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.

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.  

ETERNAL PATIENCE

Third Sunday in Advent

James 5: 7-10

A Sermon by Dr. Richard A. Wing, Co-Pastor, December 15, 2019

INTRODUCTION

Driving with my one day, she asked, “What are you preaching on Sunday?” I said, “Patience.” She started laughing so hard; glad she was not driving or we would have driven off the road. She said: “Please, don’t use yourself as an example.” “Of course not” I said. “I always preach about things that are my own weaknesses.”  In the book of Hebrews it says that the only priest worthy of that name is the one who “misses the mark” in life as much as those he/she preaches to. The point is that you never give a “you” message, but only a “we” message. From priest and everyone else are in need of God’s grace. “There is none righteous: no not one.” Minister need to remember that when entering the pulpit.  I remember one sermon only from my teen years. The minister said “there are 44 virtues. If you mastered just one, all the others would take care of themselves.” The one to be mastered was patience. When called a genius, Michaelangelo answered:  “Genius, is eternal patience.” That deserves contemplation.

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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.

LONGING ON TIPTOES

Isaiah 11: 1-4a, 5-7, 9-10; Matthew 24: 26-44

A Sermon by Dr. Richard A. Wing, Co-Pastor, December 1, 2019

INTRODUCTION: The Bible is about people longing for a future better than the present moment – Why? —because, with few exceptions in the Bible,  the present was the pits!  In Isaiah there is LONGING for a Peaceable Kingdom. “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion . . . . . and a little child shall lead them.  ”Someone said:  “The wolf shall lie down with the lamb but the Lamb won’t get much sleep”  Our New Testament text has Jesus talking to people who are LONGING for better times. Jesus is telling of the in-breaking of God JESUS DOES NOT mean that the world as you know it will stop/explode/evaporate. HE MEANS, WE ARE ABOUT TO SEE THE END OF THE WAY THE PRESENT WORLD DOES BUSINESS! AND THE NEW ORDER WILL BE MORE JUST, MORE LOVING, AND MORE KIND.  I observe two things as we think about such in breaking moments.

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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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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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In the Fullness of Time, Part I: The Best-Laid Plans are not Ours

Ephesians 1:1-14

1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

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THE THREE MOVEMENTS OF THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

PART 2 – FROM HOSTILITY TO HOSPITALITY – Luke 24: 28-35

A Sermon by Dr. Richard A. Wing, Co-Pastor, October 13, 2019

INTRODUCTION: I suggest that we are never so ARROGANT as to think we can find God. However, there are places we can go Where God can find us.

Thomas Merton said: GOD COMES TO US

  • In scripture
  • Inside ourselves
  • In the stranger

The biblical word proclaims: when hostility toward the stranger is translated to hospitality, God comes near. Henri Nouwen describes all of us: “In our world full of strangers, we witness a painful search for a hospitable place where life can be lived without fear and where community can be found.” If we go way back in our family history, all of us will find relatives who came to this land as strangers.  The Mayflower arrived in 1620 and just eleven years later four brothers and their mother came to the new land from Banbury Cross, England.  For a strong 15-year period, the newcomers found tremendous hospitality from the native people who had been there for 10,000 years.

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THE THREE MOVEMENTS OF THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

Part 1: FROM LONELINESS TO SOLITUDE  

A sermon by Dr. Richard A. Wing, Co-Pastor, October 6, 2019

Inspiration from Matthew 14:23; Mark 1:32-37

INTRODUCTION

Today we worship at the altar of instant measurements, levels of progress and results.  This week I was in the hospital for hip surgery.  Every 30 minutes I was asked to “evaluate my pain level.” “On a 1-10, what is your pain level,” I was continually asked, for which I am grateful.

This week I called Verizon wireless. At the end of my time on the phone, “please take the very brief survey following by staying on the line. I know it’s asking a lot but please do it.”  This week while my wife was driving me home from the hospital, we followed a truck. On the back was written, “How is my driving?” Then an 800 number where I can tell someone how the stranger in front of me is driving.  Anything I experience or purchase wants me to give immediate feedback on the product or service, or speed of delivery.

Read this line very slowly; then repeat again. Without success, we bring that same set of questions to our spiritual life. Have I matured spiritually? On what level am I and how do I move to the next level? When will I reach the moment of union with God like Jesus and experience illumination and enlightenment like both the Buddha and Jesus achieved?

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