Sermon: John’s Continuous Message

John’s Continuous Message
Mark 1:1-8
RUMC January 14, 2018
Pastor Paul R. O’Neil

There is a fable about a young woman who was expelled from heaven. Before she left, she was told she would be readmitted to heaven only if she brought back the one gift that God valued the most. So she began her search.

  1. She brought back drops of blood from a dying martyr of the faith.
  2. She collected coins that were given by a widow who always helped the poor.
  3. She brought back a Bible used by a famous preacher
  4. She even found dust from the shoes of a dedicated missionary.

She returned to heaven again and again with other things, but was repeatedly turned back. Then she saw a small boy playing by a water fountain, when all of a sudden she saw a man ride up on a horse, dismount and take a drink. When the man saw the boy at play, he thought of his own childhood innocence. As he looked into the water of the fountain, he saw a reflection of his hardened face. Overcome by the sin in his life, he wept tears of repentance. The young woman who witnessed this event, took one of those tears back to heaven. And that was the gift God accepted. She was readmitted into heaven with great joy.

Repentance, forgiveness of sins, and a changed life all go hand in hand. That was the message of John the Baptist, and as we look at some of the words of this mighty prophet, may we be touched by them as well.
My text is Mark 1: 1-8.
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Every year in the second week of the new year, we are reintroduced to John the Baptist. From what we know of him, it seemed John did not fit in. Everything about him was odd. In contrast to the flowing robes religious leaders wore, he wore clothes made of camel’s hair. He ate a strange diet of grasshoppers and wild honey. His area of ministry was not in the temple or in the synagogue, but the desert. I suppose if he were alive today, John the Baptist would have done well on the “Survivor” television series, but he would have been the first to be voted off.

John wasn’t the one to use warm and fuzzy words such as caring, sharing and holiday cheer. He used hard words such as repentance, judgment and right living. To most observers, he wasn’t a salesman or a politician, but a breath of fresh air; his message penetrated people’s hearts. As Christian believers, his words should resonate with us if we truly turn our hearts to the Lord.

When the Prophet Isaiah spoke of a person who would prepare the way of the Lord, he was telling the world that John and his ministry was to point us to Jesus.

Now I know I am dating myself, but do you remember the Tonight Show that featured Johnny Carson? Mr. Carson ‘s moderator, Ed McMahon, opened each show every night with the following: “From Hollywood, the Tonight show starring Johnny Carson. This is Ed McMahon along with the NBC orchestra inviting you to join Johnny and his guests. And now here’s ….Johnny.” Remember that?

Ed McMahon’s role was to introduce Johnny. That was what John the Baptist had done. John was not the main event, but he was the one who pointed others to Jesus.

Now John went a step further. He called people everywhere to get their hearts right, and we do that with a term called repentance. The Greek word for repentance is metanoia. Meta =change. Noia=mind=changed mind. The image that I have of what we need to do in the spiritual realm is the U Turn traffic symbol.

I suppose the message of John could resonate with the story of a girl who had a conversion experience in a church. All the kids in the school were talking about it, and someone asked her, “What are you now?” She answered, “A sinner.” They asked, “What’s the difference?” She answered, “Before I was a sinner running after sin, but now I’m a sinner running from sin.”

I think that was a pretty good image. When we encounter the Lord, then we run in the correct direction.

Along these lines, there was one particular woman who had been sick and hospitalized. Tests revealed she had a damaged liver, and her condition was serious. This woman was angry at God and determined to get to the hospital chapel to tell him off. Strong enough to get out of bed, she took the elevator to the first floor where she slowly made her way to the chapel. As she walked, she determined that she was going to tell the Lord that he was a fraud who passed himself off as loving and kind, and that anytime that anyone began to get happy, he would pull out the rug. As this woman stepped over the chapel threshold, she tripped and fell. As she looked up from the floor, the only thing she could see was the wooden altar with these carved words, “Lord be merciful to me, a sinner.” When she saw that, she knew the Lord was speaking. She lowered her head onto the carpet and repeated over and over, “Lord be merciful to me a sinner.” Right then and there on the carpet floor of the hospital chapel she surrendered to God. As weak as she was, she managed to get back on to her feet and made it back to her hospital room. The next day, she had more tests. At the end of the day, the doctor informed her that her liver appeared to be normal but he didn’t know how. The woman thought in her heart, “I know, oh but I know. God has brought me to the brink of disaster, just to get me to turn my life over to him.”

Repentance is more than just a theological version of a New Year’s resolution of the do’s and the don’ts. Repentance causes us to look inward, to invite Christ in our hearts.

  • 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
  • 2 Cor 5:17 “If anyone be in Christ, they are a new creation, old things have passed away. Behold all things are news.”
  • Here is a quote that I like. “True repentance is about transformation, not torture or torment.”

For me, I was not attracted by the dos and don’ts of a moral Christian life. I wanted was a personal relationship with the Lord, and that is what happened to me.

John’s call is an invitation to change the direction. For those who have walked with Christ for many years, it may not be necessary to make a complete 180 degree turn. It could be just a small course correction, but we need to be willing to do that, perhaps admit our mistakes.

When you think of John the Baptist, consider the u turn traffic symbol. And when we turn our lives in a right direction, there will be transformation.

Sermon: The Visit of the Magi

The Visit of the Magi
Mathew 2:1-12
January 7, 2017
Pastor Paul R. O’Neil

When Danish sculptor Albert Thorvaldsen completed his famous statue of Christ with arms outstretched and head slightly bowed, a friend looked up at the figure and remarked that he had trouble seeing the face from where he stood. Thorvaldsen replied, “If you want to see the face of Christ, you must get down on your knees.” There is a lot of truth in that statement.

My scripture text today is one of worship; it is the story of how Wise Men worshipped the baby Jesus. My text is Matthew 2:1-12.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

The Magi knew a child had been born, but didn’t know exactly where. They knew this child was a king, but didn’t know his name. They could have assumed that this newborn king was the son of Herod the Great and the birth was common knowledge, but that was not the case.

One of the paradoxes of this event is that the Magi traveled hundreds of miles to worship and honor the Christ child, but the priests and the teachers of the law who were only 6 miles away did not make any effort.

Herein is this spiritual lesson: there comes a point in all of our lives, where we have to make an effort to know God. We can’t rely on the faith of others; it is something that we have to do for ourselves. As individuals, we have to take the initiative in our salvation experience: to confess our sins, to believe, to seek the Lord.

Perhaps you have heard this expression: “God does not have any grandchildren, but children.”

Matthew 2:11 tells us: On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

I want you to notice, when the magi arrived, it was a house and not the stable. They noticed that the boy was not dressed like a king. His home did not resemble a royal palace. If anything, Jesus appeared to be born into poverty.

But to the Magi, God had confirmed in their hearts that this child was indeed the Jewish Messiah, the savior of the world, and so they presented gifts and worshipped.

When we worship, we do it because it helps us see who God is in the midst of our lives.

When we worship, it helps us to feel what is in our hearts.

When we worship, it renews our spiritual lives just as sleep renews our bodies.

It is not enough just to believe that Jesus is the Messiah or Son of God. We need to worship because it is vital to our spiritual survival.

A couple of years ago, I went on a New Year’s Eve spiritual retreat at the Glastonbury Abbey in Hingham Mass. After an evening church service, a fellow pastor asked if I would go down to the ocean which was on a few minutes away.

Now this was the last thing I wanted to do. It was dark and cold; all I wanted to do was be inside where it was warm and read a book. However I reluctantly said yes. When we got out of the car, the wind from the ocean was bone chilling cold. My pastor friend broke out in a big smile and, with arms lifted up, began to praise and worship God.

I just kind of stood and watched. My pastor friend, who had some health concerns and some pressing church issues, could have been weighed down in spirit, but wasn’t. What I saw instead was a child of God who delighted to be in the Lord’s presence.

We often associate worship with things that we do, such as prayer, music, and scripture. But let me suggest something else. Trues worship is when a person comes into the presence, where there is a personal relationship.

Here are some additional quotes about how we are to worship.

  • Pastor Lamar Borshman: “When I worship, I would rather my heart be without words than my words be without heart.”
  • Pastor Jack Hayford: “Worship changes the worshipper into the image of the One worshipped.”
  • Jesus explained worship to the Samaritan woman in John 4:24. “God is spirit. They that worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
  • Psalm 95:6-7 gives us the right attitude. “Come, let us bow down in worship. Let us kneel before the Lord our maker, for he is God and we are the sheep of his pasture, the flock under his care.”

What the Magi did so long ago was worship. Part of the worship was their offering of gold which pointed to Jesus’ majesty, for he is a king. Frankincense, a symbol of prayer pointed to Jesus’ deity, for he is God. Myrrh, a burial spice, pointed to Jesus’ humanity, for he was a man. That is a picture of the Christ we worship, for his God, king and man.

When we worship, in a sense, we follow the pattern of the Magi. Like the Magi, we have to experience the Lord for ourselves. Nobody else can do it for us. As it took effort for the Magi to find the Christ child and worship, it takes some effort to drive here in the cold and snow to worship on Sunday morning. As the Magi presented their gifts, we do the same in our offerings.

We are now into day seven of the New Year, and many have made resolutions. Some common resolutions are to lose weight, eat right, quit smoking, enjoy life, get out of debt, exercise, join a gym, save money and go to church more.

Let me suggest a resolution that has not been mentioned; it is a spiritual one: That as people of the Lord, to make the attempt to truly worship. Not just check the block and come to church, but come into Christ’s presence and have it mean something like the Magi did. To not go through the motions, but, but experience the Lord in our heart.

2018 Braided Pastry Sale Fundraiser

Just in time for Easter!

Rockville United Methodist Church is having a fundraising sale of Kansas Maid Braided Pastries. Italian Herb Bread, Cinnamon Sweet Rolls, Caramel Sweet Rolls, and pastries in these five flavors: Strawberry Cream Cheese, Cinnamon, Apple, Cream Cheese, and Raspberry. The sale is from February 25th to March 18, 2018. The frozen pastries are available for pick up on Tuesday March 27, 2018 at Rockville United Methodist Church, 142 Grove Street, Rockville, CT 06066. Please call the church at 860-875-6562 to place an order or for more information.

$13 each

italian herb bread 20 oz. Italian Herb Bread

cinnamon sweet rolls 9 Cinnamon Sweet Rolls

9 Caramel Sweet Rolls caramel sweet rolls

apple 22 oz. Apple Pastry

22 oz. Cream Cheese Pastry cream cheese

cinnamon 22 oz. Cinnamon Pastry

22 oz. Raspberry Pastry raspberry

strawberry cream cheese 22 oz. Strawberry Cream Cheese Pastry

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Sermon: Creation

Creation
RUMC 4 February 2018 – Youth Sunday
Written by the 2018 RUMC Confirmation Class

One of the lessons in Confirmation class is to learn the different parts that comprise of a worship service. The Confirmation class put together this worship service and picked the theme.  They decided to base our Sermon today on Creation, which is not as easy as you might think.

The meaning of Creation is the action or process of bringing something into existence. So the question arose-why?  Why did God create the earth?  Why did God create us, and for what purpose?

Genesis 9: 3 says, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.”

This scripture verse tells us God made the Earth for us. When God created the Earth and all that it is, God gave us a planet that is self-sustaining.  When God created nature, it was created so what is taken from the Earth, it gives back to the Earth; when something dies, it gives new life to another.  The Earth is a circle of life that symbolizes the universe being sacred and divine.  Think about how God created it: on the first day – light, dark (day and night); the second day – the sky and water separated; the third day – earth, seas, and vegetation; the fourth day – stars, moon, sun; the fifth day – flying animals and sea life; the sixth day- land animals and humans.  As God created each day he took into account each creature that would inhabit the earth and how it would survive.  Earth was made as an ecosystem, which is interdependent on each other.  Each species needs one another in order to survive.

In Genesis 1:28 people were blessed and told to multiply and to govern the earth. In Psalm 65:9 our job is to care for the land and water.  God made a perfect Earth with every essential we need to survive: food, water, shelter.  Everything that God has created is a gift to us:  every morning we hear the birds singing a greeting to start our day; the animals-dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, etc.- have been provided for us; we are able to train them so they work along us, for us, and provide companionship.  Every creature is created for us, for our enjoyment, for its beauty, and for food; we are grateful for all of them…maybe an exception would be mosquitoes.

But why and for what purpose were people created? Jeremiah 31:3 “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”  God’s love endures forever; that which has no beginning and will have no end.  We were created because of God’s everlasting love for us.

In Isaiah 43:7, 1 Corinthians 10:31, and Psalm 86:12, we are instructed to serve Him, exalt Him and glorify Him. Our love, faith, trust, and desire to know Him and obey Him is our purpose.

But how do we glorify God? Glorifying God is not just being born, living, and then dying.  It is through our spiritual gifts or our calling.  Deep inside we have a strong urge toward a particular way of life; that feeling you get is what God has giving us.  Through these gifts what we say, how we act, and how we think will glorify God.  A spiritual gift or calling is God-given, and through these gifts God gives us areas that we are especially very good at or great at.  The purpose of these gifts are given by God “for the common good” “to serve each other;” how we use them glorifies God.

When you read 1 Corinthians 12:27 and Romans 12:4-8, to summarize these scriptures, they tell us we are individuals in one body, each of us given different gifts. Maybe you feel called to be a farmer, entertainer, minister, scientist, doctor, etc.  Whatever you feel the strong desire to do, or how you do it, makes you unique, but together we make up the people of the world.  Like the Earth, people are interdependent of each other.  People, so diverse but together, make all of human kind.  Our gifts point us to the path God wants us to take in our lives.  When we feel good about what we have accomplished, it is a message God has sent us to appreciate our gifts, our life, and to live it to the fullest.

We are told to dream and reach for the stars, our goals being whatever we can imagine. But our gifts, the things that we are best at, God has chosen for us.  We are given this gift or gifts, whatever God has chosen for us, without it being earned!  Our gifts are given to us only through God’s grace.

We are told in 1 Peter 4:10, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

Through the words of the Bible, God has told us: as you live your life, spread and choose kindness; this is the right direction, the path Jesus has shown us, and the one that brings glory to God.

Finding our gifts or calling might not be an easy thing for some to do. To find it, try paying attention: are you pulled a certain way towards doing something?  Listen to what others say you are good at and notice the things that energize you and seem to come naturally.

Still having a hard time finding your calling or your gift? Well, you are in luck because we live in a world of technology.  Finding your spiritual gift or calling is as easy as going to On-Line Spiritual Gifts Test at WWW.KODACHROME.ORG/SPIRITGIFT or WWW.KODACHROME.ORG/SPIRITGIFTYOUTH.  Answer the 140 questions they have, and with their automatic analysis system, it will analyze your spiritual gift.  I kid you not!!

Give it a try, you might find it interesting to see what you feel your gift is and what their analysis says it is. But remember life isn’t only about finding your spiritual gift or calling.  When you know what your gift is, it is up to you to unwrap it and make the decision on how you will use it!

We would like to summarize our Sermon by combining some of our thoughts and those of Kashif Zuberi:

  • We were created by God from his everlasting love of us. Our purpose is to glorify God. How we do that is through what we say, how we think, and how we act. We need to do and speak good things and to help others, using our God-given spiritual gifts or what we feel we are called to do in life.
  • Creation in the true sense (meaning bringing something into existence) is unique to God alone. Although people take credit for the things that they create, what they do is not true creation. People merely control or influence what already exists, what has already been created by God. A sculptor carves, welds, and molds their works in two or three dimensions from elements of earth. A carpenter makes something from wood, which domes from trees, which grow on earth. Nails, screws, cars, bridges, etc. are made from metal, elements that come from earth, which is created by God. An Artist produces or designs a painting or drawing based on what they have seen. , and believe it or not, this includes abstract art. Abstract art is defined as art that seeks to break away from traditional representation of physical objects, and physical objects are made by elements of earth- good to know right? Things that people invented that make our lives better—vaccines, phones, x-rays, planes, computers, etc.—all of the products that can be created or designed by an inventor can only exist by using elements of earth.

In fact, all creations or inventions people have made can be traced back to basic elements which people cannot make.

Only God alone creates from nothing.

Amen!

Sermon: First Step Again

First Step Again
Luke 2: 22-40
RUMC 31 Dec 2017
Millie Victor

Jesus Is Presented in the Temple

22When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
36There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

The Return to Nazareth

39When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

In today’s reading Luke tells us of things that we can’t change: Jesus’ birth, Jesus’ suffering for our sake, and Jesus’ unending love of us, His children. Luke reminds us what’s within our personal control:  Our reactions to others:  opinions, words, actions, saying Yes or No to being a servant of Jesus, and following in the footsteps of the apostles.

When was the last time you wished you could have a “do-over”? Perhaps you said “No” to an opportunity that was scary, unfamiliar, or could change your life in a way you never planned.  What would life be like for you if Mary and Joseph had said “no” to God?   What would the world be like if they had turned down God’s offer?

Because Mary and Joseph dug deep, we have a chance for do-overs whenever we need one.  We have a “First Chance Again” because the beautiful baby Jesus, the little Prince of Peace, grew in the ways of a child until it was his time to fulfill his purpose on Earth.  Jesus said, “yes” to His father.

Babies turn me into a puddle of mush. My husband of 51 years and I have three children and five grandchildren.  Each and every one brings me great joy.  I have been blessed beyond anything I deserve.  (Aren’t all of our blessings given by God beyond anything we deserve?)

Babies are the ultimate when it comes to not giving up and having a First Chance Again: How many times does a baby fall before walking is mastered?  Communication beyond baby talk and babble requires so many skills.

Learning to forgive without harboring a grudge is a gift that can take years to learn.  Growing into who God has planned us to be is a life-long process.

Recently my 91-year-old mother-in-law has been saying, “I don’t know why I’m still here.” She is supportive, encouraging, gives freely, and she loves Jesus and her family. She is a willing steward. I see a glaring similarity between how my 91 year-old mother-in-law lives her life and what is asked of us as Christians.

Luke relates to us the story of Jesus being presented at the temple: there were strict laws mandating when and how a boy child was to be presented to God.  Today when a child is presented to be christened into the UMC, there is a communal ceremony.  However, a blood sacrifice is not part of it.  It is a ceremony of faith and love.  What stands out to me is that the community is asked to support, encourage, and teach the child the way of discipleship.

People who live by some imaginary, self-imposed code of law will never find the peace, contentment and joy they are racing toward with eyes closed.   Yes, with eyes closed and heart shrouded, what a cold way to live.  Living the Spirit of the Law is free choice.  It is fulfilling, loving, and visible for all to see.

If Mary and Joseph had not listened to their hearts, we would not be here. Perhaps we would also be sacrificing sheep for our sins—but to whom?  If Mary and Joseph had closed off their hearts to the message of the angel announcing the impending birth of Jesus, this would be a different world.  It would be a Godless, heartless world, devoid of forgiveness that promises Eternal Life, Love and Hope.

Fortunately we are here to glorify the Lord. Thank you Jesus! Amen.  Thank you that you were accepted whole heartedly.  (It couldn’t have been an easy decision for a young Jewish couple at those times.)  Thank you that your young mother was faithful to you.  She accepted you with a full heart.  A heart filled with love, longing to please and obedience.

Thank you Jesus that you assembled a band of men: men from different walks of life, different skill sets, and different levels of education and wealth – but with one heart, a heart to love Jesus.  One heart to share his message:  a message of right living, abundant love, salvation and life everlasting.

Bringing us all together today is Paul’s language in his letters to the early believers.   Paul’s letters recognize us, acknowledge us, and embrace us as brothers and sisters.  There it is…one family–one family that began with Mary and Joseph saying “yes.”  Yes to being a family, parents to the Prince of Peace, Emmanuel (meaning God is with us).   Yes, yes, yes!

Jesus is among us. We can see it every day if we open our eyes and ears to see innocence in children, hear their laughter and witness their bravery; witness the courage of the terminally ill; witness the courage of the most senior among us living as disciples for Jesus.

Jesus is among us. We can see it every day if we open our hearts, take the shrouds off of them, and support each other in daily Christian living.  “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”   I know this is familiar to you as the words of John Wesley.  These words are encouraging every time I hear them.

Jesus is among us. We can hear it every day if we open our ears and listen for the softened tongue to smooth out the sharp edges.  Words have power; I have long believed that.  Words can empower, and words can emancipate; or words can destroy, and words can enslave.

I want to encourage all of you to put aside laws and step out in the spirit of the law and in faith, the faith that binds us as Christians Brother and Sisters. The faith to openly acknowledge Jesus, love abundantly, and serve Jesus using your God-given gifts.

We promised to serve and support each other in that choice. I recently heard a presentation in which the speaker suggested that God set life up for us to depend on each other, because he knows life would be too hard for us to walk through without a Christian community.

So with all of these possibilities in mind, for the first time again say loudly and clearly, “Yes”. Yes today, Yes tomorrow, and Yes always.   Yes is a choice, sometimes daily choice, to live life as a Christian.

John Wesley believed if one neglected good works toward God and neighbors, it was possible, indeed probable, to backslide, to forfeit the good work of God in you by neglecting good works for God.

Today’s reading concluded with Simeon, who was promised he would not pass from this Earth to arrive into his Father’s hands until he had seen the Son of God. Simeon lived by the spirit; his love for God guided him, influenced his decisions.  Simeon was faithful his entire life.   He was a man who lived life as a servant to God and his brothers and sisters.  He was a man of patience, a man of faith.

I can imagine Simeon being almost giddy when he says (verses 29-32), God, my Father you have sent your Light to this world for All people to see, a new and glorious light, a new beginning for all people. Simeon blessed Mary and Joseph, and warned her of a tumultuous future.  He warned her that life would not be easy, that she would have her soul pierced.  This may be harsh news to us, but a love that had not been seen before or since made it necessary.

Conclusion: After we have received the Holy Spirit, we may backslide; we may turn our backs on grace given and take the easy way out.  But God is never gone from us and he will wait.  He will wait as long as it takes for us, His Beloved children, to take The First Step Again.

 

Sermon: Shepherds in Bethlehem

Shepherds in Bethlehem
Luke 2:8-14
RUMC 24 Dec 2017
Pastor Paul R. O’Neil

Charlie Brown in his Christmas cartoon has the blues. He bought a tree, directed a play, but still could not get into the Christmas spirit.  He just mopes around and is depressed.  Finally he blurts out, “Is there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus, the one who sucked his thumb and carried a blue blanket over his shoulder replied, “Sure Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.”  He walks to the center of a stage and says, “Lights please.”   Then he quotes Luke 2:8-14.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Maybe some of you can identify with Charlie Brown and also question the meaning of Christmas. In the end Charlie Brown discovered that the Christmas spirit was not found in lights and trees, gifts and special treats or drama productions, although that is a big part of it.  However it is about finding the Christ child who later grew up to be our Savior.

Christmas is the time when we hear the special Bible verses about the birth of Jesus, we see Nativity scenes on display, and we have warm thoughts about the characters who surrounded the baby in the manger. On this Christmas Eve night, I would like to focus on the shepherds who were such a big part of what took place so long ago.

Shepherds were an interesting group of men. They spent most of their time outdoors, and for the most part were crude in appearance and harsh in their colorful language.  Since they were constantly on the move to find new pasture for their flocks, they were often looked upon with suspicion.  If anything was stolen or found missing, shepherds were to blame.  And because of their rough manners, most people avoided them.  Using present day vernacular, some would consider shepherds borderline social outcasts.

Shepherds were not the most religious people. Their work prevented them from worship.  While everyone else made sacrifices in the temple or said prayers in the synagogue, shepherds were outside with their flocks.  And because of their unrefined lifestyle, they were looked upon with disdain.

However of all the people who might hear the angelic announcement and witness the child first-hand in the manger, it was the shepherds who were chosen. And that speaks volumes.

I can imagine the commotion the group of these men caused when they went into town, waking people up, asking for directions and telling the stories of what happened out in the fields. I’m sure they were laughed at, ridiculed and accused of drinking too much wine.  But these men were rewarded when they saw the babe face to face.

Here is an important spiritual principle. God reveals himself to those who are humble enough to receive him.  It happened then and it is still true today.

Now step back for a moment. Imagine if you were God and wanted to announce the most incredible event ever.  Who would you announce it to?  Who would you invite?

Earlier the press secretary at Buckingham Palace announced that Prince William and his wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, are expecting their third child in April. If all goes according to plan, that child will probably be christened or baptized at the Royal Chapel at St. James Palace like the other children of this famous family.  Before this takes place special invitations will go out to the dignitaries of both British society and the diplomatic community.  It is highly unlikely that a person outside of this exclusive social group would receive an invitation.

In a reversal of values, the birth of God’s Son was not announced to the elite of Jewish society or the religious community, but the lowly shepherds.  When God reveals himself, it is very much the same thing. It is to those who are sincere and humble of heart, those who desire to have a relationship with the Lord.

Going back to Charlie Brown, after Linus quoted the scripture, he walked off stage and said, “That is what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.” Charlie Brown put on his hat, went outside and looked up at all the stars.  Then a voice spoke. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host, praising God and saying, glory to God in the highest and on earth peace goodwill to all.” Charlie Brown then said with a bit of optimism, “Linus was right; I won’t let all this commercialism ruin my Christmas.” And he walked away, content. After that his friends surprised him with a decorated tree. With a transformation in his heart, Charlie Brown could now see the beauty of Christmas.

When we have a personal encounter with the Lord it forever changes our lives, just as it did with the shepherds and millions of those down through the ages who decided to believe.

Let me close with this poem.

Christmas is not about gifts and toys.
It is the time when people rejoice.
Christmas is not about food and drinks.
It is not about this world as everyone thinks.
Christmas is about everlasting love.
It is thanking the Lord for what we all have.
Christmas is about sharing and family.
It is about Christ who loves us fully.

Prayer: Holy God, heaven and earth are met this night in the newborn child, the Savior of the world.  We do celebrate his birth; for in him you come to be close to us, that we might be close to you.  We would ask that your Holy Spirit may be born anew in our hearts and that we may joyfully welcome him to reign over us.  Open our ears that we may hear again the angelic chorus of old.  Open our lips that we too may sing with uplifted hearts.   Send O lord into the darkness of this trouble world, the light of your Son.  Let the star of your hope touch the minds of this community with the bright beams of mercy and truth.  We especially remember those family members who are sick and cannot get out.  We ask you would comfort them this night.

Sermon: “Hungry, Naked, Sick, Imprisoned”

Hungry, Naked, Sick, Imprisoned
Matthew 25:31-46
RUMC November 26, 2017
Pastor Paul R. O’Neil

Aesop once wrote a fable about a Greek slave named Androcles, who escaped from his master and fled into the forest. While there, Androcles became hungry and depressed; then he heard the roar of a lion.  Because of his fear, he began to run and tripped over a tree root.  As he lay on the ground, the lion came towards him.  However the lion wasn’t attacking; the animal limped on three legs and held out his paw.
Androcles was so scared, he froze and expected to be eaten, but to his surprise he realized the animal was in pain with a large thorn in its bloody paw. Androcles mustered all the courage he could find, pulled out the thorn, and bandaged the wound.
Sometime later, Androcles was captured and taken prisoner. As an escaped slave he was sentenced to die; his punishment was to fight the lions in the Roman Coliseum.  When Androcles was brought to the middle of the arena, the lion that he helped in the forest met him.  The animal approached the frightened slave and gently stroked him with the paw that had been injured.
The Roman Emperor was surprised to see such odd behavior in a lion; he summoned Androcles and asked for an explanation. The slave told the story of the injured lion.  Satisfied with the explanation, Androcles was pardoned and the lion was taken back into the forest.

It has been said that kindness is a language that the blind see and the deaf can hear. My scripture text for today includes that personal quality of kindness which Jesus saw as a vital component for personal salvation.

We will read Matthew 25:31-46
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Back in Biblical times, sheep and goats grazed together during the day. At night when they came in from the field, the shepherd would separate them.  And it was this nightly occurrence that Jesus turned this into a parable.

From a spiritual standpoint, our Lord tells us that everyone falls into one of two classes. The sheep represent the people of God; they are the righteous ones who will receive eternal life.  The goats are the ones who did not do the will of God who will be judged and punished.
It is not that our Lord loves sheep more than goats or considers one better than the other. This parable shows that sheep are examples of people who saw the need of others and responded.  The goats are the ones who saw the need but for whatever reason failed to act.  Those who showed kindness were rewarded; those who ignored the need were judged and punished.

Aesop also wrote another fable that illustrates the importance of kindness. One day the wind and the sun had an intense discussion about who was more powerful.  To solve this dispute, they waged a contest to see who could get an individual to remove most of his clothes.  Kind of an odd contest, but that was what they decided.
The wind went first. He blasted with all its might, but the person in question wrapped his cloak even tighter around his body.  Now it was the sun’s turn.  The sun then shone down with all its warmth and the individual who felt the pleasant rays began to remove garment after garment.  With just his undergarments on, the individual jumped into the nearby stream and the sun was declared the winner.

We can have the same effect as the sun with all its warmth when we show acts of kindness. Dr. Albert Schweitzer once said, “Just as the sun makes the ice melt; kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.

When we see those in need we should not look at them as an inconvenience, but instead look with compassion as we give food or drink, show hospitality, or visit and care for those who do not feel well.

Most of the activities I mentioned do not require much money or gifted ability; they require a little kindness. Jesus does not tell us to fix all the world’s problems, but instead invites us to make a difference, one person at a time.

Though Jesus did not mention this, there is another aspect of kindness: the gift of time. Peggy Noonan, the former speechwriter for President Reagan once told a story of this very thing.  It involved an 83 year old Frances Green from San Francisco who survived on her small Social Security check.  Though she had very little money, Mrs. Green managed to send one dollar per year to the Republican National Committee for a decade.  One day Mrs. Green received an RNC fundraising letter that invited her to attend a White House dinner to meet President Reagan; however she did not see the small print which suggested a generous donation.
So Mrs. Green scraped together every last cent she had and took a four day train ride across the US. Unable to afford a sleeper, she was forced to sleep in the sitting position.  When she arrived at the White House, she reported to the guard at the gate, but her name was not on the invitation list and she wasn’t allowed in.  A Ford Motor Company executive happened to stand behind her and realized something was wrong, so he took her aside and listened to her story.  Then he asked her to return at the same gate the following morning at 9:00 am.
In the meantime, the auto executive was able to speak with a presidential aide who arranged a personal White House tour for Mrs. Green. He even worked out the possibility that Mrs. Green could shake President Reagan’s hand if all went well.
However, the next day turned out to be a difficult day in the Reagan presidency: the Attorney General had resigned in the morning, and there was an overseas military coup. During Mrs. Green’s tour of the White House an aide told her that due to the day’s events a meeting with the President was out of the question.  The most the aide could promise was that she might get a glimpse of him walking down the hall.
However as Reagan left a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he saw Mrs. Green in the hallway and said, “Frances, those darn computers have fouled up again. If I had known you were coming, I would have been there to greet you myself.”  He then invited her to sit down in the Oval office where they talked leisurely about California, her town, her family, and her life.

Now some people suggested that the President gave Francis more time than he should have, and the meeting was a needless waste. But the president gave her a little of his time and a little kindness.

Here is a list of things you will never regret

  1. When we show kindness to an aged person.
  2. When we destroy a letter written in anger.
  3. When we offer an apology that will save a friendship.
  4. When we stop a scandal that will ruin a reputation.
  5. When we help a young people find themselves.
  6. When we take time to show consideration to others.
  7. When we refrain from gossip while others might do it.
  8. When we take a stand to do the right thing.
  9. When we live according to our convictions.
  10. When we accept the will of God.

God has blessed us that we might be a blessing. We are Christ’s ambassadors. With our hands, we bless others. Don’t be afraid to say God bless you, God love you or Merry Christmas. If someone asks why you are doing this? You can say Jesus is in my heart and I want to share the love of God with you.

Let me close. John Wesley, the founder of the UMC challenged his followers when he said. “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

Sermon: The Samaritan Leper

The Samaritan Leper
Luke 17:11-19 RUMC
19 November 2017
Pastor Paul R. O’Neil

A Sunday school teacher once asked her class what they were thankful for. One little boy raised his hand and said, “My glasses.”  When asked why he was thankful for that when most little guys were bitter about wearing them, he said, “Because they keep the boys from fighting me and the girls from kissing me.”

The theme in our gospel text is about one thing–thanksgiving. It is very simple: Ten men were given something; one returned to give thanks, nine did not.

My text is Luke 17:11-19.
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

As Jesus approached a village, ten lepers stood far away and cried for mercy. Most believe the men had a type of leprosy called Hansen’s disease; it started with a small white patch on the skin and progressed over the entire body.  The unfortunate ones with the disease were called the “walking dead,” because those afflicted were highly contagious and with no hope for a cure.  Their ultimate destination was banishment into a leper colony.

Now Luke, the gospel writer, tells us the ten lepers cried out for mercy, and once they got Jesus’ attention, he told them to report to the priests for confirmation of their healing. Perhaps as they walked towards the temple, thy began to notice physical signs that they were becoming well.
It was at this point, that the Samaritan leper stopped, turned around, and went to thank Jesus for the miracle. Now I am reasonably certain that if the nine had gone to the high priest to get their confirmation of healing, then came back to thank Jesus, Luke would have written this down.  But it appears they did not.

This past week in the news, I thought it was interesting, amusing and reflective of the times in which we live. Three UCLA college basketball players were arrested for shoplifting in China and were detained. When they were released (which involved negotiations of the highest levels of government) there was an eventual confession, apology and thanks all rolled into one, which I was glad to see.  I suppose better late than never.

One individual whose life personified the idea of thankfulness or gratitude was a woman named Mary Reed. She was a missionary to India in the early part of the 20th century.  While Mary served, she noticed that nothing was done for the lepers, who were outcasts of society.
Though she took proper precautions, she spent much of her time with the lepers. In the course of time, she too had become sick with an illness that doctors could not diagnose.  I think you know where I am going with this.  In time, she developed numbness in one of her fingers and a rash on her face that would not go away.  Then at last a doctor realized that she had contracted leprosy.  Her reaction was interesting.
Instead of becoming bitter, angry, devastated or depressed, she decided to thank God for the blessings she already had. In time she began to realize that as a leper, she could reach more for the kingdom of God.  In her eyes, a person’s soul and where they spent eternity was of paramount importance.  That is how she got through it.

When it comes to becoming thankful, I think many are grateful, but they often forget. Their intentions are good, but they fail to follow through.  It seems from this story of the 10 lepers, 90% of the people do not thank God enough.

As a child of God, thankfulness is not a one time of year event, but an attitude that is part of us.

American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that if the stars came out only once a year, everyone would stay up all night to look at them. Unfortunately many take God’s grandeur for granted.

I also realize in life, bad things sometimes happen to good people, and it is difficult to honestly give thanks in the midst of pain. One scripture that has kept me going through tough times is Romans 8:28. “We know that in everything God works for good to those who love him.”

When we lived in Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, there was a devastating tornado that went through the nearby towns on May 3, 1999. When I heard the sirens, I went into a basement for precaution.  When we received the all clear signal, we later learned this tornado had caused over a billion dollars’ worth of damage and 45 people were killed.
A week later I had to conduct a military funeral in one of the towns that was hardest hit, and it looked like a war zone. However there was one house that I will never forget:  The roof was gone; the glass in all the windows was shattered.  Clothes and personal belongings were scatted on the grass.  And spray painted on the bedroom wall was this message, “Thank you Jesus for sparing our lives.”

The person who wrote that certainly had their priorities straight, and sometimes life just comes down to that. Instead of becoming angry and frustrated about what is happening, we can look for the silver lining in the clouds.

If you are going through a difficult time, this is the time to lean in towards the trouble. Instead of running away, embrace it and the Lord.

In the current issue of the Methodist Interpreter Magazine, there are some interesting ways to practice gratitude at home or church.

  • Keep a Gratitude Journal-find the blessings in your career, family, finances, spirituality, friends and recreation.
  • Express thanks verbally or in writing.
  • Savor the moment. Eating, taking rides, visiting with grandchildren.
  • Thank God for the weather. Whether sunny, rainy, snowy, windy. Find the good in the forecast.
  • Write a note to someone you admire or appreciate in life. My wife wrote a note to a former high school teacher who is in her 90’s and it made the retired teacher’s day.
  • Read Psalm 100.
  • Rake your neighbors’ leaves.
  • Let the person behind you in the grocery store check-out line cut in front of you.
  • Visit a neighbor you have not seen in a while.
  • Volunteer a few hours at an animal shelter.
  • Smile and hold the door open for people.

These are some practical things we can do. Thanksgiving Day is more than a sit down meal.  It is an attitude of heart where we can give thanks for not only the good, but also those negative things that come our way.

Let me close. Just as the one Samaritan returned to give thanks, may we do the same.

Sermon: Here Comes the Groom

“Here Comes the Groom”
Matthew 25:1-12
RUMC 12 November 2017
Pastor Paul R. O’Neil

A traditional wedding in our culture begins when the bride makes her grand entrance down the aisle while the groom waits at the front, but it wasn’t always this way. Actually in Biblical times it was reversed.

My scripture text is a parable about a wedding where half of the bridesmaids were not ready. The message that our Lord would convey to us is one of preparedness: to make our peace with our maker and live in faithfulness to our God.

My text is Matthew 25:1-12.
Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise replied, ‘No! There will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’
This is the Word of God.

From start to finish, the marriage ceremonies back in biblical times always involved the groom’s family and the bride’s family. First there were the discussions among the parents. Then it went a step further when the groom’s parents actually went with their son to a sit down meeting with the bride’s family to formally ask permission to marry the daughter. Once permission was given, the two families would then negotiate a financial settlement of what the groom would have pay for the dowry. Once that amount was agreed upon, the young man and woman were recognized as husband and wife.

However there was a catch. Although they were legally man and wife, they were required to live apart for at least a year. This was done so the groom could get their new home ready and raise the necessary funds to pay the in-laws. The bride stayed with her parents until all was completed.

When the wedding day finally arrived, the festivities began at sunset. The groom and his groomsmen would walk to the bride’s home. There they would pick up the bride, her family, and bridesmaids and they would walk in procession to the groom’s house. As they walked in the procession, many in the wedding party carried lamps to light the way. A typical lamp would burn olive oil for about 15 minutes; it was expected that those who carried the small lamps would also carry a small container of olive oil.

Now Jesus adds a dilemma to this wedding story. The groom had been delayed, and when he finally shows up, only half the bridesmaids had enough oil to make it through the procession. The others did not.

From a spiritual point of view, the oil is symbolic of our faith. The wise bridesmaids were like wise believers because they were ready. The other five overlooked or ignored what was important.

Spiritual readiness or growth does not just happen automatically; it comes as a result of habits built into one’s life. It starts when a person makes a profession of faith. This is followed by the time we spend alone with God and when we get together as a church to worship.

Now I believe most people in this church have heard of Rosa Parks. She was 92 years old when she died in 2005. The watershed event in her life took place in 1955 when she was 42 years old; that was when she refused to sit at the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Because of that action, Parks was arrested. It appeared to be one of those spur of the moment decisions, but it was not. For the previous 12 years, Rosa helped lead her local NAACP chapter, and she received specialized training in civil rights and bus boycotts. So here was a woman who was well prepared for her important mission of civil rights. If we approach our spiritual life with the same preparation that Rosa Parks did with civil rights, we would enjoy great success as Christians.

Another aspect of spiritual preparedness is that it helps us to be ready when we meet our Lord face to face.

Evangelist Billy Graham was friends with President Dwight D. Eisenhower for a number of years. Just before the former president died in 1969, Graham went to visit him at Walter Reed Army Hospital. When Graham entered the hospital room, the former President knew he didn’t have long to live. After thirty minutes of reminiscing, the President said, “Billy, I want you to tell me again how can I be sure my sins are forgiven and that I am going to heaven, because nothing else matters now.” Graham took his New Testament and read some Biblical passages on eternal life. He even pointed out that we do not go to heaven because of the good things we do in the community or the money we have given to the church. We get to heaven on the basis of what Christ did on the cross and our response to ask Christ into our hearts. After prayer, the former President said, “Thank you, I’m ready.” Even in that final hour, Eisenhower made sure he was prepared for the other side of eternal life.

This parable reminds me of sky diving. Everyone has to wear their own parachute. No one can wear one for another person. Each person needs their own.

In this parable, five of the bridesmaids saw they did not have enough oil and asked others to loan them some. But the spiritual message is that another person’s faith will not cover us. If Christ were to come in our life time or if it is our time to die and meet Him, we can’t borrow from someone’s experience of sins forgiven and grace given. We cannot borrow faith from our family, our friends or the minister. It must be our own. Each of us must have our own oil for our own lamp.

Let me close. This parable is an attention getter because the Christian life is to be lived out to the fullest extent possible. So I would encourage all of us to make peace with our maker. Make that profession of faith and live in active faithfulness to our God. Develop your spiritual niche.

Sermon: Obituary for a Hero

Obituary for a Hero
Deuteronomy 34:1-12
RUMC November 5, 2017
Pastor Paul R. O’Neil

One of the things I like to do in my spare time is to read biographies of famous people such as presidents, kings and queens, politicians, entertainers, sports heroes, and military commanders. What really piques my interest is how these people lived their lives at the end. What they had done in the twilight of their careers or what they said on their death bed speaks volumes of what they felt was important.

My scripture text for this morning is Deuteronomy 34:1-12; it is about the death of Moses. This fascinating account of how Moses approached the end of his days can inspire us to be faithful to the end.

Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, 2 all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, 3 the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. 4 The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” 5 Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. 6 He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-Peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. 7 Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. 8 The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.
9 Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses.
10 Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. 11 He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, 12 and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel. This is the Word of God.

By the time he died, Moses had lived a very long and productive life. If we carefully look at his life, we can see the important phases were neatly divided into 40 year increments. The first 40 years he lived as the Prince of Egypt. The second 40, he was the shepherd of sheep. And the final 40, he was the leader of God’s people.

Now as Moses’ life drew to a close I’m sure he felt as if he could have continued, but God had a different timetable, just as he has for all of us. On that unforgettable day, Moses said his final goodbyes and made his final climb to the top of the 2600 foot Mt. Nebo. At the summit, Moses was shown the Promised Land, and Jewish tradition tells us he went into an unknown cave and died.

On my first visit to Israel, our tour group took a very long bus ride through the Jordanian desert and made its way up the long and windy Mt. Nebo. At the summit we were greeted by a very old, dark skinned, toothless Arab who was the caretaker of a Franciscan Church.   He showed us around and told us nobody knew where Moses was buried. Over the centuries people have looked, but to no avail. However all of us who were on the tour came away with the realization that Moses was a special human being who walked with the Lord to the very end of his life. He is a good example for us as well.

I think most people are uncomfortable when the subject of death comes up in conversation. When I served for a time as a hospital chaplain, there were occasions when a patient wanted to talk about the end, but didn’t for fear it might upset the family, and the family was afraid to talk about the inevitable for fear it might upset the patient. My job was to help bring everyone together, where they could discuss these things. When families make that special connection, it can be some of the most memorable times ever in the relationship, and those special conversations will carry you through the grieving phase.

Since I asked Christ into my heart and have made peace with my maker, I do not have fear or anxiety when it comes to the afterlife, but I do identify with the chorus of that hymn: “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow; because he lives, all fear is gone; because I know he holds the future and life is worth the living just because he lives.”

In 1914, the Canadian steamship, The Empress of Ireland, collided with another ship on the St. Lawrence River and eventually sank. Back in those days, they did not have the safety concerns as we do today, and there were not enough life jackets to go around. One hundred-nine of the one hundred-thirty Salvation Army workers on board gave their lifejackets to other passengers; each one of them said, “I know Jesus, so I can die better than you can.” I hope all of us can have the same confidence when it comes to eternal life.

Death for someone who does not know the Lord can be dismal, but for the believer, it is bright with all kinds of wonderful possibilities.   Someone once asked John Wesley what was the secret of the success of the Methodist movement and he said, “Our people die well.”

I have conducted lots of funerals for faithful church members, and it is a comfort for families to know that their loved one is with the Lord. I have also conducted other funerals of those whose faith was not a priority, and there was an underlying feeling of uncertainty.

Many years ago a missionary told an Indian Chief that Jesus was the way to heaven. The aged chief agreed. He said “The Jesus road is a good road, but I have followed the Indian road all of my life and I cannot change now.” One year later, as he lay on his death bed, the chief asked the missionary, “Can I turn to Jesus now? My own road stops here. It has no way through the valley.”

The Jesus road to heaven is the hope we have as found in these scriptures:

  • John 14:6 “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the father except through me’.”
  • John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

 

Another way that we can look at eternal life is to observe what often takes place at airport terminals. Family members are let off at the airport curb side, and they quickly say their good byes. Yet inevitably someone in the car will say, “Well, he or she is gone.” But the truth is that they are only gone from their sight, but not gone forever. Later on in some distant airport, the plane will land, that same family member will depart the aircraft and go to the baggage claim area. While there, someone else will spot them and say “he or she is here”, and there will be handshakes, hugs and kisses of welcome. Death’s pattern is very much like a one way airline ticket. It takes a person from our sight to the other side of eternity where we will literally pass from one existence to another.

Our story of Moses did not end with his death. There was one more incident that took place about 1500 years later. It comes from Luke 9:29-30: Jesus took Peter, John and James with him and went up on a mountain to pray. As he was praying the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. The event was called the Transfiguration, and it is a confirmation that there is life beyond the grave for the believer. If we know the Lord, we have nothing to fear.

When I was pastor in NH, we invited a Baptist Minister named Don Piper to come to our church. Reverend Piper related the story about a car accident in which he was injured; he was clinically dead for 90 minutes, but later revived. Reverend Piper said that he was able to see the other side of eternity, and he spoke to the Lord and his deceased relatives. After recovering from all of his injuries, which were many, Reverend Piper made it his life’s mission to tell everyone that there was life beyond the grave and not to miss it.

Let me close. Moses’ legacy was that he was an instrument of God and faithful to the very end. May we be active in our faith to the very end like Moses was.