Sermon March 29, 2020

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Psalm 130

A pilgrimage song.

I cry out to you from the depths, Lord
my Lord, listen to my voice!
    Let your ears pay close attention to my request for mercy!
If you kept track of sins, Lord
    my Lord, who would stand a chance?
But forgiveness is with you—
    that’s why you are honored.

I hope, Lord.
My whole being hopes,
    and I wait for God’s promise.
My whole being waits for my Lord—
    more than the night watch waits for morning;
    yes, more than the night watch waits for morning!

Israel, wait for the Lord!
    Because faithful love is with the Lord;
    because great redemption is with our God!
He is the one who will redeem Israel
    from all its sin.

John 11:1-45

Lazarus is ill

A certain man, Lazarus, was ill. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This was the Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped his feet with her hair. Her brother Lazarus was ill.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, saying, “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.”

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This illness isn’t fatal. It’s for the glory of God so that God’s Son can be glorified through it.” Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus. When he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed where he was. After two days, he said to his disciples, “Let’s return to Judea again.”

The disciples replied, “Rabbi, the Jewish opposition wants to stone you, but you want to go back?”

Jesus answered, “Aren’t there twelve hours in the day? Whoever walks in the day doesn’t stumble because they see the light of the world. But whoever walks in the night does stumble because the light isn’t in them.”

He continued, “Our friend Lazarus is sleeping, but I am going in order to wake him up.”

The disciples said, “Lord, if he’s sleeping, he will get well.” They thought Jesus meant that Lazarus was in a deep sleep, but Jesus had spoken about Lazarus’ death.

Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died. For your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there so that you can believe. Let’s go to him.”

Then Thomas (the one called Didymus) said to the other disciples, “Let us go too so that we may die with Jesus.”

Jesus with Martha and Mary

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was a little less than two miles from Jerusalem. Many Jews had come to comfort Martha and Mary after their brother’s death. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him, while Mary remained in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. Even now I know that whatever you ask God, God will give you.”

Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha replied, “I know that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

She replied, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, God’s Son, the one who is coming into the world.”

After she said this, she went and spoke privately to her sister Mary, “The teacher is here and he’s calling for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to Jesus. He hadn’t entered the village but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were comforting Mary in the house saw her get up quickly and leave, they followed her. They assumed she was going to mourn at the tomb.

When Mary arrived where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”

When Jesus saw her crying and the Jews who had come with her crying also, he was deeply disturbed and troubled. He asked, “Where have you laid him?”

They replied, “Lord, come and see.”

Jesus began to cry. The Jews said, “See how much he loved him!” But some of them said, “He healed the eyes of the man born blind. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb

Jesus was deeply disturbed again when he came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone covered the entrance. Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”

Martha, the sister of the dead man, said, “Lord, the smell will be awful! He’s been dead four days.”

Jesus replied, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see God’s glory?” So they removed the stone. Jesus looked up and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. I know you always hear me. I say this for the benefit of the crowd standing here so that they will believe that you sent me.” Having said this, Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his feet bound and his hands tied, and his face covered with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”

Therefore, many of the Jews who came with Mary and saw what Jesus did believed in him.

March 24

So, there is this.  Sunday, we at Grace attempted to widen our screen for viewers and accidentally posted our live worship on its side, and took a good share of the day to rightly orient it.  Meanwhile a priest from England was getting lots of views.  He’d set up a little altar of sorts, with a cluttered office background.  While trying to keep the altar the focus of his video, he leaned over it to speak.  Unknowingly, he lit his sweater on fire.  The picture shows the back of his sweater flaming up behind his face.  I confess I laughed lots watching the video.  Pastors the world over tried live-streamed video Sunday and we critiqued what we did making a list of do’s and don’ts for next time.  Now most of us can also say, whatever glitches we had along the way, “at least we didn’t light ourselves on fire.” 
    So, I don’t know how you’re faring with the changes Covid-19 is bringing to you routine.  What i do know is that most of us struggle with changes to routine.  My wife and I stocked up on food to have a 14 day supply, trying to focus on proteins since we both have diabetes.  We also stocked up some less healthy snacks–which we usually try not to keep around.  If we crave a not-so-healthy snack we make ourselves travel to the grocery store to get it because it’s easier when it’s not in the house.  Now such things are in the house.   It turns out I have x-ray vision and can see the unhealthy snacks through the cupboard doors.  Not a good situation for me–though it’s better now that I recognized that I was making too many trips to the cupboard.  “Well, at least I didn’t set myself on fire.”
       I’m guessing you may have some Covid-19 lifestyle changes that are challenging for you:  housebound without March Madness basketball, working from home, kids home, working at a place that is busier and/or riskier, going to an office that is completely quiet; maybe you’re part of a peer support group that’s not meeting; maybe you worry because you or loved ones work on the front-lines of people-care (medicine, police, groceries, prescriptions); maybe you’re feeling stuck in a setting that is on lock-down or in a quarantine of sorts; maybe you’ve had non-essential surgery postponed.  My Mom was scheduled for shoulder surgery in mid-April to repair three tears in the tendons.  I understand it is safe not to have the surgery now; but, I thought, “I wonder how many tears would make it an essential surgery?”  Right now life is more challenging for all of us in a way that I expect it hasn’t been since WWII.
     This past Sunday morning, as Sharon accompanied Trisha on flute and Jack as vocalist, I knew we got one thing right.  As soon as I heard the first song, I knew God had guided us.   “You Are Mine” written by David Haas, God’s Spirit burned in my heart and moistened my eyes, as Jack sang.
“I will come to you in the silence, 
I will lift you from all your fear.  
You will hear my voice, 
I claim you as my choice, 
be still and know I am here.”    
scroll down to sermons and click on the coffee cup and Bible or
Click HERE  to hear “You Are Mine” (song begins at the 2:00 minute mark).
   Everyday be patient with yourself and others.  If it’s a challenging day, remember “it’s a good day if you don’t start yourself on fire.”
God’s blessings and prayers for health,
Pastor Roger

Sermon March 22 2020

Click HERE to read a printed copy of the March 22 Sermon

Click on the Bible to view the video of march 22, 2020 Sermon.

Jesus heals a blind man John 9:1-41

As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?”

Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him. While it’s daytime, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” After he said this, he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and smeared the mud on the man’s eyes. Jesus said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (this word means sent). So the man went away and washed. When he returned, he could see.

The man’s neighbors and those who used to see him when he was a beggar said, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?”

Some said, “It is,” and others said, “No, it’s someone who looks like him.”

But the man said, “Yes, it’s me!”

So they asked him, “How are you now able to see?”

He answered, “The man they call Jesus made mud, smeared it on my eyes, and said, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and then I could see.”

They asked, “Where is this man?”

He replied, “I don’t know.”

Then they led the man who had been born blind to the Pharisees. Now Jesus made the mud and smeared it on the man’s eyes on a Sabbath day. So Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see.

The man told them, “He put mud on my eyes, I washed, and now I see.”

Some Pharisees said, “This man isn’t from God, because he breaks the Sabbath law.” Others said, “How can a sinner do miraculous signs like these?” So they were divided. Some of the Pharisees questioned the man who had been born blind again: “What do you have to say about him, since he healed your eyes?”

He replied, “He’s a prophet.”

The Jewish leaders didn’t believe the man had been blind and received his sight until they called for his parents. The Jewish leaders asked them, “Is this your son? Are you saying he was born blind? How can he now see?”

His parents answered, “We know he is our son. We know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he now sees, and we don’t know who healed his eyes. Ask him. He’s old enough to speak for himself.” His parents said this because they feared the Jewish authorities. This is because the Jewish authorities had already decided that whoever confessed Jesus to be the Christ would be expelled from the synagogue. That’s why his parents said, “He’s old enough. Ask him.”

Therefore, they called a second time for the man who had been born blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know this man is a sinner.”

The man answered, “I don’t know whether he’s a sinner. Here’s what I do know: I was blind and now I see.”

They questioned him: “What did he do to you? How did he heal your eyes?”

He replied, “I already told you, and you didn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”

They insulted him: “You are his disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. We know that God spoke to Moses, but we don’t know where this man is from.”

The man answered, “This is incredible! You don’t know where he is from, yet he healed my eyes! We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners. God listens to anyone who is devout and does God’s will. No one has ever heard of a healing of the eyes of someone born blind. If this man wasn’t from God, he couldn’t do this.”

They responded, “You were born completely in sin! How is it that you dare to teach us?” Then they expelled him.

Jesus heard they had expelled the man born blind. Finding him, Jesus said, “Do you believe in the Human One?”

He answered, “Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him.”

Jesus said, “You have seen him. In fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

The man said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshipped Jesus.

Jesus said, “I have come into the world to exercise judgment so that those who don’t see can see and those who see will become blind.”

Some Pharisees who were with him heard what he said and asked, “Surely we aren’t blind, are we?”

Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t have any sin, but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

March 17

 The picture is the cover of my check book with the words from Proverbs 3:5.  When I write a check they call me back to the relationship that is meant to guide me.  They invite me whether the numbers inside the checkbook or encouraging or discouraging to remember who is my comforter and provider, and who I am called to be.  We need words that guide and put things in perspective.  We need such words when we spend money or expend our lives.
     This week I saw another set of words that also reminded me of who I am called to be.  “Your grandparents were called to war.  You’re being called to sit on your couch.  You can do this.”  I laughed and told my wife.  I was surprised she didn’t laugh.  Turned out she was sleeping in the chair next to mine. A few minutes later she woke up, read the words on her Facebook feed, started laughing, and read them to me.
     The words were posted by a person who knows what she is saying.  During the Iraq war her husband was called to service.  Their children were early teenagers.  While overseas, his tour of duty was extended.  Their family’s sacrifice was no small matter.  There were tears, worries, loneliness, economic challenges for them, and many, many others.  As I read the clever words that made me laugh, I couldn’t help but think “being stuck at home with family” would seem like a cakewalk compared to waiting each day, not knowing if your husband, (your kids’ father was still alive in a war zone each day).  
     The truth is, each challenge is unique.  The truth is sometimes life’s metaphorical checkbook is full, sometimes running on empty.  But, all times the words of Proverbs 3:5 ring true:  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.”  Today at 5 PM in MN indoor dining in restaurants ends, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.”  This week there is no school in MN, North Dakota, or many other states.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.”  The next two weeks, at the very least, all Grace UMC church activities are cancelled.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.”  May God grant you the gift of trust.  
Blessings, Pastor Roger   

March 3

This past Sunday we followed Jesus into the desert for his 40 days of desert temptation.  While there, however, I invited us to focus on what tempts us.  Personally, I visit Facebook daily and discover many helpful things–who is celebrating, grieving, hospitalized, traveling, etc.  It can be a great place to connect, encourage and pray for one another.  But, I often face the temptation to chime in where there are Facebook feuds. Most of the time I resist for many reasons–including the sense than minds aren’t changed much during Facebook feuds.  In fact, I think I am seeing a deepening entrenched divisiveness that saddens me–then I feel tempted to be cynical.  
I don’t know where you are feeling temptations to be less than your best self lately.  I do know we all face such temptations.  Jesus did, too.  One of Jesus’ responses to temptation was, “Go away, Satan, because it’s written, ‘you will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.'”  One way Jesus battled temptation was to remember Scripture.  So, Sunday I offered a suggestion, and am offering it again, for those who weren’t there or didn’t remember the Bible verses.  I invite you to open a Bible and set it somewhere where you will see it every day.  I invite you to open the Bible to I Corinthians 13:4-8.  “Love is patient, love is kind.  … It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking or easily angered. …always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”  
Whether you go on Facebook or not, we live in a world where there is an increasing amount of anger, rudeness, mistrust and meanness.  God’s Word can be our strength for the journey where we may be tempted to give in to the things that divide us.  I invite us to read I Corinthians 13:4-8 every day of Lent until Easter morning and “receive God’s strength for the journey.”
If you find the practice of having your Bible open to I Corinthians 13 somehow blesses you on any given day, I’d love to hear about it.
Lenten Blessings,
Pastor Roger

February 21

This upcoming Sunday most of the slides with the message will be filled with light.  Even the bulletin cover has tulips glow with the sunshine radiating through them.  Light is often a metaphor for holiness.  So, as we draw near the dark valley of the church year we call Lent–we celebrate light on the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday.  The Scripture for the day describes Jesus bathed in light, “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light.”  As a cloud arrived in the picture even it was “a bright cloud that overshadowed them.”  (Matthew 17:2 & 5)
     Think of the stuff that brightens your world.  Is it the kind words of a friend, perhaps a handmade card, maybe sitting at a table drinking coffee with a few of your favorite people.  All these things are filled with the holiness of God.  Yes, it’s an everyday-type holiness, but that doesn’t make it any less holy.  
     Recently, an actress by the name of Valerie Bertinelli was “shamed” on Twitter for not being the weight someone thought she should be.  I don’t do Twitter, but I do read news articles.  The article I read described Kelly Clarkson chiming in to defend Valerie with these words:  “True power is recognizing the projection of others’ negativity and punching it square in the face with all the positive, remarkable, intelligent, beautiful light that seeps from your pores.”  I think the risen Christ loves that quote and may have sent the Spirit to inspire it.  You and I are created in God’s image.  At our best, we let the “beautiful light (of God’s image in us) seep from our pores,” flow forth our words, and radiate blessing through our actions.
     Today, remember you are Christ’s brother or sister; God’s light and love is meant to shine through you just like it shined through Jesus.  Today, let the light of God shine through you to bless another.  
Pastor Roger

February 6

I opted not to watch the State of the Union address.  However, I did sign in to Facebook later that evening.  I regretted it.  My Facebook feed was filled with negativity.  I knew I had to process the barrage of anger in some way.  So, I took a deep breath and decided to chime in.  I wrote:

Yes Facebook world, please breathe; we all are aware President Trump refused to shake Speaker Pelosi’s hand and Speaker Pelosi chose to tear up President Trump’s speech: two people with titles snubbed one another with symbolic actions.  (No one was physically hurt).  Just thinking we are better off not promoting either negative behavior, defending either choice, or slamming ‘the other party’. I think there is an alternative…In the next 24 hours, I am committing to another path, to find and do something that shows respect and kindness toward another human being.

In Matthew 5:13-14 Jesus says to his followers, “You are the salt of the earth.  But if salt loses its saltiness how will it become salty again?  It’s good for nothing… .  You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill can not be hidden.”  Our world desperately needs salt to preserve basic values like kindness and respect.  Our world desperately needs light in these dark and divided times.  Frankly, some days I need salt and light to get me through.  Those are the very days I need to find ways of being salt and light. 
So, I did go out of my way to share a couple of kindnesses in the 24 hours following witnessing the state of our division.  Jesus said, “let your light shine before people so they can see goo…and praise God” (Matthew 5:16).  Sunday we’ll be exploring ways we can be light, and salt, for one another in this world.  In the meantime, take a look at the “Here’s What’s Cool” image that began this devotion.  Prayerfully do anyone of these things today.  The world will be brighter and you will feel lighter for it.  
God’s Blessings, Pastor Roger

January 30

Many years ago my wife and I were seated next to another pastor and his wife at a community fish fry. The other pastor’s Mom, a retiree who’d settled in the southern US, was visiting and at the table. The table-talk turned and the next thing we knew the other pastor and his Mom were talking theology. If I recall correctly he had to head to the office and go through the list to see who was eligible to take communion on Sunday. I still remember his Mom saying, ” Son, you may be a pastor, but you’re not qualified to say who can take communion. Only Jesus knows what’s in the heart.” The son retorted. The Mom said, “You know, the church I go too doesn’t do that anymore. It’s still the same denomination; Son, times are changing. You need to adapt.” I smile every time I remember the two of them–Mom breaking with generations of tradition, and the son holding fast to the past.

Within the United Methodist Church there are two sacraments (visible expressions of holy spiritual truths) that pastors are placed in charge of: baptism and communion. However, in the United Methodist tradition pastors are placed in charge of baptism and communion to make sure both remain open to all who reach out to experience God in the moment. Babies who can not affirm their own faith are baptized to remind us God chooses to love us even before we can respond to that love. Even when adults is baptized, the fact that we baptize babies reminds us part of baptism is surrounding and nurturing one another with Christ-like love. Likewise, pastors in the UM Church are placed in charge of the sacrament of communion NOT to decide who gets to take communion. Instead, we are charged with keeping Christ’s table open to all who seek–including young children mentally-impaired, those with dementia or any who may not fully understand. I like to say, “if we had to understand communion fully to receive it, none of us could receive. There is always more to learn and room to grow.”

This Sunday I will be part of a Healthy Church Consultation Team for Hillcrest, UMC in Bloomington. But, Grace will still have communion. The youth will serve. Tonight (Wednesday) I will bless the bread and juice–and use that time of blessing as a teaching moment with the youth who will serve on Sunday.

No doubt I will tell them that if I was asked to name three things I love about the United Methodist Church, always in the top three would always be: 1) the open communion table where all are welcome who seek to follow Jesus by loving God and neighbor. 2) the UM affirmation that God loves us and says, “Yes” to us before we can even say “Yes” to God. The theological term for God loves us before we even know it is “prevenient Grace.”

The devotional challenge of the open communion table and prevenient Grace is two-fold. First, we ask ourselves if we are blocking God’s grace in our own lives. Any day we ask if we are “good enough” we need to step back and remind ourselves God chooses to love us before we measure up and in spite of the fact that this side of heaven we’ll always be flawed. Second, we examine our attitudes to see if we are asking others to “measure up” before receiving God’s love. If so, we ask God to help us grow in grace and hospitality–and remind ourselves that God has chosen to love us before we “get it right” or “understand it all.”

That is “Grace” and it is “amazing” indeed.

Blessings, Pastor Roger