Sermon for January 26, 2020
This past week, I visited a church member who was recovering in a rehabilitation facility. After we had talked for a while I asked if he would like to pray with me. As is my custom, I asked him what he would like to pray for. I have done this many times and I have heard his response before. While people who are sick or recovering do want prayer for themselves, that is not the first request I usually hear. People often request prayer for their loved ones, they want to care for other people. In this case, the man asked for prayers for our country. He was worried about the divisiveness that exists in our country today and he asked for prayers that we would be unified, that we would work toward some common goal and not fight with each other so much. He wanted to pray for a peace that he said did not exist right now in this country. We prayed together for peace, for unity and for healing.
Another friend of mine mentioned his concern in a similar manner. He lamented the fact that we are no longer able to talk with each other. We wished together that the old saying about never discussing religion or politics could be put aside and that we would at least listen to each other’s views.
A third friend told me that he was unsure whether our country will be able to recover from the spite and anger and terrible words that are spoken by people that we are supposed to look up to as our leaders. It is difficult to find examples of good behavior. This friend is worried that our culture has changed in a way that it will not be repaired.
Some of you may not feel the discomfort of the world today. Some may say that it has been worse many times in history. While I am concerned, I also see some wonderful things that are going on in this country. I am thankful for this church because it is a place where people with many different views come and worship together. We find common ground in worshipping God together, to support each other in good and bad times, and to help people who are needy.
I am sure that some of you are wondering what this has to do with Scripture for today. Well, Jesus lived in a time that wasn’t so good either. The gospel begins with Jesus in Nazareth. You will remember that in Luke’s gospel, Jesus made some bold proclamations in the synagogue and was chased out of town. Today’ scripture says that Jesus heard about John the Baptist being arrested for speaking out against the immorality of the Herod. Jesus withdrew and went to Galilee. The use of the word withdraw is pretty mild. One commentator wrote that the Greek word suggested that Jesus was fleeing. The message that Jesus proclaimed was similar to what John had said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” We know that the message Jesus shared was good news for the people, sometimes not meant to be good news for the leaders. Jesus left Nazareth because he feared for his safety. Jesus message was radical, that we should love one another and take care of one another. It was not generally the case in Jesus’ time.
But Jesus did not abandon ministry. Matthew borrowed from the proclamation found in Isaiah. Jesus came to the people who sat in darkness. In Jesus they saw a great light, “and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” When Jesus arrived in Capernaum, he began his ministry by calling disciples to help him accomplish his work. In addition to calling followers, Matthew told us that Jesus went about “teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” I would say that Jesus came to cure not just physical ills but also to bring us together in unity and peace, to cure us of our other ills. In Luke’s gospel Jesus proclaimed that he was anointed to bring good news to the poor. I believe that is part of the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed.
If you are one who is uncomfortable or perhaps worried, even afraid of what is to come, we turn to Jesus, the light of the world and we ask Jesus to help us. We start with prayer. We should never doubt the power of prayer. People who have been ill and recovered have said that they felt the power of so many people praying for them. The theologian Karl Barth wrote, “To clasp hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”. Max Lucado, a current day theologian wrote “"Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.” We pray for peace and unity.
We are thankful for God’s grace and we are thankful for our faith. In grace and faith, we pray that Jesus will help us continue his work. Jesus was and is a light that shines in the darkness. We wish to be inspired by his actions and strengthened to do God’s work by his grace and love. Just as Jesus started God’s ministry in the small town of Capernaum, far away from the big city, we wish to continue his ministry in this part of the world.
The most important thing we do at Transfiguration is to worship God in community. We praise God for God’s creation. We thank God for blessings. We ask God for forgiveness. We ask God to help us. And we seek to create a place where everyone is welcome, where we support each other whether something good is happening or something difficult is happening. I have been told that some who come here feel God’s love and the love of others in this church. Some say they appreciate the support they receive. I hope that we can make it that way for every person that comes here. May all of us continue to find God in this place.
Jesus brought good news to the poor. We have many ministries to needy people through our outreach programs. You may find updates about all of our outreach programs in the Peg Wier’s information in the Annual Report. This last year we continued all of our existing outreach programs, serving the hungry, providing clothing to the needy. We started two new outreach efforts in 2019. The first is the Caps 4 Kids. We collect plastic bottle caps and send them to collection points in Mexico. The caps are turned into art and other objects. The proceeds from the caps are used to provide cancer treatments for needy children. It is a program that has taken off not just in our congregation but among other friends we know.
You may not know much about a group called RIP Medical Debt. They use contributions to pay off the medical debt of poor people. In 2019, we identified this organization as a group we wanted to support with 10% of our Capital Campaign contributions. Medical debt is a big problem. RIP Medical Debt has identified over $40 million of medical debt that people in Mesa cannot pay. It seems like such a big number. We were fortunate in 2019 that our income exceeded our expenses. The vestry decided to use some of the excess to pay $7,000 to RIP Medical Debt and we have been promised that our contribution will eliminate $700,000 in Medical Debt for people in this area. A report on the results will be available in March.
In 2019, volunteers refurbished an office and we opened a nursery during the second service. I am thankful that Catherine Walecki is currently taking care of children on Sunday. We hope that more people will take advantage of this service.
On a sad note, our Children’s Sunday school program has seen a significant drop off in attendance and we have not had children attend on most Sundays. Our volunteer teachers are ready every Sunday to teach children that come to the church.
I wish to thank Linda Ostmeyer our office manager and Gary Quamme our organist and music director for their service. I also want to thank all of our volunteers who help this church. Without them, we would not be able to do what we do. I also want to thank my wife, Jan, for her dedicated volunteering. She is such a wonderful helper to me and to everyone in this place.
I am fortunate to be a part of this community. I believe that this church is a place where we try to live out our calling as followers of Jesus. In today’s gospel, Jesus told everyone that they were to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Let us pray that we will do what we can to live out that command. Let us pray that God’s spirit will always be in this place. Let us pray that we will never forget God’s calling to share his love with others. Let us seek to bring peace and unity to this world even if it is just to a small part of God’s creation. Amen.
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