Hebrews 6:13-20 13 New International Version (NIV)
When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” 15 And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. 16 People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. 17 Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18 God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.
Patient God, we want to have things go well and to have everyone be happy and content, but all too often we stand in the way of peace and hope. We recognize that life is not a fantasy in which everything turns out just right. We know that there is strife and struggles and we stand in the midst of them. Our hearts and spirits carry the scars of the struggles and disappointments we have borne. Today we come to seek restoration, reconciliation, and relationship with you and with others. We want to overcome the barriers which prevent us from being people of compassion and hope. There is so much that needs to be done to aid in the cause of your peace and justice. Help us to become peacemakers and those who would bring hope. Give us courage to become disciples who follow your will and your way. For we ask this in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ. AMEN.
Good Morning Church,
We have all heard the saying “it’s like riding a bicycle”. It’s a simple phrase that means you never fully forget a task that you learned, and though there is a lot of truth in it, this does not always end up being the case. If we have not done something for a long time, it may take time to become comfortable doing it again. For me, I have sometimes needed a minute to regain my comfort when riding a bike, especially when it has been a long time since I have done it. This week, Stephanie and I took sometime to go and ride the rail trail. We only did 8 or 9 miles out of the 62, but it was still a great workout. Everything went fine, but those first couple of strokes of the pedals were a bit more wobbly than they had been the last November when I was last on a bike. It took a few seconds to gain that once easy comfort on the bike.
Sometimes this is how life can also feel. Even when we have experiences that we have been through before, we can tend to be caught off balance. When we get caught off balance, it can be difficult for us to right the ship. This doesn’t mean that what made us off balance was bad, because so often any change can do this, whether it is good, bad, or neutral in its nature. For Stephanie and I, going on bike rides are good. We love to feel that wind blowing on our face, listening to the birds chirping in the trees around us, and watching the country side as we ride past. And still, that initial moment, those first 5 seconds or so, are often much more difficult than the rest of the ride itself.
God never made the promise that the Christian life would be easy and filled with nothing but blessings. Are we blessed immensely? Yes, but this does not mean that everything is going to be easy. The people to whom the author of Hebrews is writing, like many of the communities we see in scripture, have struggled with faithfulness and trust in the oaths that God has given. They have drifted and neglected God’s church and have acquired a sluggish inattention to God’s people in their church community. The writer of this text is worried that their behavior has a portion of its cause in a faltering trust in God’s dependability. They no longer trust, or at the very least are struggling in trusting that God is going to see them through or remain faithful to them.
The writer wants to draw the people’s attention back to the story of Abraham and how God had been faithful to him, even if it may have taken some time. The people needed to remember God’s promises, as well as the confirmation that God offers in giving the oath as well. God uses the practice of an oath to help confirm for the people that they do not need to worry about whether God is going to show up. The oath was important because to use the language of an oath back in biblical times raised the language of the promise to a level where congregation in this book would understand the seriousness by which God is making this promise. Think of when someone is brought to court and they take an oath to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That promise elevates the rest of the words that the individual will say until they step down from the stand. The same is true for these ancient people when it comes to this oath that God established with Abraham and with them.
Now you may be thinking, Pastor, that is all fine and well, but I don’t always feel like God is there to keep me upright. Going back to my story about riding bikes, how many of us had training wheels on our bikes growing up? These extra wheels were put on our bike by someone who loved us. A parent, grandparent, neighbor, whoever. This person put these wheels on our bike to allow us to learn this skill, while also providing us support when we begin to get a bit wobbly. This is kind of how God works with us too.
When we are just beginning to explore who God is for us, God is there to provide us stability. As we grow in our ability to “ride” out this faith, God gives us work to do. Sometimes we are going to fall down, but guess who is there to help us up. That’s right, God. God will come to us in many ways. For the people of this early church community, God came to them through the words of the author of Hebrews. Now I'm sure God showed up in tons of different ways for this community, like God shows up for us in so many ways beyond reading scripture, too, but this is one way that God does show up, through love of neighbor. The author of this book is writing out of great love for the people in this community. God shows up in those moments and in that work.
God shows up when we feel off balance. God shows up when the world seems murky or uncertain. God shows up in times of transition. You want to know how? Let me leave you with a story that I believe may enlighten us to the God present in our lives.
The Parable of the Long Spoons: One day a man said to God, “God, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like. God showed the man two doors. Inside the first one, in the middle of the room, was a large round table with a large pot of stew. It smelled delicious and made the man’s mouth water, but the people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful, but because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths. The man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering. God said, “You have seen Hell.” Behind the second door, the room appeared exactly the same. There was the large round table with the large pot of wonderful stew that made the man’s mouth water. The people had the same long-handled spoons, but they were well nourished and plump, laughing and talking. The man said, “I don’t understand.” God smiled. “It is simple,” He said, “Love only requires one skill. These people learned early to feed one another.
Again, God shows up through the love of neighbor. In this parable, those who are hungry are greedy people who are starving because they will not help one another. Those who were well feed were those who learned to serve one another. Let us feed one another, providing each other strength through the love which God placed in our hearts. Do not forget how important it is for you to show up in peoples lives, especially when they might feel off balance. God has called each of us to go and love on this world. If you are scared that you may not know what to say, trust that God will give you the words. If you are uncertain of where to go, listen and God will direct you. We are not alone in this work, but God is also sending us to be the hands and feet. And all God’s people say. Amen.
Good Morning Church,
James 1:22-25 New International Version (NIV) 22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
Today we begin a new chapter in the life and ministry of the United Methodist Church of Wellsboro. As with any new beginning, there is excitement and anxiousness all rolled up into one package. There is uncertainty, and yet we have dealt with tremendous uncertainty these past four months, and God has continued to be faithful to this church and to each of us. Life has never been without some challenge, but God is good all the time and all the time God is good.
Today is the beginning of a new season of ministry for God’s church here in Wellsboro, and yet we need to remain honoring of what God has done and faithful in what God will do in the future. As a United Methodist minister, it is an honor for me to serve with different communities for a time, and it is an honor to follow amazing ministers in the good work they have done. Because of the very nature of our structure, I believe ministers have stronger bonds and connections with one another. We rely on one another to do good work, we rely on our churches to be great partners in ministry, but most importantly we rely on God’s grace and wisdom to guide our steps.
As a young child, I never really had to think about where my food came from. We would hop in the car, drive to the local Giant grocery store, and pick up all the things that we needed. As I got older, my parents began to grow some vegetables in the back yard, both as a fun hobby and as a way to eat healthier and cheaper. It was always a wonderful experience to walk out the back door and pick tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, etc. I loved this, and it was exciting for me when Steph and I got married and she showed an interest in growing our own garden. The past couple of years we have grown quite a bit of our own food, and harvesting veggies all throughout the summer has been a true blessing in our lives. It’s an amazing feeling to see the tangible rewards that can come from hard work and dedication, all while connecting more with nature.
To let you know a little about the character that I saw in Pastor Rich and why I was so excited to follow in his leadership with you all, I have to take us a long ways back, all the way back to February. I know that’s not that long ago, but it kind of feels like was too. When Steph and I came to visit with the council in February, Pastor Rich mentioned that he too also had a green thumb and enjoyed growing a vegetable garden. Knowing we would be moving midsummer, we were disappointed to know we would be arriving too late for planting season. Rich so generously asked if we would like for him and Erin to begin one for us. Steph and I were so grateful for his offer, and we of course accepted his hospitality. Pastor Rich and Erin began the garden from seeds out front of the parsonage and tended to it until we both made our transitions. You can even see the fruits of this labor if you drive past the home, as the garden now is in full growth, teeming with zucchini, dill, kale, and spinach. Now Steph and I have the great gift of continuing to tend this garden, and soon we will be able to eat the veggies of that labor. As we weed, water, and prune, we think of all the work Rich and Erin put into beginning all of this for us.
While reflecting on that this week, it occurred to me that this is quite literally the perfect example for pastoral change. We are called to plant seeds in a community, to help that community tend those seeds, and then assist in gathering up the harvest. Pastor Rich did great ministry with you all and walked alongside you all in that good work. Now it is my privilege to partner with you in continuing to tend the garden until the day that we can harvest a tomato here, a zucchini there, a few peppers from over here. That is the calling to which we have all answered. To be Christian is to see where the work needs to be done and work together with the Spirit to get it done.
God has gifted us with such an amazing world, and I am honored to serve alongside colleagues like Pastor Rich. I am excited for the opportunity to partner with you and this church to do God’s work. I feel confident in the work that we can do together because I see the work you all did with Pastor Rich through the Holy Spirit. And yet, this does not make pastoral changes any easier. As humans we are challenged by change and it will often times feel draining to our souls. This is also where we all find ourselves in this moment in time. The calling for all Christians is to continue to cultivate that good soil and prepare that way of the Lord.
James reminds us today that we are to not just listen, but also do the work. We are to be doers of God’s ministry. I can not do that good work alone, you can not do that good work alone, but together we can constantly see the beauty of God’s creation more fully. Friends, the work has only just begun. There are so many people that Jesus wants us to love on, care for, and touch their hearts.
Paul reminds us in 2nd Corinthians “Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” We do not live for ourselves, but rather live to serve others and serve Jesus Christ. The love that has been poured out on each and every one present here today, needs to be shared with others.
I believe that the United Methodist Church of Wellsboro can continue to be a beacon of light and love in this world. Through God, we can see our lives continually transformed by God’s infinite grace. It is truly a gift and a blessing to be here with you all today. The past four months have been trying for all of us in so many ways, but we have and will flourish because God does not forsake us or forget about us. God intercedes to bring us hope when there is no hope, comfort when we feel like the world is crumbling around us, and love when we feel most alone. Let us take that message out into our world today. May we prepare ourselves for getting our hands in the dirt and planting even more seeds for Christ. The good shepherd has gone on before us and is laying the path out for us. Church, let’s follow him together and see where he leads us. Amen.