April 13, 2021 – Barb Haddon
It’s time for Soul Food!
Today Barb is discussing a part of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden.
Gospel Reading John 17:12-19
12“While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”
After a brief dip into the Old Testament, we are back to more familiar territory with comforting words from Jesus. It’s as though we are eavesdroppers on a prayer from Jesus to his and our “Abba Father”. He’s recounting his work on earth, and testifying that he both guarded and guided those who followed him most closely. Only Judas was lost, and Jesus says that he was destined to be lost in order to fulfill Old Testament scripture.
He has told his disciples that he came that his joy might be in them, and their joy be made complete. Now he tells his “Abba” that despite their joy in him, their life will be difficult because of what he taught them. They have been set apart, as he was, and the world will not always appreciate the way they think and teach. He asks God, not that they be taken from the world, but that they be protected and given the truth. He knows their life will be difficult, because they will be ”swimming upstream”, going counter to the prevailing culture, just as he did. Jesus asks that they be instilled with the truth, as he has sent them into the world without his physical presence, and they will now need to be grounded in truth and protected from temptation to waver.
As we are still in the glow and celebration of Easter, we can imagine our place with the original disciples. Like them, Jesus is no longer physically present, but his spirit is alive and well among us and within us. His prayer might easily be our prayer; that we might be protected against untruth, led away from the temptations of the world, and be willingly go against the cultural current to proclaim and defend our faith. It’s a tall order, but we dare say yes to the challenge, because we go forth with the peace, presence and power, not only of Jesus, but of our triune God.
Almighty God help us to take the words of Jesus to heart; to make his prayer our prayer, that we may truly serve you with joy! Amen.
April 12, 2021 – Barb Haddon
It’s time for Soul Food!
Today is the Daniel Diet edition! Barb takes us back to the Exile, when Jews had to live a strangers in a strange land.
1In the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2The Lord let King Jehoiakim of Judah fall into his power, as well as some of the vessels of the house of God. These he brought to the land of Shinar, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his gods.
3Then the king commanded his palace master Ashpenaz to bring some of the Israelites of the royal family and of the nobility, 4young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king’s palace; they were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans. 5The king assigned them a daily portion of the royal rations of food and wine. They were to be educated for three years, so that at the end of that time they could be stationed in the king’s court. 6Among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, from the tribe of Judah. 7The palace master gave them other names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.
8But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine; so he asked the palace master to allow him not to defile himself. 9Now God allowed Daniel to receive favor and compassion from the palace master. 10The palace master said to Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king; he has appointed your food and your drink. If he should see you in poorer condition than the other young men of your own age, you would endanger my head with the king.” 11Then Daniel asked the guard whom the palace master had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: 12“Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13You can then compare our appearance with the appearance of the young men who eat the royal rations, and deal with your servants according to what you observe.” 14So he agreed to this proposal and tested them for ten days. 15At the end of ten days it was observed that they appeared better and fatter than all the young men who had been eating the royal rations. 16So the guard continued to withdraw their royal rations and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. 17To these four young men God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom; Daniel also had insight into all visions and dreams.
18At the end of the time that the king had set for them to be brought in, the palace master brought them into the presence of Nebuchadnezzar, 19and the king spoke with them. And among them all, no one was found to compare with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they were stationed in the king’s court. 20In every matter of wisdom and understanding concerning which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. 21And Daniel continued there until the first year of King Cyrus.
Here’s both a prelude to a more familiar story, and, perhaps, some dietary advice! One of the most insidious things that the Babylonians did when they captured Israel was to take the leaders, the skilled craftsmen, the ”cream of the crop” out of Israel into Babylon. That left Israel vulnerable and virtually helpless against the Babylonians, dependent on them for their very existence, and without the skills or equipment to rebel. Meanwhile, in Babylon, those very leaders were incorporated into the lifestyle and culture of Babylon. They were so fully integrated that when Cyrus of Persia defeated the Babylonians and freed the Israelites to return, many chose to remain in Babylon.
The young men in today’s story were the exception. Not only did they maintain their familiar dietary laws, eschewing the rich foods of their captors, but they retained their Hebrew faith. (Which came in very handy in a later story!) Their captors did not make the connection between faith and diet, but they saw that their chosen diet made them hearty and healthy, and they were allowed to continue to eat the foods of their choice.
The story has several layers which translate into our lives thousands of years later.
Maybe the “easiest” one is the dietary advice. The diet of the Babylonian royals, in addition to large amounts of wine, undoubtedly was heavy in rich meats and fatty foods, with less emphasis on fruits and vegetables. Today we are besieged with advice that is very similar to the diet that the Israelites chose. If we follow it, we not only lose weight, but clear our arteries and help to prevent heart attacks and strokes. We may even find that we have more energy!
At a deeper level, the Israelites were motivated for their dietary decisions by the dietary laws of their faith. To eat as they had learned kept them in touch with the faith; and though it is not mentioned in this passage, I believe that it also kept them in a life of prayer, connected to the God of Israel. While we Protestant Christians are not bound to a specific diet, it is important that we find tangible keys to keep us in the habit of prayer and meditation. Maybe we will keep a journal, or use a daily devotional guide, or spend regular time in nature, or even tune into Soul Food on a daily basis! Whatever spiritual discipline you choose, may it keep you grounded in faith, so that when you are tested, as our heroes in the above story later were, you may experience the inner strength to sustain and guide you!
Loving God, help us to trust you, to devote ourselves to you, and to be faithful to you, not only to be sustained in life’s trials, but to be guided in the daily events of our lives.
April 8, 2021 – Murray Richmond
It’s time for Soul Food!
Jesus said that his disciples were not “of the world.” What does that mean, for them and for us?
It is not too late to sign up for the course on Revelation. We will be doing it by Zoom and in person.
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18“If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. 19If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world — therefore the world hates you. 20Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. 21But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin. But now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25It was to fulfill the word that is written in their law, ‘They hated me without a cause.’”
26“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.”
In Monty Python’s movie The Life of Brian, which takes place in the time of Jesus, a group of Jewish revolutionaries are meeting, and the asks, “What have the Romans ever done for us?”
One of his group says,
XERXES: The aqueduct?
XERXES: The aqueduct.
REG: Oh. Yeah, yeah. They did give us that. Uh, that’s true. Yeah.
COMMANDO #3: And the sanitation.
LORETTA: Oh, yeah, the sanitation, Reg. Remember what the city used to be like?
REG: Yeah. All right. I’ll grant you the aqueduct and the sanitation are two things that the Romans have done.
The list goes on and on, until at the end the leader says,
All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
In fact the Romans did a lot for the people in the countries they conquered. But it all came at a cost. They demanded the souls of the people they ruled. Under the Romans the people were free to pursue their own religion, but only if they also worshiped the Roman gods, including the Emperor. If there was a question as to the loyalty of the people in a region, an altar would be placed in the town square and every citizen had to throw a pinch of incense on the altar and say, “Caesar is Lord.” Most people could do that, but for Christians and Jews it was impossible to remain faithful and give homage to the Emperor as a god. There was only one god and his name was not Caesar.
This is the context of Jesus’ saying, “If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world — therefore the world hates you.”
In John’s first letter he says, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
“The World” that Jesus and John talk about can mean many things. In their day it was easily identified with Rome. But “Rome” meant more than the people who ruled them. It was the culture of Rome as well. In the book of Revelation, St. John likens Rome to Babylon, the country that invaded Jerusalem and hauled her citizens into exile. For John, “Rome” meant everything that was opposed to the Kingdom of God.
Jon Sobrino says that we want to understand what the Kingdom of God means, we have to understand what it means to be an anti-Kingdom. What is it that opposes the Kingdom of God?
We don’t live in Rome. And the sad fact is, many Christians today would disagree heartily on what “The World” is for us today. For some, it is the liberal state run by Democrats. For others it is Corporate America. For others it is a country that allows for abortion, while others believe it is a country that implements laws that penalize the poor, and makes houselessness a criminal condition.
Who is right?
What does “The World” mean for you?
And how are you not “of” the World?
April 7, 2021 – Murray Richmond
It’s time for Soul Food!
Today we are looking at a parable of a branch that wanted to be free. Jesus says if we abide him, we can bear much fruit, we can do wondrous things for the Kingdom of God. This is the story of a branch that decided not to abide.
1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
There was once a branch that sat on a huge apple tree. Most of the branches on the tree were happy, but not this branch. As it sat on the tree, it thinking about his situation, he grew more and more discontent with his lot in life.
“If only I were not a part of this tree,” the branch thought, “I could be really something. I could be free. I could bear more apples than any branch in the history of apple trees. And the branches I could grow! I could be resplendent with branches!
“But no. Here I am stuck on this mediocre tree, and just when I am beginning to branch out nicely the apple farmer comes by and cuts off my beautiful branches. Those branches could be growing apples.”
The branch decided it would find a way to become free of the tree. It cut off the sap from the main tree (“I don’t any other sources of sap! I am fine on my own!”) Eventually the branch fell off the tree.
“I’m free!” the branch thought as I lay on the ground. “Finally I am free to be me!! No more farmer cutting off my branches! I can grow as many as I want! I will bear more apples than any branch of any apple tree ever!”
Ok, back to reality. Branches cannot decide to leave trees. But in today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus sees us as branches that do have a choice. There are two key sentences here. First, where Jesus says, “Abide in me, and I in you.” Just as a branch needs to be a part of a tree to bear fruit, so we need to be a part of Jesus, or, as he says, we must abide in his love. How do we do that?
That is the second key sentence: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” And what was Jesus’ commandments? To love God and to love our neighbor. Do this, and you abide in God, and by abiding in God, you will bear much fruit.
Don’t be like the branch on the ground. Abide!
Lord, may we abide in you, so that our joy may be complete. May we bear fruit for you and your kingdom.
April 6, 2021 – Barb Haddon
It’s time for Soul Food!
Today Barb is writing about how God is our rock and our refuge.
5 For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.
6 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
7 On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.
8 Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.
As I finished Marilyn McEntyre’s book of Lenten meditations, a friend gave me another book of daily meditations to keep me in the habit of being still and listening for a few minutes each day. Today’s message reminds us that, after all of the Alleluias of Easter, the way to really be In touch with God is in silence, in the “still, small voice.”
I believe that God yearns to be in touch with us, even as we seek the presence of God. However, it is hard to hear the voice of God amidst the clatter and clamor of our daily activities. To hear that voice, we need to set aside daily time just to be still. When we can do that, difficult as it is, we do become aware of God as our rock, our fortress. God is the source of our strength; the force that enables us to stand firm against wrongdoing, to speak out against injustice.
The psalmist continues that God is not only our fortress, but also our refuge. How many times do the gospels report that Jesus “went away to rest and pray.” He sought the refuge of the God whom he knew to be steadfast, even in the most trying of times. In our culture of “do it yourself” it is difficult to admit our weakness, our fear, our sense of inadequacy. Yet, we dare to relinquish all of that to the God who is love; who comes not to judge, but to empower.
The final invitation from the psalmist is to trust. We dare to “pour out our hearts before him,” because he loves us more than life. It’s hard to imagine such love in the face of the fickle nature of humanity, and yet, we have only to turn the calendar pages back to Friday to be reminded that there are no limits to the God who loves us.
My invitation to you is to “try it, you’ll like it!” Since many of us have already established a Lenten discipline, we might try continuing by setting some time in silence daily to be with God. We might be surprised by the results!
Almighty God, we carry the joyful news of the resurrection with us, and yet, we immediately rush into the events of the day, barely conscious of your presence. Help us to slow our pace, we pray, and make time and space for your word to each of us. Amen.
April 5, 2021 – Barb Haddon
It’s time for Soul Food!
Today we start to look at the post-Easter affects of the Resurrection. Barb shows us how Peter was changed.
Acts 2:14, 22-24; 29-32
14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.
22“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know — 23this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 29“Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’ 32This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.”
It didn’t take long for Peter to find his voice! I think that the ‘beach barbeque breakfast” was transformative for him. You remember that, after the resurrection, not knowing what else to do, Peter decided to go fishing. Others joined him. Jesus met them on the beach, shared their breakfast, and then invited Peter to take a walk with him.
Three times, Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. Three times, Peter affirmed that he did, actually becoming a bit annoyed that Jesus had to repeat the question. Some scholars assert that the question was asked three times to allow Peter to atone for the three times that he denied Jesus following his arrest. Whether true or not, the incident gave Peter a second chance. Having heard Peter’s confession of love and faith, Jesus gave him a job to do – feed my sheep!
Freed from guilt and given a specific task, Peter wasted no time! Before he left Jerusalem after the resurrection he began to speak publicly. He recounted the cruelty and injustice done to Jesus, but then went on to affirm that Jesus was alive! “It was impossible for him to be held in the power of death.”
Relying on the fact that King David, long dead, was a still hero to the people, Peter called on his prophesy that when the Messiah came, he would not die forever, but would be raised to live again.
The fact that death could not hold him is a reality in our lives as well. It is what gives us hope. It holds the possibility that we will somehow find ways to overcome the violence, hate and injustice of our time. It gives us not only hope, but knowledge that we, too will be saved from the eternal clutches of death and will live again in the place that God has prepared for us. Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!
Amazing, loving God, what love you have shown us! We give thanks for the raising of Jesus from the dead, and with it, the knowledge that we, too, will live forever in your presence. Amen.
April 3, 2021 – Murray Richmond
It’s time for Soul Food, Holy Saturday edition.
Today we are looking at Holy Saturday. The painter Jackson Pollock said, “There was a reviewer who wrote that my pictures didn’t have a beginning or an end. He didn’t mean it as a compliment, but it was. It was a fine compliment.” This is nothing to see in this painting. It does not mean anything. It just is.
Luke 23: 50-56, 24:1
50 Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, 51 had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment. 1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.
Genesis tells us that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. How does God rest? What does that even mean? Today is Holy Saturday. It is the sixth day, and Jesus is in the tomb. Nothing happens today. The text jumps from Friday when they laid Jesus in the tomb, to Sunday, when the women discover the resurrection. Nothing happens in between. Between Friday evening, and Sunday morning, there is a pause in the action. What do you do when you aren’t doing anything? I saw a recent Facebook that said, “When I tell I am doing nothing today, that does not mean I am free. That means I am doing nothing.” I find many points of congruence between Buddhism and Christianity, and one is the idea of doing nothing. In many Zen traditions, meditating is the art of doing nothing. That goes against the grain. We are supposed to doing something—always. There should be a purpose in all we do. Even when we rest, we should recharge our batteries. Doing nothing is a lost art.
I was talking with a pastor once about what we were reading. I mentioned I was reading a novel—Middlemarch I believe. “Why are you reading that?” he asked. “How is that helping your ministry?” “It’s not helping my ministry. I am reading it because I enjoy it.” “I never read anything just for enjoyment,” he said. “Everything I read has to help my ministry.” I felt like he was missing something very important. What was Jesus doing on Holy Saturday? Some traditions cannot leave him in the tomb. He is down in Hell, they say, preaching the Gospel to all the people who died before he was able to save them from their sins. Others just believe that Jesus rested on Holy Saturday. He did….nothing
Maybe it is too late for you to do nothing today, on Holy Saturday, but maybe, some time in the near future, you can set aside some time to do … nothing.
In the Eastern Orthodox tradition they have a service on Friday evening, and one of the prayers of this service is:
Today Thou dost keep holy the seventh day,
Which Thou has blessed of old by resting from Thy works.
Thou bringest all things into being and Thou makest all things new,
Observing the Sabbath rest, my Saviour, and restoring strength.
April 2, 2021 – Murray Richmond
It’s time for Soul Food, Good Friday edition
The cross of Jesus means many different things to different people. But in the end, it all comes down to one thing–God’s love for us.
The Crucifixion of Jesus
26 As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. 28 But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
32 Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus[e] there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [[34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”]][f] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah[g] of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him,[h] “This is the King of the Jews.”
39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding[i] him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah?[j] Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into[k] your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The Death of Jesus
44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land[l] until three in the afternoon, 45 while the sun’s light failed;[m] and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. 47 When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.”[n] 48 And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49 But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
There are many theories on how the death of Jesus “saved” the human race. One says that we sinned, and God hates sin so much that our creator had to cosign us to eternal damnation for our sins. But instead of punishing us, God sent Jesus into the world, that he might suffer our penalty for us. In other words, Jesus suffered in our place.
Another theory was that on the Cross Jesus won a great victory over sin and the devil. In early depictions of the crucifixion Jesus has his arms spread wide as the victor over sin. The cross was not the ultimate punishment. It was the place of an ultimate victory.
Yet another theory says that by giving himself up to suffering, Jesus showed us God’s true love for humanity, and when we see that, we are drawn irresistibly to God.
In the early church when there were theological controversies, Bishops gathered for a council, where they would decide the issue. It was a council that gave us the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus and the Holy Trinity. It was a council that said that images could be a help to our faith. It was a council that decided definitively on the books of the Bible (although most people had agreed on which books and letters constituted Holy Scripture hundreds of years before that council).
No council was convened to arbitrate between the different theories of what the death of Jesus means for us. I guess they thought it was ok to the various theories out there, as long as people understood that somehow Jesus died for our sins.
Today is Good Friday, the day we commemorate the death of Jesus. Why is it called Good Friday? What is good about it? This is an older, somewhat outdates sense of the word “good.” In this sense “good” means “holy” in the same way people refer to the Bible as the Good Book. In Old English it is langa frigedæg, long Friday.
Whatever you call it, the meaning is the same. It is a day when we see God’s love for us in no uncertain terms. Jesus died that we might live for God.
April 1, 2021 – Murray Richmond
It’s time for Soul Food!
Today we are looking at the trial of Jesus by the Sanhedrin and the Romans, how they accused him, and how he responded.
John 19:19-24, 33-40
19 Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. 20 Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22 When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” 24 Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”
After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. 39 But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 40 They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit.
The trial of Jesus was nothing more than a kangaroo court. In fact, by the legal standards of the day, it was not a trial at all. It was at best a legal hearing, and at worst a lynching. Biblical scholar Raymond Brown goes through what a proper trial by either Roman or Jewish authorities should look like, and the hearing Jesus had before the Sanhedrin and before Pilate looked nothing like that.
There are two very curious aspects of the trial. First, Jesus does not defend himself. He is accused of various things, and he never speaks a word on his own behalf. The phrase, “like a lamb led to the slaughter” fits perfectly here. Jesus was the lamb, and the courts of Rome and Jerusalem were the butchers. The closest he comes to defending himself is when he tells Pilate, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
But the second curious thing about the trial is that when Jesus is accused of something, mainly of being an insurrectionary against the Jewish authorities and Rome, he simply says, “Those are you words.” Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king, and Jesus responds, “You say that I am a king.” When questioned by the Sanhedrin about his teaching, Jesus simply says, “Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.”
Jesus is allowing the injustice of the system to convict him. It is as if he wants all generations to see that the two greatest justice systems in the known world were aligned to perpetuate a great injustice—an injustice not just against Jesus, but against God.
This is really what the death of Jesus was all about. God sent Jesus in the world, to bring the message of love and grace and acceptance and joy and hope—in short, the message of the Kingdom of God—and the world killed him. The two greatest justices systems found him guilty, and then put him to death in the worst way possible—scourging and then crucifixion.
And the fact is, if he came today, the world would mostly likely do the same thing, all over again. Maybe we would not kill him, but we are call him hopelessly idealistic, and dismiss him to the margins—even to the margins of religious communities.
“Who’s that talking about how the evils of money?”
“Oh, that just Jesus. It’s kind of quaint, isn’t it?”
“Who is that hanging out with the unhoused mentally ill and drug addicts?”
“It’s just Jesus. He does that.”
“Who is that bringing all those unsavory people into our church? Who is that guy who always makes me uncomfortable? Who is that who says all those horrible things about our most popular preachers?”
“That’s Jesus. We need to put a stop to him.”
Jesus, forgive us, for we know not what we do.
March 31, 2021 – Murray Richmond
It’s time for Soul Food!
Today we are looking at Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Although he prayed that God would give him an out, we see his total dedication to doing God’s will.
Jesus Prays in Gethsemane Matthew 26:36-46
36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. 38 Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” 39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” 40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial;[e] the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”
In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays three times, asking God to let him off the hook. “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.”
As I was meditating on this passage, it suddenly struck me—Jesus had the ability to walk away. Every step he took toward the cross was a voluntary step. He was praying that God’s will could be changed, but no matter what, he was still willing to walk in the will of his heavenly Father. “Not what I want but what you want.”
In his book The Last Temptation of Christ, Nikos Kazantzakis imagines that even on the cross, Jesus could have said no to God. Satan tempts Jesus with a happy home life with a wife (Mary Magdalene) and their children. He shows Jesus how he could die late in life as a fat, happy carpenter. Of course, Jesus rejects that temptation.
Kazantzakis was writing a novel, but I really think that Jesus must have faced similar temptations in his life, especially as the day of his death approached.
Sometimes we forget the humanity of Jesus. Being God’s son, we think, must have made it easier for him in all aspects of his life. I think it made it harder. If he was truly human, he must have felt tremendously alone. No one could possibly know what it was like to be the son of God. No one could possibly know the things he wrestled with. No one could truly understand him. He was alone. How he must have wanted to just lead a normal life!
Looking at the disciples sleeping near him just intensified that alienation. While he poured his heart out to God, they snoozed, perhaps dreaming of the day when Jesus would overthrow the Romans and they would be his right-hand men.
Little did they know it would all come to end just a short time after Jesus’ prayer.
Lord, we cannot know what it was like for you, but you know what it is like to be us. You have walked in our shoes. You know our joys and you know our suffering. As we go through this holy week, may we walk closer to you, and know what you gave so that we might have abundant life.
March 30, 2021 – Barb Haddon
It’s time for Soul Food!
Today Barb is dealing with a very difficult text–Jesus curses the fig tree. She asks some important questions around that.
12 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it. 15 Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; 16 and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” 18 And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. 19 And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples[a] went out of the city.
The part of this passage about the cursing of the fig tree has been one of the most difficult for me in all of my years of Biblical study I have rather recently learned that the fig tree and the temple are tied together, symbolically, by Jesus. Scholars whom I trust suggest that the fig tree represents Israel. God looked for good fruit from the nation of Israel, and found none. Similarly, the fig tree bore no fruit. Jesus then went on to the Temple, where he drove out the merchants and cried out that the temple was to be a house of prayer, but had been reduced to a den of robbers. The withering of the fig tree was a symbol of the coming destruction of the temple. Jesus’ outburst drew his own demise closer, as the religious leaders sought his destruction.
So – where are WE in this story? Are we producing good fruit? There is certainly no buying and selling in our church building. Rather, we are consistently giving away lunches, socks, and other goods and services needed by those who are marginalized and unhoused in our community. Are we a house of prayer for all people? The pandemic has certainly curtailed our use of space within our walls, but we can pray anywhere! As we prepare to open once again for corporate worship within the walls, we need to be sure that all ARE welcome; that we don’t allow first impressions and outward appearances to influence how we welcome others into our midst.
As we draw closer to the end of the Lenten season, perhaps we can assess where we are in our own prayer and devotional life. Speaking personally, the good news is that I have been more faithful about using daily devotions and spending more time in prayer. The bad news is that I haven’t been as regular as I could have been, and I have some concern that without the daily guides (other than Soul Food) I will fall into old patterns and be more haphazard about my focused time with God. It is my prayer for us that we will bear good fruit, like a flourishing fig tree, based on a discipline of daily time with God. Blessings to each of you as we walk through this week, anticipating the joy of the resurrection!
Loving God, it is hard to take this final walk with Jesus. His pain becomes our pain. His disappointment condemns us. We admit that there is a gap between the devotion that he seeks and the commitment that we offer. Hold us close, we pray, that as we prepare for the triumphant finale, we may be faithful in the painful steps to the cross.
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
March 29, 2021 – Barb Haddon
Soul Food is back for Holy Week!
After a brief hiatus, Soul Food is back. Today Barb walks us through Palm Sunday.
PALM SUNDAY, MARK 11:1-11
1When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 11Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
As a child, I imagined the Palm Sunday parade as something akin to the Rose Parade without the floats. I always thought that there were throngs of people, many palm branches, perhaps a few rams’ horns heralding Jesus’s entrance into Jerusalem.
Modern scholarship, however, paints a different picture. Only the gospel of John speaks of palm branches, and there were no palms near Jerusalem at that time. More likely, the “leafy branches” were grain cut from nearby fields. Further, while we think of this event as a triumphal entry, Jesus was not expected. No crowds came from the city to welcome and cheer him. Those who shouted and waved branches were those who followed him, and who joined the procession as he entered the city.
There is symbolism around the event. Rather than coming on a horse, an animal of war, Jesus arrives on a donkey; an animal of peace and a beast of burden. Martin Luther suggests that Jesus indicates by this choice that he came not to frighten us or crush us, but to help us and to carry our burdens. Hosanna, the word most associated with Palm Sunday, means “Save now.” Only Mark adds, “Blessed is the kingdom of our ancestor David.” For Jesus, the entrance into the city symbolizes a journey from the periphery to the center. He comes to mount a non-violent campaign against the Jewish ruling class.
Of course, the temple is the focal point. It is an amazing structure, 900 X 1500 feet; the front of the temple 150 feet tall and 150 feet wide, made of white stone, much of it covered in silver and gold. Imagine the awe of this ragtag bunch, many of whom had not ever been to the city. The reflection of the sun was so bright that they were forced to avert their eyes. They must have been overwhelmed! Evening is approaching as Jesus enters the Temple and looks around. This is an inspection visit to see for himself the conditions within the walls. His ultimate plan is to disrupt the operations there, but he will not condemn without evidence.
After a look, he withdraws to the safety and security of friends in Bethany. It has taken me years to distance myself from the childhood image of this event. I rather like thinking of it as a truly triumphant parade; people both within and outside the city finally recognizing Jesus for who he is, and welcoming him.
Instead hearing “Hosanna!” on Sunday and “Crucify him!” on Friday, I wish that Palm Sunday could have been the recognition of Jesus as the Son of God, and that the needed changes in the leadership and the temple practices could have happened without violence.
Of course, that was not meant to be. As always, violence begets violence, and people in power are loathe to relinquish it. Though the event was nearly 2,000 years ago, it feels far too relevant, as mass shootings continue in our country, and racial prejudice abounds, and political division threatens our very stability. The ancient shout “Hosanna” – save now – should resound in our lives, not just on Palm Sunday, but every day, as we seek to follow, not a political warrior, but the Prince of Peace.
God whose love knows no bounds, bring our lives into sharper focus, we pray. Let us not be the ones who praise today and condemn tomorrow. Instead, may we hear your voice calling us to love one another as you have loved us. May we, like you, confront evil and work actively for change. Bear us up, we pray, that we might be faithful and steadfast followers. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.
March 2, 2021 – Barb Haddon
It’s time for Soul Food!
Today Barb writes about the Good Samaritan and compassion.
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii,[k] gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
I have always thought of the Parable of the Good Samaritan as a story about compassion. It is that, but pastor and professor Roger Gench calls it a story about generosity. I have never thought of the story in those terms, but it is true.
Think of the many things that the Samaritan did for the victim at the side of the road. He not only took pity on him, but he used his own resources to bandage and treat his wounds, put him on his own animal, walking himself. Perhaps the action that we most often think of as generous is that he put the man up in a hotel and told the innkeeper to keep him as long as needed until he could travel safely, promising to pay whatever expenses were incurred. His open-ended promise is generous indeed!
As with all of Jesus’ parables, it comes back to love; loving God and loving others. At
the root of compassion, at the base of generosity, is love. Gench suggests that the question posed to Jesus perhaps should have been, “Who is NOT my neighbor?” Jesus would have answered, “no one.” For Jesus, says Gench, the point is, “How can I BE a neighbor?”
Of course, when we think of neighbors, it is automatic to think of Fred Rogers, and his counsel, when there is trouble, look for the helpers. In his command to love God and one another, Jesus encompasses both compassion and generosity. Jesus asks US to be the helpers!
In this Lenten period, when we seek deeper understanding of faith, and the effort to change behaviors, let’s look for ways to be good neighbors, remembering that, according to Jesus, there is no one who is not our neighbor!
God who is love, help us to see others with your eyes. We are always willing to help our friends, our geographic neighbors, our families, but help us to remember that ALL people are your children, and so, our neighbors.
February 23, 2021 – Barb Haddon
It’s time for Soul Food!
Today Barb is writing about how forgiveness changes us. Grace is not “Anything goes.” That, according to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, is cheap grace. Real grace changes us as we encounter God.
The Holy One of Israel says, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” (ESV)
ISAIAH 30:15, 18 (GOOD NEWS -TEV)
“Come back and quietly trust in me. Then you will be strong and secure. The Lord is waiting to be merciful to you. God is ready to take pity on you because God always does what is right. Happy are those who put their trust in the Lord.”
As I wrote yesterday, repentance is a common and appropriate theme during Lent. Here, thanks again to Marilyn McEntyre, there is a different spin on the concept. Repentance does not have to be like a dark cloud hanging over our heads; an implicit “or else” looming over us. It can be an invitation to simply turn from a wrongful action or an unhealthy habit, receive forgiveness, and begin again.
In the 30th chapter of Isaiah, God is not very happy with Israel. The Assyrians are at their door, threatening doom. God says:
“You ignore what I tell you and rely on violence and deceit. You are guilty. You are like a high wall with a crack running down it; suddenly you will collapse.” (TEV)
And yet…God invites. Repent, come back and trust. God will take pity.
There is so much emphasis in our culture on self-reliance and strength of will. To ask for help, to apologize when we have erred is often seen as a sign of weakness. God invites a different priority. There is an emphasis on community, on interdependence, on building one another up rather than competing for the place at the top.
I think of Jesus with the woman caught in adultery. After Jesus challenged her accusers, they disappeared. He then assured the woman that he did not accuse her either, but cautioned her to “sin no more.” Forgiveness is not an invitation to pick up where we left off, but to experience a change of heart – and behavior.
As you proceed through the weeks of Lent, may it be a time of introspection, of new beginnings, and experiencing God’s forgiveness and pity.
11 Come, O children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
12 Which of you desires life,
and covets many days to enjoy good?
13 Keep your tongue from evil,
and your lips from speaking deceit.
14 Depart from evil, and do good;
seek peace, and pursue it.
15 The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their cry.
16 The face of the LORD is against evildoers,
to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
17 When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears,
and rescues them from all their troubles.
18 The LORD is near to the brokenhearted,
and saves the crushed in spirit.
February 22, 2021 – Barb Haddon
It’s time for Soul Food!
Today Barb picks up where I left off in the sermon yesterday. The mercy of God is wider than the largest ocean!
ISAIAH 40: 21-26
21 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to live in;
25 To whom then will you compare me,
or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
Who created these?
He who brings out their host and numbers them,
calling them all by name;
because he is great in strength,
mighty in power, not one is missing.
Yesterday, Murray preached on the opening lines to the Lord’s Prayer; “Our Father, who art in heaven.” Speaking to the grandeur of God, Isaiah’s words are eloquent. Compared to God, the inhabitants of the earth are like grasshoppers. God stretches the heavens like a curtain and spreads them like a tent in which to inhabit. There is no equal to the one who created the universe, mighty in strength and power.
Friend, writer and poet Marilyn McEntyre, has written on this subject in her book of Lenten devotions, Where the Eye Alights. She quotes a line from the hymn There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy: “The love of God is broader than the measures of the mind.” She shares her amazement that her brother and his friends are at home in the fields of astronomy, black holes and astrophysics, yet notes that even they cannot extend their minds beyond the outer edge of human knowledge. Even metaphors fail.
If we consider that the love of God is that big, she says, “it becomes impossible not to imagine that every impediment to that love will disappear in the deep space of the heart.”
In this season of Lent, it is easy (and appropriate) to focus on our failings, our shortcomings, and on the need for repentance and forgiveness. However, it is equally important, I think, to focus on the LOVE of God; the God who is bigger than we can imagine, whose power is endless, but who’s mercy and forgiveness also know no bounds.
As you proceed in your chosen Lenten practice, do so without fear of judgement and punishment, for the power of God’s mercy “is broader than the measure of the mind.”
February 18, 2021 – Murray Richmond
It’s time for Soul Food!
Today we are looking at the early Hebrews, and how they became slaves. But also how God never forgot them!
8 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9 He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. 13 The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, 14 and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.
Just one year ago things seemed normal. We didn’t wear masks, we could eat in restaurants without a second thought, and we could worship as a congregation in our sanctuary.
Then came COVID. And everything changed. It is as if we became slaves to a disease. The Old Testament reading for today shows a similar dynamic. The Hebrews were living high on the hog in Egypt…for a while. Joseph, the son of Jacob had become Pharaoh’s right-hand man, and his brothers were also held in high esteem. Then came a new king who “did not know Joseph.” And soon after the situation for the Hebrews changed, and they became slaves.
During Lent we think about our mortality and the fragility of life. One moment we are wining and dining without a thought, the next we are wearing masks and practicing social distancing. In other words, the good times come, and the good times go.
One thing remained constant throughout the trials and tribulations of the Hebrews—they were always the chosen people of God.
When Lent reminds us of the fragility of circumstances, it also guides us to think about the really important things. While our circumstances change, and can change radically, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8) He is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end.
God does not practice social distancing with us! God is always with us. The love of Jesus and the call to follow Jesus do not change. We may be in held captive by COVID but we are free in Christ. We may change how we do things, but we do not change what is important—loving God and loving our neighbors.
O Lord, during this time of COVID help us to feel your presence in our daily lives. Help us to remember that we are never far from you, and that you can work in us through any circumstances. Fill us with your Spirit, the spirit of truth and love, that even in the time of Corona, we can reach out with love to others, and feel you reaching out in love to us.
February 17, 2021 – Murray Richmond
It’s time for Soul Food!
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. There will be an Ash Wednesday online service posted at around three today. You will get an email with the link for the service this afternoon. Next year we can do our normal service I hope.
1 Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
2 Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.
3 “Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.
4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
5 Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, the liturgical season that leads to Easter. Lent was originally a time for people to prepare to join the church. It is also a time to prepare for Easter by working on our relationship with God.
Many traditions have Lenten fasts. In the Orthodox church, they do not eat meat, meat by-products, poultry, eggs, and dairy products for the entire Lenten period. (I visited an Orthodox monastery in Northern Russia during the Advent fast. At lunch the monks ate a brown, mealy gruel. We were the honored guests, however, and were not Orthodox, so we were fed king crab. It was a very uncomfortable meal, eating our crab as some of the monks eyed us with envy!)
Many people do a kind of mini-fast for Lent. They give up alcohol, or sweets. I always give up liver for Lent, which is pretty easy for me since I hate liver! (I also give up sweets and alcohol.)
Today’s passage is about fasting—the kind of fasting that pleases God. Although fasting is not an important part of the way we live our faith today, in past times it was a very important spiritual discipline. When Jesus talked about spiritual practices in Matthew 6, he mentions prayer, almsgiving and fasting.
But Isaiah tells us there is a special fast the especially pleases God. It does not involve alcohol, or sweets or food of any time.
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Throughout the Bible we read of a God who has compassion on the widow and the orphan, the poor and the needy, the hungry and the sick. The theme is consistent in the Old and New Testaments. The prophet Amos tells us that God hates (yes, that is the word he uses) our religious actions like festivals and solemn assemblies. Instead, says Amos:
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
We are a congregation that takes the needs of people seriously—all people. We have limited resources, but we do what we can to help the people that are held dear to the heart of God.
Maybe this year for Lent, instead of fasting, you can volunteer at our Food Bank, or help assemble bag lunches. Maybe you can give a gift to help refugees or to a shelter for homeless youth. There are many ways you can participate in the fast that pleases God!
O Lord, as we enter the Lenten season, we are reminded to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, to take care of others as we would like to be taken care of if we were in their position. Help us to reach out as we can to those in need, and also to accept the hands of others as they reach out to us.
February 16, 2021 – Barb Haddon
It’s time for Soul Food!
Today is Shrove Tuesday. Shrove Tuesday, is the traditional feast day before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday. Lent – the 40 days leading up to Easter – was traditionally a time of fasting and on Shrove Tuesday, Anglo-Saxon Christians went to confession and were “shriven” (absolved from their sins).
We will be offering an online Ash Wednesday service this year. It should be online around noon tomorrow, and you can worship with it at the time of your choosing.
19This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23He said,
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said.
24Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
The Pharisees are at it again! They heard of someone preaching and baptizing, and they had to check it out. They had to know who was potentially “tromping on their turf.” So, they sent representatives to find and question John the Baptist. “Who are you?” they wanted to know. Prophet? Elijah back to earth? (As you remember from Murray’s recent sermon, Elijah didn’t exactly die; he was taken into heaven on a flaming chariot! It was always expected that he would return, and to this day, an empty chair is part of the Seder table in case he chooses that time to come back.) John was both humble and honest. I am not a prophet, not Elijah, simply a voice crying in the wilderness, a foreteller of the One to come.
Put yourself in the shoes of the Pharisees’ representative. John had caused a stir, and it was their job to figure out who this strange fellow was, and bring an accurate response back to the Pharisees. They wanted to know the basis of his authority? By what right do you baptize – not the Messiah, not Elijah, not a prophet…… John simply defines himself as the forerunner to one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. What is it that they will report?
In some ways, our position is the opposite of John’s. We, too, baptize with water. The difference is that we have received the Holy Spirit! We baptize in the name of the Trinity, secure in the knowledge that Jesus the Christ has gone before us, has called us, and has instructed us to teach and baptize, reaching out with the good news that God loves us, and that we are God’s precious children.
As we move into Lent tomorrow, may we take time to rejoice in the knowledge that we are loved, and mindful of the fact that with this adoption as God’s children, we have a responsibility to pass that love to others.
O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals[a] that you care for them?
5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
7 all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9 O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
February 15, 2021 – Barb Haddon
It’s time for Soul Food!
Today Barb is writing about our inheritance from God, using the part of Deuteronomy that contains “The Shema.” This is a basic Hebrew confession of God, often said daily by observant Jews. Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God. The Lord is the One God.
4Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. 5You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
10When the LORD your God has brought you into the land that he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you — a land with fine, large cities that you did not build, 11houses filled with all sorts of goods that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant — and when you have eaten your fill, 12take care that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 13The LORD your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear. 14Do not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who are all around you, 15because the LORD your God, who is present with you, is a jealous God. The anger of the LORD your God would be kindled against you and he would destroy you from the face of the earth.
Yesterday, Murray preached on inheritance. He did not talk about the inheritance of worldly goods, but about the character traits that we inherit from people who have influenced our lives. He invited us to reflect on the people who have been influential for us. Bob and I had fun thinking back on those who had made an impact on us. Ii was mostly family members, educators, and church leaders. (Since it was Valentine’s Day, we included each other!)
Today’s passage brings a similar message from a different angle. The emphasis is on God’s law. The law, and the faith that inspired it, are part of our inheritance. The author emphasizes that we need to memorize parts of it, teach it to our children and make it a part of our daily practice. It is so easy to be swept up in the events of the day, the responsibilities that we have accepted, and, even with the restricted activity required by COVID, days that fly by, often without a thought to the priorities of our faith. The author emphasizes that they should be part of daily routine – home and away, waking and preparing for rest. The Jews emphasized the commandments of the law by wearing pieces of Scripture on their foreheads, and in capsules on their doorways. We sometimes display crosses in our homes, but more often than not, time spent with them is not a part of our daily routine. Might that change as we enter Lent?
We are reminded of another part of our inheritance in that all that we have comes from God. We live in cities that we did not build, fields that we did not plant. In so many ways, we stand on the shoulders of those who went before us, and our faith is due to those who have followed the Scriptures, and both learned and taught. Let’s practice being aware of our heritage and the God who inspired it, faithful in practice and seeking to avoid the idolatry of “things.” Despite the darkness of current days, we are blessed!
Amazing God, we live amid your abundance, and we often fail to notice. Help us to be more mindful of your influence in our lives, more faithful about studying and teaching your Word, and more diligent about putting you first among the many tugs that seek priority in our lives. Continue to teach us, we pray, and give us boldness in serving and sharing with others.
February 9, 2021 – Barb Haddon
It’s time for Soul Food!
Today we are starting to look at Paul’s letter to Timothy, a young pastor he took under his care.
2 Timothy 1:1-14
1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,
2To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
3I am grateful to God — whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did — when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. 6For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
8Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, 12and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 13Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.
I often think of Paul as harsh and critical, somewhat self-important, and quick to judge. Maybe that’s why this passage resonates with me. It is so gentle, caring, pastoral and encouraging. I can imagine that the young man, Timothy, might be intimidated by all of the conflict that occurred, even in the churches started by Paul, to say nothing of the harshness of the Roman rule. Paul praises him, not only for his own faith, but for the faith of his mother and grandmother who have lived the faith and worked to instill it in him.
As he goes on to encourage Timothy, his words speak to our generation as well. “Don’t be afraid to testify to your faith,” he says. You might be punished or imprisoned, but don’t be afraid. TRUST! Of all of the difficult things going on now in our country, we can still proclaim our faith without fear of imprisonment. Still, we are sometimes reluctant to share what we believe. We don’t want to offend. We don’t want to incur criticism. Yet, the good news that we have to impart, the news of equality under law, the responsibility to share what we have and to work for justice, deserves to be heard!
Author Roger Gench writes of “The Cross Examen;” reflections on the cross that cause us to think about the crucifixion as a way of emboldening us to live out Galatians 5:22-23. (Those verses that Murray used for Advent preaching.) When we come to terms with Jesus’ willingness to die in order that we might live more abundantly and boldly, we are more likely to serve the causes of peace, love, joy, etc. Though we are currently reluctant to go out in public, there is much we can do from home. We can send emails and letters to those with authority. We can write letters of encouragement to those who are working for change. We can join study groups (by zoom!) who are engaging in tackling difficult societal issues. I find myself currently engaged in learning about the roots of racial inequality and racism. It’s a sobering study, and so far my greatest learning is what I don’t know!
Blessings on you, as you live the faith in action as well as word; in commitment as well as prayer.
O God, we want to be faithful. We want to serve you and speak boldly about your love for us and the power of that love working through us. Light our path, we pray, in this time of darkness, that we might in turn be the light of the world that you have called us to be. Amen.
February 8, 2021 – Barb Haddon
It’s time for some more Soul Food.
Lent is coming, and we are doing a Zoom Lenten study on forgiveness led by Mary Gillespie. Call the church office for more information!
Gospel Reading Mark 8:11-21
11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13 And he left them, and getting into the boat again, he went across to the other side.
14 Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out—beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” 16 They said to one another, “It is because we have no bread.” 17 And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” They said to him, “Twelve.” 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21 Then he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”
Poor Jesus! He had tried everything! He had preached, he had taught, he had fed thousands and cured countless people of their diseases, and now even his closest friends, his disciples, didn’t get it.
The Pharisees had no use for Jesus. He was a threat. They held positions of power and prestige, and had gained wealth form the temple practices. Jesus threatened them, not because he was hostile, but because he drew the crowds, challenged the teachings of the Pharisees, and offered an entirely different idea about what it meant to be people of faith. When they asked for a sign, it was not so that they could understand faith in a new way, but so that they could test him. They were always trying to find fault with his teachings and his practice. In disgust, he dismissed them, and went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.
In this instance, his time with his disciples showed not only their lack of understanding, but the great gap in their approach versus that of Jesus. Jesus was on a spiritual plane, as he warned them of the “yeast” of the Pharisees and of Herod. He was thinking of the poison that they spread, contorting the faith for their own purposes and personal gain. He was warning them not to be “taken in” by their false teachings.
The disciples, however, were working at an entirely different level. They were fixating on the fact that they had failed to bring bread for the journey. When Jesus mentioned yeast, they thought that he was chastising them for their failure to plan ahead.
Again, poor Jesus! His friends had been part of two amazing feeding miracles, where 1,000s of people were fed, and they were fussing about feeding 13! He had to lead them as a teacher patiently leads the students who miss the point. How discouraged he must have been! He knew that his remaining time was short, and yet, even those closest to him didn’t see him for who he was.
I don’t think that most of us relate well to Herod and the Pharisees, as we don’t have their kind of power and prestige. However, the scene with the disciples strikes closer to home. How many times have we failed to see the mighty acts of God? Especially during this nearly year of pandemic, we are more likely to focus on the deprivation we have experienced than on the ways God is working among us. Church, for example, will never be the same, and likely our places of business will change as well. Yet, thanks to the availability of technology, MORE people, not fewer, are “attending” church, and people are finding new ways to connect virtually for social gatherings and entertainment events. People responsible for finding ways to provide basic services are getting more and more creative. (Can’t dine inside? Sit in the outdoor tent!) Let’s look for the ways that God is working in our world, and lend our hands where we can to improve lives and to bring hope in abundance to those who see only the scarcity.
Almighty God, we confess to being self-centered and failing to see you in the common events of life. Shine more brightly upon us, we pray, so that we can see you in the midst of us every day, and respond in loving ways to serve you and others. In the name of Jesus, Amen.
February 1, 2021 – Barb Haddon
It’s February already?
Thank you to everyone who attended Sunday’s Annual Meeting, and thank you especially to Tom McDermott and Tam Moore who made sure the technology was working properly. We were pretty sure we would have a quorum (25 people) but we weren’t positive. We had 80 people in attendance, more than our in-person meeting last year!
Gospel Reading Mark 7:24-37
24From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go — the demon has left your daughter.” 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
31Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
Many times during my “active” ministry, people came to me with concerns that they were angry with God, or wanted to push back at God, but felt that to do so would be blasphemous. They were left with feelings that had no place to go to be resolved. I assured them that God has broad shoulders and big ears, and can handle anything that we want to offer him – holy or not.
That’s one reason that the first part of this passage is one of my favorites. The Gentile woman had the temerity to push back when Jesus rejected her request. Her love for her daughter was so great that she was willing to risk further rejection in order to see her daughter well. I think that Jesus was rather taken aback by her response, yet he honored it. Further, as evidenced by the second part of the passage, it changed his course of ministry. Up to this point, he had thought of his mission and ministry as being directed only to Jews. Now, his next move was to the Decapolis; 10 cities around the Sea of Galilee populated by Gentiles.
This image is important to me, as we are in a time of great division, when people who are not like us (whoever “us” is) are rejected, shut out, allowed less justice and fewer privileges. Jesus, with his broad shoulders and big ears, was willing, not only to share his gift of healing, but to change his perspective and broaden his mission.
There are messages for us here. First, is the lesson that one voice can make a difference. One woman, because she dared to disagree, changed the course of Jesus’ ministry, and made him more inclusive. Second, if Jesus can change courses, so can we. We can examine our attitudes, our actions and do an honest inventory of where we might need to change. Biases can be subtle, and we may not be aware of how we express preferences unless we are honest with ourselves.
Jesus saw his mission as the need to demonstrate the Realm of God. Ours is to show the love of Jesus without judgment or condemnation. It’s big job! Praise God that we have each other for support and caring in the task!
Almighty and Loving God, help us, we pray, to see others through your eyes. May love be our aim, as we seek to be agents of reconciliation and inclusivity. Give us patience and understanding, we pray, as we seek to follow you and to love with your love. Amen.