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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.


     “Love genuinely,

      hate evil,

      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,

      be humble,

      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.


Wounds & Scars

Pastor Cheryl Hoffman's sermon from Sunday, April 16, 2023.

Readings: Acts 2:14, 22-32, Psalm 16, 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 20:19-31.

It is said that there is only one thing that wasn’t changed by the resurrection—the wounds of Christ. “Look, put your fingers here and see my hands. Reach out and put your hand in my side.” And don’t forget there are also wounds in the feet of Christ. Battle scars we sometimes call them.


Do you have battle scars and wounded war stories to go with them? I have a wound story. I actually have several, but the most interesting one is about the scar in my right eyebrow.


I don’t remember the incident that led to this scar, but I am told that I received this wound when I was three. The story is that my parents had bought me a red flyer little red wagon for my birthday. Do you remember those?

Well, Mom and Dad took the wagon, and me, on a trip to see my great-grandmother, or Memmie, as we called her. Memmie’s house was built at a leveling off spot towards the bottom of a hill that started over a mile away at the top of a mountain.


I’m not sure who thought of this “bright idea,” but they took the wagon part way up the hill, put Mom and me in the wagon, and intended to let gravity return us to Memmie’s house.


Sounds like it could be fun, right? It probably would have been, if I had not decided I wanted out of the wagon, before the ride came to a complete stop. As it was, the ride went wild as my mom tried to keep me in the wagon while steering down the hill, without the benefit of any brakes.


Now Memmie lived in farm country. There was a ditch and cornfields to the right of the road, and a cow pasture to the left, the boundaries of the pasture marked with a barbed wire fence.


Can you guess the ending?


Yep, Mom steered us into the barbed wire fence. I caught it just above the eye. We were both very lucky that this was the only injury. I was extra lucky the barbed wire didn’t catch me IN the eye.


Today this is a funny story to share, but there was a lot of pain and emotion at the time. Apparently, I was so hysterical it took four people to hold me down for the Novocain and stitches.


Is there anyone who doesn’t have a scar and a wound story to go with it? It’s hard to imagine that it is possible to go through life without any scars at all.


Sometimes our scars become badges of honor. They prove we survived. Other scars are a tender, constant reminder of our “woundedness.” I have a scar on my right ankle, the result of surgeries to fix the foot I broke twice. Those surgeries occurred when I was in high school, but to this day, the scar is sensitive. A touch, or the rubbing of my shoe in just the right, or wrong, way, will send me through the roof.


Of course, not all of our scars are visible. Perhaps some of the most sensitive scars are the invisible emotional scars we carry inside. The scars from having been bullied, or abused, or the scars of a mental illness, or poverty, or unemployment, or the scars from a chronic illness, or the loss of a child, or the scars from being the victim of any other of life’s cruelties.


These scars, it seems, take the longest to form, as the wounds are often deep, and extremely susceptible to being bumped-open, again and again.


It’s a curious thing Jesus came through the resurrection with his wounded scars intact. We usually imagine, and talk about, people who have died as being restored, renewed, made whole, and healed. This is the gift, or at least one of the gifts, of heaven, in which we place our hope and find comfort in our grief.


But Jesus, having been restored, renewed, and resurrected maintained his scars. Why?


Well, the one thing all scars do is remind us of where we’ve been. They’re windows into our past and reminders, whether we like it or not, of our “woundedness.” And, our “woundedness” is one of the things that makes us human.


Jesus’ wounds mark his humanity. They assure us he really does understand suffering, and the trials and temptations that scar our lives. In truth, few of us really want a Messiah who is fully divine, all God and glory, sitting on a throne, high and mighty, lording himself over us. We wouldn’t accept such a God as friend and shepherd, let alone, as good and loving.

So, it’s the wounds of Christ which make him real, believable, and worth listening to. The same is true for us. It’s precisely because we ourselves have been wounded in the battle of life, that we can offer understanding, empathy, and hope to others. Writer and theologian Henri Nouwen calls it being a “wounded healer.” He writes, “in our own ‘woundedness,’ we can become a source of life for others.”


James Howell, the author of Yours are the Hands of Christ, The Practice of Faith, also addresses this reality. In his section, “God uses broken things,” he writes, “We are able to share the pain of others because we know our own brokenness. We are all broken, wounded. And, it is precisely those places where we have been hurt that we can discover our giftedness. It is out of our pain that we can become healers.”

Notice, he says “it is out of our pain that we CAN become healers.” We CAN become healers. It’s not an automatic reality.


I said earlier that one of the things scars do, is tell us where we’ve been. Well, some people also allow their wounds and scars to dictate where they will go.


Certainly, you’ve encountered such people — people who can’t let go of the pain of a past hurt, people who constantly blame current troubles on some past life injury or injustice, people who refuse to take responsibility for their own health or financial predicament. Do you know such people?


Jesus could have been such a person. He could have refused to come out of the tomb. I would have understood, if he said to God, the Father, “Thanks, but no thanks! I’ve spent 33 years with these thankless, obtuse people. They tortured me, and killed me, and you, you turned your back on me! You want a messiah to save these eejits? You find someone else!”


Jesus could have used his wounds to shame his disciples. “Here, look at these wounds, and they are your fault! Some disciples you turned out to be.”


Jesus could have used his wounds as the rally cry for a pity party, or allowed his scars to lead him down the road of despair and hopelessness.


But Jesus did none of these things. Though the scars on Christ’s wounded body told the story of where he had been, he refused to allow them to dictate where he would go. Instead, Jesus used his scars to reveal himself, and to bring comfort and joy to his disciples. “Look! Here! It is I! I am the one you mourn, only I am not dead.”


Jesus used his wounds as windows that allowed the light of the resurrection to shine through. His scars became a source of life and hope for his disciples.


In Romans, Paul writes, “We know that all things work together for good. This does not mean that all things are good, nor, do I believe, that it means all things happen for a reason. But it does mean that God can use our wounded, broken selves to bring about good even to bring forth new life and joy and hope.”


Today, the resurrected Christ offers you his scars, and extends his wounded hands in peace. He shares with you his humanity, and in so doing, solidifies the integrity of his divinity.


Now it’s your turn. Will you allow God to heal others through your wounds, your cracks, your imperfections? Will you be a wounded healer? Will you allow the light of life to shine through your wounds? Will you be the one, through whom others experience peace, and the new life of the resurrection today?



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


Who Are You Going to Tell?

Pastor Cheryl Hoffman's sermon for Easter Sunday, April 9, 2023.

Readings: Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2+14-24, Colossians 3:1-4, Matthew 28:1-10.


Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!


Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!


Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

You know, in truth, there isn’t much else to say. The news doesn’t get any better than this. He is not here. He has been raised from the dead! What else do you want to know?


Wait, but I want to know something. Who are you going to tell? This great, there is no better than this news – with whom are you going to share it?


“Come see, then go quickly and tell them.” These are the angel’s instructions. Well, you have come. You can see for yourself. He is risen, just as he said. Are you going to keep this news to yourself?

You don’t have to leave quickly. You’re all invited to stay for fellowship and some very good yummies. But then after you do leave, are you going to share the good news? Because if you keep it to yourself, if you don’t tell anyone, how will the word get out?


You know they call next Sunday “Low Sunday,” because there’re usually only a third of the people present on the Sunday after Easter as are present today. I think I finally figured out why. No one follows the angel’s instructions. No one leaves today, having heard the good news of the resurrection and tells anyone, because if they did, there would be twice as many people in the pews on the Second Sunday of Easter.


Give it some thought. This news really is too good to keep to yourself.


I mean, it is, right? Good news, that Jesus is risen? Because there’s enough bad news already and I wouldn’t want us to go around spreading even more. So, we are agreed. It really is good news. Great!


You know why it’s good news don’t you? I mean, you wouldn’t want to go up to your best friend after you leave here and say, “Hey Bestie, I just heard this really great news and I want to share it with you, because you are my bestest friend in the whole wide world! Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!”


And then your bestie says, “Yeah, so what? What is so great about that?”


Then what do you say? “Umm, I don’t know, some preacher lady told us that an angel said Jesus wasn’t in the tomb, and we’re supposed to go share the good news.”


Well, that might work. Then you could bring your bestie along to church next week and we’ll try to fill in some of the gaps.


But it would be better if you just explained why the empty tomb is so important. Why he is risen, is indeed, such good news.


Of course, if Jesus is risen, that means that he’s not dead. And, if he’s not dead, then God is not dead. And, we serve, and worship, a living God.


And, if our God is a living God, then God, through the resurrection of Jesus, has conquered death. And, because he lives, though we die, we, too, will also live.


Death is no longer something to fear.


And, if God has conquered death, then there’s nothing God cannot do.


Even the impossible is possible with God.


And that my friends is indeed pretty great news.


Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!


Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!


Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!


Now it is your turn to go and tell them what the angel said.  Amen.

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


230402 Icon1 Passion Palm Sunday.jpg


Pastor Chryl Hoffman's sermon for Palm/Passion Sunday, April 2, 2023.

Readings: Matthew 21:1-11, Isaiah 50:4-9, Psalm 31, Philippians 2:5-11, Matthew 26:14 - 27:66.

Hands, big and little ones, old and new ones

smooth and callused ones, worried and worn ones.

Hands both open and fisted, wringing and pleading,

praying and reaching, grasping and clinging, beating and throwing.

Hands of chief priests and scribes, slaves and pharisees,

the governor, the romans, the Jews,

citizens and foreigners, friends, family and foe.

They were all there:

To untie the donkey and her foal

To spread their cloaks

To cut tree branches

To pour oil


To prepare for Passover

To dip into the bowl of betrayal

To break the bread and give the cup

To plead and to pray


To carry clubs and swords

To cut off an ear

To arrest


To strike and slap

To bind

To handover

To throw down

To hang one’s self

To wash away the guilt

To flog

To strip naked

To dress in scarlet

To twist thorns into a crown

To mock

To carry a cross not one’s own

To crucify

To offer wine and gall

To divide another’s clothes

To cast lots for a prize

To do nothing but wait and watch and see


But the hands that matter most

Are those stretched out

Bleeding, dripping,

Pinned and pining

For you and for me

And the ones we can’t see

Holding the crossbar

Bearing the weight of the world

And of his only son

Longing for this to be done

The hands come

To remove the corpse

To wrap in linen

To lay in a tomb

To roll a rock

To create a seal

   To be sure it secure.

   To be sure it is finished

And Now

The hands of the Jews will honor the Sabbath

The hands of the women will wait

The hands of the disciples will lock their doors

And your hands

How will they wait and mark the time

How will they honor the holiness of this week

What will they hold,

What will they open

What will they lock up and seal tight

What will they give

What will they receive

Will they know how precious the gift

   When they hold the

   Body of Christ broken for thee?


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


Questions... & an Answer

Pastor Cheryl Hoffman's sermon from March 19, 2023.

Readings:  1 Samuel 16:1-13, Psalm 23, Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41

Did you know that a four-year old can ask up to four hundred questions day? And, between the ages of two and five, children can ask an average of 40,000 questions?

Here are some other question statistics. In scripture, Jesus asks 307 questions? Of course, if a four-year old asks 400 questions a day, Jesus probably asked more questions that this, but we can only count those questions recorded in the bible.

230319 Man born blind.png

So, Jesus asks 307 questions. He is asked 183 questions. And, of those 183 questions, he answers only 3 of them directly. “What must we do to do the works God requires?” “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” And, the question we get in today’s gospel lesson: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”


The whole of this gospel lesson swirls around this question. “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”


The question, itself, tells us about the disciples and the world in which they lived. The text begins: “As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.” But this is not what the disciples saw. As Jesus walked along his disciples asked him, “Who sinned – this man or his parents that he was born blind?” What they saw before them was a result of punishment for sin.


In Jesus’ day, illness, disease, any form of disability or otherness was considered an act of God, given for some appropriate reason, usually assumed to be in response to sin. It is in Exodus where it is said that God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generations, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,” yet by no means clearing the guilty, but “visiting the iniquity of the parent upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”


So, the disciples saw exactly what they had been taught to see. I suppose we can’t fault them for that. However, you would like to believe that their time with Jesus had started to influence their thinking somewhere along the way. But, clearly not yet in this story. Had they learned their lessons well, instead of seeing personified sin before them, they would have seen what Jesus saw, a man, who happened to be blind from birth.


And, it is this man, who Jesus presents to the disciples in his answer to their question: neither this man nor his parents sinned, but rather, indeed, just the opposite, he is one, through whom, God has chosen to reveal himself.


You can almost feel the whiplash of the disciples as they look from Jesus to the man and back again. This does not compute. It does not fit the mold or model of being worthy of God’s favor and choosing. Fishermen, a tax collector, a Samaritan woman, and now a blind man? Is there anyone \ God would not choose, could not use, to be light in the world?


No, absolutely not! And, that, this, is the point. But, it’s not well received by the community of the man born blind.


In this story the man doesn’t call out to Jesus, he doesn’t ask to be healed, he doesn’t reach out to touch Jesus’ garments, or bow down before him, he doesn’t plead to be saved.


He’s just a man who encounters Jesus. In this encounter, Jesus makes a common plaster of mud and spittle, puts it on the man’s eyes and sends him off to wash in the pool of Siloam. And, as happened in last week’s story after such an encounter with Jesus, the man (last week it was the Samaritan woman) returned to his people. At their questioning, he told them, eagerly it seems to me, of his encounter and its result. Only, unlike last week, the people weren’t so eager to embrace the story.


Those neighbors, the Pharisees, the Jews, even his parents, have trouble grasping, trouble seeing the man, after his sight has been restored. First, it’s because it all took place on the Sabbath. Then their doubt that Jesus was from God, their certitude that he, Jesus, too, was a sinner. Then straight up fear. And, in the end, it was because they just couldn’t let go of their old beliefs, lest the new ones upset the order of all things.


“You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And, they drove him out.


This text is all about challenging the way we see, think, and do things, especially the way we see, think about and treat other people. And, changing our paradigm can be just that, a challenge. Remember, I said a few weeks ago that Galileo was condemned as a heretic, when he tried to assert the Earth revolved around the sun, and not the other way around.


People don’t like when your rock the boat. Rock the boat, it may tip over. But, unless you get into the water, you can’t learn to swim. And, as long as you insist on the safety of the boat, you’ll never know if you can walk on water.


We may not see illness, diseases, blindness, mental health diagnosis, or other disabilities, as a result of sin, but this does not mean we see people as Jesus saw the man in today’s story, as a person created full of worth and value, and given a life with meaning and purpose.


It’s easy, and, sometimes, way too natural, to judge someone based on the way they look, or act, or what we think they can, or can’t, do.


I’ve read the FaceBook and Neighborhood threads of what Glastonbury residents think about the men and women standing at the end of the off-ramps and the entrance to Stop & Shop. I’d say 90% of them read something like: “these people are full of sin and deceit.” And, if it were in the commenters’ power, they would drive them out.

But scripture reminds us that the Lord does not see as mortals see; mortals look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart; that the first shall be last and the last shall be first; that the rich shall be brought down from their thrones, while the poor will be lifted up; and, that there is no longer Jew nor Greek, male nor female, blind nor sighted, abled or disabled, addicted or sober, mentally ill or stable, homeless or home owner.


As long as we continue to see people as other, and not as a brother or sister, as a fellow child of God created with worth and value, whose life has meaning and purpose in this world, we have failed to learn, and live, the lessons Jesus has sought to teach us:


That we are all in this thing called life, together;


That we are to offer each other a helping hand, instead of an accusatory pointing finger;


That we are to speak a loving, welcoming word, rather than a condemning question;


That we are to stop trying to make our many bodies all fit the same mold, and choose to live as one body, with many different and unique parts. Amen.

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



Pastor Cheryl Hoffman's sermon for Transfiguration Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023

Readings: Exodus 24:12-18, Psalm 2, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9. 

Chatbots are all over the news these days. Do you know what I mean by a chatbot?

A chat bot – as defined by one itself, is a computer program designed to simulate conversation with a human user, especially over the internet. Chatbots can be programmed to perform a range of tasks, from answering basic questions and providing information to more complex activities, such as scheduling appointments or processing orders. They can also learn from user interactions and become more intelligent over time.


Chatbots have been in the news a lot lately, mainly in the field of higher education. Apparently some chatbots are so good they can write A+ essays and even complex doctoral theses. Professors have had to include the use of chatbots in their class rules and have had to learn to look for signs of a paper being too well generated.

Well now, according to one Associated Press article, pastors and rabbis are also turning to this artificial intelligence – to write their sermons. I don’t know why I was surprised. And then I was tempted.


I know the temptation texts are next week’s lessons, but I was tempted this week. For me, the Transfiguration is right up there with the festival of the Holy Trinity. I mean, it is a good story – it has a lot of good special effects – clouds, dazzling clothes, walking dead people, voices from out of nowhere, and secrets. But how do you apply this story to our lives today?


Am I supposed to say it’s okay to see dead people. It’s okay if you hear voices. It’s okay to keep secrets. Especially, your secrets about God, don’t tell anyone about your strange encounters with God. I mean, what else is there in this text?


Well, there is not a lot, but there is some. The first is when Jesus invites you to go someplace, go, because you never know what you will encounter. You can bet that Peter, James and John never, in their wildest dreams, expected to see Jesus transfigured, let alone meet Moses and Elijah on the top of that mountain. You can also bet that they never forgot that experience and that it fed their faith and their souls for the rest of their lives.


Had they said no, had they decided they were too tired for the walk, too involved in a conversation with another disciple, too concerned with whatever it is that they were doing when Jesus said Hey, lets the four of us go for a walk, they would have missed out on this fearfully transfiguring experience.


Then not only should you go wherever Jesus takes you; you should also listen to him, that is to what he says. Now it would be nice if Jesus’ voice came to us out of the cloud as the Father’s did in the story. Or even if he sat on our shoulder and whispered into our ear the answer to our every question or gave us our every needed direction.

Unfortunately, we don’t have that – or most of us don’t – I won’t eliminate the possibility that God might speak audibly or directly in some way to some people. But we do have scripture and experience that can speak to us – if we are willing to take the time, to spend the time needed to be with Jesus and listen.


There is also, in this text, the reminder that what goes up, must come down. Now it is really hard to not insert a balloon joke here, but I will resist that temptation. The text doesn’t say how long Jesus and the disciples were on the high mountain, nor how long the transfiguration experience lasted. But when it was over, Jesus touched them, told them to not be afraid and down the mountain they did go.


Peter was ready to stay up on that mountain forever – making dwellings for everyone. You know Lord, I’m not sure what is happening, but this is got to be some miracle, I mean Moses and Elijah, let’s just stay here and keep this dazzling holiness, whatever it is, going.

You can’t blame Peter. There isn’t a sane person who doesn’t want to keep a good thing going, who doesn’t wish a mountain top experience would last forever. It’s human nature.

But people live in the valleys. This is where ministry happens. This is where we are called to be. Even Moses had to come back down the mountain eventually.


And finally, speak up. I know Jesus orders Peter, James and John to tell no one. Why, I don’t know. It is one of the big mysteries of Matthew’s gospel. Jesus is constantly telling people not to tell anyone about what he does in Matthew’s gospel.


But sometimes, as in this case, it is conditional – Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead. So, you see, they are supposed to remember this event and eventually tell others about it.


We don’t know if Peter, James and John obeyed the order, but if they didn’t, and again, who could blame them, could you keep silent about seeing dead people and hearing voices from a cloud? But if they didn’t, they would be in good company, in most cases, Jesus’ instructions go unheeded and the person receiving the order goes and tells everyone what Jesus has done, spreading the news of his power and teachings all the more.


And isn’t this exactly what we are supposed to do as disciples – spread the good news of Jesus Christ. Throw open our arms and let the light of our hearts shine. But we also have to open our mouths and tell others what God has done for us. To let them know how our travels with God up and down the mountains in life have changed us, have saved us, have healed us, have touched us and helped us up and told us not to be afraid.


I guess there is more in this story than just special effects. Something for us today to carry down the mountain and into the world beyond our doors. So, I guess I won’t need this Chatbot sermon after all. [crumples paper & tosses it to floor]



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



Pastor Cheryl Hoffman's sermon for February 12, 2023

Readings: Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Psalm 119, 1 Corinthians 3:1-9, Matthew 5:21-37

Each time I read today’s lesson from Deuteronomy one word immediately leapt to my mind. It is, appropriately, a Hebrew word and, I bet, it is a word that most of you know. The word is “L’chaim.” It means “to life,” and is the traditional wish Jews share when raising a glass in celebration. Of course, as soon as “L’chaim” popped into my mind I began to sing “to life, to life, L’chaim, L’chaim, L’chaim, to life” (from Fiddler on the Roof). Maybe not quite so appropriate.

But “L’chaim,” itself, “to life,” is very appropriate for today’s readings, and not just Deuteronomy.

Last week, I told you it is all about God (it’s always about God). It’s not just what we do, but why we do it – for the glory of God and not our own glory? Does any of this sound familiar?

Well, in today’s texts, God tells us what God is all about, and it can be summed up in one word, LIFE. God wants nothing more for God’s people, for all people, than life. You might even remember that in the gospel of John, Jesus says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). And for God, life, full and abundant life, means to be in right relationship, with God, and with each other. This is the purpose of the commandments, to keep us in right relationship. This is the purpose of Micha’s words, “to do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with God.” This is the purpose of all those hard words we heard Jesus say in Matthew’s gospel reading.

Speaking of which, what is a preacher to do with this passage? If you are angry with your sibling, or insult them, you will be liable to judgment. Call someone a fool and off to the fires of hell you go. Have a disagreement with someone, settle it quickly lest you lose your case and languish in prison. Cut off your body parts if they just dare to tempt you to sin against another. And don’t even think about lying or deceiving each other.

Was Jesus speaking in hyperbole? Was he just trying to be funny to see if his disciples were really listening? To what extent was he being serious?

I mean cut off your hand, pluck out your eye, say “you fool” and land in hell? Jesus makes the ten commandments look easy or gentle, or at least something doable, maybe even embraceable, compared to his harsh, slashing, impossible restructuring of “the rules.”

But let’s move beyond the impossible decrees and jarring consequences. Consider the bigger picture. With each of his “you have heard it said, but I say to you…,” Jesus addresses one common theme, our relationships with each other.

With each of his instructions, Jesus says care enough about each other to do more than just what is required. The commandments say don’t murder, but be smart enough, care enough, to never let it get that far. Already, when your anger rises, stop and reconcile your differences. Choose life not death. L’chaim!

There is a quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi:

     “Your beliefs become your thoughts, 

      Your thoughts become your words, 

      Your words become your actions, 

      Your actions become your habits, 

      Your habits become your values, 

      Your values become your destiny.”


Perhaps something like this is behind Jesus’ words about cutting off a hand, or plucking out an eye. Our sins do not just “happen.” They do not occur in a vacuum. Our words and actions are first thoughts. If we are to remain in right relationship with each other, we need to nip in the bud those errant beliefs and thoughts, before they can become wrong words and actions. This is how we choose life. L’chaim!

As for divorce, remember that in Jesus’ day, a man could divorce his wife at any time, for any reason, simply by saying so, and giving her a piece of paper that made it so. A woman, on the other hand, had no such rights, no rights at all, really. With this in mind, the words that Jesus speaks here are not just about divorce, they are about justice. They are about living in right relationship, as husband and wife. L’chaim!

Jesus always speaks for those who cannot speak out, or speak up, for themselves, whether it’s a wife, a widow, a leper, tax collector, the poor, the lame, even the sinner. He is always on the side of the least of these. His goal is always restoration of relationship. L’chaim!

Had we kept reading in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus goes on. Speaking up for the evil doer, turn the other cheek; for those that want to sue for your coat, give them your cloak also; for those who beg of you, do not refuse them; for those who persecute you, pray for them; and, the clincher, for your enemies, love them.

Each one of these “you heard it said, but I say to you,” is also about living in relationship with each other. Doing what we can to plant the seeds of grace and good relationship, even when we would rather not. L’chaim!

Every interaction, says Moses in Deuteronomy and Jesus in Matthew, impacts our relationships. Every interaction is a choice, conscious or otherwise, for light and life, or for darkness and death. We either grow together toward abundant life, or we grow apart toward desolate death.

My concern, right now, is that we, as a people, are growing apart. It’s not just the big murders, it’s the little stabs of the knife. It’s the swearing, the name calling, not serving a team of kids at your restaurant because of the color of their skin. It’s here in Connecticut, this week.

And how can we build life-giving relationships, if we will not even reach across the aisle to shake a hand? Or when we go to war with our neighbors, instead of loving them as we love ourselves. And, it seems we’ve forgotten how to love our loved ones, let alone how to love our enemies. Yes, I’m deeply concerned about choices being made around the world these days. But, I learned long ago that I, that we, cannot control the choices of the world. Maybe we can influence to some degree, but we are only in control of our own personal choices, and the choices we make together as a community. When Fred returns this week, knocks on the parsonage door while I’m writing my sermon, and needs bus money to get to his court hearing; when his friend asks if we have any coats because she’s sleeping in a tent, I have choices to make.

When we are asked to use our building, or to give our treasured time and resources, we have choices to make.

When we are driving, and traffic is bad, and we are late; when people want to cut in front of us, or someone sneaks in line in front of us at the grocery store; or when the restaurant service is slow; or when we hear a racist joke; or when we see an injustice being done; we have choices to make.

Choices that will either grow life giving relationships, or isolating death. Let us choose wisely. L’Chaim! And, amen.

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



Attitude & Purpose

Pastor Cheryl Hoffman's sermon for February 5, 2023

Readings: Isaiah 58:1-12, Psalm 112, 1 Corinthians 2:1-16, Matthew 5:13-20

It was my turn to lead our weekly pericope study last week (area pastor’s study the weekly Bible texts). As I was reading commentaries for Isaiah, I came across this question: How would your congregation respond to this call to worship?

“We hope you are not planning to go through the motions in worship, singing the songs but never engaging your hearts, hearing the Scripture but not listening for God, or giving an offering but not giving yourselves, because if so, you are not doing God any favors. You do not get points for attendance. If you really worship God today, then you will share with the poor, listen to the lonely and stop avoiding those in need.”

Now, let us prepare our hearts and minds for worship. As you know, I didn’t choose to discover the answer to this question. Nor am I going to put forth the suggested preaching challenge and say, “If you are not here to give yourself to God, then you should have stayed home.” Because, well, the truth is, I am a wimp. I do not have the bold confidence of the prophet Isaiah. Of course, Isaiah was not speaking on his own behalf. The words we heard were not his words, but the words of the Lord, some pretty harsh words.

Last week, I spoke to you about foolishness. On display in those texts was God’s foolishness. Paul reminded us of the foolishness of the cross, while Jesus spoke to the foolishness of God’s blessings in all the unexpected places.
Well today God speaks of Israel’s foolishness. “Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. You want to know why you fast, but I do not see? Why you humble yourselves, but I do not notice? Here is why: you serve your own interest on your fast day and oppress all your workers. You fast only to quarrel and to fight. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.

“Your time of fasting needs to make a difference. When you fast, share you bread with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into your house; when you are sitting in sackcloth and you see the naked, cover them with your own clothing; and stop hiding from your own needy family members.”

In other words, it is not just what you do, but with what attitude and purpose you do it. It is no use fasting, if all you are going to do is be hangry and bicker with each other. This is not a fast that brings glory to God. And, don’t fast if you are going to curse your workers, or make them toil extra hard to cover the work you aren’t doing. Why should they be mistreated for the sake of your fast? This is not right or just. If this is your idea of a fast, you have totally missed the point.

And now the hard questions because Isaiah, that is, God, is really speaking to us, right? What point are we missing? Which of our righteous practices have become self-serving? Which actions have lost their purpose, or the commitment, with which they are carried out? The other week someone saw me putting my watch back on after worship and asked: “You don’t wear your watch in church?”

I said, “No. I usually take it off because this is God’s time, and worship takes as long as it takes.” It’s also why I don’t bring my phone into the sanctuary, unless I intend to use it for a specific purpose during the service.

The time I’m here belongs to God. Well, all time belongs to God, but I’ve set aside this time to worship God, and God deserves my full attention. It’s hard enough to keep my mind focused some mornings, I most certainly don’t need the help of a buzzing distraction on my wrist or by my side.

But, I know not everyone feels the same way. I hear about it when the service goes “too long.” And, I see when people take out their phones during the service to check their texts. It does make me wonder about the why behind the coming to worship, the meaning behind the practicing of the sabbath.

This made me think about a story the author of our bible study book told. “When I was raising money for our churches new homeless shelter, [she wrote], I sat next to an acquaintance at our weekly Kiwanis club luncheon. He was a wealthy and influential man in the city, and I hoped he would make a significant contribution to our work. I knew him to be an active leader in his church. Over our salads, I told him about our project. I shared the difficult circumstances of the guests in our basement shelter and how we believed we were all neighbors, beloved by God and worthy of care and concern.

He put up his hand and said, “Eugenia, I'm a Christian, all right. But you are talking Sunday stuff. This is Tuesday. You are talking money, and money is for business and not for Sundays.” The author notes that her acquaintance “had managed, rather dramatically, to put God in a box to have a claim on his life and resources, only at certain times and in certain areas.”
Apparently, for this individual, what happens on Sundays, stays on Sundays. In no way, do Sunday happenings inform what he does on Monday through Saturday. Even such conversations are off limits. This is exactly the kind of person to whom God is speaking through Isaiah.

If being a Christian doesn’t change you. If doing what Christians do: attending worship, praying, fasting, giving alms on Sunday, doesn’t change you, if it doesn’t affect, guide and inform who you are, and what you do on all the other days, then the name Christian only serves our own interest. It does nothing to bring God glory. And, we really aren’t Christians at all.

If we want to use the gospel imagery, we might say this is the equivalent of putting our light under a basket. It’s OK to let God out for an hour Sunday morning, but at the end of that hour, back into hiding he must go. There’s no speaking out against racism or injustice. No helping the homeless. No sharing the gospel good news with the hopeless. No reaching out, touching the sick, or offering a prayer. “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Letting our light shine is our vocation as Christians.

And, what does it mean to let our light shine? It means exactly what Micha taught us last week: to do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. To do justice and love mercy necessarily requires us to get involved with the lives of others. It means we must do out there, what Jesus does, and what we talk about doing in here. However, if we say, “Have a good week,” walk out the door, don’t let what we heard, or the meal we received, guide our thoughts and impact our actions over the next six days, then the purpose of this hour is little more than a social gathering. Then I am ineffective at my job. Then we are not taking our vocation seriously. Then we have become self-serving and have hidden our light.

Harsh words, I know, but God doesn’t ask us to only make nice and play well together. He calls us to do, and to love. Share what we have with those who don’t, bring the outsiders in, dress those in need, with dignity and not shame, and throw open our arms to all our brothers and sisters without judgement. He calls us to do these things, not because it will make a name for us, but because it will bring glory to God, through whom we are able to do all these things.

It’s always about God. That’s the point the Israelites were missing in their fasting. It’s always about God, our worshiping, our giving our receiving, even our fellowship. It’s all to the glory of God in here, so that God’s glory can be carried out into the world, to the people of God, out there Monday through Saturday.

That’s the point. Let us pray for the courage to let our lights so shine, that God’s glory will be unmistakable in the world’s darkness. Amen.

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

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