The Coming Lenten Season

Friends,

See you in worship for Transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday of the Epiphany church season!  The Transfiguration is the event in which Jesus shone on the mountaintop in radiant glory to three of his disciples—and is perhaps the granddaddy of all epiphanies!  You will hear all about the Transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-9 as well as explore a related theme in Psalm 2 this week as we talk about “The View from the Mountaintop,” or the long view that God has (and offers to us).  So often we get caught up in the brokenness of this world and miss the larger picture, the second sight and deeper look that offers us the good and abiding news that we call the Gospel.  The end of Psalm 2 calls people “happy” who take refuge in God rather than put trust in the powers of the world.

Transfiguration Sunday is our bridge to the church season of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday (this year 2/26/20).  The UCC Book of Worship defines Lent as “a penitential season of self-examination, prayer, and fasting that precedes the observance of the Triduum (Maundy Thursday evening, Good Friday, and the Vigil of Easter, which begins on Saturday night)” (Book of Worship, pp. 21-22). Lent is the season in which we reflect on the life, suffering, and death of Jesus, and what his giving of himself on the cross means for our lives.  Some follow a Lenten devotional guide. Some participate in intentional prayer and study. Others give up something or add to their lives an extra something, which benefits others.  Each Lenten season I spend daily time reading a morning devotional.  Perhaps you would like to do the same.  You can sign up for ones to be delivered to your email in-box each morning.  A few good suggestions are the UCC Daily Devotional accessed here:  https://www.ucc.org/daily_devotional or Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations accessed here: https://cac.org/sign-up/.  With either you will be blessed!  See you in church!

Peace,

Co-Pastor Sandi   

Sermon: Respect, Reverence, and the Good Life

Psalm 112


1 Praise the Lord!
   Happy are those who fear the Lord,
   who greatly delight in his commandments.
2 Their descendants will be mighty in the land;
   the generation of the upright will be blessed.
3 Wealth and riches are in their houses,
   and their righteousness endures forever.
4 They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright;
   they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.
5 It is well with those who deal generously and lend,
   who conduct their affairs with justice.
6 For the righteous will never be moved;
   they will be remembered for ever.
7 They are not afraid of evil tidings;
   their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord.
8 Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid;
   in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
9 They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor;
   their righteousness endures forever;
   their horn is exalted in honor.
10 The wicked see it and are angry;
   they gnash their teeth and melt away;
   the desire of the wicked comes to nothing.

Preached by Rev. Sandi Anthony, Sunday, February 9, 2020–Boy Scout Sunday

A Rev. Taylor Mertins tells this funny story: “It happened in a small town in a small United Methodist Church.  A single mother was struggling to raise her two boys who were the talk of the town.  At 10 and 12 years of age, the two brothers were often responsible for any of the “accidents” [or incidents] in the town.  They regularly vandalized certain buildings, were known for shoplifting candy from the local 7-11, and would ding-dong-ditch any house they could find.  Yet on Sunday morning, there they were sitting on either side of the mother in church.  The boys would politely greet the minister when they walked in, but during the sermon they loved to make farting sounds while the preacher paused in a sermon.  They were trouble.  Now because the mother was raising the boys all alone, many of the people in the community that wanted to do something about the two boys, felt that it wasn’t their place; that mother had enough on her plate.  This type of behavior went on for some time.  The boys would continue their antics, driving people crazy, until one day when the mother had had enough.  The pastor at the local United Methodist Church was a young man fresh from seminary; he thought he had it all figured out.  For weeks he had wanted to call out those two boys from the pulpit in the middle of a sermon, but he thought better of it: he would look down on that poor mother and let it go.  So it came to pass that the mother called the young minister.  “Preacher,” she barked into the telephone, “I want you to strike the fear of God into my boys.  This has got to stop.”  “It will be my absolute pleasure,” the preacher replied. 

The following Sunday, after worship, the minister invited the two young boys to his office, leaving one to sit outside while the other sat on the hot seat in the office.  In order to achieve some sort of repentance from the boys, the preacher thought about teaching them that God is always present, and therefore sees everything.  This, he hoped, would teach them to behave better.  With the first brother sitting across the office table, the preacher began his lesson.  “Where is God?  No response.  “Where is God?!”  The boy began to fidget.  Where is God?!!”  The lack of response was beginning to irritate the pastor.  “I want you to answer me right now, where is God?!?!”

And with that the boy jumped from his seat and hightailed it out of the office, grabbed his brother, and bolted for the parking lot.  “What’s going on?” the one brother asked the other.  “We’re in real trouble this time.  God’s gone missing, and they think we had something to do with it!” (https://www.google.com/amp/s/thinkandletthink.com/2014/02/10/to-fear-or-not-to-fear-sermon-on-psalm-112-and-mark-6-45-51/amp/).

Our psalm today starts with a beatitude: Happy are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandmentsNow a beatitude is a saying that begins with the word “blessed,” which can also be translated as “happy.”  We get the word beatitude from Latin.  In Latin beati translates to “happy,” “rich,” or “blessed.  It’s also where get our word for “beauty” or “beautiful.”  We think of the eight beatitudes or blessings Jesus said during his Sermon on the Mount:  Remember them?  Here’s a few of them: Happy or blessed are those who thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  Happy or blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.  Happy or blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. The psalms proclaim beatitudes as well:  Happy are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments.  Their descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.  Wealth and riches are in their house…”  See, good things happened to those who fear the Lord—that’s really the wisdom offered in Psalm 12—that’s the take-home message, simple as it is.  The psalms are a big section of our Bibles that make up what we call “wisdom literature.”  Proverbs, the Book of Job and Song of Solomon among others are part of what we call wisdom literature in our Bibles.  But let’s talk about what it means to fear the Lord.  Because it may not be what you think—or what those boys or their mother or pastor thought—in that funny story.

What our pew Bibles translate as “fear” really means is awe, reverence, or respect—qualities sorely lacking in our society today, but qualities you Scouts affirm in your law and practice in your projects so that you embody them in your soul: being trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and there it is, REVERENT.   Being reverent doesn’t mean you need to fear God like some might fear, sweat, and tremble over crossing that suspension bridge high above a gorge on the fronts of your bulletins—or cowering in a corner fearing that God is going to punish you for few making farting noises in church. Fearing God is more about understanding God’s awesome power and strength and giving more weight to God than to the influence of the world.  Fearing God means you respect God and all that God wants for God’s people.  It means you respect God’s creation and care for all God cares for: the least of these, the poor (which this psalm indeed references), the widow, the orphan.  And do you know what respect means?  Like “beatitude,” we can break this word into root meanings.  “Re” means again, or twice, or second.  You know to “re do” something—means to do it again.  “Spect” means to see, or sight (specs, like your glasses to see through).  So, respect means to “see again” or “see twice.”  It means to really, deeply see—to get a bigger glimpse of what is going on, the way God does.  When you really see, you gain a different perspective, you get re-oriented to some things.  You see the world differently; you see God differently; you see a whole issue more deeply.  And you have an epiphany moment, when you gain an insight or truth more deeply. These moments of heightened reverence, respect can come in the most unusual times and places too.

I had one of these moments last Sunday afternoon while watching a musical down at the Phoenix Theater called “Americano.”  This musical is a true story about Tony, the child of Mexican immigrants, who discovers his undocumented status when he tries to enlist in the Marines, which was his lifelong dream.  He loved this country so much.   When he can’t enlist, he must confront his family, his heritage, and a deeply divided country.  We’ve all heard about the Dreamers.  With all of the issues swirling around, it was one I never paid much attention to because I had no skin in the game, it didn’t touch me—but the story, the play, the art had its intended effect on me: The musical drove the plight of these dear people home for the rapt audience; some of us were in tears.  Before, I never really took time to understand what it means to be a Dreamer; that simply wasn’t my world, in my sight because I have lived a life of privilege, of certain belonging—I had to gain respect by way of “second sight” and reverence for God expressed in all humanity.  As the musical story unfolded, we see why Tony’s parents were forced to leave Mexico when the Mexican economy collapsed.  They were desperate to feed their family, their little ones, and there was absolutely nothing for them in Mexico; it was so desperate.  Although he was college-educated, Tony’s dad became a migrant worker in Sahuarita—just to feed his family—for a time before going to work for a construction company—all the while undocumented.  Because his parents were undocumented and brought Tony to this country when he was only two, he was undocumented as well.  We see the hunger, the human struggle, the family love, the sacrifice, and suddenly, “those people” become us, God’s children; in fact, God’s preferred ones, the poor and struggling and outsiders.  Always remember that even young Jesus, our Lord, was a refugee in Egypt.  The Bible commands us again and again to care for the struggling ones.  

And so, I gained respect, reverence.  I saw this issue a with second sight in the musical that reoriented my thinking, my heart—brought an issue to perfect, moral clarity for me.  That’s what being “born again” really is, you know.  It’s having your thinking and very being in this world reoriented to God’s way.  The way we treat and feel about others, the immigrant, the alien, the outsider, is the way we treat and feel about God, make no mistake about that.  The Bible is perfectly clear about that in its relentless repetition.

And so, the second part of my sermon today is about the result of having respect and reverence for God, for creation, for all of life—the result of having this fear or awe or respect or reverence of the Lord.  What kind of life will you have if you live a life that heeds this psalm, that heeds your Scout Law, no doubt inspired by the world’s great religious texts?  You will have a much greater chance of being happy.  Your soul will be light, unburdened by sin.  You will be blessed.  The psalm says specifically you will be remembered forever, you will look in triumph on your foes, your righteousness will endure forever—because your goodness will become your legacy.  You will be in stark contrast to the wicked who, as the psalm says, “gnash their teeth and melt away.”  You will be the leaders, the ones with the good life, the clear conscience, the one whose families have the greatest chance of being happy, blessed. Those of you who spend years in Scouts, dedicate yourselves to the principles, or go on to become Eagle Scouts—people will have great respect for you—they will look up to you.  Doors will open; people will have confidence in you and you will be favored in getting into first-choice colleges and in finding good jobs.  This is simply pure, biblical wisdom concentrated here in Psalm 112.  Does this mean that nothing bad will befall you if you delight in God’s commandments, if you always do things right?  No.  It just means you have a greater likelihood of avoiding some of life’s worst pitfalls that can really bog you down—like suffering the guilt that can really impact your well-being.  Or having to cope with the legacy of lies that get more and more difficult to cover up and eventually expose you and those you love to shame.

I’ll end with this story about reverence, respect and this notion of seeing twice, seeing again.  In this post-Christmas church season, well call them epiphanies, which can happen when we look more deeply at things.  Steven Covey, the author of the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People shares this:  “I remember a mini-paradigm shift (which, by the way, is an epiphany) I experienced one Sunday morning on a subway in New York. People were sitting quietly – some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene.  Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.

The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.  It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt like was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, ‘Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?’  The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, ‘Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what do think, and I guess they don’t know who to handle it either.’  Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, and because I saw differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man’s pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. ‘Your wife just died? Oh I’m so sorry! Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?’ Everything changed in an instant.”

I would say that by way of an epiphany, Mr. Covey came to a deep respect or reverence for what was going on in with the newly bereaved family.  He looked again—experienced second sight.  How we treat each other, remember, is how we treat God, for God’s divine Spirit is in all of us.  This is what the Bible means when it talks about the fear of God.  It really is about respect and reverence for life, all of life.  We all have to open ourselves to the possibilities that something deeper is going on beyond our knee-jerk reactions, our usual way of thinking.  That’s what happened with me after watching the musical Americano last week: my consciousness was raised, my heart opened. 

Today my prayer for all of you is that opportunities present in your lives when you are made to see the world differently, issues differently.  When doing so, you may see God differently.  May your epiphany moments become more frequent and may you grow in your reverence.  Remember how Psalm 112 starts with a beatitude: Happy (blessed) are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments.    Psalm 112, and in fact all of scripture, point to a greater likelihood of having a good life when delighting in God’s commandments.  Amen.

Epiphany

Happy New Year CCOV family and friends!  We find ourselves in the church season of Epiphany, which focuses on sudden perceptions or insights of God that come into our midst.  Every other week Pastor Dick is revealing epiphanies in his “From Good to Great” sermon series.  On the alternating Sundays when I preach, I will be revealing epiphanies in some of our beloved psalms.  Psalms 29, 27, 112, 2, 121, and (of course) 23 are all in my late winter/early spring Sunday line-up.  Come and hear some of the reasons why the Psalms speak so poignantly to us today, even some 3000 years after they were composed.

Here is a little background: The Psalter was Israel’s hymnbook.  The Psalms communicate the Israelites’ experience of the God who came to Israel, their response to this God, their God’s glorious characteristics, their confessions of faith, and their deepest emotions.  No wonder people have derived comfort from them through the ages—the whole fund of human emotions can be found in them.  In general , there are psalms of lament, thanksgiving, praise, and even royal psalms used to coronate a king.  We can turn to them when life gets difficult and see that we are not alone in what God’s people are feeling.  We can see how the psalmist pours his heart out to God in lament—and we can do likewise.  We can read incredible words of comfort like we find in Psalm 23, which we often choose for celebration of life services.  We can pray and sing their ecstatic expressions of thanksgiving and praise.  This Sunday I will delve into Psalm 27, which is all about being confident and fearless in life, even when suffering some terrible injustice.   We, just like the psalmist, can affirm our trust in God even amid life’s troubles and become confident.  And here is one of the coolest things about the Psalms:  As the book progresses, the Psalms move away from so much lament on a trajectory toward a great clattering of praise at the end!  Isn’t this another example of the believer’s ultimate good news?  I look forward to being with you in church!

Peace,    

Co-Pastor Sandi

God in the Thunderstorm

Psalm 29

1Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

2Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor.

3The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters.

4The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

5The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.

6He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.

7The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.

8The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

9The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

10The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.

11May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!

Matthew 3:13-17

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Sermon: God in the Thunderstorm, preached by Rev. Sandi Anthony on 1/12/20

I want to start off this new year preaching by and large out of the Psalms—something I haven’t much done here during my time at CCOV.  We use the psalms a lot for Jewish and Christian calls to worship, and their words inspire many of our great hymns and comfort us during celebration of life services, but I thought it would be inspirational to delve into them a bit more deeply in terms of preaching.  The ecumenical lectionary lists a psalm each week, and its usually the one I fashion or adapt for our bulletins’ weekly calls to worship.  For the next few months though, I am going to go deeper and use the lectionary psalm for my preaching text as well.

Today’s psalm, Psalm 29, is one in which the psalmist, whom we typically think of as David, beholds a powerful thunderstorm, and in it sees a manifestation of God’s glory.  And above the storm’s fury, David sees God sitting enthroned in peace over all of the tumult.  We know that there are great storms in life—both in the weather and the metaphorical storms that we go through during times of great stress—like the loss of loved ones, health crises, financial stressors, errant children, war, you name it.  There are storms in life to be sure, and often we are wondering where God is through those tough times.  But here is the take-home message.  God is right there—even when we don’t see God.  God is there and sovereign over the storms just as God is there and sovereign in the gentle voice that alights on Jesus like a dove in our New Testament passage about Jesus’ baptism today.  Both Psalm 29 and Matthew 3:13-17 are paired by the lectionary because the theophany (a word which means a mighty revealing of God in nature, like in the burning bush)—here the mighty theophany of God in the storm and the quiet epiphany in the waters of the Jordan are intricately linked.  The storm says “This is my cosmos.”  Jesus’ baptism says, “This is my Christ” (Interpretation, Psalms, Mays, John Knox Press, 1994, 138).  God is present in the natural order of earth and in the divine—in the unseen.  In Jesus we see how humanity was meant to be.  We are not, and will never be, the perfect fusion of spirit and matter that Jesus was, be we are a fusion of spirit, the spirit of God and matter, the matter of the cosmos.  We are what the Bible calls “living souls” in Genesis 2:7. This fusion of spirit and matter is what it means to be in the likeness of God, and that thought should give us peace—nothing happens to us apart from God, in whose very image we are created.  God is actively at work bringing all things to a glorious fulfillment; maybe not today, but one day.  See, Christians know how the story will end.  So be it fires in Australia, earthquakes in Puerto Rico, wars and rumors of war with Iran, oppressions, injustice, all manner of mighty storms: one day all of this will cease.  For now, God not only sits above the storm but is also present to us in them.

Let’s talk about storms—because we are going to go through them if we haven’t or aren’t going through one already.  Let’s talk first about what storms can do for our faith.  The way we weather storms can be a powerful witness to an observer, and the struggle through the storm itself can strengthen our souls.  Now indulge me here: I went to a thorough-going Methodist seminary and we heard a lot of stories about John Wesley, Methodism’s founder.  There is tremendous richness in Wesley’s teaching and life experiences.  Here is one of them, a story I want to tell you, because it is instructive especially as we talk about storms, this one about a storm at sea.  Anyone who was ever a Methodist might know this story about John Wesley and the Moravians when John was on board a ship bound for American during life-threatening storms.  John Wesley was heartily influenced by a group of German Christians called the Moravians, a pietistic sect.  Many of the Moravians, in fact, settled in the environs of Allentown, PA—which was near where I grew up.  Anyway, in Wesley’s Sunday, January 25, 1736 journal (which is in old English) he wrote of this storm as he crossed the Atlantic:

At seven I went to the Germans (the Moravians). I had long before observed the great seriousness of their behaviour. Of their humility they had given a continual proof, by performing those servile offices for the other passengers, which none of the English would undertake; for which they desired, and would receive no pay, saying, “it was good for their proud hearts,” and “their loving Saviour had done more for them.” And every day had given them occasion of showing a meekness which no injury could move. If they were pushed, struck, or thrown down, they rose again and went away; but no complaint was found in their mouth. There was now an opportunity of trying whether they were delivered from the Spirit of fear, as well as from that of pride, anger, and revenge. In the midst of the psalm wherewith their service began, the sea broke over, split the main-sail in pieces, covered the ship, and poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming began among the English. The Germans calmly sung on. I asked one of them afterwards, “Was you not afraid?” He answered, “I thank God, no.” I asked, “But were not your women and children afraid?” He replied, mildly, “No; our women and children are not afraid to die.”

From them I went to their crying, trembling neighbours, and pointed out to them the difference in the hour of trial, between him that feareth God, and him that feareth him not. At twelve the wind fell. This was the most glorious day which I have hitherto seen.

Feareth here really means revering God—respecting God, and recognizing the mystery and otherness of God.  Because the Moravians respected, revered, and recognized God, they could know blessing and peace even in the middle of a storm at sea—even with the English screaming all around them.  The Moravians knew that their circumstances were beyond their control, so they quietly sung their hymns.  None of them were afraid to die, because they knew that this life is not all there is—this world is not ours—it is God’s.  John Wesley was heartily influenced by this event when he observed the Moravians and the great faith that sustained them through this terrible storm.  The Moravians knew what we must learn: Nothing other than God has the final say in our lives, and this should give us hope and peace.  This is also what Psalm 29 is teaching us:  Faith is not about expecting God to calm the storms of life, but faith is about being okay despite the storms—fearless like the Moravians in the eyes of death, in contrast to the English—knowing that God is with us now, in our crossing over, and will be with us throughout all eternity.  That is the good news and should move us to shout, like’s God’s temple worshipers in our psalm, the word “glory!”  

Let’s delve more deeply into Psalm 29.  I want to give you a little background on it that will give you some of its context.  Scholars feel that this may be one of the oldest psalms.  It contains echoes of Canaanite literature, yet it is also a parody of Canaanite literature.  You remember that the Canaanites, pagans surrounding ancient Israel, worshiped Baal, the storm god, whose voice was also said to be heard in thunder.  You will probably remember other Bible stories in which there is a showdown between Yahweh and Baal.  The writer of this psalm, curiously, repeats God’s name (which appears as LORD in our translation) eighteen times to underscore that it is the LORD, Yahweh, not any other deity, whose power rules the world.  By this repetition, David, or the author, elevates Yahweh over Baal.  The take-home message in this is that we worship a God sovereign over all the dark gods of this world—our God will have the final say.  There are unseen spiritual battles waging all around us, but at the end of it all, our God triumphs.  This psalm discloses a God sovereign above all and in whose power we find possibilities that are not our own.  It’s good to know that there is Someone outside of ourselves who is good and reliable, who stands above and beyond the storms of this life and at the same time goes through them with us.

The irony of storms is that we often experience God’s presence in them when we may fail to experience God when everything is going well for us in life.  Nature can point us powerfully to God; our Bibles do say that there is indeed revelation of God in the natural order.  We also increase in our faith when we go through storms—we would have not spiritual growth without them.  Storms, in that sense, are necessary, just as they are in nature.  A few days ago, the wind howled furiously in Prescott, especially on the top of the hill where we live.  It stripped the aspen trees of the remaining brown leaves clinging to them, ones that hadn’t fallen off in Autumn.  The furious wind was needed to rid the aspens of the old growth, preparing the branches to host the new buds of spring.  So it is with us; storms can effect spiritual growth in us.  Storms are a reminder that there is something, Someone outside of us. We turn to God in the storms in ways that we do not when everything is well.

From my own experience, I know how I turned to God during the worst season of my life: the year when I was with my mom as she unsuccessfully battled pancreatic cancer.  I turned to God for comfort, late at night, reading a devotional to get me through—to strengthen me to be a support for her.  I would not have turned to God like that when all was going along as it should, I don’t think, had I not needed the assurance of presence and God’s strength through a difficult season in my life.  I remember that time now though, even when things are going well, and remember to express gratitude to God for each and every blessing I enjoy each day: my health, my strength, my daily food, my comforts, my privileges.  I learned that sometimes God uses storms to bring us closer—not that God causes them so much as God resurrects something good out of them and thereby tends to our spiritual growth.  I’ll end with this:

A pastor named Dr. Richard Meier tells this story.  “A small boy was playing with his

[toy]

sailboat at the edge of a lake.  When the wind pulled the sailboat away from the shoreline and out of his reach, he began to cry as he saw it moving farther and farther away from him.  An older boy came close to the scene and began throwing stones at the boat.  The smaller boy cried, ‘Why are you throwing stones at my boat?’  The older boy said, ‘You don’t know what I’m doing.  I’m throwing stones on the far side of the boat to create some waves to bring the sailboat back to you.  Trust me, I know what I am doing’” (www.pastorlife.com).

It may sometimes feel that stones are being thrown at your lives.  You know what they are right now; God does too.  I’m not so sure that God throws them; it’s just that life here in this earthly, material realm can be stormy and tough: people do get sick and die.  Storms of all sorts inevitably come; the earth shakes; in nature these things have their purpose.  For the psalmist, they reveal God’s presence and glory in nature, terrible as it can seem sometimes.  For the Christian, all things work together for ultimate good and for newness of life and growth—for resurrection.  In the meantime, stones and storms draw the Christian closer to God; they are not meant to drive us away.  Like the psalmist, in faith, may we be moved even in the storm to ascribe to God glory, along with the whole host of heaven and the worshippers here on earth.  Amen.  

About Joseph (Beyond Biology)

Matthew 1:18-25

18Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, and had no marital relations with her until she ad born a son, and he named him Jesus.

Sermon, Preached by Rev. Sandi Anthony, 12/22/19

A Sunday School was putting on a Christmas pageant which included the story of Mary and Joseph coming to the inn. One boy wanted so very much to be Joseph, but when the parts were handed out, a boy he didn’t like was given that part, and he was assigned to be the inn-keeper instead. He was pretty upset about this but he didn’t say anything to the director.  During all the rehearsals, he thought what he might do the night of performance to get even with this rival who got to be Joseph. Finally, the night of the performance, Mary and Joseph came walking across the stage. They knocked on the door of the inn, and the inn-keeper opened the door and asked them gruffly what they wanted.  Joseph answered, “We’d like to have a room for the night.” Suddenly the inn-keeper threw the door open wide and said, “Great, come on in and I’ll give you the best room in the house!”  For a few seconds poor little Joseph didn’t know what to do. Thinking quickly on his feet, he looked inside the door past the inn-keeper then said, “No wife of mine is going to stay in dump like this. Come on, Mary, let’s go to the barn.” -And just like that, the play was back on track!  In all the Christmas pageants performed, Joseph doesn’t get a starring role, but his part is so important. His task is to watch over Mary and the baby Jesus. (Story told by Rev. Robert Leroe, https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/joseph-father-of-jesus-robert-leroe-sermon-on-parenting-48052?page=3). 

Joseph had the important role of caring for the needs of others, needs that had nothing to do with his own progeny or biology—and he did so beautifully, despite that fact that the baby was not his.  And this is the point of today’s sermon: It seems that our human inclination so often is to watch out for foremost for blood—for our biological progeny—to the exclusion of others, but we learn that in God’s kingdom, we have a higher calling upon us, which we learn from Joseph’s good example.  Step-parents, take note, be inspired. 

Here are two interesting facts regarding that story I just told about the Sunday school pageant: One, the Bible never mentions an innkeeper, but we assume that there was one.  In fact, I am going to focus on the presumed innkeeper at our Christmas Eve service, now as I move into the stories of men of the Bible that will take us through Lent.  And the second fact, Joseph, the earthy father of Jesus, doesn’t have a single quote attributed to him in the Bible—not a single word said by Joseph is recorded in our Gospels, so I’m not so sure why that little boy really wanted to play him in the Sunday school pageant.  Oh yes, we can visualize the conversations he must have had with Gabriel and with Mary and with the Innkeeper, and we can imagine him teaching Jesus about carpentry, but then he fades away.  You know, once Jesus begins his public ministry, we continue to hear about Mary, but we hear nothing about Joseph at that point.  Although the Bible never says she is a widow, we can probably figure that Joseph has since died.  It would make sense as scholars believe that Joseph was probably a good bit older than Mary, who would have been a young teenager, somewhere probably between age 12 and 14.  We only know a little bit about the man Joseph, but what we do know about his devotion, actions, and character speak volumes about why God would choose him for the honor of raising Jesus—we will get to that in a minute.

Here’s the thing: We know the basic story of Mary and Joseph.  We are saturated with it this time every year.  Yet, I thought you might like to hear another story that circulated about them—a story from the Apocrypha—which Protestants do not consider authoritative writings, which tweak a few of the details:  According to the Apocrypha, when Joseph was 40 he married a woman called Melcha.  They lived forty-nine years together and had six children, two daughters and four sons.  (This is how some people account for the biblical mention of Jesus’ brothers and sisters if their, usually Catholic, tradition maintains the perpetual virginity of Mary.)  Now, according to this apocryphal story, a year after Melcha’s death, the priests announced that they were looking for a respectable man from the tribe of Judah to marry Mary, then 12-14ish years of age.  Joseph, who was at the time 90, went up to Jerusalem to be among the candidates.  He was selected for Mary.

But soon Joseph’s faith in Mary was sorely tried: She was with child and he knew it wasn’t his.  And now here the story once jives again with the one we know and believe:  The discovery must have been painful for Joseph because he was as of yet unaware of the mystery of her pregnancy.  Yet, he must have loved her.  Rather than bringing her to be publicly stoned as was the law, he decided “to dismiss her quietly.” What this meant was to discretely divorce her, which you could do in a betrothal, rather than spurn her and have her stoned.

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep and told him to marry her for the child was of God.  Joseph, rising from his sleep, did as the angel in his dream had commanded him, and he took her to be his wife.

Remember, lots of stories circulated about Jesus and the Holy Family, but not all of them were canonized in the Bible.  I just thought you might like to hear one of the other stories told about Mary and Joseph, since it is that time of year.

Just a quick side note: Luke’s Gospel, which prominently features women, tells the story primarily from Mary’s perspective.  Matthew makes Joseph the primary actor, and much of the story in Matthew is told from Joseph’s point of view.    

Ok, so now let’s get into this issue of why God would choose Joseph for the honor of raising the Savior.  Our text from Matthew today tells us up front that he was a righteous man.  We get a sense of what this means from context: Joseph is ready to do as the law requires, but unlike the legalistic Pharisees who appear later in Matthew’s Gospel, Joseph is also concerned about being merciful and is open to divine revelation that corrects his traditional way of thinking (Harper Collins Bible Commentary, p. 872).  What we know is that this exemplary man was inclined to mercy.  That is why he did not get disgusted with Mary, expose her to public disgrace, and have her stoned, as would have been the custom back then.  Certainly, that would have protected his own reputation—absolving him, perhaps from any perceived involvement he had in her pregnancy.  But we learn he wanted to spare her and take care of things discretely—his mercy made him righteous. 

We also know that Joseph had an openness about him, which was a part of his righteousness.  Remember, he did not get a direct visitation from the angel; he encountered this angel of the Lord in a dream.  He was open enough to consider the content of his dream as a revelation from God.  The angel tells him not to be afraid to take her as his wife; in fact, the angel tells her the child she conceived was from the Holy Spirit.  Joseph believed this because he was open.  That is why he could change his mind about quietly dismissing her.  His open-spiritedness was a part of his righteousness—he did not rigidly adhere to traditional thinking, ala the Pharisees.  We in the UCC may say that he was not closed off to the still-speaking God.  Thus, Joseph was righteous because he was merciful and open to God’s revelation.  Are we righteous in that sense, or are we sticklers for the law and tradition and closed off to new directions of the Spirit?  Do we revere more the bonds of biology or the whole of the family of God?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all stepfathers (and people) were like Joseph?

We can also infer that Joseph was not afraid to take risks.  He risked being questioned about Mary’s pregnancy and married her anyway.  I told you a few weeks ago that back then, marriages were arranged and that an engaged couple continued to live with their parents until all preparations were made (house and furniture built, linens sewed and so on) and the wedding was celebrated.  I don’t know if you ever lived in a small town or a village, but Prescott is still pretty much that.  It’s hard to go anywhere without seeing someone you know, and word seems to get around pretty quickly, at least in my neighborhood.  Well, the people in Mary and Joseph’s village probably thought that the two of them couldn’t wait until their wedding—you know what I mean.  But Joseph took care of her anyway, and he protected their reputation by moving up the wedding date.  It turns out the Roman census, which we will talk more about next Sunday, Christmas Eve, took them far away—to Bethlehem, in fact—from Nazareth’s gossip and questions—and maybe that was God’s providence too.

We know that one of Joseph’s characteristics was also his trust.  He trusted in God’s providential care, from the time of his dream to his journey to Bethlehem with his pregnant wife.  He trusted in God’s providential care again when the angel came to him in another dream and told him to flee to Egypt during the time of Herod.  He demonstrated his trust in God when he taught Jesus his own profession, that of a carpenter.  Just a side note, aarcheologists have uncovered the ruins of Sapphoris, a thriving city near Nazareth. It is believed that Joseph spent much time there working on carpentry jobs, probably with his son and apprentice, Jesus.  Yes, Joseph was probably looking forward to fathering his own child, but he trusted God to help him be a step-father to a child not his own—and we never see any indignance in him, that Jesus was not his biological child.  He. Being a law-abiding Jew, saw to it that Jesus was raised in Judaism with all of its proper rituals. He named the child Jesus, as the angel in his dream had directed him.  This was the father’s function, naming the child at the circumcision on the eighth day, and he trusted the word from the angel and named the baby Jesus, which means savior.  It is a variant of the name Joshua in the Old Testament, and it was given to Jesus because he saves his people from their sins.  Joseph, charged with naming their son, defines Jesus’ mission by giving him this God-directed name.

Just a few more characteristics we believe about Joseph: The biblical record suggests he was a quiet, unobtrusive, and humble man, even though Matthew’s genealogy says he came from the royal lineage of King David.  We infer that he was willing to endure hardship and disappointment and that he was a good provider and protector of the family. 

In fact, in some even call Joseph the patron saint of real estate because of his protection of the home or structure.  Have you ever had a realtor tell you to bury a statue of Joseph next to a home you were trying to sell—a practice apparently popular since the 1980’s—though its roots go back much further?  Apparently during the Middle Ages, when an order of European nuns was said to have buried a medal of the carpenter-turned-saint on a piece of land they hope to acquire as the site of their new convent.  The nuns asked the saint to intervene, and soon after, they were able to negotiate the purchase of their desired property.  Other stories, associated with Joseph’s characteristic of protection, include German carpenters who would bury a statue of St. Joseph in the foundation of their buildings they constructed, praying that the saint would protect the structure.  It seems as if Catholics and non-Catholics alike credit the sale of their homes to Joseph, protector of the home, also protector of a child not biologically his.  And yes, I’ll admit it, I buried a few Josephs in my day.

Today let us meditate upon Joseph: a man of integrity, the right man who did the right thing: A man who followed God’s instructions, journeying from Nazareth to Bethlehem, then to Egypt, then back to Nazareth, where the people recognized Jesus as the carpenter’s son:  A man who trusted a God, whose ways are not our ways, whose thoughts are higher than our thoughts, who calls us beyond biology.  God, in the same manner Joseph, adopts us all as sons and daughters.  Will we, as Joseph did, look past biology and protect all who come into our spheres of influence, even those not related to us by blood?  Let us be mindful of the difference a righteous step or adopted father (or mother) can make in this world!  Amen.

Mary and Gabriel (Glowing Mary)

Preached by Rev. Sandi Anthony, 12/5/19

Luke 1:26-38

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”[a] 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”[b] 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[c] will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Sermon

During my senior year in seminary, for a Christian Leadership Development Class, I had to write a lengthy paper called a personal spiritual development analysis.  This was essentially a collection of 24 stories from my life—stories that shaped my Christian journey, and after each, I needed to write an interpretive comment and a spiritual application.  One of the stories in the analysis I titled “Glowing Mary.”  I want to share it with you today, because it works into today’s scripture well, as we continue this Advent with biblical women who are part of the Christmas story.

Back in 1972, my father was suffering with metastatic colon cancer.  Since the disease had spread to his liver, there were no options for him like there might be today.  My mother and uncle took him to Mexico for laetrile, a supposed cure made from apricot pits, which was common in the 70’s, but this did nothing to cure him.

My father grew up in a big Catholic family even though he had become Protestant upon marrying my mother.  His mother was still a devout Catholic, and her sister was a nun in a local convent.  One afternoon my Catholic aunt and grandmother took me to see Sister Maria Helen, my great aunt.  We got to see Sister Maria Helen’s room as she gave us a tour of the convent.  Next to Sister Maria Helen’s bed was a small, glow-in-the-dark figurine of the Virgin Mary.  She told me that the figurine had curative powers, and she gave it to me and instructed me to put it by my father’s bedside and God would heal him.  I fully expected a miracle.  The miracle never came.  My father died shortly thereafter; I was one bereft twelve-year-old.

Now I had never heard about miracles and cures at the UCC where I grew up, but in my desperation, I eagerly embraced the notion that religious figurines could cure.  Sister Maria Helen told me that the very Bible I read was full of stories of healing.  I had never realized or been taught at my UCC that the stories could be appropriated in the same way.  The truth is that they most often cannot. Later I felt that God had let me down.    

I know now after wrestling out the problem of suffering and evil, something many of us were doing in seminary, that God does not cure everyone.  Jesus’ healings in the New Testament were for a higher purpose—the mission of God, so that the good news would catch on and spread—like Dorcas’ being raised from the dead by Peter that we talked about some time ago.  I suspect that Jesus would have healed everyone in the streets or brought back all of those who had just died if this were God’s plan, but God’s plan was more about eternal healing than ephemeral healing.

In any case, Mary’s life wasn’t about curing people’s diseases or having glow-in-the dark figurines fashioned after her likeness or anything like that.  Mary is not some sort of golden calf.  Rather, she is someone from whom we have much to learn about our relationship with God.  She is also a profound exemplar of faith for us.  Our scripture today tells us that the Angel Gabriel announced that she was favored by God, that God was with her, and that she wasn’t to be afraid.  And the take-home point for us today is that those same angelic announcements that Gabriel delivered to Mary apply to all of us, no matter what is ahead of us in life:  God favors us, God is with us, and we too are not to be afraid of the future, whatever that may bring.  So, let that give us hope, that thing we focus on the first week of every Advent.

Let’s unpack the scripture a bit and get to know Mary, mother of Jesus.  Here we have a young girl living in a backwater town about 130 miles from Jerusalem called Nazareth.  Maybe that’s something like Black Canyon City as compared to Phoenix, just that Black Canyon City is closer to Phoenix.  Scholars claim at this point, when Gabriel came to her, that Mary was somewhere between 13 and 15 years of age.  Catholic tradition claims that her parents were Joachim and Anne, though our Bible does not make any of this clear.  She is engaged to Joseph, the carpenter, who we know is of the house of David.

Now let’s talk about what engagement looked like back then.  Mary’s father would have arranged her marriage.  An engagement then would have lasted for one year.  Mary and Joseph were engaged or betrothed, so custom was, they prepared for their wedding, just as a young couple would prepare for their wedding and marriage. Mary likely would have sewed: dishcloths, washcloths, towels, clothes for her wedding and marriage. She was focused on preparing for that day. Joseph, on the other hand, as a typical Jewish man would have prepared by building their future house and their furniture, all the while living with his parents until the wedding. Also, during their engagement, the couple would get to know one another more deeply and build their relationship, and hopefully start to fall in love with one another.  Now Jewish law took engagement seriously.  If Joseph died, Mary would be considered a widow already.  If they separated, it was considered a divorce.

Now just to give you an inkling of the zeitgeist, or spirit of her age and her Jewish cultural milieu, all around her, almost all the people, were expecting the coming of the Messiah, the Savior, long prophesied in the Hebrew scriptures, with which Mary would have been most familiar.  So, I imagine that Mary might have been thinking to herself, “Will I be the one who is to be the mother of our Messiah?  Will I be chosen to give birth to the anointed Savior of the Jews?”  The anticipation was likely in all the hearts of the young women back then, that maybe they would be chosen to be the mother of the Messiah.

So, enter Gabriel with an announcement from God for Mary.  This is what angels do: they bring God’s messages to humans.  Gabriel says to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”  Is it any wonder that she was, as our reading tells us, “much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.”  If an angel, something totally out of the mundane, came into your midst, wouldn’t you too be puzzled, worried, a bit suspicious, and especially afraid, even if there was a hopeful expectation of a messiah coming.  But really, an angel coming with such an announcement?!   As angels always do, he said to her “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”  We hear the point of today’s sermon right there in that sentence: Do not be afraid of your future; you have found favor with God.  The very nature of fear is to be afraid of the future, what is going to happen to us or our loved ones.  We fear the future: disease, death, disability, lack of income.  And God’s message sent via Gabriel is that Mary is not to fear her future.  And we, knowing how the story continues and finishes—know that Mary and her son are going to experience much pain.  She, as his mother, was going to be with him through his whole, earthly life—even thinking about him before he was born, as all mothers do when they are carrying a child.  Yes, she would be there when he turned the water into wine, but she was going to have to endure the scorn directed to an unwed mother, ride on a donkey while in labor, give birth in a cave among animals, flee to Egypt as a refugee, lose her son briefly at the temple, see him beaten and crucified as she weeps at the foot of the cross…We know now—as surely God knew then—that what is coming for her is not going to be easy.

And yet the Bible calls her the most blessed among all women.  She was the recipient of God’s favor.  Wow!  Do we really want God’s favor, knowing what was in store for Mary; what could be in store for us?  Could it be that favor means there is a higher calling upon our lives, one that could require of us sacrifice?  It would be so much easier to have a glowing figurine at our besides to grant all the answers to our problems. 

For you have found favor with God, Mary.  Instead of Mary, substitute your own name: Bob, Joe, Dorie, Nancy, Gary, Elizabeth.  Elsewhere in the Bible, God says, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you wherever you go.  What good news that is for each one of us.  God is actively at work, with us always, bringing ultimate and perfect blessing out of life in this woefully imperfect order.  Don’t doubt for a minute that God favors you too: If God’s nature is to look favorably up the prostitutes, tax collectors, adulterous kings, and marginalized, common teenage girls in backwater towns in the midst of a land occupied by the Roman Empire, then God favors you too.  By the way, those who do not seem to receive God’s favor in the biblical canon include the oppressors, the powerful, and the smug and self-righteous.

The angel goes on to say, “The power of the Holy Spirit will come upon you.  The Holy Spirit will be like a shadow over you.”  When Luke said, this, his readers would have known he was hearkening back to Genesis and the creation story.  The Holy Spirit shadowed over the waters before the beginning of time, and God created life in those waters.  In the same way, the Holy Spirit is now shadowed over Mary and creating life in her.  (adapted from Rev. Dr. Ed Marquart, Sermons from Seattle).

Isn’t that so like God: creating life everywhere, supplying life from emptiness?  Mary was overwhelmed, but the messenger was not done delivering his message:  Your aged Aunt Elizabeth is pregnant.  With God, nothing is impossible.  God who creates out of nothing has caused life in old, barren wombs; remember Sarah?  Now it’s old Elizabeth’s turn.  Remember how having babies, having sons especially as we have learned in this series on biblical women, is a big, big deal.  Might this all be why?  Might these pregnancies in barren wombs and dry bones rising be foreshadowing the coming of Jesus?  And we will talk about Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist next Sunday.  And God does the impossible in Mary too—God creates a miraculous life, fully human and fully God, in an erstwhile virgin.  And Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”   

Protestants, if they focus on Mary at all, do so because of the utter exemplar of obedience she is—the way she submits her will to God… the way she trusts. Here’s a great little three-line poem I found about Mary in this exact situation.  It was written by female pastor, Sam Gutierrez:

It seems everyone (else) wants at least 3-5 years experience.

Except God, that is.

He looks for the one willing to try something new.

She was willing to try something new, young and inexperienced as she was.  And Mary said yes to God and became pregnant with the holy child.  And as with most pregnancies, I imagine Mary glowed—glowed with the special knowledge that she was favored by God enough to be chosen to fulfill the expectation of her time: to bear the long-expected Messiah. God was also with her as she bore life’s pain, just as God is with all of us when we do…just as God was with me through my young father’s death, slowly bringing about my recovery and life’s calling and purpose in the wake of such profound loss, even when the glowing figurine of Mary didn’t deliver.  Yes, there are times of darkness in life, even as there is the glow of hope, that one day, all shall be truly well.  I imagine that Mary glows from her place in heaven now, a place beyond space-time, as she fully grasps the big picture—the holy purpose her life has fulfilled.  She is, in fact, blessed indeed. May we all glow as well today, as we anticipate Christmas and ponder our own roles as carriers of Christ within.  May it be so, Amen.  

Merry Christmas!

Dear CCOV Family,Our observance of Advent is culminating tomorrow as we celebrate Christmas!  Each week we lit a different candle—for hope, peace, joy, and love—qualities God has already implanted in our nature and are there for us to act upon when we open ourselves and say “yes” to God.
Two Sundays ago I talked about Mary’s interaction with Gabriel, the angel God sent to Mary to inform her that she found favor with God and was chosen to bear the long-expected Messiah (Luke 1:26-38).  Mary responds that she is willing to be used of God.  Effectively, she says “yes” to God. She opens herself to the divine and gives physical expression to the long-awaited hope, peace, joy, and love of the incarnation, the stunning event when God becomes enfleshed, human like us.
We all have Mary’s freedom to say “yes” to God and actualize for ourselves and one another the hope, peace, joy and love this world so desperately needs.  Let us continually remember to invite God unto our hearts and lives this Christmas and New Year.  Let us continue to bless our greater community with ministries like UMOM, Healthy Packs, Adopt a Family, as well as find new missions and ministries in the coming year. Always remember that God made us to be good and gives us the freedom to say “yes”!  Merry Christmas!Co-Pastor Sandi

In the Fullness of Time: Grow Up!

Ephesians 4:14-16

14We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Sermon: In the Fullness of Time: Grow up!

The Indian Jesuit priest and psychotherapist Anthony DeMello told the story of a father seeking to get his son out of bed and go to school.  The son finally said: “I will give you three reasons why I don’t want to go to school:  1.) Nobody likes me, 2. No one listens to me, 3.) Nobody cares about me.”  The father said, “And I will give you three reasons you need to go to school today:  1.) They need you; 2. You are important; 3.) You are the principal of the school!”  It’s hard to grow up into maturity.

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A Season for Gratitude

Greetings CCOV Family,

Thanksgiving is a good reminder to be intentional about practicing gratitude for all of life’s blessings.  According to a study published in 2015 by two psychologists (which you can read more about here:  https://dailyhealthpost.com/gratitude-rewires-brain-happier/), people who feel the most gratitude are happier and healthier.  It turns out that practicing gratitude even rewires our brain and causes measurable physiological changes.  People who start each day from a place of gratitude have increased amounts of dopamine, which is a pleasure hormone.  No wonder God calls us to be thankful!  

I know that many of us, especially as we move into the holiday season, face struggles because things aren’t the way they used to be.  Many are grieving the loss of a loved one, caring for a loved one, experiencing financial stressors, or coping with health issues and difficult relationships.  These stressors are weighty and difficult to be sure. It’s easy to get bogged down in sadness.  Studies like the one for which I provided the above link tell us that we can improve our mood and health when we are intentional about starting each day at a place of gratitude—rather than with a litany of complaints.  We can name or journal specific things for which we are thankful and start reaping psychological and physical benefits.

Many scripture passages attest to this truth.  One in particular is Luke 17:11-18.  This is the story when Jesus healed the ten lepers.  Only one of them turned back, praised God and fell on his face at Jesus’ feet as he gave him thanks.  Jesus wondered where the other nine were.  What Jesus says to him is most interesting: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”  Starting at a place of gratitude is intimately bound up with our faith, and that can indeed make us well.  Isn’t it great when neuroscience confirms spiritual principles?  I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving and meaningful Advent season.

Peace,

Co-Pastor Sandi

Breaking Barriers

by Rev. Sandi Anthony, preached Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019

Ephesians 2:11-22

11So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision” —a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

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