Monday, November 19, 2012

Sign-up Now for Walk Through Bethlehem 2012

Our annual Walk Through Bethlehem 
is on the calendar for December 16 
from 1 to 6 p.m. and many, many 
volunteers are needed to make it all 
happen. To sign up to help the day of
the event, please stop by the sign-up 
chart in the children’s hallway to see 
what spots are available. Currently, we 
need shop keepers, soldiers, wise men, 
grape stompers and all other villagers to make the day complete.
If you would like to help from home, we can give you the recipe to make Bethlehem Bread for our food shop or you can supply our work crews with soup & sandwiches for lunch during set-up week. We also need snack goodies for the break room on December 16.
A looming need this year is for more volunteers to help with set-up days, primarily December 12, 13 and 14. Laying the floor and setting up shops must be completed on December 12 before wood chips are delivered on December 13. Many able bodies are needed on that Thursday to move in the chips and spread them around Parish Hall. Work days begin around 9 a.m. and usually wind down around 6 p.m. If there are any classes or groups who would like to come as a group to work any evening, please let Sue Isbell know and special arrangements will be made. There is always lots to do to prepare for this event! Contact Sue Isbell at the church with questions

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Advent Crafts Festival coming on Sunday, November 25

We need many, many volunteers to help with the Festival—can you help?

To kick off the Advent season, Church Street is hosting its annual Advent crafts festival. The festival consists
of a variety of activities ranging from old favorites, like peanut butter pine cones, to some new and exciting crafts, such as snow globe making, origami art, and advent wreaths. The festival is on Sunday, November 25, from 5:30–7:00 PM in Parish Hall.
We ask that all participants bring finger foods to share with everyone that evening. Also, if you have any extra baby food, pimento, or mushroom jars with lids, please bring them prior to the festival to Sue Isbell’s office.
We need plenty of helpers; if you would like to volunteer to work, please contact Frances Nichols at 805-9616 or by email at:

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Jim Flemming Lectures Begin Saturday

Join us this Saturday and Sunday, November 17 and 18, as Dr. James Fleming presents a lecture series focusing on the barriers the early Church faced. Everyone is invited. Lectures will be held in Parish Hall.

Lecture Schedule
Saturday, November 17:
8:30–9:00 a.m. - Coffee & Refreshments
9:00–10:15 a.m. - The Class Barrier
10:30–11:45 a.m. - The Language Barrier

Sunday, November 18:
9:40–10:40 a.m. - The Barrier of Reinterpreting Scriptures
4:00–5:15 p.m. - Barriers from the Secular World and Philosophy
5:15 p.m. - Supper break (cost $6.50); reservations required (524-3048)
6:00–7:15 p.m. - Barriers arising from the Barbarians and from Bad Government

The SERRV Market

Every year we have the opportunity to purchase exotic
 gifts all while helping artisans from Africa, Asia, and Latin
 America. You are invited to shop SERRV’s unique and handcrafted fair trade items from around the world. Fill
 your home and kitchen with authentic d├ęcor, handmade
 dishware, and stunning handcrafted baskets. Adorn yourself
 with gorgeous fair trade jewelry, scarves, and bags. Indulge 
in delicious Divine Chocolate and gourmet coffee. Give
 special fair trade gifts that improve the lives of artisans and 
farmers worldwide. This year our annual SERRV Market
 will be open in Parish Hall on three Sundays:
November 18th (morning and evening)
November 25th (morning and evening)
December 9th (morning only)

All proceeds are returned to SERRV participating artisans. For more information, please visit

Sunday, November 11, 2012

November 11, 2012 - Trust Even When You are Vulnerable

Ruth 3:1-13
            The Bible’s teaching on living is relevant for us -- even though the situations addressed by the Bible may be out of date. We do not live, for example, in the Iron Age of the Old Testament. Ours is not a subsistence economy. We even live in the Western Hemisphere, a part of the world that the people of the Bible never even considered. Still, the teachings of the Bible on living must not be discounted simply because they reflect a different cultural situation. They still have much to teach us.
            So, how do we learn from the scriptures when the situations have changed over time? I reject the idea that the cultural changes over the years have silenced the Bible. I reject the idea that we in the modern era are somehow *above* or more *sophisticated* than the ancient situations. Such rejection or discounting of the scriptures has been a far too common response.
[ILLUS: About 10-years ago, Dr. Laura Schlessinger was a radio personality who gave advice to people who called in to her radio show. She took some pretty conservative stands on cultural issues, basing her claims on the scriptures. In response, Kent Ashcraft wrote a letter to her in May, 2000, which he posted on the internet. His letter went viral, and even found its way into an episode of *The West Wing* television drama.
Dear Dr. Laura,
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how best to follow them.
a) When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord [Lev 1:9]. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
b) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in [Exodus 21:7]. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
c) I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanness [Lev 15:19-24]. The problem is: How do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.
d) [Lev. 25:44] states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?
e) I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. [Exodus 35:2] clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?
f) A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an Abomination [Lev 11:10], it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?
g) [Lev 21:20] states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?
h) Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by [Lev 19:27]. How should they die?
i) I know from [Lev 11:6-8] that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
j) My uncle has a farm. He violates [Lev 19:19] by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? [Lev 24:10-16] Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? [Lev. 20:14]
I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help.
Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.
Your devoted disciple and adoring fan (1).

The letter, written by Kent Ashcraft, demonstrates how ancient Biblical laws sound foolish when rigidly applied to our current circumstances. I agree. But, these ancient laws and circumstances still have something to teach us about God’s will for human life.
+Perhaps we only have to update the situation to make the scriptures’ teaching relevant.
+Other times, we must look to *God’s intent* behind a law to see that God’s intentions for human life are just as life-enhancing now as they were back then.
+Or, we must allow the different voices in the Bible to enter into a conversation among themselves. Which are the greater teachings; which are less? Which were important for that time only; which are timeless? We must take the Bible seriously, even though we do not take it literally.
Anytime you find a situation in the Bible that is far out of date by our standards, resist the impulse to discount or pass over that passage as irrelevant. We must look deeper than the surface to find the life-affirming teaching of God in scripture.

            The story of Ruth and Boaz reflects one of those situations that made sense in Biblical times but appears to be out of date to us. I would like to outline the larger story, and then look below the surface to see the message of God’s teaching for us. The Book of Ruth is only four chapters long; you can read it in a few minutes.
            The story begins with a famine which sends an Israelite family, Elimelech and his wife Naomi, along with their two sons, to Moab to find a better life. While living in Moab, the sons grow up and marry Moabite wives. Israelites are usually not very accepting of foreign marriages like these. Well, as it turned out, Naomi’s husband, and then her two sons died, leaving the three women widows with little way to make a living. Naomi invited her young daughters-in-law to return to their parents’ homes; one did; the other, Ruth, committed herself to Naomi as a daughter.
            As Naomi and Ruth return to the family home in Bethlehem, Ruth meets a good man named Boaz. He was kind to her, and perhaps he even noticed her. At the end of the workday he offered her a blessing which captures the best that our faith teaches about being neighbor. Boaz said:
Ruth 2.11 “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. 12 May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”

The only way Naomi sees to provide a living for herself and Ruth is to find a suitable husband for Ruth. The O.T. contains a provision in ancient Israel called Levirate Marriage. It provided that when a husband died, his brother should marry his widow and have children in the first husband’s name. In a land with no social security and little way for women to take jobs, it provided a living for such widows and it kept any property in the family. It stands as a modern reminder to be careful when you marry because you are getting your spouse’s family in the bargain. While Levirate marriage did not apply to Ruth and Boaz, it informed the context of their meeting.
            Not being able to count on the Levirate Marriage tradition, Naomi decides that her daughter-in-law Ruth should make herself available to Boaz.
+Since Ruth is a foreign woman, the traditions of Israel probably do not apply to her anyway.
+Since there is no man in the family to make arrangements between Ruth and Boaz, Naomi has to take matters into her own hands. Again, this is a stretching of the traditions that guided ancient life.
+Since Boaz is not taking the first step in the relationship, Ruth takes some pretty risky actions to place herself in his way. If caught, she could have been stoned for promiscuity or prostitution.
Well, it works out. The Law of Levirate Marriage does not apply to this situation; he has no direct obligation. But, deeper than the practical need to provide husbands and a living for women in that society, he remembers the blessing he offered to Ruth:
12 May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”

And he realizes that those words are not empty; they speak of the conviction that a community formed under the watch care of God must be a society of grace which welcomes the foreigner, the outsider. Because God is God, we are obligated to be avenues of grace; grace should not find a dead-end in us.
            Boaz is interested. He conducts his part of the marriage negotiation in an honorable manner; she continues in an honorable manner. And one day, a now-married Ruth bears a son, Obed. As a result of committing herself to Israel and Israel’s God:
+Ruth has a home with her husband Boaz.
+Naomi has a home with her daughter and son-in-law.
+Ruth has a son and thus provides her family and Israel with a future.
+Best of all, this son became the father of Jesse who became the father of David the King. And David, as you know, was the ancestor of Jesus of Nazareth.

II. What does this quaint story of commitment and risk have for us today?
A. It is a reminder that marriage is one of the contexts where God’s grace is worked out. The commitments of marriage are not just for the bride and the groom; they work for a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law. This story stands as a  reminder that some of our most personal decisions have a far-reaching impact – not just for ourselves, but for our families and beyond to our communities.

B. The story is based on the conviction that God is concerned with every detail of human life. In the days of the ancients, they saw God’s concern and direction in the great O.T. Law, the Torah. In the New Testament, God’s care was shown first in the gift of Jesus Christ – the Word of God taken flesh, the Word which dwelt among us. After the resurrection of Christ, we find God’s concern and direction through the presence and comfort of the Holy Spirit. All of these form the foundation of our conviction that we are not alone. And we are convinced that God, who has the power to create the universe with a word, also attends to the smallest of God’s creatures.
            A grandfather was out walking with his young grandson. “How far are we from home?” he asked his grandson.
            The boy answered, “Grandpa, I don’t know.”
            The grandfather asked, “Well, where are we?”
            Again, the boy answered, “I don’t know.”
            Then the grandfather said good-naturedly, “Sounds to me as if you are lost.”
            The young boy looked up at his grandfather and said, “Nope, I can’t be lost. I’m with you.”
Ultimately, that is the answer to our lost-ness, too. We can’t be lost because God is walking with us.

C. When Ruth acted on the conviction that Israel’s God would make a place for her, she was trusting God and God’s commandments to guide her life. This is a story about trusting God with our lives when we are most vulnerable.
            A commercial begins with a young girl standing alone in a picturesque meadow.  The camera then pans to another part of the field where it shows a gigantic African rhinoceros.  The ominous beast begins a lethal charge toward the girl, whose serene and happy face remains unmoved.  As the rhinoceros gets closer, the words appear on the screen, “Trust is not being afraid.”  A split second before the rhino tramples the helpless child, it stops, and the girl, her smile never wavering, reaches up and pets the animal on its massive horn.  The final words then appear, “even when you are vulnerable.” (2)

Now, this commercial was designed to tell us about the abilities of a certain insurance company to protect its clients from the uncertainties of life. For us, it reminds us of God’s call to live with trust in the face of the uncertainties and vulnerabilities of this life. POINT: Trusting God means not being afraid even when you are vulnerable.
            Even when you are vulnerable: Life is filled with uncertainties and vulnerabilities.  Things don’t always happen as we plan or expect.  The evidence is all around us. 
+Storms, both literal and figurative, happen all the time. 
+Bodies fail. 
+Illness comes without warning. 
+Disappointments, both great and small, are common. 
+Jobs aren’t secure. 
Life is complex…and we are vulnerable and face uncertainty on a daily basis. Ruth was faithful to Israel and Israel’s God, and the outcome was good. She and Naomi, who depended on her, were blessed. That is the lesson for us in our time and our situations as well.

            What Ruth’s story teaches us is this:
1. That life is the place where God meets us: marriage, jobs, relationships, even our Saturday morning chores. God meets us there.
2. That God is intimately interested in every aspect of our lives.
3. That we should live trusting God even when we are vulnerable. God can be trusted with our lives.

1. The West Wing: The Letter.
2. “Unwavering Trust.” An illustration from, 2004.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

November 4, 2012 - Two Great Commandments

Mark 12.28-34 – The Great and Second Commandments
Stewardship Commitment/Communion Sunday

            Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem. The story begins in Mark 11 with the Palm Sunday parade coming down from the Mount of Olives. The parade is great; the crowd is fired up at the sight; but his arrival leaves a lot to be desired. At the end of the parade, Jesus limited himself to looking around much as a tourist would. Then, he leaves city for the Mt of Olives and Bethany again.
            The next day he returns to the Temple and he is outraged by what he sees. People are buying and selling all over the Temple. People are delivering wares, carrying crates and pulling carts through the center of the Temple itself. He makes a whip out of cords and begins to drive the moneychangers out. He tells them,
            “It is written in the Scriptures that God said:
            “My house shall be a house of prayer for the people of all nations,
                        but you have made it a den of thieves.”

And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the Temple. As you can imagine, he disrupted the everyday business of the Temple. As you can imagine, he got everyone’s attention. But worse, when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they started looking for a way to kill him, for they were afraid of him (Mk 11.18).
            Thus began a series of challenges to Jesus – this upstart rabbi from Galilee. Who is he to set the rules? Who is he to challenge our ways?
1.      The chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and challenged him: “By what authority are you doing these things?”
2.      In response, Jesus told the Parable of the Wicked Tenants which they correctly understand to be directed against them.
3.      Some Herodians came to trap him with a question about paying taxes. “Do we dishonor God by paying taxes to Caesar?” If he dishonors Caesar, the Romans will arrest him; if he dishonors God, the crowds will reject him. Either way they do away with this Jesus.
4.      The Sadducees challenge him to defend his claims about eternal life. They concocted a hypothetical story about a man who dies and leaves a widow, who is married by each of his six brothers in turn – each dying one by one, leaving her with no children and him with no heir. So in heaven, whose wife will she be?
Each of these challenges was thrown up to Jesus like questions in a Presidential primary debate. The idea is to catch him in his words, to make him look out of touch, or simply to prove that he does not know what he is talking about – much like the debates. But Rabbi Jesus answers each question deftly and wisely. His popularity with the crowds and the adoration of his followers only grows.
II.  Last of all, a scribe asks him “Rabbi, what is the greatest commandment? How do you read the Law?” It was actually a common question put to any rabbi who stood up to teach. It was a shorthand way of asking him to declare the core of the Law.
A. [Illus: Hillel]
            A stranger came before the great Rabbi Hillel, and said to him: “Teach me the whole Torah while I'm standing on one foot."
            Hillel replied: "What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah. All the rest is commentary!"

B. Now, it is Jesus’ turn. In the context of the gotcha debates over the preceding chapter, this is just another effort to catch Jesus in his words. OR, maybe the scribe was ready to hear, ready to be a learner. As the scribe states his question, the crowd gathers closer to hear Jesus’ answer. They want to hear how he responds.
            Jesus gives them a bit more than the scribe asked.
The first is this: You shall love the Lord your God
            with heart and soul and mind and strength.
And the second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
It is one answer; the two great commandments must be taken together and separately – all at the same time.

C. The commandment to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength addresses the basic commitment of our lives. It calls us to stand turned toward God in all times, on all matters, in all places. To love the Lord with heart and soul and mind and strength is to love what God loves. The commandment assumes that there are many voices calling for our allegiance; it says: In a world of competing voices calling for our attention, turn in all things toward God.

D. The second commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves is just as familiar to us as the first, but it really is quite odd.
1.      To love God with heart, soul, mind and strength is to give to God first place in our hearts. It is commit oneself to follow God with conviction, with deference, and even obedience.
2.      To love the neighbor, on the other hand is none of those things. We do not love the neighbor by following the neighbor with conviction, deference and obedience.
3.      Love of neighbor begins with Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matt 7:12).
4.      But spoken alongside the great commandment to love God, love of neighbor carries the conviction that we honor God as we treat our neighbor with kindness and justice.
5.      Even more: Jesus expanded the definition of the neighbor to include “the other.” When the question about the Great and Second commandments was raised in Luke, the lawyer followed up by asking, “But, who is my neighbor?” To clarify, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan.
            The Samaritans were the race that pure Jews loved to hate. The Samaritans  commonly harassed Jews traveling between Galilee and Jerusalem, like bullies in a bad neighborhood harassing school kids walking home. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus told this wonderful story of generosity and caring extended to the man who was attacked by robbers. The story is told with so much attention to detail that some have wondered if Jesus himself might have been the man left by the side of the road to die.
            POINT: Every religion, every community, every nation teaches us to look out for our own first. Even John Wesley directed Methodists to attend first to the needs of those in the “household of faith.” But, Jesus transcends that narrow definition of the neighbor to include specifically THE OTHER – the enemy, the last, the least and the lost. And thus, Jesus’ call to love the neighbor calls us to transcend the narrow commitments of even our own Christian faith.
The love of God which demands love of neighbor for completeness finds the holiest moments in the moments we are loving the OTHER:
+caring for those who are least likely to pay us back for our kindness.
+opening our hands to the needy.
+working for justice for those who cannot command it.

III. Finally, by pairing the two great commandments, Jesus is telling us something more than a simple list of two items might convey. The pairing of these two great commandments tells us that there is a necessary connection between the holiness of God and the ordinary. As John said in the Prologue of his gospel: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory – the glory of the only begotten Son” (John 1).
            Someone asked,
+Could you have a baptism without water? No. The finite water is the bearer of the infinite God.
+ Could Christ have come without taking human flesh and walking among us? Again, no. Human flesh of Christ declares that the finite lives and world which we inhabit are fit places for the presence of God.
+Could you have church without an offering? No. The common money we place in the offering plate makes our convictions about the uncommon presence of God real.
+Could you have Holy Communion without bread and wine? No. Ordinary bread and wine are the bearers of the extraordinary blessing of God which finds us at the Table.
[CONCL:] Two invitations arise from these two Great Commandments:
1. As we bring our pledge cards forward to place in the baskets, we place our commitment and the money of this age at the disposal of the Almighty God of the Universe.
2. As we come forward to kneel at the Lord’s Table, we receive in common bread and common wine the touch of the infinite God and the taste of the banquet of the Kingdom of God.