“ The Divine Economy “
( Exodus 16: 2-15, Johan 3:10-4:11, Matthew 20:L 1-16 )
This week, a new chapter in the faith history of Redeemer United Church Of Christ (Zuehl ) Marion, TX has begun. A long pastorate of eleven years by Rev. Lee Zillmann and his wife Sharon has ended the new interim ministry with Rev. Peter Bauer has begun. New beginnings include both the process of reflecting back at what has been achieved and to look forward to what God would have us to do for the future.
I must say that I have been impressed with what Redeemer United Church Of Christ has accomplished in its ministry to this community and beyond. Your faithfulness has been manifested in your steady high attendance in worship, your desire to grow more in the knowledge of God’s word and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. You have supported well the work of the larger United Church Of Christ by supporting Our Church Wider Mission of the United Church Of Christ.
Redeemer United Church Of Christ has been a beacon of light here in the Zuehl community and beyond now for over one hundred years !
Now here we are again at another moment of change.
Bob Dylan reminds us:
The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin'
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'
When we are honest with ourselves, a lot of us do not like change. We want things to stay the same. We want the certainty of being with our family, being with our friends and being with those we love. These sentiments are quite understandable and good.
Redeemer United Church Of Christ has a lot of family togetherness and connectedness. A lot of people in our society today long for this type of community and affiliation.
What is striking about the biblical texts that we have heard read today is that they all point to another understanding of faith and community.
The Hebrew people who found themselves wandering in the wilderness, according to the writer of Exodus, longed for the flesh pots of Egypt, they longed for security even though they didn’t what came with that security.
I realized this , along with others, when during the Spring months of March and April 2020 I would go shopping at the store for the relentless search for toilet paper. I will never forget those feelings of concern and alarm when I would roll my shopping cart down aisles that were completely bare of needed supplies. I felt helpless and alone.
Not unlike the people of Israel as they languished in the desert or for that matter Jonah who was determined to preach God’s message of repentance to the people of Nineveh, only to feel thwarted and then go through the indignity of being thrown overboard by desperate shipmates into a raging sea, being swallowed by a whale and then being vomited[BPE1] up on shore.
Needless to say, it was not a good day for Jonah.
Matthew’s rendering of the parable of the workers in the vineyard is also starting and disturbing for us. What is this that the person who works for one hour gets the same wage as the person who has worked all day ?
That’s not fair ?
That strikes at the heart of our Protestant work ethic.
If you work hard, you should reap the benefits of your labor.
Yes, that may be true and yet God calls us
To be about a “ different economy “ a divine economy, where there is no hunger, where there is no want. Where everyone will get their basic needs of food, water, clothing, shelter met and where everyone will be able to sit under their own fig tree.
Today, you and I as partners interim minister and congregation, are embarked on masking this divine economy a reality here at Redeemer United Church Of Christ. You and I will work together to think and articulate what a new mission might look like for Redeemer.
What would God have us to do in this new time and place for the life of this congregation?
My prayer is that you will join us in this journey and is this discovery together.
May it be so in Christ’s Name.
15th Sunday after Pentecost September 13, 2020
Scriptures: Old Testament: Psalm 114; Epistle: Romans 14:1-12; Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35
Meditation Title: “God’s Extravagant Forgiveness”
The story is told that a baseball umpire was running late getting to a baseball game for which he was to be an umpire. Sure enough, driving down the highway, he gets pulled over by a policeman for driving too fast. The umpire pleaded saying that he had to be an umpire for a baseball game, and with difficulties in his family, he was running late. He also said that he had always been a safe, careful driver and that this was the first time that he had ever been pulled over by a law officer. Well, as you would know it, the policeman wouldn’t buy it. He just told the driver to tell his story to the judge and gave him a whopping ticket with a hefty fine! Well, two months later, the umpire was working a baseball game and guess who was first to come up to bat? Yes, you got it, the policeman who gave him the whopper ticket! When the officer came up to the plate, he then recognized the umpire, and the umpire recognized the policeman! Oh dear, the officer thought. Quickly, the officer wanted forgiveness and quietly asked, “How did the thing with the ticket and the judge go?” With a mean look on his face, the umpire told the officer (now batter), “You better swing with everything you got!” Obviously, the umpire was out for REVENGE!
Well, we have all been there. We have been slow to forgive and let go of a grudge, and we have been on the other side of the fence wanting forgiveness from others. Forgiveness is a big problem in our lives. There have been persons who have wronged us and it is so, so difficult to let go of our feelings of anger, resentment and even hatred. Even Simon Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord how many times shall I forgive my brother who has sinned against me?” “Up to seven times?” Peter said this because Jewish law had it that a person was to forgive a person three times, and Peter upped it to seven times. However, Jesus said, “No, seventy times seven,” which really meant to forgive over and over and over again. For many Christians, forgiving people who have hurt them is the biggest obstacle to their mental, emotional, and spiritual well being.
In “The Science of Influence, How to Inspire Yourself and Others to Greatness,” business guru Brian Tracy tells about a man who was at his wits end in life. He had been raised in a dysfunctional family; he didn’t get along with his siblings. He had a bad marriage, was cheated by a business partner, lost all his money, and now, he was quite sick. He was given only six months to live. To this, his doctor said quite bluntly, “You are going to die. Your system in like a worn-out car. Everything is shot.” So, the doctor told him the best medicine that he could give him was to make peace with himself and with whomever he was unhappy with in life. The doctor confronted the man about his anger. The man was angry with many people. The doctor told him that he needed to “let it all go.” So, for six months, he either called by phone or traveled miles and miles asking for forgiveness and forgiving others whom he thought had wronged him. He also put all his affairs in order, he wrote his last will and testament, and he sold all his property. But, strangely, the more he traveled and the more he forgave others, his health got better and better. At the end of six months, he went back to his doctor. The doctor couldn’t believe it. The doctor said, “You have no more symptoms; you are completely well!” Not only was his health restored, but he began excelling in his work. He was feeling great toward himself and others. It is amazing what forgiveness had done for him. It is also amazing what forgiveness can do for us, as well. However, forgiveness is not easy, but there is a secret to it. Jesus shares with us the answer.
We have to realize that for our mistakes, sins, and wrong-doings, Jesus is always willing to forgive us if we are sincere. Since Jesus died on a cross to forgive us, he paid a huge price for our forgiveness. In the Lord’s prayer, we also pray for the forgiveness of sins. In particular, we are used to saying, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” but this can also be translated into, “forgive us our sins as we forgive the sins of others.” Through Christ, God forgives our sins, and we are set free to live a new life. We are free from the bondage of sin. We are free to live a new life free from anger, resentment, and hurt. We can “let it all go.” As we have been forgiven, we also must forgive others. God’s forgiveness is extravagant! It is amazing! We need to live out His forgiveness, and likewise forgive others.
Now taking this a step farther, who in your life do you need to forgive? (pause) What have you done that is really eating away at you that you need to ask God for forgiveness? (pause) Well, whatever it is, forgiveness is there for you and for me. That is a promise from a forgiving, loving God, through His Son, Jesus.
I want to close this meditation with my most favorite story. I have shared it before with you in previous sermons, but it bears telling again. If you remember it, that is good. If you don’t remember it, you need to hear it. I first heard it from the Rev. Richard Kuretsch, who was once pastor here at Redeemer years ago. He told this story at one of our Thursday morning Pastors’ Bible Study Group.
The story is of a young man who had difficulties relating to his family. He had a strained relationship with his parents. He never really got along with his brothers and sisters. He ended up in a big argument with his family. So, he packed up his belongings and left town. He got a job in another town, and was doing well; however, he missed his family and wished that he could see them. Many years passed. His heart was aching to share with his family. He sat down and wrote a letter to his parents and family stating that he would like to see them again. He said that he would take a train to his home town, and since the train tracks ran right behind his parents’ home, if they wanted to see him again, they should hang a white towel on the clothes line. If there were no white towel on the line that meant that they did not want to see him, and he would just keep riding on the train and not get off.
Well, the day came, and as the train rounded the corner toward his parents’ home, he strained his neck to see if there was a white towel on the wash line. When he got closer, he saw the parents’ house. What a surprise! Not only was there a white towel on the line, but everything white in the house was hanging on the line -- white pillow cases, white sheets, white shirts, blouses, and dresses. Not only was there one white towel, there were wash lines full of everything white that the family could find in the house. And so, the young man got off the train….
That is how extravagant God’s love and forgiveness is for you and for me.
14th Sunday after Pentecost September 6, 2020
Scriptures: Old Testament: Psalm 119:33-40;
Epistle: Romans 13:8-14; Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20
Meditation Title: “Building Walls or Building Bridges?”
I personally watch very little television; it’s just not for me. However, sometimes later in the evening, I will watch some of the old re-runs of The Twilight Zone or The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. They have some very interesting vignettes of mystery stories. In one similar story, this group of people were here on earth one minute and in the next, they were in some far-off, mysterious place. They were in some imaginative, remote place in some other time. The people kept asking, “Where are we?” “Why are we in this place?” “What is our purpose here?” “What are we supposed to do?” In the midst of all these unanswered questions, one of the actors noticed some building materials and some concrete blocks. They all say, “That’s what we are here for – to build something!” However, they did not know what they were to build. One suggested a swimming pool. Another one wanted to build a clubhouse. And yet, another wanted to build a hospital or clinic. Just then, they observed that they were not alone in this imaginary place, but that there were other people there also. Immediately, fear took over, and they proceeded to build a high wall to protect themselves and to keep the others out! The more they built the wall, the more they became afraid of the “outside” people. Finally, they built this huge, insurmountable wall. At that point, they noticed a “stranger” headed their way. The stranger tells them that he is an architect and builder, and that he had blueprints that are supposed to show them what to build. The architect/builder sees what they have built, and he tells them that they have it all wrong. They were not to build a wall around themselves. They were supposed to build a bridge – a bridge to bring the people together, not a wall to keep them out.
Now, let’s take an inward look at our lifestyles. Is it our nature to build walls or is it our nature to build bridges? Do we go around criticizing and spreading seeds of disharmony (in other words building walls) OR do we try to be caring and spreading seeds of harmony, (in other words building bridges?) Do we like to agitate and irritate others (building walls) OR do we possess a soothing, calming spirit (building bridges?) Do we like to pick out other’s faults (building walls) OR do we try to affirm others’ accomplishments (building bridges?) What kind of a person are we really? Again, do we build bridges to bring people together in harmony or are we building walls of disharmony and division?
The bottom line of our Gospel lesson this morning is: If we earnestly seek to build bridges, if we earnestly seek to live in harmony with others, if we earnestly seek to lift up the good in others, then, Jesus IS in our midst. For Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, THERE I am also.”
In truth that is what the church should be all about. The church, at its best, fosters a sense of community among people who may come from different backgrounds and who may even hold different ideas or thoughts. We, in the church, did not choose each other, No! But once we are together in fellowship, it is our responsibility to be a caring, loving community.
Yes, we need one another. It’s comforting to know that in times of need, we can lean on others and readily feel their support in the church and in our lives. That is why we need to be accepting of others, regardless of our differing thoughts and ideas. If there is a difference of opinions, we need to earnestly reconcile with each other; then, Jesus IS in our midst.
Evidently, in Jesus time, there was disharmony in his religious community. That is why this scripture passage was evidently written. Down through the ages, the church has always had to deal with disagreeing thoughts. However, by the grace and power of the living Christ, we can overcome our disagreements. Rev. Roland Pantermuehl once commented, “The church has existed in spite of its people!” We are God’s people. We are his family. We Christians are all family. I know that sometimes that is hard to believe, but it is true. Therefore, we should always strive for peace, harmony, and unity. If there is strife or disagreement, we must make peace, climb the wall, and build the bridge.
We need one another. More importantly, we need to know that Christ is in our midst – “where two or three have gathered in my name.” Therefore, let us join hands and hearts in unity and love. Then truly, Christ is in our midst.
13th Sunday after Pentecost August 30, 2020
Scriptures: Old Testament: Psalm 26:1-8;
Epistle: Romans 12:9-21; Gospel: Matthew 16:21-28
Meditation Title: “There Is a Hunger in All of Us for Something Better in Life.”
I learned to drive at a very young age. With my grandparents’ farm, there was always a tractor or truck or whatever to drive. I was operating vehicles when I could barely reach the pedals or see over the steering wheel. I am sure that a lot of you can identify with that. When it came to Drivers’ Ed., I had long been driving. One of my best attributes was, and still is, parallel parking. Sharon never could get over the fact that I could parallel park a car in a small space and only have a couple of feet between the car in front and the car in the back. But now, have you seen the Buick car commercial where the young teenager is taking a driving test to get his drivers’ license, and it comes to the point of parallel parking? The test proctor tells the young man to parallel park, and the teenager just pushes a button on the dash, and the vehicle automatically parallel parks with no effort from the driver! We even have cars now days that can be programmed to drive to a certain location WITHOUT a driver! Uber has some of those vehicles to transport people. All you have to do is sit back and let it go. Well, I suspect that many of us like to live our lives like that.
We don’t want to put much effort into those things that help us make the best of life. “Que sera, sera, whatever will be will be…” (like the lines of the old song) … just sit back and let life go. However, my friends, there is a hunger in all of us for something better in life. All of us get so caught up in life, doing this, doing that, watching out for the unexpected, guarding, protecting – especially in these day with the COVID-19 Coronavirus. Life is impacting us from all sides. Remember the old pin-ball machines that entertainment businesses used to have? Well, we feel like the steel ball being bounced around from one target to another. With so much going on in our busy lives today, we faintly hear Jesus’ call to follow him for a meaningful, fulfilling life. Truly, we spend so much time every day running here, running there, doing this, that, and the other, and we spend so little time with what is most important, and that is, tending to and feeding our spiritual lives.
In essence, we get so busy living our lives and meeting all the deadlines that we get used to living a second-rate life. To compound all of this, we are living in the days of a pandemic where over 30 per cent of people are truly suffering from some type of medical, mental depression. And thus, the question for us today is: Isn’t it time for us to seek a better way of life – to seek excellence in living? Yes, truly, we need to take out time for those things in life that are rejuvenating and regenerating. Maybe, we need to put less effort into running all the bases in the world and put more effort into our spiritual lives which is really what gives meaning, importance, and purpose to our daily living.
What are we looking for in life? In life, we need something solid to hold onto. In everyday living we need “that something” that will give our lives stability as we go through all the valleys and hills of life. We need a way of life that will help us raise our families productively and keep families together. We need a way of life that will help us relate to our neighbors – which sometimes is hard to do! We need something to help us get “in touch” with ourselves, relate to ourselves, and find out who we truly are. Sometimes, often-times, we are looking in all the wrong places!
Jesus, the Master Teacher, has the answer to our life’s dilemma. He says, “Come to me all of you who are burdened and heavy-laden, and I will give you life.” These are words from our Holy Communion Service. Jesus says, “Come to me if you want a good life, for I have the words of life.” He assures us that in all circumstances, He will give us comfort, strength, meaning, and purpose in life. “For to live in me, is life,” says our Lord.
However, we follow the luring of the world. The world tells us that we can find happiness and joy in amassing more and more possessions, regardless of how far we go into debt. Society says that we should try to own more and have bigger, better paying jobs, etc. However, all this really cannot bring us happiness; it just brings us more worries and headaches. That is what Jesus was talking about in our Gospel Lesson when he said, “What does it profit a person if he/she gains the whole world, but loses his/her own life.” And so, we need to be faithful and listen to his call.
So, we need to ask ourselves the question: Are we channeling our energy toward Jesus and the wholeness and fulness of life that He can offer, OR are we channeling all of our energy into the expectations of family, jobs, and the wishes of the world? We need to think and pray about this. If we truly want life, good life now and eternal life later, we need to follow and make time to strengthen our faith and trust in Jesus the Christ. Let us take up our cross and follow Him.