From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
A Happy, Blessed Thanksgiving !!!
NOTE: Here are QUOTES to make our celebration of Thanksgiving a truly Spiritual one...
"...for God didn't give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-disciple..." 2 Tim.1:7
"...be joyful always...pray continually...give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus..."
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
"...the very fact that we praise God...and not some unknown fate...also means that we are accepting
the fact that God is responsible for what is happening..." Merlin R. Carothers
"...a mind not be changed by place or time...the mind is its own place, and in itself can make---
a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven..." John Milton
"...I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know 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 everything through Him who gives me strength..." Philippians 4:11-13
"...one single thought of gratefulness raised to heaven is the most perfect prayer..." G. E. Lessing
We honor and praise you on the occasion of our Thanksgiving celebration. We pray for those we know and love, but we also pray for those who are less fortunate than us. We ask that they may be blessed with good food and with hope. This year our recognition will be akin to the situation the Pilgrims faced. We remember the Pilgrim example and the choice they made to give thanks even though the average man or woman of their time would have cursed their lot. Although this American occasion comes once each year, we pledge to celebrate thanksgiving with a grateful heart at the beginning of each and every day. No matter our circumstance in life, we will honor you, your unconditional love, and your perfect plan for our lives. Amen.
After years of revolution in the remote areas of Peru, the "Sundero Illuminoso" ("Shining Path") finally made their violent, revolutionary way into the outskirts of Lima, San Isidro and Miraflores, in Peru, in the spring of 1991. It was a challenging, violent, horrible time in Peru's history. Meanwhile, our family had packed our bags and settled in by September of 1991. Shama preceded us in order to start school in Peru on time.
But...something else emerged in my heart and mind. The Lord had sent us down at this particular time in Peru's history to do a "unique work" for both foreigners and Peruvian citizens alike. We had already experienced four years as missionaries in Pakistan, also a difficult time with lots of adjustments, so that we really were much more "fully prepared" for the challenges of this extraordinary time than we thought.
EXCUSE ME, PASTOR, YOU STEPPED INTO SOMETHING
After our arrival...things changed rapidly and radically...nobody in the entire nation was safe...no one really knew if this would be their last day. It put a "shadow" over all occasions and over all endeavors.
We heard rumors of the slaughter of complete villages of Peruvian farmers. By the time we arrived about half the population of Peru had come into the area of Lima. The population arose from 280,000 to eleven million souls. The urban problems were unbelievable. The mighty Rimac River of Francisco Pizarro's day had become a trickling cesspool and stunk to high heaven. Eventually the Peruvian government fell.
THINGS GET WORSE
Childless couples who had come to Lima to adopt children by the hundreds were stuck in Peru. There were no Peruvian adoptions because there were no "Certification of Adoptions" available. There was no Peruvian government. There were no Peruvian judges to approve and certify adoption of Peruvian children.
Pretty soon it was impossible to buy food from the local super market. One day I noted two women in the store fighting over one box of breakfast cereal. Eventually, farmers and fishermen would literally come into Lima to sell on the streets at great risk to produce and their lives. Their presence and sacrifice out of need was a great blessing for us, our neighbors and the members of our church, the Union Church of Lima!
Talk about inconvenience...the "Sendero folks" blew up the water-works down the street time and again. Anna Maria--my secretary--and I would go through yet another series of days without bathing...before we came to the office...because there was no water available. When an medical-related emergency would come up at the American Hospital during the night-time, the Embassy staff would pick me up in an armored vehicle. The Shopping Center a number of blocks away was blown to pieces by a Volkswagen bus loaded with aluminum explosives. The impact caused the street to roll up and down like an accordion. There were body-parts everywhere on the street just blocks from us. It was a very scary time.
Shama and I were fired upon by rebels as we were going up the street walking Toby, our dog...I thought to myself that, indeed, it was time for my daughter to return to the States...I suggested to Priscilla that she go back; she refused...the bodies of CEOs heading up American companies were showing up at their family doorways in body-bags...things were getting desperate.
Ambassador Anthony Quainton and Susan at the American Residence decided before bedtime to go down to the kitchen for a snack. At that exact time, their bedroom was blown to bit. They were saved by going downstairs for a simple glass of milk at just the right time. I heard the explosion and called to make sure they were okay. What an experience! You could never really know when it would be your time to die.
In the midst of all this, there remained hundreds of adopting parents there. They found they could meet at our church to pass along information and receive encouragement and get Spiritual help. Many women and men who had not attended church for years or decades became regular worshippers.
THE EMBASSY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA IS DESTROYED
The time came for deployed American personnel with the American Embassy to evacuate the country. Our congregation was diminished by more than half. It was time to go to the "highways and byways" to reach out to other foreigners and English-speaking Peruvians. Among our first converts at this time were the official ambassador representing India and a Chinese business-woman from Beijing...
[Before our departure I had received a powerful "word of knowledge" from the Lord that my family and I would return to the United States with two arms, two legs and a head on our shoulders. Had I received
the wrong message from the Lord? Had it been the Lord who delivered this message to me? I held on
to that sense in the Lord that my family would all return safe and unharmed. Fortunately, Ayesha and Yasmin remained students at the University of California at Berkeley.]
THE CONCEPT OF PRAISE IS RECEIVED AND ACCEPTED
To keep going on a daily basis I employed the Biblical model for dealing with incredible stress and uncertainty. One Friday, in meeting with a group of over two-hundred of these prospective adoptive parents, including American doctors and German business people, etc., at our church...about half of the crowd received the Lord Jesus as a personal Lord and Savior, upon an informal invitation. It really really paid off in terms of dealing with terrible times. Without a government in operation, these unfortunate people were stuck in Peru...or had to give up their children the ones they were intending to adopt. I remember one young single women from Madison, Wisconsin, who just could not stand what she had to go through...after a year...she gave up her prospective son and returned back home. She was completely spent.
A powerful notion continued to inspire and guide both Priscilla and I during these challenging times. I noted an entry in my diary for December 9, 1991: "Praise is based on a total and joyful acceptance of the present as part of God's loving, perfect will for us...You cannot be a person of faith in Christ and not understand this essential of the Christian faith. Praise is not based on what we think or hope will happen in the future. It means living in a hope that will not disappoint us. This understanding is an absolute principle of what praise is for us..." Without that challenge to the "reasonable me" I would not have survived myself.
So, why is it, that, when we encounter situations in which we are truly challenged...we think---what we are
experiencing---is something we shouldn't have to go through and something we do not deserve.
Some of us go to the limit! We get the idea that we are being punished for something unknown that completely knocks us off our feet---or---that it's the penalty for some very painful, remembered sin or indiscretion? Is God in the business of gleefully punishing faithful, though imperfect, Christian men and women? The Bible tells us this is never true.
Dear friends, not my God, not my Savior!
Saint Augustine was right...put your faith in Christ...do all you can...no more...the Lord will do the rest. Just live abundantly as free men and women in His love! He will eventually bless us even though we sometimes dont' recognize it and we don't think we deserve it! It has to do with a powerful concept in a single "four-letter word" --- and that word of blessing is...love.
Divine, Unconditional, Love
We recall the Scripture which reminds us, "...and we know that in all things God works for the good of
those who are called according to His purpose..." Romans 8:28.
We pause for a minute to wonder what Saint Paul was thinking when he wrote those words. We may think..."Well, Paul never had to go through anything like I am going through...".
For this reason, we go back to the New Testament to note further clarification from Paul: "...as servants of God, we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance, in troubles, hardships and distresses, in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger..." 2 Corinthians 6:4-5. Paul knew suffering and pain to the maximum, but he never complained, nor had a "fall-through" of faith, because he came to know what he wrote about in Romans 8:28, above. It is a verse all of us need to memorize...and more important...live in confidence.
HUMAN SUFFERING HAS A DIVINE PURPOSE FOR A FALLEN WORLD
It is such a blessing for me, also, to know that Jesus suffered the way He did. On one hand, it suggests
to me that when I suffer, I share my suffering with Christ's suffering for the redemption of the world...
Being fully human, even though I know I am not God, I share in the fellowship of "being filled with the measure of the fullness of God", as Paul would say. We are made complete through all experiences
in life, not just the pleasant ones. We are reasonable beings, but faith extends that limitation.
Second of all, it means to me that God understands us when we suffer. In and through the humanity
of the Lord Jesus Christ we know that God totally comprehends the our nature and human suffering.
He comprehends times when we are tempted to do something that is wrong. He can empathize when
we go through physical, emotional, and mental suffering. He understands our feellings of shame,
guilt and regret. Through Jesus --- God becomes "Emmanuel", "God with us". Therefore, our suffering is not in vain. It has definite purpose and meaning for our lives. Paul stresses...rejoice in the Lord always!
"...we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not
abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed..." 2 Corinthians 4:7-10
Why is it, that, when we are experiencing inconvenient, or unfortunate, or painful situations in life we sometimes or often question the providence of God in our lives. Our vision in life needs to be expanded
to the extent that we know (for certain) that in all things God works for the good of those He loves.
CONTENTMENT IN LIFE GOES BEYOND OUR KNOWLEDGE OR REASON
"...and I pray that you being rooted and established in live, may have power together with all the saints to grasp how wide and long and high is the love of Christ, and to know the love that surpasses knowledge---that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God..." Ephesians 3:17b-19
Now how does an account of what happened to the Nibbe family in the 1990s have to do with what we are experiencing these days in 2020. As our pastoral family prospered in desperate times in Peru, we are definitely experiencing terrible times in our country, as well as around the world. You can't go anywhere in the world without practicing the safety measures we are practicing here in America. There is reasonable and unreasonable fear. There is terrible uncertainty. There is a degree of political upheaval, but not to the extent we experienced in South America. Anybody can get sick. Any infection can lead to death. If Auntie Betty in Ladysmith, Wisconsin, can be infected by Covid-19, anybody can. Everybody knows it is totally reasonable to be concerned in this situation.
GOD'S PERFECT LOVE DRIVES OUT FEAR
The difference for those of us who have placed their faith in the Savior is that "perfect love drives out fear"
1 John 4:18...we play it safe...we remain healthy...we do good as we shelter...but most of all...in Christ
we know that we are well. This time of pandemic and other serious insecurities of the age are something
God calls us to live in...and live through. We pay attention to what's going on, but we are nonetheless knowledgeable that we are called for this present challenge.
We are not fearful because we are meant to live in this time, stand up to the challenge, and not only survive, but prosper.
That we do in Christ...who gives us confidence and strength to stand...
From Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough
Blessings in this time and always. Because next week is Thanksgiving, I will do my best to send my meditation on Wednesday. However, if any of you need it even earlier in the week, please let me know. I will do my best to accommodate. In the meantime, stay well and remember you are loved.
Scripture: Hebrews 12:1-2
We are being called ever on, and yes, it is very helpful to keep our intentions focused on Jesus. We are not in a competition. Jesus knows our limits. For that, I am grateful.
I also love the mention of the "cloud of witnesses" that are also encouraging us in this journey. We have the encouragement and perseverance that we need, and such support may be found in surprising places.
Today, I end with a quote from Father Thomas Keating who passed at the age of 95 on Thursday, October 25, 2018. I suggest reading it slowly and prayerfully. It is worth repeating several times, so the words can sink to heart level.
I am at the point where I do not want to do anything except God's will, and that may be nothing. But nothing is one of the greatest activities there is.
It also takes a surprising amount of time! What time is left each day is an opportunity for God to take over my life more completely on every level and in every detail.
God Is Love: The Heart of All Creation
Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough, Associate Pastor
San Lorenzo Community Church, United Church of Christ
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
Most Sincere Condolence to Rauf and Teresa Naqishbendi upon the Passing of Rauf's Mother...
"Better a dry crust with peace and quiet, than a house full of feasting, with strife." Proverbs 17:1
Starting today, I'm going to remember that feelings are an important, and also, necessary part of my life. My purpose will be to learn how to express my feelings in an appropriate and meaningful way. I promise to be open to my feelings when it comes to church, to family, to friends, in my relationship with my spouse or partner, and at work. I'm going to feel my feelings without judging myself, ride with those feelings, rather than stuffing them down, and messing myself up...and in the process...make my life and my feelings fall together into a beautiful symbiosis...When those feelings seem to overwhelm me as though they were a ball of yarn all rolled up inside me, unravel them for me in a beautiful way so I can understand anew your purpose in my life. Amen.
What is it in me saying that we have such a tough time with our feelings?
It seems like such a struggle for most of us, if not all of us.
We seem to be afraid of our feelings, when feelings have neither large biceps---nor do feelings conceal a hidden gun or a handy knife under our shirt. We deny that we have consuming negative feelings for those we work with, with those we have even befriended, and with those who are normally beloved family members. These days most of us dare not express our feelings in regard to our preferences in the 21st Century, especially in the area of political stance or beliefs. Nothing more said about this.
"Now, Come on--y'all! Admit it!"
It's really tough for us to admit that we feel frustration, anger and hurt! The thought occurs to us, how can we go on with the feelings we have. It's too much at times. To men, I hear often, the freedom to "let it all hang out" is relative to gender...that intense show of feelings is just "a women's thing". I think not!
We cannot bury what we're holding on to. It's got to come out some way, or the other. All too often we just
"cram it all down within" where it decomposes but smells rotten. It reminds me of what us boys used to do on Explorer Scout camping trips...when we used to bury our garbage appropriately in the woods when we were about to leave to return to "civilization". Should we actually attempt to bury our feelings in a similar way, it would, indeed, come back to haunt us...and that's what always, always happens...big time!
TRUST ME. I GET IT!
We deny deep-hidden feelings of frustration and disappointment about the past --- past personal performance in life --- the direction of our nation, or the government, or the decisions of our state government, or our city officials, or church leaders, and even our children, our family members. We become poisoned emotionally and we even become physically afflicted. We become known around town as inherently "angry people". We become known as those considered basically "hard to understand". We lose our God-given ability to live as free men and women in a free nation.
Often we deny a whole wide range of feelings we have toward our husband or wife, since we are so intimately connected with that person. [We don't really want to ruffle feathers.] I liked hearing about the decision of two of my cousins back in Minnesota who decided on a "fine-dining night-out" to "celebrate" the fact that they didn't decide to get a divorce after the last four years in the United States of America.
There is a "very real prohibition" about expressing feelings when it comes to an employer, or on the other hand, the people that may work for us if we run a business. Sometimes our feelings come in direct reaction to those we are sharing a special project or experience. Often enough, we become surprised when a great relationship seems to be ruined by feelings in regard to a difference of opinion when it comes to what seems to be right or appropriate in completing a mission or a project.
"...Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light...it is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade
as servants of righteousness...their end will be what their actions deserve..." 2 Corinthians 11:14,15
At this point, the preacher steps in. That's me...to say...it is very, very interesting to me that after fifty years I should experience the intensity of feelings over what I had done in regard to my precious dogs, and continue to have, in a sense, to this day, when I allow it to happen. Satan is real and powerful.
The purpose of God in our lives becomes evident. We are grateful for the Good News that tells us...the greater the sin...the greater the forgiveness of God...I recall the comforting words of the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ:
"Come onto me, you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30
When, on one occasion recently, even fifty years hence, I sought God's forgiveness, and in so doing, sought the "higher road" for myself in Christ, I had the strangest and most wonderful vision. I didn't manufacture it for myself to feel better...or attempt to relieve myself, but...a powerful feeling of assurance came over me...that things had worked out for my dear doggies way back then. I guess, like many other things in life, we need assurances like this, that are not an excuse to let us "off the hook" from feeling our crushing guilt.
GOD IS GOOD. GOD IS REAL. GOD IS PRESENT.
To summarize, regardless of what it is that makes us feel the way we do, our feelings are still ours...that is to say, we own them. In the grace we have in the Lord Jesus, acceptance of what has taken place, or hasn't indeed happened, is often all that is needed to make them go away. We don't have to allow our feelings to control us and the way we act in life. Saint Paul says it so well in Galatians 5:1,13, "It is for the sake of freedom that Christ sets us free...stand firm, then, and don't let yourselves be burdened again with a yoke of slavery...you, brothers and sisters, were called to be free...just don't use that freedom to indulge the sinful nature..." We don't need to go right ahead into a devious way of escaping to indulge our lower nature with inappropriate thoughts and behavior as an excuse for the way we feel. I know many, many people ruin their lives living in that way...they stubbornly hold onto feelings that cause them to go wayward.
What's the role of a community of faith in terms of addressing a very real problem for human beings?
Now, when I write about what I have shared, thus far, I don't mean to address this to a "Country Club for Saints"...a church wherein all the folks wear "spanking-white shoes" and present themselves as "almost" perfect. I'm glad to proclaim (rest assured) that "No perfect people are going to heaven!" Really? Did you know that? The reason for that is ...in short...there ain't no perfect people. God was so smart He knows that He deals with "a fallen race"...inclined all too often...to make decisions contrary to what is helpful in life. It's a reminder for us that we're not punished for our sins, but rather, we are punished by our sins. On the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ became our sin ("the sin-bearer") that you and I may be "free from sin, death, and the power of the devil". Jesus literally became our sin. Hold on to that statement, Nibbe, I want to savor those words from Scripture. I prefer being in a community, therefore, that is a "Hospital for Sinners" rather than a country-club for saints. I'm up for that as long as all folks know they are made whole in God.
So what do we do with our feelings? They are only feelings! Remember that! It's not our feelings that will hurt us. It is what we do with them.
Feelings seem so very powerful. People often base their lives on how and what they feel. They then act
out on what they are feeling. It doesn't end up well. Feelings are only feelings! It needs to go no further. Do what you need to do to acknowledge what you're feeling...think things through without acting out on them...ask the Lord Jesus to help you process what you are feeling...that's the thing to do...because our feelings are nonetheless powerful and have control over our motivation to act.
DWJD [Do what Jesus would do.] (for some it has become a slogan some people joke about)
That's what makes faith genuine. Rather than doing what we would initially want to do...we process what has "grabbed us by the neck"...and eventually...we do what Jesus would do. It isn't our identification with our local church, or with what denominational affiliation we may have, or what connection or what kind of "pull" we have that allows us to literally "get by with murder" and yet cover us in the end.
JUST DO WHAT JESUS WOULD DO ANYWAY
It helps us to talk about our feelings with a kind, gentle person we trust. At times it's really a good thing
to bring our feelings to the person who triggered them. We can actually, with a little bit of personal courage, make a trusted friend out of a despised enemy. A number of years ago a very active, lovely lady in the congregation approached me with her complaint about another lady in the church..."I can't stand that lady", she said, "Pastor, what can I do." My reply was not a comfort for her..."You know you're going to have to spend eternity with her someday..." Not well received. She replied, "What should I do?" I suggested, "...Take her to lunch..." That's what happened. The sandwiches were good. The shakes were good. They became great friends and even better fellow workers in the congregation and beyond.
Just a comment I hope will be helpful. None of us are exempt from dealing with our feelings. Some of those feelings are really pleasant. However, many feelings really challenge us and our well-being. It's not our feelings that will get us into trouble, though they can get us down. It's how we react to the way we feel.
In the midst of living out our lives day by day, often enough, it's kind of like a "roller-coaster". The role of God in all of this is to take us off the roller-coaster. In the Lord, we have the assurance to know that He will come to our aid in the most dire of situations. We will do our very best and He will cover us. We simply need to ask, (even though it's become a joke to some), what would Jesus do? We will always do well with Him walking beside us. Sometimes we'll seem to fail, but He'll cover us --- to the extent that often our seeming mistakes we eventually realize become what God had in mind anyway. Finally, keep in mind that God will not allow us to experience anything other than what He has planned for us to go through for our good...and our spiritual maturity. Sometimes that might seem unpleasant, other times unfair, unreasonable or even unacceptable. Someday soon enough, God will reveal what good He had in mind for us.
As restrictions have begun to loosen at least a little, we have been able to add some Zoom services. We have even had some success with audio connection only. One activity director simply attached a portable speaker to her cell phone. It worked surprisingly well. We are all learning how to do things in new ways so let us not be afraid to try.
Scripture: Book of Ruth, chapter 4:13-17
So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.
I think today is not much different. Most of us want to do what is honorable but we also want to follow our hearts. Naomi and Ruth were vulnerable, but found safety with Boaz. Let us hope that people find a safe place with us. Let us treat one another with respect and care. We just never know what goodness might come from some seemingly simple acts. This is how we learn to serve. By simply doing what we know to be right, while also taking a chance or two when our hearts are stirred.
The story we have been reading is from the Hebrew Scriptures, but I think it is appropriate to close with a verse from a hymn about Jesus. "Jesus Calls Us, o'er the Tumult" written by Cecil Frances Alexander in 1852, beautifully reminds us that it is Jesus who calls out to us. We can always seek refuge in that knowledge and in heeding that call.
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
"I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know 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 everything through Him who gives me strength." Saint Paul in Philippians 4:11-13
Good morning, God!
We've got to be honest with you and ourselves. Often---we feel there just aren't enough resources or motivation for us to be confident enough to get on with Jesus' promise for us of "full life". Sometimes we are tempted to just give up. Lord, it seems like we've got a clear choice to make. We can complain about "what is", or more so about "what is not"---or---we can claim in you that we have all we need today to meet the challenges before us---to give you praise in advance---and convince ourselves that you are equipping us all to have a resourceful and successful day. Help us to focus in on what we think in our hearts is right for us...and follow through.
Help us to let go of our fears about not being successful, not having the ability to do the right thing at the right time. Help us also to have the motivation to step outward to make someone else's life easier. Help us to "turn the burden over to you" so we can carry a reasonable load. Take away our self-made barriers to happiness in life. Thank you for this life of faith to know that you will meet our needs this day. We pray in your name, Jesus. Amen.
The year was 1982. We were five then...there was my wife, Priscilla, and three great daughters, Ayesha, Yasmin, and Shama---and there was me. Our little family had spent the last four years as missionaries in Pakistan. I had sent a letter back to the States letting church administration know of our return. Arriving back in the States, I had the mistaken notion that the local synod had been thinking about us and had made provisions for us to adjust to life as a pastoral family in California.
There was no provision whatsoever. The fantasy I had had about being warmly welcomed back by a joyful group of fellow believers vanished quickly. Basically they had not only forgotten about us, but I was no longer officially rostered as an ordained pastor. I literally had to fight my way back into the visible church, go before a vocations committee, and in the process, be accused of being "too evangelical"---and almost dismissed---except for one very special committee lady who stood up for me.
Moments like this should never happen. At this particular time there were evidently no congregations open for us to interview at... according to the administration, (not the bishop). Was it actually because we were a racially mixed couple? I didn't think it was because I was generally thought to be "unfit" to be a pastor. I knew there were indeed vacant positions open in the area. The question became...not what the church was doing...or not doing.
The question in my mind increasingly became...What is God doing? What kind of refinement is taking place in my life and in the individual members of my family? At this time I was actually beginning to think more appropriately (spiritually speaking) about priorities. Was I going to be suspicious about other peoples' unknown, unspoken motivations in the Church...to try to "outguess" the church authorities...and in the end poison my heart and mind...becoming a disappointed and bitter old man in the end.
In all truth, I had to ask myself:
IT WAS THE LORD...or I move on to greener pastures...
I'm not suggesting that folks in the Church are always going to be short-sighted and short-change those in their charge. I'm not suggesting that Church authorities are always going to be wrong, and you have to set them straight. I am saying, however, that each of us has a Call from God to serve Him...and we need to "stand our ground" with the vision the Lord has given us...about what our destiny in the Lord Jesus is...
"...humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time...cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you..." 1 Peter 5:6-7
It's important that I express my commitment to others in the Visible Church that I must respect them, do well by them, enhance their sense of call from God, and anticipate that they will fulfill their ministry and bless me and those I know and love, but, I want to make myself crystal clear sharing what I have learned over fifty years in the ministry...ultimately...trust only in the Lord. In the process, do not judge others when they fail you. Do not revile them. Forgive them. Pour hot coals over their heads "by your kindness" after they have wronged you. Keep you focus on the Lord. Trust only Him. (Back to my story...)
Meanwhile in Berkeley, our family kept tightly together. The girls went to school and did exceptionally well. We shopped at local rummage stores and garage sales for jeans and other essential items. The jeans had holes and tears in them and I was afraid the girls were going to be laughed at and teased---but no, all the well-to-do girls in Berkeley wore expensive jeans that had holes and tears in them. (Be it noted: God is good all the time! As a family of five we stayed at first with my former classmate in his one-bedroom house and then were invited to live for two weeks with a Godly lady who lived in a spacious home in the Berkeley hills. We ended up being there with her for a year or so. It helped as an Episcopalian that she thought I should start (then) today as the Assistant to the Bishop in Grace Cathedral. What a morale-builder! I kept getting odd jobs along the way. Meanwhile we prayed together earnestly that God would provide supper for five for that day at morning-time, sometimes for breakfast shortly after we awoke in the morning. The Lord always provided on time. We had lots of prayer support from sincere Christians who were pulling for us. The girls were magnificent along the way. What great kids they were! Just love them! Priscilla was a source of peace, love, and family confidence.
There were tremendous needs that went unmet. In one sense, we never had enough, and yet, in another sense, we had each other, and therefore, we had everything. It was tough. Nothing came easy. Secretly, daily, I felt I had let my family down. Somehow, however, deep down inside, in a very deep place, I sensed that my direction and that of my family was secure in the midst of all the uncertainty. At one important moment along the way, I remembered Professor Keith Bridston at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary saying to me (long before) when I was a seminarian, "Underneath it all, Nibbe, I can tell you have a powerful sense of God's destiny in your life working in your behalf."
I became suspicious of what was happening---and not happening---as far as the Church was concerned. I contacted the local bishop. He was supportive. His words were a huge bandage wrapped around my wounded heart, "We've got to do something about you, Tom. We need you in the Christ's Church!" He suggested three locations to interview. We interviewed at Holy Cross. We definitely decided that Pacifica was the place for us. Pastor and people just seemed to fit. We stayed for eight-and-a-half years. We then accepted a call to serve at the Union Church of Lima in Peru. Four years later we returned to the States. Pacifica called us back again. We've been here for another twenty-five years up to the present.
So, am I holding on to a grudge against the Church folks for certain things that have happened---and things that didn't happen---practically forty years ago? No. Am I still hurting after making my poor kids and my beautiful wife suffer in those times? No.
(I could have returned to my old job at the U.C., Berkeley, but resisted the thought because of my call to ministry in the Lord Jesus Christ.)
I followed my vision, not based upon personal excellence or goodness, but rather, that promise the Lord wrote on my heart way back then and confirmed inside of me through all these years.
Sometime back I was reminding my oldest daughter, Ayesha, of those "horrible, terrible times" in 1982-83. Ayesha replied, "What terrible times, Dad? You mean when we used to pray together 'all the time' as a family for all our needs, sometimes, practically all day, because the needs were great...but the Lord provided according to our needs...and we knew He was the Great Giver...You played around with us...You were home with us every day...You did creative stuff with us all the time...We laughed together when we were supposed to cry...We totally depended on each other in the Lord-----Terrible times? What terrible times, Dad...?"
I don't know all the things that went through the hearts and minds of the members of my family...but I do know this about myself...I was too dependent upon the visible church and the leaders to provide a provision for us---God was right in there with us. He's the one who affirmed us and we discovered in the shambles of our situation who we really were, in Him! We needed to learn the way it happened.
Saint Paul said in Romans 8:28: "...and we know that in all things God works together for the good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose..."
God is a gentleman. He will not force religion upon you...
If God seems not to be providing for your needs, it is because you are not letting him do so...He will provide according to His wisdom...and not yours...and it will be sufficient for all your needs. He wouldn't provide for you because of your fabulous personality, your great intellect, your good-looks, or your fantastic pocket-book. He will provide for you because He loves you...without condition. That thought will take some time for it to set. He loves you much more than you could ever be fully aware of. If He doesn't seem to provide for you, it's not His fault, it's your fault. Perhaps you are not aware of what great value you have to the Lord.
I had idolized my bishop in my seminary days and in my first years of ministry. I changed my denomination because of him and his leadership. In retrospect I think I regarded him more highly and liked him more than he liked me. He turned against me at one point, not remembering that I had told him two years prior that I would leave my parish after two years to prepare myself as a pastoral counselor. In retrospect, he had "black-balled" me...according to a reliable source. The lesson here is (was)---you don't put your ultimate trust in any mortal...presidents, senators, the Secretary General of the United Nations, archbishops, your pastor, especially your favorite uncle, or even your business partner.
That ultimate trust belongs in placing your confidence in God Almighty and only He. Nobody else. The Lord will never let you down. It will seem at times He has. You will become impatient at times. You will become untrusting. You will wonder if God even exists. You may even have to go through what the Nibbe family did. He will teach you how to live right---and confidently---no matter what the circumstances happen to be. What was true for my family in the 1980s goes for what happens in 2020, even in the midst of a world pandemic...you can always trust in the Lord! Everybody else in this life will ultimately let you down sometime or the other. Just shake it off. Forgive them and trust God. In the process you will grow spiritually....
"Forgive us our trespasses...AS WE...forgive those who trespass against us..."
Sounds familiar...these word have a ring to them...who was it that prayed these words...???
What the Lord has started in your life will be made complete within God's good time...without fail!
No half-hearted, doubtful commitments, please! Become a genuine follower of the One who is worthy of complete trust! Heartaches will follow those who ultimately trust other human beings.
"...being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ..." Philippians 1:6
It will not happen if you are comforted and coddled and babied time after time in a life in which you think you have control and you can do whatever you please! The expression is---Let go and let God! Once you let go of control in life, a dead-end, you need to let the Lord lead you through what may seem like one storm after the next. It's all part of the process. The Lord will prove His faithfulness when all has taken place!
These have been extremely trying times for us. I have kept your families and each one of you in prayer. We go back some time and love and appreciation has grown. We need to be there for each other. Thank you for your kindness in praying for my family in response. With the daily challenges we are all aware of--- the confinement and the pain and the loss of life---there are those precious moments that God gives us to experience the deep and rewarding things about living this life. We are grateful to the Lord that He has brought us thus far. We will continue to trust in Him. He is worthy.
P.S. Thanks for sharing this message.
From Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough
Those of us who are trying to walk a path of faith have a distinct call. That call is to optimism. This is not a call to ignore the pain and suffering that may be around us. It is, however, a call to trust that God is leading us all. We all have different calls and different ways to serve. May we all use our calls to bring trust and encouragement into this world.
Last week, we learned that both Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth, were widows, and in biblical times, widowhood could be precarious. Ruth has decided to return to Bethlehem with Naomi. Naomi has reluctantly agreed because she sees no prospects for either her or her daughter-in-law. Yet, despite her doubts, Naomi is probably grateful for Ruth's company, and in this text, we see that Naomi addresses Ruth as "daughter." This being claimed will play prominently later in the story. Keep in mind that both Naomi and Boaz, the owner of the field where Ruth is gleaning, are from the clan of Elimelek. Such ties were important in biblical times, and those relations could ensure someone's safety.
Here we read of Ruth going out to glean behind the harvesters. In both Leviticus 19:9 and Deuteronomy 24:9, people were instructed to not harvest the whole field, but rather to leave some behind for the poor. What Ruth is doing is quite acceptable and allows her to gather food for Naomi and herself.
We will journey a little further with Ruth and Naomi next week, but for now, let us remember that being claimed is probably important for most of us. At times we, too, have been claimed as a son or daughter, perhaps a husband or wife, maybe even being declared as an employee or or co-worker. Hopefully, there is someone in our life that we claim as a friend. Recognizing these relationships means that we recognize people's value in our lives. We feel a sense of relationship. The good news is that we are all claimed by God, and we, too, can take part in the harvest of that love. God never "unclaims" anyone. We are all related and we all belong. May we grow into that love.
Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough, Associate Pastor
San Lorenzo Community Church, United Church of Christ
Gracious Lord, we are grateful for your amazing message, meant for each of us, of profound inner peace and personal freedom under you, due to the mission of the Lord Jesus Christ! We don't deserve it, but because we have freely chosen to live under you and your eternal kingdom, and because of your amazing grace, we have confidence for this day and the assurance of eternal life in the world to come. We are your thankful people and we praise your holy name! Guide us into safe pasture and provide according to your divine plan. In the process may we be kind and loving to other human beings. In Jesus' name, Amen
Message - Reformation Day
For those who share "lives of faith" in the God of Israel, the 31st of October is not primarily Halloween.
He advanced in his learning to become a doctor of theology and a favorite professor at the university. He did not plan to become famous by doing so. His intention was to discuss and argue points of church practice and faith that would address great errors in the larger church, at least, in Europe. There was no greater scholar of the Holy Bible in his day.
"...for though we live in the world, we do not wage war the way 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..." 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
To accommodate pagan traditions within the Christian faith, Pope Gregory III designated the following day, November 1st, as All Saints' Day...so that a non-Christian holiday would be accompanied by something similar, honoring those who had died in the Christian faith. In 43 AD the Romans conquered the Celtic areas of northern Europe and imposed Rome's religion upon Celtic faith.
October 31st, called FERALIA, in remembrance of Roman dead, and November 1st, called POMONA, honoring the harvest of crops and human souls, were combined into an imposed festival for the Celts. One of the fruits of the harvest were apples. The custom of "dunking for apples" that we still do at Halloween was an ongoing favorite custom with the people.
There had been a multitude of remarkable believers before his time who desired reform in the Christian Church. Among them, over the years and decades, were Francis of Assisi, Gregorio Cortese, Reginald Pole, Gasparo Contarini, John Wycliffe, Francisco Ximenes, Erasmus Desiderius, Jan Hus, among others.
Hus was burned at the stake one hundred years before Luther. Their calling out of unacceptable teachings and practices had all ended in great persecution and death. John Wycliffe simply desired that his people have the Bible translated into the language of the people. Martin Luther was saved remarkably by his ruler, Frederick the Wise, and even more so, by the invention of the printing press. It is interesting for me that in this year of 2020 AD, Roman Catholic scholars of the period declare that the Reformation was necessary, but not Protestantism. Also, in our post-modern times, Pope Benedict XVI declared, "Luther was right!", a Roman Catholic Pontiff---more a scholar than a politician.
We have to see these times within the course of world history, not just the history of the Christian Church.
The basic period of time under consideration is from 1517 AD to precisely 1648 AD. Pause for a moment to consider the times...to wit..."Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492"...the New World was discovered by Europeans. Between these two dates, the entire world (from, at least, Ireland to India) at the time had fallen into disorder everywhere and an entirely new world order, system, and configuration came into being by 1648, and especially, within the year of 1648.
The Renaissance, the Reformation, the complete dismantling of the political landscape of Europe, and the establishment of an European empire in North America and South America was taking place. The Spanish and the Portuguese had established "spheres of interest" in the Americas and in the Asian subcontinent --- and as far away as the Philippines. Martin Luther had translated the Bible into German by 1545. The English Crown under King James I produced the first Bible written in the English language (revised) by 1611 AD (you guessed it, The King James Version). That, eventually, led to other events within nine years...the Pilgrims heading off in the Mayflower for Massachusetts, by 1620, as a result of that translation. The first American Thanksgiving was celebrated in the New World on October of 1621. Although Columbus had been involved with African slavery as early as the 1490s, the first African enslaved persons arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619.
WHAT BASIC CHRISTIAN FAITH IS ALL ABOUT --- WHAT TRUE "CATHOLIC" FAITH IS ALL ABOUT
Meanwhile, the powerful idea of faith structure based upon one's personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ alone...the Holy Bible as the sole ultimate authority for believers...and the community of faith, the Church, not primarily an institution lording itself over the flock, but a loving community for guidance and instruction in the faith, became a model resulting from the original Reformation started under Dr. Luther.
"..The obscure monk in Wittenberg, Germany, Dr. Martin Luther had literally become world famous.."
After a little more than five hundred years, of course, things again have changed. Noticing that I wear a Lutheran clerical collar regularly in San Francisco, and that it looks different from a Roman clerical collar, I'm asked all the time..."Why does your collar look different somehow from a Catholic priest?"
I tell them that I wear a Lutheran collar because I'm a Lutheran pastor, but even more so, because I prefer it." The response is, "Oh, do you worship Martin Luther King, Jr.?" My comment, "No, I don't, but I admire him and I've been influenced by his witness to our common Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!" I continue, "You see, Martin Luther King's father was also a Martin Luther King, and his father, sensing that his son would be much like the Dr. Martin Luther of Germany way back in the 16th Century, named him after that great reformer." Again I continue to bear testimony, "I believe in the Triune God of Martin Luther King, Jr. --- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit --- I'll like to invite you to receive him, just as we have, as your personal Lord and Savior. There's no hitch and there is no obligation to do so...This is the best offer, I'll bet, you've received today!!!"
WHAT DR. MARTIN LUTHER TAUGHT AND WHY IT IS IMPORTANT FOR ALL WHO ENBRACE FAITH
Please note that I am not a denominationalist. I do not declare myself to be aligned with or connected with the Christian Church for any other reason than IT IS THE TRUTH for me. When other elements enter into the picture that do not align with the Scriptures, I move on. When I present the theology of Dr. Martin Luther I don't do so because I am from a Lutheran background. I do so because of the scope and power of the material at hand as the man presents it. God gave him a powerful mind, but also an incredible ability to understand the insight of what was recorded in Scripture as DIVINE REVELATION. At the same time, I acknowledge that Luther was not a perfect man. I don't put him on a pedestal---Luther also had another side...but so do I. Therefore, I will focus in upon the great insights of the man because of his love of ...and giftedness in...interpreting the Holy Bible. It's a shame contemporary people don't know his anointed work.
Martin Luther was a person saturated with feelings of unworthiness. Like many of us he had a choice to make and he made it constantly. He could have focused on the good things about himself, or he could have emphasized the bad things about himself. He chose, as Darth Vader to focus in on "the dark side". [Pardon sneaking in a little "Star Wars" here.] At one point, his monastery mentor, Fr. Staupitz, directed him to get into the Scriptures, and in the process, Luther became a real master of Latin, and more importantly, Hebrew and Koine Greek (the language of the New Testament). As he began to master the text of the Bible, Luther recognized a recurrent theme in both Old Testament and New Testament. Let me show you what stood out in his heart and mind, being a person overwhelmed with feelings of unworthiness, also guilt and shame:
"...Abram believed the Lord and He credited it to him as righteousness..." Genesis 15:6. Luther thought to himself, so where is the emphasis upon earning the fact or the reality that you are actually 'right with God'..."
Don't you have to do something? Doesn't God require that you earn that status of being righteous?
"...the righteous will live by faith..." Habakkuk 2:4b. Luther notices two things about this book of the Bible and this obscure minor Hebrew prophet. First of all, this seemingly insignificant, rather short verse, becomes the "spring-board" for the entire theological framework of the New Testament. Second of all, once again, the emphasis is not upon "doing"...it's simply upon placing trust, not in what I can do, but what God has done for me. Okay...so Moses makes the point in Genesis...and now Habakkuk makes the point here...
But for Luther this was still not convincing enough...true students of the Bible cross-reference until the cows come home...I'm going to keep looking to make sure there is continuity here even into the New Testament.
(The question also came up...Are there really Old Testament and New Testament or just "one testament"?
It seemed then that "Marcion of Sinope" back in the 2nd century didn't get it right about getting rid of OT.)
Saint Paul's "Letter to the Romans" eventually becomes the center of Luther's understanding of Christian faith and our personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. As he turns back to Romans 3:28, "...for we maintain that a person is justified by faith APART from the law..." Luther recalls a similar verse he had just read in Romans 1:17, "...for in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith FROM FIRST TO LAST, just as it is written: '...the righteous will live by faith...'" First of all, Luther affirms that it is not about earning God's favor, but rather, as a human being, living in the assurance that when we place our faith and confidence in the Lord, we don't have to worry about falling short, no matter what may befall us. To Luther it was a fool-proof way of living a confident, happy, joyful life. Luther pauses and then remembers, "Hey, I'll be...that's found in Habakkuk!"
Somehow, down the line, in my life, I got the idea that when God the Father looks upon us...He's not going to see John's or Mary's or Tom's face...He will see the face of Christ Jesus in our face and say to us, "Well done, my good and faithful servant!"
Yesterday and today were reported as being the most devastating in the months of the present pandemic.
I have missed you and I have missed worship together in these trying times. I leave you with this...
"I thank God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now...being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus...It is right for me to feel this way about all of you since I have you in my heart." Philippians 1:3-7a
From Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough
Blessings to all of you as October comes to a close. Do take a moment to remember those who have gone before you, both in your professional lives as well as your personal. May we continue to learn from one another.
Scripture: Book of Ruth, Chapter 1:16-18
But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.
I first gave the Book of Ruth some serious thought in a Bible study years ago. There was a woman in the study who was from Amsterdam, and she had followed her husband to the United States. She understood what it was like to dare to follow someone simply because of love.
In this story, there is famine in the land and Naomi, whose husband had died, is planning to return to Bethlehem. She believes that her daughter-in-law Ruth should not follow her. Naomi could not see what was ahead for her and was not feeling optimistic. Ruth, also a widow, was from Moab, and it seemed to be logical that she should return to her homeland. However, Ruth was determined to stay with her mother-in-law, and could not be convinced otherwise. She vows to accompany Naomi always. Love, as we know, is often not logical.
We will continue with the Book of Ruth for a week or two, because it is a rich and beautiful story. Sometimes love will carry us to a new way of being in the world. That is at the heart of the faith journey. We can be faithful to God because God is faithful to us. We will be shown the way. We do not travel alone. Blessed be.
I leave you with the first verse and refrain from the lovely hymn, "Be Not Afraid," written in 1972 by Father Bob Dufford, S.J.
Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough, Associate Pastor
San Lorenzo Community Church, United Church of Christ
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
"...the One who is in you is greater than the one in the world..." 1 John 4:4
Lord Jesus, by faith, we receive your unconditional love and acceptance in this time of world pandemic, this time of curtailment of activity and overabundance of hurt, and as well, great human loss, and we trust you to meet all our needs, and as well, those we pray with and those we pray for. We take authority over the Enemy, and in the name of Jesus, we take back the ground we have allowed Satan to gain in our lives because of our attitude at times in the midst of really tough days. Right now, we give this ground back to the Lord Jesus Christ to whom it rightfully belongs. We pray for abundant grace, patience, and peace. In your magnificent, holy name. Amen
I assume you're feeling much the same. I find myself lacking the practice of the faith disciplines I would have daily practiced in former years...a positive attitude...a good word to a partner, a neighbor, a friend, and even, an enemy. I've said things with these lips I really thought were behind me long ago. I've made up my mind that I'm not going to let the Lord take a "back seat" in my life after nine months of pandemic. Are you with me?
"...for everyone born of God overcomes the world...This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith..." 1 John 5:4
Imagine what those go through who don't have the Lord in their life. We don't really know when this trying time will decisively end, if ever, it seems at times. We frequently think of what Covid-19 does to our life every day...and of course what it could do. I keep thinking of the great multitude of coronavirus patients who die totally alone lest they give someone they love the virus. What a difference it makes, I would imagine, to have the Lord make that journey with you. Furthermore, we know what coronavirus can do...for a moment today, also, I paused to think of what Covid-19 can not do to women of faith and men of faith:
"...make every effort to add to your faith --- goodness, and to goodness, knowledge --- and to knowledge, self-control, and to self-control, perseverance --- and to perseverance, Godliness, and to Godliness, brotherly kindness --- and to brotherly kindness, love...for if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ...but if anyone doesn't have them, that person is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that she or he has been cleansed from past sins... therefore, my sisters and brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure...for if you do these things, you'll never fall...you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ..." 2 Peter 1:5-11
As we sometimes fall into apprehension and fear, we wonder regarding the great things the Lord God is silently doing in our present-day world!
"...to Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence, without fault and with great joy --- to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now & for evermore..." Jude 5:24-25
From Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough
I apologize for being a day late with this week's meditation, but I have just concluded a four day Zoom retreat. I am part of a group of spiritual directors who meet for a four day retreat once a year. Normally, we meet at the beautiful Villa Maria del Mar in Santa Cruz, but this year it just did not seem wise to try to gather in person, even though the retreat house is open on a limited basis. We are an older group and several of us live in other parts of the United States. Flying to California just did not seem wise.
While we were not sure how our retreat would work on Zoom, we were surprised at the ease of the gathering. Our conversations were just as warm and intimate as they always have been. Yes, we missed the ocean and the gentle presence of the Sisters of the Holy Names. We missed hugging one another. Yet, overall, we consider the retreat a success, and no one had jet lag!
When you are ready to see if Zoom might work in your community, do let me know, and I do want to say thank you to the communities who have invited me in via Zoom. God continues to gather his people in, and in surprising ways!
I read this beautiful Psalm when I feel I am in danger of falling into the trap of forgetting that God is always with us. Here, we have the psalmist remembering when he was part of a large group who were in procession to the house of God. He remembers the glad shouts and songs of the multitude. It does indeed sound like a wonderful memory. He assures his soul that God will once again be praised in the temple.
Many of us are exiled from our temples, church buildings, and even our families. However, because we celebrate the incarnation, we know that God is very much with us. God cannot be extracted from our souls and God refuses to be trapped in any one building. God will not go away, even when we are angry and frustrated. We can never be exiled from God, but we can forget to get in touch with that Divine Spirit within. Too often, we turn away from ourselves and our love. Yet, even when we do that, God is steadfast. We can always return to that abundant love. God is always right here, right now, ever ready to fill our hearts with peace.
If possible, spend some quiet time with God today. You can verbalize your prayers if you want, but if you find you can't find words, just sit in the sacred silence. You can take a few breaths, and then simply say, "Welcome, Lord Jesus, or 'Welcome Holy One.'" It may feel odd at first, but it should not be too long before you begin to feel the comforting presence of the One who has been with you all along.
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!