I grew up in cattle ranching country, and my father was a rancher. As I look back, I realize many of my memories revolve around riding with him in his pickup truck. He would drive fairly slowly, and his eyes were always scanning, looking for the herds, and counting the cattle. He always knew the size of the herd, so he knew when one was missing. Yes, he would look for it, and not rest easy until he found it. He may not have overtly rejoiced, but I have seen the relief on his face when the missing were accounted for. He and I did not always see eye to eye, but when I think of him behind the steering wheel as he scanned the herds, I am filled with admiration. Truthfully, I wish I could tell him that in person, but my prayers of gratitude must do. Every day for over four decades, he tended the herds, counting them, and responding to their needs.
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
HE IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN, INDEED!
Announcing Worship Services at the Discovery Site on Sweeney Ridge at 6:47 a.m. Master bagpiper David Vasheresse will lead our united group up to the summit at the Discovery Site.
Resurrection Day Holy Communion at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in the Linda Mar District of Pacifica, California, at 11:00 a.m. All regulations and stipulations of the Pandemic Committee will be observed in both worship opportunities, including masks, social distancing, no singing, no touching, as well as all common sense measures.
"...they killed Him by hanging Him on a tree, but God raised Him from the dead on the third day on the third day and caused Him to be seen..." Acts 10:39b-40
"...at this, she [Mary Magdalene] turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn't realize that it was Jesus..." John 20:1-18
Prayer for this Easter Sunday of 2021
On this jubilant Easter Sunday morning, we want to give you hearty praise and thanks for your manifold blessings of every kind --- human companions and fellowship, nourishing food, healing of heart, soul, mind and body, warm clothing, all the necessities provided, all the opportunities to be healthy, comforted and wise.
We pray for our troops overseas. We pray for those who have lost loved ones in the pandemic, and those who have the virus. We pray for our nation. We pray for our economy. We ask that America might be a beacon of light to a dark world. Foremost, today, though, we thank you for the gift of faith. Help us today to fully appreciate the sacrifice of Christ Jesus and understand anew the power of His resurrection. We pray in His holy name.
Greetings to you and yours as together we rejoice greatly at "just the thought" of Easter, and traditionally, how this great festival in the church year has brought such happiness to individuals and families. People love to be in the church sanctuary on this day. People love to hear the magnificent Easter hymns and the Bible lessons for this day. They find real encouragement to make their lives, and as well, their struggles seem like nothing compared to the hope they have in the Resurrected Christ Jesus...stepping out of their way to choose Easter morning worship...and, I guess, for many, back to their normal ways...church involvement really not a significant part of their lives.
In this regard I'm not talking about the regular worshippers, but, on the other hand, those who come but once a year, or maybe two times, including, yes, you guessed it, Christmas. They are many...they range in the millions. I am grateful for the denominational fellowships that try sincerely to make church and faith an integral part of their lives... to make Jesus of Nazareth their personal Lord and Savior.
It brings to mind my particular focus recurrently about the difference between "religion" and "faith". As many of you know, I think of the two as being...like the difference in a railway station, between standing on the platform religion and getting on the train faith...
The platform is the railway station...the train is the Gospel Train and the engineer is the Lord Jesus Christ. The fuel for the train is the Holy Spirit.
I keep thinking about my father-in-law, eventually, the Rev. Francis Najmuddin, who said at one time, that Islam was good preparation for the "real thing", a personal relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. He stood on the platform religion and in the process memorized the "Koran Sharif". When he had an opportunity to read the New Testament, he knew in his heart that Jesus was the Son of God...He got on the train faith...and that cost him great deal...in addition to the fact that he was hunted down by his family for decades.
How much are you willing to pay for your spiritual well-being?
What are you sure of?
Are you still standing on the platform religion after all these years, or is it true you know---you have, indeed, gotten onto the Gospel train.
Is Jesus your engineer?
How much are you willing to go to move from your platform religion to the Gospel train faith? Do you know what it takes to do so? Some folks have thought for "time immemorial" that religion and faith were the same thing. Identical. In some ways they are exact opposites.
Why is it I like this verse better than the definition in the "Micah" passage? Because it says nothing about what I am supposed to be or do. There is no stipulation regarding requirements. The "Hebrews" passage has to do with unconditional assurance and certainty in my commitment to trust in God's plan for my life, rather than proving to God I'm good enough to deserve His favor. Faith is about trusting God alone! Religion requires mindset and behavior that will prove that I am good enough for God.
Personally, I love the Micah verse...I printed this verse on my calling card... my point here is that---it is "standing on the platform" in reverse...it's what you do and live once you have the "faith" principle in your heart...to do these good and perfect things without having the assurance of faith, at least Paul seems to think, is worthless...without profit for the informed Godly person. I want to introduce you to one "bottom-line" of getting on the Gospel train.
This is Easter Sunday. Even on Easter Sunday, it's never too late to introduce the Gospel Train to people who don't go to church, and also people who attend every Sunday...[a bold and dangerous thing to suggest]...but I'm going to do it...
How do we get off the platform religion and get on the Gospel train faith?
One key chapter of the Bible that is truly a "dividing line" between those who have finally---understood---and received---the inner-knowledge of faith and those who, without discerning, continue to stand on the platform.
Saint Paul's 1st Letter to the Corinthians...the fifteenth chapter...
If you don't pass this test...you're still on the platform...
Doing good things, having a solid ethical base to your faith life, is impressive. I think it's excellent...but, according to the Bible, according to Saint Paul...if that's all that Spirituality is "about" for you, you are doomed, and if you are right in this regard...we all are doomed...and left out in the cold and darkness.
You believe correctly that Jesus died on the cross of Calvary for your sins. You're totally in accord with what the Bible teaches. But, Sister, but Brother... if you struggle and doubt that Jesus was raised again on the third day, this whole business of spirituality for you is in vain. You might as well quit church, and leave Bible study, and good behavior, and do what you please...
They talk about what Jesus said regarding being "born anew". Yes, these things Jesus mentioned are true, but not at the cost of suggesting that "second chances in life" are the issue here. People in the church hide the fact that they do not believe...
The issue at hand in the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians is the bold affirmation of faith that...Jesus not only died on the cross, but He also was raised from the dead after being really dead for three whole days by the power of the Father.
Historically the situation in Saint Paul's appeal to the church people in Corinth was this. Christians accepted almost all aspects of the message Paul delivered. The exception in this regard was the issue for them of the Resurrection.
This became a "stumbling block" for them, because of the place of "philosophical reason" in their Greek lives. This needed to be addressed. And today in America, with our unschooled philosophic tradition of reason, for those educated in formal philosophy, and those not educated in philosophy, Saint Paul's challenge in the 15th chapter remains. In short, preachers of the Gospel must address the issue. Millions hide their disbelief to their peril.
Saint Paul goes on, "...if only for our present life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all human beings...but Christ has, indeed, been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep... for since death came through a man Adam, the resurrection of the dead comes through a man Jesus...for as in Adam all die, so in Christ, all will be made alive..." 1 Corinthians 15:20-22
The euphoria of Easter is rising up within me. Please note. Dear friend, you are not the first Christian to doubt the Resurrection and rationalize your belief. Remember our dear friend, Doubting Thomas. Let the Lord know your shortcoming. Ask the Lord to send the Holy Spirit to fill that empty space. This is and was not only an issue for the Corinthians... the issue is there for us and with us today...among laymen and clergy. The situation is...this is a bottom-line issue of the faith...let's address it this year on Easter Sunday, 2021. It will take a special touch of the Spirit.
HE IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN, INDEED!
Most cordially, Tom
From Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough
Blessings to each of you this Holy Week. For those of you who are Jewish, I recognize we are also in Passover. May you have a happy holiday! And for those of you who are Hindu, I recognize that Holi ended March 29, but may the love you celebrated always be celebrated! May we all acknowledge and celebrate our many paths to the Sacred.
I want to let you all know that every Wednesday night at 7:30 I host via Zoom a Centering Prayer meditation session. In Centering Prayer, we set our intention to make room for Christ (or whatever you call the Sacred) in our hearts. We begin with a short reading, meditate for 25 minutes, and then have a brief time of discussion. If you would like to take part, just send me an email and I will send the link.
Thursday is Maundy Thursday, a time when many Christians will gather to celebrate the Eucharist and prepare for Good Friday. Many will also wash one another's feet. The word Maundy means commandment. This is a time when we ponder Jesus' words to love one another. These words come after Jesus washed the feet of the disciples.
Love does require humility. Love asks us to serve one another.
God is our Alpha and our Omega. Since God is love (1 John 4:8), we can have confidence in knowing that love will always have the last word. Always. That is true for our very own hearts.
Holy and gracious God, thank you for teaching us to love. Thank you for holding this world in love. May our communities and families know this love. Help us to remember that love thrives when it is shared. May our nation and the world learn that peace will happen when we learn to treat one another with the deep respect that love brings. We pray for Christians as they journey through Holy Week. May they do so in safety and respect. We give you thanks for the gift of Jesus who simply asked that we love another. May we remember this commandment, and live this commandment. This is how we can serve the world.
In gratitude we pray, Amen.
In the meantime, have a beautiful Easter Sunday.
Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough, Associate Pastor
San Lorenzo Community Church, United Church of Christ
Significant Scriptures for Palm Sunday
"...because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced... Therefore have I set my face like flint...and I know I will not be put to shame..." Isaiah 50:7
"...let your face shine on your servant...save me in your unfailing love..." Psalm 31:16
"......the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord...only if his prediction is true...then the prophet Hananiah took the yoke off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah and broke it, and he said, before all the people, 'This is what the Lord says: 'In the same way will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon off the neck of all the nations within two years.' At this, the prophet Jeremiah went on his way..." Jeremiah 28:9-11
"...'Are you king of the Jews?' asked Pilate...'Yes, it is as you say', Jesus replied...the chief priests accused Him of many things... So again Pilate asked Him, 'Aren't you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of'...but Jesus still made no reply...and Pilate was amazed..." Mark 15:2-5
It was 1988. I'd been the pastor at Holy Cross for five years already, and, in fact, had been recently contacted by an insistent Scottish Presbyterian minister named the Rev. Dr. Harry Washburn to take over a chaplaincy ministry with the San Mateo County Convalescent Ministry, now called, SpiritCare Ministry for Seniors. I told him it was enough to be called his friend. Eventually I would do so in 1999.
I heard of a dramatic Easter musical. After a number of conversations with my Christian jazz buddy, Gordon Hultberg, known by many as "The Killer", together we decided to present the idea of the Holy Cross congregation putting on a major contemporary musical for the Pacifica community.
Holy Cross had always been a lively church body before my arrival, and it continued to be so, after Priscilla and I came. Our church council and the members got excited about the idea of having such a musical for Easter, and so off we went, headlong, into the project. Due to Gordon's directorship things went along smoothly. Gordon not only directed the play, but also took on the musical portion. Since every single member in the congregation had some function or "part" to perform, the question came up along the way... "Hey, who's going to come to see the musical---we're all in the production?" The response of all involved was, of course, "...the Lord will find a way..."
One of the production volunteers on lighting was a high school student, who was not a believer, named Erik Rasmussen, a student at Terra Nova High. I'm sure Gordon invited him to participate because he was accomplished in his art, but also, because Gordon has always had a delightful evangelical heart, and probably thought, God would do a work in Erik's life.
That happened, but let me tell you about it...
Erik did a great job for us. I thought, it was good for him to be with us, and good for us to have him help us, but I was certainly unsure about what kind of effect spiritually the message of the musical would have on him. I figured we were fortunate to have him on hand to help out.
One evening, after all the actor-members and production staff had left, I was cleaning up in the sanctuary at the altar. I'd thought that everybody else had already left for home or La Playa. I turned toward the exit and noticed Erik sitting in the back portion of a darkened sanctuary, in Merle Eggen's usual seat...
I was about to ask him what he was doing there, since it was past dinner time, and I knew he loved to eat, but I didn't have time to pose the question...
"Why didn't He say something? Why didn't Jesus say something to defend himself?" Erik asked. I was astounded at his question --- I was dumbfounded. His voice sounded perplexed and absolutely serious. For a split-second, inside of myself, I asked, "Who is this 'Erik Rasmussen' that I thought I'd 'sized-up' appropriately?"
Erik remained seated. I stood before him in the aisle. We talked. I cannot [for the life of me] remember what I answered, or if I didn't try to answer. I did ask my usual question, whether in conversation or counseling, "What do you make of it?"
It made no sense to him. Why didn't Jesus attempt to defend himself?
Incidentally, Erik continued to grow in his walk with the Lord. He was baptized and continued to grow spiritually and intellectually. There were setbacks along the way, but the Lord was with him. God gave him a wonderful wife and a fabulous family. He now lives in Australia and will probably read this message. Erik eventually went into Christian ministry as an ordained pastor, and then, after several years, went on to become a lawyer. Is it more than possible that Gordon's invitation to Erik to volunteer with us at Holy Cross actually ended up changing his life so fundamentally that he took the path in life that he has. As I remember that encounter in the sanctuary decades ago, I couldn't fully envision his life perhaps in ministry, or perhaps in law, but I did know, that the Holy Spirit entered into the deepest recesses of his heart.
It brings to mind the thought that the Holy Spirit can bring those, not necessarily only with "the hardest of hearts" to Him, but certainly those who seem so "distant" that they have no potential interest, nor ever could have, in the Gospel, or the Lord Jesus Christ, or the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit. There are those who say this is the age of technology, and of reason, and post-rationality alone... but I say not. This age and time in human history, more than any other, needs to know and experience the fact that there is forgiveness for those who truly want and need it...there is such a thing as dying to one's self...to become a new being... to leave guilt, shame, and regret behind...to be truly free inside, able to really enjoy life...and to know the Lord has a fail-proof provision for those who are fearful and lacking profound meaning in life...
Having breakfast with Erik after 32 years recently at "The Breakers" in Pacifica, Rockaway Beach...I reflected upon this very conversation...and also consequently, rich, rewarding fellowship with Erik over the years, now having become decades... a gentleman of vision, of insight and conviction, faith in the Living God, and great responsibility in serving others, a man dedicated to issues of justice and mercy. I sometimes wonder if he still asks the same question...or...if at times...persons of faith, like Jeremiah, too, and the Lord Jesus, just need to remain silent, and speak when the Lord wants us to speak...and to speak up...with assurance and conviction!
So why didn't Jesus say something to Pilate? Why didn't Jesus speak up to defend Himself? We don't have an answer to that question, and yet, we DO have an answer!
Because Jesus, in the wider perspective, was not on trial...Pilate and the chief priests were on trial. I can just imagine the Lord Jesus and Pontius Pilate in dialogue up in heaven...Jesus saying to Pilate, "Do you get it now, why I didn't try to defend myself?" I imagine Pilate replying, "Lord, forgive me! I should've known better! How can I deal in the eternal perspective...with what I did...and what I didn't do! I thought I was in charge...actually, Jesus, you were in charge..."
It paved the way for the cross, Jesus' death, the Resurrection...and our salvation...
You know, you are loved so dearly, so completely in the Lord. Respond to that love with your heart. Respond to that love with you mind. In the process, be kind to yourself, and be compassionate to others. Remember to pray for all in need.
Dan Cinti continues to heal...Lea will have her baby very soon...to all who've been ill or experienced loss, blessing and healing in Jesus.
Happy, Blessed Holy Week to all! Cordially, Tom
From Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough
Blessings as we enter Holy Week. May we all open the gates of hearts and let Christ abide in us. Let us continue to hold one another in prayer during this coming week, and always.
I need to study the text of Zechariah because centuries later this is how Jesus is described as he rode into Jerusalem for the last time. We will acknowledge this entry on this coming Sunday, which we call Palm Sunday. The theme of building, destruction, and rebuilding of the temple runs throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, as well as the New Testament. Jesus' life and ministry teaches us that we, too, are a temple for God. The physical body rises and falls, but our souls are an eternal temple. Holy Week helps us remember who we really are.
Jesus' entry into the city is filled with irony. He comes as a hero, but he comes riding, not on a powerful war house or in a glorious chariot, but on a donkey. His entourage consists of ordinary people who make a way for Jesus by laying their cloaks on the donkey and the foal, and on the ground where Jesus rides. I love this image. First of all, I love donkeys. Secondly, I love the reminder that Jesus comes humbly. One wants to linger with this story, because it does not take long for things to start falling apart.
Palm Sunday teaches us caution. If people are cheering us today, that does not mean that they will not be turning away from us tomorrow. Jesus learned this lesson even before this last journey. No where in the Gospel do we read Jesus' encouragement to follow the crowds and listen to the cheers. Jesus was far too focused on God to fall for such trappings.
In our own lives, things also fall apart. If we start from a place of humility that accepts this inevitability, we can find strength for the journey. As we begin to move into Holy Week, let us do so with a humble heart. Yes, Jesus suffered. Yet, the story does not end in the suffering. There is always more. Because there is always God. Let us tend to the temple that is our body, and rejoice in the knowledge that resurrection is real. Therefore, let us enter the gates of life with humility and thanksgiving for the Spirit that carries us ever on.
"The earth is the Lord's and all that it holds,
the world and those who live there.
For God founded it on the seas,
established it over the rivers.
Lift up your heads, o gates;
rise up, you ancient portals,
that the king of glory may enter."
Psalm 24:1-2, 9
Holy One, we thank you for the gift of the eternal Christ. Help us to tend to the Christ who is within all. Help us to tend the beautiful temple that is this life. Amen
Blessings this Holy Week to you all.
Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough, Associate Pastor
San Lorenzo Community Church, United Church of Christ
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
Next Sunday, March 28, 2021, is Palm Sunday
Thought for the Day
"...let us live up to what we have already attained..." Philippians 3:16
"...I will put my law in their minds...and write it on their hearts...I will be their God...and they will be my people..." Jeremiah 31:33b
"...I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection of the dead..." Philippians 3:10-11
"...now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast... They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request... 'Sir', they said, '...we would like to see Jesus'..." John 12:20-21
Gracious, faithful God!
This morning we desire---with all of our being---to give you hearty praise. The Scriptures clearly teach that as we do so, you inhabit that praise. We are "made whole" in praise. We are are restored in praise. We are refreshed in praise. It's been a past week of lots of challenges. We haven't always done the right thing the way we could have...
Lord, forgive us all our sins...those things we have thought, said, and done, that go against your provision for our lives. We are, yes, sorry for sinning against you...and you, only. Grant that old familiar sense and feeling of assurance and inner peace.
When we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness, we can count on your promise that we will be restored unto you. And then, in praise, we will be brought rightly into your powerful presence, and meanwhile, truly, we will come into ourselves. Thank you, God!
Grant us the courage, strength, patience, and confidence we need to be your friendly and fit representative of the Gospel in our world. Help us to remember to pray, at all times and all situations. Save us from discouragement during our day. Help us to be helpful to others. Help us to pass on the Divine reason we have for being an outgoing and peaceable human being. Let us be blessed. Let us be a blessing. Be with our troops overseas. Be with all those who serve at home...police personal, firefighters, politicians, pastors, and also, manual workers, garbage collectors, and farmers, who provide our food.
We pray all these things in the name of our personal Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! Amen.
As we consider the Scriptures for today and as well, think about the Bible verses from last week, I've been concentrating on those folks in the text who seem to be truly interested in meeting Jesus. There is the great Pharisee, Nicodemus, of course, and now today, the "Greeks", a group of Gentiles who have come to witness the Passover in 29 AD.
He probably could transport His hearers from their present circumstances and put themselves right into the middle of His parables. Or, perhaps they would fit themselves in His stories, identifying themselves with one character or another. The only conflict might be that a worker would be shirking his duty by listening. Think about it! There was no television, no movies, no cellular phones, and no street poster advertisements.
Praise the Lord! Let's go back to those times...
A person would have a sufficient amount of time to digest the various levels to be understood in the parables, and without constant interruption and distraction, pass on the wisdom of the teaching to others, and in the process, grow spiritually., and as well, make it a social thing. These days we hear these remarkable texts from the Bible, marvel at them, and move on to the next venue, hardly retaining anything permanently.It's a matter of having too much of a good thing.
Are we retaining what we are learning about Jesus and our relationship with Him in order that it can become part of us, Jesus becoming more--and you and I---becoming less?
The thought came up during our "periscope studies" last Tuesday in regard to the crowd on the original Palm Sunday --- Were the people on hand really interested in Jesus of Nazareth as "King of the Jews"? Or, did they gather for a remarkable teller of parables?
The conclusion was that Jesus was tagged by the crowd as a "miracle worker". Widespread talk all over Israel was that Jesus performed miracles. Nobody seemed to dispute that. The news had spread like wildfire, whether changing water into wine or healing someone. This was just the thing Jesus wanted to discourage. There had been a Divine "design purpose" in Jesus' coming...in fact...even before the foundation of the earth. Jesus was supposed
to come to save His people from their sins. The cost of this would be extraordinary, as we all know. Jesus would suffer horribly and die. However, one of the characteristics regarding Jesus was His compassion for others. One of the most important "telling" verses in the Bible is the shortest, "Jesus wept", John 11:35. And, yet, in spite of His desire to heal folks along the way, the main reason for His coming was the suffer, and die, and be raised again for your salvation and mine. The documentation seems to me so clear, as revealed through the Prophet Isaiah Isaiah 53 and hundreds of other references in the Old Testament.
What is the purpose of the Lord Jesus Christ? Who is He?
"...Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age?... Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world in its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe...we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block..." 1 Corinthians 1:20-23
Recently, I had opportunity to meet an old friend. He's always been such a wonderful, loving Christian gentleman, and yet, when we talked about Jesus a couple of weeks ago, he said, and I quote, "Jesus was a wonderful person...but, the suffering and death on the cross can be removed from the story. It's so sad, he was such a great man. The important thing is that he did the good things he did...that's what mattered then and that's what matters now...
This is not Christian faith. This is something else.
You and I were bought and freed from sin at great cost to God through Christ Jesus...
PERSONAL FORGIVENESS IS ESSENTIAL THROUGH THE CROSS
ETERNAL LIFE IS ESSENTIAL THROUGH CHRIST'S RESURRECTION
"...now, brothers and sisters...I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand...by this gospel you are saved if you hold firmly to the Word I preached to you...otherwise you have believed in vain...for what I have received I passed on to you as of first importance, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised up on the third day..." 1 Corinthians 15:1-4
I was shocked. This man had provided leadership for his church for decades, not some kind of "far-out snake-worshipping fellowship in a swamp some place", but from one of our standard Christian denominations. Someone might say I am over-reacting, but I'm convinced not...
I suppose there was a time I would've let that comment pass, and not ruffle any feathers. But, I've become a "crusty old fellow" lacking in manners, but also, exceedingly more aware to my very soul, the reason for the Lord Jesus Christ in my life. I sometimes think if I was the only human being who ever existed Jesus still would have come to save me from myself.
The Scripture which now comes to mind:
"...your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus...who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a slave, being made in human likeness...and being found in the appearance of a man, He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross! Therefore, God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father..." Philippians 2:5-11
Our journey to Holy Week, or Passion Week, is almost ended in the decisive year for many, 2021, during the Season of Lent. We've been walked with Jesus on the arduous, but beautiful pathway that'll lead us in Holy Week to our Jerusalem. For some, it wasn't a walk at all, but a "run" to win the prize of relating ourselves, and with many, updating our relationship with the Savior. Friends, we are saved by God's grace. I want to emphasize that this morning.
Nonetheless, it is encouraging to be reminded of how important it is for us to do just as Jesus did...to go out of our way...to put ourselves on the line...to share the story to those perishing...
Saint Paul writes:
"...don't you know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize...Run in such a way as to get the prize...everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training...they do it to get a crown that will not last...but we do it to get a crown that will last forever... therefore I don't run like a person running aimlessly...I don't fight like a boxer beating the air... No...I beat my body and make it my servant, so that after I have preached to others...I myself will not be disqualified for the prize..." 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
My friends in Christ, the Season of Lent is meant for this kind of preparation for Holy Week. To be able to experience the full measure of Easter's meaning for us as followers of Jesus it's important to focus. It's important to look within and note opportunities from without. It's essential to get back in touch with "the reason for the season", that is, Jesus Christ!
From Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough
Grace and Peace to you all. First of all for those of you in Santa Clara County, at the bottom of this email is some information regarding free counseling that is available for those impacted by the pandemic. If any of you know of similar resources for San Mateo or Alameda Counties, please let me know. The sharing of information can help us all move towards healing.
Friends, I know many of you are still carrying heavy burdens. Do keep in mind that PTSD is real and is rampant. I pray you and your staff take time to mourn, rest, and heal into wholeness. Please remember we are here for you and people are holding you in prayer.
Scripture: James 4:7-8
"Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you."
My "devil" is procrastination. I am often slow to take on what I perceive to be a difficult task. The irony is that procrastination takes an inordinate amount of energy and resources to maintain. It has to be fed continually. Often, far more energy is needed to procrastinate than to simply do what needs to be done. It is a heavy burden because we have to continue to carry that which is incomplete or undone. We can end up carrying so much that things can end up either not being finished well, or dropped and forgotten about.
Yet, we always have a resource to help us. We can remember Jesus in the desert. When faced with temptations, he relied completely on God. He held on to the teachings and refused to succumb to the illusion that he could be powerful and mighty. He knew that was not his path, so he did not walk it. He refused to pick that burden up.
Holy God, too often we make things difficult for ourselves and those around us because we try to carry too much. Help us to decide what truly needs to be done and to trust that you will help us complete those tasks. We thank you because so often you bring us help through one another. You remind us that we seldom need to do everything ourselves. Help us to not turn our illusions of independence into idols that only increase our burdens. May we remember that to be in Christ is to be in relationship. Knowing that we journey together, may we stay open to one another and to be thankful for one another. We know that in that gratitude, we are giving thanks to you.
In loving gratitude we pray, Amen
For those of you in Santa Clara County
A generous grant has allowed La Selva's Community Clinic to offer FREE telehealth counseling to underinsured and uninsured individuals who have been impacted by the pandemic. Healthcare workers are especially encouraged to participate, but all are welcome. Services are short-term and available in both English and Spanish. See this link to sign up and for more details. Contact Karen Salas-Caballero (employed by Momentum for Health) (408) 757-8449 for more details.
Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough, Associate Pastor
San Lorenzo Community Church, United Church of Christ
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
There's two more weeks to Palm Sunday, it's St Patrick's Day Sunday - St Patrick's Day is March 17th.
"...I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God...for the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline..." 2 Timothy 1:6a,7
DOING THINGS FOR GOD - SEEING BEYOND GETTING WHAT WE WANT
"...when Balaam looked out and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the Spirit of God came upon him..." Numbers 24:2
A SONG SUNG BY GOD'S PEOPLE RETURNING FROM BONDAGE IN BABYLON
"...Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good...His love endures forever..." Psalm 107:1
DEAD IN TRANSGRESSIONS, MADE ALIVE WITH CHRIST
"...God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions---it is by grace you have been saved..." Ephesians 2:1-10
FROM ONE OF THE GREATEST DIALOGUES IN THE HISTORY OF LITERATURE
"...for God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life..." John 3:16
Good morning, God! All praise to you, in these challenging days! We give you hearty thanks for life!
Definitely, Lord, we are in the Season of Lent, meditatively, seeking your will and doing things your way, like a seasoned runner under direction of a coach, to discover the prize for being a triumphant spiritual athlete. We run to win a spiritual trophy. We have our good days. We have our bad days. It's all in the game. For us, it's one day at a time, and we must not waste it. It's all so much a part of fullness in life. We are ready to "take this day on" in Jesus.
We train ourselves with a divine confidence we have within, given by your Word. We are not afraid of failure in our lives. We are safe in your undeserved grace. There is no failure in our Lord Jesus. We are led by your Holy Spirit. Thus, we commend ourselves into your tender, encouraging Call to be the best we can be.
Be with those who have suffered because of the pandemic. Be with our troops overseas and at home. Be with those who have suffered in their businesses and at their work. Allow us to be joyful day by day, but bring us through this time of trial and great loss to millions and billions around the world. In Jesus' name, Amen!
The Gospel Lesson for today from John 3:1-21 is not only "Heart of the Gospel" material from the New Testament, but it's also a world-class masterpiece of literature. It provides the same kind of direction the reader needs in order to grab onto and hold on tight to the fundamental essence of true spirituality. It involves two great Spiritual masters of the first century of the common era. One is the greatest of the religious teachers (rabbis) of his day, the Jew with the Greek name (which alerts us to something), Nicodemus ... and the young, impressive rabbi from Galilee, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (in the original, Joshua Ben Josef).
The great Nicodemus, the renowned teacher of all Israel, (we learn from the text) is keenly interested in meeting this "Phenomenon" from the North, now in Judea. The text says that Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of Israel. He was for his time, "the renowned one". He was the scholar of his day in Israel...the one everybody came to. Nicodemus didn't come to people. People came to Nicodemus.
BUT...it was Nicodemus who came to Jesus...at night...Why?
He didn't want to be recognized as "going out of his way" to meet this Jesus of Nazareth. Pharisees and Jesus were always seemingly at odds with each other, it is true, but wouldn't people be asking, why is this great man purposely stepping out to talk to the Nazarene? It was because Nicodemus sensed something deep within. Was it the healing
of the sick and the insane? Nicodemus was embarrassed because he was supposed to have "all the answers", but most likely, thought that Jesus had something to teach him. Therefore, Nicodemus came at night.
The text makes it clear that Nicodemus was impressed with the works Jesus was known to perform. He was convinced that Jesus was doing what He was doing with power from on high.
Jesus flips the conversation. I can imagine him looking directly at Nicodemus in such a way of dispensing with useless, needless conversation. I hope Jesus never looks upon me the way he looked upon Nicodemus.
"Very truly I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again."
Okay. We've arrived at a breaking-point in the conversation. From here on in, either Nicodemus will disengage, or he will give heed to something Jesus has said...that...will...indeed...transform his life.
Nicodemus pauses ever so briefly and indicates his interest in continuing the conversation..."How can someone be born when they are old? Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother's womb to be born?"
Nicodemus is "fishing". This was the typical conversational retort from a Pharisee...
Jesus lays things on the line. Both men are intently focused upon dialogue. I sense that Nicodemus will remember Jesus' words the rest of his life...
"...Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit..." This spiritual thing is not (bottom-line) about robes and stoles, candles and wooden altars, food-fellowship after worship,or how well the choir sings, or what kind of hat the pastor has purchased...
It's about dying to self. Letting go of living to satisfy "me". It's about opening up my human heart and letting God in. (God is a gentleman...He would never force His way into our lives.) It's about finding myself in my compassion for
others...It's about the assurance that God is going to be worthy of the trust we place in Him...It's about the knowledge that there is no failure in the Lord...
It's about dying...and being raised up by the power of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. It's about being freed from guilt, and shame, and regret...by the power of God in Christ to forgive us, to renew our spirits, and to restore the human spirit so that it no longer wages war on itself...
Other points of our interest and focus this morning are these masterpieces:
THE NATURE OF BIBLICAL SPIRITUALITY WILL BE POWERFULLY PERSONAL AND DIRECT
"...I will put my law in their minds...and write it upon their hearts...I will be their God...and they will be my people...no longer will their teach their neighbor, or say to one another, 'Know the Lord', because they will all know me, from the least of them...to the greatest...declares the Lord" Jeremiah 31:34
WE WILL SEE THE WISDOM OF DYING TO SELF AND BEING REBORN
"...I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me..."Galatians 2:20
FINALLY HABAKKUK'S FEELINGS ARE NOT DOMINATED BY EVENTS AROUND HIM, BUT RATHER,
IN GOD'S ABILITY BY FAITH TO GIVE HIM STRENGTH AND ASSURE HIM THAT ALL IS AND WILL BE WELL
"...I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound...decay crept into my bones...and my legs trembled...though the fig tree does not bud and though there are no grapes on the vines...though the olive crop fails...and the fields produce no food...though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls...yet, I will rejoice in the Lord...I will be joyful in God, my Savior!" Habakkuk 3:16a, 17
The story of the great life-changing conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus is...
No matter how intelligent and well-educated you are, you must come to Jesus with an open mind & heart so He can teach you the truth about God.
There is much more to the dialogue, but for today, we'll leave things at this.
Let me tell you something. For years, after your confirmation of faith when you were a teenager (way back when) and the years following, I've sensed there was a need for you to progress in your spiritual life...being the judgmental person may be, I sensed you were into religion, but you hadn't progressed from religion into faith. You want to kill yourself and die, but you want to do it, your way. I sense that God has allowed your present depression and thoughts of suicide in order bring it to your attention to do things His way. For that reason, I am so glad you decided to trust me enough to talk it over.
God wants you to die, but He wants you to do it His way, not your way. You need to die to yourself, and to your selfishness, and to your addictions. As Jesus said, and I know you remember the third chapter of John's Gospel, you need to die to yourself and be born again." There was a pause. There was a response on the other end of the line..."I understand. I am willing to do that." I responded with asking if he'd be willing to pray...especially about dying to self and accepting his new life in Christ. He was willing. We prayed together. I could feel the Holy Spirit come upon him and me. Since that time things have gone well for him.
In the Season of Lent with just two weeks remaining prior to Palm Sunday, Passion Week, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, we sometimes keep the Spiritual impact of this incredible week for granted. We go through the motions. We may even have a Spiritual lift, but miss out on the message of "new life" in Christ Jesus. We need to be born again. We need to die to self. We need to be raised up, with each new morning, to meet the new day with the full impact of the Holy Spirit upon us. Maybe this year you've been feeling down in the dumps. Maybe you've wondered if God even exists in our twenty-first century pandemic world.
Maybe, like my father-in-law, you have asked the question, "...Is that all there is to religion?..." He left his religious tradition to follow Christ Jesus. You know, religion is a good thing, but it really must transition into Christ-centered, selfless, faith in Him. Gracious God, grant your abundant blessing on my friends who have chosen to place their confidence in today's message and allow them to surrender and receive Christ.
Until next week, may the blessing of Almighty God, strengthen and uplift you...
"Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord!" Ephesians 5:19b
From Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough
I am so grateful for the calls and emails I am receiving with the news that indeed, things are improving in many communities. If your community is still struggling, please take heart. Things will ease. Please remember I am available to resume worship services, a Bible study, or a faith conversation via Zoom when you are ready. Just let me know, and we can schedule. My second vaccination is scheduled for March 24. I certainly look forward to that process being completed!
Please continue to hold SpiritCare in your prayers. This past year has played havoc with our budget. If your community can support us in some way, do let us know. Thank you for all the ways you have supported the ministry through the years.
"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." 2 Corinthians 3:17
The Apostle Paul mentions freedom several times in his letters, and I always find his encouragement to live into our freedom inspiring. Part of the reason for my admiration is that Paul spent a lot of time writing from prison. Yet, his heart was free. At the beginning of the pandemic, I read a biography of Gandhi, who also spent much time in prison. Yet, in his heart and mind, like Paul, he knew only freedom. Gandhi was not Christian, but a devout Hindu who knew freedom because of his deep love of the Lord as revealed to him through the Bhagavad Gita. That is where he found the conviction to lead his nation to freedom without violence. It is a compelling, inspiring story.
Let us say yes to that commandment and know that our love can never be contained. Love is of Spirit and cannot be boxed or shelved for a later time. Love lives. Blessed be.
Holy One, help us to drop the shackles of fear and disbelief. Help us to accept the love that you are always offering us. Fill us, Holy One, and help us to share that abundant love with all. We know this is our call. May we respond with open hearts.
In Christ we gratefully pray, Amen
Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough, Associate Pastor
San Lorenzo Community Church, United Church of Christ
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
Good morning, dear People of God! It's the third Sunday in Lent! Two more Sundays to go! Sincere condolence is extended to all who have lost loved ones because of Covid-19 and a note of gratefulness to all of our essential workers putting themselves at risk.
The following verses are the recommended biblical passages for the 3rd Sunday in Lent. There are two more Sundays in Lent of 2021 until Palm Sunday arrives:
"...and God spoke all these words...'I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery...'" Exodus 20:1-17
"...Jesus did not need the testimony about mankind, for He knew what was in each person..." John 2:25
"...when it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem..." John 2:1
Would you pray with me?
Once again we call upon you for that special access into your presence, your mind, and your heart. O, how we need the benediction of your grace for this day. Forgive us all of our trespasses and grant us the peace to know that you have the authority and power to forgive us, cleanse us, and make us over. Thank you for the Scriptures. Thank you for your insights and your grace to carry us through this day, and the days of this week. As we ask blessing for ourselves, we do so in concern for others, those we know and love, those we live and work with, and those who are far afield. We, therefore, ask that we may bring divine hope and assurance to those at risk in life, those who are in pain, and those who need to know they are worthy and loved. We pray these things in Jesus' name. Amen.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen!
"...when it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem..."
There is a direct connection between Jesus going to Jerusalem and the Passover.
The Gospel lesson for today is from the second chapter of John, at the thirteenth verse. It appears to me that Jesus is doing, in a way, what we are doing. Jesus is making the journey from Galilee in the north to Jerusalem in the south. This to me is a literal, and as well, a symbolic journey for the Gospel writer.
Am I so involved in the details of my living day by day that I haven't really focused upon the preparation and participation necessary to make Lent significant for me? Indeed! What have I been doing, thinking, and praying about...that makes Lent what it's supposed to be?
Jesus knew what He was doing, as detailed by the Gospel writer. And Jesus knows what He's doing now, in our lives. At times, you and I may not know what we're about, or where our head and heart are at, but Jesus does...not the Jesus of history, my friend, but the Jesus of today...and my destiny...in Him...Jesus, crucified and risen! Yes, the Lord is concerned about US. What's going on in OUR heads and hearts?
We're on a journey in the Season of Lent---leaving behind the comfort of family and friends in "good ol' Galilee" and heading toward, what---in some way---is destiny and trouble. As Representative John Lewis, of Georgia, used to say, "Good Trouble"! Life isn't just about doing the pleasant things in life...
As I reflect on the Bible account of Jesus' life, I sense that His greatest human joy was growing up and "living it up" and teaching in Galilee. The people there were, and are to this day, much less intense than the people in Jerusalem. Just give me the "good-time" folks of Tiberius, Cana, Nazareth, Capernaum and Magdala.
Do you really believe you are here on earth merely to be conceived, be born, grow up, graduate, get married, have children, work hard, mellow in life, get old, and die?
I remember Peggy Lee singing some years back, "Is that all there is?"
Do you really believe that's all there is to life?
It is the purpose of the Season of Lent to discern that significant difference between "summation" in life and "consummation"...no matter what our calling in terms of work or profession...no matter what our status in society...no matter what others may think of us...no matter how much money, or lack thereof... .
GOD HAS A UNIQUE AND POWERFUL PURPOSE FOR EACH PERSON
You and I can limit the greatness, the power, and the majesty of that divine destiny.
When we go back to John 2:11-12, we read: "...what Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which He revealed His glory, and His disciples believed in Him..." That's verse 11.
Jesus wasn't trying to convince his Galilean friends of His greatness and power. One could say that Jesus was honoring His mother's request...and yet...Jesus didn't want people to be confused about what His "bottom-line purpose" in life and therefore He encouraged everybody to remain silent about His miracles.
According to verse twelve, Jesus' time spent in Capernaum was not hurried. Jesus set ample time aside to be with His mother...and note this...His brothers... that is...as well as His disciples. [Please note here that Jesus had real brothers!] They must have had a good time together. It gave Him the encouragement He needed to fulfill His ultimate task, the one ordained for Him before the creation of the world. It also gave family and followers "something to hold onto" after the astonishing events of crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension that would follow...
The Lord Jesus would encourage each of us to enjoy our lives, and yet, not overdo it, getting swept away in the pleasures of life. He would encourage us to have good, faithful friends, and share "the good life" together. I keep thinking about John the Baptist's confusion regarding Jesus. Was He really the Messiah? Matthew 11:2 He was supposed to be, but, He just seemed to enjoy the good things of life much too much, according to John. Many Christians I know think one needs to "gut it out" in life, and not enjoy the simple pleasures, if one expects to be a genuine believer...that was probably where John the Baptist was at....but Jesus actually provided a much more ideal notion of what it means to be God's servant. Enjoy life, but know you have a destiny in God, and follow through.
The finest kind of evangelism I know of---is for the believer involved to be fully engaged in enjoying life and, if not "the life of the party", a full-fledged participant. But for those sticking around long enough to observe, that same believer is always there present to comfort, to assist, and to help those who are grieving or hurting.
So, what are some of the things you and I can do to get fully into Lent...
The first thing is to DEVELOP INSIGHT.
The twentieth chapter of Exodus is devoted to the Ten Commandments, but what precedes the Ten Commandments is worthy of being called, "AS IMPORTANT" as the Commandments themselves. We read in Exodus 20:2, "...I AM the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery..."
For decades I thought this was simply an introduction to the Ten Commandments. Actually, if it weren't for the first six words written, we would be put in great peril attempting to be good enough to make "the cut", that is, to be righteous enough to qualify for God's approval, good enough to become part of God's royal family, and to live our lives in the sure confidence of knowing that we are in the Lord's good graces.
God knows, and we know, that we live in a broken world. We are less than perfect, and we fall short of the glory of God in Christ Jesus. Since the fall of mankind, God has understood this, and now we know. God is not going to shut us out from His presence, because we aren't perfect. We're part of His family, even though, we fall short archery term: "sin", to fall short of the bulls-eye in terms of meeting the just requirements of the law. No wonder so many smart people become Christians.
WE ARE COVERED
Whether or not we're seemingly a little more perfect than most other human beings, the focus is upon ourselves... selfishness. Whether or not we are seemingly less perfect than most other human beings, the focus is upon ourselves... another strange sort of selfishness.
The superlative message of Lent... Let go of the negative things of life...and live positively in Jesus. Sin and our negative, tragic past are obliterated by the power of the Cross.
Without this insight, what was meant to be a blessing, The Ten Commandments become a curse for us... because we cannot fully live up to the requirements of God's law. The Ten Commandments give us good direction in terms of blessings when we give our very best... When we fall short, we don't hide from God or other human beings. We turn to God. We ask forgiveness. We have God's guarantee of unconditional forgiveness. We carry on in joy to live our lives to the fullest.
The second thing is to MAKE IT PERSONAL.
Saint Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:3b writes, "...no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit...". When I was a boy, I asked my Dad why Christian men and women in our home congregation would heard the words of Scripture and the pastor preaching, and yet, not seem to follow through in word and deed. Dad simply said, "I don't know. The Pastor certainly preached well this past Sunday."
We need to call upon the Holy Spirit to shore up our faith lives. Rather than trying, and trying again, to make it good on your own...call upon the Holy Spirit to help you in doing "the needful" for others and getting things done you'd like to do for the Lord.
Saint Paul is right. Jesus cannot be Lord of your life or mine, unless we involve the Holy Spirit. At that point, everything falls into place...you get the work you propose to do---done...you start the ministry at church you've been thinking about and your efforts are a success...you finally overcome the irritation you feel and anger you have toward neighbors and fellow members and you become best of friends.
Has Jesus been letting you down? Not really. God the Father and the Lord Jesus have been occupying the front seat of your automobile and the Holy Spirit has been in the back seat. You need to bring the Holy Spirit up front.
When you call upon the Holy Spirit to cause personal transformation to take place a flickering flame will become a blazing fire in your life which cannot be quenched.
The third thing is to DENY YOURSELF, i.e. FASTING.
From my past years, I know that Christians have denied themselves chocolate, the movies, popcorn, television, ice cream, comic books, and things like that. I would like to encourage you in Lent of 2021 to fast from...negative thinking in general...doubts about the love of God for you...being critical of others... getting "down" on yourself...allowing yourself to get upset when little unpleasant things happen...and thinking that when serious stuff comes your way---you and God can't handle it. I get the idea that, if you "fast" in this matter, you'll look forward to Lent every single year.
From Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough
Dear Friends, I apologize for being late, but yesterday was a very full day, and truthfully, as my mother would say, I ran out of steam. I pray all is going well with you, your families, and your communities.
Scripture: James 1:5-6
"If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind."
Our egos, however, really want to come up with the solutions on our own. The ego wants to be heroic, maybe even famous. This is not the path to wisdom and peace. Fortunately, we each have a sacred soul that has no interest in conquering the world, but rather living in relationship with it. I am reminded of some lines from a beautiful poem written by Alfred K. LaMotte entitled,
Love Doesn't Need a Story
"Whether you feed
the multitudes today
or only wash the dishes
makes no difference at all."
I once took a daylong cooking class in a commercial kitchen. I was struck by how difficult the work must be to do day in and day out. People are on their feet for hours. More than once I thought the heat from all the burners would surely do us all in. I also learned that as heavy pots and pans seemed to perpetually fill the large sinks, people who wash dishes are incredibly heroic. The same is true of the people who make beds, vacuum floors, empty the trash, and check out our groceries. Being heroic means going about our daily lives with humility and grace. Through prayer, we can learn how to live our lives in such dignity whatever our circumstances we find ourselves in. God is always willing to go where we need to be.
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
Life is something that happens to you while you're making other plans.
The Scriptural Lessons for the Second Sunday in Lent
There are five Sundays remaining to bring us to Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
"...I will make you very fruitful...I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come , to be your God, and the God of the descendants after you..." Genesis 17:6,7
"...my strength is dried up like a potsherd and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth... you lay me in the dust of death...Dogs have surrounded me...a band of bad men have encircled me...they have pierced my hands and my feet...I can count all my bones... people stare and gloat over me...But...you, O Lord, are not far off...O, my Strength... come quickly...to help me..." Psalm 22:15,16,19
"...it wasn't through the law that Abraham and His offspring received the promise that he'd be heir of the world...but through the righteousness that comes by faith..." Romans 4:13
"...Jesus then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law and that He must be killed and after three days rise again...He spoke plainly about this...and Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him..." Mark 8:31-38
We feel so grateful for the sure knowledge that, in trying times, when we do what we can do, you will do the rest. You give us courage to take-on the new day and the assurance that restful sleep will be ours in the night. Your strong and loving hand is upon us. We can take courage in knowing that your perfect love will cast out all fear, as well as, keep us safe from harm. Therefore we praise you with all our being. Grant us wisdom in these days and allow us to be the love of Christ with all compassion. Be with our American troops overseas and with our police and fire department on duty, and as well, the leaders and Jesus people of our congregations. We commend ourselves into your hands. We're blessed. We're made whole.
In Jesus' name, Amen!
The following is a meditation jotted down by one of our SpiritCare coordinators, the former
Activity Director at the Coastside Adult Day Health Center in Half Moon Bay. Her name is Chase Montara. Among other excellent qualities, one could sense immediately, in Chase, a powerful, compassionate spiritual presence. That quality became even more apparent to me as month upon month in 2019 passed. It was a pleasure to serve loving senior
participants she led and guided. Recently, Chase became the Church Coordinator for the Congregational Church of San Mateo, here in the Bay Area. I was touched by her rather moving "written sketch" she gave me. One could easily understand by the subject matter why Priscilla and I found it especially compelling to share with you.
It goes like this...
Anyone who has loved a dog will not find fault with the analogy made between dogs and God. We need only be greeted upon our return by the full body wag of our beloved companion to experience unconditional love. Hold your dog's gaze for a few minutes, if you can. Stare deeply into those eyes and you will find out how comfortable you truly are with being fully loved.
As a child, I did not understand what love was. I was told often. I spoke love often in return. But, there was a hollowness to the words, an un-returned canyon echo. I'm not sure why. But the longing to understand love was first fulfilled by my dog. When she returned my handshake for the first time. I was undone by the connection.
Allow yourself to be undone. If you can, let yourself be loved a little.
Chase Montara, 2019
Thank you, Chase, for a simple, but great lesson for all of us to take to heart. As Jesus took His very human, but sacred heart, to the cross, He had His divine heart broken, that folks like you and I may know the power of God's unconditional love to make us whole. You know, often I sense the unconditional love of Jesus, in the evening when I settle down on the couch, as Cooper hops up on my lap, and gently licks the finger on my left hand.
Many blessings to you and yours as you continue our heart journey with Jesus in Lent.
From Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough
Greetings to each of you! May you remember that you are blessed and loved. And that you are in our prayers. I am sure that I have shared Psalm 23 with you all, but today on my morning walk I found myself reciting this beautiful Psalm. What surprised me was that I was reciting the King James version. I thought I would share it with you today.
Many faith communities, including SpiritCare and the church I serve are finding ourselves in a time of discernment. How do we go forward? Budgets have taken significant hits. We have not been able to gather in person for a year. What does the future hold?
I think that is why Psalm 23 came to me this morning. It is a beautiful reminder that even in this time of Covid, we are all being led and that indeed, "our cups runneth over." We have more than we realize. The enemies we face are our fear and lack of trust.
Let us continue to remind one another and ourselves to hold on to our courage and our love. Has God ever abandoned us? Isn't God always doing something new in this world? As we pray, let us envision our hearts as a serene, beautiful lake. Let us imagine that we are there with Jesus and there is only the peace of his love. May we know that all is well and that we are right where we need to be.
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
TAKE TIME TO MEMORIZE THIS VERSE
"above all...love each other deeply...because love covers over a multitude of sins" 1 Peter 4:8
WHEN WE SUFFER - NORMALLY - WE DRAW CLOSER TO THE LORD
"...therefore, since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin..." 1 Peter 4:1
THIS SEEMS SUCH A PUZZLING VERSE AT TIMES
"...for this reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit..." 1 Peter 4:6
GOD IS GOOD FOR HIS PROMISES
"So God said to Noah, 'This is the covenant I've established between me and all life on earth.'" Genesis 9:8-17
BETTER TO LIVE BY GOD'S GRACE THAN TRY TO PROVE TO GOD YOU CAN MAKE IT BY YOURSELF
"I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me...No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame..." [David] Psalm 25:2
Lord God, We are happy to give thanks and praise you --- in general --- for all things, obviously good and seemingly bad, because we're called to do so. However, in addition, we want to praise you and thank you...on this particular day...at this particular time...that your great, extraordinary love --- your heartfelt concern for us --- your perfect plan for our lives --- isn't just some kind of "quick fix" to make us feel good for the moment, or relief us from painful, unpleasant experiences in the past, including deep-felt regrets, as though they were some kind of accident, without purpose in the long run. We have learned to understand that all things work for our good when we focus in on your unconditional love, and we freely choose to place our trust in you. That doesn't mean that we expect to be made exempt from suffering in our lives. Lord, we are ready to take on this day. Help us to rediscover joy and peace, even during the pandemic, and to be the "hands and words" of Jesus to at least one other person this day. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ! Amen!
Brothers and Sisters, we want to continue to pray for our friends in Texas, and other places in the United States, who are experiencing extreme cold, and lacking the bare essentials for present conditions. Please pray for the people of Myanmar, Hong Kong, politically, and the entire globe, during the present pandemic. We continue to pray our seniors [being confined] to keep them healthy.
The prescribed texts from the Scriptures today are fascinating. In recent years, 1 Peter has really grabbed hold of me, especially the text in the third chapter. 1 Peter 4:8 is a verse to really take to heart. It implies to me that if we get into the habit of truly loving those whom God has privileged us to live with, it will pretty much take care of a multitude of guilt feelings regarding sin that could well keep us in a personal prison. Therefore, I buy the gist of the verse whole-heartedly. It is incredibly freeing and powerful medicine for the soul.
What is Saint Peter in 1 Peter 4:1 suggesting? It's been my experience that those who suffer a great deal in life are in a "special category" spiritually. Suffering helps us to be like Jesus, and yet, people will do anything to avoid pain, myself included. Genuine faith tells me, however, that those who follow Jesus should be willing and prepared to do God's will, even when it requires suffering.
We can overcome sin and suffering when we focus on Christ and what He tells us to do. Pain reveals our true values. In the larger view, people who suffer for doing good in this world win a great battle against their sinful nature, which fights to enslave them.
Note the difference in subject matter between 1 Peter 4:1 and 1 Peter 4:6. 1 Peter 4:1 give us the idea that suffering has a positive aspect in that it focuses our lives into the direction of Christ and the things of the Spirit of God. That doesn't happen in all cases, but it happens often.
1 Peter 4:6 is about something else. We are alarmed by the phrase, "...preaching even to those who are now dead..." as well as the rest of the verse. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer (Catechism, page 862) provides a perspective for us, "...we pray for them, because we still hold them in our love, and because we trust that in God's presence those who have chosen to serve Him will grow in His love, until they see Him as he is..." However, Peter's letter has a more powerful element to it.
Things are brought into focus for us as we fall back to 1 Peter 3:18-21, from the fourth chapter. It tells us that Jesus' suffering and death were not in vain. Jesus didn't die, Jesus didn't come to earth, to die without ultimate purpose and significance. He wasn't a victimized "religio-political figure" of that time who fell victim to the powers that be in Jerusalem during the 1st Century A.D. Jesus came to provide salvation for human beings by the shedding of His blood and His glorious resurrection . At this point Saint Peter states that Jesus was put to death, but made alive...to make a most unusual life-giving proclamation and offer to the most unlikely audience.
That remarkable proclamation was made to "imprisoned spirits". Well, who were the imprisoned spirits? They were human beings who had been in Hell, [better translated as, Hades, or, Gehenna], for thousands of years. They were the men and women, who lived on earth, during the time Noah was the building of the ark (Genesis 6:5,6,12):
"...the Lord saw how great was the wickedness of the human race had become on earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time...the Lord regretted that He had made human beings on earth, and His heart was deeply troubled...God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways..."
They were then drowned in the Great Flood. Because of their wickedness they were consigned to Hell, or Hades, or Gehenna. Would that be their fate for eternity? What message did Peter want to present?
1 Peter 3:18-21 is the only place we could look to find the Scriptural authority for the phrase from the Apostles' Creed, "...He descended into Hell..." in regard to Jesus' action after His death on the cross.
Peter's proclamation simply declared the remarkable compassion of God in sending His Son to redeem "imprisoned spirits", men and women experiencing eternal damnation and to offer them salvation and relief from everlasting suffering. This portion of Peter's first letter is indeed remarkable. For years I was puzzled by the third and fourth chapter of 1 Peter.
Finally, Saint Peter suggests that only eight human beings were saved after the Great Flood, namely Noah and his family. The phrase, "...saved through water..." puzzles me. The image doesn't seem to fit. I understand that these eight people were saved from drowning as they traveled through the waters of the flood. However, they were not saved, as we're baptized, by being either dunked or sprinkled. They were saved by the ark despite the flood waters. I can assume that the ark, or any ship or boat, could be a symbol for the Church, the vessel, [or instrument, or organization] that preserves the Word and the Way in order that the Lord God --- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit --- can dispense blessed assurance and peace.
On the other hand, Peter's phrase: "...and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you..." seems very significant to me, especially within the context of the Genesis account. Considering that we're all sinners, as were the ancients of the Genesis text, in the Sacrament, we're sort of drowned in the waters of the baptism unto death in order to become a "new creature" or a "new being" in Christ Jesus.
Saint Paul puts it this way, in Romans 6:3-6:
"...don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death... we were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we will certainly also be united with Him in a resurrection like His...for we know that our old self was crucified with Him, so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin --- because anyone who has died has been set free from sin..."
When we are baptized (like the ancients) we die...to self and to "me first"...in order to live in God's grace, forsaking things most human beings treasure. It's not so bad to live a blessed life style which gives such ultimate peace, joy, and love. With these three we really prosper in this life and eventually end up living eternally in great glory with Christ. It's good to let go of many of the pleasures of the fabled affluent life so that we can focus upon living gracefully, growing daily in the Word, and blessing others.
It is my sincere desire that your Sunday is a pleasant and fulfilling experience.
Be confident. Be good. Be healthy. Be safe. Be well.
The Lord really loves you --- just as you are,
From Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough
Lenten blessings to you all. May your hearts be at ease. We are praying that good health and peace are returning to your communities and that all is well in your homes.
Scripture: Luke 4:1-4
"And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, 'If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread. ' And Jesus answered him,“It is written, ‘[we] shall not live by bread alone.'"
Some years ago I often visited a woman who had lost her sight. She frequently expressed gratitude for a Sunday school teacher she had when she was young. That teacher insisted that the children memorize scripture, and it was a habit that she kept up even as an adult. Being able to recite some of her favorite passages brought her much comfort when she could no longer read the Bible. I am not good at extensive memorization, but I do like knowing some very short pieces of scripture that I can use as prayer. "Be still and know that I am God," helps me when I am restless or worried. "Be not afraid," is another that I often use.
This scripture from Luke is the beginning of the story of Jesus' temptation in the desert. When the tempter showed up, Jesus did what my friend did. He quoted scripture that he had memorized, and that gave him strength to not fall for temptation's trickery. Here, Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 8:3: "He humbled you by making you hungry and then feeding you the manna that neither you nor your ancestors had ever experienced, so he could teach you that people do not live on bread alone."
People often think of Lent as a time of giving something up. Yet, I think it goes deeper than that. It is a time to reconnect and deepen our relationship with Christ. Please remember that your faith journey is unique. May your time with scripture and prayer bring you closer to God this Lent and always. It is true: we do not live by bread alone. That would be opting for a very poor diet when we are continually offered so much goodness.
I leave you with the first verse and refrain of the beautiful hymn, "Be Not Afraid" written by Bob Dufford. May we all heed these beautiful words of encouragement.
Messages from our SpiritCare Pastors