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.”
© 2023, The Rev. Cheryl Lynn Hoffman. All rights reserved.
What Is Truth?
The Rev. John Marschhausen's sermon at Saint Mark for Reformation Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023
Readings:Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 46; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36.
My Friends: The purpose for our annual observance of Reformation Sunday is so we don’t forget the people and events from our past that are central to our Lutheran heritage. There are dangers in this historical exercise, however. There’s the danger that we’ll turn a day of Christian Worship into something resembling a Lutheran Memorial Day, or a Lutheran 4th of July, simply a time to applaud our history, observe a few old-fashioned traditions, and offer token thanksgiving for those who’ve gone before us.
Or, even worse, there’s the danger we’ll turn Reformation into a time to pat ourselves on the backs for being smart enough to remember why it is we’re so much better than other folks. Either way, we’d be turning our hearts and our faith away from the very Word of God, so centrally important and cherished by Martin Luther, and that we say is still cherished among us.
Of course, it’s good, for Lutherans on Reformation Sunday, to sing a traditional hymn or two. It’s good to offer special prayers of thanksgiving that God has raised up people like Martin Luther, and many others, as well, to reform Jesus’ Church.
Along with our thanksgiving for the past, however, do we also remember and give thanks that God’s Spirit continues to reform Jesus’ Church today? Do we remember and give thanks that each of us is also an ongoing reformation project for God, as the Holy Spirit works every day to re-shape you and me into faithful disciples and servants?
In today’s Reformation Gospel, Jesus says, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
To those words, however, most people, in the spirit of our brother Pontius Pilate, ask Jesus, “But what is truth?”
Is truth some divine Law, to which we conform if we’re smart?
Or, is truth a body of Church doctrine, to which we good church members give our wholehearted allegiance?
Or, is truth, perhaps, nothing more than an affirmation of the latest, politically correct, views and values of the society around us?
Is truth, maybe, only that which allows for careful and precise scientific observation and validation?
Or, maybe truth is nothing more than what I say it is, regardless of the evidence to the contrary? A lot of that seems to be going on today.
My friends, faced with all these different options and opinions about truth, today’s Gospel suggests truth is not a body of facts; truth is not some philosophical system; nor is truth some abstract idea; truth is not simply some provable laws of science; and truth, most certainly, is not up to me!
No, my friends, truth is a person! For anyone who reads the Scriptures and trusts that God is speaking to us through the Scriptures, the message is this: ”Jesus Christ, God’s Son, our Lord, crucified and risen, Jesus is the living embodiment of God’s truth!”
There’s nothing abstract about this; nothing dogmatic; nothing calculating; and certainly nothing simplistic.
This is the Gospel, the Good News of what God is up to – that Jesus is God, living among us; and, knowing Jesus is to know the Truth, to look the Truth square in the eye, the Truth of God’s grace and love. It’s this knowledge of the Truth, it’s this knowing our Lord Jesus Christ, that sets you and me free from anything, and everything, that would bind us, or restrict us, or limit our lives, claiming to be the truth, even death itself!
Martin Luther often spoke about the despair he felt whenever he tried to find this truth about God, or life, or anything else, all by himself. Luther is quoted as saying, “When you try to find the truth within yourself, you will know the truth, and the truth will make you miserable.”
What Luther meant was, without Jesus at the center of our lives, our own failures, our very-human weaknesses and inadequacies, when we’re honest about them, not only disappoint us, they torment us.
For Luther, whenever that temptation to depend upon himself instead of Jesus raised its ugly head, he would say to himself, “Martin, you’ve been baptized into Jesus Christ, and in Jesus you’ve died to that old life! You’ve been reborn into a new and much better one! Now, let’s get on with it!”
My friends, this is God’s promise to you, too, every bit as much as it was to Martin Luther. This is the promise when you’re tempted to look anywhere other than to Jesus, your Lord is there saying to you, “Hey, you’re my sister, my brother, in me you are a beloved, forgiven child of God and that’s the truth! You have no need to go searching anywhere else.”
When we allow this Good News to really speak to us, we’re doing nothing more, nothing less, than participating in the life of Jesus, and sharing in the gift of God’s grace.
Obviously, we Lutherans, who are pretty good at claiming this freedom of the Gospel as our heritage, of all people, hopefully, know God’s Reformation is never just a thing of the past. No, Reformation is always present, and future, as well!
Why? Because Reformation is God’s work. Jesus wants every single one of his beloved sisters and brothers to know this truth, to trust this forgiving grace, to experience this love, the love of Him, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. But, what Jesus wants hasn’t happened yet, at least not in all its fullness! So, Jesus has you and me as his disciples to help it happen! As you and I live our faith, as we serve our neighbors, this is when we’ve truly seized the heritage of our Lutheran Reformation.
As God has blessed us with the Gospel-heritage of Martin Luther, and blessed us with the personal presence of our Lord Jesus in Word and Sacraments, and so in our community. God grant the people of The Lutheran Church of Saint Mark, truly, are the gold-standard, the shining example, of what it means to be truth-filled disciples who serve both in Jesus’ Name and in Matrtin Luther’s footsteps.
In Jesus’ name we ask it. Amen.
Now may the peace of God, that passes all our human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen.
© 2023, The Rev. John Marschhausen. All rights reserved.
The World We Make Is the World We Will Inhabit
Pastor Cheryl Hoffman’s sermon for September 17, 2023
Readings: Genesis 50:15-21, Psalm 103:1-13, Romans 14:1-12, Matthew 18:21-35
I’d like to talk to you today about climate change. Now, before you turn off your hearing aids because you are not interested in climate change, or you get angry because you do not believe in climate change, or you judge me because you think climate change is a political issue, hear me out.
I don’t want to talk about the changing climate that’s brought us the hottest summer and wettest July. I’m not going to talk about the shrinking icepacks or the increase in severe weather events.
I want to talk to you today about the social climate change that’s been taking place, especially since COVID.
This is my observation.
People have become less tolerant of each other, especially of those who are, in some way, different, or think differently, than themselves. We are even more of an “us-vs.-them” society than we used to be.
It’s no longer about how you play the game, but about winning, and winning at all costs. Although, there is still the occasional report of someone, usually a youngster, who forgoes winning to help an opponent cross the finish line.
It seems we are no longer a country based on the freedom to practice one’s religion, but instead, it’s our religious practice to restrict that freedom. Whether we are talking about the congregational, denominational, or national level, the battle lines of what one should, or must, believe are being drawn with heavier, darker, more permanent lines. Sometimes the language is about who is out, and sometimes, it’s about who is in. Neither side seems to understand that both ways exclude someone.
And in truth, it seems fewer people are practicing religion altogether. People no longer feel the need to belong to a religious family, or to worship God in community. And, they can still do works of charity in any other number of ways, through hundreds of other organizations, and that, to them, is good enough.
One more climate change observation. There’s a lot more concern for me-myself-and-I, than for you-us-and-we. I see it in the way people drive. I hear it in the way people judge others. I notice it in the expectant way people demand to get their own way.
I can tell by the nodding of heads that you have observed some of these climate changes, as well. And, it’s not that these behaviors are new. We’ve always had severe weather events, and now, there seem to be more, which are more severe. So too, there have always been bullies, and bad drivers, and self-centered people, but these days, there seem to be more of them, and their behaviors are even more extreme.
Now, here’s the reason I want to talk about such climate change. The world we make is the world we will inhabit. What does this have to do with anything? It turns out, forgiveness, the topic of today’s gospel lesson, is an environmental issue. So are things like mercy and vengeance. Did you know this?
Let’s take a look at today’s parable. You can find this truth in all of today’s readings, but it is most plain in the parable. Bonus points if you can point it out in the other readings.
We have a king settling his accounts with his servants. One of them owes him a lot of money. When I say a lot of money, I mean a LOT of money. At the time, 10,000 talents would have been the total of daily wages of a typical servant for 60,000,000 days, or 164,270 years. In other words, there is no way this guy was ever going to be able to pay back this debt, without winning a Powerball jackpot. Even the sale of his family, and all their possessions, would have only been a drop in the bucket.
So, the poor dude does the only thing he can. He drops to his knees, and begs. “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” That was never going to happen, but what else could he say?
Well, the environment in the castle was quite favorable that morning. The king, out of pity, released the slave and forgave him the debt. Can you imagine what that must have felt like?
First imagine the weight of the debt on your shoulders as you approached the king knowing that you could not repay. The worry of being separated from your family after hearing the pronounced judgement. The embarrassed humility with which you had to beg for the impossible. And then, in your anguish to hear and receive the forgiveness of your entire debt? To be totally free and clear? How’s that for climate change?
But it didn’t change the servant’s heart, did it? In leaving the king this servant ran into a buddy who owed him 100 denarii, about 100 day’s wages. And, he demands it on the spot. But when his buddy makes the same request of him, that he had been made to the king (a request he likely could have fulfilled), the servant refused, and had his buddy thrown into prison until the 100 denarii was paid.
Now word of this gets back to the king. The climate, in the king’s palace, changes. No longer is the king in a pitying, forgiving mood. “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” In anger, the king handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.
You see, the king understood the ways of climate changes. The world we make is the world we will inhabit. The king sought to establish a climate of mercy in forgiving the first servant. Ideally, that climate would influence the behavior of that man as he interacts with others. But, a storm changed the atmospheric pressure when the servant had his buddy thrown into prison. And, in turn, the first servant experienced the consequences of climate change brought about by his own actions.
Do you understand, now, how forgiveness, and perhaps the better word in this case is mercy, and vengeance, and grace are environmental issues? Do you understand what it means to say, “The world we make, is the world we will inhabit?”
Let me make a quick aside, and acknowledge that forgiveness is rarely an easy thing. It doesn’t just happen. Sometimes, not even when we want it to happen. And grace, true grace, is not cheap. For that matter, vengeance carries a pretty high price tag itself. So, don’t think I’m proclaiming a snap-of-the-finger solution to the climate changes we’re experiencing.
You have, no doubt, heard how difficult and expensive dealing with weather-related climate change can be. Well, anytime you deal with people, and life, and wounds, and truth, it is also difficult, and painful, and costly. And yet, more often than not, mercy begets mercy, forgiveness begets forgiveness, as judgement begets judgement, and vengeance begets vengeance.
If we establish and atmosphere of intolerance, we will likely experience intolerance. If we create an atmosphere of grace, we are likely to experience grace. They are environmental issues. The world we make is the world we will inhabit.
We started off today being forgiven of all our sins. We will leave here fed and made whole. We are sent in peace, to make of the world what will. Go, in Christ’s name, and change the climate of the world. Amen
© 2023, The Rev. Cheryl Lynn Hoffman. All rights reserved.
Random Acts of Kindness
Pastor Cheryl Hoffman's sermon for September 3, 2023
Readings: Jeremiah15:15-21; Psalm 26:1-8; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross
and follow me.”
“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake
will find it.”
I’m going to be honest. That last sentence, “For those who want to save their life will lose it,
and those who lose their life for my sake will find it,” I’ve never quite understood it.
It doesn’t really make a lot of sense – certainly not common sense. I’m not totally sure
whether the end goal is to lose your life or to find it? And it seems to be that if you actually
strive for the goal, regardless of which one you choose, the losing, or the finding,
you are doomed to miss the mark and achieve just the opposite.
This sounds way more like typical “Pauline circular chatter” than straight up Jesus talk. Perhaps Jesus and Paul have fallen into a Freaky Friday, or Parent Trap, movie, and switched bodies today. Paul’s words from Romans are a lot more straight forward today, and they may just give us some insight into what it means to finds one’s life by losing it.
But first, let me make my own attempt at an explanation. I think that some, maybe even most of you, will be able to relate to this.
How many of you have ever gone on a mission trip, or volunteered with some type of service project, like a soup kitchen, or in MACC’s shelter, or maybe even Habitat for Humanity? I’m thinking especially of those opportunities that you have had to serve others which required you to interact with those you were serving.
So, this has been my experience in leading such events. It’s why I think they’re so important and invaluable, especially for youth. When you enter into such a project, or program, or event, you intend to be the person to do the giving, to be the one who provides the help, to be the one giving a piece of life, and the one sharing their abundant blessings with others who have less.
But it never failed. When we sat around the circle to process the experience, every day, I heard stories, not about what was given or lost, but about what was received and found. In all the giving, life was never depleted, but rather, made full. From 13-year-olds who came to understand the privilege of living with convenience stores every few blocks, to a multi-millionaire who discovered the satisfaction of kneeling on the ground to hammer boards together for a handicap ramp. All of them were overcome by the joy in the faces of those they helped and befriended. All of them ready to do it all over again.
Those of you who raised your hands earlier, do you know what I am talking about? About the intent to give yourself away, only to find you ended up with more than what you had when you started.
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Maybe this text isn’t so enigmatic and difficult to understand as it seems. But, how do we apply this text to our daily lives? Mission trips and service projects are great, but how do we accept Jesus’ challenge more seriously? How do we live these words on a day-to-day basis?
Enter Paul with what is one of his uncharacteristically clear and direct passages with specific instructions on how to live for others through the act of giving of oneself.
hold on to goodness,
love one another,
outdo one another in showing honor,
be zealous in serving the Lord,
share in each other’s joys and sorrows,
rejoice in hope,
be patient in suffering,
persevere in prayer,
contribute to the needy,
be hospitable to strangers,
make it your mission to live in harmony with each other,
associate with the lowly,
never seek revenge,
tend to the needs of your enemies and bless them."
“Whatever you do, do not let evil crush you, instead, crush evil with good.”
Our pericope group on Tuesday particularly liked “outdo one another in showing honor.” We decided that we would like to see a game show or perhaps a reality tv show where the game plan was to outdo one another in showing honor. Can you imagine a house of individuals or teams that had to find some way to outdo each other in acts of honor or kindness. Where the challenges were to solve genuine problems like a family’s hunger or homelessness, rather than who can stand on one foot for the longest time. And, you were voted out because of your lack of zeal for helping your assigned urban apartment family grow some healthy food and herbs on a low budget with next to no space, rather than for your allegiance with this person, or that team? And when you win the million dollars, you have to give it away. Give it away to the people you’ve helped along the way, because, really, they are the ones that helped you win.
Yeah, I would like to see that show.
But all of life is a game show right? We don’t need to be on tv to accept this challenge to outdo one another in showing honor. What might it look like if we made it our mission this week to crush evil with good? What if we chose to genuinely love everyone we encountered for one day, or to associate with the lowly?
I’ve heard this story several times over the past couple of weeks, how Pastor Lydia would hand out $20 bills to people on a Sunday. They would come back the next week and tell what they did with the money. Well, I don’t have enough money to give everyone $20. So, I’m going to ask everyone to do a random act of kindness.
I printed up a bunch of cards with a verse from Psalm 139 on it. You should each have found one in your bulletin. It reads: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.”
On the back you can write your own message, perhaps something like “I’m glad God made you.” Or, “You are one of God’s masterpieces.” Then, use this as the calling card for your random act of kindness.
On the table with the note that said, “Listen to the sermon for directions,” there are bracelets you can take or Hershey kisses you can leave behind, and there are a few crosses. Tie the card to a bracelet, or cross, and leave it randomly on a car in a parking lot. Leave the card with the chocolate and an extra generous tip. Give it and a gift card to a stranger. Use your imagination. Out do one another. Take as many cards as you want but take at least one. Find a way, and a reason, to give it away.
And maybe, just maybe, we can do as Paul says, and crush evil with goodness. Perhaps in the giving, we’ll find we have not lost, but found who we are meant to be.
“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Amen.
© 2023, The Rev. Cheryl Lynn Hoffman. All rights reserved.
No Matter Where We Are, There He Is
Pastor Cheryl Hoffman's sermon for August 13, 2023
Readings: 1 Kings 19:9-18; Psalm 85:8-13; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33.
I happen to love today’s readings. I love these stories because they boost my faith, perhaps I should say my sometimes, lacking faith. Yes, we pastors, too, have our moments of fear and doubt.
Today we meet two great servants of the Lord, Elijah and Peter. Elijah is a prophet of Yahweh and Peter a disciple of Jesus. They are saints par excellence. Yet for all their greatness, neither Elijah nor Peter was perfect. They did their best and their best was far better than most, but they each had their moments. Today’s readings catch each of these men in one of their less-than-perfect moments.
Today’s two events are preceded by magnificent miracles. In Peter’s case, the preceding story is the feeding of the 5,000, we heard last week. This was a miraculously magical moment. And yet, in spite of Jesus’ ability to do the unimaginable right in front of their eyes, the disciples are shaking and screaming in fear about the apparent ghost advancing toward them over the water.
When the apparition reaches them, it speaks, “Would you guys get a hold of yourselves. It is I.”
Peter is still not sure that this isn’t a group hallucination, so he offers a challenge, “Jesus, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
Now, there is a brave soul. Imagine yourself in a relatively safe boat, wanting to jump out onto the waves torturing your stomach and threatening your very life. And, I’m sure it’s to everyone’s amazement, Jesus says, “Come. If you are willing to risk leaving a seaworthy boat in a raging storm, then, by all means, Peter, come.”
I wonder. Do you think Peter jumped out of the boat, or did he slowly, and tentatively, crawl overboard? Do you think he was overjoyed and excited, or was he cursing himself for, once again, speaking before thinking through the consequences?
Either way, you have to give him credit. I would have asked Jesus to calm the storm. Peter asks for the power to walk through it.
And, isn’t this, ultimately, where so many of us come out in such situations. We’re going about our business doing what we believe God has told us to do. Then, without warning, the storms clouds are on the horizon. We can see them billowing and threatening our relatively calm lives. So, we start paddling like heck to outrun the danger, praying without ceasing that the storm will miss us. And, when it doesn’t, we paddle even harder, and pray it will all be over soon.
But, not Peter. Peter asks for the ability to take on the storm and its threatening waves, by treading on top of them. Peter asks, and Peter receives.
Then, just about the time Peter is feeling bravely confident, the storm challenges him with a burst of strong wind. Peter’s courageous heart falters, his mind kicks into overdrive, wondering what in the world he was thinking, walking on water in the midst of a raging storm. And, in that instant, in that moment of doubt, Peter begins to sink.
Elijah’s courage is also tested.
Just before today’s Old Testament reading, Elijah confronts the people about their split loyalty. “How long will you go limping with two different opinions?” he asks. “If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” Then, in one of the greatest displays of power and trust, Elijah challenges the 450 prophets of Baal to a duel.
Each team is given a bull. The bull is sacrificed, cut into pieces, and laid atop wood. But, no fire is put to it. The challenge is for the prophet, or prophets, in the case of Baal, to pray for their God (or god) to ignite the wood. The God/god who ignites the wood shall be declared the one true God.
Elijah lets the prophets of Baal go first. He gives them plenty of time, to pray, beg and cajole their god. At mid-afternoon, Elijah starts preparing his own altar and bull. His finishing touch is a trench dug around the altar. Then, he has the people drench the bull and the wood with 12 large jars of water. The amount of water is so immense it fills the trench. Now, everything is ready, and Elijah prays to Yahweh.
“Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then, the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and it even licked up the water in the trench. It was declared, by all the people, Yahweh was indeed God. The prophets of Baal were rounded up, carted off and killed.
Elijah was happy, the people were happy, Yahweh was happy. But, Queen Jezebel, for whom the prophets of Baal worked, was not so happy. Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of my prophets by this time tomorrow.”
Now, you might think, having just witnessed such a great act of power, Elijah could have said, “You know, Jezebel, God just used me to consume a lake with fire and devour 450 of your men in one fell swoop. Why would I be afraid of you?” But, this is not what Elijah says. Instead, he starts to quake in his boots and hightails it out of town in fear of his life.
You might also think God, having witnessed Elijah’s suddenly fleeting faith, might have displayed another great power to stop Elijah in his tracks, or even strike him down altogether. But this is not how God typically deals with his petrified servants. No, as we saw with Peter, God tends to reach out to his frightened fledglings and rescue them.
God’s rescue of Elijah also comes before the verses we heard today. After running away for a full day, Elijah stops to rest. Twice, an angel wakes Elijah from his sleep, giving him something to eat and drink, so that after he’s rested, he may run away even farther. The text says Elijah travels another forty days, before we read today’s text.
When Elijah arrives at his destination God draws close, as close as the whisper of silence. Elijah has fled, but God has drawn near. In the midst of Elijah’s fears, God, like Jesus, has spoken, only this time without words. “Pull it together Elijah, it is I, do not fear.” And, once Elijah’s nerves are calmed, God sends him back to the front lines of prophecy.
Have we, also, not had our Elijah moments? Those times and circumstances when we doubt God’s faithfulness, and his ability to see us through the threatening doom, in spite of our past experiences to the contrary. How often have we chosen flight over standing firm to fight?
Let’s face it, one of the characteristics of being human is to doubt, even when we know better. We’re prone to get that sinking feeling, just after we boldly risk taking the bravest of steps. We tend to run away from conflict, or deny it altogether, even though we know God has the power to reduce to naught, that which threatens to destroy us. Like Peter and Elijah, we do our best. But, sometimes, many times, our best falls embarrassingly short.
Here’s why I like these texts so much. In the midst of Peter and Elijah’s foolish weaknesses, God reaches out to them. He lets us try, he even lets us run away. Sometimes, he even helps us to run away. And, he never shakes his finger, saying, “You fool!” or, “I told you so!” Instead, he grasps us with his firm hand, pulls us to him, reminds us with his gentle breath, that no matter where we are, there he is also. Even in our silly foolishness, God does not abandon us. This is how great God’s love is for us.
The journey of faith is a dangerous journey. There really are storms, people and predicaments that are a threat to our lives and our faith. It takes a willingness to risk getting out of the boat. It takes the courage to dare, and the confidence to speak, on behalf of God. And, with each such step, God is there to cheer us on.
God is also there when uncertainty and fear, and even denial, take over. It’s at these times when the fullness of God’s love for us is most revealed. Sometimes with a strong jerk, sometimes with a barely distinguishable feathery whisper, God is always there to pull us close and calm our anxious hearts.
God will not abandon those he loves. And, I know, for certain, God loves each and every one of you. Go in peace. Amen.
© 2023, The Rev. Cheryl Lynn Hoffman. All rights reserved.
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.
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.
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.
Pastor Cheryl Hoffman's sermon, July 2, 2023.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
© 2023, The Rev. Cheryl Lynn Hoffman. All rights reserved.