with a touch on their cellphone’s screen. And many people in the Church are feeling threatened by that – because it’s almost as if we’re competing with other groups that are always pulling people and resources that we need to do ministry out of our hands.

The apostle John once said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name and we tried to stop him because he was not following us.” (Mark 9:38)

“Our Partners in Mission” is a message that’s been created to encourage you to think about building mission-partnerships between the church that you attend and groups that are also serving God’s people in your local community. Jesus once said, “Those who are not against us are for us.” (Mark 9:40) When we move past the idea that life-altering ministry is a “possession” of the Church, we can begin to see that God uses all sorts of people to do things that God wants to do in the world. And that can be life-changing to a congregation that’s struggling to figure-out what ministry even looks like in the 21st Century.
Let’s look more carefully at the idea of mission-partnerships where I live.

The Plum Food Pantry is serving people who are food-insecure in the community where the congregation I serve is located and we can feed hungry families, too – not by creating our own wheel and by feeding people in our own way – but, rather, by joining hands with other people who also want to do God’s work in our community. The Blackburn Center is standing beside women who are being battered in their homes, and is standing beside women and men who have been sexually abused or assaulted and we can do that, too – not by going out and creating our own wheel and by trying to do it all by ourselves – but, rather, by joining hands with other people who want to do God’s work, too. We can help seniors remain in their homes and remain independent by “joining the cause” and being a mission-partner with those who are trying to expand Open Your Heart to a Senior in our local area. We can battle the opioid addiction that’s claiming so many young lives in our community and we don’t need to create our own wheel and try to do it by ourselves! We can, instead, join hands in a mission-partnership with Narcotics Anonymous and do God’s work by supporting the ministry of folks who are already on the front-lines of the battle against addictions!
When the Church begins to look at ministry as its own possession, it loses sight of the fact that God can use all sorts of people to do the things that God wants to do.

The Church enjoyed being the center of the community for a long, long time. The Church created activities and programs that gave people something to do, and the fellowship of the Church was blessed by cover-dish dinners – church picnics – women’s circle meetings – and all sorts of youth group activities. And, as a “new day” dawns, those who continue to participate in the ministry of the Church carry that with them. As a “new day” dawns in America and all around the world, those who continue to regularly participate in the ministry of the Church carry all of those important things with them as things that can be remembered and cherished and honored and celebrated!

But, as Jesus continues to challenge us to explore new ways to “be the Church” and to think about ways that we can join hands in ministry in new and creative ways, it’s time for us to realize that “Those who are not against us are for us!” (Mark 9:40) – because, when we move past the idea that ministry is the Church’s possession, we become more open to working with many different people who are as serious about doing God’s work as we are.

Hurricane Florence – You Can Help!

Hurricane Florence

Many people want to offer their help and support when disasters strike.

Hurricane Florence is bearing-down on the east coast of the United States. Millions of people have left everything that they own behind in an attempt to escape devastating winds and rain. Others have decided to hunker-down because they either can’t run away or because they’ve decided that they can somehow face the unknown and prevail. The Weather Channel  is predicting that some areas of North Carolina will receive as much as forty inches of rain in the next few days, and elected leaders have promised us that they are prepared to respond to a disaster. But, the help of many other people will be needed, too.

How do you decide which charity or organization will use money that you contribute most wisely?

One of the first things that I suggest is that people visit CharityWatch before they send any money to an organization that’s asking for support during emergencies (and at other times, too). CharityWatch is America’s most independent and assertive charity watchdog and was founded 25 years ago as the American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP). CharityWatch does not just give you what charities report to their donors using simplistic or automated formulas. CharityWatch dives deeply into an organization’s structures and expenses to let you know how efficiently that charity will use your donation to fund the cause you want to support. CharityWatch exposes nonprofit abuses and advocates for your interests as a donor. Before you donate your hard-earned money to any organization or charity, please take a few minutes to visit CharityWatch. That simple, first step will protect you, as a donor, and the people that you want to help and support with your generous gift.

Another thing that you need to remember is that almost every organization or charity has some sort of overhead costs and expenses that need to be paid by somebody. Will that be you?

Most organizations and charities skim a certain percentage of every contribution that’s made to pay these costs and expenses. Some organizations pay their CEO hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Others use a percentage of the money that they receive to advertise, so that they can collect even more money from donors. It’s important to remember that organizations and charities that are most visible are, often, the ones that devote the largest amount of money to advertising. If they didn’t do that, you would probably never hear about what they are doing. Remember that.

But, some organizations and charities underwrite their expenses in other ways – and are, thus, able to send a larger percentage of your donation – or even 100% of it – to people that you want to help.

One example of a fine organization that does just that is Lutheran Disaster Response. Lutheran Disaster Response works as a catalyst, convener and bridge builder when disasters strike. Lutheran Disaster Response works with other organizations in the United States and all around the world. This approach enables Lutheran Disaster Response to use every dollar that it receives to help people who are affected by disasters and to maximize the impact of every dollar that’s received. Overhead costs and expenses are paid by faithful members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), so that every penny that is contributed to special appeals can be used to help people who need support and care. If you would like to read about Lutheran Disaster Response’s work in 2017 – click here.

Lutheran Disaster Response  recognizes that every disaster is local. Because of this, every response is rooted in the local community Your generous contribution provides everything that’s needed from immediate relief to the long-term recovery needs of affected people and communities. Your generous gift changes lives!

Your generous gift provides:

  • Emotional and spiritual support for both the people who have been affected by the disaster and for the leaders in the community who are responding to it;
  • Coordination of the efforts of thousands of volunteers;
  • Immediate support for those who need food, water, baby formula and diapers, mattresses, and other emergency supplies that are needed for rebuilding lives;
  • Long-term support that continues to meet the long-term needs of people who are affected by disasters – months – and even years after disasters strike and other organizations have left the area.

If you would like to help people whose lives are affected by Hurricane Florence

 CLICK HERE!

Hurricanes and other natural disasters strike people’s lives with devastating consequences, and we are both called and challenged by God to offer our support and care. But, we also need to ensure that the hard-earned money that we contribute to organizations and charities will be used wisely and efficiently to extend the care that we want to offer.

Thank you for your interest in extending your love and support to those whose lives will, undoubtedly, be devastated by Hurricane Florence. And thank you for thinking about using Lutheran Disaster Response as a vehicle that will deliver the financial support you want to offer to those who are facing the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.

 

The Mission Interpreter

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How are choices and decisions you make each day connected to your journey of faith?

You live in a complex Age where change surrounds you. You probably feel overwhelmed by a constant stream of news and information that summons your attention by sending the invasive pop, ding, or silent vibration that invades every part of your daily life. You most likely believe in God, but you may have decided that you don’t want to be affiliated with a local church, synagogue, mosque or temple. And yet, you still want to make some sort of difference in the world. You still want to believe that God is somehow working in your life and in the lives of the people that you love. Perhaps, what you need are stories that remind you that God’s at work in our lives and in the world, and mental morsels to challenge you to think about the relationship between your daily living and faith?

I believe that there’s always a next step for us to take in our journey of faith, and I am dedicated to working with people who want to take the next step forward in their journey of faith with confidence and courage. And, that’s why I’ve added a link to the menu on this site that takes you to my newest blog entitled: “The Mission Interpreter”.

This is a place where you’ll discover ways that God’s people are making a difference in the world, right now. This is a place where the leaders of churches and synagogues and mosques and temples will be challenged to reflect and to grow. This is a place where you will be challenged to think about the relationship between daily living and the kinds of choices and commitments you make each day. This is a place where you’ll be challenged to explore the ways that choices and decisions you make are connected to your journey of faith and to your relationship with God.

You can receive updates every time new material is added to “The Mission Interpreter” by following the blog itself as a regular user of WordPress – or you can provide an email address where links to new material can be send. I hope you’ll also share information about this new blog with your friends, so that they can, also, be encouraged by the fact that people of faith continue to do life-changing things in our quickly-changing world.

To get started, why not take a moment to investigate “The Mission Interpreter” and to read one of the newest, thought-provoking posts: “Stewardship, Stoles, and Suicide” – a piece that tells the tragic story of a pastor who recently committed suicide and that offers some ideas that can help congregations to support and encourage pastors who struggle with issues of sadness, discouragement, depression and anxiety – just like so many other folks do in the Church. You can, also, find several inspiring stories that point to the power of prayer and that lift-up the good that God’s people do when they join hands and work as a team. You’ll even find a thought-provoking piece that challenges Church leaders to remember the importance of storytelling as they prepare to make financial appeals.

I hope that “The Mission Interpreter” will provide something helpful for everyone who visits the site. You’ll notice that there’s, also, a CONTACT ME link on the site. Please let me know if you; the congregation, synagogue, mosque or temple that you attend; or a group of people that you know are joining hands to do something that points others to the God who continues to call us to express our faith in a way that touches and changes lives.

Why Would Anybody Want To Be A Pastor?

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John 6:56-69

Why would anybody want to be a pastor?

Now, that might seem to be a really bizarre question for a pastor to be asking, but follow with me….

I was asked to preside at a worship service while I was in Chicago last week; but, when I learned that nobody had volunteered to play the piano for the service, I quickly asked if I could provide music for the service instead – because I wasn’t sure that I’d have time to change my clothes after the service and I didn’t want to fly into Pittsburgh dressed like a Roman Catholic priest.

I think that we all know that many churches are struggling to find volunteers and the financial resources that are needed to support life-giving ministries – and pastors often take the brunt of those changing realities in the Church by scrambling to fill-in the gaps and by juggling ministry priorities to meet available funding.

Pastors have to watch what they say in the pulpit these days because, if they preach God’s call to justice too loudly, people aren’t afraid to vote with their feet or to express their dissatisfaction by cutting their weekly offering.

And that brings us back to the theme of this week’s message: “Why Would Anybody Want To Be A Pastor?”

Jesus’ disciples had to make a big choice one day. They’d been following Jesus for some time, and they’d watched Jesus turn water into wine and heal the sick. They had heard Jesus tell people that they need to be “born again” and to be transformed into something that they simply aren’t by God’s power. Jesus had told people that He’s the “Bread of Life” and that He has the power to raise people up even to eternal life after life and death have done their worst. And Jesus told people to eat His flesh and to drink His blood, so that He would live inside of them.

But people didn’t like that.

“Who does this guy think He is?” they grumbled. “And what makes Jesus think that He can talk to US that way?” And we read: “many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.” (John 6:66)

Jesus said that a prophet is not without honor except in his own hometown (Mark 6:4). Who wants to hear a message about self-sacrifice and sacrificial giving when the guy down the street is telling people that God’s going to give them a big house? Who wants to be told to “deny yourself and take up your Cross” (Luke 9:23) when the guy just down the road is telling people that God will give them whatever they want? Who wants to listen to a message that calls us to extend compassion and justice to the poor when many of us have been taught to believe that the poor are simply lazy? After all…. Jesus loves the little children, doesn’t He. And we extrapolate that to mean that Jesus loves us too – no matter what we do and no matter what choices we make – right?

And so, “Why Would Anybody Want To Be A Pastor?”

Perhaps, the answer is found in the words of St. Peter: “Lord,to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!” (John 6:68)

I’m a pastor because God calls me to stand beside people and to continue to point them toward the promise of eternity during difficult times. I’m a pastor because I find it incredibly life-giving to sit down on the floor with a banjo in my lap and tell little kids the story of Jesus and help them to understand that they’re more precious than gold. I’m a pastor because I believe that God’s called me to remind people that no matter where they have been and what they have done – Jesus died on the Cross and was raised from the dead to give them another chance and a cleaned slate. I don’t think that there’s any better way for me to spend my years on this earth than to spend them baptizing little babies and grown adults, placing my hands upon the heads of teenagers who have come forward to affirm their faith and blessing them, welcoming new mission-partners into the ministry of Christ’s Church, and working beside men and women of faith who want to leave fingerprints on the world and somehow make it into a better place.

“Why Would Anybody Want To Be A Pastor?”

What else would I do with my life, Lord? Is there really anything better that I could do with my life than spend my days pointing other people to the “Bread of Life” – Jesus – the Lord who challenges us to live lives of self-sacrifice, compassion toward others, and love for one other and for the world during a time when many are turning away from the One who has come into the world to bless all of God’s people with the gift of eternal life?

Does God Still Give Us “Signs”?

looking for a sign

John 6:24-35

Several months ago, I saw a “sign.”

Now, before you get all excited, the sky didn’t open-up and I didn’t hear a big, booming voice from Heaven. The “sign” that I saw had nothing to do with watching someone feed more than 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two little fish. The “sign,” in fact, was just a large, tattered billboard that read: “If you’re looking for a sign, this is it!

In this week’s message, “Does God Still Give Us ‘Signs’?”, I want to challenge you to think about the things that first pointed you toward Jesus. We sometimes see Jesus’ power to strengthen and heal when we find ourselves praying for people that we love. Jesus can melt the harsh bitterness that fills our hearts after we’ve been hurt or disappointed. God can show us the next step forward when we don’t know what to do. Sometimes, WE can even be a “sign” of Jesus’ presence in the lives of other people.

The writer of John’s Gospel begins an interesting story in John 6:24-35.

Jesus has just finished feeding more than 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two little fish. Jesus has gone off to Capernaum, a fishing village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee and the home of about 1,500 people. And when the people hear that Jesus is in Capernaum, they gather because they want to see Him. And Jesus tells them: “You haven’t come here to see me because you saw ‘signs.’ You came here because you had your bellies filled with bread and fish.” And, even after Jesus tells the people that what He has just done is the “work of God,” the people who have gathered around Him start to demand another sign.
So, let me ask you a question: “How have YOU come to know Jesus?”

I first learned about Jesus in a Sunday School class where Mrs. Pfeifer showed-up every Sunday morning to teach me about Jesus. I also learned about Jesus as an ordinary man, named Kenneth Ruckert, pointed me to “signs” that proclaimed the fact that Jesus even loves confused teenagers. I’ve learned about Jesus while serving as a camp counselor at Camp Lutherlyn, and as I’ve journeyed through life with people who were suffering and even dying – people who pointed me toward the “signs” of God’s presence in the world when life isn’t perfect. I’ve come to know Jesus because people, throughout all of my life, have invested their time and energy in me. And, because of that, I’ve seen a lot of “signs.” Didn’t St. Paul once write that faith always comes from outside of us (Romans 10:17)?
And that’s why your investment in the ministry of the Church is so important.

I may have never heard about Jesus if Mrs. Pfeifer hadn’t volunteered to teach Sunday School every Sunday morning, and if other people hadn’t donated the money that she needed to buy the books that she used. I may have never become a pastor if the faithful members of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Beaver Falls, PA hadn’t financially supported the ministry of Pastor Joel Nafuma – the man who helped me to pull the pieces together when God first began to call me into ordained ministry. When we faithfully invest our time and energy and money in Christian ministry, we can be people who create “signs” that point people to Jesus. In fact, when we invest in the ministry of a local congregation (or in the ministry of the Church in a broader way), we can open windows to Heaven and point people toward Jesus – the “Bread of Life” – who comes into the world to nourish us, to sustain us, to forgive us, and to lift us up both strengthened and renewed.
“If you’re looking for a sign, this is it!”

Perhaps, God is using these words to challenge you to think about the ways that God can use YOU to do the types of ministry that open the windows of Heaven for other people? Perhaps, God is using these words to remind you that the time, energy and money that YOU invest in the ministry of a local congregation (and in the Church as a whole) has the power to help other people to discover the “Bread of Life.” Perhaps, God is using these words to remind you that, as YOU join hands with other Christians in ministry, God can use whatever you offer to change people’s lives and alter their destinies?

Christ’s Church for ALL People

Christ's Church

We live our lives with a lot of rules, don’t we?

Written and unwritten rules are just accepted as the “truth” and we often simply accept the things that we’ve been taught without questioning. The rules that we’ve been taught teach us to separate the “good people” from the “bad people” – and it’s, ultimately, these same written and unwritten rules that shape our thinking and our behavior.

And that’s why we’re still trying to figure-out what to do with folks who come to America from other countries. That’s why we’re still struggling to figure-out what to do with folks who fall  in love with people that they’re not “supposed” to fall in love with. That’s why many predominantly white denominations in the Christian Church are struggling to figure-out what they need to do to survive and flourish in a society where white people will very soon be the minority in America. That’s why we’re still trying to figure-out what to do with people who think and who choose to live their lives in ways that we don’t always understand or want to accept.

“Christ’s Church for ALL People” is a message that challenges us to think about the very nature of the Church. How do we make sense of Jesus – a man who touched people who were considered to be “unclean” by others? How do we make sense of Jesus – a man who ate in the homes of tax-collectors and sinners, and who wasn’t even afraid to touch the corpses of those who had died? How do we make sense of a God who loves white people and black people, people who live in the United States and people who want to come to America from other countries? Doesn’t the Sacred Story remind us that God has created ALL people to be both precious and valuable? Doesn’t the Sacred Story tell us about Jesus – a man who came into the world to welcome and embrace people, and to even die on the Cross for everyone?

People – even God’s people – are not always good at lifting-up the fact that everyone is precious and valuable in God’s sight. Even Christians can have a hard time accepting the fact that: there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for [we] are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). And yet, that truth is fundamental to the Christian faith. “Christ’s Church for ALL People” is who we are even in a tumultuous time when many people are speaking a very different truth even inside the Church – the place where Jesus continues to challenge us to offer our welcome and embrace to ALL people and to help them to realize that the Church is a “home” where God’s love and care can be experienced by everyone.

 

Living in the Legacy of Jesus

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Have you ever thought about the purpose and the meaning of your life?

The Bible presents the story of a God who’s at work to topple the forces of evil. The Sacred Story tells us that God created the world by bringing order to chaos, but it also tells us that everything fell apart in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate fruit from the “Tree of the Awareness of Duality.” The Sacred Story reminds us that people have struggled since the beginning of time to “get right with God,” but it also tells us that the path to peace with God has been provided by Jesus. God is going to win! The Sacred Story tells us about a Great Day when God’s going to wipe every tear from our eyes, and when there will no longer be pain and sorrow and mourning. And the great “Hero” of the Sacred Story is Jesus. Jesus – the great “Hero” – rises-up to confront what’s wrong with the Creation and to conquer the forces of evil, so that good will ultimately win.

You and I, and all of the people who have been bound to Jesus – the “Hero” – in the waters of Holy Baptism are engaged in the Great Epic Battle. You and I, and all of the people who have been bound to Jesus in the waters of Baptism, are called and summoned to step-up to the plate, to directly engage the forces of evil and to overcome it in the name of God. And our participation in that Great Epic Battle – the ongoing war between good and evil – is ultimately what provides meaning in our lives and the purpose of our ministries.

“Living in the Legacy of Jesus” is a message that’s been created to stir you and to call the Church, as a whole, into action. We live in an Age where increasingly large numbers of people are struggling with an addiction to opioids, and when a growing sadness in many hearts is driving people to suicide. We live in an Age where poverty creates a situation where nearly half of the children in America go to school with an empty stomach – and lose an important meal every day during their summer vacation. We’re living in an Age where racism and bigotry have been revealed as the Achilles’ heel of American culture. We live in an Age where countless boundaries and barriers and walls are being created, and where people are being encouraged to experience life as “Us versus Them.”

As we fight the epic battle against duality – following Jesus, the “Hero” – we write a story that not only tells the story of our lives, but that also tells the world how we make sense of what it means to live in the legacy of Jesus. As we fight the epic battle against duality, the story we write is used by God to stir-up and create faith in others.

The story that we write helps people to understand what God’s doing in the world today. The story that we write is also one that invites others to join hands with us – so that, they can also be a part of what God’s doing.

You and I, and all of the people who have been bound to Jesus – the “Hero” – in the waters of Holy Baptism are called to engage the forces of evil, and to overcome them (with God’s help) in the name of everything that is good and right and holy and true.

“Living in the Legacy of Jesus” – by participating in the epic battle against duality is, ultimately, something that gives meaning to our lives, and provides a purpose and a “calling” to the ministry of the Church. And as we write the story of what God’s doing in our midst and in the midst of our churches, as we celebrate our victories and learn from our mistakes, and as we tell others about what God’s doing, ministry becomes magnetic – and people see that we have something both significant and life-giving to share with the world – as we invite them to be a part of what we’re doing with the help of God.

Where Life and Faith Meet

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Let me ask you a question….

What is it, in your life of faith, that leaves other people feeling amazed and perplexed?

On the surface, that might seem to be an unusual question. Many of us believe that our faith and our relationship with Christ are a private matter. We’ve all been taught that, if we want to avoid controversy in our lives, we need to learn to avoid the topics of religion and politics in daily conversations. And yet, Christ calls us to be His witnesses. The story of Pentecost is a story where people were amazed and perplexed by what they saw other people doing. And so, perhaps the question – “What is it, in your life and faith, that leaves other people feeling amazed and perplexed?” – is one that we need to consider.

The Day of Pentecost started-out like most other days. Roosters had been crowing to announce the beginning of the day. Little children were jumping out of their beds and were getting ready to play. People had begun to come out of their homes and loud voices could be heard in the streets. And then, a rushing wind sent people scrambling. The Sacred Story tells us about “fire-tongues” falling from the sky and landing on people’s heads. We hear about the disciples speaking in languages that they didn’t know. And the whole thing, according to Acts 2:7, left people feeling both amazed and perplexed.

Let me ask you again….

What is it, in your life of faith, that leaves other people feeling amazed and perplexed?

“Where Faith and Life Meet” is a message that challenges us to think about that, and that encourages us to think about how the Holy Spirit is working in our lives. Can we see the Holy Spirit at work in the Church when people who disagree with each other continue to gather together, sing songs, and share a Meal with each other – in times of division and deep separations? That, if you think about it, is both amazing and perplexing. People are amazed and perplexed when we refrain from judging them and criticizing them because they don’t live their lives in the way that we choose to live ours. People are amazed and perplexed when we forgive them and allow relationships to continue after we’ve been hurt and disappointed. People are amazed and perplexed when they see us welcoming and embracing them – no matter who they are or where they’ve been in life – because we know that God created them to be precious, valuable, and worthy of love.

The Sacred Story reminds us that, when the Holy Spirit works in our midst, things that we do will leave people both amazed and perplexed.

And so, I ask you, once again: “What is it, in your life of faith, that leaves other people feeling amazed and perplexed?” Take a moment to stop and to listen to what God’s telling you. Think about how the Holy Spirit is already working in your life to do amazing things. Think and pray for a moment about how God may be challenging you to do things that other people may not fully understand, but that they will deeply appreciate and see as a sign of what God’s doing in our world right now.

 

Johnny Grapevine

vineyard worker

My wife sometimes calls me: “Johnny Grapevine.”

I remember the days when my Dad and I would walk through the woods staring up into the treetops. My Dad would point-out the different kinds of trees.  We would speak about the wide variety of trees that can be found in Pennsylvania; and we’d, sometimes, even do a leaf-rubbing. But, every once in a while, my Dad would point-out a wild grapevine that had climbed up a tree and that had begun to choke the life out of everything around it. And, with no delay, he’d pull-out his great, big bow saw and start cutting the grapevine off at the ground, And after he was finished, we’d just walk away – leaving the grapevine to wither in the treetops. I still do that. Hence, my wife calls me: “Johnny Grapevine.”

Jesus once described Himself as a grapevine, and He described God as the owner of the vineyard who walks through the world examining grape branches. When God sees a branch that’s bearing fruit, God trims it back a bit; so that, more of the vine’s juices can flow into the growing fruit. And, when God discovers branches that aren’t bearing any fruit, God saws and hacks and trims until those branches are removed. And, when the branches are removed from the Vine, they simply shrivel and die – just like the branches did when my Dad and I cut them off at the roots in the woods of Pennsylvania.

The Sacred Story is one that reminds us that our connection to the Vine is crucial.

Life-giving juices flow through us when we’re connected to the Vine (Jesus); and, when that happens, we’re able to bear fruit that we could never bear without God’s help. God’s Spirit continues to lead us and guide us and empower us when we’re connected to the Vine; and we, sometimes, discover a great source of strength that we never knew we had – when we need it most. The Vine (Jesus) gives its life-giving juices to many branches at the same time (reminding us that God never asks us to bear all of the fruit of the Vine by ourselves) and that’s important for us to remember, as the Church, as we continue to join hands with each other in ministry in an Age where it isn’t always easy to find help and the volunteers we need. When we’re connected to the Vine, God calls us to live-into our God-given strengths and abilities; and, sometimes, that means we need to set some things aside – always remembering that the “new wine” God is bringing into the world is always going to be made from the fruit that’s been harvested from many different branches that, ultimately, share one thing in common – their life-giving connection to the Vine.

So, let me ask you a question….

How’s your life going these days? I suspect that we all have times when we wonder if there’s enough of us to go around.  I’m sure we’ve all had times in life when we weren’t sure if we had anything left to give; and then, something big popped-up and demanded our immediate attention and action. How do you find the strength and energy that you need to continue? Where do you find the strength to keep going when it seems that you have nothing left to give?

In this week’s message, “Johnny Grapevine”, we explore the importance of faith. We talk about the importance of reading our Bibles each day and of setting aside time to pray. We talk about living together as God’s people and about drawing upon the life-giving juices of the Vine in a world where God’s told us that it’s “not good” for us to be alone.

God has blessed you with the gift of life. God has blessed you with skills and talents that you can use to help your family and friends, your church, your community and even the world to become a better place for us all.  And that’s why it’s important for us to remain connected to the Vine (which is Jesus Himself).  We don’t always have “inner strength” to do what God’s calling us to do. We all face times in life when it seems that there’s just not enough of us to go around. We need connection. We need Christ’s life-giving juices. We need God’s Spirit living and moving and breathing in our lives.

God gives us strength. God fills us with life-giving energy. And God continues to help us to do thing that we simply can’t do by ourselves – as God enlivens us with the Holy Spirit and sends us into the world empowered to do God’s work.