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Wednesday Words, September 22, 2021

Wednesday Words – Declutter Judgement

September 22, 2021

Pr. Cathy Daharsh

John said to [Jesus,] “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 

– Mark 9:38

This summer I began the project of decluttering and sorting through our storage in the basement, so I don’t stumble through boxes. I have hurt myself tripping over items, and then I have found myself blaming others for the mess. 

It’s easy for us to quickly judge and blame people, events and circumstances that have tripped us up, interfered in our lives, or kept us from getting what we want: stumbling blocks. My guess is that every one of you could tell stories about the stumbling blocks in your life. 

In Sunday’s Gospel we hear a story about John and the other disciples running into a stumbling block, an outsider who, as John tells Jesus, “Was not following us.” He was not one of them, and that seems to be their stumbling point. 

We too quickly make judgments about people from first impressions, political points of view, religious views, etc. and we draw lines in the sand, that divide into us and them, and create stumbling blocks. I see that happening in the world today. I read it in the news. And I’ve done it. 

Thankfully, Jesus takes a different approach. He erases the lines we draw and makes the circle bigger. He isn’t so concerned about who causes us to stumble. He is concerned about what is tripping us up. Jesus is asking us to look at ourselves. It’s as if he is saying, “Don’t worry about the other person. You worry about yourself.” He’s asking us to look within, remove those boxes that make us stumble. 

The greatest stumbling blocks are not outside us but within us: anger and revenge, the judgments we make of others, prejudice, our unwillingness to listen, the assumption that we know more and are better than others, our busyness, gossip, and our desire for power and control. These, and so many more ways can cause us to fall. 

What if we decluttered our judgments and replaced them with words of encouragement? What if we followed Jesus’ teachings and made circles bigger to let more people in? My hope and prayer is that we are people that would rather build up than tear down and live in gratitude for a God that has room beyond our judgments. Amen.

Wednesday Words, September 15, 2021

Wednesday Words – Greatest

September 15, 2021

Pr. Paul Cannon

Jesus sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, 

“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 

- Mark 9:35

Getting a head start halfway down the driveway (and on his bike, with me on foot) Isaac called out, “Race you to the end of the driveway Dad!”  Never one to back down from a challenge, I raced after him, falling well short of a first-place finish.

After my third humiliating defeat in this fashion, I finally wised up.  I was ready for him when he called out again, “Race you!”  This time I didn’t let him get ahead.  I bounded across the finish line, victorious at last!

Isaac wheeled around on his bike and ironically declared in a sour tone, “Not fair!”  I may have been the winner of that race, but in hindsight, maybe coming in last would have been better. 

That’s kind of the job a dad isn’t it?  To put your kids first, even if it means putting yourself last. 

In our Gospel this week, I think Jesus would agree.

The disciples are bickering about something … kind of silly.  Who is the greatest among them?  If that sounds kind of childish to you, it might be helpful to remember that the disciples were, in all likelihood, teenagers.  Perhaps we can allow them a silly debate. 

But Jesus turns it into a teaching lesson.  He tells them “Whoever wants to be first, must be last of all and servant of all.” Those are words we should all take to heart, especially in a culture that is obsessed with being first. 

If you’re honest with yourself, I’d bet you’ve felt that in your own life too. We all have.  We are all prone to enter into debates about “Who is the greatest?”  You might want to put yourself first in the workplace, first in income or first in class. 

Jesus flips it all upside down however, letting his disciples know that God’s kingdom doesn’t operate in the ways of the world.  If you want to be first, put yourself in a place of servanthood – make yourself least of all.

Wednesday Words, September 1, 2021

Wednesday Words – Desperation and Faith

September 1, 2021

Pr. Paul Cannon

But a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, 

and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin.

Mark 7:25-26

Preparing for the sermon this week, I couldn’t get the words of Dr. Matthew Skinner, one of my seminary professors, out of my head.  “Sometimes,” he intoned, “there’s a fine line between desperation and faith.” 

Think about all the stories in the Bible where people turn to Jesus in their most desperate moments. The woman who pushes through a crowd just to touch Jesus’ cloak.  The lepers who leave seclusion to approach Jesus on the road.  The paralytic who is lowered through a roof just to get to Jesus.

Sometimes it takes us hitting rock bottom to truly trust God.  When all other hope runs out, and all you have is a sliver of faith to cling to, you not only find God but discover that faith is a much stronger thing than you ever imagined. 

It’s certainly the case in our Gospel reading on Sunday.  A Greek woman, has a daughter with an unclean spirit.  Though the text doesn’t specify the condition, we all can relate to the feeling of being powerless, hopeless, and desperate.   Her daughter was sick, and nobody could help her.

The woman must have been at the end of her rope to approach Jesus.  A Greek woman approaching a Jewish rabbi for healing?  It would have been downright scandalous in some circles.  But maybe she figured, “What do I have to lose?”

That’s not faith … not exactly.  But maybe it’s a start. 

Wednesday Words, August 25, 2021

Wednesday Words – The Perfect Gift

Pr. Cathy Daharsh

August 25, 2021

                                             “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above…” -James 1:7

A few weeks ago, my husband, Tom and I attended a couple’s wedding shower for our niece and her future husband, and this week we are attending a couple’s baby shower for another niece and her husband, which is a first for us. I am on the hunt for the perfect gift for the shower. One which they will use every day and it will make their life better when they use it. It will give them joy. Sometimes I use the internet to figure out the best gift, and so far on the top lists for baby gifts my two possible choices are a Soothie Snuggle Pacifer Holder and a Comotomo Baby Bottle. I am always fascinated and impressed with how new creative perfect gifts continue to be invented for babies to help make parents lives easier. 

God has sent us the perfect gift. In the reading this week from James, he reminds us that God gave us birth through the word of truth. New life is an amazing miracle. A gift worthy of celebration. New life in Christ is a good and perfect gift because we can use it every day. It makes life better and fuller, more joyful. The reading from James makes it clear a gift is not good unless we use it. Just because Christ is given to us, we do not benefit unless we fill our lives with the love of Christ. Fill our lives so full that Christ’s love is running over and spilling out everywhere joyfully. Our lives become a celebration of Christ’s power and presence which is love, mercy and compassion. When it spills into every part of our lives it of course brings joy and hope rises. 

We hear in the reading this week the encouragement to humbly accept the word planted in us, and let Christ grow in us. We are called to nourish it, protect it and let hope rise. The new life in us will reflect God’s love that is quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. We share God’s gift of new life when we can love one another as God has loved us. Amen. 

 

Wednesday Words, August 18, 2021

Wednesday Words

August 18, 2021

Pr. Cathy Daharsh

“Lord, to whom can we go?” – John 6:68

I am just returning from vacation where I traveled to Iowa and Wisconsin and made several stops along the way to visit friends and family in Des Moines, Ames, Gilbert, Dubuque, Sheboygan and Sheboygan Falls. It was a time of rest and rejuvenation. It was a time for me to reconnect with many people that have been on my faith journey since I had become a pastor. I have found through the years that it has been helpful for me to take time to visit those who I have connected with in my faith journey to renew my commitment in following Christ. Through hearing their stories of faith and leadership it strengthens and inspires my sense of direction in Christ. 

In the Gospel reading this Sunday, after Jesus shares some challenging and confusing ideas about faith we learn, “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” It’s always tempting to write them off or judge those who gave up on Jesus and turned back as people who were too caught up in themselves or unfaithful to believe. But I think it is important to note that John calls “those people” … "disciples." 

The people in Sunday’s reading who now are leaving Jesus are the people who actually, believed in Jesus. They are the ones who had followed him and had given up much to do so. But now, finally, after all their waiting, wondering, and worrying, they have grown tired, and they can no longer see clearly what it was about Jesus that attracted them to him in the first place, and so they leave. Are we really all that different? I mean, which of us has not at one time or another wondered about Jesus, doubted God’s presence in our lives, or just how relevant this faith thing really is? 

Aren’t we tempted, at times, to questions our faith?  Maybe we don't announce our questions aloud. Maybe it’s just that we don't make the extra effort to get to church regularly, or we reduce what we've been giving, or we are more reluctant to help others, or we simply stop praying until, in the end, we end up just like the disciples in Sunday’s reading, turning back from Jesus. 

Be assured, especially, in those moments we are struggling in our faith, that there are people still praying and telling their faith stories when we can’t. That is Hope…Hope Rising in the midst of family and friends and others who keep the faith in the midst of doubt all around. Amen. 

Wednesday Words, August 11, 2021

Wednesday Words – Flesh and Blood

August 11, 2021

Pr. Paul Cannon

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.

John 6:54

The early Christians were accused of being cannibals and if you knew nothing about Christianity except verses like the one above, I might understand why you might think that. Jesus, talking about eating of his flesh and drinking of his blood, is a little too … explicit for our modern sensibilities. 

Maybe that’s because we don’t think about communion in that way.  In the liturgy we surround the body and blood with flowery language like “choirs of angels”, “Hosts of heaven” and “glorious resurrection.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that … but it does have the effect of dressing up what we are actually talking about: eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus (His words, not mine). 

But when you get past the visceral reaction to what Jesus is saying, there is actually something very hopeful about it all.  Jesus comes to us as flesh and blood (incarnate, if you want to use the technical term). And so when we encounter Christ in communion, we aren’t meeting him just in a spiritual sense, but in a real, tangible way as well. 

The idea that Jesus comes to us in flesh and blood in communion means that we don’t worship a theoretical God.  God is not distant, but here, right in front of us.  We commune with Christ every time we gather at the table.

What could be more hopeful?

And what’s more, in this flesh and blood encounter, we receive a promise of eternal life – an ultimate, eschatological (see, you learn all kinds of fancy church words when you read the Wednesday Words!) hope.  This is the kind of hope that can sustain you through all of life’s trials; even through death itself. 

Next time, during communion, as you eat the body and drink the blood of Christ, remember the great hope you have in Jesus. 

Wednesday Words, August 4, 2021

Wednesday Words – Hope Rising

August 4, 2021

Pr. Paul Cannon

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.

- John 6:47

I was driving to Pr. Linstrom’s house this past Thursday, dog-tired from our mission trip (which included a lot of physical labor and not a small amount of sleep deprivation), contemplating the work that was ahead of me.  I was going of course, to be with the family and pray with Bob, knowing that this might be the last time I ever saw him.

What words could possibly live up to the legacy of someone who had celebrated more years of ministry than I had been alive?  As if to reinforce the point, a framed 65th Ordination Anniversary letter (which had been dropped off by the Synod a day earlier) was proudly displayed on Pr. Linstrom’s bedside, as if to say “What do YOU have to offer here?”

Sitting down next to the bed, I started to offer some words, which were interrupted as Bob was caught in a fit of coughing.  Letting him finish, I decided to try another tact. I pulled out my trusty red pastoral care handbook, figuring my words really weren’t all that important after all. 

It was God’s promise of hope and the prayers of his loved ones that he needed right then.  So I opened my little red book, and we read.

We prayed the familiar prayers of the church, and I read to him from Isaiah 43 

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.  I have called you by name; you are mine. 

 And John 10, 

Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice.  I know them and they follow me.  I give them eternal life and they will never perish. No one will take them out of my hand.” 

These were words of hope, declared in the face of death; words that Pr. Linstrom had passed on to so many before him.  Hope Rising.

You see, the funny thing about our Christian proclamation, is that it is filled with paradoxes like this. We declare words of ultimate hope and salvation in the most hopeless of situations.  Life through death on a cross? How absurd!  And yet that is exactly where we find our greatest hope.

As I left, I told him that the prayers of his Bethany family were with him.  These weren’t my words of hope, after all.  It was hope passed down from one generation to the next, spoken countless times in the face of death.

With a peaceful look on his face, he simply said, “I know.” 

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