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2023 ADVENT & CHRISTMAS SERMONS
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Waiting

Pastor Cheryl Hoffman's sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, Dec. 10, 2023

Readings: Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15; Mark 1:1-8.

 

Hurry up and wait. I would be willing to bet real money that every single person

in this room has spoken these words at least once. WAIT is a four-letter word,

and for many people it is as offensive and foul as other more notorious four-letter words.

 

Studies show that the average 70-year-old person has devoted 2 to 3 entire years of their life

to waiting. That’s a lot of waiting.

 

For what do we spend 26,280 hours waiting? We wait in line at the grocery store. We wait to be seen by the doctor. We wait nine months to be born and then at the end of life we wait to die. We wait in traffic. We wait on the phone. We wait at check-in and security lines at the airport. We wait for the cold water to get hot and the hot water to get cold. We wait for the gas tank to fill up and for the elevator to come down. We wait for nails to dry and hair to set. We wait at railroad, pedestrian, school and duck crossings. We wait for popcorn to pop, pies to bake, water to boil, bread to rise. We wait for plants to grow, leaves to fall, and snow to melt.

 

Wait, wait, wait! Sometimes it seems like waiting is all we do. And, no matter how virtuous patience may be, waiting patiently is still an oxymoron. We may have come to accept the fact that waiting is a given part of life, but few have come to appreciate the skill of graceful waiting.

 

Our on-demand society has done little to foster the art of waiting. We used to wait to have our pictures developed, but now the picture appears instantly. We used to have to wait in line to see a movie, now they are available on-demand with Netflix. We used to have to wait on the US postal service to deliver our mail, now we text our every thought. ATM’s, 24-hour convenience stores, Curbside check-in, self-checkouts, cell phones – all designed to cut back on the amount of time we must wait.

 

Has all this talk about waiting started to work on your nerves like actual waiting does? Are you frustrated, irritated, or anxious? Is your heart pounding a little louder, your jaw clenching a little tighter? Are you fighting looking at your watch – again? Do you wish you had a horn to blast?

 

This IS what waiting does to us, is it not? Nobody has anything positive to say about waiting. This is what hurry up and wait means. It gets us nowhere fast.

 

But in 1970 somebody challenged this negative idea of waiting. Imagine the scene: A teenager runs into the house in football gear, runs up the stairs, a moment later runs back down the stairs buttoning the shirt of his work uniform. Having reached the bottom of the stairs, he races into the kitchen and slides into the last chair at the dining room table, nearly taking out the family dog. In a blur we have caught an image of the dinner that waits for him – a nice thick juicy hamburger that dominates an open face bun.

At this point the scene switches to slow motion as the teen grabs for something unseen. We can tell he has twisted off a top to something. Then the camera, as if it were the eyes of the lad, begins to slowly look upward. All eyes come to rest on the small opening of the bottle. As the camera pulls back to reveal the one product that has been able to slow down this child whirlwind we hear the words of a Carly Simon song: “Anticipation is making me wait.”

 

Do you remember those Heinz ketchup commercials? The problem that required one to wait for the ketchup to come down out of the bottle was really a design flaw, but some clever wizard turned this excruciatingly slow irritation into a marketing hook, declaring some things are worth the wait. These ads implied that sometimes, despite wait’s four-letter reputation, waiting is not for naught.

 

The author of today’s epistle lesson from 2nd Peter is also trying to change our opinion and ideas about having to wait, especially as it relates to waiting for the second coming of the Lord.

 

First, we are told that our concept of time is all wrong. With the Lord, one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. This is meant as a figure of speech and not a literal calculation, so don’t go trying to figure out how old you are in God-years. But, we can use this idea to give us some perspective.

 

Remember those three years we said a 70-year-old spends waiting? In God’s timing that amounts to all of 18 seconds. And the whole 70 years of your life is less than a two-hour blink of an eye. So, you see, when you consider the bigger picture, waiting is truly an insignificant act. It certainly is not worth getting upset about.

 

The author of 2nd Peter goes on to say that not only is our sense of timing wrong, so is our entire concept of what it means to wait. We think of waiting as something we HAVE to do. We also tend to believe that waiting has no purpose, except to irritate and delay us. But, for God, waiting is an opportunity.

 

The text says, “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”

 

The reason we continue to wait for the Lord to return as promised is not because God is slow or delayed, but because the longer the wait, the more people there are who have an opportunity to repent and be saved.

 

You see, God is more concerned about people than he is about meeting somone’s, even his own, time schedule. And, maybe, just maybe, it’s not we who are waiting on God, but God who is waiting on us. If this is the case, then it’s we who are causing the delay of God’s return, and not God.

 

But whether we are waiting for God, or God is waiting for us, the theme of the day is still waiting. So, the author goes on to impress upon us that the wait, however long, is worth every nanosecond it takes for the Lord to return.

 

In accordance with God’s promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. It may take forever until God creates these new places of righteousness, but we’re warned that when the time comes for the switchover, it will happen in an instant, the blinking of an eye, like a thief in the night. The anticipation of such a wonder, of both place and process, is truly what keeps us waiting with bated breath, even these two thousand years later.

 

And so, we wait, and we wait. For how long? No one knows. I always wondered how it is that no one, not even Jesus himself, knows the time of his return. But, today’s lesson from 2 Peter may offer explanation. Hidden there in verse 11 and 12 among the awkward, apocalyptic words, the author talks about not only waiting for the coming day of God, but also of hastening the coming of the day of God.

 

To hasten: to make something happen more quickly. Have you ever thought about the idea that what we do while we are waiting on God, or while God is waiting on us, could actually shorten our wait?

 

So often we talk about God’s timing as if it’s totally beyond our control. God’s timing, we believe, makes us passive victims, or bystanders. God will do what God wants to do, when God wants to do it. In the meantime, we must wait it out.

 

But this isn’t what today’s text implies. The text says that by leading lives of holiness and godliness, lives of peace, without blemish, lives steeped in patience for the Lord’s return, hastens the coming of the day that we so long for. Maybe we are not IN control when it comes to God, but apparently God has given us some say, or at least an opportunity to sway the hands of the clock.

 

This may be a scary thought for those that are counting on God to have everything under control when all of life seems out of control, but it can also be an empowering thought. It means what we do in life matters. Maybe our good works can’t earn our salvation, but perhaps they can do something to hasten the salvation of the world.

 

How is that for a new understanding of what it means to wait for the Lord?

 

Of course, we still must wait. But as you wait, whether it’s in line, or for an answer to prayer, or for your glorious resurrection, or for the second coming, perhaps we could focus not on the delay of the wait but on the power to make a difference.

 

Smile at the baby crying behind you in line. Say a prayer for the driver sitting in front of you at the green light or the four drivers that just went through the red light, preventing you from being able to get through the intersection. Write a letter, instead of an email. Forgive an old grievance. Treat people as if they are more important than your schedule or agenda.

 

It may just be that it’s not we who are waiting for God to make it right, but God who is waiting for us to get it right. Amen.
 

© 2023, The Rev. Cheryl Lynn Hoffman. All rights reserved.

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Christmas Music Already?

Pastor Cheryl Hoffman's sermon for Christ the King Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023

Readings: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 95:1-7; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46.

So, two weeks ago, a whole week before Thanksgiving, I was with the Lunch Bunch at the Tai House in South Glastonbury. I was working my way through the menu when I heard it.

I stopped, cocked my head to one side and listened more intently, just to be sure. Yep, I had heard correctly.

“You have got to be kidding,” I said.

And Betsy asked me, “What?”

“They are playing Christmas music!” It wasn’t obnoxious Christmas music, not “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” or “Last Christmas,” my absolutely, most hated Christmas song. It was a quiet, simple, instrumental melody, but it was still Christmas music!

I know the Thai House wasn’t the only restaurant, or store, playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving. I don’t listen to music radio, so I can’t comment on those, but I’m sure some of them were playing Christmas sing-along music, too.

I don’t expect the consumer world to abide by the liturgical calendar, allowing four weeks for Advent and 12 days for Christmas, but a little respect for the sacred would be nice. If you can’t wait until after Thanksgiving, at least wait until the week OF Thanksgiving.

As you can tell, this obscenely early playing of Christmas music is one of my pet peeves. I’m not a scrooge, or an ogre. It’s just that life goes by fast enough as it is. I don’t want to be rushed and pushed through time, just so retail businesses can beat last year’s record sales.

Now, all this having been said, you may find the rest of this sermon to be somewhat ironic, perhaps even humorous. But I believe the saying is, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” So, here it goes.

Today we celebrate Christ the King, the fulfillment of the ultimate promise of God, who is the alpha and omega, the source, the ending of the things that are, that have been, and that future years shall see evermore and evermore. It is the promise to reclaim authority over heaven and earth, and all that was, and is, and is to come. But, to understand Christ the King, we must go back some 48 weeks, or so, to the bleak mid-winter of December a number of years ago.

"Once, long, long ago, in royal David’s city, in the hopeless time of sin, when shadows deep had fallen; all the world lay under death, and eyes were closed in sleeping; and all seemed lost in night."

"There came a heavenly chorus harking forth the song of gladness, 'The savior comes, the savior, promised long; let every heart prepare a throne, and every voice a song.' Glory to the newborn king. Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners now reconciled.”

“O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant; o come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem,” they sang. “Joyful all you nations rise; join the triumph of the skies. Sing choirs of angels, sing in exultation, sing all ye citizens of heaven above ‘Glory to God in the highest.’ Let all together praise our God before the highest throne. Today God opens heaven again and sends the only son, and sends the only son.”

“What, what child is this, who lay to rest on Mary’s lap is sleeping; whom angels greet with anthem sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping? Why lies he in such mean estate, where ox and ass are feeding?”

“Not by human flesh and blood, but by the mystic breath of God was the Word of God made flesh; fruit of woman blossom fresh. This, this is Christ. Christ by highest heaven adored. Christ the ever lasting lord—offspring of a virgin’s womb, veiled in flesh, the godhead see. Hail the incarnate deity, pleased as man with us to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.”

“This, this is Christ, the king, whom shepherds guard and angels sing. Haste, haste to bring him laud, the babe, the son of Mary. O come, let us adore him, o come, let us adore him, Christ the lord.”

“Now all earth is hopeful, the savior comes at last. Now the bud has come to bloom, and the world awakens. He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love.”

“He shows the father none has ever seen in flesh and blood. He is the star as bright as day, that will never lead astray, with his message so appealing, the word of God revealing, Christ the way the truth, the life. Christ the way, the truth, the life.”

“He is the rock of our belief, the heart of mercy’s gentle self. To all who live in holy fear, his mercy ever flows. With mighty arm he’ll dash the proud, their scheming hearts expose. The ruthless he has cast aside, the lowly throned instead; the hungry filled with all good things, the rich sent off unfed. Truly he taught us to love one another, his law is love and his gospel is peace, chains shall he break for the slave is our brother, and in his name all oppression shall cease.”

“God Christian fear, for sinners here the silent Word is pleading. Nails, spear shall pierce him through, the cross be borne for me, for you.”

“He bore our griefs and pains, in bread and wine he visits us again. How else could we have known him, how else could we have loved him, how else could we embrace him?”

“We hail you as our savior lord, our refuge and our great reward, without your grace we waste away, like flowers that wither and decay. Stretch forth your hand, our health restore, and make us rise to fall no more. Oh, let your face upon us shine, and fill the world with love divine.”

“Be near us lord Jesus, we ask you to stay, close by us forever and love us we pray. Bless all the dear children in your tender care, and fit us for heaven to live with you there."

“O savior, child of Mary, who felt our human woe, O savior, King of Glory, who dost our weakness know, bring us at length we pray, to the bright courts of heaven, and into endless day.”

“Then you beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low, who toil along the climbing way, with painful steps and slow; look now for glad and golden hours, come swiftly on the wing, oh, rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing: Joy to the world, the lord is come, let earth receive her king, let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.”

“God’s people see him coming, your own eternal king. Palm branches, strew before him, spread garments, shout and sing. God’s promise will not fail you, no more shall doubt assail you; hosanna to the lord, for he fulfills god’s word.”

“Not as of old, a little child to bear, and fight, and die, but crowned with glory, like the sun that lights the morning sky.”

“Good Christian friends rejoice, with heart and soul and voice. Now ye hear of endless bliss, Jesus Christ was born for this. He has opened heaven’s door, and we are blessed for ever more, Christ was born for this, Christ was born for this. Mild, he lay his glory by; born that man no more may die; born to raise the sons of earth; born to give them second birth.”

“Then our glad hosannas, prince of peace, your welcome shall proclaim, and heaven’s eternal arches ring, with your beloved name. Hail the son of righteousness, hail the heaven born prince of peace. And with all creation, we will join in praising God, the father, spirit, son, ever more our voices raising to the eternal three in one. Come and worship, come and worship, come and worship, Christ the King of Kings.”

“Then saints who here in patience, their cross and suffering bore, shall live and reign forever, when sorrow is no more, around the throne of glory, the lamb they shall behold, in triumph cast before him, their diadems of gold.”

“And, every nation, its tribute, too, may bring. All lands will bow before him, their voices join in singing, ‘Hosanna to the Lord, for he fulfills God’s word.’ O come, let us adore him, O come, let us worship him, Christ the King of Kings.”

Amen.

© 2023, The Rev. Cheryl Lynn Hoffman. All rights reserved.

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Don't Send Them Away, Feed Them

Pastor Cheryl Hoffman's sermon for August 6, 2023.

Readings: Isaiah 55:1-5; Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21.

The subtitle for today’s gospel text in my Bible is: “Feeding of the 5,000.”

 

In my commentary it is: The first feeding. For the pastors’ pericope study, we simply called this text “Loaves and Fishes.” And, the Jewish community refers to it as “Bagels and Lox.”

Regardless of which title you choose, the focus is usually on the miraculous multiplication that enables 5,000 people to be fed with 5 loaves and 2 fish. Even the church in Israel, which sits on the traditional site of the activities recorded in today’s text, is called the Church of the Multiplication.

 

Don’t get me wrong, this text is not an inconsequential story. I could not feed 5,000 people, regardless of how much bread or meat I had. The day’s events, recorded in Matthew, are a miracle. I would not want to declare or explain otherwise. But the more I read the text, the more it seems the miracle feeding is not the ending grace, but the means to an even larger grace.

 

Close your eyes for a minute, imagine yourself as one of the disciples (well, maybe closing your eyes is a bad idea during the sermon). Ok, with your eyes open, imagine you’re one of the twelve disciples. You’ve been personally chosen and called by Jesus to leave your family and way of life to follow him.

That was a year or two ago. During this time, you’ve heard Jesus speak on just about every topic mentioned in the law of Moses. You’ve seen him perform just about every miracle imaginable. There’s no doubt in your mind that he is indeed the promised Messiah. And you are his disciple, not because you sought out Jesus, but because he sought you! He’s shared the meaning of the parables with you; he’s given you power over evil spirits and diseases; he’s eaten with you, worked with you, goofed off with you.. You are like family, maybe even closer.

 

Every so often you think, “Jesus made the right choice in asking me to be his disciple, and I made the right choice in accepting.” There’s just one problem —— well, ok, about 5,000 problems, forming themselves into one crowd wherever you go.

 

At first you didn’t mind because, by way of association, you were part of who and what they were coming to see. You walked a little taller, and felt a little prouder, knowing you were part of the inner circle of leadership. But, over the last year, the crowds have grown. And, with John the Baptist’s death, they seem to have doubled. It used to be, you had some remote places to gather privately and recapture the family intimacy.

 

But now, the people gather at the lake shore and try to beat you to the other side. They even follow you up into the remote distant hills. No place seems to offer the opportunity for rest anymore.

 

Today is just too much. There are more people than ever before, and they are swarming about like a plague of locust. You and the other disciples decide it’s time to take a stand. After all, Jesus chose you, not them. Surely the crowd should be able to sense they’ve overstayed their welcome. Besides, it’s dinner time, and it’s rude to invite yourself, let alone all your neighbors, to another’s table, even if it’s just a blanket on a remote hillside.

 

So together, you tell Jesus just that. “Send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”

 

His response isn’t exactly what you expected. “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” The essence of the whole text is contained in this one sentence: “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”

 

It slips right by the disciples. They jump straight to the practical matter of HOW? How can we possibly divide so small an amount of food among so many people? If I were a disciple, Jesus’ response would have slipped by me, too, but I’d forget about HOW and ask WHY? Why should we feed them, all they ever do is take from you? You can’t even mourn the death of your cousin by yourself. Why not let them do something for themselves for a change? Let them go get their own food.

 

Funny, or not so funny, as the case may be, I hear that same line of questioning all the time.

 

People are always asking of the homeless and persons on welfare, “Why are they so lazy? Why don’t they get a job?” Or, people ask of the hungry nations, “Why don’t they grow their own food? Why don’t they use their resources more effectively?” Or people ask of the poor, “Why don’t they learn to manage their money? Why do they buy luxuries, like TVs, or pets, instead of basic needs?” Or, people ask of the oppressed, “Why don’t they stand up for themselves? Why don’t they rise up against their oppressors?”

 

We are still very firm believers in helping others, only after they help themselves. After all, we mistakenly believe, somewhere it must be written, “God only helps those who help themselves.”

 

Our biblical misconceptions aside, we believe this way for very practical reasons. We are each only one person, and so many people need help. There are only 24 hours in a day, we only make so much money. We only have five loaves and two fish. Send them away.

 

Yet Jesus says, “Bring what you have, sit.” And, after speaking a blessing, he gave food to all, and they were filled. It’s an echo of the Isaiah text, “Come, listen carefully, eat, and delight yourselves.” It is a foretaste of the meal we share today. “Come for all is ready, this is my body, this is my blood; eat; drink, and be satisfied.”

 

The invitation from today’s text is to come, sit, listen. Don’t worry about how much, or how little, we have, for it will be enough.

 

Jesus, the Messiah, is full of compassion. He offers no objections, accepts no excuses, neither those offered against you, nor those you offer on your own behalf.

 

He extends his hands and invites you to come. Take, and eat, that which is given for you. Be renewed, refreshed, restored in body and in Spirit. And, by doing so, you will be part of the miracle that enables a multitude of thousands to be fed by one body.

 

You need not go away. You need not leave hungry. Come, for all is ready. Amen.

© 2023, The Rev. Cheryl Lynn Hoffman. All rights reserved.

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What to Take to a Desert Island

Pastor Cheryl Hoffman's Sermon from July 30, 2023.

Readings: 1 Kings 3:5-12; Psalm 119: 129-136; Romans 8:26-39;

                  Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52.

 

I remember listening to a program on NPR called “Desert Island Discs.” On the original BBC program, each week, the host asked a well-known person: “if you were to be cast away alone on a desert island, which eight gramophone records would you choose to have with you, assuming of course, that you had a gramophone, and an inexhaustible supply of needles.”  That was in 1941.

By the time I heard the show, I think the number was 10, and the castaways had graduated from gramophone records to CDs.

Also, by this time, they were given the choice of one inanimate luxury (cafe lattes were the most popular request) and the choice of a book, other than the complete works of Shakespeare, and the appropriate religious book for their belief system, which would automatically be provided for them.

 

I lead with this story because, if I were stranded on a desert island, and could have only 10 passages of scripture, today’s reading from Romans would be on that list. In fact, I think if I could only have one passage, it might be this text.

 

Perhaps you think I would want the resurrection as my one text. But, the resurrection speaks to me of a future hope, even though it has an important truth for us here and now. The resurrection assures us that life conquers death, and love wins. I believe this with all my heart, so much so that this is not the text of which I need to be remindedon a desert island.

 

In fact, I’ve taken more than one trip to a desert island over the years. The isle of loneliness, the isle of anger, the isle of depression, the isle of grief (that one is especially vast and deserted, and I still find myself on its shores from time to time).

 

Maybe you recognize some of these desert islands, or have visited others: the island of abuse, the isle of injustice, the island of regret, the isle of betrayal, the island of chronic pain or illness, the isle of broken dreams, the islands of lost hope and doubt.

 

These are not islands with palm trees, white sand, a hammock, or drinks with little umbrellas in them. There are no perfect temperatures or lapping gentle waves. These are honest-to-goodness desert islands which isolate us, requiring us to use, or develop, survival skills, or risk dying, among rocks and crushing waves of the shore, or brutal heat and wind-whipped sand by day, or teeth-chattering cold at night.

 

These are the moments in life which so shake us, we no longer know what to do. We might even forget to breathe were it not automatic. And, even if we know what to do, we might not know how to make it happen, or be able to do it on our own.

 

In these times, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

 

Thank goodness for the Holy Spirit, who can do for us that which we cannot do for ourselves, at the time we need it the most. I want to be reminded of this, when I’m on a desert island.

 

And, when the chips are down, I want to know all things work together for good, for those who love God. These words are always so hard to swallow in the middle of the desert. They can usually only be understood in hindsight. It doesn’t mean the desert island is good, but that God can, over time, transform the desert into an oasis, or, at the very least, provide a way off the island.

 

I read this week of a family who gave birth to a severely cognitive, developmentally disabled daughter. They were unprepared, with few resources to address such severe disabilities. They felt marooned, as they struggled to care for her and her three older siblings. Now, two and a half decades later, their desert island has become a thriving ministry of respite care, with 150 staff members and countless volunteers, for other families who have members with a cognitive disability.

 

Was it good their daughter was born with a cognitive disability? No.

 

Did being people of faith prevent them from being marooned on a desert island? No.

 

Did God work good through their desert island experience? Yes.

 

And, their experience transformed into an oasis for others. It was a lot of work , and it always is. Good work brings about hope and new life, but it’s always work.

 

And, if God is for us, who is against us? Of course, when you’re on a desert island, it’s easy to question whether even God is for us. In the midst of the battle, we may muse, “If this is how God treats his friends, no wonder he has so many enemies. No wonder the church is in such a rapid decline.”

 

But, it’s never God who maroons us. In fact, we are never cast away, abandoned to fend for ourselves on whatever dreadful island we land. For who will separate us from the love of Christ?

 

Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No. In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

 

I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor desert islands, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

These are the words we need to hear when all feels hopeless; when we feel lost, doomed, abandoned and stranded, in the middle of nowhere without a lifeboat, or rescue vessel, in sight. No matter how bad, how desperate, how difficult life gets, the Spirit is always praying for us,

 

God is always on our side, working toward goodness, and nothing can diminish, destroy, or revoke God’s love for us.

 

Let no one tell you otherwise. Amen.

© 2023, The Rev. Cheryl Lynn Hoffman. All rights reserved.

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You've Got Mail...You've Got the Words of God

Pastor Cheryl Hoffman's Sermon from July 16, 2023

Readings: Isaiah 55:10-13; Psalm 65:1-13; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23.

As Lutherans, we believe faith is a gift, that we cannot, by our own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ, or come to Him, but that it is the Holy Spirit who calls to us through God’s word and keeps us in the true faith.

Many of us have then wondered, if faith is a gift, why hasn’t God given this wonderful gift to everyone? Why has the Holy Spirit been choosey?

I think today’s parable speaks to these questions. And, it pretty much says God flings the gift of faith far and wide, and the Holy Spirit is anything but stingy. But, other things get in the way. Weeds, sun, rocks, birds, soil quality, bunnies, torrential rain, circumstances, temptations, people themselves, all impact the gift.

 

It’s like this. There was a very conscientious and faithful mail carrier. She knew the mail in her satchel varied in importance, but she delivered it all with the same careful handling expected of packages marked "fragile".

 

At the top of the list, in volume, and at the bottom of the list in importance, was mail that would never get opened. Fliers and advertisements, credit card applications, sweepstake entries, and some catalogs. The unsolicited mail, most of which has "or Current Resident" in the address box.

There may be an occasional legitimate bargain, but on the whole, it’s a waste of paper. The carrier knows this and there are days she would like to ditch such mail. It makes her bag heavy and her customers sigh, but she keeps putting it in the boxes. You never know when a flyer will advertise a 50% off sale on just the right item, or when that sweepstakes entry will turn into a congratulations you have won certificate.

There are other kinds of unsolicited mail that doesn't quite fit the junk mail category. These are things such as church newsletters, frequently shopped-from catalogs and special notices from favored companies.

This mail may, or may not, be opened. The decision to open is often based upon the recipient’s mood and time schedule. Even so, most of this, also, unsolicited mail will end up in the recycling bin. The mail carrier knows this is, in no way, a reflection on her.

Then, there’s the necessary mail. This mail is expected, but it’s often disliked as much as the unwanted junk mail. Bills, bank statements, renewal notices, appointment reminders, tax forms and the like, fall into this category.

Most of these items will be kept, at least, until the end of the month. Some, however, will be filed and kept for years. It’s not because the recipient wants to keep it, but because they have to. In good times, such mail is a necessary evil. At other times, it can be burdensome and overbearing, even choking.

 

There’s also mail which arrives at the mailbox because the recipient has, in one way or another, asked for it. Magazine subscriptions, inquiry responses from companies, organizations and individuals, and information from mailing lists, for which recipients have voluntarily and knowingly signed up.

 

Most of this mail is welcomed and appreciated. Some of this mail will even escape the trash bag. Yet the carrier knows even though we may look forward to such directly sent mail, it doesn't generate the same responses as the unexpected just-for-you mail.

 

This is the mail carriers, and recipients alike, long to be delivered. Announcements, letters, invitations, and cards arriving in our mailboxes from friends and family. It requires a stamp and much of the mail meant just-for-you continues to be hand-written.

 

Sometimes such mail celebrates or announces happy occasions and events. Other times it expresses condolences and sorrow. The best of these are "just dropping you a line" notes from long time, now distant, friends. This is the mail that makes us laugh, cry, reminisce, and feel alive inside. This is the mail that makes our day, and keeps the mail carrier glad to come back day after day.

 

Hear then the parable of the mail. The word of God is like the mail we receive. Once the Word of God has been delivered, it can be, and often is, ignored and tossed out without a glance or scan of consideration.

 

There are times, however, when even though the Word of God was not solicited, it will be pondered, at least for a little while. But after a while, the recipients soon decide to toss it out along with the other unsolicited words of advice and values for life.

 

The Word of God is regularly delivered to some, because they are expected to sit, and listen to it, week after week, whether they want to or not. After a while, the words become so familiar it’s impossible not to remember some of them.

 

Yet, while these words are recorded in memory banks, they are rarely recalled, or examined. The arrival of a life crisis may be the exception. But in general, the Words of God, received as a necessary evil, continue to sit in storage, effectively tossed aside.

 

The Word of God is delivered to others because they ask to hear it, or because they willingly place themselves in a scenario in which God's word is read, spoken and proclaimed. The Words of God received in this atmosphere are embraced, and carefully pondered.

 

The Words of God delivered this way are often welcomed, even if they aren’t always understood. These words of God take root, and await the day they might burst forth with joy, love, hope and faith.

 

But, there’s still another way the Words of God can be delivered, heard, and experienced. These are the times in which God's words cause our lives to bubble over, and our hearts to scream, “Eureka!” They come to us in surprising ah-ha moments when we least expect it, but are in our greatest time of need.

 

Such words of God are savored, read, re-read and recited, time and time again. They’re tucked away in our hearts, and shared with our friends and family. These words make a difference in our lives. They make our day, and keep us coming back to God, through the Bible and church and prayer, day after day.

 

God desires to deliver such, just for you, messages in Word and Sacrament, every time you hear and partake. He knows not every word he sends your way will be so gladly received, but he will never stop sending you his love letters. Until his words have accomplished God’s intent, every person on earth will receive the words of love and forgiveness.

 

Let all of us who have ears, listen and receive.  Amen.

© 2023, The Rev. Cheryl Lynn Hoffman. All rights reserved.

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Freedom

Pastor Cheryl Hoffman's sermon, July 2, 2023.

Readings: Jeremiah 28:5-9; Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42.

 

On Tuesday we will celebrate Independence Day. On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence,

thus officially breaking from English rule. The day the document was actually signed was two days earlier, and accordingly, John Adams thought July 2 was the country’s genuine birthday. He refused to participate in Fourth of July celebrations the rest of his life. Ironically, he died July 4, 1826, as did Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration’s primary author.

Today’s lesson from Romans talks to us about freedom and being free, but not as we are used to thinking of these terms. When we speak of freedom, we talk of being free from something, like the freedom from other’s rules allowing us to do whatever we want. This is the kind of freedom we say we fought and fight for.

 

Paul would agree that there was a fight for our freedom, but that fight was waged and won by Jesus Christ. The result of the fight is we are set free from sin. The sign of freedon comes to us, not through a flag, but through baptism, and a cross on our forehead. But, baptism does not set us free from the bondage of sin, so we can do whatever we want. No. In baptism, we are set free from sin, so we can be slaves to righteousness.

 

I know! That sounds totally wrong. Freedom is supposed to mean “set free.” Well, it does, but there’s a difference between being set free FROM something, and being set free FOR something. At least, that’s as Paul understands freedom.

 

Paul believed we are all slaves, and will always be slaves. The question is to whom, or what, will we be enslaved? Will we be enclased to sin, the result of which is death, or will we live in the service of righteousness, the result of which is life.

 

Jesus’ death and resurrection, to which we are united in baptism, is what gives us the power to choose our master. Jesus gives us the freedom to live for ourselves, or to live for God. We must serve one. We cannot serve both. It’s not possible to serve two masters. We must choose one or the other.

 

And, this idea of living for ourselves, or for God, moves us into the gospel lesson for today.

 

With a nod to the upcoming holiday, perhaps you are familiar with Emma Lazarus' poem, The New Colossus.

   “Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

    With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

    Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
    A mighty woman with a torch,

    whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning,

    and her name Mother of Exiles.

   “From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome;

    her mild eyes command the air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

   “ ‘Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!’

    cries she With silent lips.”

   “ ‘Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
   “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

 

From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. And whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

 

In a word, this part of Jesus’ message to his disciples is about hospitality. The disciples are being sent out as ambassadors and those who receive their message and are found to be worthy hosts, we are told, will not lose their reward. But, what exactly does this mean?

 

Well, we can’t ever know exactly what Jesus meant, but we can hazard a guess. Jesus says we receive the reward of those we welcome. And in this case, when one welcomes a disciple, they also welcome Jesus, and thereby, they also welcome the Father. And, Jesus’ reward, and the reward of the Father? Eternal life.

 

But, what does it mean to welcome a disciple? Apparently, it means to do something as simple as offering a cup of water to a little one. That wasn’t as simple in Jesus’ day as it is for us. You couldn’t just reach in your refrigerator and grab a bottle of water, or turn on the tap and plop in some ice.

 

In Jesus day it meant finding a vessel, going to the well or cistern, drawing the water, returning quicky enough for the water to remain cool, but without sloshing it out all over, and then offering it to – not just anyone, but a little one. One like a child, one not counted as having much worth, or one who cannot pay you back. One without money in their purse, without shoes on their feet, with no staff or tunic, to sell or trade. One totally dependent on the kindness of others, like children, or the disciples Jesus was sending out.

 

But, this message seems to be for those out there, to whom the disciples are being sent. Why speak this message of hospitality to the disciples, themselves? Let’s remember, the named disciples are men. Men with jobs. Men used to providing for themselves, and their families. Men used to fighting over who is the greatest, not who is the least.

 

As proud individuals, they may have found it hard, or at least odd, to accept the hospitality of others. But, Jesus was pointing out that in so doing, they would allow the givers to share in their blessing.

 

Anyone who has given something to a little one, or to “one of the least of these” knows the truth of this passage, that in making the effort, to go even a little bit out of your way to be kind to someone who cannot pay you back, results in a blessing always greater than the gift given.

 

By the nature of our blessedness, we will likely most often be the giver of blessings. But, there are times when the tables are turned, whether it’s because Jesus sends us out with instructions to humble ourselves, or circumstances have humbled us. Either way, Jesus reminds us that to receive is not only a blessing, but a gift and blessing that we give.

 

This week we not only celebrate the 4th of July, but also the birthday of the Dalai Lama, born July 6, 1935. The Dalai Lama has said, “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness. Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

 

At a time and in a world where freedom has gone to our heads, let us choose to have God as our master, and offer kindness to whomever passes our way. Because kindness is always possible. Amen.

© 2023, The Rev. Cheryl Lynn Hoffman. All rights reserved.

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Jesus Loves Me

Pastor Cheryl Hoffman's sermon from June 25, 2023

Readings: Jeremiah 20:7-13. Psalm 69:7-18, Romans 6:1-11, Matthew 10:24-39.

 

The person who prepared our pastors’ pericope study for this week’s lessons said, “Maybe this would be a good week to start a sermon series on humor, food or animals in the Bible.”

 

I have to admit that on the feast-to-famine continuum of preach-able topics, today’s lessons plot a lot farther along the famine end of the line.

 

Poor Jeremiah is being violated by God, and his prophecies are consuming him from the inside out. And, in Matthew, the disciples are still receiving their instructions before being sent out to preach, cleanse, cure, cast out demons, and raise the dead. If you thought going out without any money, shoes or coat was bad in last week’s gospel, today there’s the threat of family strife and loss of life.

“Have no fear,” says Jesus, at least, not of those who can kill the body and not the soul.

 

But ,it’s OK to fear those who can kill both the soul and the body. Just don’t worry your precious little head, about the others. God cherishes you more than a flock of sparrows. God has your back. All is well.

 

Now, there is some good news, at least. Don’t be afraid of what might become of you, while you’re out there doing God’s work, because you mean the world to God, so God will take care of you.

 

A lot of people struggle with this truth, that they mean the world to God, that God would care so much about them He would know just how many hairs are (or, in some of cases, aren’t) on their heads.

 

You know this is a constantly changing number, right? We lose an average of between 50 and 100 strands of hair a day. And, we have between 800 and 1,300 hairs per square inch of scalp (as many as 2,200, according to some sources). There’s an average total of 100,000 hairs, more if you’re blonde, less if you’re a red head.

Medically reviewed by Cynthia Cobb, DNP, APRN, WHNP-BC, FAANP — By Jill Seladi-Schulman, Ph.D., 9/30/2019

 

My point is that everyone is different from everyone else, and everyone, in and of themselves, is also constantly changing. But, God continues to keep tabs, and never loses track of us, not even of something so insignificant as the number of hairs on our heads. That’s how much God loves you.

 

Every now and then, someone will say to me, “I don’t want to bother God. My problems don’t really matter. God’s got bigger things to deal with, like world peace or curing diseases or raising the dead. I don’t really want to bother God with my petty problems.”

 

My response? Bother God, you are not petty. You are God’s child. You matter. Yes, God knows what is happening in your life, but God wants to hear it from you. God wants to know what you want. God wants to hear what you think you need.

 

I believe one of our biggest faults is that we make God too small. We think God can only handle so many problems at one time. We think God can only hear, or answer, just so many prayers. We think God can only parent so many children. We think God can only care about so many precious little heads, and keep track of so many hairs.

 

But, if God can keep up with all the sparrows in the world. And, if God cares about which sparrows live, and when any given sparrow dies, then doesn’t it make sense that God cares so much more for you, who is worth many sparrows?

 

This is a simple truth, but it’s one we tend to gloss over as adults, and consign to children.

 

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong. We are weak but he is strong.”

 

We don’t mind singing “This little light of mine,” but “Jesus loves me?” That’s a bit much.

 

It’s this love Paul celebrates in Romans. This love washes away our sin, and gives us new life, not just on the day of our baptism, but every day, and multiple times a day.

 

After last week’s lengthy service I’m going to keep this one short, and simply encourage you to go around this week singing that children’s song, “Jesus loves me.” Set your watch, your timers. Sing it once an hour. Let the words wash over you, as did the waters of baptism. Let them sink in and water your soul.

 

Let there be no doubt. You are, indeed, a beloved child of God, worth every hair that is, or isn’t, on your head. Amen.

© 2023, The Rev. Cheryl Lynn Hoffman. All rights reserved.

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Mission Challenge

Pastor Cheryl Hoffman's sermon from Sunday, June 18, 2023.

Readings: Exodus 19:2-8, Psalm 100, Romans 5: 1-8, Matthew 9:35-10:23.

 

Two weeks ago, we heard the reading from the end of Mathew’s gospel. Do you remember the story? I told you then, it was the movie trailer for today’s worship service.

 

The resurrected Jesus appears to the eleven disciples and sends them out into all the world to what? To make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to obey everything that Jesus had commanded.

 

That commissioning was in Matthew chapter 28. It was a defining moment in the lives of the disciples. It gave them as clear a directive as ever God has given. But it was not the first time that Jesus sent the disciples out into the mission field.

Eighteen chapters, more than half a gospel earlier, Jesus sent the whole group of twelve out not just to proclaim the good news but also to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and to cast out demons.

 

Wouldn’t you have liked to have been on that mission trip? Only when we go on mission trips, we tend to pack our bags with stuff to take along with us. Stuff that will make us comfortable in a remote and foreign place. Shampoo, toothpaste, change of underwear, deodorant, shoes, socks, pillow.

 

But Jesus says, no, not this time. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff. Not even food, for a laborer deserves their food.

 

Imagine, if I said to you, “Before you leave today, empty your pockets, leave behind your purse, your wallet, your keys, your cell phone...” don’t worry, I’ll keep them safe until next week, “...I’ll let you keep your shoes and socks, but go out into the world of Glastonbury, and proclaim the good news of the gospel, cure what ails society, raise the distraught, cleanse the despised, restore the depressed and welcome those who have been cast aside. Find those who are worthy and stay with them. If the place is truly worthy, let your peace come upon it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. And come back next Sunday and tell me what great things God has done.”

 

Would you take me up on the challenge? No? But, I know there are a few of you still thinking about it. I had to think long and hard about whether I would volunteer for my own challenge.

I would want to change clothing first, because I don’t want to spend six days in a skirt, heels, and clerics. It’s just not practical. But, that’s the thing about ministry and mission work, regardless of where the mission field is, even here in Glastonbury. It’s rarely practical, and almost never convenient. And, almost always, Jesus is right (imagine that), it works best when we leave our baggage behind.

 

When we don’t have our stuff to preoccupy us, or to hide behind, or to distract us, our hands are open to reach out. We are available to fully focus on interacting with others. And, the best ministry, most healing, restoring, cleansing, raising and welcoming, comes through relationship building, taking the time to interact with others.

 

If I did take myself up on my mission challenge, I’d head for the Route 3 ramp, and hang out with Roy, and Denny, and those guys for the week, wherever they live. Let’s see, it’s summer, so wherever they’re pitching their tents, that’s the one place I’m certain is worthy of God’s peace.

 

Working for God is messy, sometimes smelly, costly, usually uncomfortable, and often difficult precisely because it requires interacting with others. But the one thing it’s not, is optional. And, if you happen to think you’re the exception to the rule, and can opt out, for whatever clever reason you’ve come up with, age, illness, income, schedule, other obligations, you’re wrong.

 

Listen very closely to end of today’s Sacrament of Baptism liturgy. Some of you know it by heart because it’s been drilled it into you. At the end, we will give Leo and Bea candles, and we will send them forth to – “let their lights shine before others, so that they may see their good works, and glorify their God in heaven.”

 

Leo and Bea may not know what this means, but it is our duty, parents and sponsors, to teach them what it means. This is the expectation of all who are baptized. It comes not from thin air, but from scripture, from Jesus in Matthew chapter 5, right after he says, don’t hide your light under a bushel basket.

 

As long as that light flickers, as long as there is life, whether you are 8 months, or 100 years old, it’s our call to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons.

 

“But pastor,” you say, “we are not miracle workers, and we don’t live among lepers, or encounter people possessed by demons.” I think you might be wrong, but even so, there are many sicknesses we can cure: loneliness, abandonment, insecurity, helplessness, fear.

 

And, we can raise those dying from addiction, depression, hopelessness, starvation and shame.

 

We can cleanse the wounds of those suffering from abuse, illness, and violence.

 

We can do our part to cast out the injustices and lies of racism, poverty, homelessness, and discrimination of all kinds.

 

“You received without payment, give without payment,” says Jesus. The loving gift of forgiving grace that is given to us in baptism is ours, totally free and clear. In this sacrament we become children of God, a truth that cannot be revoked.

 

Today, Jesus sends his disciples out to give away, in spades, what they have received. Freely give, as they have freely received. Light up the darkness of the world with the flickering flames of their candles.

 

Let’s accept Jesus’ call to go and commit anew, to letting our lights shine, so that others will see our good works, and glorify our Father in heaven. Amen.

© 2023, The Rev. Cheryl Lynn Hoffman. All rights reserved.

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Trinity

Pastor Cheryl Hoffman's sermon from Sunday, June 5, 2023.

Readings: Genesis 1:1-2:4, Psalm 8, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13, Matthew 28:16-20.

 

With Memorial Day comes the unofficial start to summer, which means it is time for the release of the summer blockbusters, which means the movie trailers have begun – or at least I assume they have. I don’t watch much TV, and when I do it is usually on the DVR, so I skip through the commercials, including all the movie trailers. So, I can’t even tell you which movies, good or bad, are scheduled to be released, or are even out in the theaters now, for that matter.

But, I can tell you to think of today as a trailer for the next worship service we’ll have in this space, on Sunday, June 18th.

 

Remember next Sunday we’ll worship with St. James, either on their lawn or in their sanctuary, depending on the weather.

 

Today is the day we celebrate the Holy Trinity. This Sunday comes at the end of the festival season of the church calendar, celebrating the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension, of Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior of the world. Or, you can say Holy Trinity Sunday is the beginning of the liturgical “ordinary” season. In "ordinary" time, all those green Sundays until Reformation Sunday, we focus on the teachings of Jesus.

 

But, for today, how do you celebrate a doctrine, a specific belief, such as the Holy Trinity? You can’t set up a creche, or plant a resurrection garden, or wear a headband with a flame to celebrate the Holy Trinity. And, that speaks to the nature and identity of a God we cannot see. A God we describe as three persons, but one God; the same, yet different; equal, of one being with the Father, through whom all things were made.

 

Over the years many people have tried to explain how we monotheists worship a triune God. Just as many have tried to explain how this triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is only one being. There are entire classes in seminary devoted to this, not to mention the many-volumed tomes written to explain this particular doctrine of our faith.

 

Most of us, however, skip over the theological mumbo jumbo, and settle for the simple analogies. There’s the image of water. At room temperature water is a liquid. Subject to extreme cold, the liquid turns to ice. When heated, water becomes steam. But, regardless of the physical state, it’s always H2O.

 

You might prefer the lemonade image. Lemonade requires water, sugar and some form of lemon juice. Mix the three ingredients together to make one drink, which cannot again be separated.

 

If you’re a relational person, you might better understand the concept that I am pastor to you, daughter to my parents and aunt to my niblings. I’m only one person, but I have several roles in life, and in each of those roles, I am a slightly different person.

 

If you prefer to SEE the image of God in three persons, imagine a triangle. It has three apexes, yet is only one geometric shape.

 

Each of these representations of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, captures some essence of what it means to believe in a triune God. But, it’s impossible for finite, well-defined objects to truly explain an infinite, enigmatic being. And, when all is said and done, it’s not really going to matter how well you can explain the concept of the Trinity, but rather what you believe about God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that’s important.

 

Every Sunday we declare, “this I” or “this we believe,” when we read, or recite, the Creed. We may not believe every word, as it’s written. We may not believe with the same conviction every week. But, to some degree, week after week, we say what we believe, and believe what we say.

 

But, what does it really mean to say we believe in God, the Father, or we believe in Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, or we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life?

If you learned your Lutheran catechism well, you know that according to Martin Luther, to believe in God, whom we call Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is to believe Genesis 1, that God created the world, and all that’s in it. Maybe it didn't happen just like it was written in Genesis, but however it happened, God did it.

 

It also means that Jesus Christ, who is true God and Son of the Father, from the beginning of time, is our Lord. As Lord, he has saved and redeemed us, and set us free from sin and death.

 

Yet, we cannot, by our own understanding or effort, believe in Jesus, or come to him.

 

So, we believe God sent us the Holy Spirit, to call us through the Gospel, to enlighten us with her gifts, and to sanctify, or make us holy, in faith.

 

God, also, daily forgives us our sins, and on the last day, will raise us, and all the dead, giving us eternal life. All this, says Luther, in his explanation of the creed, “is most certainly true.”

But, there’s more to our faith than words declaring what we believe.

 

Did you hear the words Jesus' spoke to his disciples today in Matthew’s gospel? "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father ,and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you."

 

And this is where June 18ths trailer footage begins.

 

Believing in our Triune God is more than just coming to worship once a week and repeating words. At least, God expects it to be more than this. Believing in God is not just about having faith, and being community, and living in community; it’s about passing on our faith, inviting others into the community, making community happen. And, part of this responsibility lies at our feet.

 

Jesus is no longer walking this earth teaching, healing, and feeding the people. The job has been passed to the disciples, which means us. If we expect little ones, and ourselves, to grow in faith, WE must teach the young, and the unchurched, the tenants of faith. WE must be willing to be life-long students. If we expect the Word of God to be spread from shore to shore, or even from street to street, WE must do the spreading. If we want our friends and neighbors to taste and see the goodness of the Lord, WE must do the feeding. If we want to see God’s healing hand, WE need to stretch out our own hands of forgiveness, mercy, love and grace. If we expect God to be experienced by others, WE are the ones who must be the Body of Christ to them. If we want more disciples, WE must make more disciples.

 

Go, baptize, and teach obedience to everything that I have commanded you. This “everything” is not just the ten commandments, but all that Jesus taught, including “love your neighbor,” “do unto others,” “forgive as you have been forgiven,” “serve as you have been served.”

 

We are going to put all of this into action, in two weeks, when we baptize Leo and Bea Brekka. But, the baptism is just the beginning of the journey. There is so much more for the words of faith to become real. It really does take a whole community to breathe life into faith, to grow up a child, and to make community.

 

Our calling is not an easy one, but neither is it impossible. We can do just as Jesus said because we believe in the God who called us, God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Because, of course, it’s not we who do all these things, but God. God works in, and through, us. This God, our God, has promised to be with us always, all the way to the end of the age, whenever that may be.

 

Having come here today to receive God through word and sacrament, let us reaffirm our faith, and let us embrace the world, and each other, as we prepare to do just as Jesus commanded. In the meantime, pray for Leo and Bea and their parents, Laura and Bill, as they prepare to take this step in faith’s journey. Amen.

© 2023, The Rev. Cheryl Lynn Hoffman. All rights reserved.

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The Holy Spirit is Like Glitter

Pastor Cheryl Hoffman's sermon from Sunday, April 30, 2023.

Readings: Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:24-35, 1 Corinthians 12:3-13, John 20:19-23.

 

If you were here last week, you saw an example of how the Holy Spirit works. She takes a seemingly sane pastor with a perfectly good sermon and puts an idea in her head that will not let her go until she obeys it.

 

After the service last week many of you said that I am full of surprises. I didn’t plan to veer off course last week, and by now, the Holy Spirit’s playfulness with my sermons shouldn’t be a surprise – although it has been awhile since she totally usurped a prepared sermon.

Interestingly, this never happened during my 13 years of preaching in Pennsylvania. I don’t know, maybe it is the Connecticut air – or the pollen. Or, maybe it’s the bravery that comes with being a widow and moving 300 miles from everyone you know on earth. Or maybe it comes from walking with God long enough to know that when the Spirit taps you on the shoulder, or extends her hand, you might as well take it, and let her lead you onto the dance floor, because she won’t go away until you do.

 

That’s why I think the Holy Spirit is like glitter. There’s a sparkly personality, and after showing up, you can’t get rid of either one, no matter how hard you try. You can try to ignore them, but they’ll still be there making being a pest.

 

The truth is, the Holy Spirit is more like a rumble from within than a glittering fashion element. Have you ever watched a mime at work, being pulled by an imaginary rope? Well, the Holy Spirit is the one that pulls, or pushes, you in a direction when you weren’t intending to go that way. Or opens your mouth to speak when you were fully intending to keep it closed, or raises your hand to volunteer when that wasn’t the plan.

 

In the case of the disciples, the Holy Spirit had them proclaiming the good news of the gospel to their neighbors in a language, and with words, they hadn’t understood just a few minutes before. And, in the case of Peter (who has clearly shown himself to be a coward), bravely standing up before a crowd of strangers, preaching his first sermon.

 

Now, here’s the kicker, the good news. This tenacious, unsuspecting, sometimes pushy, full-of-surprises Holy Spirit has been given to you. Yep, this is what’s prayed for when hands are laid upon you at baptism. Now, you can think of the Spirit as being upon you, or within you, or even beside you, if you prefer. But, what you cannot think is that the Holy Spirit is not for you— baptized or not.

 

The words of Paul are these, “...to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” To EACH is given. This is one “bug” we all have.

 

Exactly how this Holy Spirit “bug” manifests itself, which color glitter it comes in, which language it speaks, or which dance it dances, will be different in different people. I can’t even come up with a single metaphor to use to describe her.

 

And I say her because the Hebrew word for spirit ruach is feminine. The Greek word pneuma is neuter. Yet, in truth. it’s likely that the Spirit, which descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove, is both male and female, yet neither male nor female.

 

But, it’s not the gender of the Spirt that’s important, nor its shape: dove, flame, gushing wind, still small voice. What’s important is its purpose and its power.

 

For the past seven weeks, we’ve been talking about the power of the resurrection, how it changed everything. How, after Easter, nothing was the same, not even death, and certainly not life. Now, here on the eighth week, the week of weeks, comes the Holy Spirit, which changes everyone.

 

No longer are the disciples hiding in an upper room. No longer is Peter tongue tied and rambling. No longer is the good and powerful news of the resurrection limited to a few disciples, women and family members. No longer is it possible to remain silent.

 

The genie is out of the bottle, or the messiah out of the tomb, and the there is no putting him back in, no matter how hard the religious authorities try, and they will try.

 

The power and purpose of the Holy Spirit, here on this day of Pentecost, is all about spreading the good news of Jesus Christ, that he has risen from the dead, sins are forgiven, and death is no more. And, the Spirit’s job is to equip us with the ability to spread the good news when the opportunity arises.

 

Whether it be through the utterance of wisdom, or knowledge, faith, healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, speaking in tongues, or the interpretation of tongues, whatever it is we need. It’s the Spirit’s job to see that we have it, to put the right tool in our hand, at the right time, for the right job.

 

This is why we need not be afraid when the Spirit taps our shoulder, or extends her hand, and asks us dance, or pushes, or pulls, us to do this or that.

 

Remember in last week’s Gospel, Jesus told his disciples the good news about eternal life, and also, that going forward, they would be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. Fast forward to today and we are those witnesses. These are the ends of our earth. It is up to us, because if not us, then who?

 

May the Spirit’s presence upon us be as evident as the flames that danced among the disciples. May we be as open to the Spirit’s power, as were those disciples on that first Day of Pentecost, so all the world around us might truly know the goodness of God’s love, grace and forgiveness. Amen.

© 2023, The Rev. Cheryl Lynn Hoffman. All rights reserved.

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Who Are the Disciples?

Pastor Cheryl Hoffman's sermon from Sunday, April 30, 2023.

Readings: Acts 2:42-47. Psalm 23, 1 Peter 2:19-25, John 10:1-10.

 

Normally I would never give up an opportunity to preach on sheep. I mean, let’s face

it, I have more sheep in my flock than do some real shepherds. They are a mild fascination of mine, and this is the one Sunday each year that I get to showcase my very well-behaved flock.

 

But this year, Good Shepherd Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Easter, also falls on the Sunday of our annual meeting. With this in the back of my mind, the first lesson, the reading from Acts, spoke a little louder to me this time around.

 

I’m curious. I’m going to read the first two verses again, and then I want to ask you a question, so listen carefully. “[The baptized] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.”

In these verses, where do you see yourself? With whom do you identify? The baptized who devoted themselves to the apostles, or the apostles?

 

Let me ask you another question. Let’s go back a couple of weeks, to Easter Sunday. Remember that story from the gospel of Matthew (or John)? The disciples were hanging out, while the women were at the tomb, discovering it was empty. Put yourself in that story. Where did you see yourself? With whom did you identify? The disciples, the women, or the rest of the residents of Jerusalem?

 

When you think about the gospels in general, and Jesus’ three years of ministry, all his parables, travels and miracles, in the whole scheme of things, where do you see yourself? With whom do you most relate? Where do you think you are meant to be?

 

So, my last question, if in other times, and places, you see yourself as a disciple, why today do you see yourself as one of the baptized followers, devoted to the apostles; as one awed by the wonders and signs being done by the apostles, and not as an apostle doing the wonders and signs, and inspiring awe?

 

Perhaps, somewhere along the line between Easter and Pentecost, maybe on Good Shepherd Sunday, as our attention is drawn to being woeful sheep that follow, the wool is pulled over our eyes. We forget WE are the disciples, the apostles, the ones called and sent to teach the good news, to pray and break bread together for the good of all the baptized. WE are the ones walking in Jesus’ footsteps, doing many wonders and signs, inspiring the awe of others.

 

If you haven’t read the annual report from cover to cover, please do so. It’s filled with awesome things. There are examples of teachings, fellowship, the breaking of bread and praying together, the distribution of proceeds to others as they have need, and many wonders and signs. It, truly, is awe inspiring.

 

The Acts of the Apostles is the full title of the biblical book about how the disciples used the gift and power of the Holy Spirit (what Jesus taught them and gave them, while he was with them) and went about doing what he instructed them to do. “As my Father sent me, so I send you.” In essence, it’s about the formation of the Christian community, also known as “the church.”

 

Of course, the church looks a lot different now than it did at the time of the first apostles. It should be about the same things: teaching the gospel, fellowship, breaking bread, prayer and praising God. And, it’s still the disciples’ responsibility, to see this is being done.

 

Remember way back, before COVID. It seems like forever ago doesn’t it? Think back to 2018, 2019, even 2017, after I arrived here as your new pastor. When I did, I made a change to the bulletin. Specifically, I made a change to the list at the back of the bulletin – the list of people serving in the worship service on that day. I, The Rev. Cheryl Hoffman, was listed as the Minister. I changed that so The Rev. Cheryl Hoffman was listed as the Pastor and the Ministers were listed as the people of Saint Mark.

 

It was a subtle but significant change. What happens here at the Lutheran Church of Saint Mark is a joint ministry. It’s one, for which, we are all responsible – as leaders, not just as devotees.

 

But, it’s not all up to us. Imagine if the success of the early church depended only upon the likes of Peter, the Sons of Thunder, James and John, or doubting Thomas. And, what good could come from Nazareth Nathanael? Oh, I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry at that image. But, God knew better.

 

The wonders and signs the apostles did in the sight of others, they were able to do because of the gift of the Holy Spirit. And when they needed some help, direction or correction, God sent them what they needed, like the vision to Peter about eating unclean food before he was called out by the gentile Cornelius. They didn’t always get it right, but they knew what they were about. They knew why they were about when doing it, and they sought to live faithfully.

 

Day by day, the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. The saving and the growing were also at the hands of God through the Holy Spirit. We sometimes tend to forget that we’re about being, and growing, God’s ministry. We are about tending God’s flock and feeding God’s sheep, for the sake and goodwill of ALL the people, not any one church, or building, or denomination.

 

As we take the time to reflect on this past year, and look toward the year to come, may we have the eyes to see God’s vision for us, the ears to hear his voice calling us, and the courage to be the leaders he has taught and shaped us to be.

Amen.

© 2023, The Rev. Cheryl Lynn Hoffman. All rights reserved.

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