As you have loved me without condition, assist me in understanding and appreciating this human vessel you have come to save and fashion. Help me to come to a heart knowledge of you as I discover new things about myself. May I get to the bottom of things in my life and in my world. Amen
The message for this Sunday comes in remembering the recent confusion of a very smart and able gentleman who was surprised I would draw a remarkable distinction between the terms "religion" and the term "faith" and connect them up with the term "form" and the term "substance". One term deals with what we are able to observe in terms of human conduct and the other deals with the amazing undeserved love of God and how He works in our lives to bring about confidence in times of doubt and assurance in terms of our daily lives on earth and our eternal destiny in heaven.
Some distinction in terms of words seems important as you consider what brought about the message for today. I would put that distinction this way. Let me introduce the word, "form"...that's the way things appear to be...and the word "substance"...the thing that is essential for our being and well-being...
Way back when, indeed, years ago, when I was younger, I was looking for a way to express in words a concept of mind. I kind of knew what it was...what seemed to be like a door which needed to be opened, but remained closed. I thought I wanted to determine the difference between what is normally routine, work-a-day, and yet, necessary...and on the other hand...that which is essential, at the very heart of things...not only important to consider...but essential.
I really hate to admit it, but for a number of reasons, I spent a good deal of my life focusing in on "form" and much less, unfortunately, on "substance". I sense this is a problem for many, not only for me. It's easy for us to observe things with our eyes and hear them with our ears, but it's tricky most of the time to be able to conceptualize and visualize the reality of things unseen and and unheard.
Why was it that I wasn't able to identify what seemed "at the heart of things" for me? I seemed to be wasting away trying to figure things out. It was embarrassing for me. I thought I was smart enough. What was going on in my life that I couldn't come to terms with what I needed to know and be able to adequately communicate to others and for others?
At times I would say to myself, what is it I want to express about some distinction between one kind of emphasis in life and another. Finally it came to me. Form, rather than substance, had been controlling too much of my life...good hygiene...eat properly...go to work...you've got to rest when you get exhausted... all necessary things...but not all there is to life and well-being. Something was missed. Something essential.
I wanted to put my thumb on what it could be...I knew what was needed...a clarification of some distinct sort.
Yes. I came down gently and mightily on the term. Substance.
The "form" aspect in life is necessary...things one can see...the obvious things in life we have to do...but it cannot be the ultimate focus to tie the various components of abundant life together...
I finally put my finger on the answer...the notion of the "substance" of things had really always there... [taken for granted...an adopted child placed in a loving, Christian family...privileged...spoiled rotten...] having been provided by my family background...but I hadn't identified what it was...it was the foundation.
The Scripture came to mind...
"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for and the assurance of things unseen..." (the profound definition of faith) Hebrews 11:1
Okay...the word "substance" in some translations does appear...that helped a great deal...I must have faith...but what about religion. Isn't faith and religion the same thing? Not really. One is based upon the notion that we trust the only Being worthy of being fully trusted...that is, God...we don't earn the things in life we hope for. We ask in order that we might receive...trusting in God's promise that He is worthy of trust. On the other hand, our best definition of religion we find in Micah 6:8, "And what does the Lord require of you? ...to act justly...and to love mercy...and to walk humbly with your God..."
Good spiritual stuff...but...
In religion, obviously, you must earn merit...do this...do that...don't do this...don't do that...in one sense faith and religion are opposites...though they connect up...nonetheless...religion is form...faith is substance...
Even though it is absolutely necessary, don't get caught up and focus only on "form"... what you can see...what is obvious...make it the point of your life to seek after "substance" in the midst of the "forms" and not get lost in them...use the "forms" (building, flowers, robes) but concentrate upon the "substance" of faith, the Lord! Form without the substance is a rabbit-hole...a great abyss...[Some extraordinary church folks are stuck there.]
Jesus suggested this as the most important verse in the Bible:
"...hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, and you shall love the Lord your God with your heart, and with your soul, and with all your strength and with all your might..." Deut. 6:4-5
This verse embodies the very essence of substance...everything else pales in the splendor of this verse.
In terms of spiritual matters, "form" can choke the life out of the "substance" of what we call, faith. Faith in this regard is the essential thing. Mere religion as well as the other important things of life, is still form, and needs to be brought to life, through radical focus upon substance, a personal relationship with God. Let the church building, the candles, the robes and gowns, the flowers, the altar area be...LET THEM BE...let them serve their purpose...but leave them where they lie in order to participate and bloom in substance...a personal relationship with the Almighty. Form is necessary, but not the heart of things. We need to have a church building, church property, church social occasions. So how would certain utilizations of form restrict the access to substance. One Bible notion of restriction to access would be worshipping images of God instead of appealing directly to God without the visual aids.
These days I have become greatly concerned, and maybe wrongfully so, with such focus in church life on who is going to be the next leader of the denomination, fighting to determine what kind of candles should be used on the altar, or who's going to provide napkins for the social hour. Let Christ Jesus be the leader. Let's see if we can use the old candles or do without candles for one Sunday. I'm going to commit to have coffee and donuts without napkins...and choose to focus on what we've learned from a good biblical sermon...
Now...don't get me wrong! Form gives us a place to begin. But we often stay there and don't move on. For all too many occasions, form has been the substitute for substance.
The train, the Gospel train, is faith. We achieve God's acceptance, not when we (in all circumstances) prove to be perfect, but when we "put on" the righteousness of God, through the sacrifice of Christ Jesus.
So what's the difference. Again, religion is connected with "do this" and "don't do that". Religion is connected with being good, being worthy of trust, and seeing that you don't live for yourself...essentially being a good person. We all strive for that, of course. The problem is...you and I are not perfect. We can try to live a perfect and ethical life, but we will fall short. (So we all try to do our very best to be the most ethical and compassionate person we can be...) I am so glad as I affirm that the essence of Christianity is that no perfect people will go to heaven. Now, how can I know that...? Because there are no perfect people! Thank you, Lord, for your provision of forgiveness for us...the greater the offense, the greater the mercy...and the assurance of an eternal home, not based on human perfection, but on trusting God's love.
My point is this. It's a tragedy when followers of God cannot discern the difference between form and substance when it comes to spiritual matters. It has brought about the Crusades instead of the profound example of Saint Francis and William Penn. It has brought about the "witch hunts" of the 16th Century rather than a profound sense of the Divine Community in Christ (Massachusetts). I thought today would be a great time to just share some thoughts out loud that I've kept inside. I want to thank the openness of the gentleman that I mentioned at the beginning who can figure out everything and anything, but this concept really had him confused and befuddled. Sorry if I bent your ear a bit today. Have a superb Sunday!
God bless you!
From Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough
Good morning, everyone. I pray that you all are able to find time for prayer and/or meditation, and that you are also finding ways to balance your work with your home and family life. Please take some time for recreation if at all possible, and remember that we are praying for the health of you, your communities, and your families. Do let me know when you are ready to explore worshipping with Zoom. These services can be surprisingly meaningful for all of us.
I love the Psalms and it is rare when I do not begin a worship service with a reading from one of them. At times, however, some of the old militaristic language of these ancient songs and poems do not bring comfort. This week has been one of those times, so I have been sitting with Stephen Mitchell's adaptation of this Psalm.
My mother had a phrase that she often declared when she felt she was embroiled in a task or situation that seemed to be taking too long to resolve or complete: "This is taking longer than a month of Sundays!" In other words, the usual rhythm and flow of life felt disrupted, and she wondered when things might get back to "normal."
Yet, God is infinite and immeasurable. Impatience is a reaction of our restless minds. When we are impatient, we are really being impatient with God. May we all learn simply to sit in God's presence, and trust this time. God is always creating and re-creating. Let us accept that rhythm as our own and treasure it as the divine inheritance that it is.
If we are having trouble putting words to our prayers, then let us simply and quietly turn to Jesus. Words are not necessary; only a willingness to sit and let God's radiant love and wisdom into our hearts. May we all linger in our prayers today, and discover the infinite patience that is waiting for us.
Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough, Associate Pastor
San Lorenzo Community Church, United Church of Christ
SpiritCare Ministry to Seniors
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
...dedicated to Warren, Jan, Jim, Anna and Mike in recovery...Kelly and Chad, Patricia in their loss...
"...but the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, and good fruit, impartial and sincere...peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness..." James 3:17
"...we love because He first loved us...if anyone says "I love God", yet hates his brother or sister, that person is a liar...because anyone who doesn't love his brother or his sister, whom that person has seen, cannot love God, whom that person has not seen...and He has given us this command: whoever loves God must also love his brother and sister..." 1 John 4:19-21
"...there will be terrible times in the last days...people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God---having the form of Godliness but denying its power..." 2 Timothy 3:1-5
"...like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to Him, the living Stone---rejected by people but chosen by God and precious to Him---you also, like living stones, are
being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ..." 1 Peter 2:2-5
Okay, Lord, I praise you. I love you...I know you are there! I sense your presence and, yes, I love you, but yet...today I'm feeling alone as a human being among other human beings, and I am reaching out to you...
I'm fed up with artificial human relationships. I'm tired of hiding. Give me the courage to reveal who I really am, as you have revealed who you really are to me. I want the satisfaction of others knowing the "real me", and yet, loving me, and wanting fellowship with me. I sense you have called me to this hour...
Thank you for your Church and true believers who are committed to embrace imperfect human beings
like me...Lord, aren't we all the same? Understanding who we really are? ...and afraid to open up...?
Motivated, I'm starting out again today...risking disclosing who I really am to at least one person with whom
I feel safe...I'm letting go of my protective devices and risk being vulnerable---even though I've been taught and encouraged differently---even though I've taught myself to hide. I'm going to disclose who I am in a way that reflects Christian directness, self-responsibility, honesty, and self-love bestowed upon me by Christ.
We will know, Lord, our local church community will be stronger and more influential because we do so.
God...help me let go of my fears in regard to other human beings. Help me accept who I am, and help me let go of my need to be who other people want me to be. I know you will. I know that once I am committed to remaining pliable---I can remember that you, Lord, are the Potter and I am the clay. This decision will make me happier and make me feel genuine.
Thank you, Jesus, for loving me as I am. Amen.
The inspiration for this message is the result of a conversation recently with a dear friend I have known for years. I've shared one significant experience after the next with her over many years. We have been good friends and creditable ministers together. Recently she chose to tell me information about herself that she had kept from me for decades...and I understand why. I wasn't astounded by knowledge of the information she shared, nor was I shocked by her story. I felt so rewarded and so gratified that she had trusted me with the information. It was as if I had succeeded in fulfilling my intention decades ago of being accepting of others without condition. I call that empathy. In addition, I appreciation of her openness. It is the courage of genuine person wanting me to know. Isn't life just great? As I accepted her disclosure, I felt accepted.
Learning to gently reveal who we are is how we open ourselves up to love and intimacy in our everyday relationships. Many of us have hidden under a protective shell that prevents others from hurting us. It is so true. But, No! All too often we don't want to be that vulnerable. We don't want to expose our thoughts, our feelings, our fears, our weaknesses, and sometimes (even often) our strengths to others. Might I add, these days, when people will reject us discovering that we are meat-eaters or vegetarians, Californians or from the State of Utah (suspecting that we just might be Mormons), Republicans or Democrats, Roman Catholics or Protestants, Evangelicals or Jews, we can very readily hide within ourselves with good reason...
What can we do to break down the walls we ourselves have built?
We are often afraid others will judge us, that they will go away, or not like us---that they will cut us short.
We ourselves may be uncertain that...who we are...is okay. We don't really know how much of ourselves we should reveal to others. It is seemingly more difficult to vulnerable these days than ten years ago.
I've been there...and you have, too...being vulnerable can be outright frightening, especially, if and when
we have lived with persons who have abused, mistreated, or manipulated us...or didn't really appreciate who we are, giving us no sense of their self-esteem. Slowly...one day at a time, one week at a time, one month at a time, one year at a time...we can learn how important it is to take the risk of revealing ourselves, and begin to disclose who we are---our inner self---by bits and pieces. Sometimes in the past or recent past, out of reasonable fear, we've withheld information about ourselves, thinking it would help a relationship here and there...or would help others to like us more...and as we recall...
It proved to be a false supposition. The notion of self-fulfillment as we hide proves to be an illusion.
...GROW UP IN YOUR SALVATION... (Saint Peter---above) [...now what could that possibly mean...]
Yes, withholding who we are...doesn't help us...withholding is behavior that backfires on us. For true closeness to exist and flourish we need to be known for who we are. For us to love others unconditionally...to be reasonably content in a nurturing relationship we need to risk exposure with wisdom from above. We need to disclose who we are and let the chips fall where they may.
Our faces are nice to look at...our hearts are a treasure to embrace by others.
That doesn't mean---without having common-sense wisdom---we can tell everything to everyone all at once. I've had opportunity to notice that this particular approach to openness is self-defeating.
My response...just be yourself...there will be ample appropriate opportunities to "open-up"...and...it will be a double blessing, especially in the church setting...to others to know they don't need to hide...and often the opportunity for ourselves to open up.
So, we can learn to trust ourselves about who to tell, when to tell, where to tell, and how much to tell. I am so glad to be in my present church community this "openness" has been a blessing over the decades. That's one of the reasons we exist.
To trust that people will love us...and like us...exactly as we are...is a goal worthy of the pursuit. We can become frightened to reveal ourselves at times, but this will not be the case once we get into the habit of self-examination and healthy, balanced exposure. In any case it's the only way we can experience what we aspire to in relationships. To let go of our need to control others...their opinions...their feelings about us...is one essential key. The opportunity to share the truth about ourselves will come at just the right time. We will readily recognize it. God's timing is perfect. Our timing will become likened to the Lord's. We need to commit to come clean with ourselves and others. Authenticity. Transparency. I am ready. Are you?
What is the key to starting? What is the winning presupposition underneath becoming known to others?
TO LOVE GOD SO MUCH YOU WE ARE NOT SO CONCERNED ABOUT OURSELVES THAT WE LIVE IN CONSTANT FEAR OF BEING EXPOSED OR GET THE IDEA THAT WE ARE NOT WORTH THE EFFORT
Deuteronomy 6:4,5 --- The "Sha'ma" (I gave my youngest daughter this name.)
"Here, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one...
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your strength."
[Jesus of Nazareth (4 BC-29 AD) identified this verse as the greatest commandment in the Mosaic Law, the greatest verse, if you will, in the Bible. Why is this? What are you saying---I thought John 3:16 was. In a sense it is, but please note that John 3:16 wasn't yet written by the Apostle John until decades after Jesus' death and resurrection...we'd have to wait until about 85-90 A.D. for this verse to eventually appear.]
This is not a "religious verse", per se. You cannot step up to the level of this Spiritual wellness by being ethical and by doing good. This deep spiritual teaching goes beyond the ethical dimension of a religion of "do this" and "don't do that".
It's really not all about me hiding in the shadows of spiritual health and well-being anymore. Herein we establish our priority in life that will ultimately set us free to be authentic and known to all who come into our life.
Remarkably, like a plant which develops a blossom, we start to bloom and we learn to open up because the desire to do so rises up within us. Jesus is pulling for us mightily in the process. We prosper when the brilliant orb shines into our darkness and there is warmth that comes with exposure to the Son...
May this Sunday be especially good for you and those you love!
From Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough
I know that some of us may be feeling that we are experiencing a set-back, but know that we of SpiritCare are still with you, and praying for you. We are in this journey together. If you think you are in a position to offer your residents and patients a Zoom worship, let me know. If someone might need a phone call (and that includes you) let me know that as well.
Yes, the sparrow too has found a home there
the swallow has found herself a nest
where she can lay her young beside your altars,
Lord of heavenly forces, my king, my God
The psalmist reminds us that God will always lead us to cool waters. This Psalm also tells me that we are always in God's temple, whether we are in the desert, or sitting at the dining room table. Psalm 84 reminds us that God's temple, that is all of life, provides refuge for the sparrow and the swallow. We know that if they are being provided for, then so are we. Does not Jesus promise us that in Matthew 6:26 (see below)?
Our life journey is a pilgrimage, and we go together. Therefore, let us not despair, but rather look for those pools of spring water where we can pause and drink our fill. God is with us, and it is to God that we are journeying. This is the paradox of the faithful life: That we are right where we need to be to experience God, and God has been with us all along.
I leave you with the first verse of the beautiful Advent hymn, "With Joy Draw Water," written by Anne McKinstry.
"With joy draw water from the spring, salvation's living well.
The Holy One is in your midst, glad praises sing and tell!"
Holy One, thank you for guiding us. We know that whatever we need to move through, you are there. We are not stranded; we are held. Blessed be and Amen.
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
Blessings to you all, and please, let us stay in touch.
Rev. Sue Ann
Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough, Associate Pastor
San Lorenzo Community Church, United Church of Christ
SpiritCare Ministry to Seniors
In many ways, we are so very blessed to live in the San Francisco Bay Area. The City of San Francisco was named after "Poverello"...the poor little man...none other than, Saint Francis (1182-1226). He was a man born into great luxury and wealth. He forsook everything to follow the Lord Jesus Christ in poverty and obedience to the Word. His father was not pleased. He brought Francis before the Bishop of Assisi to straighten him out. Francis took off the last remnant of symbolic wealth provided by his father, his clothing, and stood before the bishop naked. Looking toward his father he said, "Until now I have called you my father on earth. But henceforth I can truly say, 'Our Father, who art in heaven...'" The bishop provided a humble robe to Francis and he went on his way...wholeheartedly to serve Christ Jesus.
In this time period around 1205, Francis had a vision...it is recorded that the Lord spoke to Francis,
"Go, Francis, and repair my house,
which as you can see, is well-nigh in ruins."
The fabulous story of what God had done in Christ Jesus with yet another unlikely human being, touched with the power of the the Holy Spirit, boggles the mind. Francis, with incredible affluence and wealth, would have literally by comparison wasted his life in luxury. As it were, in forty-four years, with Christ working within him through the Holy Spirit, he was able to change the world. He is, as if alive, with us today...
Last night I had the privilege of talking on the telephone with a very Protestant, well-educated, well-endowed and also well-known friend of at least twenty years. He was concerned about receiving a book as a gift from his church upon the occasion of recovery from a fall. His concern to some degree was that Saint Francis was a Roman Catholic. I reminded him that there was no Protestant Reformation yet at the time, and that Francis, to me, was in the same category as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, Jan Hus, John and Charles Wesley and John Knox. I think that impressed him. I hope this pertinent thought may impress you.
When Priscilla and I were serving at the Union Church of Lima in Miraflores, Peru, in the 1990s, those were the days of "Sundero Illuminoso" and great national upheaval, death, and destruction. Despite the enforced restriction imposed upon American citizens not to venture into Old Lima, I used to love to visit the Monastery of Saint Francis (circa 1540) right next to the plaza where Francisco Pizzaro, as matador, fought the first "Bull-Fight" in the New World. In the monastery, the first formal library in the New World was established in about 1542. Also featured are priceless works of fine art, classic paintings of Native-South American (Andean) masters (having been schooled by Spanish masters deployed to Peru in those days), fine sculptures, and priceless art objects, pottery, and such.
Among those works of art is a sculpture carved out of pure Nicaraguan cedar by one of the friars, a Native-American master. This masterpiece is located on the northeast corner of the second floor of the monastery. He had heard the story of Francis and the Pope. He decided, evidently, to make a statement in his artistic masterpiece. Now imagine this in your mind. He carved a relief of thousands of heavenly faces and angel wings in the background with a ragged human figure in the front sitting on a throne. There was another figure carved out at the bottom of the piece dressed elaborately in obviously fine robes with a clerical miter on his head crawling before the ragged figure and kissing his feet. This friar wanted to let
well-endowed representatives of the earthly church know what it would be like in heaven. Things would be turned completely around. The figure in fine robes was meant to be the pope. The ragged figure was meant to be Saint Francis in heaven surrounded by the heavenly host. The masterpiece, largely unheralded in our post-modern world, is one of the most meaningful pieces of fine art I have ever experienced. Many times in those years I'd marveled at the work, and thought of the outrageous sense of humor, as well as the tenacity and spiritual insight of this Native-American master. His work...a product of the sixteenth century...sending a definite message to all Christians in our twenty-first century Church...
Some Quotable Insights of Saint Francis [with insights]
"...all the darkness in the world can't extinguish the light from a single candle..."
[YOUR CONTRIBUTION MAY SEEM INSIGNIFICANT...IT DOES MAKE A HUGE DIFFERENCE...ALL WORK IN CHRIST IS REWARDED]
"...if you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity,
you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men..."
[THE PERSONS WHO MISTREAT ANIMALS AND VIOLATE GOD'S CREATION WILL EVENTUALLY MISTREAT YOU]
"...the deeds you do may be the only sermon some persons will hear today..."
[BE JESUS IN WHAT YOU DO - AND IF IT BECOMES NECESSARY - TELL SOMEBODY ABOUT HIM]
"...vi volglio tutti in paradiso..."
(literally in English) [I WISH THAT EVERYBODY WOULD GO TO HEAVEN]
"...above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to His beloveds is that of overcoming self..."
[THE GREATEST GIFT WE CAN RECEIVE FROM GOD IS TO STOP CODDLING OURSELVES]
"...when we pray to God we must be seeking nothing---nothing..."
[WHY IS IT THAT WHEN WE ASK THE LORD FOR THE INCREDIBLE JOB WITH THE GREAT
SALARY, THE FANTASTIC, ATTRACTIVE PARTNER IN LIFE...AND NEW CAR...HE DOESN'T
SEEM TO LISTEN TO US...??? THIS RELIGION THING JUST DOESN'T SEEM TO WORK FOR US.]
"...we should seek not so much to pray...but to become prayer..."
[I'LL LET YOU CHEW ON THIS ONE FOR YOURSELF AND COME UP WITH AN IDEA OR TWO]
I am so glad for the conversion, the life, the deeds and the legacy of Saint Francis, touched by the
power of the Holy Spirit, to live a genuine life in Christ...a life of willful denial...a life of Godly love...
a life of personal acts and insights that cause us...(as true, genuine believers in the 21st Century to
live freely, modestly, compassionately, and confidently even during a time of pandemic and widespread abuse and upheaval of every kind in our world)...to follow the Lord Jesus and really live.
Let me close with a quote from Saint Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians 10:3-5...
"...for though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does...the weapons we fight
with are not the weapons of the world...on the contrary...they have divine power to demolish strongholds...we demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the
knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ..."
Have a terrific day and a fabulous week. Delight yourself in your relationship with the Lord and He will
give you the desire of your heart. Remember. There is no failure in the Lord. Trust Jesus!
From Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough
Good Morning, everyone. My apologies for being a little late with this week's meditation. Blessings on this day! Do let us know how SpiritCare can be of support to you and your community. I have a couple of Zoom services coming up this month with some of your residents and patients. I am so grateful. I miss being with you, your staff, and those you serve. May we find new ways of coming together.
We just need to listen.
Another insight I get from this passage is that in their frustration, disappointment, and sorrow, the disciples decided to go back to fishing. After all, it was a life they knew well, and the last three years had been confusing, and at times very difficult. However, Jesus knew that previous phase of their lives had come to a close. There is great tenderness in this passage, and I do recommend reading it in its entirety. I believe the lesson here is to remember that we are always being called forward into new life. Yes, sometimes we are reluctant to go. We want to return to what we once knew. Yet, a Christian life is one that follows the Good Shepherd into a life of transformation. Let us learn to trust the journey. We are being led with care, and we are being made anew in surprising ways. Jesus calmly waits. Let us go.
This prayer comes from the wonderful book, Following Jesus, Finding Our Way Home in an Age of Anxiety, by Henri J.M. Nouwen. (Ed: See Resources For Caregivers on Henri Nouwen.org)
Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough, Associate Pastor
San Lorenzo Community Church, United Church of Christ
SpiritCare Ministry to Seniors
We need the faith to know that things will get better, but nonetheless, we will still affirm that we willingly walk through that "valley" in confidence. Keep us from panic and fear. Keep us from despair. You are our redemption, and therefore you have become our song. We remember those in desperate times who proceeded us --- women and men of faith who trusted you --- and were uplifted in the midst of their struggles...and eventually blessed in a remarkable way. We therefore commend ourselves into your tender care and rest secure in your precious love. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Introduction to the Message
Today it's my purpose to go a bit beyond a regular Bible Study to what may well be called, "exegesis".
It's one thing to know your Bible and yet another thing to understand it with insight. Exegesis is the interpretation of any given text in the Bible. Some years back I heard a rather remarkable sermon on 1 Samuel 3:1-21. The sermon was presented by a rather well-known preacher and the thing that impressed me was the fact that the preacher had very little insight into the meaning of the bible passage. I was astounded and somewhat outraged. Today I would like to go into this particular portion of the Bible and demonstrate the power of the insight...as we "Unlock the Bible Narrative Timeline", starting with 1 Samuel.
For the time being, let us focus in on the importance of Samuel for any student of the Bible.
The text of 1 Samuel reads as follows, "The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare, there were not many visions..." (1000 BC)
We need to focus in on the phrase, "...the word of the Lord was rare..." and hold on to that statement.
This whole lesson will attempt to make clear what the phrase means and how we are enabled to interpret the events of the history of Israel...and even...go so far as to say...here...we are not talking about Jewish history...yet! I will explain that as we go along. At any rate..."the word of the Lord was rare".
For the time being...
Approximately the 16th Century before the Common Era...
"The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain, so Moses went up (Exodus 19:20)...and God spoke all these words...'I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Eygpt, out of the land of slavery'..." (Exodus 20:1,2) [This is the giving of the the Ten Commandments.]
About a thousand years before the Common Era...
1 Samuel 3:2 --- "One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place..." Good: but then..."The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was..."
Samuel was the assistant to the High Priest, Eli...and yet...1 Samuel 3:7 says, "Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him..." Surely living daily with the High Priest Eli, Samuel would have been very thoroughly grounded in the Bible, at that point, in the Five Books of Moses. He would have known more about the Lord. Not so. At the end of the chapter, we discover that Samuel receives "revelation" from the Lord and not exposure to the written word. In 1 Samuel 3:20, we note "...and all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord..."
The prophets from the time of Samuel will then say directly, "Thus saith the Lord..."
It should seem strange to us that Samuel is not exposed to the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) in his relationship to the God of Israel, but rather, Samuel receives "direct revelation"...and the Office of the
Formal Prophet is established in Israel. Where is the Torah? Where are the Five Books of Moses?
In the Eighteenth Year of the Reign of King Josiah --- 622 BC...
We read in 2 Kings 22:8, the High Priest at the time, Hilkiah (note Jeremiah 1:1) informed King Josiah's secretary, Shaphan, "...I've found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord..." Eventually Shaphan
read from the book in the presence of King Josiah. The date is precisely 622 BC. [...meanwhile...remember the narrative of Samuel in the temple, approximately 1000 BC...] We are beginning to get what had actually happened....Israel somehow had misplaced the Torah, the Five Books of Moses. We still need to find out when and how this could have possibly happened. Anyway, the narrative continues, at verse 11, "...when the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes." The king continued, "Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord's anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book...they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us."
Now that he knows about it, King Josiah gives the order for all Israel to celebrate the Passover.
So...this gives us a clear idea of what portion of the Scriptures were first discovered in 622 BC. Formerly, it was determined that the text was Deuteronomy, chapters 5 through 11, because this section deals with the Ten Commandments in chapter 5, the "Shama" in chapter 6 (verses 4,5) quoted eventually by Jesus as the most important verse in the bible, and "the Jewel of the Talmud" in chapter 10 (verses 12-22).
This would be incorrect. Why? Because Josiah gave the order to celebrate the Passover...that is found in the section under Deuteronomy, chapters 12 through 26. The Passover "details" are found in chapter 16.
The other reforms of King Josiah are covered in that same section, Deuteronomy 12 through 26.
How long had the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, been lost? ...for approximately eight hundred years...
We turn to 2 Kings 23:22-23 to read the astonishing passage, "Not since the days of the Judges (16th Century) who led Israel (Othniel through Samuel), nor throughout the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah, had any such Passover been observed. But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah (622 BC) this Passover was celebrated to the Lord in Jerusalem."
The exception was the brief time of Reform under King Josiah. It was in Babylon, from 586-516 BC, that a new faith-form developed within Israel, wherein a new religion developed (same God) named Judaism. One of the new establishments of this faith-form was the synagogue. During this same period of time, a new name came into being for a Hebrew person...Jew... appearing in Scripture in Jeremiah 32:12...for the first time..586 BC...the beginning of "Jewish" history...
[As a sideline, let us consider who the Holy Bible thinks was the greatest king --- Was it David? --- Solomon?
2 Kings 23:25: "Neither before or after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did --- with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses."]
So what can we learn from this attempt at exegesis in the Hebrew Bible...
First of all, it's important for each and every Bible student, every person of bible-faith, not only to know the Bible, but also to know how to interpret the Bible...the best way to do that...is to study the Bible with others at church, or in fellowship, around a table, hopefully with a cup of coffee. There are too many ways to go wrong in interpreting without others to help keep things straight and correct...I like the commitment of our church denomination to have the guidance and the leadership of men and women ordained and called by God, who receive the extensive education to present an accurate exposition of Scripture.
Second of all, it's important to recognize that our Enemy, Satan, is much more knowledgeable about the Bible than any of us mortal humans, so we need to see the importance of an obvious commitment to the Lord, from the heart. James, the brother of Jesus, says, "You believe there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that...and that's what makes them tremble." James 2:19. So, the point here is, we need to consider that Satan and his demons believe in God as well as sound, well-established Christians or Jews. The difference is we have a heartfelt commitment to the Lord. We not only need to have a knowledge of the Scriptures, but be fully committed to be on God's side. Obviously, from this quote from James, bible knowledge is not enough.
In the third place, the lesson for today regarding the careers of Samuel and Josiah alert us to the huge difference between religious organization, on one hand, and a true, solid, informed, heartfelt faith on the other hand. One designation is "form", the other is "essence". We can very easily get caught up in the elements of spirituality that we see with our eyes. The church building. The preacher. The robes and other dress. The music. The fervent people. The impressive television worship service. It is yet another thing to establish in our heart and mind the things we don't see as being more real to us than that which is visible.
Also, the lesson from bible history is that religious traditions all too often have the habit of "going through the motions" rather than making our spiritual concerns essential to our existence...putting Christ first...
I'm talking about a profound sense of God's presence and person without any form or image to assist our spirituality. A moral compass that allows us to be just and merciful even being pressed hard by the world and surrounded by corruption. Divine Order in the midst of chaos. Seeing the divine complexion of God on a smiling human face. Taking to heart the commission Saint Francis of Assisi to his Franciscan monks to "...preach the Gospel constantly...and sometimes...open your mouth to speak..."
Often people confuse the essence of faith with the form of religion...the two come together and touch at times...but we need to set our heart upon "the unseen essence" and visualize it with the inner eye of faith...
When the time is right for visitors to return, I would be happy to lead a small group conversation or service as well. I would love to talk with you about what is possible either now, or in the future. In the meantime, blessings to you all as we move into autumn. May your fall harvest be abundantly blessed.
Imagine you are Elijah. Despite your reputation as a prophet (or a teacher, pastor, director, or some other respected role), you are afraid. There are those who have vowed to take your life for your beliefs. Imagine the cave where you are hoping to hide. Imagine hearing the question, "What are you doing here?" At some point of our life, in the midst of struggle or worry, we can all become like Elijah. We just want to run and hide. Yet, we know that God does not call us to live in fear, at least for long.
Yes, even in a storm, if we listen closely, we will hear God asking, "Why are you hiding in fear? I need you to take part in love." These words are for us all.
There is much going on in our state, our country, and our world. I share with you a prayer from the beautiful book, Earth Prayers from around the World. This prayer was written by Helen Weaver, an American writer. Let us join her in prayer for our wonderful Earth.
Almighty God, who are mother and father to us all,
Look upon your planet Earth divided.
Help us to know that we are all your children,
That all nations belong to one great family,
And all our religions lead to you.
Multiply our prayers in every land
Until the who Earth becomes your congregation,
United in your love.
Sustain our vision of a peaceful future
And give us strength to work unceasingly
To make that vision real. Amen
Even if we cannot "work" in the way we may have in the past, let us remember we can always pray. Let us do so with courage, conviction, and love.
Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough, Associate Pastor
San Lorenzo Community Church, United Church of Christ
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
just a touch of humor as we get started...
"...do not hate your brother in your heart...do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your
people, but love your neighbor as yourself, I am the Lord!" Leviticus 19:17a,18
"...if the light within you is darkness, it is, indeed, a most profound darkness..." (Jesus). Matt. 6:23 b
"...forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us..." (Jesus). Matthew 6:12
"...but the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate,
submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere..." James 3:17
"Dear God, please make all bad people good...and all good people nice...Amen!". (a little girl's prayer)
Today --- I will be as angry as I need to be, with a goal of taking care of my unfinished business with others, especially those who have sorely offended me. Once I have released the hurt and anger I feel, I am going to strive for healthy forgiveness...that is...forgiveness with boundaries. I have come to understand that boundaries, coupled with deep-riven forgiveness and the compassion poured down upon me by the Holy Spirit will move me forward. I thank you for the divine wisdom that truly frees me from feelings that used to imprison me. Continue to teach me your ways, so that I may overcome in all things, and live your truth. In Jesus' name, Amen.
"...there is so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us--that--it behooves none of
us to say anything evil about the rest of us..." (Anonymous)
No matter how long we've been a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ...no matter how solid our Spiritual grounding may be...it's my hunch, not only as a pastor, but as a human being, we still feel an overwhelming desire to punish, or get even, with the very person who's offended us.
Even otherwise extremely sophisticated individuals fall into inappropriate behavior, sometimes to the extreme, because they have not been exposed to the freeing nature of God's Word and the teaching regarding anger and revenge.
I've been working at a "faith life" for seventy-seven years, and I hate to say it, but it is true...we want to see the other person hurt the way he or she has hurt us. We want to see circumstances deal that person their just rewards. In fact, we'd like to "help" those circumstances out. We not only want somebody to be punished...we want to assist in dealing out the judgement.
O, I get it...you're just not that way at all...but I do admit that I've had those feelings...and I know...thanks to God's Word and the Holy Spirit...I have been freed to have wisdom about what hangs many people up in life...and that it is not necessary.
Unfortunately anger and the need for revenge are normal feelings. The thing is...we don't need to act on them. Ah, so then...we get it...it's perfectly normal to have such feelings, but it's not okay to act out on them. The question may be, how do we get to the point where we have mastered this technique.
(I'd like to call it a spiritual discipline.)
Everybody gets angry. Everybody. Even Jesus got angry - John 2:13-16 - and we affirm that Jesus was without sin...interesting! How freeing it is to understand this principle of human nature. In order to control anger, we need to accept it as one of the necessary realities of life and note that the Bible provides a way, once we have come to a point of acceptance about anger, that we can finally get a handle on it.
As matter of fact, the Bible teaches us "to get angry", but not to sin - Ephesians 4:26. Now how do we get to that...how do we accomplish that and put it into practice. Isn't this simply "bible double-talk"? The answer is...No. We allow ourselves to feel the anger and accept it without having to act out on it.
We pause...rather than act upon it with one of those automated responses.
We take time to reflect on what has happened.
The goal we strive for is to release the feeling --- by feeling it --- and be finished with it. In the process, God teaches us and we know better and much clearer, because He knows us inside and out, and would never give us anything that was unnecessary for us. Often it is indeed a hard lesson to learn. Once we admit and accept what is happening to us, being brought from darkness into the light through Scripture, we can simply let it go.
Take whatever time is necessary to do so. How refreshing it is to know that God understands and is guiding us with divine insight. We've been given the wisdom that anger is not a sin --- that is...not a sin...unless --- we act out on what we are feeling. Indeed, there is a direct connection between anger & wanting revenge.
This complex feeling...the connection between anger and revenge...is something we all experience, whether believers or not. Just because Dad or Mom may be a psychiatrist, it doesn't mean we automatically have a competitive edge in dealing with the "give-and-take" of life and what is natural for us as human beings.
The point is, it is not our job to deal out justice to those who have offended us. We need to learn that. We need to learn that it is natural to be angry, it is natural to seek revenge...and it is supernatural and attainable to know how to master it.
Note the process of dealing with offenses in Matthew 18:15-17: "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church, and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector."
Yes, we need to hold the other person accountable and responsible. At the same time, once again, it is not our responsibility to be judge and jury. Actively seeking revenge won't help us. It will eventually "block us up" and "lock us up" so we end up in our own unique style of straight-jacket. It will eventually make us strangers to our most intimate circle of close friends...and set us apart from our family members.
After settling into what another person's offense has done to us, put what has offended us in writing, and/or, go directly to the person who has offended us and reasonably explain what has happened. Please now refer back to the teaching in Matthew 18:15-17. Often we gain a new, reliable, understanding friend. Nonetheless, we need to be prepared for any kind of reaction...
In any case...
Walk away from confrontation. Let "game-time" take place on Saturday afternoon at the football stadium. Unhook. Learn a valuable lesson from the situation. In your mind, thank the offender for having taught you something valuable...and...be finished with it! Put it behind you as you keep that learning experience intact.
What have I learned about anger and the alternative to revenge? How has Jesus helped me?
Acceptance, to me, is essential. We need to rejoice in our victories in life, and we need to accept what has befallen us. What has been helpful to me through the years is Saint Paul's reflection:
"...and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose..." Romans 8:28
It's not like the foreign notion of "karma" which teaches, "...you get what you deserve..." What I have come to understand from the Judeo-Christian tradition is --- we don't get what we may deserve from our loving, understanding, wise God...the Lord only provides good for us. We don't deserve it, but we get it anyway.
The difference between those who know this...and those who live in the darkness of spiritual ignorance...is that those who trust in the goodness of God in their lives don't have to question whether what is happening to them is either good or bad. Whether the circumstance in life is pleasant or unpleasant, they know it's all part of God's plan of remarkable goodness for their lives. It appears at times that we seem to be punished by those unpleasant and sometimes overwhelming circumstances, but when we take Saint Paul's verse to heart, trusting the Lord God in the midst of the unpleasantness, He will provide unexpected blessing to flow from the suffering and He will provide full understanding. The higher the barrier in terms of attempting to understand, the greater the amazement and marvel to our human mind and spirit in the final analysis.
"...even though He were to slay me, yet will I praise Him..." Job 13:15
This verse from the classic text of the Job narrative is a bottom-line in the experience of genuine faith.
Are you at a point in your life where you can make the same affirmation as Job in the Old Testament?
It determines the difference between the experience of mere religion and the edification of genuine faith!
Whether or not we deserve to be punished is not the question. When we trust in God despite our fallen humanity, we can always know God will only provide good for us. Sorry --- for those attempting to earn God's love and salvation by all those good deeds --- God loves those who trust in Him and those who love Him...we are saved always by His grace Ephesians 2:8-9. Sorry --- for those who are depending on God for exemption from the difficult, confusing, dangerous, uncomfortable and tragic things of life...
"..though now, for a little while, you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials...these have come so that your faith --- of greater worth than gold --- which perishes even refined by fire, may be proved to be genuine.." 1 Peter 1:6-7
Forgiveness, also, is essential. When I say this I don't mean the kind of forgiveness that will invite the offender to use us again. It is a forgiveness that releases the other person and sets him or her free to take another path. In the meantime, it releases our anger and resentment. This sets us fee to walk our own path without a residue of negativity to weigh us down and cause us to be less than joyful and at peace.
Saint James writes, "Remember this: whoever turns a sinner from the error of his or her way will save that person from death and cover over a multitude of sins." James 5:20
Conflict and offense are unavoidable. They will always be with us,no matter who we are. We have the pleasure of receiving the great spiritual message that it is no sin to be angry or to have thoughts of revenge. The offense comes in acting upon those feelings. I am so glad that Jesus got angry, and in of all places, the temple. I am relieved to know that when feelings of anger and revenge come upon me, I have a clear option to do the right thing, to do things God's way, and to eventually experience resolution and blessing, where without God's help, I would always do the wrong thing, and end up imprisoning myself by my words, by my actions, and by my eventual feelings of guilt over what I had said and done.
From Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough
It is our prayer that you and those you love are safe. So much going on right now. Here in the East Bay our air quality is poor. I pray that the fires will cease and that the air quality will clear and that Covid-19 will soon pass. In the meantime, may we all know peace on this journey, confident that God is with us every step of the way. May your spiritual practices always bring you a sense of peace, love, and courage in this time. We are so grateful for you and the work that you do.
The translation of this Psalm is from a book entitled, Thirty-Six Psalms: Let Us Praise by Betty Bracha Stone. In her introduction she writes, "In the summer of 2012, I entered into a serious Jewish practice: strenuous introspection and prayer during the month of Elul (pronounced uh lool) in preparation for our High Holy Days - Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. During the month of Elul the faithful are encouraged to pray Psalm 27 twice daily."
She took that practice a step further and wrote her own translation of Psalm 27 and thirty five additional Psalms as well. Her book was given to me by her husband while I was standing in a parking lot. No, we did not know one another, and I was puzzled. However, as he was walking away, I realized that I was standing next to my car, which has a clergy sticker on the front windshield. I think I will always remember that moment and I am grateful for the gift of this book.
This year, Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the Jewish New Year, begins on the evening of September 18th. I appreciate learning the spiritual practices of others, including those from other faith traditions. In these uneasy times, may we all respect and learn from one another. This will not weaken our faith, but rather make it stronger. May we celebrate one another's "glad songs" and listen to one another's prayers. God has made us all. Let us give thanks - all of us!
Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough, Associate Pastor
San Lorenzo Community Church, United Church of Christ
SpiritCare Ministry to Seniors
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
Just a little bit of humor as we start...
Over the last several weeks and months we have been dealing with the attitudes and perspectives that "people of faith" develop in order to truly enjoy the "new life" (Galatians 2:20-21) we have in Christ. I enjoy this kind of ministry, because, although we are saved by God's grace in the Lord Jesus Christ, it's really good and proper to examine those aspects of living that eventually give us ease (as well as elbow-room) to be able to live our lives extravagantly and thereby, make choices we need to, in accord with God's will. We always need to "work on" the faith aspect of our lives. As James Joyce would suggest, "Knock your 'sconce' (head) up against it, but go easy..."
Some folks have suggested these weekly messages should mainline "focus" upon some of the pressing American and international issues, such as:
We really enjoy the fellowship we have with those who have come to faith recently---those who have begun to live their lives in God. These folks try very hard to live a good life, free from addictive and negative attitudes. Yet, they struggle at times because as people of faith we live a faith-centered, alternative life-style. Being a genuine Christian makes us essentially different, and yet, nonetheless, attractive to others. Therein lies the rub. We need Often, it may not be noticed at first, but eventually, others are able to recognize that "soul" regenerated by Jesus.
We don't live or hope the way others do. In addition, we prefer to live in the presence of those who inspire us by their graciousness, their knowledge of the interpretation of Scripture, their ability to fellowship graciously, and their seemingly natural good habits in life. We envy them and choose freely to emulate them. Trust me, those who have these qualities have worked on them. These qualities are supernatural, and yet, we, as a fallen humanity, can attain to them. The people who know Jesus don't actively seek, per se, to become richer or better than others. They know they are living the most rewarding life a person can ever live. It has nothing to do with how much money you make, or where you live, or what you own.
It is interesting to me that some church fellowships these days offer alternative incentives for participation. They teach a "good news" foreign to genuine Christianity. Authentic followers in Christ Jesus surrender themselves to Him unconditionally. As Christ gave himself for us unconditionally on the cross, we surrender our lives to him, and accept the life (and fullness thereof) He has promises to give to us. I have learned that, in Jesus, things only get better. The genuine Christian has an understanding.
Saint Paul expresses it this way,
"I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation...whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through Him who gives me strength and God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:12-13, 19)
This is the understanding...
As we turn further into the text of the New Testament, Saint Paul makes a comment that is as shocking as it is life-giving. At least, it certainly changed my life:
"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me...the life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me." Galatians 2:20.
LIVE WITH DIVINE ASSURANCE
Finally, I got it...the life I could've been living...no matter how desirable by worldly standards...was not meant for me...I now have a higher calling for my life...
This is has become a theology for my life and yours that is named "a theology of the cross". Within that understanding, I live a normal life, but that life is sufficient for me. It isn't necessarily easier or more glamorous. It may at times seem downright miserable for others as they look upon me. (Here I am thinking about Job!). However, I know this is the life that God has ordained for me. It is satisfactory for me. I am who I should and need to be. I have put the former life I've lived...behind me...for the one I now cherish. I have died to the compulsion of those human impulses that would give me false hope, false security, and unhealthy, inappropriate standards in life. I agree with Saint Paul Romans 8:28 "..all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.."
Let's go back to Job to take a "Spiritual Barometer Reading" at this point. Are you simply a mere religious person impressed only by the way the church building looks, or by the way the choir sings, or by the way the pastor of the church preaches...or are you obviously a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ possessing a genuine mindset of faith. Can you say with Job (Job 13:15) "...even though He were to slay me, yet I will praise Him..."
This is the bottom line of faith...all else is fluff...[and it doesn't necessarily mean it's going to happen to you or me that way].
This past week I came across an article in a well-known magazine that listed fifty mega-church evangelists in the United States who, according to the article, preach what is called "a theology of glory". The suggestion is...if you give generously to the ministry of the mega-church...God will bless you with extraordinary "things" (items) in life you normally wouldn't have, if you didn't give. Among these well-known evangelists, one of the most wealthy earns a mere $150,000,000 a year...another is worth $760,000,000. You probably know who they are. None of these fifty preachers have earned less than (on the average) $20,000,000. [Charles Stanley and John MacArthur are not included in this list...Praise God!] Many members of these churches discover that even though they "give and give", they still don't see that Lexus on the horizon....and for that reason...figure that Christianity is not meant for them. I'm going to pass (reluctantly) on judging these fifty evangelists, but I want to emphasize what the true church of the Lord Jesus Christ is and what our commitment to Him must be. On the surface, for many, the true Gospel is not attractive, or attractive enough, but I'm going to be Calvinist enough to say, that Yahweh, our Lord God, the father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is a very jealous God and He will single out the person He wants for His Eternal Kingdom. That person is you. How much the Father loves and wants only the very best for you, because you are so dear to him.
God sees you as a person of extremely great value and He wants you to be completely forgiven of all your sins and to live forever. When He knocks on the door of your heart be sure to recognize Him and let Him come in---to bless you---and grant to you the great promises of Christ!
PRAY IN THE KNOWLEDGE THAT GOD ALWAYS ANSWERS PRAYER
God always answers prayer. Sometimes He says, "Yes". Sometimes He says, "No". Sometimes He says, "Let's Do My Way".
If you happen to be "a person with a mindset of faith---who has been worrying about a loved one, or another who has been living a miserable life, sick or otherwise, or living a destructive life-style---and you have been feeling powerless to be able to intervene in a constructive way---Please stop worrying---Please stop being overly concerned. Do not be burdened, except for the light burden we've been given to do God's will by taking all concerns to God in prayer. Remember, the Lord loves it when we call upon his name. He is faithful. He is just. He is trustworthy.
Please seriously consider the promise of the Lord Jesus Christ in John 14:12,14: "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing...I will do whatever you ask in my name...you may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it."
LEARN ANEW HOW TO PRAY
Pray for that person without ceasing. Pray with assurance---not "IF it be thy will"---rather, be certain that his will is going to be done...and yet...you are making the request in Jesus' name. Rest in that assurance. Trust that Jesus will be good for his word. Pray that that special person will be saved from discouragement and despair...and given new and abundant life...
From Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough,
As Labor Day approaches, please know how grateful we are for all of your work. I do hope you will take some Sabbath time to rest and maybe even have some fun!
While I have been leading Sunday worship services on Zoom since March, this afternoon was the first time I have led a service in a care community. I so enjoyed it and I certainly felt God's Spirit holding us. Not only could we see one another, we could hear one another, even with their physical distancing, so we were able to have a conversation. If you are thinking it might be time to try Zoom in your community, please let me know. Also, when your community is ready, I would be happy to meet with a small group. We have options!
Blessings, Rev. Sue Ann
They began to yearn to return to Egypt. Yes, they might have been enslaved there, but at least they ate well. They forgot they had been praying for freedom, and that prayer was being answered in ways they could not yet see.
On one of my recent morning walks I came across some items packed in a box marked "Free." In the box, was a small note pad with pages that read, "Do more of what makes you happy." That seemed like both good advice and an item worth accepting. Frankly, the realtors' notepads that often grace our front porch are getting a little repetitive. The encouraging words and a bit of color and whimsy make me smile. The artwork on the pages also includes a picture of a bright red Vespa. No, I don't see myself hopping on one ever, but it is fun to dream of donning a helmet and motoring down the road, headed for freedom. It at least makes writing out the grocery list a little more entertaining.
Lately, I have been thinking about healing. While that does bring to mind the wonderful stories of Jesus healing those so much in need of his touch and presence, I am also reminded that God has been in the business of healing for a very long time. Furthermore, we need to remember that God is active and bringing us healing right now. We are all being healed into a new life that we may not completely understand. The restoration we see before us may not look like the healing we have been praying for. Yet, the invitation to wholeness, which I think that is what healing ultimately is, is always being offered to us.
Yes, in a time of pandemic and poor air quality we may have to put some of the activities we have enjoyed in the past on hold, but it is a good time to check in with God. How is God calling me to be present in my life today? How can I connect with others? There is healing to be found in those answers. Let us remember we have not been abandoned, but rather we are being led into a new time. Let us have the courage to not dream of returning to the way things were, but rather let us be on the watch for what is on the new horizon. We may not be able to see it clearly yet, but our faith leads us to believe we will see it soon.
Holy God of Vision and Wonder,
Help us to have the courage to willingly move forward with you. Where you lead, we will go. Forgive us when we grumble and cling to the past, and thank you for keeping us moving. Thank you for watching over us and those we love. We thank you for the freedom to love you and one another. We thank you for the courage to dream.
In profound gratitude we pray, Amen
Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough, Associate Pastor
San Lorenzo Community Church, United Church of Christ
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
1 Corinthians 1:20
"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?"
"...and so God condemned sin in sinful men..." (i.e., God didn't condemn sinful men)
1 Corinthians 1:25, 27
"...for the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom and the weakness of god is stronger than man's strength...God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong..."
Dear Lord, this morning we would like to praise you for those in our midst who have put themselves "on the line" for the our benefit and the benefit of others, many times, at the risk of their own lives and their individual welfare.
In the midst of selfishness, greed, and self-interest, we want to thank you for your servants who just go ahead and literally become your divine hands, your feet, your heart, and your intellect. May we learn from their sacrifice in that Christ-like presence of mind and purpose...to follow suit...to be more compassionate, more willing to help, more dedicated to be there for those in need. Thank you for your message in the Holy Scriptures that free people like us from guilt regarding our shortcomings and encourage us to know we are loved and valued by you. We are your grateful people. Guide us and encourage us today. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Is there anybody out there feeling the way I am feeling today? We are in the midst of the greatest pandemic of our life-time. We have been confined to our homes for over half a year.
The so-called prophet of the Old Testament, Habakkuk (approximately 605 BC) is a source of wisdom...or rather, should I say "shock"...and as well, insight for us as he writes in Habakkuk 3:17-19, "...though the fig tree does not bud, and 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. The Sovereign Lord is my strength, He makes my feet like the feet of a deer...He enables me to go on the high-places..."
What is about to happen to Habakkuk? He doesn't know what will actually will happen to him, but he is going to know eventually how he will react. History tells us --- he will be prepared for the worst to come in the best
possible way. Let us journey with Habakkuk as we find out...
The quote is from the very end of this book in the Holy Scriptures. There is a Spiritual journey that is necessary for Habakkuk to take in order to make his affirmation. It is not an easy journey for Habakkuk. Initially Habakkuk is a proud, intelligent young man. He thinks he can figure out anything by himself. In the words of Simon and Garfunkel, he is "a rock and an island". He's going to deal with things on his terms. Indeed, the Book of Habakkuk is not really a book of divine prophesy, but rather, a book about the "making of a prophet", or a spokesman for God. It is my purpose today to share with you the journey of Habakkuk, because it is the journey of a person who spiritually exemplifies the majority of our people in the twenty-first century of our present era...
"...the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned..."
1 Corinthians 2:14
At the beginning of Habakkuk's journey we find that he is a "skeptic" about life, in general, and the existence of God, in particular. In the first chapter he asks three classic questions...these are questions I hear every single week in counseling or in conversation with those in trouble who contact me. The questions are:
How long is it that I have to cry out to God, but He does seem to listen? WHY is this? (Habakkuk 1:2)
Habakkuk not only questions God and His wisdom, but kind of "Sticks it to the Lord" with outright sarcasm...
As we used to say in the Marine Corps, he not only stuck the bayonet in, but also twisted it a quarter-turn...
WHY is it that You are silent as those who are bad swallow up those who that live righteous lives?
Well, we can all understand these questions. The key point that we get to later in the text...is that we can continue to ask the question WHY --- and we will get nowhere! It's kind of like knocking your head up against a brick wall in order to get what you want. Who or what wins...your head or the wall? There are no given answers for the most pertinent questions. Yet, those questions are often quite reasonable. With some of the great questions in life, it is important to rise beyond "reason" in order to gain understanding and then overcome. The answer is found, not in the pursuit of reason, but rather in adopting a "mindset of faith"...
As we get into the book of Habakkuk we discover an astounding fact. You know, in fifty years of ministry, I have never heard any preacher, Catholic, Protestant, or Evangelical, speak on the content of the book of Habakkuk. Nonetheless, note that the entire thrust of the theology of the New Testament is based upon one single verse found in Habakkuk. Let me share that verse with you. In Habakkuk 2:4, Habakkuk writes, "...but the righteous will live by faith..." On this verse alone, the 16th Century Reformation took place and became the cornerstone of the restoration of solid bible scholarship and Christian vision. I am fascinated at how important Habakkuk was to Saint Paul, as he reviewed what he had learned prior, now as a Christian.
In short, the primary focus of the follower of Jesus Christ is not upon the demands of divine law, but rather upon trusting in God above all things. Hebrews 11:1 makes clear what faith is, "...now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see..." This does not dismiss the Ten Commandments or any other ordinance God has given us. It does mean we do not focus upon our self. Whether we have been a good person and have a great reputation, or whether we have been less than perfect (making a fool out of ourselves and putting other people out), we neither focus upon our righteousness (apart from God) nor upon our guilt, shame, and regrets. Focus upon "self" is out. We take care of ourselves for sure, but we do not dwell upon ourselves. We don't "pat ourselves on the back" nor do we cower in the shadows of former life.
I like Saint Paul's affirmation in 2 Corinthians 5:16, "...so from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view...therefore...if anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come..." We don't dwell upon ourselves, but we do celebrate "life" as extravagantly as possible.
Returning to Habakkuk, we turn to the second chapter. Habakkuk can't find answers from his neighbors, so he seeks out beyond the world he knows. In a sense, he reaches out to his "Higher Power" as a member of a 12-Step group would. He stands at the "Watchtower" peering out beyond the city walls. Habakkuk stops talking about God philosophically and starts talking to God...and he gets a response. Hmm!?
Will wonders never cease?!
God (Yahweh) tells Habakkuk to write down the insights he gets and the experiences he will have. Indeed, he will in truth receive answers (revelations, in fact) for his inquiry. He consequently receives the revelation that becomes the cornerstone of what will become Christian theology, "...the righteous will live by faith..." Habakkuk 2:4b
[Note the influence this will have upon Saint Paul six centuries later...Romans 1:17, Romans 3:28...wherein
Saint Paul credits Habakkuk, a spokesman for God. ["...just as it is written..."]
In the second chapter, Habakkuk starts to give God praise for His mighty works instead of questioning the person and efficacy of the Almighty. What is happening here? What happens with Saint Augustine later happens to Habakkuk in the text...a softening of the heart...an understanding...an open door to God...
"...for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God...the Lord is in His holy temple. let all the earth be silent before Him..." Habakkuk 2:14, 20
Finally, we arrive at the third chapter. Habakkuk has changed. God (Yahweh) has become very real to him. In his new-found knowledge and awareness of God, Habakkuk has become respectful. It may well be true that Habakkuk thinks this present relatedness is all there is in the Spiritual life with the Living God. He has another lesson to learn. He has one more thing to experience. That experience finally occurs in the third chapter at the sixteenth verse, related as follows:
"...I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound...decay crept into my bones...and my legs trembled..."
Regarding this verse, Jesus, six hundred years later, in John 3:3, 3:6, will say, "...I tell you the truth...no one can see the Kingdom of God unless that person is born again...flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit..." Indeed, Habakkuk in the Old Testament became "born again" in same sense as Jesus will have come to mean it in the New Testament. Habakkuk indeed had been an "inquirer" and a "speculator" in spiritual matters...and now...he had become a spokesman for God, a Prophet. He had acquired a personal relationship with God. He has received the "mindset of faith". Now he is ready anticipate all and to allow anything that might happen to happen willingly in his life...and yet...praise God for the circumstances.
Saint Paul, reflecting upon the spiritual insight of Habakkuk through the Holy Spirit, wrote, "...and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose..." Romans 8:28
In addition Saint Paul also writes, "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident unto all. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, with prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:4-7
Saint John writes, "...perfect love casts out fear..." When our hearts have been conquered by the love of Christ, we do not become fearful as others do. We are in God's loving, caring hands. Although it doesn't always seem that way, the Lord is involved in the give-and-take of events of life. All situations have their divine purpose and we volunteer to become involved in its eventual goodness. That is the practical basis of true faith. Mere religion is different. Bad things happen to punish us. We will pay for what we have done... God is our righteous judge. He will give us what we deserve. This kind of ideology does not fit into the life of a genuine Christian.
It doesn't come from the latest "catch-all fad" or from mere religion...but from the God grounded in our reality through Christ...with the message that we are more than conquerors through Him who has loved us Romans 8:37.
As we "...walk through the valley of the shadow of death..." Psalm 23 with the Covid-19 pandemic...a crushed economy...concerned about basic security and providing for our family...dealing with issues of justice and equality...and very much aware of impending disaster with local wild-fires next door...we remain mindful of the experience of Habakkuk.
We understand his ascendency to faith in God, and not depending upon reason alone. We take on the challenges of the realities about us, but nonetheless, we have the assurance that God will make things right for us---and those we are concerned about---and we will participate fully in God's plan to demonstrate His love for all of us, not in spite of, but because of the scary things that keep us on our toes. We are in the world, but we are not of the world...we don't turn our backs to the facts, but are graciously given the human courage to face the difficult times, because the Lord would not allow it, unless it were part of His perfect plan for this world that He loves.
God bless you and yours. Cordially, Tom
From Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough
Grace and peace to you always! I pray you and those you love are healthy and safe. We continue to hold you in prayer, knowing that these times are not easy. Please remember to take your Sabbath time for rest and relaxation. If I can possibly be of help, please let me know.
We will not be ignored. We will find our way over whatever threshold we need to cross. No matter where we need to go, or what we need to experience, let us look for the Christ who is always waiting for us to show up. The door to God's love is always open. Let us seek and find. It should not take too long. The door is always open.
Holy God, you who opens all doors, we thank you for your loving attention. We thank you that our place, our home is with you, and with you we find the safety of love. We pray that those who are searching will learn that your door is always open and that all are welcome to come and be with you. Forgive when we forget to extend your extravagant welcome. Help us to be as present to one another as you are to us.
In Jesus' name we gratefully pray. Amen.
Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough, Associate Pastor
San Lorenzo Community Church, United Church of Christ
Romans 7:15, 22
"I don't not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate about myself, I do...
for in my inner being I delight in the God's law...but I find another principle at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind...making me a prisoner of the n principle at work in my members..."
"...so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God...strengthened with all power, according to His glorious
might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience...joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light."
Dear Lord, today I'm going to acknowledge you as a great God of grace, a God of undeserved favor. In a powerful way I can feel your unconditional love for me. You have been faithful in answering my prayers. I don't deserve your kindness, your consideration, and your forgiveness. I don't understand why you are so faithful in dealing with me in view of my lack of faithfulness in return. I thank you for your grace because I simply need it. I'm just not that well-put-together. However, through the confidence I have in the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, I'm really going to put my best foot forward. Help me to be compassionate, understanding, and productive. In Jesus' name. Amen.
A few more funnies like last week...the winner from last week was the Darth Vader line...
"Never give yourself permission to hide behind grace as a cover for disobedience." Chuck Swindoll
"You belong to the power which you choose to obey." J B Phillips
God grants you and I grace...
We can choose Him to have mastery over us, or we can go back and choose to be lawless and without principle. J B Phillips was definitely right when he wrote, "You belong to the power which you choose to obey." The idea is simple. With every moment of every day we have the power to choose whom we are pleased to follow. If it is Jesus, the benefits are manifold. If we choose our own way, the consequences are destructive and miserable.
You belong to the power which you choose to obey...
Literally, sin is falling short of the target, and sin (in terms of our human intention and conduct) is falling short of God's standard for our lives. Falling short...
Don't fall short! Aim for the Bulls-eye and hit it! ...that Bulls-Eye is God's intention for our lives...
I've got some good news for you...and...I've got some bad news for you. You know something! I wish I could actually guarantee all of us freedom from sin for three-hundred and sixty-five days out of each and every year. But, sadly, I cannot do so. Not for me. Not for you. That's the bad news. The good news is that...we don't have to sin in a constant, day-after-day basis. Grace gives us the strength to be freed to obey Christ. With each and every choice we make in life, we either move closer to God or we go further away.
Some fellow Christians would say it's a gradual thing. I say, No! It's a decision by decision progression.
The Lord could intervene in our lives, but rather, He permits us the freedom to make a choice. When we fail to see the errors of our ways, the promptings of God's Spirit are ignored and disobedience becomes a lifestyle. God will allow that to happen...because we must "choose" Christ...and the His ways. The alternative for us is terrible...it involves mental anguish, a guilty conscience, hurting and offending others and finally bringing reproach upon the name of Jesus. The scars of bad decisions mark us for life. We are told that the Lord (indeed) will forgive us, but the scars we retain cannot be erased.
Let me tell you something! God is a gentleman and He is not going to force religion or good behavior on any of us. We must choose to accept His undeserved grace and act accordingly. The Holy Spirit will give us the means and the strength to live our lives in a Godly way, so that life is a blessing for us and we are richly rewarded. It starts simply with one decision, one act, to obey. God never means to communicate to us we're free in Him to live any way we want to live, whatever the circumstances. Life doesn't work that way.
Grace in this regard means I don't force or manipulate or judge or attempt to control others in that accountability, nor should others try to control me. In a unique and workable way --- personal growth in Christ --- involves breathing room, deliberately "letting go" of attempts to control (so very tempting for the deeply religious) so that each person can grow and learn on his or her own. Letting go of control can be painful...It's so hard to watch others falter along the way...we want so badly to shape others in our mold. We need to release our tendency to control, to be in charge, as though the touch of the Master is not sufficient enough...
Therefore, being a Christian who takes God's grace seriously, this anonymous poem is so very helpful:
To let go doesn't means to stop caring, it means I can't do it for someone else.
To let go is not to cut myself off, it's the realization that I can't control another person.
To let go is not to enable, but to allow learning from natural consequences.
To let go is to admit powerlessness, which means the outcome is not in my hands.
To let go is not to try to change or blame another, I can only change myself.
To let go is not to care for, but to care about.
To let go is not to fix, but to be supportive.
To let go is not to judge, but to allow another to be a human being.
To let go is not to be in the middle arranging outcomes, but to allow others to effect their own outcomes.
To let go is not to be protective, it is to permit another to face reality.
To let go is not to deny, but to accept.
To let go is not to nag, scold, or argue, but to search out my own shortcomings and to correct them.
To let go is not to adjust everything to my desires, but to take each day as it comes.
To let go is not to criticize and regulate anyone, but to try to become what dream I can be.
To let go is not to regret the past, but to grow an live for the future.
To let go is to fear less and love more.
"...there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin an death..." Romans 8:1-2
The very next time you and I are tempted to yield to the "old master" we will need to remember this. God's grace always invites us to return and find forgiveness and healing and wholeness. The scars along the way are the earmarks of our eventual victory in Christ. They show us the price the journey has cost us. There is a great and powerful truth released to us through the gospel we have received in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no more perfect way to live and find true reconciliation in our lives. If there were "a religious way" or "a way of wisdom" that dealt with truth the way "life in Christ" does --- I have not found it. Underneath the lure of other spiritual ways there are always "good works" at its base, not grace. It's an open-door for all of us to find perfect peace and joy meant for imperfect people, like me, and maybe you, also. I'd like to ask... receive that great peace and joy in your life today, especially if this has been a special time of struggle for you in these challenging times. There is hope for you today. There is reconciliation. There is abundant life.