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10-25-20 — Living With Love — Rev. Joshua D. Gill

Sermon                                            Living with Love                                                Rev. Joshua D. Gill

 

As I studied the texts for this week I was really caught by this translation of the 1 Corinthians 13 passage. As you can imagine it is a passage that I have read at almost every wedding I ever performed. I think because of the repetition it has become somewhat of a clanging symbol in my ears. I was able to hear it anew this week through the Message translation. One of the things that Paul points out is that “Love is never held alone in one’s self; Love always involves another. Love links one’s self to another. This reciprocal character of love is “if someone loves God, that person is known by God.” Love provides a context of mutuality, understanding, and relatedness between each person and others, between God and people, and between Christians and Christians, and Christians and the world.[1] Mutuality is really the key to love, without it cannot experience love. That is why Paul says love can bear all things, if love is a mutuality of respect it can bear all things, but the moment it changes, it is no longer love and becomes something different, distorted, and actions need to be taken to correct that relationship or end that relationship.

Eastminster has worked to write its own love story, through its history, relating to God, to members of the Church, and to the world.  It is love story of a church plant that grew rapidly and drew in families from the surrounding neighborhood, that was bursting with activity and people. It is made up of a community of hardworking people that do their best to share the love of Christ in this neighborhood and in this city. A love story of a pastor going door to door inviting people to be part of a church and some families responding to that visit.  A love story of members helping fellow members. One member shared that before the parking lot was paved, one Sunday it rained particularly hard and cars were stuck. Men in suits were pushing the cars out, and he came home in a rain drenched, muddy suit. It is the love story of helping and serving the world through service trips and things like Habitat for Humanity, helping people have a simply, decent place to live.

But like many churches we have also experienced our tough moments. Or as I have heard it described, “the difficult time”.  Moments where people may have experienced deep division over decisions or indecisions. Moments where people left our fellowship, and our fellowship was changed as a result. But we learn and grow from these moments. We heal and those bad moments become just another part of the love story.

EPC learned from those experiences and worked to empower their leaders and strive for a healthier system.  One of things I have always deeply appreciated about our Presbyterian system, is what we ask of our leadership. From our congregation, individuals are set apart, ordained by our congregation. Our theology teaches that they are called by God to this role as elder and as deacon. As deacons they are set apart for works of “compassion, witness, and service, sharing in the redeeming love of Jesus Christ for the poor, the hungry, sick, the lost, friendless, and the oppressed…” [2]  The ruling elders are set apart, “ together with the Pastor to, exercise leadership, government, spiritual discernment, and discipline over the life of the congregation.[3]  Then we ask our ruling elders and our pastor to do something exceedingly difficult.  We ask them to come together as a session not to represent their area of focus or of interest but to come together and discover the “will of Christ” who is forever head of the  church[4].  Discovering Christ’s will only comes through prayer, reflection, the study of scripture. We have charged this group to discover the will of Christ and help us to write the next chapter of Eastminster’s love story. To help us to discover how we will connect to God, to fellow members, and to the world.  To wrestle with questions like what does it mean to be the church in the digital age? How do we speak into the life of young families and young people? How do we avoid division, and maintain unity while still working through difficult topics?

We know the world is constantly changing and those changes are happening faster and faster. I am amazed how quickly life is changing. When I started in fulltime youth ministry eighteen years ago cell phones were a luxury that most people didn’t have them. Life was different, most days between the hours of 3-5 p.m. I could tell you exactly where I would be, I was either at a high school or middle school watching some activity or I was on AIM (AOL Instant Messaging) talking to kids in my office. About 6 years into my ministry I felt the landscape changing dramatically as more and more kids had super computers in their pockets. I felt a major upswing in teenage depression and other mental illnesses, and I saw parents struggling, trying cope with this environment. While these forces are still at play and so much has changed, one thing has remained, the mutuality of “love”.  The kids and teens I know want to know you care for them — nothing connects faster than remembering a name, asking about an interest, and showing that you care. While we are living through so many dramatic changes, we also know that Christ has called EPC for this moment and for this time, Christ has prepared our Church and our leadership, and we will discover together the “will of Christ”.  The will of Christ will certainly surprise us, stretch us, and strengthen us.  But God is ever faithful, leading us forward into God’s future.

 

[1] Sampley, J. P. (1994–2004). The First Letter to the Corinthians. In L. E. Keck (Ed.), New Interpreter’s Bible (Vol. 10, p. 953). Nashville: Abingdon Press.

[2] G-2.0201

[3] G-2.0301

[4] F-1.0202

10-25-20 Bulletin

10-25-20 bulletin

10-18-20 — Living With Hope — Exodus 14:15-22, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 –The Rev. Joshua D. Gill

Living with Hope

Exodus 14:15-22

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

 

The Moses narratives is one of the most fascinating narratives in all of scripture. It is a story that has inspired people for generations. It has been made into countless films. One of the first was a short film made in France in 1903 called “Moses and the Bullrushes.”[1]  It was a silent film and part of the biblical age of film making. Moses was also part of the inspiration for the character of Superman; a baby who escaped annihilation on a space craft, to be raised in alien environment, only to save the world from destruction and bondage[2] . This is a story that has been retold and retold. It was whispered around camp fires as enslaved people all across the US dreamt of freedom from bondage. It was a name that was given to Harriet Tubman as she worked to help people escape to freedom. A name she carried as she worked for this nation often unrecognized, as she served as a nurse during the civil war caring for the sick and injured in South Carolina, or as she acted as a scout going ahead of union soldiers stopping at plantations to tell the enslaved where the union lines were so they could find freedom. [3] This was a name she carried as she faced hardship and doubt. Can you imagine the hope and trust you would need to accomplish this work? Hoping you would not get caught. Trusting that God would be faithful to you.

This is the scene is one of the climactic moments in the Moses narrative.  The enslaved Israelites have longed for freedom and God heard their cries. Through only what can be described as an epic contest of wills the would-be god- King Pharaoh has finally been broken and has granted the enslaved their freedom. But the Pharaoh has decided that he needs his slaves to return and sends an army out to get his property back. The Israelites leave Egypt and now find themselves with an army on one side and a sea on the other. While this narrative may sound fantastic, I would invite you to place yourself in it. How would it feel to be in this Israelite camp? Would you be scared? Would you panic? Would you try and flee? You may have seen God deliver you time and time again over the last few months, but you have been enslaved for generations; how would this affect the way you see the world? You might wonder if God has walked out on you, abandoned you in this time of need. Or you might even question the character of God, wondering if this was some cruel cosmic joke that has been played on you. God brought you to the brink of freedom only to have it snatched away. Or you might wonder if the gods of Egypt have conquered this God that Moses follows, and that it was wrong to place your trust in this God and in Moses. I am sure Moses would have been feeling many of these same emotions. But now you watch as Moses stretches his staff.  A hard-dry desert wind begins to blow and you see a path beginning to form.  What emotions would you be feeling, in this moment? Would you be ecstatic over the deliverance you are feeling? Would you feel hope about the future? Scripture says that then the people walk through on dry land. The people go through a time of trial but in the end, hope pushes them toward a future a promised land. This was the hope that drove Moses, the hope that drove Harriet Tubman.

Hope can feel a little elusive right now. How do we plan for the future in the midst of a pandemic? How long should we put things on hold? When will life fully return to normal? How can hope push us forward?  Three churches in the state of Nebraska have found a creative way to connect and build seeds of hope through an Ancient practice of Christianity. Before the printing press it was common for Monasteries to have a “Scriptorium” which literally means “a place for writing”. In a scriptorium a person would hand copy scripture, books, and manuscripts. This was done as a way of producing income for the monastery and collecting important knowledge. This was considered a holy labor and it wasn’t just monks who participated — lay scribes and illustrators were brought in from outside the monastery to reinforce the work. These three churches, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Episcopal have started something they are calling the Corona Bible in which people hand copy one chapter of scripture.  They are hand copying over 1,100 chapters of scripture. It is a display of hope, creativity and adaptation; many of the modern scribes have drawn illustrations, others have written comments at the bottom of the page, and still others have used colorful ink to enhance the beauty. Through this project they are affirming unity of over division, affirming God’s future. They are living into hope, pushing back the water, and stepping out onto dry land.[4]

As we enter this stewardship season, I asked our session, our deacons, and our tree Chat Participants how has EPC given you hope over the years, and what gives you hope for the future. There was a very self-evident theme that popped up, person after person described the people, the church community. They described a group of people that might be a little quiet at first, and yes, I have already identified some notable exceptions to this rule, but a group of people who care deeply about one another.   One member described how their spouse was sick with a long-term illness and once word got out, almost immediately members of the congregation surrounded them with help and prayer. Another member described how they would just call up church friends when they needed to talk, when they were feeling alone. Another member described how when her first husband died she was suddenly left with a young child and the church stepped in and journeyed with her. The church should be a breeding ground of hope. It is our call to live out the mandate to “Hope in all things”. Hope because we know God’s love is unfailing, hope because of our trust in Jesus Christ, hope because we know of God’s faithfulness that no matter what the world throws at us, armies of Pharaoh, a sea, a global pandemic, a personal crisis, God will always be faithful.

In this moment I am filled with hope. In this last month at Eastminster these words from your members, Elders and Deacons have been reinforced over and over again. I have witnessed first-hand our love for our community through the backpack program, through helping our local school, and through our preschool. I have witnessed our commitment to church community as I have listened to the work of the deacons and Stephens Minsters and seen glimpses of the faithfulness of this community. As we continue to live into this Red Sea moment, I thank you for your faithfulness, for your generosity of time, talent, and treasure, and I know that God will continue to faithfully lead us forward onto dry land. Let us Pray

 

[1] https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/december-web-only/all-moses-movies.html

[2] http://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,1927303-2,00.html

[3] http://www.pbs.org/mercy-street/blogs/mercy-street-revealed/moses-of-her-people-harriet-tubman-and-runaway-slaves/

[4] https://nebraskacoronabible.com/#scriptorium

10-11-20 Bulletin

10-11-20 bulletin

10-18-20 Bulletin

10-18-20 bulletin

10-4-20 — Building With Stone — Isaiah 5:1-7, Matthew 21:33-46 — The Rev. Joshua D. Gill

Building with Stone

Isaiah 5:1-7

Matthew 21:33-46

10.4.2020

 

In the early 1980’s the King of Jordan Hussein bin Talal, was informed by his security police that a group of 75 Jordanian army officers were at that moment meeting in a barracks, plotting to overthrow him. The security officers were requesting permission to storm the barracks and arrest the plotters. The king paused and said bring me a small helicopter. The king climbed into the helicopter and they flew to the barracks landing on the roof. The king told the pilot, “if you hear gun shots, fly away at once without me.” The king completely unarmed and without security walked down two flights of stairs and appeared in the room.

He said to them. “Gentlemen, it has come to my attention that you are meeting here tonight to finalize your plans to overthrow the government, take over the country and install a military dictator. If you do this, the army will break apart and the country will be plunged into civil war. Tens of thousands of innocent people will die. There is no need for this. Here I am! Kill me and proceed. That way, only one man will die.

The men stood in stunned silence. They all reaffirmed their allegiance to their king and their country. This was an act of total vulnerability that appealed to their sense of Honor.

In our texts today, we hear two stories about vineyards. The first from Isaiah is a fascinating piece of poetry. The prophet begins by proposing to sing a song. The song begins as a traditional piece of poetry, utilizing the image of a vineyard. The vineyard has not yielded what was expected. It has yield wild grapes, not what was sown or painstakingly cared for. The prophet makes clear this is not a song to a beloved but a moment of judgement. God has cared deeply for this vineyard and God expected justice but saw bloodshed. God longed for righteousness, but instead heard the cries of those in need.

Jesus is in the temple, just a paragraph or two before Jesus has cleared the temple driving out the money changers.  Commanding authority over the temple. The chief priests and elders are gathered around him. They question him, asking on what authority he has done these things. Which honestly feels like a pretty controlled response if you consider his actions the day before.  Jesus responds with his own question, wanting to know if John’s baptism was from God or human origin. These leaders are caught, they can’t respond.

Jesus begins with two parables. The first parable is much shorter. A man had two sons, he said to the first son “Go and work in the vineyard today” the son answered, ‘I will not’. But later that son changed his mind and went work. The father asked the second son the same question and he answered, ‘I will go father’; but he never went. Jesus asks them who did the will of the Father. They respond that the first did the will of the Father. Jesus always one to make friends, lets them know the outcasts of the culture will make into in the kingdom before they will, because they heard God’s call in John’s baptism.

If that wasn’t enough he begins with second parable. A landowner plants a vineyard and then puts a fence around it, digs a wine press, and builds a watch tower.  The landowner leases the land and moves out of town. As the harvest rolls around. The landowner sends slaves to collect his portion of the produce. But the tenants abuse the slaves, beating one, killing one, and stoning another. This very patient landlord sends another round of slaves. The results are the same. Finally, this landlord sends his son, thinking surely, they will respect my son. The tenants consider this as an opportunity to kill the landowner’s heir, so they seize him and kill him. This response from the tenants isn’t as shocking as it sounds, the common understanding of the law at this time was “possession is determined by occupancy”. They occupy the land and want to own it. Jesus raises the question what should be done with these tenants? The crowd answers that they should be put to death and new loyal tenants should be given the lease.

One scholar listed twelve different reading of this parable. You can concentrate on the behavior of the tenants and see how badly they have acted, rejecting messenger after messenger. Committing violence against the landowner. You can also concentrate on the behavior of the landowner. In the Isaiah passage, the landowner allows vineyard to be overtaken and destroyed, but in Matthew the response is very different. The landowner shows a tremendous amount of trust, traveling to another country allowing the tenants the freedom work the land. Their response to his trust is violence. The landlord could have responded to their violence with even further violence.   But instead he gives them chance after chance. If you are the landlord what are you to do? The landlord has the right to contact the authorities who at his request will send a heavily armed company of men to storm the vineyard. The landlord has the right to be angry, they murdered his servants, his son. He is in a position of power but will he allow their violence to dictate his own response? No; perpetually the owner acts in a way we would not expect or predict. In fact the owner gives up his rights. One commentator described the behavior of the landlord as “Halim.” This Arabic word has no English equivalent, but it is an act of patience, longsuffering, risk-taking, compassionate, self-emptying. This owner has the right and the power yet the owner endures.[1]

In his book Welcome Home, Alan Gram, founder of Mobile Loaves and Fishes, an organization that shares the love of God with those experiencing homelessness, tells the story of Danny. Danny had a successful carpet cleaning and installation business, then through a series events ended up on the street. First he was living out of his car and then when his car died, he was living in a tent. Danny is a Vietnam veteran and said he had never been that scared as the first night he spent on the street. Danny thought, “I just need a job.” Over his 15-year career he had helped several guys start their own business, adjusting their hours so they could save money and start their carpet cleaning business. Danny was proud of the way he had helped people and thought surely one of these guys will help him. But no one would help him.  Danny fell into a depression that quickly morphed into a drug addiction. A couple of street friends eventually helped him sober up. Danny made it his life’s work to show compassion to others. When Texas experienced a hurricane, people on the streets lost literally everything. He worked with a non-profit to start a FEMA like response unit that would care for those experiencing homelessness after a disaster. If he had money, he would share it with those who had less. He became known as preacher, not so much because of his words, but because of his actions.  One night while living in a camp he knocked on his neighbors’ tent. Saying: “Claire, y home?” She was asleep and wasn’t thrilled about being woken up. A few hours later around 4am he heard “Dan! Dan! Wake up!” He woke up startled and said, “Yes, Claire, I’m awake.” Claire responded, “Good now don’t ever bother me again!”  Danny waited a few moments and said “Claire.” Are you serious? What do you want now? You hungry?” “Yeah, so what? I ain’t got no money.” Dan said, “I’ll buy you breakfast! Let’s go.” She was blown away by the response. They sat at Denny’s and had a Grand Slam.  This act of compassion from Dan helped eventually lead Claire to a new life. Just like an act of compassion led Dan to a new life.  [2]

On this day as we unite with the world in communion we should focus on the character of the owner of the vineyard, on God. God whose love for us is endless, on God whose love for us is unchanging, God who shows us compassion after compassion, even while we rebel against God.

 

[1] Bailey, Ken Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes, pg 410

[2] Alan Graham, Welcome Home. Pg 67

10-4-20 Bulletin

10-4-20 bulletin