During the sermon, the preacher expands on one of the readings from the Bible and relates it to our daily life in today’s world. The sermon usually refers to events from the weekly news, as well other aspects of the culture. The interpretation that is presented is intended to be invitational, rather than dogmatic. Our hope is that it will offer words of guidance and comfort for your life without presenting a closed case.

Sunday Sermon (March 10th 2024)

No Greater Love

Today’s Gospel reading from John contains some of the most famous words in the Bible:  For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life (John 3:16 NRSVue).  If you are like me, you learned this Bible verse in Sunday School along with the famous children’s hymn, “Jesus loves me”.  Contemplating how to effectively preach a sermon on a text that has almost become a biblical cliché, I did what I always do when I need guidance from the Holy Spirit; I walked and prayed.

A long time ago someone told me that the late, great composer and conductor of the Boston Pops, John Williams, would always go for a walk and meditate before trying to compose a new work.  When I began seminary, I used John Williams example to ground myself before starting any important self-reflective work.  As I think I have mentioned to you before, this ritual of early morning walks, prayer, meditation, and reflection has become my spiritual practice and is a key component to my ministry.  So, a few days ago on a brisk, pre-spring morning I ventured out to glean some guidance while the sun rose gently in the east and the birds chirped sweetly in the trees.  I find the stillness of the mornings to be the perfect time to listen for the whispering of the Holy Spirit.  I walked, recited John 3:16 in my head and listened…

The usual sounds of the morning were all present—a few cars rumbling by, the occasional MBTA commuter rail train, the bells from my home church steeple marking the hour and of course the encouraging singing of the birds marking the coming of spring.  All lovely and peaceful noises but not what I was looking for.  Okay God, I can be patient, I thought, and decided to continue with my regular spiritual practices.  From a class at CTS on Christian Women Mystics I learned a prayer which was used by Julian of Norwich, a 14th century female Christian visionary and mystic.  Her body prayer which encompasses movements and repetition of key phrases has been transformational in my spiritual faith journey and has helped me to connect with God and find inner peace.  The key to the body prayer is to meditate on one specific word or phrase and repeat that intention three times before moving onto the next phase of the prayer.  On this day I chose the phrase, “God’s love” because of John 3:16.

I share with you now the Julian of Norwich body prayer.  With hands by your side and palms facing up you say the phrase, “Await God’s love”, three times slowly making sure to take deep breaths in between.  The second pose is with arms above your head stretched out to heaven as if receiving a blessing and say, “Allow God’s love”.  In the third action you cross your arms across your chest and recite, “Accept God’s love”.  The final action is a key component of the prayer, with arms stretched out far and palms facing up you proclaim, “Attend God’s love”.  I finish the prayer by deep breathing and considering what these four statements mean to me.  It was then that it hit me like a bolt of lightning, the Holy Spirit had responded to my request for guidance, and I share my revelation with you now.

God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, is a concept that I cannot adequately describe with my limited human language.  Trying to imagine the immensity of God’s love is unfathomable and hence there was my conundrum; there does not exist in this world an example of the unconditional, self-sacrificing, abundant love that God showed when Jesus was given to us as our Lord and Savior to offer even a slight comparison.  Nothing compares and there is no greater love than what is presented in John 3:16 but we cannot just shrug our shoulders and declare that God’s love is beyond our comprehension and simply walk away.  We must strive for a deeper appreciation of the knowledge that God’s love is unreserved, free by an act of grace and offered to everyone who believes in Jesus.  In hope and promise, God has given this gift to us.  My Julian of Norwich body prayer helped me to better understand what this extravagant generosity means to me personally.

When I “Await God’s love” I am noticing and appreciating the ways God speaks to me directly, giving me guidance, comfort, and peace.  By awaiting God’s love, I am already opening myself up to the possibilities for Divine blessing and I am willing to walk this journey of faith with my Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.  The confession of “Allow God’s love” means for me that I accept the cost and joy of discipleship.  God’s love as expressed through Jesus Christ has set me free and offered me eternal life, but it does not come with the promise of release from problems or challenges.  Allowing God’s love to enter my life is a commitment to serve the Risen Lord which requires walking the “bumpy” path of the Kingdom of God.  When I “Accept God’s love” I am professing my faith in Jesus Christ and trusting that God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (vs. 17).  This is an important aspect to consider because God desires everyone to be saved however it requires an individual commitment with the intention to repent from sin to truly accept God’s love. The final part of the prayer, “Attend God’s love” is probably the most challenging because it requires not only the commitment to be a Christian but also acting on the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself”.  Only by attending to God’s love do we really get to experience the full breadth of the magnificent, all-encompassing grace and mercy of our Lord. 

There is no greater love than what God has offered to us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Although God’s love for us is too extraordinary to fathom with our limited human understanding we can personally experience that love by accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  What would happen if you were to offer your own body prayer to God?  Is it possible that by Awaiting, Allowing, Accepting and Attending to God’s love that you might find the answer to your own questions about what it means to be a child of God.  The time is right with the Cross just ahead of us on the horizon to recommit our lives to God, to accept the challenge of discipleship and to fully experience the greatest love the world has ever known.  AMEN.

Sunday Sermon (March 03rd 2024)

Cleansing the Temple 

As you can see from this dramatic painting by El Greco in 1568, Jesus is
angerly driving away the moneychangers and sellers out of the Temple
because the Jewish religious leaders were making his “Father’s House”
“a marketplace” (vs. 16). The faithful Jews were preparing for Passover
and a common practice was the exchanging of the Roman coins which
had the image of the emperor on it for imageless coins which was the
acceptable currency for the temple tax. The money changing was a
necessary activity for the functioning of the temple and the cattle, sheep,
turtledoves etc. were being sold as sacrificial animals for the rituals of
Passover. The practice of selling sacrificial animals to the Gentiles and
the exchanging of coins was considered a necessary tradition by the
Jewish religious leaders to meet the capital campaign goals for the
running of the temple, but the price-gouging and activity of buying and
selling in God’s house was appalling to Jesus and he responds with a
memorable violent act.
The “Cleansing of the Temple” as this passage of Scripture in John is
called, is a profoundly prophetic act by Jesus which criticizes the
profaning of the temple and the degrading of the worship of God but
also serves to create a larger theological agenda: that Jesus’ own body
now becomes the dwelling place for God’s spirit and truth. The body of
Jesus, God’s only Son, now becomes the new Temple of the Holy Spirit.
As a prophet, Jesus is speaking for God and his cleansing of the temple
and proclaiming, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it
up” (vs. 20), is a foreshadowing of his suffering, death, and resurrection.
As verse 22 affirms, “After he was raised from the dead, his disciples
remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the
word that Jesus had spoken.” Jesus however does much more than just
speak God’s word; he is God’s Word, and he is the essence of truth and
justice. This prophetic offering of the cleansing of the temple explains
in a very succinct way, who God is, who we are and how we should
relate to God and each other. Could the turning over of tables, coins
bouncing wildly across the floor, animals frantically squealing and
running away and Jesus’ angry words, “Take these things out of here!

Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace” be a warning to the
present-day Christian church?
Thinking back to the role of the temple authorities, it was their
responsibility to keep God’s opulent, magnificent sacred space in good
working order and the temple tax needed to be paid to the Roman
government to maintain the temple as a place of worship. Jewish
religious leaders could easily justify to themselves the need to sell the
sacrificial animals and change the money to pay the taxes. So, on the
surface, they seemed to have no intention of opposing God, however,
they allowed the worldly ways of commerce and consumption to
infiltrate God’s house and in essence they were acting against God’s
principles. The temple authorities appear to understand why Jesus was
disputing their well-established practice, but you can see from the text
that they did not question his actions, instead they ask him, “What sign
can you show us for doing this?” (vs. 18). If Jesus is truly a
representative of God who was coming to force them to end their
worldly practices, then surely, he could perform some miracle to
exercise his authority. Jesus literally “turns the tables” when he predicts
his own death and resurrection and proclaims his own body to be the
new Temple of the Holy Spirit. Even the disciples did not understand
his intentions until after the Easter miracle. The Jewish religious
authorities got the message, the disciples eventually got the message,
what about us, what message is Jesus trying to send to us, the current
church of Christ?
Jesus in this prophetic passage in John is directing his displeasure at the
Jewish religious authorities, the moneychangers, and the sellers for
acting in worldly ways in the name of God, is it even possible that we
could have more in common with his targets then we care to imagine?
When we shift our gaze even slightly away from God and allow worldly
directives to take precedent over the guiding of the Holy Spirit then the
mission of the church gets clouded with unintentional distractions
whether financial or material. The ways of the world are pervasive,
subtle, and persistent and just like the traditions of selling and money

changing in the temple, can easily become a common accepted practice.
Lent is the perfect opportunity to spiritually “clean house” just like Jesus
cleansed the temple. By examining ourselves and our church
community we can recognize when the shift of the gaze occurs and like
Jesus drive those thoughts or practices out of our lives.
We have been blessed with the whole story of Easter which gives us a
full, beautiful picture of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection. By
having an “after the resurrection” perspective we know that the cross is
not the end of the story and even though people sought to destroy the
Temple of God, being the body of Jesus Christ, God had the last say.
Jesus as our Savior advocates for us, remains with us and speaks directly
to us reminding us to keep our gaze on God and swim away from the
murky waters that threaten our spiritual well-being. We see in this
profound painting of the “Cleansing of the Temple” an enraged Jesus
who seeks to have people return to God and resists the temptations of the
world. It is a constant battle but the Son of God who has the authority to
cleanse us all from sin and death is with us for the journey and as we
know the victory has already been won through Christ’s sacrifice on the
cross. May we be cleansed by the power of the resurrected Christ so that
we can continue his work of spreading love and justice in this world.

Sunday Sermon (February 25th 2024)

“Take up your cross”

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take
up their cross and follow me” (vs. 34)
Since as early as I can remember I have heard the phrase “take up your
cross” especially when talking about discipleship. In this passage from
Mark’s Gospel, we hear Jesus speak directly to his closest followers,
Peter, and the other apostles, that if they want to follow the Son of Man,
they must deny themselves and “take up their cross”. It is clear from
this passage in Scripture that Peter and the others were shocked to hear
from Jesus what exactly that statement might mean.
In verses 29-30 of Mark chapter 8, just prior to our reading today, Peter
proclaims, “You are the Messiah” when answering the question, “Who
do you say that I am?” Peter proudly and confidently offers this
statement because up and to this point, he has been beside Jesus as he
performed dramatic miracles and incredible healings, cared for all, and
preached and taught the Good News. Peter and the other disciples were
assuming a Theology of Glory, in which the Son of Man accomplishes
the reign of God through the traditional expectations of power, might
and victory. When Jesus reveals: “the Son of Man must undergo great
suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (vs. 31) it is down-right appalling to Peter. It seems harsh to me that in the Scripture it states that Peter “rebuked” Jesus, but in his horror, it seems that he is responding in a way that suggests that none of Christ’s followers expected a suffering and dying Messiah. The cross symbolized for these first disciples incomprehensible defeat and this is unacceptable.
Jesus quickly clarifies his earthly mission of redemption and reminds the disciples that the focus needs to remain on God, “For you are setting
your mind not on divine things but on human things” (vs. 34). The Son
of God and Man is telling his followers that they must shift their
thinking from a “Theology of Glory” to what Luther calls a “Theology
of the Cross”. For Peter and the other apostles living in first century
Palestine, they knew the impending threat of the Roman Cross.

Historically, anyone who challenged the great Roman Emperor, Tiberius
Julius Caesar Augustus, would suffer an agonizing, degrading, cruel and
tortuous death. For those early followers of Jesus, who loved and called
him “Messiah”, this was unthinkable and placed their own lives at risk.
Suddenly, the term Christian took on a new meaning for Peter and the
others, it meant a cross not a crown.
In Jesus’ words: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and
those who lose their life for my sake, and the sake of the Gospel will
save it” (vs. 35). It is no wonder why Peter responded so harshly to this
Theology of the Cross; not only would his beloved Rabbi need to suffer
and die, but to be a follower of Jesus, he also would need to “take up his
cross” and be prepared to die. Jesus was clear about his destiny:
betrayal, denial, suffering, death, and resurrection. The journey to the
cross for the Son of Man was an act of sacrificial love in accordance
with God’s will, he was thinking as God thinks not as human beings do.
His point to Peter and the other apostles was that to be a Christian
disciple we must be willing to deny our selfish human needs and “take
up our cross” to follow the Divine path of Jesus.
The question for us remains, how do we find a way to “take up our
cross” and follow our Savior, Jesus Christ? The true nature of
discipleship is a sacred journey that requires personal commitment.
Additionally, the concept of “denying oneself” is certainly not appealing
to most of us, but I believe in many ways we fulfill this request already
by taking on the responsibility of Christian service. In times when we
put others ahead of ourselves, deliberately choose not to support power
systems which oppress those who live on the margins of life, and
consciously reject worldly standards of hate and dominance we are
taking up our cross and following our beloved Messiah.
We are officially two weeks into our Lenten journey and Mark has
offered us a lot to consider when we proclaim as Peter did that Jesus is
our Messiah. When Christians decide to “take up their cross” and follow
Jesus, God’s truth is revealed. Divine truth is not worldly recognition or

earthly reward. God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ gives us a new
life bringing forth a death of sin, allowing power to be exposed through
weakness and Divine wisdom to be gained through parable and paradox.
We are not asked to sit back, relax, and selfishly enjoy painless shortcuts
to the Kingdom of Heaven. No, true discipleship is defined by self-
sacrificial love and service and marked by a cross and not a crown.
Deciding to follow Jesus means accepting the painful journey of
Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to finally reach the beauty and glory
of Easter Sunday morning. We are privileged and blessed to be able to
accompany God’s Son on this journey of faith knowing that as
Christians we are part of the Divine plan of grace and salvation.
Although we know how the events of Holy Week unfold for Jesus and
us, we must fight the temptation to become spectators and complacently
watch the Easter drama play out. The 40 days of Lent can become a time
of challenge to fulfill Jesus’ request to “take up your cross” by making
the commitment to walk with him in love and service. Friends, let us
take on this challenge and may it be done, to the glory of God, AMEN.

Sunday Sermon (February 18th 2024)

“Forty Days”

Unlike the other synoptic Gospels, Mark has very little to say about the
tempting of Jesus in the wilderness. According to Mark, “And the Spirit
immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the
wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild
beasts; and the angels waited on him” (vs. 12,13). To find out the details
of what happened when Jesus was led out to the Judaean Desert to fast
we must examine Matthew chapter 4. The first testing of Jesus was
when the evil one challenged the famished Jesus to turn the stones to
bread. Matthew says, “The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the
Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread’” (vs. 3).
Jesus answered Satan saying, “One does not live by bread alone, but by
every word that comes from the mouth of God” (vs. 4). Then the devil
tried to convince Jesus to put God to the test by using a verse of
Scripture defending his position, “He will command his angels
concerning you, and on their hands, they will bear you up, so that you
will not dash your foot against a stone” (vs. 5). Jesus held firm to his
position, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (vs. 7). The final
temptation by Satan involved worldly power and a promise to give Jesus all the kingdoms in the world if he would “fall down and worship” the devil. Jesus rebuked him saying, “Away with you, Satan! For it is
written, ‘Worship the Lord you God and serve only him’” (vs. 10).
These three tests by Satan to relieve physical suffering, obtain power
and world recognition were met each time with a refusal by our Lord to
succumb to evil and turn away from God.
Jesus the Christ denied his human needs for nourishment, comfort, and
security, resisting all temptations from Satan to maintain his right
relationship with God. In the forty days of Lent from Ash Wednesday to
Easter we remember Jesus’ forty difficult days in the wilderness and
learn how to build our own Lenten practices to be modeled after our
Savior. The spiritual struggles Christ encounters require him to lean
heavily on God for guidance and strength. As Jesus wrestles with this
wilderness experience, he prays for help and protection, and God sends
the angels to minister to him once Satan has been cast away. This is a
profound example of the power of the Holy Spirit’s ability to comfort

and guide us through the trials and difficulties in our lives. The forty
days of Lent are a perfect opportunity to practice the lessons Jesus has
taught us through his wilderness experience. For many, Lent becomes a
time of deprivation, maybe not to the extent of a forty-day fast, but
instead removing a favorite treat or snack from our diet or limiting
screen time, watching television or other leisure activities. You realize
quickly how long 40 days really is when you are waiting for the time to
pass so you can return to eating your treats and sweets again or going
back to a coveted pastime or activity. We have the choice to “leave” the
wilderness after the forty days of Lent has passed but in Jesus’ example,
we must remember that his suffering, passion and the cross directly
followed his time of trial and temptation in the wilderness. The forty-
day wilderness experience helped to spiritually prepare our Savior for
this profound challenge as he journeyed to the cross. The desert invites
us to deeply reflect on who we are and whose we are.
In the Fourth century there were a group of devoted Christian monks,
called The Desert Fathers, who used Jesus’ example of self-denial and
service and lived in the Egyptian desert to seek God and be at peace with others. These monks lived in poverty and vowed to practice austerity, prayer, and work. Many theologians have written tributes to the Desert Fathers whose deep insights and reflections have assisted with the Christian faith experience for followers of Christ who wish to be more like him. Thomas Merton is the author of the book, The Wisdom of the Desert, and I encourage you to peruse this text, but I wish to share with you a small excerpt from the book that I found particularly enlightening.
“We cannot do exactly what they did. But we must be as thorough
and as ruthless in our determination to break all spiritual chains,
and cast off the domination of alien compulsions, to find our true
selves, to discover and develop our inalienable spiritual liberty
and use it to build on earth, the Kingdom of God. This is not the
place in which to speculate what our great and mysterious
vocation might involve. That is still unknown. Let it suffice for me
to say that we need to learn from those men of the 4 th century how

to ignore prejudice, defy compulsion and strike out fearlessly into
the unknown.”
-Thomas Merton
The breaking of the “spiritual chains” is not a temporary fix for the
period of Lent, but instead a change in identity to uncovering our “true
selves” as God designed us to be. By encouraging regular spiritual
practices like prayer and meditation we not only increase our
communication with God, but we discover how to be a better person,
love our neighbor more and help to bring the Kingdom of God to earth.
Jesus did just that when he resisted the temptation of Satan during his
forty days in the wilderness. For us, we do not need to find a desert or
wilderness to have the experience of temptation, because sadly we live
in it each day in a world filled with evil; but we do have the next forty
days to look inward and up and change our perspective. By the grace of
God, the power of the resurrection of Jesus and the guidance of the Holy
Spirit may our Lenten journey be transformative and pleasing to the
Creator. AMEN.

Sunday Sermon (February 11th, 2024)

Messianic Mission

I wish to ask one of our visiting Scouts from Pack 42 to assist me for a moment.  What is your name? (I hold up a Transformer toy) Do you know what this is?  Hopefully they do and respond, ” Transformer”.  What do they do? Again, hopefully they will say, “Change into something else”.  Can you show me how? Fascinating! I thank my volunteer and ask them to return to their seat.

This is the same toy that I had when I walked into church this morning but now it looks different and can perform different jobs based on the form it takes.  I am glad that I had my volunteer to help me, as I am not familiar with this type of toy because my children are older, and they did not play with Transformers when they were young.  It amazes me that with a little help from my friend the robot looking object that I had is now a fancy sports car!  This reminds me of the story of Jesus’s transfiguration from the reading in Mark’s Gospel.

Jesus went up to a high mountain with his apostles, Peter, James, and John, And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them (vs. 2,3).  The word transfiguration means to be transformed, just like the transformer toy that Forrest and Matt helped me with!  Jesus changed right before the eyes of the apostles to look more like God so that his followers would recognize his divine nature and believe his message.  The visitors of Elijah and Moses are important figures because they represent the prophets and the law.  The prophets like Elijah foretold of the coming of the Messiah, the Son of God and Moses on a mountaintop offered the Ten Commandments to give guidance to those who love God.  Having Elijah and Moses together with Jesus at his transfiguration bears witness to Jesus as the Messiah and the fulfillment of prophecy from the Old Testament. 

When Jesus transforms into a dazzling white apparition, the disciples are “terrified”, and Peter is so terrified that “He did not know what to say” (vs. 6).  Peter’s intense fear is understandable because in the text just prior to the one we read today, Jesus told his disciples of his death and resurrection.  Mark chapter 8 verse 31 says, “Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes and be killed and after three days rise again”.  Peter is very disturbed by Jesus’s Messianic Mission and does not want to believe that the Son of God must endure pain, suffering and death; it makes Peter and the other disciple question whether Jesus is truly the Messiah.  When Jesus meets with Elijah and Moses and then transfigures (transforms) in front of them this experience helps to affirm for the apostles that Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God. 

Mark goes on to say, “Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, this is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him! (vs. 7) With Jesus standing before them in radiant light and glory, God speaking the profound words, “this is my Son” and the cloud of the Holy Spirit engulfing them, the disciples are dumbfounded by the awe and majesty of the Trinity, and they begin to believe what has been told to them about Jesus’ Messianic Mission.  Even as Jesus was transformed into divine splendor, so were the apostles, Peter, James, and John transformed that day by what they experienced on the mountaintop.  They loved Jesus and did not want to believe that the prophecy of Jesus’ was true and that he must endure rejection, suffering, death, and resurrection to fulfill his God-given, Messianic Mission.  They did not want to believe it but now they knew it to be true and God had commanded, “Listen to him and they did, even when Jesus ordered them to tell no one” (vs. 9) until after he had risen from the dead. 

The transfiguration has a powerful message for us as well.  There is a transforming message of divine love in Jesus’ Messianic Mission.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).  When we take up our cross and follow Jesus Christ we change and become new people capable of doing new tasks, just like the Transformer toy turned from a robot to a truck.  As a follower of Christ, we see the world through fresh eyes with opportunities to spread God’s love, light and hope to a world that desperately needs to be refreshed.  The transfiguration of Jesus revealed to the disciples the uniqueness of the Messianic Mission and the importance it holds for humanity.  The powers of evil sought to destroy the Son of God but instead Jesus Christ stands as a witness to the power of truth, justice, and unconditional love.  The Son of God never elevated himself or his followers to a position of power or authority, but he did wield the transforming and redeeming power of the Almighty God to save the world from sin and death.  Now that transformer “I want on my side, and you may want that too.  God’s gift of Jesus is the greatest gift you will ever receive; an opportunity to transform your life from despair to hope, from anxiousness to peace, from sorrow to joy and from emptiness to abounding love.  Take the hand of Jesus and witness the transforming power of love.  AMEN

Sunday Sermon (February 4th, 2024)

Proclaiming the Message

I distinctly remember a shampoo commercial from the mid-1980’s that
proclaimed that their product was so good that when you used it you
would love it so much that you would need to “tell two friends, and they
will tell two friends, and so on, and so on”. Faberge Organic shampoo
not only had a great product, but they also encouraged a tried, tested,
and true marketing principle—word of mouth. How many times have
you told a friend (or two or three) about a delicious restaurant, helpful
website, or miraculous product? Sharing our own personal experiences
to assist those around us feels good and serves others. This need to “tell
two friends, and they will tell two friends, and so on, and so on” is not
just restricted to today’s world or commercials of the 1980’s, ‘word of
mouth’ advertising was around in Jesus’ time as well.
From today’s Gospel reading the impact of ‘word of mouth’ and the
telling of friends is evident. Mark says, “That evening, at sundown, they
brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the
whole city was gathered around the door” (vs. 32, 33). If you remember
from our last week’s sermon, Jesus healed the man in the synagogue
who was troubled with an unclean spirit. Word of Jesus’ “new type of
teaching with authority” had spread and people were telling their friends
with ailments that the preacher and teacher from Nazareth was gifted
with the power to heal. He had just left the synagogue and entered the
house of Simon and Andrew when Jesus was called to perform another
miracle. Simon’s mother-in-law was sick in bed with a fever and
according to Mark, “He came and took her by the hand and lifted her
up” (vs. 31). As with the crowds at the synagogue, the people of the
town who had gathered at the home of Simon and Andrew were
astonished by the miracles Jesus performed. The teaching ministry that
Jesus was proclaiming was also a healing ministry and there was no
discrepancy between what Jesus did and his message of salvation. Faith
in him is what made the sick people whole and well and his Gospel
message was being repeated over and over by those who witnessed his

The healing of Simon’s mother-in-law is profound because according to
the scripture, “Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them” (vs.
31). As soon as she was healed, Simon’s mother-in-law became the
very first Deacon in the New Testament. Her gratitude to Jesus for
restoring her wholeness was expressed through her service to his church,
which at that time was in her own home. In the Greek text the word
diakoneo is used to describe Jesus being served by the angels in the
wilderness (1:13) and Simon’s mother-in-law serving Jesus and his
disciples in her home. This theme of service is central to Jesus’ life,
ministry, and teaching. When she was healed and then immediately
began to serve others, Simon’s mother-in-law, acting as Deacon boldly
proclaims Christ’s message of healing, wholeness, and new life. She is a
living example of how Jesus acted and what God’s Son expects from us.
All who were there to witness this true act of discipleship yearned to be
touched by the Healer and it is no wonder that more and more people
felt the need to “tell two friends, and they tell two friends, and so on and
so on…”
By this point in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ “new teaching, with authority”
was known by many and he was sought out for his wisdom and gift of
healing, so it is not a surprise that when the Savior went out to a
“deserted place” to pray, that Simon and the other Disciples “hunted for
him” and said to him, “Everyone is searching for you” (vs. 35-37). The
Disciples felt pressured by the crowds of people at Simon’s house to
have Jesus’ return so that those who were sick could be healed but our
Lord had other work to do. Even though the Disciples are distracted by
the needs of the crowds, Jesus must continue Proclaiming the Message.
This important message you might remember from the beginning of
Mark’s Gospel which we read last week, “Now after John was arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the good news of God and saying,
‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent
and believe in the good news.’” (1:14,15). This important passage
emphasizes that Jesus’ mission is to preach the “good news” and he
cannot be confined to one place, he was sent by God to proclaim the
message to all people and that is exactly what he does.

Sunday Sermon (January 28th, 2024)

Healing Powers

There is a power in words.  For good or bad, what we say matters and the words we use can add value, create hurt or even sometimes make someone laugh.  As many of you know, I am a Montessori teacher of three- to six-year-old children.  It is a wonderfully enriching experience to assist young children in the process of reading.  When they are first sounding out words that are unfamiliar, they may not know what they mean.  I had a notable experience many years ago with a four-year-old little boy who was decoding three-letter words with the ending sound of “am”.  We sat together as he sounding out “H-A-M” and he knew that was meat,  “S-A-M” which he recognized as a name and then he chose the word “D-A-M” and before I could explain that it was a way to use water to make power, he shouted out, “Oh, Miss Lori, I know what that is…it is when Daddy loses the dog in the park!”  The power in words.

In teaching, and preaching for that matter, there is a significant responsibility to choose words carefully so that misinterpretation is limited, and a positive outcome is achieved.  Instructors must not only master the material they are presenting but they must do so with a confidence that models how we expect our students to approach learning.  I gain confidence by truly believing in what I am presenting, whether it be reading or the Word of God.

Today’s Gospel reading from Mark offers us an example of the greatest teacher ever known, Jesus Christ.  While at the synagogue, according to Mark, the scribes and others gathered “were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority” (vs. 22).  In this sacred religious space, Jesus commands authority by his presence, profound communication skills and spiritual power.  He creates vitality, deploys a new power, and astonishes the onlookers with “A new teaching—with authority” (vs. 27).  What is this “new teaching” that amazed the people in the synagogue?  Jesus taught by healing.  The freeing Word of God that Jesus shares in his Gospel message is what provides healing for broken humanity.  Jesus’ words are so powerful that even the forces of evil know of its healing power.

The unclean spirit within the sick man at the synagogue cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are, the Holy One of God” (vs. 24).  These forces of evil recognize the power and authority of the Son of God.  His word is action, and his action is embedded in the Word of God.  His divine authority is not challenged, when Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit saying, “Be silent, and come out of him” (vs. 25), the unclean spirit had no choice but to comply.  Jesus’ words liberate not just the ill man with the unclean spirit but all of us as well.  This miracle serves to demonstrate to all of us the power of Jesus’ word to provide healing and wholeness.  This child of God was delivered from his bondage by the One who has pierced the boundary between heaven and earth and brought hope and new life to humanity.

This transformative “new teaching with authority” should signal to us to acknowledge the undeniable relationship between spiritual wholeness and health.  Even if one does not recognize the demonic spirit known to many as “the devil”, everyone struggles with internal conflicts which way heavily on our minds, deplete our emotional energy and distract us away from hope and joy.  Using Jesus’ healing words to force those ills which make us spiritually sick to “be silent and come out” of us is empowering and transformative.  Any impurity in our lives that seeks to oppress us can be healed by Jesus’ “new teaching-with authority”.  The Living God is present and acting in the world by the boundary-breaking, justice-seeking, Son of God.  Jesus Christ’s healing words and actions disrupt the forces of evil; they are effective, they are powerful, and they are given freely to you and me.

The next time you are feeling weighed down with the frustrations, pressures, and uncertainties in the world that seem to drain the very life from your being, I challenge you to call upon the transformative, healing power of the risen Christ and see if you too can be amazed.  One of the greatest tests of our faith, is believing that God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit is with us during times of trial. 

When I feel discouraged or afraid that God has forsaken me, I remember this uplifting poem that I know you have heard many times.  Jesus’ healing words can carry you even through the darkest of days.  None are like the Holy One of God who teaches with authority, heals the sick and carries every burden that we bare.  Jesus our divine authority is the Word made Flesh, the liberating healing Word and the Word of God which is our saving grace.  Thanks be to God!  AMEN

Sunday Sermon (January 15, 2024)

The Gift of God’s Spirit

Last week we celebrated the Epiphany and examined the gifts of the Magi of gold, frankincense, and myrrh and today we celebrate the unique gift that God has given to us—the power of the Holy Spirit.  Throughout the ages, the Holy Spirit, instrumental in the mystery and significance of the Trinity, has been described in numerous ways.  As with other aspects of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is considered omnipotent, eternal, and omnipresent with the ability to sanctify, regenerate, and create.  In art the Holy Spirit is quite often represented as a dove, blessing individuals with the ability to receive healing, prophecy, or special talents such as speaking in “tongues” which is referenced in our scripture today. “When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:6).  Paul explained to the disciples that their baptism by John provided repentance and pointed them in the direction of the stronger one, Jesus, who would baptize them with fire and the Holy Spirit.  This special gift from God empowers individuals to accomplish the work of Christ.

The book of Acts is filled with examples of the power of the Holy Spirit and the description of what happened on the day of Pentecost clarifies this important gift from God.  According to Acts chapter two: “…suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them, all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (vs. 2-4).   This is the origin of the phrase “speaking in tongues” and is central to the Pentecostal church theology.  The gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost gave the early followers of Jesus a way to communicate the gospel in the languages of all present so that the message of Christ could be understood universally and boldly in truth and power. 

If the Holy Spirit is universally offered to all believers, how can we recognize God’s gift of the Spirit working in our lives?  First, I believe it begins with an openness to receive instruction and guidance from God in the ways of Christ.  We have been blessed with grace and mercy and God’s presence in our lives through trial and rejoicing.  The pouring out of the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to boldly witness and accept then give testimony to God’s healing power and the truth and peace found through following Jesus Christ.  When we experience God’s gift of the Holy Spirit it can be a truly transformational experience which has the potential to change your life forever.  I had such an experience thirty years ago.

After the birth of my daughter who is now thirty, I experienced severe headaches and serious neurological issues.  I found out that I had a brain aneurysm which required a risky surgery.  As the young mother of a newborn infant and four-year-old son, I was horrified that I would not survive the surgery and my children would grow up without a mom.  By the grace of God and many prayers I pulled through the surgery and was beginning to recover when the surgical team at Brigham and Women’s Hospital discovered that the aneurysm was larger than they originally thought, and a second surgery was necessary to completely take care of the issue.  The second surgery did not go as well, and I developed a serious infection and dangerously high fever.  Packed in an ice bath in the ICU, I drifted in and out of consciousness and my condition worsened.  I kept reciting the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm through the clouded haze of fever…and then it happened! In a dream-like state, I saw before me the image of a white dove with an olive branch in its mouth like this one depicted in this illustration of Noah and the flood.  The sacred bird approached so close to me that I could sense the movement of air from its wings! A feeling of complete peace enveloped me, like nothing I had ever experienced before, and I fell into a deep sleep.  When I woke up the nurse beside my bed told me that she was happy to inform me that my fever had broken, and I would soon be moved back down to a recovery floor.  I thought that in my feverish delusional state I had dreamed about the dove that had rescued me.  I remembered the story of Noah from my time in Sunday school, but I did not know that in many Christian imaginations the dove represents the Holy Spirit.  It wasn’t until several weeks later while walking the halls of Brigham and Women’s Hospital with my Physical Therapist that I noticed a plaque on the wall with a picture of a woman and the Scripture verse Matthew 9:21 “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well”.  In that moment it struck me, God in complete mercy and by the power of the Holy Spirit had healed me!!  I was never again the same and I knew someday my story would prove meaningful to others who have faith in Jesus Christ, and it has.  I have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to speak the truth and I am not the only one.

Many of you sitting here today I am sure have powerful testimonials of how the Gift of God’s Spirit has changed your lives.  If you ever feel so inspired to share your faith by offering a story to our congregation, please let me know and we will make time to give glory to God by proclaiming the power of the Holy Spirit in your lived experience.  Our God is a living God and is present with us through Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Gift of God’s Spirit, just like God’s love is abundant, unrestrictive, and the foundational core to living a faithful life through Jesus Christ.  God’s Holy Spirit just like our Savior, Jesus the Christ is available to us always, all we need to do is ask and be open to recognizing the signs in our lives.  So, if you would like please repeat after me: Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me, Spirit of the living God fall afresh on me, melt me, mold me, fill me, use me, Spirit of the living God fall afresh on me! And may it be so, AMEN.