One in ten shows gratitude…

Sermon Summary for Sunday, October 13, 2019

Respectfully submitted by Brenda Worley

 The Gospel reading for this Sunday was Luke 17:11-19.  This scripture shares the story of the ten lepers who begged Jesus for mercy in the region between Samaria and Galilee.  Jesus said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”  As they went on their way to do just that, they were made clean.  One of the ten, a Samaritan, upon realizing that he had been healed, turned and prostrated himself before Jesus to show his gratitude.  The other nine did not return to say thank you.  Jesus tells the Samaritan that “your faith has made you well.”

 In the time of Jesus leprosy was broadly used for anyone with a skin condition ranging from allergic reactions to Hansen's disease.  Those afflicted were looked upon as dead and cast out of society to dwell in a special place or colony in the wilderness, living in caves or tents.  In ancient Israel lepers were commanded to wear certain clothes, keep themselves a certain distance from people, wear special bells, and they had to cry, “Unclean!  Unclean!” if someone was too close.  The rabbis viewed leprosy as a chastisement from God because of immoral behaviors.  To rejoin society the leper had to be declared “ceremonially clean” by the priests.

 Though Jesus was pleased with the Samaritan, he made note of the other nine who did not return to show their gratitude.  Though they were Jews, they did not return to praise the Master who had healed them.

 Clean and well are not the same word in Hebrew and do not mean the same thing.  Well means that you are whole, saved and have God in your life.  It might be said that the one leper who returned to give thanks was made clean and well, while the other nine were simply made clean.  To be well we must be in relationship with God.  Clean is physical while well is spiritual.  Being well means that you live your life with full knowledge of who and whose you are. 

 As we all know we are called to show our gratitude through returning our gifts – time, talents, and treasures – for the work of God.  That gratitude will help us realize that all our gifts come from our Creator and thereby, will help us aim toward that goal of “being well.”  Mother Mary shared a story from a colleague about a couple who, from the day of their marriage, promised to tithe to the church.  When asked what had brought them to this decision, they responded, “We are afraid of the people we would become if we did not say thank you.” 

 All that surrounds us – land, sky, water, possessions, memory, reason, skill – are from God.  We are called to give back to God and creation as a way of saying, “Thank you.”  Be the one, not the nine.

A Tiny Bit…

October 6, 2019

 Respectfully Written by Peggy Brown

Many people want to have more faith, but Jesus says in Luke 17:5-10, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”  In other words, it doesn’t take much faith.  Even a tiny bit is sufficient.

 If you have been at Ascension awhile, you can see what people of faith have accomplished here.  Buildings and grounds are tended; needed projects are underway.  Devoted office volunteers answer phones, care for people, direct people to the help they need, prepare for Sunday morning. When the office workers finish their time for the day, I say something like, “Thank you. I’m really glad you were here.” Nancy Zerbe, who works on Wednesday afternoons, said, “Don’t thank me.  I’m one of the team!”

 That is what Jesus was saying today.  Being one of the team is to trust in the Lord and to do that next thing in God’s mysterious way that God puts forth for us to do.  Here in the church, out in the community:  doing those things of faith brings hope to others and to us, a sense of belonging and peace as we realize that probably it’s not the faith that enables us to do things.  It’s stepping out in faith and God working in and through us to do those things, and then our faith grows. 

 If you were here in 2014, you know we were about to demolish the old classrooms and parish hall, and a fig tree on the corner of the church would be taken out too.  Stepping out in faith, a team of people said, no we have to save it.  So now the fig tree is thriving beside the sidewalk and nourishing people with its figs.

 In 1984 did any of you have a vision of the Red Door Food Pantry that exists today?  It has come a long way from even nine years ago, operating out of a closet at Ascension House.  But a few years ago, the Tindall family, Jeff in particular, had a vision for what we could do, and we are now distributing food here as well as in south Bartow and soon Kingston and Emerson.  I never had a vision of a big refrigerator truck, but Jeff did.  He stepped out in faith, we applied for a grant, and we bought a truck. 

 Jesus is saying to use the faith you already have:  stepping out in a tiny bit of faith to do what God has laid before us to do, trusting God to be with you to do it, and accomplishing such a great deal… 

Depend on God to do the next loving, kind, and right thing God puts before you.  Do it with your time, your talent, and--in this season of year—the treasure you have been given.  I will learn, instead of saying thank you, to say it is good to serve with you, the Ascension team.

 Amen.  Thanks be to God.

For Love of God or of Wealth?

 September 22, 2019

 To follow Jesus is not easy, and if you think it is easy, you may want to reflect to see if you are really following Christ Jesus.  We are too tempted to turn our attention from the uncomfortable to that which entertains or distracts.

 The gospel reading from Luke, Chapter 16: 1-13, finds Jesus telling a parable of a dishonest manager of a rich man’s money, in which, after the manager learns he will be terminated, he goes to all the master’s debtors, reduces their debt, collects the debt, and is commended by his master for acting shrewdly.  Jesus says, “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.”  The parable ends with the familiar statement, “You cannot serve God and wealth.”

 This is the heart of our greatest struggle:  choosing between two masters, God or wealth.  The parable Jesus tells suggests that how we handle material things now matters eternally.  The manager was commended for his shrewdness—not uncommon in today’s news—and many would believe the manager’s reduction of the debt was merely a subtraction of his own commission in exchange for future hospitality when he would become unemployed.  Though this explanation brings comfort, if it were the case, the manager would not have been considered dishonest.  It is more likely that he falsified the amount owed his master to gain favor of the debtors’ future hospitality.

Based on research of the times, it seems that Jesus raises larger issues that address how the faithful are to care for neighbors economically within systems that are unjust and materialistic.  This is very real for us today and important for us to know how easy it is to turn away from God and neighbor when money is at hand.  If money is placed first in our lives, we are guilty of idolatry and placing things above God.  We do great damage to God’s creation.  We waste our lives in worthless pursuit to accumulate more and more stuff that becomes a burden that we then dispose of.  Simplification is a trend indicative of this cycle.  Mother Mary tells a story of a guru’s disciple, so devout that he is left to himself, living simply in a mud hut and wearing a loincloth.  Because his loincloth keeps getting destroyed by the elements and varmints, the disciple made decisions so that his life became more and more complicated—he became a wealthy man with a palace and many servants.  This shows how easy it is to fall into this cycle of accumulating more.

 Money is not the root of all evil, but the love of it is.  Money and our anxieties about having enough impact how we care for our relationship to God, to one another, and to all of creation.  It matters to God eternally.  No easy solutions exist, but three basic suggestions are offered:

1)      Develop a habit of gratitude for all God has given you because it comes from God.

2)      Learn a generous way of being in the world.  The Old Testament commanded people to tithe; in the New Testament, Jesus tells some people to give up all possessions.

3)      In your relationship to God, find a way that keeps you growing and stretching toward the love of God, neighbor, and yourself. 

 Amen.  Thanks be to God.

 Respectfully Written by Peggy Brown

Ties that bind and crowded tables

Respectfully Written by Kelly Dial

September 15, 2019

What is it that binds us together? Is it the good we do, the bad we do, or something else that compels us to live in community with one another.

The gospel reading from Luke, Chapter 15 finds the scribes and Pharisees criticizing Jesus for eating with sinners and tax collectors. Jesus responds with a parable about lost sheep. The owner with one hundred sheep leaves ninety-nine together while he searches for the one who is lost. When that one is found and rejoins the flock, the rejoicing is great.

It is easy for us to exclude those who are different, to drive out those we don’t understand, to strive to keep our community small and homogenous. It takes no courage to send away those who don’t fit into our mold. Our small acts of exclusion often morph into prejudice and hate. That is not the way of Jesus.

Jesus invites us all to the table with him. He is the host who sets up an enormous table in the back yard in preparation for a shared dinner on a pleasant fall afternoon, complete with falling leaves and a fire to ward off the chill after sunset. He sets the table with a mosaic of dishware, nothing matches but that makes it that much more beautiful. There are flowers in Mason jars, bowls brimming with fresh vegetables, and a chair for everyone. Everyone. When the table become full, he makes it longer. Our Lord wants us all at the table enjoying each other’s company. He wants peals of laughter and the squeals of happy children to float up toward the sky.

As a good host, Jesus know when someone is missing whether it is the life of the party or the shyest of wallflowers. He feels their absence before he sees it. He glances at the rest of his assembled flock, leaves them to continue their meal, and goes to find the missing one. He returns when he has found them and leads them to the seat meant just for them.­­­­The assembled host greet the lost one by name and bring them into the fold with joy.

A portion of the lyrics to “Crowded Table” by the Highwomen encapsulate the vision Jesus has for us:

“I want a house with a crowded table
And a place by the fire for everyone,
Let us take on the world while we're young and able
And bring us back together when the day is done.”

God invites us to his table to worship. We are not bound together by our sinfulness or our sinlessness. We reside in the same boat. As the Prayers of the People proclaimed “We pray for those who are lost, that they might be found. We pray for those who are sure they are not lost; we ask that you find them too”.

What binds us together in community? The love and forgiveness that is given to each of us. Every single one.

Thanks be to God.

Humility

Weekly Sermon Summary from Kelley Dial for September 1st

How do you determine your worth?  Do you connect that worth to your earthly possessions and power (real or perceived)?  Do you "put on airs" in order to "keep up appearances" and elevate your self-image?  

 

The 12th Sunday after Pentecost brought us a gospel reading from the 14th Chapter of Luke.  Jesus tells a parable centered around wedding feast etiquette.  He reminds us that it is unwise to assume you rank amongst the most important people in the room, to assume you will be welcomed at the head table and, by doing so, force the host to ask you to give up the seat to someone else. Rather, you should humbly sit in the lowest ranking place available.  If the host deems fit, he will gladly extend an invitation and have you move to a more prominent location. Jesus concludes the story by bluntly saying "for all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted".   

 

Humble is not a synonym for weak.  A humble person is gentle, self-controlled, and unpretentious.  He or she does not feel worthless but, instead, has an accurate estimate of their value. C. S. Lewis says "Humility is not thinking less of ourselves but thinking of ourselves less". Humility removes barriers between us and God and frees us to recognize rewards as they come.  

 

When we feel no need to "keep up appearances", when we concern ourselves with helping others, when we truly know that every argument does not have to be won, we open ourselves up to our Creator and are exalted in ways that satisfy deeply and do not end.  That is our confidence and our joy.

 

Thanks be to God.

Who's #1?

Weekly Sermon Review from Mal Underwood for September 8th

To be clear, on this thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost Mo. Mary was not preaching about football rankings.  Instead, her message was focused on the Cross, its meaning for us, and God’s infinite love for his children we are to share with the world.  She shared a reflection from Erwin Raphael McManus of Mosaic Church in Los Angeles who said the Cross is at the intersection of love and transformation.  It is the eternal reminder of the two greatest commandments to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Our Creator loves us so much he sent his only son to die a tortuous death on that cross so that we might be redeemed of our sins and reconciled to Him. Jesus teaches that we are to take up our cross and follow him in Godly agape love if we are to gain salvation and eternal life with our Father in heaven.  When we reflect on our life and all it involves, we are to act through the prism of Jesus’ love in all we do. Our lives and the lives of those we touch are transformed by our living into the greatest gift of all, Jesus’ life on earth and death on the cross to save our souls.

 

To give us a beautiful, heart-wrenching example of living God’s love, Mo. Mary quoted the Ravensbruck Prayer found near the body of a child in that concentration camp:

O Lord, remember not only the men and women of goodwill

but also those of evil will.

But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted upon us;

remember the fruits we have borne thanks to this suffering –

our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage, our generosity,

the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this;

and when they come to judgment, let all the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.

 

Mo. Mary concluded by asking a series of questions to which she asked for the response of “With God’s help I am able”:

·         Are you able to make Jesus #1 in your life?

·         Are you able to pick up your cross?

·         Are you able to identify yourself as a Christ-follower above all other identities?

·         Are you able to commit to life-giving activities only?

·         Are you able to commit to the difficult life of courage, patience, strength, and perseverance?

·         Are you able to bring beauty out of ­­­­ugly?

 

Jesus commands us to put him and his love first in all we do. There can be no question as to who is #1.

 

Mal Underwood

The Good Shepherd

Weekly Sermon Review from Kelley Dial for August 18th

More often than not the lectionary provides us with readings that warm our hearts with talk of love and word portraits of Jesus as a kind and calm presence. They describe the Jesus we see in the Good Shepherd window in this place we hold so dear. On August 18, however, the words provided to us were neither warm nor fuzzy. Indeed, the readings made us squirm a bit because of their directness and anger. "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled".

The Gospel shows us Jesus fulfilling his role as prophet. Prophets see both heaven and earth and instruct us on closing the gap between the two. Prophets urge us to create heaven on earth with a fire in our belly and a passion for change - change for the good, transformational good. The old testament prophets wanted the same. Across time we, again and again, become recalcitrant and must be restored and refreshed in order to continue to work toward that vision of heaven on earth.

The Gospel reminds us that Jesus was not neutral. He was not the spiritual equivalent to Switzerland. Jesus chose sides. He chose the side of the poor, the weak, the imprisoned, the downtrodden. We are to do likewise passionately, purposefully, and relentlessly. Only then can we lessen the space between heaven and earth and move toward that horizon where the two meet.

Thanks be to God.

Being Set Free

 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”  Luke 13: 12

 The Gospel reading for this day was the story of the Jesus’s healing of the crippled woman in the synagogue on the sabbath.  She was bent and at his words, immediately stood straight and began to praise God.  At this point, the leaders of the synagogue were indignant that this healing took place on the sabbath and announced that there were six days for work and that this work should not take place on the sabbath day.  Jesus rebuked them using their own habits against them.  He pointed out that they work as they lead their animals to water on the sabbath and the same kindnesses should be shown for God’s people.  At this point they were put to shame and the people rejoiced at the wonderful thing that he did.

 About 20% of the Gospel is about healing.  Healing is the release of anything that binds us…sickness, sin, injustice, failure to receive grace and forgiveness.  God wants us to be free of these impediments for the purpose of serving him and living in relationship with him.

 The crippled woman was an example of faith for the other worshippers at the synagogue.  Even though she could not make eye contact and was most likely isolated from her community, she made the effort to come to Jesus and worship.  Those in our midst who are ailing, some physically…using walkers or using wheelchairs, and some spiritually…dealing with grief or depression are role models for us.  They are liberated in that they can still praise their God.

 There is a difference between being healed and being cured.  When we die we are healed and made whole once more.  Earthly healing may not come in the way we plan. (After all it is not OUR plan that we live.)  Sometimes the healing is physical but sometimes it is spiritual in that we learn to be one with our maker and not let our ailments separate us from him and his people.  We are liberated either way!

 What does this liberation have to do with the sabbath day?  Benedictine nun Joan Chittister shares that scholars of the Talmud tell us that God did not need rest on the sabbath but used the occasion to model and sanctify rest for us.  Four points are made about the blessings of the sabbath day.

1.      All have the right to live a privileged life free from slavery.

2.      This rest applies to the whole world.  The upper class are free from the responsibilities of leadership and control while the lesser class is liberated from their control.

3.      The sabbath day gives us a foretaste of Heaven. 

4.      This day of rest provides time to consider the purpose of life and to draw nearer to our creator.

Sister Joan considers the lack of observance of the sabbath as “the cardinal sin of the late 20th century.”  The concept of sabbath has been lost as we busy ourselves with shopping, sporting, and traveling.  A day of rest is important to our physical and spiritual being.  Observance of the sabbath provides us time to reflect on our relationship with God and to open our hearts and minds to his healing.  As pointed out in the Psalm of the day, this relationship has been ours since conception.  What holds you back?  What keeps you from his healing?

 Mother Mary closed the homily with prayers from the healing service that takes place each Wednesday at 12:15 PM.  They are as follows…

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son:  Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

 Compassionate God, we confess our weaknesses and our need for your strengthening touch.  We confess that some illnesses stem from our own fault, while other are beyond our control.  We turn to you, source of life, and ask in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ for the gifts of true healing and life in you.  Amen

 

Living in Faith

Sermon Reflection from Sunday, August 11 2019 | Respectfully submitted by Mal Underwood

On this ninth Sunday after Pentecost Mo. Mary blessed us with a powerful message on the requirements and blessings of living into our faith in God.  She opened with a story of a man on the street running past a church and shouting “I am Jesus”.  When a member of the congregation reported to the pastor that Jesus was coming, he replied “look busy”!  In the remainder of her sermon Mo. Mary explained why we are called to much more than looking busy in the eyes of our Creator.

Our faith is more than meaningless offerings, useless celebrations, and pointless rituals.  In the lesson from Isaiah, God speaks to the rulers and people of Sodom and Gomorrah telling them that they have blood on their hands and he is not interested in their burnt offerings, blood offerings, new moons, festivals, and incense.  He can no longer endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.  Instead, God says they are to wash themselves clean and cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow.  If they obey God’s will, he promises the scarlet stains of their sin will become pure as snow.

In the Gospel reading from Luke, Jesus says “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Mo. Mary reminds us that our heart clings to that which we value – our treasure comes first, then our hearts follow. Just as in the Isaiah passage where God exhorts the people to do good, seek justice and help those in need, our works of faith lead us to a deeper awareness of the people and circumstances we desire to improve.  If we love feeding the hungry or sheltering the homeless, we become more aware, sensitive, and better equipped to ease the suffering of those we wish to help.

As written in the lesson from Hebrews, faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.  What does God want us to hope for?  Love, eternal life, mercy, forgiveness, healing, kindness, hospitality, salvation, justice and the peace of God are some of the things Mo. Mary shared as being on God’s list, and there are more.  Our call to faith and works does not promise an easy path, as no more dramatically displayed than Jesus’ life on earth.  His treasure was to love, teach, and give his life to reconcile us to the Father.  His heart followed him to the cross.

Our kingdom work is not without reward.  In the Isaiah lesson, God says “if you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land.”  In Hebrews Jesus tells us God has prepared a city for the faithful.  In Luke’s gospel, Jesus says to not be afraid because it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  As faithful Christians, we have the hope of the greatest gift of all – eternal life in paradise with our Creator God.  What more could we want?

It’s All About Relationship!

Sermon Summary for July 28, 2019 | Respectfully submitted by Brenda Worley

 In the lesson from Genesis Abraham discusses with God the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  God threatens to destroy all for their sinful ways.  Abraham “negotiates” with the Lord about how many righteous it would take for the Lord to change his decision about the destruction.  Abraham asks the Lord repeatedly to consider forgiving the people in the cities if 50, then 45, then 40, then 30, then 20, then 10 righteous souls were found.  The Lord patiently agrees each time.   Abraham’s conversation (prayer) with the Lord teaches us that God wants a relationship with us…a real one, based upon our truth and God’s truth.

Mother Mary asked “How did you learn to pray?” She shared that her parents taught her to pray at the dinner table: “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen.” From this prayer she learned that everything is from God and that, in giving thanks, we learn to put these things to respectful use.  This is demonstrated most clearly as we share Jesus’ body and blood at the Eucharist.

The necessity for prayer is based on God’s desire for us.  He pursues us!  He wants an intimate relationship with us.  He is personal, cares for us, and wants to commune with us through prayer. 

In Luke 11 Jesus teaches us to pray saying, “Father, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come.  Give us each day our daily bread.  And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.  And do not bring us to the time of trial.”  In this prayer which we stand in community and pray every Sunday, we ask for God’s presence, food, mercy, forgiveness and guidance.  Jesus then uses the examples of a good neighbor or a loving parent who answers the needs of those in relationship with them…the neighbor due to persistence of the one seeking help and the parent due to love for the child.  Our Father exceeds these two examples through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

It is not that God can’t work without our prayers, but that he has established prayer as part of his plan for accomplishing his will in this world.  A life of prayer means that nothing is done without God.  God is impacted by our desire to be in relationship with him.  That relationship gives him joy.  His response to our shameless praying restores dignity so even when we do not feel worthy to speak, we should not stop praying.  Sometimes no words are needed…just listen.  Be in constant dialogue with the Father.  Be in a relationship that calls you to constantly and shamelessly go to him in prayer.  He will answer!