Thanksgiving Reflection 2018: Princeton Community Thanksgiving Service

Rev. Jenny Smith Walz

Rev. Jenny Smith Walz gave her Thanksgiving Reflection for 2018 at the Princeton Community Thanksgiving Service held on November 22, 2018. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We know that practicing gratitude is beneficial to our health and well-being. Well documented:

● Better physical health

● Better mental health

● Less anger, more empathy

● Better sleep

● Better self-esteem

● Better emotional and mental resilience (deal with stress and recover from trauma)

● Better and more relationships

I believe there’s far more to gratitude than even this. Something beyond benefits to our own individual minds, hearts, and bodies. Something that moves us corporately, communally, into a different realm, a different way of being and of being together. Something that is even world changing. 

I think of images of gratitude from my tradition. They are full of song and dance. Running and joy. Eating and sharing. Freedom and transformation. 

● I see Miriam and all of the Hebrew women dancing and singing with timbrels on the other side of sea after leaving Egypt and Pharaoh and slavery behind.

● I hear the song of Moses after the sea closes behind him, both horse and driver having been hurled into the sea, in awe over this exodus God has accomplished.

● I see the unnamed Samaritan woman at the well leaving her water jar behind, running to the others in her village telling them how she has met one who has seen and knows her and LOVES her with compassion and hope and healing she’s never before known.

● I see Peter jumping out of a boat on the sea of Galilee after the risen Christ has appeared to him and the other disciples. After a miserable night of fishing, catching nothing, the risen Christ provides an abundant catch and then invites them to eat with him on the shore. Peter doesn’t wait for the boat to reach shore, he jumps off and swims, eager to greet his teacher.

● I see the early Christian community sharing all they have, eating together, caring for one another because God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them, adjusting their whole structure and practice to care for the widows when it came to be known they weren’t getting enough to eat. 

See, when gratitude is at work it changes not just our minds and hearts and bodies. It changes our whole society, our whole communal life together. When we practice gratitude, we are also living in the freedom and joy and abundant life of God’s realm. 

 

There are things that compete, however, for that same place in our hearts where gratitude dwells. One of the key competitors for the attention of our hearts is something none of us are immune to: consumerism. If your mailbox and inbox are anything like mine, those retailers we have relationships with have been gearing us up for the holiday shopping season for several weeks now. Today, I opened a Thanksgiving message from a Christian mom-blogger, and inside, to my dismay, were tips on saving even more money on Black Friday and throughout the season, and in a way that actually earned her MORE money. 

Friends we are so immersed in consumer culture, we hardly even know how deep in it we are. We have financial stake in it ourselves as our companies work to end the year as far ahead as possible, as we hope for the big bonuses. We have been shaped such that wish lists for Christmas are normal. And our wants are fed like starving dogs. And the messages all around tell us that we are lacking, our children need more, our households are incomplete, and our lives would be better, easier, free-er, more comfortable, more satiated if only we bought, had, acquired more, more, more. We are sure that we are not enough, and buying more will help solve this spiritual trouble. And not only this, but we are serving our country by spending, by growing the economy. 

But this, friends, runs counter to the heart of each of our faiths, each of our deeper spiritual wisdom and knowledge. God did not make us consumers. God made us receivers and givers. God made us dependent on God and one another, despite all of our behavior to the contrary. 

It’s gratitude, however, that deep gratitude that causes us to dance and sing. That causes us to run and jump out of boats. That causes us to eat and share and be generous and compassionate with one another. This kind of gratitude, it is powerful stuff. When practiced whole-heartedly, consistently, persistently, this kind of gratitude shatters the whole illusion that our consumer culture holds before our eyes and our appetites. And behind it reveals true freedom and joy – freedom from fear, from scarcity, from captivity, from envy, and greed, from avarice and illusion.

May we each discover this kind of gratitude today and the source of it as well. 

Morris West encourages us as well. He says, “At a certain age our lives simplify and we need have only three phrases left in our spiritual vocabulary: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

May we sing songs of doxology and praise. May we dance with joy and abundance. May we run toward the source of life and the giver of every good gift. May we share generously with one another and in doing so proclaim “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” to the God who gives us all we ever needed.

May it be so today and in all the days to come. 

Amen. 

 

 

Sermon: “God’s Home: Sacrifice Lives Here”

On November 11, 2018, the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Jenny Smith Walz preached a sermon titled  “Sacrifice Lives Here” from the series ‘God’s Home’. Her text is from Mark 12: 38-44 and Hebrews 9:24-28.

To hear the sermon live, go to the Princeton United Methodist Church Facebook page

Also the sermon will be podcast soon on this webpage under the category “worship”.

 

 

 

As we look around today – here and elsewhere – what draws our attention? Who draws our attention?

Jesus and disciples sitting in the Temple observing. It’s easy to see the Scribes of the Temple doing their ritual thing. It’s easy to see the grandeur of the temple itself, its large stones. It’s not so easy to see the widow who is giving her two tiny lepta coins – it’s easy to overlook her, but it’s also hard to really see her because she exposes something in us we don’t particularly like to see. (but we’ll get to that in a moment).  What or who draws your attention – this morning while in worship, but also as you go about your day?

 

 

Taking a tour of God’s Home – Yes, God is everywhere. Particularly focusing on the Kingdom of God /Kin-dom. Peace, sharing, balance, let God be our God, love lives here. So does sacrifice.

Sacrifice – really risky to talk about because in today’s world sacrifice often means something very different from an act of devotion or worship, which it’s Latin roots would indicate it means. Comes from:  “sacred” and “to make” – sacrifice is something of value offered as an act of devotion or worship to God. 

In the US often it means: 

  • ● giving up more than should be given up;
  • ● asking those in the working class and those who are poor to bear the weight of tax cuts that benefit those who are wealthier; 
  • ● it often means expecting people to stay in exploitative situations in the name of
    • ○ virtue or
    • ○ some diminished concept of love
    • ○ the American Dream
    • ○ in order to just get by
  • ● It often carries an expectation of loss of self, sometimes in the hope of gaining power or reward or favor as a result;
  • ● Our non-sacred version of sacrifice often means holding up women like the widow in our story as a beautiful example without looking a little more closely.

She is where a lot of women in our world end up (Karoline Lewis reminds us) – sandwiched between violence and power. She is overlooked. Partly because she is exactly where she’s expected to be and where people in power like to keep her, lest they end up like her. It’s easy for us to look around this story and observe the widow and identify with her, even though few, if any, of us will actually do what she is doing. She is giving everything she has away. Everything. She’s completely trusting God and the system in which she lives.  Rather we are much more likely to overlook the widows of our day as the Scribes are so good at doing. We don’t want to be powerless like her. And we are afraid that to actually help her might demand the kind of sacrifice she demonstrates. 

It’s tricky because Sacrifice does indeed live here in God’s Kin-dom. Yet, it’s so easy for that sacrifice to fall off the thin edge into exploitation at the hands of us who are terrified to sacrifice in the ways God actually asks, terrified to sacrifice our own power or position or privilege or security or wealth. Not unlike the particular Scribes Jesus is observing that day. No one was going to overlook them! These were men who had PhDs in the law of Moses, the Torah. They were credentialed specialists. They were the insiders at the temple, among the Jerusalem elite. And their power is given largely by Rome at this stage in history. They were not easily overlooked because the system was designed to entice our attention toward them. 

We, like the Scribes Jesus is observing, love our power and our symbols of it – long robes, long prayers, public adoration, best seats in the temple and at the banquet table. 

What symbols of power, position, privilege, wealth do you wear? Which ones help you and others know your position in the world? What might it mean for us to take them off?

This is the last scene of Jesus’s public ministry. This is the last week of Jesus’s life. Not long after this, Jesus will sit with his disciples and take off his robe. He will take on the role of a servant and wash the feet of his disciples. He will tell them to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another.  No one has greater love than this to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. I have called you friends. 

 

Jesus gave his whole self as a sacrifice, He died, gave himself over to death. He did this without losing himself – he didn’t become less of Jesus, less Christ, less son of God. Yet he gave up his power. He allowed others to have power over him. And he did this all in love – an act of love, laying down his life for his friends. 

Sacrifice is about giving away power for the sake of love that others might be free and have life more fully.  It’s about offering ourselves fully, our whole selves, that we might make our lives sacred.

What draws the attention of God?  Sacrifice. Not because God needs it or demands it or because God is keeping score. In that temple – Jesus is telling his disciples – right here in my presence and in this widow’s, you find yourself in God’s home. Because here’s where sacrifice lives, whole trust, love of God, 

What robes of power are you being invited to take off, to sacrifice today?

Who needs you to lay down power and privilege and your own safety such that he or she might be able to live more fully, more freely? To whom is God sending you to love in this most difficult and powerful way?

Sermon “Miracles Everywhere: Believing”

On the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, October 21, 2018, Pastor Jenny Smith Walz preached from the sermon series ‘Miracles Everywhere’ on the topic “Believing”. Her text is from John 9:1-12 (Healing the Man Born Blind – He Has to Go and Wash) and  Mark 2:1-12 (Friends Carry Paralyzed Man to Jesus).

To hear the sermon live, go to the Princeton United Methodist Church Facebook page

Also the sermon will be podcast soon on this webpage under the category “worship”.

According to Batterson

Jewish rabbis distinguished between a good eye and a bad eye.

A bad eye turned a blind eye toward the poor.

A good eye referred to a person’s ability to see and seize every opportunity to be a blessing toward others.

Greg Stielstra story from PyroMarketing

In a study involving a group of Americans who haven’t been to Mexico and a group of Mexicans who haven’t been to America, researchers used a binocular-like device with an image of baseball in one eye and an image of bullfighting in the other. When asked what they had seen, Mexicans typically saw bullfighting, and Americans saw baseball. We often see what we know, what we’ve experienced, what we expect.

Seeing is a miracle in and of itself.

Even the simplest process in the eye is enormously complex.  The retina conducts close to 10 billion calculations every second, before an image even travels through the optic nerve to the visual cortex.

Day 42 after conception – the first neuron is formed in a baby’s brain. By birth a baby will have an estimated 86 billion brain cells. Brain begins to form neuronal connections called synapses. By six months old, each brain cell has about 18 thousand connections.

Millions of neurons are firing across billions of neuropathways every second of every day.

Babies at birth – vision is no better than 20/200. Can’t focus on anything farther than 12″ away. 8 months – babies can see almost as well as we can. During that process – windows of opportunity open and close. Vision is wired between birth and 18 months. Synaptogenesis in visual cortex peaks at 2 months.

If patch is placed over eye of a newborn and left there during first few years of life, baby would be blind for rest of life in that eye, even if that eye was perfectly normal. No synapses would be formed between the visual cortex and optical nerve. Irreversible.

Not only is this the process for physically seeing, but also being able to create images in our mind’s eye based on our experiences and memory. Mountain. House. Family. School. These words bring up images in our minds that aren’t generic, but are actual images / impressions of places we’ve experienced that have meaning for us. This man born blind didn’t have these images or even ones of mom or dad.

For the Man born blind the whole chapter is a saga, fiasco, a big deal.

Disciples – who sinned?

Neighbors – is this the same man?

Pharisees – Jesus must be the sinner here

Parents – brought in and questioned

Man – questioned more

Jesus and the Man – who’s really blind…

The Blind Man received a set of instructions: Go to the pool of Siloam and wash. We don’t know exactly how far he had to go, but  it seems he would have descended hundreds of steps, and this miracle happened during the Feast of Tabernacles, so he would have bumped into thousands of pilgrims. Why? Why not just heal him on the spot? Seems unnecessary!!

Pool of Siloam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is this Story by Bishop William Frey. He volunteered to tutor a student who was blind since age thirteen, as a result of a chemical explosion. The student felt like life was over and was feeling sorry for himself. One day his dad said – “John, winter’s coming and the storm windows need to be up – that’s your job. I want those hung by the time I get back this evening.” He pretended to walk out of the room. John got angry – he was so angry he decided to do it – “when I fall they’ll have a blind and paralyzed son!”  He didn’t fall! He discovered he was capable of doing far more than he realized, even with blind eyes.  In reality, dad was never more than 5 feet away. He made sure John was safe, but knew that helplessness was a far worse curse than blindness.                                                                                                                        

Jesus didn’t just heal his blind eyes. He restored his dignity by not leaving him helpless. Most miracles require an act of obedience. Somehow, God keeps calling us, inviting us to be miracle workers with God.

Last week we were invited us to put on God-Vision Goggles in order to see what God is up to. This week, not only our GHE and our GSS, but also to become partners with God in making happen Miracles Everywhere.

I’ve been talking about miracles as experiences of God’s love, power, presence, and purpose, inviting us to open our eyes to a whole huge wide world or miracles.

Even though miracles are all about God – they are experiences of God, they are signposts to God. And while they always affect and change the people they happen to, they are even more about God and about the trust fostered in God as the miracle happens.  

When we think about miracles, we tend to think about God being the doer. And that is true of course. But it’s not the whole story. Think about the miracles that we read about in scripture…… Let’s name some…..and the way humans were part of it.

  • Mark’s paralyzed man – friends carried
  • water into wine – stewards, Mary
  • walking on water – xxx
  • healing paralytic – friends carried on a mat
  • feeding 5000 – boy with fish and bread, disciples
  • raising Lazarus – unwrapping by disciples
  • Moses – parting water
  • healing – faith has made you well
  • resurrection – xxx
  • burning bush – Moses to see it
  • Elijah and widow of Zarephath – flour didn’t run out, then healed son – Elijah
  • walls of Jericho – Joshua and crew
  • creation – xxx

In New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy

  • Nearly 12K volunteers rebuilt over 250 houses
  • immediately after people provided over 50K meals
  • gave 5000 people shelter
  • Mucked out 2000 homes
  • provided 11K flood buckets
  • 3000 Health kits
  • provided tons of clothing, blankets, heaters, etc.

In Africa – Imagine No Malaria

  • cut mortality rate by 60%
  • 4 million nets provided
  • 61 health facilities renovated
  • 2.7 million people treated, averting 6.8 million deaths
  • 175 structures treated
  • 1000 community health workers trained

See you are no less spectacular than any of these other helpers. God works every day with people. God has given you time, talent, treasure, gifts, passions, and a GOOD EYE. Take a moment – what are you seeing with your GVG? hearing with your GHE? With your Good Eye? See and seize every opportunity to bless others, to be a miracles worker! To be a partner of God!

 

Sermon “Miracles Everywhere: Seeing”

On October 14, 2018, Pastor Jenny Smith Walz preached from the sermon series ‘Miracles Everywhere’ on the topic “Seeing”. Her text is from Mark 10:46-52 (Blind Bartimaeus – “Rabbi, I want to see”) and 1 Kings 19:11-13 (Elijah – God passes by in the gentle whisper).

How have you experienced God lately?

We are looking for miracles this month.

Mircales Everywhere

For some this is easy and natural. For many of us this is quite foreign. God is everywhere, but not obvious. Seeing takes practice. Speaking about what we have seen also takes practice. That’s why we need our God-Vision-Goggles.

Miracles are those events that bring people from darkness into light. They turn our attention to what really matters in life and in death. Miracles point beyond the one before us to the One who made us for love’s sake. Miracle means the activity of God. (R Bultmann)
Miracles are our experiences of God’s love, power, presence, and purpose.

What’s the miracle here? – of course Bartimaeus’ sight is restored. But there’s more than meets the eye:
Nearing the end of Mark – last healing miracle in the gospel, next to last miracle.
End of a whole section where sight is the issue. Christ confronts Bartimaeus’ physical blindness, but he’s also working on the spiritual blindness of his disciples.
You notice they are trying to keep Bartimaeus from Christ. They are trying to protect Jesus, but haven’t fully figured out that he doesn’t need this kind of protection. This kind of protection goes against the very kind of Messiah he is. He is about healing, unity, reconciliation, love for all people, not just a few chosen ones.

The spiritual blindness of his closest followers who have failed to fully grasp the upside-down kingdom that Christ has brought near.
Earlier in this chapter – James and John ask Jesus to grant them a favor. Jesus asks “What do you want me to do for you?” The very same question he asks Bartimaeus when he cries out for Jesus and finally gets direct access to him. “What do you want me to do for you?”

Disciples: one sit at left hand, one at right in your glory. Bartimaeus: let me see again.
Disciples: sidestep suffering. Bartimaeus: born out of loss, exclusion, helplessness.
The disciples are blind to the reality that in Christ the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, all discover their freedom. Blind to the reality that Christ is the kind of messiah who goes to the poor, the dirty, the obnoxious, the most desperate, most broken, most troubled, most defeated, most rejected ones.
Somehow Bartimaeus sees that Christ is the Messiah. But he too sees only in part.
He’s regained his physical sight at the word of Jesus, and can now do nothing else but follow him! He has experienced God’s power, presence, love, and purpose right in this miraculous moment, and so he goes, follows this one who have him his freedom.
The very next chapter is the Triumphal Entry – they are about to walk into Jerusalem in a grand processional, and every one of those Jesus supporters that day expected a Messianic revolt to commence under the generalship of Jesus of Nazareth.

Instead they will see him suffer, be rejected, die. Their world will be turned upside-down and inside-out. In witnessing all of this, and ultimately the resurrection of Christ, their blindness will be healed. They will be able to see who the God revealed in Jesus actually is. In his resurrection Christ gives his followers eyes to see the good news of God’s ongoing reign.
The work of Christ is seeking to cure the spiritual blindness of his disciples.
Not even the blindness of his closest followers can impede the work of Christ in the world

Eddie in Puerto Rico
I saw a miracle in him, and he told me about miracles he’s experienced.
Going to church. He went because he was invited. He’s a skateboarder, and spends his time on the streets, in skate parks. One day a friend of his asked him to go to church. eventually he went – for a while. Then he faded away again.
He heard God say to him – you need to go back to church. And so he did.
I asked him what was different about his life after being part of a faith community. Everything. How he thinks, how he feels, his relationships, his friends, his family, how he spends his time and money. He feels a call to ministry- possibly to be a missionary. For now he’s working with ReHace. He’s experiencing relief as he manages his Type 1 Diabetes – diagn in Jan. He’s inviting his friends from the skatepark, off the street to come to church, to meet Jesus, to see something he’s been able to see only for a short time himself. But enough time that he’s experienced his own eyes able to see in ways they never have before.
He’s catching flack from his church members about hanging out with the skater kids. But to me it sounds as if he sees something those church insiders don’t, much like the disciples. He’s been given sight and freedom, and now he must follow. He talks to his friends about Jesus, about the miracles he’s experiencing. He invites them to church. Sometimes they come and sometimes they don’t. That doesn’t stop him from talking about the miracles he’s experienced.

Let’s look for Miracles Everywhere:
Prayer – My teacher, Jesus, Let me see again.
Small – ordinary – your breath, the people, another day, glimpses of a bird or a butterfly or a squirrel – ordinary things, yet you notice something more – recognize that life is of God, beauty is a gift from God, a reminder, an assurance, some hope, some comfort. God does not reveal himself in the wind, the fire, the earthquake with Elijah – it’s the sound of sheer silence. The opposite of what we might assume.

Relationships – Pay attention to service, acts of mercy, small sacrifices, what we do for love
Brokenness – Pay attention not just to success, but to failure. Pay attention to what is broken. Pay attention to the broken pieces, the shards, the tears, and to joy. Pay attention to what, and who, needs healing. Pay attention to what is bent over. Miriam – learned music from a woman who could no longer talk, much less sing.

Put on your God-Vision-Goggles. What miracles have you seen?

Stewardship
Bartimaeus couldn’t help but follow this one who had given him sight
When we are able to see Miracles Everywhere, we realize all is gift, and we too can do nothing but follow this one who pours out gifts upon us
Our response is to follow to give.

Sermon “A Potato, A Fish, and Bread: How Big Is Your Faith”

On World Communion Sunday, October 7, 2018, Pastor Gerri Fowler preached on the topic “A Potato, A Fish, and Bread: How Big Is Your Faith? “ Her text was Mark 9: 30-37.

To hear the sermon live, go to the Princeton United Methodist Church Facebook page

Also the sermon will be podcast soon on this webpage under the category “worship”.

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Sometimes Mark’s Gospel sounds like it is the Reader’s Digest Condensed Version. The word “immediately” is frequently used and it leaves us breathless in following Jesus as he moves through his ministry here on earth. Jesus and his disciples are on a private journey to Capernaum. Jesus wanted to teach them those things they needed to know while he was still with them. It was nearing his “end time”, as this was the second time he made the prediction of his death. They are listening, but not understanding. We can almost see them nudging one another and quietly saying, “Do you know what he means?” Perhaps they urged one another on saying, “You ask him what he means”. “No, you ask him.” Then Jesus hears them arguing and he finds out they are arguing about who is the greatest among them. We wonder if he perhaps asked in what we would call the vernacular, “Here I am talking about my death and you are worrying about who gets the prize in the Cracker Jack box.” Jesus says to them what we sometimes feel are annoying words, “Whoever would be first must be last of all, and servant of all.”

There was a child in the home where they were staying and he took the child into their presence. The conversation takes a pause. It is as though he holds up a mirror before them in the face of an innocent, trusting, vulnerable, dependent child. In those days, the child would be “the other”. He simply says to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes not me but the One who sent me.”

The spiritual journey asks us to set aside presumptions, assumptions, provocations, and prejudices. It often asks us to get on our knees rather than the top rung of the ladder. Sometimes it requires a leap of faith to do so. One month ago I was preparing the chapel at our church for our weekly Monday morning prayer time. Since the first week of our nation’s decision to separate immigrant children from their parents, I have led a time of designated prayer for this situation and the pain and sorrow of these immigrants. I saw a couple in the sanctuary while I was passing through to the chapel. Sometimes we have guests from the community who come to join us in prayer. There is a high ledge separating the room I was in from the sanctuary. In my haste to reach the man and his companion, I walked off the ledge and into thin air. That flying leap took me a distance of about 3 feet and I landed on the back edge of a pew, and then on to the floor.

The man that I was rushing toward in order to offer him prayer, became a vessel of caring to me. He had lived and worked in the United States for 23 years and he was to report to the police station at 1:30 that afternoon for deportation. I saw Jesus in his face. The tables were turned and I found myself in a circumstance of pure grace. He made sure I was able to move and then he helped me to my feet. We had a time of prayer for one another and he left for his appointment. We all lose our bearings from time to time. We suffer discouragement, betrayal, loss, shattered dreams, abandonment, misunderstandings. They all become a deportation into circumstances for which we are not prepared. It is at times like this that we are exposed to the limitless love of God for us.

Here we are on Worldwide Communion Sunday. Today (October 7th) we celebrate one great global relationship with Christians all over the world. Heaven help us if we begin and end our encounter with limitations as we argue about who is invited to God’s party and who is not. God’s table is full of the world– a world full of people created in the image of God. We sit at a table big enough for all “the others”, and even for those who see us as “the others”. Grace isn’t always neat and orderly, precise, and wrapped up in a pretty box with the rest of our prejudices. Grace is undeserved. As a pastor from South Africa once said, “God wants to come into our hearts and lives but God wants to bring God’s friends too”.

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When we imitate and follow Jesus our spiritual bowls get larger and larger. As we grow in faith, our world expands and so do we. When we act upon what we already know of what it means to be a Christian, God supplies more faith from God’s inexhaustible storehouse. It is the nature of faith to expand to meet our needs. Today we look around our world with spiritual eyes and we declare, “We are the Body of Christ”. We see millions eating at the table with us and we beckon to “the others” to come and join us. Jesus holds Open House every day. We are all invited whether we are naughty or nice.

We get the best food that is available which is the “Bread of Life”. We don’t say “take, eat, and be careful”. We say, chew the delicious bread, taste the sweet juice from the grapes. For as the Psalmist tells us, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” We celebrate the One who binds us together. God is pushing our boundaries, challenging our comfort zones, stripping us of our camouflage.
And Jesus took a Muslim–
And Jesus took immigrants from every country–
And Jesus took a homosexual couple–
And Jesus took the least, and the lost, the outcasts, and the discriminated, and the abused–
And he said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the One who sent me.”

For more from this message, click here

Sermon “By God: Gifts for Giving”

On September 23, 2018, Pastor Ginny Cetuk preached on the sermon series “By God” on the topic ‘Gifts for Giving’. Her text was 1 Corinthians 12: 4-11.

To hear the sermon live, go to the Princeton United Methodist Church Facebook page

Also the sermon will be podcast soon on this webpage under the category “worship”.

Pastor Ginny began by suggesting Paul had a problem. He was up against some attitudes and behaviors that had sprung up in the church at Corinth. And they weren’t good.

When we read the scriptures we see what is happening in the communities of the time since often they are being exhorted to change their behaviors. For example, in this letter to the Church at Corinth, Paul reminds the people that God chose the lowly so that no one would be able to boast before God. And he tells them not to be boastful.

So we know that they were boastful, don’t we? Indeed, they were.

Corinth was one of the largest cities in the region and five times as large as Athens.

Paul arrived at Corinth for the first time in the 49 or 50 AD and he found that Corinth was exceptionally diverse in every way – including race and religion – and a major center of commerce as well as the capital of the Province. All faiths of the time were represented in this cosmopolitan city, including worship of the emperor and his family.

Paul lived in Corinth for 18 months and it was here he came to know Priscilla and Aquila with whom he later traveled. Paul knew Corinth well and started a number of Christian communities while there. He loved the city and its people and wrote 4 letters, two of which were lost.

In the letter we read today Paul is clearly concerned about developments across the faith communities in Corinth. In the first several chapters of the letter he talks about the following: divisiveness; taking each other to court; offering food to idols; and class divisions at the communal meal – Communion – in which the poorer people did not receive the same amount of food (bread and wine) as others.

He writes in Chapter 11: 21-22:
20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

Paul is hopping mad for sure…..but his heart is filled with love for these Corinthian Christians….all 40-150 of them…we can’t be sure….

As the letter goes on, we can see that Paul knows they misunderstand something very fundamental. And he does not blame them for that. Instead, he teaches them about the nature of God. For that is what they misunderstand. And they had this misunderstanding because they had absorbed notions about privilege in their very strictly stratified world and those notions had crept into the church.

If we look at their behaviors, we see that they didn’t understand why God would give the gifts Paul was talking about. They thought that some gifts were better than others and that those better gifts were given to the better people. Of course, there were no “better people”…but they didn’t know that, for their society told them differently. Christianity at the time – as it is today as well – was a truly counter-cultural religion.

And they were still learning….

In the passage from 1 Corinthians 12 read for today, Paul is talking about God-given gifts and how we use them for the common good.

Hear my conversation with God here

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Sermon “Body Building: Equipped”

The Body of Christ

On Sunday September 16, 2018, Pastor Smith Walz preached from the sermon series “Body Building” on the topic ‘Equipped’. Her sermon is based on the scripture reading ‘One Body With Many Members’ from 1 Corinthians 12:12-31

To hear the sermon live, go to the Princeton United Methodist Church Facebook page here

Also the sermon will be podcast soon on this webpage under the category “worship”.

This is a summary of her message:

What is your part in the Body of Christ? Are you a Foot? A Heart? A Hand? Brain? Arm? Knee? Eye? Ear? Mouth? Funny Bone? Stomach?
The Body of Christ
Hundreds of different parts work together.

This is the image Paul uses to talk about the Church, which we also call the Body of Christ. But Paul also uses humorous images to tell us there is no hierarchy in the Body of Christ.

EVERY part matters. EVERY ONE matters. EVERY ONE is needed to be the body, to be whole. Those who do manual jobs are no less important than the elected leaders or speakers. Those who work behind the scenes are just as crucial as the ones who are seen and heard. What then is your part in the Body of Christ?

Last Sunday, if you heard nothing else from the sermon of the same series ‘Body Building’, I hope you heard “You are called!” Each one of you is called by God to do God’s work of love, reconciliation and unity in the world. God equips you with one or several spiritual gifts to enable you to fulfill that calling. As we become aware of our calling and the gifts the Holy Spirit has given us to do the work, we find our place in the Body of Christ.

You are called! You are gifted! And you play a crucial role in the Body of Christ, which is the Church.

I was called to be a pastor. So, God helped me over the years to overcome my fear of public speaking, with the guidance and support of friends. And I’ve continued to hear God’s call on my life to be a pastor and to help others too. Thus, through my preaching, I am seeking to engage you, teach, inspire, connect you with God, and with your everyday life. The Holy Spirit called me, equipped me with gifts and I align myself with God’s call. My gifts are teaching, knowledge, shepherding, administration, leadership.

You too are called, you are gifted! You are equipped! God has called you. God has equipped you with one or more gifts. These are your natural gifts. You have to open the gift, use the gift, allow the Holy Spirit to keep equipping you – an active aligning of oneself with God’s intentions, open to being used by God.

Therefore, Let Your Light Shine

 

Sermon: “Swing Forward: Growing Pains”

Rev. Jenny Smith Walz preached on September 2, 2018 in the sermon series “Swing Forward”, on the topic ‘Growing Pains’.

Her message is based on the Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith in Mark 7:24-30.

She begins by asking some challenging questions – Who is the church for? Who is PUMC for? For whom will we exist in 20, 50, 80, 100 years? She concluded there was not just one answer.

To hear the sermon live, go to the Princeton United Methodist Church Facebook page here

Also the sermon will be podcast soon on this webpage under the category “worship.”

Of the four gospels, Mark portrays Jesus as the most human. This allows us to see how Jesus might develop and grow. It’s still surprising to us to hear Jesus calling the woman a ‘dog’, but knowing Jesus is fully human could lessen that surprise a bit. Jesus is open to compassion and love and heals her daughter. Here we see the Kingdom of inclusion, which though not new in theory remains new to us in practice. The disciples were more offended that Jesus healed the woman’s daughter than he called her a dog. While we are offended that Jesus called her a dog, we are not so quick to notice the “dogs” of the world or to offer them healing.

Rev. Smith Walz made reference to Kaylin Haught and Karoline Lewis.

Learn also how Karoline Lewis gets Jesus to change his mind.

Rev. Smith Walz’s message is that church is for everyone. She encouraged everyone to come to church:
the children, who are not saying they left church but that their church left them behind;
– the young adults, the majority of whom feel lonely and disconnected;
those dealing with homelessness;
those who have experienced spiritual trauma, for whom we need to envision a healing center.

We need to share God’s love with them, share the fullness of life that we’ve found. Together with them, we need to discover more of who God is, living more fully in God’s kingdom.

Rev. Smith Waltz feels sadness when people call wondering whether they are welcome at church for all kinds of reasons, notably that they are different or they have nothing to give. She feels sadness also that people don’t call or won’t come to church for many reasons, not least that they don’t actually experience God at church or that their spiritual hunger isn’t being satisfied.

The good news is that Jesus knows our struggles and has compassion for us, but above all God invites us to the Table to serve us a feast, even as we are “unworthy of the crumbs’. Jesus came to save people not to exclude them.

Finally, the church is there to pass on the tradition from one generation to another.

— Isabella Dougan

Gifts of the Dark Wood: The Gift of Uncertainty.

Erik Skitch Matson — March 5, 2017 — 1 Corinthians 13:11-12

What is Lent?

Lent was spoken of in the 2nd Century, but then established as Lent with the typical Ash Wednesday in the 6th century under Gregory the Great.

Why? Self examination and Penitence in preparation for EASTER. It is a time for Repentance and Renewal: Giving up things, originally food until sundown (vegetarian), but now it is a more robust “Fasting”. It is also a time for self-reflection, prayer and reading of scripture

Gifts of the Darkwood  

Our sermon series is based on the book Gifts of the Dark Wood by Eric Elnes, a wonderful Lenten book for reflection. In this series we can see our time in the Dark Wood as a gift.

Another book worth reading, Dante’s Inferno is about finding your place in the world at the very point you feel farthest from it. Here the dark wood includes struggle. It is “where you meet God.”

As we explore the Gift of UNCERTAINTY, we realise that this is not a “Typical” gift. We like control, certainty, and understanding, now. So where can we go with uncertainty.?

In 1 Corinthians 13:11-12, we see a flurry of pride, and then a swift shift to vulnerability. I had always known Paul to be the confident leader, with the perfect pedigree and best teachers backing him — he’d fit into Princeton pretty well. But this is not your typical Paul. This Paul is more vulnerable about his own limitations and his own uncertainty. Paul admits that he sees dimly.  What would it take for us to have the courage to admit that our own spiritual vision is dim?

Take a look at the people around you: what would it take for us to dig into the Lenten season, and live in the Dark Wood of our lives together? What would it take for us to have faith, now, in these lives we live.

What would it take for us to be the body of Christ—a body where each member is known, loved, and cared for.

What would it take to be vulnerable with one another about our personal pains? Our sins? Our uncertainties?

We know we want it. We know we need it. But what will it take…?

It will take a Christian Community that has ONE body, and ONE blood. A Christian Community where we—the broken, the maimed, the sinners, and the saints—are welcomed and accepted.

Where at times we are supported, and also where we support others. Where we are known not for our rigid certainty, but our radical faith in the midst of the fluidity of real, human life.

The Christians we have looked up to for centuries… Can we follow their example? Can we create a community, here, in this place, where the hope of seeing Christ face to face leads us to accept our own spiritual vision as dim?

Where does this start? It starts with the Release of Shame. One Body, broken for you; One Blood, shed for you. The Free Gift of Grace transforms us to be the Christian Community that calls itself “The Body of Christ.”

Let us come…

As we take communion, we wonder if, by leaning on each other, our collective vision can be more powerful. Let us therefore go together, as one broken body, through the Dark Wood of Lent.

Life in Community

Rev. Jana Purkis-Brash – February 5, 2017 –  Isaiah 58: 1-12

As we as a faith community think together about what life in community means for us, I share with you this quote from a favorite author/thinker, Eugene Peterson. He says, “There can be no maturity in the spiritual life, no obedience in following Jesus, no wholeness in the Christian life, apart from an immersion in, and embrace of, community. I am not myself by myself.”

Each of the Old Testament passages for this month, Isaiah, Deuteronomy, Leviticus, Exodus speaks about God’s intentions around our living in community. This month we will explore what it means to live and serve as God’s people not just as individuals but also in community.

Looking about him at the needs of the homeless, the hungry and the oppressed, Isaiah could no longer keep still. The self-indulgent displays of sackcloth and ashes, he declares, are not acceptable to God! The only true way to observe a fast is by liberating the oppressed, sharing your bread with the hungry, and opening your own house to the homeless!

So let’s go right to the Isaiah text and examine it in a few different ways. At the literal level, and this may be the only time you ever hear me talk about a Bible passage literally, this passage is a prophetic encouragement to the people of God (1) to actively do justice for the oppressed and (2) to show mercy to the most vulnerable. The prophet lists these most vulnerable as the hungry, the homeless, and the naked, all of whom, he says, are “your own flesh.” By this last phrase the prophet relies on the teaching of ;Genesis. 1 and 2 all humans are bone of each-other’s bones and flesh of each-other’s flesh. The prophet understands that all humans are family, for we share a common ancestor. For the prophet, it is only sin that keeps us from acknowledging that we are family, and living as family.

The prophet says that doing such acts of justice and mercy will result in the rapid healing of the people of God. It will result in a renewed and improved relationship with God, in which God’s people communicate with God freely: “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, Here I am.” God’s people will experience God’s presence.

To ponder an allegorical sense of this scripture, think of Christ’s own example of doing justice and mercy. This passage gives the people of God in the Old Testament an early glimpse of the heart and way of Jesus Christ, and it refreshes our vision of the same. In Jesus’ life and ministry we see him feed the hungry, defend the oppressed, he stands up for women’s right, he loves the outcast, the despised, the rejected, and the sinner, and calls on the rich and powerful to give their money to the poor. Similarly, by sharing in Christ’s merciful self-offering, we share in his merits, most especially in the eternal life he has merited.

With an eye to the moral sense of this passage, we find it right on the surface: we must do the works of justice and mercy the Lord’s prophet tells us to do, using Jesus as our example: both in the things Jesus himself did in the flesh, and in the ways Jesus’ way is multiplied before our imagination by the Christ-patterns of the saints.

Finally in the anagogical sense: Surprisingly, the inspired prophet says “your light will break forth like the dawn.” God’s light becomes our light, for the Church is betrothed to Christ. When we do acts of mercy and justice, we genuinely participate in the eternal and intelligible light who is the Holy Trinity.

Acts of justice and mercy, because they are acts of love, allow us to partake in the divine nature. Acts of justice and mercy are acts of worship, by which we glimpse the comforting presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: we sense that “the glory of the Lord” is our “rear guard.” God protects us, and we glimpse God’s glory (behind us, guiding & protecting us) out of the corner of our eye, though we do not yet see God face to face. We should not miss the opportunity to give acts of justice and mercy to all, especially those in need; for we are most in need ourselves, and God has given us mercy and justification. St. Gregory Nazianzus reminds us that Christians do not just have altars inside church buildings; anytime we see a beggar, there is God’s altar, awaiting our offerings. Continue reading “Life in Community”