Christmas Eve December 24 2020
Redeemer United Church Of Christ ( Zuehl ) Marion, TX
“ All The Things We Have Heard And Seen “
( Isaiah 9: 2-7, Titus 2: 11-14, Luke 2: 1-20 )
Rev. Peter E. Bauer
It was a difficult time. People living in Judea during the first century were dealing with a lot of turmoil and chaos. The Roman Imperial government occupied the territory and projected its influence and power over all affairs and events regarding Jewish life. According to the Jewish Historian Josephus in his Antiquities: “ Quirinius also visited Judaea, which had been annexed to Syria, in order to make an assessment of the property of the Jews and to liquidate the estate of Archelaus, the former Tetrarch. Although the Jews were at first shocked to hear of the registration of property, they gradually condescended, yielding to the arguments of the high priest Joazar, the son of Boethus, to go no further in opposition. So those who were convinced by him declared, without shillyshallying, the value of their property.”
Here we have a mandatory order for all Jewish people to register and to declare their property and its value to a foreign occupying power. One can understand how this would have in sensed the Jewish people and how this would have been viewed as political and psychological oppression. Against this backdrop, Joseph and Mary make the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem on foot with the assistance of a donkey. “The distance “as the crow flies” from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 70 miles. Under normal circumstances, without too many winding roads or rough spots to traverse, people might well have been able to travel (on foot or by donkey) about 20 miles a day, for a total one-way trip of perhaps four days. However, we must keep in mind several factors that might have made this particular journey last longer.
First, the land of Samaria lay along the most direct route between Nazareth and Bethlehem, and in Jesus’ day, there was considerable hostility between Jews and Samaritans. Even if, as I think we can assume, Mary and Joseph bore no animosity toward Samaritans, it would have been difficult and even dangerous for them to travel through that country. They might have been harassed and would almost certainly have been refused lodging, just as Jesus and His disciples were treated some years later (see Luke 9:51-56).”
Both Joseph and Mary no doubt endured hardship making this journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. They arrived tired, looking for a place to stay. Joseph contacts an innkeeper hoping to secure lodging. No luck, the innkeeper informs him that there is no room. Hence Joseph and Mary will have to stay in the manger with the animals.
What is striking is to see these instances of hardship and poverty that form the backdrop for the birth of Jesus. There is no hint of these people having enough to eat, let alone having economic means.
Yet, in the midst of this milieu of uncertainty and chaos, Jesus is born.
Perhaps, this can say something hopeful and redemptive to us now in our current situation.
Like the first century, we have people who are facing a nomadic existence. More and more people are out of work. Homelessness is increasing. People are living in their cars. 1000 people stand in line for hours, if not days in the Korean town area of Los Angeles Ca in order to receive a box of free food. The First Unitarian Church Of Los Angeles offered its building as a staging area for the food donation program.
Luke tells us that the shepherds had seen Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus in the manger.
The Gospel writer notes:
“ When they had seen him, they spread the word regarding what had been told about this child. And all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. ( Luke 2: 17-20 )
Tonight again, we hear this story about the birth of Jesus. We have heard it before, perhaps many times before going back to our childhood. The characters remain indelibly in our minds: there’s Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus. There are the animals and then there are the shepherds and the heavenly host of angels. We have heard this story before.
I wonder how we can here it again as if we were hearing it for the first time. ?
I’ve mentioned him before, my friend and former professor George Stroup who used to say that “ we find our own story in the Gospel story. “
Luke has proclaimed that Jesus has been born and that the heavenly host of angels proclaim: “ Glory To God in the highest And on earth peace to all on whom his favor rests. “( Luke 2: 14 )
Where has new life occurred for you this year ?
Maybe it was in starting a new vocation, a new career. Maybe it was welcoming a new family member. Maybe kit was surviving a medical procedure and discovering that you’re healing process has been complete. Maybe it was starting a new life with your partner or spouse or maybe it was transitioning to a new life without a significant other or a family member. For me , it was being here for you as your Pastor. It’s been decades since I’ve lead worship and preached on Christmas Eve. As you know, I have done other things, working in Mental Health for quite a few years.
Being here at Redeemer United Church Of Christ, as your Interim Minister, has been a confirmation to me that “ I still have it,” although the experience of doing the work of ministry in a local church is different for me than it was before. I feel like I’m able to access the importance of all of this as if I were experiencing it for the first time.
That’s Christmas isn’t it ? Having the reality of new life, something new come to you right now. Like a little boy or girl who discovers an electric train under the tree, and all of the excitement in seeing the engine and the cars go around and round on the track, we are all being given again the greatest gift tonight.
We are being given the gift of God in the human form of Jesus which promises to make our lives anew indeed the whole world and universe anew.
Christ has come. Our lives have been redeemed !
Thanks Be to God !
Merry Christmas !
Fourth Sunday In Advent December 20 2020
Redeemer United Church Of Christ ( Zuehl ) Marion, TX
“ A Home Of Their Own “
( II Samuel 7: 1-11,16, Romans 16: 25-27, Luke 1: 26-38 )
Rev. Peter E. Bauer
I was driving back to Bulverde TX from Austin, TX. I had been attending a day long seminar at Austin Theological Seminary. The traffic that particular Friday afternoon was heavy in Austin, I inched along the service road right by the Frank Erwin Center as I was attempting to merge onto I-35 going South. I looked off to the left side and then I saw it. Underneath the overpass for I-35, there was a large homeless encampment, at least thirty- five tents covered with several blankets. Several people were sitting outside of the sidewalk by the pup tents. I wondered “ it’s mid-afternoon and around 75 this Fall day. What will the temperature be like tonight ? “ I also thought, as I looked at the encampment, I wonder if Austin Theological Seminary is aware of this encampment ? It’s only a few blocks away from their campus. Maybe a student organization would like to support this encampment with assistance as a mission project ? So, the following Monday, I called the seminary and left a message with the seminary operator about the encampment and suggested that a student group might want to take this on regarding outreach.
I never got a response regarding my inquiry.
Now, of course, homelessness is not limited to Austin, it is here in San Antonio, and in Houston. Homelessness is very visible in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. “On an average night in the 23 cities surveyed, 94 percent of people living on the streets were single adults, 4 percent were part of families and 2 percent were unaccompanied minors. Seventy percent of those in emergency shelters were single adults, 29 percent were part of families and 1 percent were unaccompanied minors. Of those in transitional housing, 43 percent were single adults, 56 percent were part of families, and 1 percent were unaccompanied minors. Those who occupied permanent supportive housing were 60 percent single adults, 39.5 percent were part of families, and .5 percent were unaccompanied minors (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2008).” http://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/How_Many.html
Homeless advocates have pushed for the model that is known as “ Housing First “ which places homeless people via vouchers into housing while other support services like health care, transportation, food assistance are also implemented. Housing First believes that everyone deserves a home of their own.
This is also true when you consider churches. A church building, a sanctuary is important for many church members.
The writer of II Samuel declares:
“ Go and tell my servant David. This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in ? I have not dwelt in a house from the day that I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all of the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel Why have you not built me a house of cedar ? “ ( II Samuel 7: 5-7 ).
Here we see the transition for the people of Israel from being a nomadic worshipping community to a community of faith that will now be located within the confines of a temple.
Old Testament Theologian Walter Brueggemann has formulated:
“ In the land-gift, promise, and challenge-was found the physical source of Israel's fertility and life, and a place for the gathering of the hopes of the covenant people. “ https://www.bookdepository.com/Land-Walter-Brueggemann/9780800634629
Hence the creation of the Temple becomes the epicenter for Israel’s worship.
The Temple becomes Israel’s home where God dwells and where God is to be experienced.
When the Temple or the Congregational church building is closed, a whole curious set of consequential actions can occur. I know that from personal experience. I presided over a church closure six years ago. It felt like a death in the family. The closing of the church was more than shutting up the building, but rather the closing of the church was literally unraveling a 118 year history of where this particular church had ministered to the needs of its community.
Faith communities, congregations desire to have a home of their won.
The announcement of the angel Gabriel to Mary regarding her pregnancy and the upcoming birth of Jesus also reveals another sense of being “ home. “ Mary, no doubt, is terrified. She is probably about 14, most likely illiterate and dependent upon her husband Joseph for security and protection,. Mary would have no status as a women in first century Hellenistic Judaism.
Mary reacts to the news that she will give birth to the Son of God in an almost incredulous manner. Yet the angel Gabriel assures her that her relative Elizabeth, who is advanced in age, is noted to be six months into her pregnancy.
The angel assures Mary
“ For nothing is impossible with God. “ ( Luke 1: 35-37 ).
These texts may leave a lot of us wondering where is home for us this Advent season in 2020 ?
This has been, at a minimum, a challenging year. Everything that we have known to be consistent in terms of how we work, how we shop, how we congregate with our families and friends, and yes, how we worship has all been called into question. The medical, economic and societal events of this year have left a lot of us feeling unmoored and cut loose from our anchors.
Yet, again, in the midst of all this uncertainty, God comes again to be born into us, “ Emmanuel – God With Us. “
What will that birth mean for you ? What will that birth mean for me ?
What will that birth mean for all of us ?
Elton John And Bernie Taupin remind us:
“ If I could go back home, if I could go back home If I'd never left, I'd never have known
We all dream of leaving, but wind up in the end
Spending all our time trying to get back home again”
( Home Again-Elton John And Bernie Taupin )
May our desire to find home and to be at home with ourselves, with our families, our community of faith and ultimately with our faith in God manifested in Jesus Christ, be realized for all of us.
May we in the words of T.S. Eliot“: We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. “ ( Little Giddings T.S. Eliot )
May it be so now and always.
In Jesus Name.
Third Sunday Of Advent December 13 2020
Redeemer United Church Of Christ ( Zuehl ) Marion, TX
“ The Importance And Meaning Of Confirmation :
( Luke 21: 22-35 )
Rev. Peter E. Bauer
Today, we have welcomed seven new members into the body of Christ and into as membership here at Redeemer United Church Of Christ. These seven confirmands have worked hard and have learned well regarding what it means to e a person of faith as articulated by the Christian tradition.
Today, these young people join our ranks as full members of our community of faith. They will be looking to us for support and guidance. They will want to know will we be there for them in their time of spiritual triumph and in their time of spiritual doubt. Will we have the courage to embody the incarnation of God made manifest in Jesus to them ? Our Christian faith articulated in the Reformed tradition argues that there are two sacraments, Baptism and Confirmation. These two sacraments are how people formally enter the community of faith as believers in Christ.
Yet, I would be remiss if I were to suggest that this is an ending, as if these young confirmands have arrived and that there is nothing more to do and nothing more to learn. There is way more to learn and way more to experience. Today is but a beginning for these confirmands on their journey of faith and on our journey with them as shepherds and elders. Simeon and Anna knew that when they saw the Christ child being dedicated at the temple that something big and momentous was occurring. They knew that their lives would not be the same after seeing Jesus.
Today, you have heard from these confirmands that their lives also will not be the same. The studying and education that they have received from their teachers and sponsors will remain with them all of their days.
Our job is to see that they will have a supportive community to further cultivate and develop their faith, to help them have the courage and the confidence to face what God will lead them to become as persons of faith. We are commissioned to help these young people, in the words of Van Morrison to walk “ from the darkness of the street to the bright side of the road. “
May it be so for them and for all of us this day and always in Jesus’ Name.
Third Sunday In Advent December 13 2020
Redeemer United Church Of Christ ( Zuehl ) Marion, TX
“ Witness To The Light “
( Isaiah 61: 1-,8-11, I Thessalonians 5: 16-24, John 1: 6-8,19-28 )
Rev. Peter E. Bauer
What is it like to be ahead of your time ? This is a phrase that people will use when they refer to someone who is thinking ahead, who is a visionary, or someone who is advocating actions and policies that are “ outside the box “ and which point to the promise of a better future. A number of years ago, I was facilitating some training for Naval Medical personnel regarding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Spirituality. I remember that I presented at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, CT. I presented two days’ worth of material regarding the symptoms of PTSD and methods of treatment. I also argued that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, besides being, at that time, an Anxiety Disorder, was also an injury to the soul, hence the need for incorporating religious faith as a means to begin to heal the wound to the soul.
That particular trip to Groton, CT was also eventful, because it occurred when Saddam Hussein was captured and when Mick Jagger was knighted by Prince Charles. I always used to kid my friends by saying “ When I go out and train somewhere, you never know what’s going to happen.“ Thankfully what I did was well received. I later learned that the Command Chaplain who hosted me for the Groton, CT event said “Peter is way ahead of his time“
I guess that was true because now, over fifteen years later, there is a huge focus on what is called “Moral Injury“ Moral Injury is defined as: (1). When someone does something that goes against their beliefs this is often referred to as an act of commission and when they fail to do something in line with their beliefs that is often referred to as an act of omission. Individuals may also experience betrayal from leadership, others in positions of power or peers that can result in adverse outcomes (2). Moral injury is the distressing psychological, behavioral, social, and sometimes spiritual aftermath of exposure to such events (3). A moral injury can occur in response to acting or witnessing behaviors that go against an individual's values and moral beliefs. https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/cooccurring/moral_injury.asp
Not too long ago, I was talking with a young man who had served in Afghanistan. He stated that he and some fellow Soldiers were riding in their Humvee, as a part of a convoy, through a village. Most of the local villagers looked at the passing convoy from the sides of the road, but there would be others who would stand out in the road.
The young man told me that he and his fellow Soldiers were laughing about something as they drove along and all of a sudden they heard a “ thud “. They stopped the vehicle and they realized that they had run over a seven year old Afghan girl. The young man told me that he can’t get the image of the young dead Afghan girl out of his head.
He’s experiencing s lot of guilt and anguish. He is suffering from Moral Injury.
When someone is ahead of their time, it does not go without frustration.
Nicolaus Copernicus was a Renaissance-era mathematician, astronomer, and Catholic clergyman who formulated a model of the universe that placed the Sun rather than Earth at the center of the universe. This was a major discovery but the appreciation and support of this concept doesn’t really material until the advent of Galileo Galilei who is known as the father of modern science. Susan B. Anthony was an American social reformer and women's rights activist who played a pivotal role in the women's suffrage movement. Yet, it was not until 1920, one hundred years ago, with the 19TH Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that women were given the right to vote. Frederick Douglass was an American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. After escaping from slavery in Maryland, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York, becoming famous for his oratory and incisive antislavery writings. The Emancipation Proclamation occurs in 1863, but it is not until 1965 with the passage of the Voting Rights Act that racial discrimination was prohibited in voting. The writer of Isaiah 61 was ahead of his time.
“ The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me because the Lord anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor ( Isaiah 61: 1-2 ). Being a witness to the light means that we affirm that God is done yet. As we say in The United Church Of Christ, “ God is still speaking, “ revelation is still occurring, miracles are still being felt and our lives are continuing to be changed. One of my old clergy mentors, the now deceased Rev. Dr. Lincoln Reed used to observe:
“ We are being saved again and again and again.“
John’s Gospel introduces John The Baptist as someone who would be a precursor to Jesus.
“ Her came as a witness to testifying concerning that light, so that through him all people might believe. He himself was not the light, he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every person was coming intro the world. “ ( John 1: 6-8 )
John The Baptist becomes the oracle announcing the coming of Jesus who will bring the arrival of the Kingdom Of God. John knows that his task is to prepare for the coming of the One who is greater than himself. “ I am the voice of one calling in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord.“ ( John 1: 23 )
Being a witness to the light may mean that you don’t get the credit for the change that is about to occur. This reality is hard for us to hear. This goes against our sense of fairness and making sure that credit is given to those who deserve it. The reality is, however, there will always be pioneers. Those like Rev. George Atkinson who was the founding minister in 1851 of the First Congregational Church in Portland, Or. Rev. Atkinson is more well known, however, for being the one who started public education in the Oregon and Washington territories.
You and I are called to be witnesses to our Christian faith. Jesus has made our life new and we are commanded to share that new life with others.
Like the hymn states:
“ This little light of mine,
I’m going to let it shine.
Let it shine,
Let it shine,
Let it shine. “
We are the light in the darkness. The world, more than ever, needs to see and experience the light of Christ made manifest in the witness of the life of the Church Universal. We need to live with the understanding “that the light has come and darkness has not overcome it. “
Yes, Jesus is coming to be born into our lives and into our world again.
May we receive the Christ child with complete openness and humility.
May we be witnesses to the light that overcomes our darkness now and always.
May it be so. In Christ’s Name. Amen
Meditation for the Second Sunday In Advent December 6 2020
Redeemer United Church Of Christ ( Zuehl ) Marion, TX
“ Preparing Again For Christmas “
( Isaiah 40: 1-11, II Peter 2: 8-215a, Mark 1: 1-8 )
Rev. Peter E. Bauer
Christmas time is coming again. You might have already seen decorations going up in the stores as early as Halloween. Somehow, hearing “ Joy To The World “ in the midst of 80 plus degree weather, fitting for shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops is a bit incongruous. We don’t get a chance to experience the transition of the seasons, instead Santa Claus and his sleigh are right before our eyes. Now, I know people and you may know them too, who live for Christmas. They are ready for bells and mistletoe at the drop of a hat.
One year, I drove my cousin George down to the Oregon Coast from Portland. We stopped in Cannon Beach and drove down Highway 101 through Manzanita ,Tillamook Wheeler, Cloverdale on south to Lincoln City. My cousin especially wanted to stop in Lincoln City because he knew a friend there who operated a year round Christmas store. We stopped and for the next hour my cousin and I shopped for the perfect ornaments for his Christmas tree. We also managed to go to the Lincoln City Outlet Stores and found him a nice Carolina blue Columbia Sportswear down jacket for winter. My cousin knows how to prepare for Christmas. I know that there are people in our congregation who know how to prepare for Christmas as well. We know how to bake, how to entertain friends and family, how to shop and how to prepare for church events like the Christmas Pageant. Yet, in the midst of all of this business, are we able to hear the still small voice of God coming to us ?
“ A voice of one calling in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord,
Make straight in the wilderness
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
Every mountain shall be made low:
The rough ground shall be made level,
The rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed
Ands all humankind shall see it “
( Isaiah 40: 3-5 )
Commentators have mentioned the following regarding this passage: “The book of Isaiah is centered on the Babylonian exile, which began in 586 B.C. when Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonia destroyed Jerusalem and the temple and enslaved the Jewish people. The exile ended in 539 B.C. when Cyrus of Persia allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild their temple. The book of Isaiah makes it clear that Nebuchadnezzar was Yahweh’s (God’s) instrument to punish the Jewish people for their sins, and Cyrus will be Yahweh’s instrument to set them free—to redeem them.
Scholars are divided with regard to the authorship of this book. Some believe that one man wrote the entire book, part of which foretells events to take place long after his death. Others believe that one author wrote chapters 1-39, a second author or group of authors wrote chapters 40-55, and a third author or group wrote chapters 56-66. But a lot of scholars agree that chapter 40 begins a new emphasis. Chapters 1-39 warn of God’s judgment if the people place their trust in secular rulers rather than in God. Chapters 40-55 lift up the promise of redemption for a people who are experiencing the judgment about which the prophet warned in the earlier chapters. Chapters 56-66 deal with the return of the Jews to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the city and the temple.”
I find it really interesting that is the Babylonians ( the ancestors of Iraqis ) who force the Jewish people into exile and it is the Persians ( the precursors Of The Iranians ) who return the captured people and who restore them to Israel. This gives new perspective upon whom we would consider to be our enemies. The people of Israel are restored back to their homeland. Similarly, we the people of Redeemer United Church Of Christ have also felt uprooted. The pandemic forced us to close down in-person worship and we resorted to online worship only for several months until we started again worshipping in person as of September 217 2020.
Being ack together in the church has been a good thing. We certainly have enjoyed seeing and greeting each other in the flesh. Yet, it has been different. Social Distancing and following precautions not to transmit the Covid-19 virus has effected how we can do social gatherings like sharing communal meals or singing together.
Suffice it to say, we have been learning to sing the Lord’s song is a strange land.
Advent is a period of preparation for the coming birth of Jesus. This year, we have been learning how to prepare things differently. Instead of having a Fall Harvest Dinner and Festival, we have planned to hold as raffle in order to raise more funds for the church.
We have held as Youth Press Conference to allow our young people to ask the Interim Minister questions of inquiry regarding the faith. This recorded conference has brought further enlightenment to young people and adults alike in our congregation.
Mark the Gospel writer echoes the words of Isaiah 40: 1-11 when he writes:
“ A voice of one calling in the desert,
Prepare the way for the Lord,
Make straight paths for him “
Mark describes John The Baptist as being the one who will prepare the way for Jesus. John will be the one who will cry out to his listeners and preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins. John will also point to Jesus as the one who will usher in the Kingdom of God
“ After me will come one more powerful than I “ ( Mark 1: 7 )
After the Babylonian Exile, Israel was restored as a nation.
I’m wondering about our own restoration. What will life be like at Redeemer United Church after Covid-19 ? For that matter, what will life e ,like in our country after the pandemic is over ?
How will we commemorate the lives of the precious people that we lost to this plague ? What will we have learned in terms of committing ourselves to protecting public health and ensuring that we will not be vulnerable to suffering from another catastrophic virus in the future ? The gift of new life that God brings to us all in the birth of Jesus really demands a response from all of us.
Like the Magi, the three wise men, we may not be bring Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh, but we can ring our lives, our talents and our resources into the arena in order to determiner how we will proclaim the transforming presence of God in our lives and in our world.
How will you prepare for Christmas this year ? How will you celebrate the birth of God in Jesus into our lives and into the life of the world ?
May you find joy in the midst of despair.
May you find light in the midst of the darkness.
May you find peace in the midst of violence and turmoil.
May the Kingdom come for you and I and for all of us now and always.
May it e so.
In Christ’s Name
Meditation for the First Sunday In Advent November 29 2020
Redeemer United Church Of Christ ( Zuehl ) Marion, TX
“ What Are We Watching And Waiting For ? “
( Isaiah 64: 1-9, I Corinthians 1: 3-9 , Mark 13: 24-37 )
Rev. Peter E. Bauer
We begin a new church year today. The first Sunday In Advent marks the beginning of our preparation for the birth of the Christ child into our lives and into the life of our world.
I don’t need to tell you, but I am looking forward to a new year. This year 2020 was not what any of us expected and the challenges that have been given to us have been draining and very emotional. Some of us have lost friends or relatives to the virus Covid-19, others have lost jobs and livelihoods. Many of us have lived with a sense of putting our lives “ on hold “ while we continue to look at health department reports regarding the incidence of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
We are like the kid who wants to get back into the neighborhood swimming pool, but feels thwarted because the life guard keeps saying that it’s not safe yet to go back into the water. Needless to say, its not been fun at all, but rather it has been exhausting. Advent is a time that promises to usher in a new era. The birth of Jesus will herald the arrival of the Kingdom Of God which promises to transform all things. We should be happy, We should be inspired and indeed some of us are, but then again for others all of the good will and cheer can make some people feel even worse, particularly if they are living through trying times.
Over the last several years, some churches have tried to address this phenomenon by offering a Blue Christmas Service during Advent. This type of service evokes an atmosphere that is devotional and yet takes seriously the ritual of lament.
Like The Beatles observed:
“ it’s taking a sad song and making it better “ ( Hey Jude )
Many years ago, I was going through a very difficult time. My active duty Navy career as a Chaplain was coming to an end. My position was eliminated courtesy of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollins ( 1988) budget readjustment act that was passed by Congress. I didn’t know what I was going to do. There was a glut of United Church Of Christ clergy in the Chicago area. I was living in suburban Waukegan, Il and there were no pastoral vacancies. My wife was going to be on orders for the next two years at Greats Lakes Naval Corps School and I didn’t want to be physically separated from her. My Social Worker friend, who I worked with at the Navy Family
Service Center at Great Lakes Il offered to take me out to dinner in Chicago. I met with him and his spouse at a restaurant in the Magnificent Mile Mall. Right before, I met with them, I walked down the to the end of the mall right in front of the entrance to Bloomingdales. I was feeling sad and sat down on a bench. All of a sudden I looked up and saw this big decoration of red Poinsettias that were assembled like a Christmas tree. This exquisite display literally went from the ground up to the ceiling. It was beautiful and the sight of it left me speechless.
I started to feel more hopeful. My friend Arnie Oskin told me about the Masters In Social Work program at the University Of Illinois At Chicago. It was a part-time program where you could complete the program in three years. I ended up applying and got accepted. My wife was able to get an extension on her orders and we were able to stay together and not be geographically separated.
As the prophet Isaiah noted:
A voice of one calling: "In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. ( Isaiah 40:3 ). For me, at that moment, the road started to look more clear. Isaiah again says:“ We are all the work of your hand “ ( Isaiah 64: 3 )
I truly believe that is true. Even when we think that this could not be operative, God is working and is active in our lives guiding us hopefully to a more bright and purposeful future. The passage from Mark that we hear is a strange juxtaposition between linking the coming of the Kingdom Of God to an apocalyptic event suggesting the end of the world. The writer of Mark’s Gospel offers this observation: “ I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all of these things have happened. Heaven and earth will Pass away, but my words will never pass away. “ ( Mark 13: 30-31 )
The Gospel writer tells the believers, those who were probably affiliated with the earliest followers of Jesus, people of the way, that there is the belief that the Resurrected Jesus will return meet them within their lifetime. Keep in mind, there is fairly good agreement that the Gospel of Mark, the first of the Gospels , was written around 70 CE, following the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Roman Imperial Empire. By around 88 CE, the people of the way will separate and split off from the Jewish worshiping community. The people of the Way will become their own spiritual community. Thus the Early followers of Jesus will have to reinterpret again what the Second Coming Of Jesus means for them.
So, the challenge becomes this year, what will the advent of the birth of Jesus, what will the incarnation of God being born in the person of the baby Jesus, what will that mean for you and I ? How will we declare that God has been born in human form and has dwelt among us ? I love the fact that with Advent the process of time starts all over again. We start again with a new year. It like the female friend of Lieutenant Dan in the movie “ Forrest Gump “ who observes about New Year’s Eve. “ “ I love this time of year. We all get a second chance. We all get a new clean slate. “ ( Forrest Gump )
Indeed we do. Advent does give us a new clean slate. We are preparing again for the birth of Jesus into our lives. We are working again for a new birth to occur inside of each one of us.
As Bob Dylan noted:
“ He who is not busy being born, is busy dying. “
What do you need to be born in you ?
What do I need to be born in me ?
The Kingdom of God is coming, it is near and it is here to be realized.
May we be ready to watch and wait knowing that God in Jesus will be born again in us and because of that wonderful event, our lives will not be the same, but we will be transformed.
May it be so, always we pray in Jesus’ Name.
Meditation for Thanksgiving Service November 25 2020 7:00 PM
“ A Land Where Bread Will Not Be Scarce “
( Deuteronomy 8: 7-18,II Corinthians 9: 6-15, Luke 17: 11-19 )
Rev. Peter E. Bauer
When have you ever felt really hungry ? Think about it, you stomach might have been growling. You might have felt a little weak. You might have realized that you were getting more irritable. Some friends of mine who used to live in Saudi Arabia stated that during the Muslin holy season of Ramadan, they noticed that some people were getting more irritable due to the prolonged fasting.
I served in the military for 28 years, 17.5 years as a Navy Chaplain representing The United Church Of Christ and 11.5 years as a Army Medical Service Corps Officer serving as a Social Worker. I have participated in many field training exercises. When you are training in the field with artillery, infantry or medical units, you are very busy. You get very dirty, very tired. You are exposed to the elements everything from blazing sun to torrential rains and you get very hungry. If you are very lucky, they will provide you with a mess tent. But that can be rare.
You are more like to receive the infamous “ Meals Ready To East “ ( MRES ) manufactured down the road in McAllen, TX.
MRES can be quite a challenge for a novice. You have compressed plastic bags of chipped beef, maybe spaghetti, crackers that look like Matza, peanut butter, and maybe a portable burner that you can heat stuff over in a metal cup, including the package of instant coffee ( sorry in the field you don’t get the real thing ). Also the taste of MRS leaves something to be desired. I always imagined when I was eating a MRE that instead I was dining at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Ca, or Rose’s Delicatessen in Portland, Or , or Atmosphere in Atlanta, Ga. These visualization exercises made it easier for me to digest that which at time proved to be entirely indigestible.
This Thanksgiving, many of us will cook Turkey and will prepare a variety of side dishes, potatoes, stuffing, cranberries, salads. Other will go another route and focus on vegetarian and vegan dishes. Still others, like me, will opt and get out take out Thanksgiving Dinner from places like La Madeline. No doubt, there will be plenty of food for all, and plenty of dessert, perhaps alcohol as well and recovery period of digestion waiting to watch holiday football.
Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday for many because it emphasizes family, friends, celebrating the fact that we have survived another year, and that we can be thankful for health, shelter and livelihood. This has become more of a challenge this year with the tremendous impact of Covid-19. What if you don’t have these things, i.e. health, shelter and livelihood ? In Guadalupe County 13.6 % of people live in food insecure homes, 22.6 % of children live in these homes. For every nine people who are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ( SNAP ), children-0,adults-6,seniors-4. These numbers are for zip code 78670.
In Bexar County, 14.0 % of people live in food insecure homes, 25.6 % of children live in these homes. 8,176 people are eligible to receive SNAP benefits, 1936 children,4838 adults and 1402 seniors ( www.Feeding Texas.Org )
The writer of Deuteronomy states:
“ For the Lord Your God is bringing you into a good land-a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, oil and honey, a land where bread will not be scarce and where you will not lack nothing. (Deuteronomy 8:7-8 ) How do we begin to make visible the charge of “ a land where bread will not be scare ? “
What can we do assist in feeding our neighbors who are hungry including children in schools who depend upon school funded meals in order to receive adequate nutrition and to be able to be ready for learning ?
The prophet Micah said it so well.
What does the Lord require ? But to do justice, love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. ( Micah 6: 8 ). Jesus voiced his surprise when only one of the ten lepers who was healed returned to give him thanks and praise. “ Jesus asked, Where Not all ten cleansed ? Where are the other nine ? Was no one found to return and give praise except this foreigner ? Jesus asks a critical question not only of his first century audience but of us as well. What are you thankful for ? How do you express your thankfulness ?
The reality of the Pandemic are making our responses that much more complicated and challenging. Yes, the Gospel declares that we are to:
“ feed the hungry, clothe the naked, declare the acceptable year of the Lord, the Jubilee “ ( Matthew 25: 31-46 ) What might that look like for St. John’s Lutheran Church in Marion, TX ? What might that look like for Redeemer United Church Of Christ ( Zuehl ) in Marion, TX ? What might that look like for Texas, for the United States Of America, for the world ?
We have been blessed. Now, we are charged with sharing that blessing with others who do not know a land where bread will not be scarce, who do not know the safety of shelter, or the support of friends and companionship, let alone the buffer of privilege economically, racially and socially. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper. We are kept safe and secure in the love of God. We in turn need to share that safety and security with others who are experiencing insecurity.
May this Thanksgiving be a joyful one, where we can express our gratitude for health and abundance amidst a very dangerous time and where we can also commit ourselves to do, in the words of John Wesley
May this be realized now and always
May it be so.
In Christ’s Name
Meditation for the 25TH Sunday After Pentecost November 22 2020
Redeemer United Church Of Christ ( Zuehl ) Marion, TX
“ Shepherding With Justice “
( Ezekiel 34: 11-16, Ephesians 1: 15-23, Matthew 25: 31-46 )
Rev. Peter E. Bauer
I didn’t grow up in a rural area. So I never spent a lot of time doing chores on a farm or a ranch. I grew up in a city in a working class family by a single parent, that being my mother. My first real introduction to rural life was during my first pastorate over forty years ago at St. James United Church Of Christ Morrison, Mo. and Zion-St. Peter United Church Of Christ Pershing, Mo. This was a two point charge pastorate and I probably was the youngest minister that they had ever had to be their pastor. I was 24. Well, the first six weeks there was a trial by fire. I must have officiated at least six funerals, including the tragic death of a 48 year old man who died when his tractor flipped and rolled over him.
All of this death and loss was a lot for a fledgling 24 year old Caucasian male, new minister to absorb. My mother had come briefly to help me move into my parsonage. We looked out the kitchen window door one morning to see a good size black snake slither down out of the tree in the front yard. How apocryphal! My mother saw how nervous I was about all of the funerals scheduled and so she said to me humorously. “You need to put an announcement in the church bulletin. Funeral of the week. If interested, contact the pastor.“
What the good people, my congregants and friends of Morrison and Pershing, taught me was to really appreciate the land and those who work hard tending the land. I made many pastoral calls and visitation to my flock. I visited the dairy farms of Arlen and Kay Schwinke and Bobbie and Eldore Schwinke. There I learned to milk cows, both the natural way and by using machines. I also learned what its like to drive a tractor. They were probably wondering what is this city boy doing ? I can’t tell you how much those experiences meant to me. I felt really bonded to my people and I literally sacrificed my self for them. Even including one occasion when I accidentally got my Volkswagen beetle stuck on Calvin and Stella Bohler’s rockpile. That’s a long story.
The prophet Ezekiel stated:
“ I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak “I remember driving ninety miles round trip to Jefferson City, Mo to visit parishioners in the hospital or 180 miles round-trip to St. Louis, Mo for hospital visitation.
I remember all of those late Saturday nights in the parsonage basement when I was printing off the Sunday bulletins from the old mimeograph machine and praying the everything would look right.
Then there was the time when I was driving back from Pershing to Morrison at night. There was some fog. I was driving in my Volkswagen bug and thankfully I missed nearly hitting this big steer in the middle of the road who looked the size of Brooklyn. But one of the things I remember the most about my former parishioners was their welcoming attitude and their charity.
Our churches sponsored the Five Church Association in St. Louis, Mo that provided a food pantry, a clothing bank and an energy assistance program for those who were poor and could not afford home heating fuel. My two churches also hosted one summer the Five Church Association Gospel Choir, a group of several African-American young people who were hosted for the weekend by my church families. Some of the young people were in awe of the Missouri night sky. It was the first timer for some that they saw stars. Again, my parishioners came to the aid of a woman named Mary. She was African-American, poor, was overweight and had Diabetes. City Hospital No. One in St. Louis was determined to discharge her from care due to budget cuts. My parishioners raised the money in order that Mary could stay and continue to receive medical treatment. I think that was my finest hour of my ministry there.
Ezekiel is right, as shepherds we look after our sheep and we tend to them, making sure that they are safe. This is especially true now in this time of Covid-19 and the global pandemic. We have made our worship service accessible on the internet allowing those who are home bound to continue to participate in worship. By calling on the phone and sending cards to those who are home bound, we continue to extend our care and compassion, known in Latin as Caritas, to those who are alone and vulnerable. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus spends time discussing in this narrative about the difference between sheep and goats.
“ For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.
I was a stranger and you invited me in.
I needed clothes and you clothed me.
I was sick and you looked after me.
I was in prison and you came to visit me. “
Matthew 25: 35-36 )
Not long before, I was ending my ministry at Morrison and Pershing, after church one Sunday a parishioner approached and asked me tearfully if I could help their family member.
The person in question had a bad problem with Alcohol which was causing a lot of complications in their life. I did some research, made some calls, and found out that the Fulton State Hospital had an inpatient alcohol treatment unit. Against all odds, I was able to help this person get admitted to this program. Years later, on a visit back to Morrison and Pershing, I saw this individual. They looked very good. They were happy and smiling. They had stopped drinking and had remained sober. The individual said to me: “ You know what you did literally saved my life.“
Ministry is effective when we know our people and when they feel free to confide in us what their real needs are so that together we can help proclaim God’s love and forgiveness and live for justice to be made known to all, those who have power and those who do not have power. May our conjoint ministry as pastor and people be one where we pay attention to all of the needs of those whom be serve.
This day and always
As we continue to minister to one another, to our community and to our world.
May it be so.
In Jesus’ Name.
Meditation for November 15 2020, Twenty-Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
“ Wise Women Rulers And Enterprising Servants “
( Judges 4: 1-7, I Thessalonians 5: 1-11, Matthew 25: 14-30 )
Rev. Peter E. Bauer
Not too long ago, a friend of mine was sharing with me a recollection of one of his first bosses. My friend is a psychotherapist and he was working at a large outpatient mental health clinic. He stated that the clinic was very busy. It was not unusual for him to see five, six or seven patients per day, for fifty minute sessions. These patients would be suffering from Major Depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Bi-Polar Disorder.
One day, my friend mentioned that he had a full clinic schedule of at least six patients. Things went pretty well in the morning until there was an emergency with the second patient. The extra time needed to resolve this emergency knocked the schedule off track. Thus, he was late seeing the last patient scheduled for the morning. By this time the therapist is literally working over lunch ( not uncommon ) trying to catch up. Enter the supervisor, a very wise African-American woman named Grace. She asked my friend how his day was going. My friend said that the day had been very harrowing, time spent resolving a patient emergency and here he was working through lunch attempting to get caught up.
Here, something totally unexpected occurred; Grace told my friend:
“ Don’t worry, you go eat your lunch.
I will see your patient “
My friend was dumbfounded. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“ You’re going to see my patient ? “
Wow ! My friend went on to say he has never experienced anything like that again happening in his long career.
What makes a good leader ? Hopefully, someone who listens to their subordinates. Someone who takes the time to learn the jobs of those whom they supervise and someone who cares to make the flow of work easier to accomplish and to help people succeed.
Former Secretary Of State Bob Gates has observed: “A leader's actions must match his/her words. People must believe he/she means what they say, that their promises matter and are not just idle rhetoric. Integrity in action becomes moral authority, and it is moral authority that moves people to follow someone even at personal risk or sacrifice-- or even when they disagree.”
― Robert M. Gates, A Passion for Leadership: Lessons on Change and Reform from Fifty Years of Public Service
Deborah, the prophetess, referenced in the book of Judges was one such individual. She had great authority and she commanded great respect. The passage from Judges informs us “that she held court and that Israelites from all over would come to her to have their disputes settled ‘by her wise counsel. ( (Judges 4: 5 ). She sends Barak with an army of 10,000 soldiers to go and confront Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army. Barak says to Deborah:
“ I you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go. “: ( Judges 4: 8 )
“ Very well, I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours. but the Lord will hand Sisera over to a woman. “ ( Judges 4: 9 ) What an amazing statement, given that this is written within the context of an exceedingly rigid patriarchal culture ! Normally, given the rules of this era of Hebrew history, women and servants would not have a voice, they would not have a right for self-determination. Yet Deborah has a commanding voice. She is determining military foreign policy. She is exercising strong and decisive leadership.
Again in Matthew’s Gospel, there is an emphasis upon taking initiative in the steward ship of resources. Jesus tells this parable of the man who is going on a journey. He entrusts to his servants the following: five talents to one, two talents to another, and one talent to the last servant. We read that the servant who received five talents earned five more, the one who received two talents generated two more. Then the one servant who received the one talent was fearful of the master and so he hid the talent in the ground only to give the talent back when the master returned. Predictably, there is praise for the servants who produced more with their given talents and scorn for the servant who hid their talent away.
Here Jesus is heard to give this curious saying:
“ For everyone who will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him “ ( Matthew 25: 29 ) What are we to make of this harsh sounding pronouncement ? Jesus encouraged the disciples to share their faith, even when their faith was shaky, even when they doubted Jesus and what he was saying. The Gospel appears to be saying that those who proclaim the faith with authority are those who would not normally be recognized as those who are powerful. Here in Jesus’ time, it is the women and it is the servants who are models of what it means to be faithful.
So how do we practice an effective expression of Leadership in the church in our own time and place ? Lots of people have referenced this whole notion of “ servant leadership “ or that they have referred to themselves as being a “ servant “ leader. What does that mean and when does being a servant leader become self-serving ?
I go back to the supervisor who was willing to see the scheduled patient in order that my friend could have lunch. What a rare and remarkable gesture of concern ? What a beautiful example of grace by someone who was named Grace. “ Effective leadership means you show concern for your people. It means that you act in a just and fair manner. As the prophet Micah observed;
“ What does the Lord require ?
But to do justice, love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. “ ( Micah 6:8 )
May this be our credo, our blueprint with regard to how we will treat others like we would want to be treated.
May it be so.
In Jesus’ Name.
Meditation for November 8 2020, Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost
“ Ready Or Not ? “
( Joshua 24: 1-3a, 14-25, I Thessalonians $: 13-18, Matthew 25: 1-13 )
He walked into the lobby of the History Department at Portland State University one early Friday morning and he called out to me “ Are you ready or not ? “ This was Professor Jim Heath, one of my favorite professors , who I studied with as an undergraduate at Portland State University. He taught American History and I took three classes from him ranging from the Colonial period American Revolution, through the Civil War and Reconstruction up through mid -Twentieth Century History. Professor Heath was smart and funny, but he was also very considerate. During my Sophomore year in university I took his classes and greatly enjoyed them. On this occasion, I had gotten sick and was unable to sit for the Final Exam ending Fall Term ( 10 week period ). I had arranged to take a Make-Up exam two days later.
There I say bleary-eyed in the History Department lobby waiting for him. I had my text books and all of my notes that I was feverishly reviewing. I had pulled an all-nighter reviewing for the test and drank probably way too much coffee. I was ushered into the History Department Conference Room and was given two Bluebooks. I had my pens and for the next two hours, I would write all that I had learned and knew regarding the Civil War and Reconstruction. The test was exhausting. I finished it, turned in the bluebooks and a few days later was happy to learn that I had received an A for the course. I was happy that I was able to take the Make-Up test, but I was determined not to repeat this type of experience again.
I thought “ There has got to be a better way !”
Scripture places an emphasis on being ready. Consider the passages:
15 (“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”) (Revelation 16:15 )
2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like
thief in the night. ( I Thessalonians 5:2 ) 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. ( Matthew 24: 43 ).
These passages and others reflect the anticipation that the early followers Of Jesus looked to the return of the Christ within their lifetime. They believed that after the Ascension that Jesus would be returning soon, hence the need to be ready. This doesn’t change until 88 CE when the early followers of Jesus finally realize that Jesus will not be returning soon and so therefore the faithful community will have to develop a new understanding regarding Jesus’ return.
Joshua assembles all of the people, all of the tribes of Israel at Schechem.
He says to them:
“ Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the Gods that you forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt and serve the Lord. “ ( Joshua 24: 14-15 ).
This is a bold challenge that Joshua has made to the people. Do you follow the One God of Israel or to you follow the many Gods ? This challenge is also relevant to us. Do we follow the God who created us, who loved us, who redeemed us or do we follow the gods that would allure us, who would summon us with the promises of riches, power, domination, unlimited pleasure.
For Israel the choice was formidable, just as this choice is revealing for us as well.
Do you help your neighbor or do you remain fearful and decide that it is better t. o only take care of yourself? There have been those who have observed that our country is exhibiting an empathy deficit. Some people are not necessarily moved by the needs of others. You may have experience this recently. I did. I had an impatient driver in a suburban van insist on passing me doing a high rate of speed on Zuehl road. I guess he wasn’t content looking at the cattle resting under the shade trees.
Joshua responds to the people of Israel gathered at Shechem by establishing a covenant with them. Now a covenant is an agreement between two parties. These agreements originated between Kings and their subjects. The people agreed to honor the King and the King is turn pledged to honor and protect the people. Joshua is now saying that as the people of Israel will choose to follow the God of Israel, the Holy One will commit care and faithfulness to the people of Israel. This same theme is reiterated again in Matthew’s account of the Parable Of the Ten Virgins. You could also rephrase this as the Parable of The Ten Young Women. There is not enough oil for all the lamps to burn at the wedding banquet. Some of the young women are told that they should go out and buy some oil for themselves. ( Matthew 25: 9 )
The bridegroom arrives and those who are ready proceed to the banquet while those who are not ready are left outside and are shut out. The theme here of the Kingdom Of God is unmistakable. Will we be ready to enter God’s Kingdom and to the work of the Kingdom or will be ill-prepared? Like the anxiety of sitting for a test and not knowing for sure whether you will pass it or not, God’s invitation to us is unwavering but there are still things we need to do to be receptive to the grace that God offers us. When I was in the military there was always the emphasis upon training, being ready. If the enemy was going to attack the country, then forces needed to prepare in simulated exercises regarding how to respond. My Marine Unit Commanding Officer said: “If it ain’t raining, we ain’t training.“
I remember one exercise that I participated in at Fort Bragg, N.C. during 1999. For fourteen days, I was in the field with my Marine Corps unit providing religious services and pastoral care and counseling to our folks and advising the Command on religious affairs. Most important, I learned how to sleep outside on a cot under a camouflage mesh net in 3o degree rainy weather and negotiate how to get to the bathroom. No small feat!
What do you need to get ready for ? What do I need to get ready for ? Some of are getting ready to complete another year of school, some to graduate, some to start a first job, start a new career, start a family or expand a family, or to start a new life after the loss of a spouse, apparent or another family member. Jesus invites us to be ready for the grace of God that breaks in upon our lives and which transforms our lives.
May we be ready for all that God would have us to do in our lives, in our work, in our family life and in our spiritual journey with God in Jesus.
May it be so.
In Jesus’ Name.
Meditation for November 1 2020, Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost
“ I’m Not Rushing Towards The Redeemer Cemetery “
( Joshua 3: 7-17 , Matthew 23: 1-12 )
Rev. Peter E. Bauer
Today, we observe All Saints Day, also observed in other cultures as Dios De Los Muertos ( Day of the Dead ) and Totenfest ( usually observed the last Sunday of the church year right before the start of Advent ). All three events commemorate those who have died before us, our family members ,friends, people of faith who have been a part of us.
My first visit to Redeemer was in July 2019 ( My! That sounds like such a long time ago!). I was going to meet with Rev. Lee Zillmann to facilitate some Boundary Training for him. I arrived early and so I spent some time walking through the adjacent Redeemer Cemetery, looking at both the old and the newer sections.
What impressed me about some of the graves and headstones is that they were decorated with items that were of significance to the deceased. One grave had a toy tractor on it. Another grave had a small figurine of a dog. This so much reminded me Of Dios De Los Muertos ( Day Of The Dead ) where the same practice is observed with leaving mementos at a graveside honoring the deceased. I have also been to worship services for Dios De Los Muertos where the altar is covered with pictures of deceased persons, flowers ( Ofrendas ), fruit and or other items.
Honoring the lives of loved ones who have gone on before us is very important. Every time I make a trip to Portland, Or, the first day is usually spent visiting the graves of family members. I will visit around 10-11 family members who are located at three cemeteries spread across Portland: my father who is buried at Mt. Scott Veterans Cemetery, my aunt and uncle who are at Riverdale Cemetery overlooking the Willamette River, and my mother, my paternal grandparents and my maternal and paternal aunts, uncles and cousins who are buried at Skyline Cemetery in the Portland West Hills.
Indeed, All of that remembrance takes a full day.
But that doesn’t compare to Okinawa, Japan. When I lived there between 1985-1987, I lived in a house located in a Japanese neighborhood overlooking the Pacific Ocean. All around me were family tombs carved out of stone ( known as Hakas ) that were located amidst the sugar cane fields. During the month of August, there is the festival known as Obon. This month long event commemorates those who have died and also the welcoming of the spirits of the deceased as they return to visit. I remember seeing whole Okinawan families, dressed in black, who would gather at family tombs and bring food, eating rice cakes and toasting one another with teacups of Sake.
For several months prior to Obon, my wife and I would be serenaded every night by the Taiko drummers who would be rehearsing, right below our house, for the upcoming Obon parades.
As I previously mentioned, Moses does not get to enter the promised land. Instead the mantle of leadership falls upon Joshua. The writer of Exodus describes that it is Joshua and the priests of Israel who carry the Ark of the Covenant across the waters while stepping on dry land. They are the ones who become the carriers of the faith. They are the ones who become the future for the people of Israel.
When you can’t complete a task that you prepared for or when you can’t fulfill what you want to achieve in life, that can become a major disappointment, a loss.
An even major loss is when a person ends their life far too soon due to difficult or unforeseen circumstances. This happened for me and my family four years ago, right before the 2016 election, when my great nephew Derek took his life due to suicide.
Derek was a bright young man. He was a Freshman at the University Of Idaho where he was studying Physics. Unfortunately, he also suffered from Schizophrenia. He had tried several anti-psychotic medications but didn’t have great results. He relied on CBD oil which initially provided great relief.
One of the hardest things I have ever had to do was contacting the Student Counseling Center at the University Of Idaho. I sat in my car in the H-E-B parking lot at 1604 and Blanco and talked with the counseling staff there to make sure that they would meet my niece Christine and her husband Kevin who were there to pack out Derek’s dorm room.
The writer of Matthew’s Gospel records Jesus as saying:
“ The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts themselves will be humbled and whoever humbles themselves will be exalted ( Matthew 23:11-12 ).
This message is a great challenge to our ears when we live in a culture and society that is all about exaltation twenty-four seven.
Now back to the Redeemer Cemetery. Many of us have family members who are buried there. Someone of us have already made plans to be buried there in the future.
Today, we commemorate all of the Saints who have gone on before us. We remember with joy, and poignancy and with sadness their passing.
But I believe that the true message of All Saints Day is what do you and I do to make sure that we live each day to the fullest. ? What do we do to ensure that we utilize the time we have left in our lives that will be of glory to God and to others ?
David Crosby has mused in his song “ Time I Have “ the following:
“ People do so many things that make me mad but
Angry isn’t how I want to spend what time I have
Cognitive dissonance they call it
I wonder just how small it
Could be made to be
In me” ( Time I Have )
Yes, for some of us, Redeemer Cemetery will be our final resting place. But I’m hear to tell you and encourage you not to be in a rush to get to Redeemer Cemetery.
Rev. William Sloane Coffin said:
“ The one true freedom in life is to come to terms with death, and as early as possible, for death is an event that embraces all our lives. ... The more we do God's will, the less unfinished business we leave behind when we die.”
May we remember and embrace this truth on All Saints Day and forever more may we be blessed in Jesus Name.
May it be so.
Meditation for October 25 2020, Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost
“ Our Ministry Is Never Complete “
( Deuteronomy 34: 1-12 , Matthew 22: 34-46 )
Rev. Peter E. Bauer
Many years ago, I worked at a Substance Abuse clinic in Waukegan, Il, a suburb of Chicago. The clinic where I worked treated clients who were eligible for county mental health services. We saw patients for a two county area.
My job was the Clinical Director for the 28 day inpatient Rehabilitation Program. I supervised about five counselors and I also carried a clinical case load of about five patients.
Our program treated people who were abusing or who were addicted to Alcohol, Marijuana, Cocaine and other chemicals including Heroin. Our program ran an outpatient Methadone Clinic and we also had an outpatient HIV/AIDS clinic which was very progressive for the late 1980’s.
My time working in this position was meaningful and satisfying. I prayed that the people I had the privilege to work with would get better and that their lives would improve. But I never knew for sure if that would happen for many people that I saw, as the relapse rates for addiction are usually high.
Three years later, I had completed my Masters In Social Work ( MSW ) degree, got licensed as a Social Worker in Illinois and I went to work at the Department Of Veterans Affairs in Chicago. I worked at the then VA West Side Medical Center ( now Jessie Brown Division ) and I treated patients in the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ( PCT ) team and I also worked in the Mental Hygiene Clinic ( Outpatient Mental Health ).
My usual morning routine included taking the Northline Metra train from Waukegan to Chicago’s Northwestern Station. I would then take a shuttle bus over to the hospital. One morning I arrived at Northwestern Station and I stopped to get a Chocolate Croissant and some coffee before I went to board the bus to the medical center.
Just as I stepped outside the door to cross the street and catch the bus, I heard a woman cry out to me: “ Peter Bauer, you changed my life ! “
Now, I usually don’t hear this, so I paid attention ! I turned around and there was this short smiling woman looking up at me. After a few seconds, I remembered her. Indeed, she had been a patient in our program. She had completed it and went to a halfway house for further assistance and support. Now, she was working at Haymarket House, a large treatment facility in Chicago.
Indeed, this was a WOW moment. You could have described this as a Kairos Moment, a critical and opportune moment. In Romans 13:11-13 — Kairos time is here. It calls for action, conversion and transformation—a change of life.
This had been the experience for this young woman, Unbeknownst to me , what had transpired for her in our treatment program was life giving, she became changed.
Now I realize that I was lucky. I got to hear first-hand how what I did, with divine help, contributed to her becoming a new person.
A lot of us don’t necessarily see the outcomes of the fruits of our labors. We are like Moses. We work hard, and strategize and master the logistics of getting to “ the promised land. “
Then, of all things, what happens “ we can’t enter the promised land. We can’t get to that special space and time.
We can’t hear and appreciate “ the rest of the story “ as radio announcer Paul Harvey used to say, because our connection has been dropped like a cell phone in a dead zone.
Jesus said: "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." ( John 20:29 ) It’s easier to believe when you have seen something first hand. Like the Missourian who says “ Show Me “ we are more confident to believe what we hear and to respond with appropriate action when we know what we have seen is a sure bet.
However, it’s much harder if you can’t see what’s up ahead. Like an airline pilot who is flying on instruments because the visibility is bad and the pilot is depending upon his/her faith in their talents, skills and expertise that they will land the plane on the appropriate runaway, safe and intact for all concerned.
Moses wanted to see what he had worked for and to see the culmination of completing the task which was requested of him by God. Yet Moses doesn’t enter the promised land, that will happen for the descendants, for those who come after, but not for him. When Martin Luther nailed the famous “ 95 Thesis” on the door of the Wittenberg Church on October 31, 1517, I don’t think he realized that he would start a whole new movement. He wanted for sure to purify what he saw as corruption within the then Catholic Church, but I don’t think he could have ever imagined that the Protestant movement would be launched.
Yet five hundred plus years later, Christian ministry in the reformed tradition continues. Our faith continues to evolve. Our understandings of God and how we connect with the divine in our lives also continues to change and to deepen in our souls and in our corporate worship life and witness.
Jesus continues to tell us that the greatest commandments are to love the Lord God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. Also Jesus reminds us to love your neighbor as yourself. “ ( Matthew 22: 37-39 )
Just when you think that what you are doing isn’t making a difference, surprise you hear that what you did changed somebody’s life. In that moment, their life and our life is changed. We are no longer the same. Instead, we are made new.
Indeed, our ministry is never complete. The revelation of God, in Jesus, also is never complete.
May we all be empowered to continue to grow and to change in the faith made known to us in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ.
May it be so.
Meditation for October 18 2020
“ What Do We Owe God ? “
Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost
Exodus 33: 12-23, Matthew 22: 15-22
Rev. Peter E. Bauer
I rarely meet anyone who really enjoys paying taxes. The old adage is true, the two constants in life are death and taxes. For me it’s always anxious going to the tax preparer-will there be a refund or will there be an additional payment ? Thankfully ,the last couple of years has been a been a refund.
Despite the fact that I ‘m not thrilled about paying taxes, I know that the tax system is set up for good purposes. We pay tax for the privilege of living in a free society. After all, its tax revenue that supports education, roads ,highways, railroads, airports and other infrastructure. Tax money also supports national defense, social security and other important vital federal programs.
According to Wikipedia:
The Revenue Act of 1932 (June 6, 1932, Ch. 209, 47 Stat. 169) raised United States tax rates across the board, with the rate on top incomes rising from 25 percent to 63 percent. The estate tax was doubled and corporate taxes were raised by almost 15 percent. Taxable Items included dye, chewing gum, furs, soft drinks, and sporting goods; firearms, shells, and cartridges; coal, coke, and copper ore; telegraph, telephone, cable, and radio dispatches; and checks, jewelry, matches, refrigerators, stamps, and toiletries, and this act enacted one of the first taxes on gasoline. The provisions of the act applied to the taxable year of 1932 and all subsequent taxable years. It was signed into law by President Herbert Hoover.
As you can see, this list of taxable items is familiar to our ears today, as well as other items which are also taxed including hotel rooms etc. Taxes would have also have been a sore subject in first century Judaism. Talmudic literature is filled with complaints against the severity of the taxation in Ereẓ Israel during the period of Roman domination. However intolerable this may have seemed, it was not discriminatory, and the pagan population of the area doubtless had similar complaints. On the other hand, the *Fiscus Judaicus introduced after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., diverting to the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus in Rome the half-shekel formerly paid voluntarily each year by every Jew to the Temple in Jerusalem, was definitely discriminatory, paid by no other than Jews.
The writer of Matthew’s Gospel describes how the Pharisees and other religious leaders tried to entrap Jesus in a rhetorical argument. Jesus is recorded as saying: “ You hypocrites ! Why are you trying to trap me ? Show me the coin used for paying the tax. They brought him a denarius, and he asked him. “ Whose portrait is this ?And whose inscription ? Caesar’s they replied.
New Testament Scholar John Dominic Crossan has started that in the first century Hellenistic Judaism society that it was common practice to have inscriptions on coins that featured profiles of Caesar. What is striking is that when early Christian followers stated that “ Jesus Is Lord “, they were making a very revolutionary claim, because during this time there was the notion that there was only one Lord and that was Caesar. Therefore to make the claim that Jesus was Lord was to make a claim that would threaten the very nature of the Roman Imperialistic state.
( Excavating Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, 2001 )
Jesus then says to them:
“ Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s “
So what do we owe God ? What are the gifts that we offer to our Lord and to the Kingdom Of God ? For centuries, ornate places of worship, buildings like Chartres Cathedral in France were built as an expression of gratitude expressing the glory of God. This was certainly one way of expressing thanksgiving for the presence of God in the world, but are there other ways in which we can express our gratitude ? Jesus is heard to say when you feed the hungry, when you clothe the naked, when you do these things to the least of these, you do them unto me.
Where are the hungry in our own community ? Where are the poor in spirit ? Where are those who are alone, those who have no one with them, no one to talk to, no one to speak on their behalf ?
Could it be when we extend ourselves to someone who is homeless, to someone who is lonely, to someone who is effected by domestic violence etc. that we are giving our very best of gifts to God? We are expressing with thanksgiving the very blessings which God has bestowed upon us.
As we continue to celebrate this time of Fall, this time of harvest, may be mindful of what we can do to further share of our bounty and resources with those who have no resources.
May we know that as do this, we become more acutely aware of God’s presence in our individual lives and in our lives as a community of faith.
In Christ’s name.
May it be so.
Meditation For The Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost October 11 2020
“ Whom Do We Worship ? “
Exodus 32: 1-14, Matthew 22: 1-`14
Rev. Peter E. Bauer
Recently, I have started to orient myself to using Microsoft Teams. A lot of organizations are migrating towards this platform as opposed to using Skype. One of the advantages of Microsoft Teams is that you can see everyone you are talking to at the same time. This feature is not prominent with Zoom or with other portals regarding digital communication. What I did notice about Microsoft Teams was that the audio connection was not always great and there was with my connection an undercurrent background noise that sounded like running water.
Most of us can certainly attest that digital communication has expanded greatly, especially now with this world-wide pandemic. We are meeting for worship via the internet, meetings for work, communication with family and friends, and ordering take-out food are now being handled by digital platforms. All of this can feel artificial, at times, and there can be the understandable longing to experience someone, in the flesh, being in the same room with you.
Technology is understandably valued in our culture. Whoever has the best computer, camera and microphone and who has the best bandwidth is someone who has the leading advantage. South Korea has been credited as having the fasted broadband speed of anywhere in the world, faster than anything in Silicon Valley. We’ll see if this still remains true with the advent of 5G.
Several years ago, I was reminded of the luxury of having speedy broadband reception. I was out at Joint Base Lewis McChord, WA ( Tacoma, WA.) I was working at Madigan Army Medical Center as a Army Reservist on two weeks active duty. I was providing mental health services to patients in the Emergency Room and Inpatient Psychiatry. While I was there I stayed at the Bachelor Officers Quarters ( BOQ).
One night I went down to the computer room at the BOQ in order to construct a word document which in turn I wanted to send as an enclosure in an E-Mail to my E-Mail address. I went online, so far so good, and I was able to complete the word document. Now was the test, getting the document as an enclosure to an e-mail to my e-mail address.
My this connection was slow ! It reminded me of the days of DSL on the old Apple Mac computers. My frustration level was increasing and at one point, I said to the person sitting next to me, “ Gee, do you think we need to call Bill Gates up the road in Redmond and see if he can come down and give us better bandwidth ! “ I found out that the base had long-term challenges with internet speed.
The writer of the book of Exodus conveys a story that resonates with our modern ears. The people of Israel were at the holy mountain waiting for Moses to come back down with the tablets of the law. As humans are prone to do, they got inpatient, like looking to get out of as traffic jam on I-10 or looking for better broadband speed, they wanted something tangible and they wanted it now.
Like Jim Morrison and The Doors used to say:
“ We want the world and we want it now ! “
The next thing you know people were taking off their golden rings, necklaces and earrings and they were all melted down to create this image of a calf made out of the precious medal.
Then they said: “ These are your gods. O Israel, who brought you out of Egypt. “
The text indicates that God was not happy with this human enterprise: “ Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation. “ ( Exodus 32:10 )
The writer of Exodus suggests that there appears to be ambivalence regarding what should happen to the people of Israel. Enter Moses, whose diplomatic skills would make Madeline Albright and Colin Powell envious, when he suggests: Why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand ? Why should the Egyptians say, “ It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth. Turn from your fierce anger , relent and do not ring disaster on your people. ( Exodus 32: 11 )
We then read:
“ Then the Lord relented and did not bring upon his people the disaster that he had threatened. “ ( Exodus 32:14 ) This is one of the few instances in scripture where we learn that God changes movement and decides to do otherwise. Wow ! The power of diplomacy! What happens when people choose not to use force, but rather choose dialogue and open non-judgmental communication in order to understand one another? Clearly from the events that we have painfully witnessed this year, especially the violence in our cities, there is a great need for this kind of interaction.
What do we worship ? Is it power, wealth, domination or might it be love, compassion, and empowering others through the love of God made manifest in the person of Jesus Christ ?
It’s been said that what we worship is what we value. If one worships power with no compassion, its predictable what the end result will be, that of continued suffering. However, if one worships compassion with strength then I would argue the end result will look different. There will be the real possibility for reconciliation, forgiveness and redemption. So what will it be for you and I? Will we worship our own human powers and abilities or will we worship the eternal God who continues to promise to create all things new through the transforming presence of the Kingdom Of God?
Maybe we need a greater spiritual bandwidth, a greater sense of connectivity with the God who creates, who sustains and who redeems.
May this happen for us.
May it be so.
We pray in Jesus’ Name.
Meditation for service 10/04/2020 Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
“ What Is Our Stewardship ?”
( Isaiah 5: 1-7, Matthew 21: 33-46 )
For several years, I have tried to put in a garden at my house. There is a good size plot of ground in my back part of my property to plant vegetables. My wife and I would rototill, we would put down fertilizer, and mulch. We would plant seed no later than April and would look forward to hopefully getting some tomatoes, lettuce, maybe even some squash. Texas summers being what they are; Our yield would do well in May and June. We would get a fair number of tomatoes, lettuce and even some squash. We felt like we were being good stewards of the land. But then fourth of July would come and bam!, one hundred degree plus weather and heat would come and you guessed it -dwindling returns from the garden and items shriveling on the vine.
One year, we even had two garden specialists come out to our place and they constructed a wooden trellis with a canopy overhead which would ideally shield against the hot sun. The structure looked like something you would see in Tuscany on a huge estate. We were optimistic that this would help us have a higher yield from the garden. Alas, there wasn’t a great improvement.
Over the years, we have scaled back. This year we have planted tomatoes, squash and peppers in planters around our pool spa. We have large oak trees that provide shade in that area, and now this year, we are doing well in growing tomatoes, squash and peppers.
Sometimes, you have to prepare soil in order for things to grow. Other times seeds are thrown into the ground and plants grow, much to one’s amazement.
Matthew’s account of the parable of the tenants is a remarkable story of stewardship gone awry. The story records how a landowner builds a vineyard, builds a wall around it, and a wine press and also a watchtower.
The landowner goes away on a journey. While he is gone he sends his servants to collect the fruit of the harvest from the tenants. We read that the tenants kill his servants. Again, the landowner sends more servants than before and also they are killed. Finally, the landowner sends his own son thinking “they will respect my son “ and incredulously the son is also killed by the tenants. Matthew ends the parable with Jesus suggesting that the Kingdom Of God will be taken away from those who squander and defile and given to those who will produce its fruit. ( Matthew 21: 41).
One of my former seminary professors George Stroup used to say “the miracle of the Gospel is that it invites us to discover our own story within the Gospel story. Stroup and German theologian Hans Frei used to refer this as “ theology of story.“ I wonder today where we are in this story ? Are we the landowner concerned about the harvest or are we the tenants who want to grab as much as we can when there is the presence of vulnerability for all concerned?
According to recent rankings from US New And World Report I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Texas was ranked 40Th out of 50 regarding worst polluted states. Texas even beat out my home state of Oregon which was ranked 44Th, Washington State was ranked 21St. https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/rankings/natural-environment/pollution
This is good news. When I moved here in 1997, we were rated 50Th out of 50 for the environment.
Still these numbers beg the question what can do to become better stewards of our home, this planet earth ? What can we do to improve water quality, air quality and ecosystem balance while we contend with the consequences of global climate change? If we want to identify with the landowner in this parable, then I think that we have to recognize that there is a divine imperative that we protect the creation that our God has created.
Instead of viewing our resources as finite and therefore be prone to want to be selfish and to hoard, instead maybe we are being invited to view God’s creation as being filled with abundant resources for all, however, with the caveat to be an appropriate custodian of those resources.
So where is our stewardship here at Redeemer United Church Of Christ ? Yes, we are doing well with our budget and with our memorial fund and we can thank the generous giving of our membership as well as the expert management by those who have served as treasurers and who have managed the funds. But I want to expand the idea of stewardship further by raising another question: What does Redeemer United Church Of Christ want to do in terms of its mission outreach for ministry , not only during this Interim period but also when a new settled minister is called?
There have been churches that have embraced feeding the hungry, clothing the naked (Matthew 25:35-36 ), setting up or supporting existing food pantries, or doing the same regarding clothing drives for the needy. There have been other churches that have supported organizations like Heifer International, Bread For The World, Samaritan’s Purse proving assistance to those who lack basic necessities and who may be affected by war and/or natural disasters. Still other churches have chosen to support those who suffer from Mental Illness. The United Church Of Christ has enacted the Widening The Welcome Movement that strives to promote mental health friendly ministries within churches, and also working in concert with organizations like the National Alliance For The Mentally Ill ( NAMI ) in the effort to provide better advocacy and political legislation that will promote better and more accessible mental health services for all.
What might we do as Redeemer United Church Of Christ in our time together ? What might we do as we seek to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is here right now, transforming our very lives? As I mentioned previously, it takes a lot of skill, good soil and perhaps a lot of good luck and green thumbs in order to produce a great garden. I‘ve discovered that there is a lot of trial and error and from some previous disappointing outcomes I’ve learned that it can be easy to give up.
Yet, I believe Jesus continues to call us to work for the harvest, to throw the seeds on the good soil, not on the soil that is rocky or full of thorns and weeds.
May we be open to what God would want us to bear as fruits in our lives and in the life of our congregation, our beloved community of faith.
May what we plant always provide a great bounty now and always.
May it be so.
In Christ’s name.
Meditation for the service 09/27/2020
“ Is The Lord Among Us Or Not ? “
( Exodus 17: 1-7, Philippians 1: 21-30, Matthew 21: 23-32 )
Rev. Peter E. Bauer
When did you have to take a big risk in your life ? Maybe it was when you graduated from high school and you either went to college, joined the military or went to work ? Maybe it was when you decided that you were going to start your own business but there was the uncertainty of raising the money to make the business a reality ? Maybe for you, it was when you fell in love and you were in a relationship, but you weren’t sure if this relationship was going to be permanent or not ?
All of these examples and more can be described as “ turning points “ in our lives. If you decide one way your life could take this direction and then again if you turn the other way, the direction of our life may go somewhere else.
I remember Sophomore year in college, I was offered an opportunity that was a total surprise. I was going to school at Portland State University in Portland ,Or, living at home, I was an English and History major. My grades were really good. One day, I got a big surprise. The Los Angeles Times called me and offered me a summer internship. Wow ! what an honor- they want me ? Part of me was envisioning working in a busy newsroom. Maybe I could be the next Doyle McManus, the journalist who has covered global affairs for the paper.
However, there was a stumbling block. How much would I get paid and where in God’s name would I live in Los Angeles ? I had been to LA before and I knew it was a huge place. I wondered if I could make it ? I wondered if I would be safe ? My hesitancy got the best of me and regrettably I turned down the offer.
I can relate to the people of Israel who were wandering in the desert. They wanted to get to the promised land. They wanted to be in the land flowing with milk and honey, maybe even have an ocean view.
Yet the reality that was evident for them was not encouraging,
“The writer of Exodus notes:
“ But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said.
Why did you bring us out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?
You can’t blame them for being concerned. Water is essential for human life. Here in South Texas, we are acutely aware of this, especially when there are proposals for pipelines carrying petroleum products that may traverse ecologically sensitive lands.
The people of Israel were concerned. They were concerned about their safety and welfare. Like me, they were asking the question, where will I live, maybe not in LA, but nevertheless where will I live ?
The writer of Exodus then asserts that Moses was asked to walk ahead of the people. He was asked to walk with his staff out to the rock of Horeb “ Strike the rock and water will come out of it for the people to drink. He does this and lo and behold there is water for the people to drink.
A year later, another opportunity came by way. This time, I was awarded a fellowship to spend the summer in Ashland Oregon attended three academic seminars sponsored by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Southern Oregon College. This time I was determined to go, even though Ashland is a good five hour drive away from Portland.
The summer weather in Ashland was glorious. I attended Shakespeare seminars and lectures during the day, wrote a few papers, attended theater every night, and talked with professors over drinks after the theater performances.
Indeed, life was good !
As a result of that summer, I went back to Portland and thought about where I wanted to go to seminary. I thought why not apply for schools in the East and one in Southern California ? I applied to Princeton Theological Seminary, The University Of Chicago and Clairemont School Of Theology. I got accepted into two out of three with the first one offering me a full scholarship.
Is the Lord among us or not ? Some of those who listened to Jesus asked this same question. Matthew relates that some asked : Where does he get this authority from heaven or from humankind ? Jesus doesn’t really answer their question. Instead he describes this strange parable of the two sons. One is asked to go work in the vineyard and at first he refuses and then he decides to go. The other son says yes I’ll go work but then does not show up. Jesus challenges the legalism of his audience regarding what it means to respond to the reality of God’s Kingdom.
Right now, it would be more than reasonable for someone to ask “ Is the Lord among us or not ? “ given everything that is happening in the world. Jesus invites us live in the Kingdom Of God which makes all things new. Sometimes there are surprises regarding God’s revelation for you and I Sometimes there will be challenges
How will I live in LA ?
How will I live in my life ?
May the love and the grace of God always inform us that our God is one who is with us in all times and in all places: in our life, in our death and in our life beyond death.
Yes, the Lord is among us now and always.
May it be so. Amen
“ The Divine Economy “
( Exodus 16: 2-15, Johan 3:10-4:11, Matthew 20:L 1-16 )
This week, a new chapter in the faith history of Redeemer United Church Of Christ (Zuehl ) Marion, TX has begun. A long pastorate of eleven years by Rev. Lee Zillmann and his wife Sharon has ended the new interim ministry with Rev. Peter Bauer has begun. New beginnings include both the process of reflecting back at what has been achieved and to look forward to what God would have us to do for the future.
I must say that I have been impressed with what Redeemer United Church Of Christ has accomplished in its ministry to this community and beyond. Your faithfulness has been manifested in your steady high attendance in worship, your desire to grow more in the knowledge of God’s word and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. You have supported well the work of the larger United Church Of Christ by supporting Our Church Wider Mission of the United Church Of Christ.
Redeemer United Church Of Christ has been a beacon of light here in the Zuehl community and beyond now for over one hundred years !
Now here we are again at another moment of change.
Bob Dylan reminds us:
The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin'
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'
When we are honest with ourselves, a lot of us do not like change. We want things to stay the same. We want the certainty of being with our family, being with our friends and being with those we love. These sentiments are quite understandable and good.
Redeemer United Church Of Christ has a lot of family togetherness and connectedness. A lot of people in our society today long for this type of community and affiliation.
What is striking about the biblical texts that we have heard read today is that they all point to another understanding of faith and community.
The Hebrew people who found themselves wandering in the wilderness, according to the writer of Exodus, longed for the flesh pots of Egypt, they longed for security even though they didn’t what came with that security.
I realized this , along with others, when during the Spring months of March and April 2020 I would go shopping at the store for the relentless search for toilet paper. I will never forget those feelings of concern and alarm when I would roll my shopping cart down aisles that were completely bare of needed supplies. I felt helpless and alone.
Not unlike the people of Israel as they languished in the desert or for that matter Jonah who was determined to preach God’s message of repentance to the people of Nineveh, only to feel thwarted and then go through the indignity of being thrown overboard by desperate shipmates into a raging sea, being swallowed by a whale and then being vomited[BPE1] up on shore.
Needless to say, it was not a good day for Jonah.
Matthew’s rendering of the parable of the workers in the vineyard is also starting and disturbing for us. What is this that the person who works for one hour gets the same wage as the person who has worked all day ?
That’s not fair ?
That strikes at the heart of our Protestant work ethic.
If you work hard, you should reap the benefits of your labor.
Yes, that may be true and yet God calls us
To be about a “ different economy “ a divine economy, where there is no hunger, where there is no want. Where everyone will get their basic needs of food, water, clothing, shelter met and where everyone will be able to sit under their own fig tree.
Today, you and I as partners interim minister and congregation, are embarked on masking this divine economy a reality here at Redeemer United Church Of Christ. You and I will work together to think and articulate what a new mission might look like for Redeemer.
What would God have us to do in this new time and place for the life of this congregation?
My prayer is that you will join us in this journey and is this discovery together.
May it be so in Christ’s Name.
15th Sunday after Pentecost September 13, 2020
Scriptures: Old Testament: Psalm 114; Epistle: Romans 14:1-12; Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35
Meditation Title: “God’s Extravagant Forgiveness”
The story is told that a baseball umpire was running late getting to a baseball game for which he was to be an umpire. Sure enough, driving down the highway, he gets pulled over by a policeman for driving too fast. The umpire pleaded saying that he had to be an umpire for a baseball game, and with difficulties in his family, he was running late. He also said that he had always been a safe, careful driver and that this was the first time that he had ever been pulled over by a law officer. Well, as you would know it, the policeman wouldn’t buy it. He just told the driver to tell his story to the judge and gave him a whopping ticket with a hefty fine! Well, two months later, the umpire was working a baseball game and guess who was first to come up to bat? Yes, you got it, the policeman who gave him the whopper ticket! When the officer came up to the plate, he then recognized the umpire, and the umpire recognized the policeman! Oh dear, the officer thought. Quickly, the officer wanted forgiveness and quietly asked, “How did the thing with the ticket and the judge go?” With a mean look on his face, the umpire told the officer (now batter), “You better swing with everything you got!” Obviously, the umpire was out for REVENGE!
Well, we have all been there. We have been slow to forgive and let go of a grudge, and we have been on the other side of the fence wanting forgiveness from others. Forgiveness is a big problem in our lives. There have been persons who have wronged us and it is so, so difficult to let go of our feelings of anger, resentment and even hatred. Even Simon Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord how many times shall I forgive my brother who has sinned against me?” “Up to seven times?” Peter said this because Jewish law had it that a person was to forgive a person three times, and Peter upped it to seven times. However, Jesus said, “No, seventy times seven,” which really meant to forgive over and over and over again. For many Christians, forgiving people who have hurt them is the biggest obstacle to their mental, emotional, and spiritual well being.
In “The Science of Influence, How to Inspire Yourself and Others to Greatness,” business guru Brian Tracy tells about a man who was at his wits end in life. He had been raised in a dysfunctional family; he didn’t get along with his siblings. He had a bad marriage, was cheated by a business partner, lost all his money, and now, he was quite sick. He was given only six months to live. To this, his doctor said quite bluntly, “You are going to die. Your system in like a worn-out car. Everything is shot.” So, the doctor told him the best medicine that he could give him was to make peace with himself and with whomever he was unhappy with in life. The doctor confronted the man about his anger. The man was angry with many people. The doctor told him that he needed to “let it all go.” So, for six months, he either called by phone or traveled miles and miles asking for forgiveness and forgiving others whom he thought had wronged him. He also put all his affairs in order, he wrote his last will and testament, and he sold all his property. But, strangely, the more he traveled and the more he forgave others, his health got better and better. At the end of six months, he went back to his doctor. The doctor couldn’t believe it. The doctor said, “You have no more symptoms; you are completely well!” Not only was his health restored, but he began excelling in his work. He was feeling great toward himself and others. It is amazing what forgiveness had done for him. It is also amazing what forgiveness can do for us, as well. However, forgiveness is not easy, but there is a secret to it. Jesus shares with us the answer.
We have to realize that for our mistakes, sins, and wrong-doings, Jesus is always willing to forgive us if we are sincere. Since Jesus died on a cross to forgive us, he paid a huge price for our forgiveness. In the Lord’s prayer, we also pray for the forgiveness of sins. In particular, we are used to saying, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” but this can also be translated into, “forgive us our sins as we forgive the sins of others.” Through Christ, God forgives our sins, and we are set free to live a new life. We are free from the bondage of sin. We are free to live a new life free from anger, resentment, and hurt. We can “let it all go.” As we have been forgiven, we also must forgive others. God’s forgiveness is extravagant! It is amazing! We need to live out His forgiveness, and likewise forgive others.
Now taking this a step farther, who in your life do you need to forgive? (pause) What have you done that is really eating away at you that you need to ask God for forgiveness? (pause) Well, whatever it is, forgiveness is there for you and for me. That is a promise from a forgiving, loving God, through His Son, Jesus.
I want to close this meditation with my most favorite story. I have shared it before with you in previous sermons, but it bears telling again. If you remember it, that is good. If you don’t remember it, you need to hear it. I first heard it from the Rev. Richard Kuretsch, who was once pastor here at Redeemer years ago. He told this story at one of our Thursday morning Pastors’ Bible Study Group.
The story is of a young man who had difficulties relating to his family. He had a strained relationship with his parents. He never really got along with his brothers and sisters. He ended up in a big argument with his family. So, he packed up his belongings and left town. He got a job in another town, and was doing well; however, he missed his family and wished that he could see them. Many years passed. His heart was aching to share with his family. He sat down and wrote a letter to his parents and family stating that he would like to see them again. He said that he would take a train to his home town, and since the train tracks ran right behind his parents’ home, if they wanted to see him again, they should hang a white towel on the clothes line. If there were no white towel on the line that meant that they did not want to see him, and he would just keep riding on the train and not get off.
Well, the day came, and as the train rounded the corner toward his parents’ home, he strained his neck to see if there was a white towel on the wash line. When he got closer, he saw the parents’ house. What a surprise! Not only was there a white towel on the line, but everything white in the house was hanging on the line -- white pillow cases, white sheets, white shirts, blouses, and dresses. Not only was there one white towel, there were wash lines full of everything white that the family could find in the house. And so, the young man got off the train….
That is how extravagant God’s love and forgiveness is for you and for me.
14th Sunday after Pentecost September 6, 2020
Scriptures: Old Testament: Psalm 119:33-40;
Epistle: Romans 13:8-14; Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20
Meditation Title: “Building Walls or Building Bridges?”
I personally watch very little television; it’s just not for me. However, sometimes later in the evening, I will watch some of the old re-runs of The Twilight Zone or The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. They have some very interesting vignettes of mystery stories. In one similar story, this group of people were here on earth one minute and in the next, they were in some far-off, mysterious place. They were in some imaginative, remote place in some other time. The people kept asking, “Where are we?” “Why are we in this place?” “What is our purpose here?” “What are we supposed to do?” In the midst of all these unanswered questions, one of the actors noticed some building materials and some concrete blocks. They all say, “That’s what we are here for – to build something!” However, they did not know what they were to build. One suggested a swimming pool. Another one wanted to build a clubhouse. And yet, another wanted to build a hospital or clinic. Just then, they observed that they were not alone in this imaginary place, but that there were other people there also. Immediately, fear took over, and they proceeded to build a high wall to protect themselves and to keep the others out! The more they built the wall, the more they became afraid of the “outside” people. Finally, they built this huge, insurmountable wall. At that point, they noticed a “stranger” headed their way. The stranger tells them that he is an architect and builder, and that he had blueprints that are supposed to show them what to build. The architect/builder sees what they have built, and he tells them that they have it all wrong. They were not to build a wall around themselves. They were supposed to build a bridge – a bridge to bring the people together, not a wall to keep them out.
Now, let’s take an inward look at our lifestyles. Is it our nature to build walls or is it our nature to build bridges? Do we go around criticizing and spreading seeds of disharmony (in other words building walls) OR do we try to be caring and spreading seeds of harmony, (in other words building bridges?) Do we like to agitate and irritate others (building walls) OR do we possess a soothing, calming spirit (building bridges?) Do we like to pick out other’s faults (building walls) OR do we try to affirm others’ accomplishments (building bridges?) What kind of a person are we really? Again, do we build bridges to bring people together in harmony or are we building walls of disharmony and division?
The bottom line of our Gospel lesson this morning is: If we earnestly seek to build bridges, if we earnestly seek to live in harmony with others, if we earnestly seek to lift up the good in others, then, Jesus IS in our midst. For Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, THERE I am also.”
In truth that is what the church should be all about. The church, at its best, fosters a sense of community among people who may come from different backgrounds and who may even hold different ideas or thoughts. We, in the church, did not choose each other, No! But once we are together in fellowship, it is our responsibility to be a caring, loving community.
Yes, we need one another. It’s comforting to know that in times of need, we can lean on others and readily feel their support in the church and in our lives. That is why we need to be accepting of others, regardless of our differing thoughts and ideas. If there is a difference of opinions, we need to earnestly reconcile with each other; then, Jesus IS in our midst.
Evidently, in Jesus time, there was disharmony in his religious community. That is why this scripture passage was evidently written. Down through the ages, the church has always had to deal with disagreeing thoughts. However, by the grace and power of the living Christ, we can overcome our disagreements. Rev. Roland Pantermuehl once commented, “The church has existed in spite of its people!” We are God’s people. We are his family. We Christians are all family. I know that sometimes that is hard to believe, but it is true. Therefore, we should always strive for peace, harmony, and unity. If there is strife or disagreement, we must make peace, climb the wall, and build the bridge.
We need one another. More importantly, we need to know that Christ is in our midst – “where two or three have gathered in my name.” Therefore, let us join hands and hearts in unity and love. Then truly, Christ is in our midst.
13th Sunday after Pentecost August 30, 2020
Scriptures: Old Testament: Psalm 26:1-8;
Epistle: Romans 12:9-21; Gospel: Matthew 16:21-28
Meditation Title: “There Is a Hunger in All of Us for Something Better in Life.”
I learned to drive at a very young age. With my grandparents’ farm, there was always a tractor or truck or whatever to drive. I was operating vehicles when I could barely reach the pedals or see over the steering wheel. I am sure that a lot of you can identify with that. When it came to Drivers’ Ed., I had long been driving. One of my best attributes was, and still is, parallel parking. Sharon never could get over the fact that I could parallel park a car in a small space and only have a couple of feet between the car in front and the car in the back. But now, have you seen the Buick car commercial where the young teenager is taking a driving test to get his drivers’ license, and it comes to the point of parallel parking? The test proctor tells the young man to parallel park, and the teenager just pushes a button on the dash, and the vehicle automatically parallel parks with no effort from the driver! We even have cars now days that can be programmed to drive to a certain location WITHOUT a driver! Uber has some of those vehicles to transport people. All you have to do is sit back and let it go. Well, I suspect that many of us like to live our lives like that.
We don’t want to put much effort into those things that help us make the best of life. “Que sera, sera, whatever will be will be…” (like the lines of the old song) … just sit back and let life go. However, my friends, there is a hunger in all of us for something better in life. All of us get so caught up in life, doing this, doing that, watching out for the unexpected, guarding, protecting – especially in these day with the COVID-19 Coronavirus. Life is impacting us from all sides. Remember the old pin-ball machines that entertainment businesses used to have? Well, we feel like the steel ball being bounced around from one target to another. With so much going on in our busy lives today, we faintly hear Jesus’ call to follow him for a meaningful, fulfilling life. Truly, we spend so much time every day running here, running there, doing this, that, and the other, and we spend so little time with what is most important, and that is, tending to and feeding our spiritual lives.
In essence, we get so busy living our lives and meeting all the deadlines that we get used to living a second-rate life. To compound all of this, we are living in the days of a pandemic where over 30 per cent of people are truly suffering from some type of medical, mental depression. And thus, the question for us today is: Isn’t it time for us to seek a better way of life – to seek excellence in living? Yes, truly, we need to take out time for those things in life that are rejuvenating and regenerating. Maybe, we need to put less effort into running all the bases in the world and put more effort into our spiritual lives which is really what gives meaning, importance, and purpose to our daily living.
What are we looking for in life? In life, we need something solid to hold onto. In everyday living we need “that something” that will give our lives stability as we go through all the valleys and hills of life. We need a way of life that will help us raise our families productively and keep families together. We need a way of life that will help us relate to our neighbors – which sometimes is hard to do! We need something to help us get “in touch” with ourselves, relate to ourselves, and find out who we truly are. Sometimes, often-times, we are looking in all the wrong places!
Jesus, the Master Teacher, has the answer to our life’s dilemma. He says, “Come to me all of you who are burdened and heavy-laden, and I will give you life.” These are words from our Holy Communion Service. Jesus says, “Come to me if you want a good life, for I have the words of life.” He assures us that in all circumstances, He will give us comfort, strength, meaning, and purpose in life. “For to live in me, is life,” says our Lord.
However, we follow the luring of the world. The world tells us that we can find happiness and joy in amassing more and more possessions, regardless of how far we go into debt. Society says that we should try to own more and have bigger, better paying jobs, etc. However, all this really cannot bring us happiness; it just brings us more worries and headaches. That is what Jesus was talking about in our Gospel Lesson when he said, “What does it profit a person if he/she gains the whole world, but loses his/her own life.” And so, we need to be faithful and listen to his call.
So, we need to ask ourselves the question: Are we channeling our energy toward Jesus and the wholeness and fulness of life that He can offer, OR are we channeling all of our energy into the expectations of family, jobs, and the wishes of the world? We need to think and pray about this. If we truly want life, good life now and eternal life later, we need to follow and make time to strengthen our faith and trust in Jesus the Christ. Let us take up our cross and follow Him.