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If you have a prayer request, please send it to pastordelawareheadwatersparish@gmail.com.  We will be happy to add it to our prayers during Sunday service. If you have a request/need for private counseling or a time of prayer with Pastor Dawn or Pastor Peg about a personal matter,  please contact the office or either Pastor. 

Sermons

Only the two most recent sermons from Pastor Peg are posted here.  She also posts her sermons weekly at pastorpeg.wordpress.com

 

 

   

Doing What We’re Supposed to Do

February 18, 2024     1st Sunday of Lent

2 Peter 1:3-8   Matthew 21:28-32

 

            In our sermon series for Lent we’re going to be talking about the parables that Jesus told during the days between his entry into Jerusalem and the Last Supper.  During this time there’s an underlying tension in these stories.  When Jesus was teaching or preaching in the countryside of Galilee it was just to ordinary people dealing with their daily lives.  The stories that he tells in Jerusalem are more politically charged even if they’re not political stories.  This is because the religious authorities really felt threatened by the movement that was developing from the teachings of John the Baptist and Jesus.

       While the Jewish Authorities were probably upset when Herod arrested John, and were also not happy that John had been executed, they were also probably a little relieved.  John had been preaching repentance because the Messiah was coming.  Getting people to repent and renew themselves into more spiritual lives was an okay thing to preach, it was the Messiah part that made them nervous.  Since the beginning of the Roman occupation there had been a number of people who had proclaimed that they were the Messiah and had successfully started revolutions against Rome.  Some of them started pretty good uprisings that ended up costing a lot of innocent people their lives.  So, the idea that someone was going to style themselves as a Messiah made the Temple Priests uneasy.  They wanted to keep the status quo and not give the Romans any excuses to crack down on the population or oppress them even more than they already were.  

            The setting of Jesus telling this parable takes place in the Temple.  The day before Jesus had entered into Jerusalem.  Now Jesus is back in the Temple courtyard and holding what we would consider to be a discussion group.  This was a common thing for teachers to do: They would park themselves in the courtyard with their students and then they would answer questions and debate theological issues.  People were free to join in the discussions, and the question and answer sessions.

            While Jesus is doing this a group of elders, probably teachers who are usually at the Temple, come up to him and ask him by what authority does he have the right to be teaching.  Jesus says that he’ll answer their question if they tell him by whose authority John the Baptist could preach.  This stumps the elders.  John was a very popular figure because he stood outside of the system, was truly holy, and lived as he spoke.  Many people believed in his message.  If the elders say that his message came from heaven, they would be condemning themselves since they didn’t follow him.  But if they said his message was from himself, the crowd would get angry, because they did believe that John was a true prophet.  So, they tell Jesus that they don’t know.  So, Jesus replies that he then can’t tell them where his authority comes from.

              Right after that Jesus tells the story of the two sons.  Now the great thing about Jesus’ parables is that we can all imagine these situations playing out in our own lives, maybe not in the same way, but in similar ones.  I’m going to retell it with the word “children” instead of sons, because in our modern times girls can act this way too. 

            So, a parent has two children, and he needs them to go work in the family vineyard for the day.  One child says, “No, I won’t go.”  But then they think about it for a bit and change their mind, and in the end, they decide to go and do the work.  The other child right away says, “Yes, I will go do the work,” but then never shows up.     

       Every parent can relate to that.  We don’t need a vineyard to imagine a similar scenario like cleaning a room, moving the lawn or straightening out the garage.  We can even imagine the different types of personalities that could be involved.  

            Take the child that originally says NO.  This child could be the typical rebellious teenager; the one who thinks that mom and dad don’t understand them; that their parents only want them to work in the family business; and they would much rather hang out with their friends or even work for the neighbor in the grocery store.  I mean, come on, vineyards are boring, and hot, and there are all these grapes that I can’t even eat.  I just want to go play my guitar and work on my music.  I don’t want to clean my room or clean out the garage

       But in the end the child thinks about it.  It is the family business.  It provides food for the table.  Mom and dad work really hard to make the vineyard work.  And there are some nice other workers in the vineyard.  Maybe one of my friends can come over and hang out with me while I clean the garage.  Maybe I can go work for a while and then play my guitar later.  So, the child makes the choice to go and do the work after all.  

            Then you have the other child who right away says YES.  I see this kid as having one of two personalities.  Either they are the child who’s a little devious and says YES, to get their parents off their back and then just goes and does what they want to anyway.  Or they’re the child who really means YES at the moment but gets distracted by life and never shows up where they are supposed to.  I’ve known both kinds.  And while I’ve never been the first, a few times I have been the second, so I sympathize with that kid.  When you’re young it is easy to be distracted by the world and not show up even when you said you would.  But either the kid chooses to ignore the work or to be distracted.  And in both cases the work doesn’t get done and people are disappointed.  

There’s a process of maturity that’s happening here.  We’ve all gone through rebellious phases, sneaky phases, or distracting phases in our lives.  Part of growing up for all of us, and I don’t think any of us ever stop growing, is to recognize and accept our responsibilities, and make choices that are good and productive for ourselves and those we love.  Part of the maturation process, and part of our daily process, is evaluating what we are supposed to do that will be aligned with the desire of our Divine Parent, or God.

Now Jesus asks the elders: Who did the will of the Father?  And of course, they answer the first child who said No but ended up doing Yes.  And remember last week when I said that prostitutes and tax collectors were the lowest of the low on the social scale?  Well, here is Jesus telling these people who are in charge of the Temple that those scum of the earth prostitutes and tax collectors, who at first said NO to God by choosing unclean and immoral employment, are going to be welcomed by God because they listened to John and repented.  And some of them now are even sitting in that holy temple as Jesus’ disciples.  

The elders are the ones who said, Oh Yes, I will follow God and love him, and love my neighbor as myself, and then didn’t do it.  Even when they listened to John and saw that people were repenting and changing their lives, they didn’t believe or allow themselves to change.

When we follow God and Christ we are challenged to change for the better.  In the end it is the choice put into action that is important.  It’s not important that the first child says NO; it’s important that the child does YES.  It’s not important that the second child says YES; the child is judged by the action of NO.  With God, the past does not equal the present or the future.  The repentance, of turning to a different direction and going in that direction is the important thing.

But how do we know which direction to take; how do we evaluate our choices?  Well, I like to say go with GRACE. G-R-A-C-E.  Is this new direction you’re taking allowing you to do Generous, Renewing, Actions, of Compassion, that you can do Everyday, or at least most of the time?  Now your actions don’t have to be all those things at once but if they’re at least one of them then you’re on the right track.  If they are one or some of them, then you are doing what God wants you to do.

And also, be a little kind to the kids who say No.  Find out why they’re saying No.  They’re  confused or distracted and need help getting to YES.  And be a little kind to the kids who say YES, but then end not doing what they should.  They also might be distracted and confused and might need a little help figuring how to get to where they should be.     

As Peter said, we should make every effort to support our faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.   When we can get to doing with LOVE, we won’t just be saying and doing YES, we will be living in the grace of God.  

 

     

Salvation is for Everyone

February 11, 2024     6th Sunday of Epiphany

1 Timothy 1:12-17             Luke 19:1-10

 

            This is the last week of our Fresh Start sermon series, where we’ve been examining ways to start fresh in 2024 with Christ.  

            On January 7th, when we had the snowstorm, I was going to preach about one of the lessons that the story of the wise men give to us: That we need to open our hearts in life to accept God’s gifts.  Sometimes those gifts will be wonderful like prosperity, represented by gold; sometimes they will be healing, represented by frankincense; and sometimes they will be bitter but important lessons, represented by myrrh. 

Then we talked about Jesus’ baptism and how we can renew ourselves in Christ.  God and Jesus are willing to love us and accept us even when we make mistakes.  With our baptism we can put away our past and start over in life if we are truly repentant.  So, we don’t need to be hung up on our past and let it rule over us.  We can forge ahead with new ideas and action.

Next, Jonah taught us about how being afraid keeps us from doing what we know we need to do for God, and about the need to let go of negative attitudes.  And then we can have courage to do what we need to do, because God is like a mother hen who protects her children and will be with us always no matter what our difficulties.  

Then last week we talked about being thankful for what we are given as a way to keep ourselves from our fear and negative attitudes, and to have courage.  Being thankful helps us to recognize our talents and our resources, and keeps us in a positive frame of mind.  

Today we read about Zacchaeus, the tax collector and how this person is surprisingly accepted, forgiven and redeemed.

In the 21st century we might wonder why that would be a surprise to people in the 1st century.  Today a tax collector is simply an accountant who is working for the IRS.  None of us really like taxes, but we at least live in a country where the taxes, whether we agree with them or not, have been voted on.  Accounting today is an honorable profession.  Of course, you can be a crooked accountant – any profession can be twisted by an unscrupulous person.   But I think that if any kid said to their parent, “I want to be an accountant,” the parent would say okay.  

But in the first century tax-collectors were the lowest of the low, even lower than prostitutes on the social scale because of the system of how taxes were collected led to abuse.   

If you were Jewish, you had to pay three taxes: The Jerusalem Temple tax, the Herodian Tax, and the Roman Tax.  Now the Jews didn’t mind paying the Temple Tax.  After all it went to maintaining the Temple and the High -Priests.  It was a doable amount, and most Jews were proud of the fact that it was a beautiful place to worship.  But they did not like the Herodian tax, which went to pay for Rome’s puppet kings, Herod and his family, and the Herodian police whose main job was to keep Jewish people in-line and out of Rome’s way.  Neither did they like the Roman tax which basically paid for the occupying army of Rome.  The Jews didn’t like that they were paying the Romans to occupy and oppress them.  

Eighty percent of the population lived below the poverty line and gave up about 25-60% of their income every year.  That wide margin existed because there wasn’t a lot of regulation in the system, so tax-collectors could fudge numbers.  They weren’t paid a salary by the government.  Instead, they charged people a fee to collect their taxes, and since there was no regulation many tax collectors charged outrageous fees and made themselves rich. 

So, tax collectors were seen as greedy people who, since they worked for Herod and Rome, were willing to get rich by helping to oppress their own people.  No one liked tax collectors, and no one thought that they were worthy of any redemption.  I can think of a few occupations in today’s society, such as drug pushers and internet scammers, who could be their equivalent today.    

You can see why people grumbled when Jesus had dinner at Zacchaeus’ house.  Zacchaeus was considered to be so socially unacceptable that Jesus shouldn’t have taken notice of him.  But remember that Matthew, who was also a tax collector, was a member of Jesus’ disciples.  Matthew abandoned his job to follow Jesus, which tells me that maybe he wasn’t so entrenched in the job.  We can assume that Zacchaeus, however, had been at it for a while, since he owns a house, and is able to provide a feast for Jesus and his disciples.  

Zacchaeus takes Jesus’ messages about being a fair and righteous person to heart and declares: Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.  He really wants to become a good person.  He repents of his wrong actions, and he’s willing to make restitution and match his action to his words.  

Now maybe this isn’t going to make everything right that he’s done wrong in the past.  When something goes wrong it’s hard to straighten the problem out to make things the way they were.  We often can’t rewind back to before because too much has changed.  But there’s a saying: In the word absolution is the word solution. Work through to the solution of your problem and the absolution is going to take care of itself.   Zacchaeus can’t erase all the harm he’s done by his greed but from here on he can make things better for people, and he can stop his bad behavior so that he won’t harm people further.  It might be a painful process, but he will truly feel his redemption inside himself when it’s done, and maybe the people who he’s hurt will accept the new person he’s become.

After Zacchaeus’ declaration, Jesus declares: Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.  Even though Zacchaeus took advantage of his neighbors and exploited them, while working for the people who are oppressing them, he is capable of salvation.

This is a powerful message, because it means that anyone, no matter how far away they’ve gone from God, can be brought back to God.  

To follow Jesus is to learn how to live in this crazy world with continual salvation.  To know that when we mess up, we can get back on the right path because of the promise of our renewal in baptism.  We have gifts and graces as our resources.  We work on positive attitudes, and we know that God supports us with His strength and belief in us.  

But part of our following Jesus is to see the value of everyone.  I know that not everyone is a good person, and some toxic people need to be avoided, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t of value to God.  A friend of mine once said, “Peggy, God commands us to love everyone.  But we don’t have to have lunch with them.”   But to love someone who is mean, greedy, selfish, or just not nice is a hard thing to do; it’s probably the greatest challenge a Christian will ever face.  

How do we do it?  First of all, pray for them.  I know that praying for difficult people might seem like a waste of time, but when you pray for someone who is difficult you are connecting with and developing your compassion.  And prayer is also a great way to work out your frustrations in your conversation with God or Jesus.  There is nothing wrong with saying to them: This person is driving me crazy; this is why; tell me what to do about it.  

Next, don’t let the person throw you off your nice and kind game.  You don’t have to be mean back.   Keep on being polite and level-headed and pray for yourself to not to fall into the emotional drama trap.  Jesus didn’t turn around and snap at the people who were grumbling about him eating with sinners.  Instead, he focused on Zacchaeus and his value as a human being.  People are often mean because they don’t feel valued.  Jesus always made people feel valued and loved.  

Now a lot of people think that being nice means that you allow mean people to run over you.  This is not true.  Boundaries are important with Christians.  And there is no reason why we cannot insist on reasonable, right-living, and compassionate behavior.  The difference with a Christian is that we stand with kindness and understanding, when the other person doesn’t.  We stand with forgiveness of mean behavior, not to excuse it or to overlook the consequences, but in the hope that our example will help others see how life should be lived.  And maybe that sounds a little self-righteous and priggish, but would you rather be a kind, good example or a snarky, mean one?  That is the choice that each of us has in our dealings with the world.

The offer of salvation is for everyone; even for nasty people.  That’s one of the hardest acceptances we have as Christians.  But if a former drug-dealer walked into our church and said that he wanted to change his ways because he had seen the light of Christ, would we accept or reject him?  Rejection for me would be easy because I have dealt with family members who got lured into drug addiction.  Acceptance would be very hard, and I would need to do a lot of praying and soul wrestling to do it.  

But I like to think that each of us would be willing to try.  Because then we could say that we are truly Christians and living Jesus’ message of love for everyone.