Monday, June 29, 2020

For Online Sermon June 28, 1010

By P@ Russell

Considering the sermon by Pastor Bruce Spear, June 28, 2020
Scripture Reading: John 5:1-8

There are several ways that we can go deeper with the words that Pastor Bruce spoke this morning. As the people encountered Jesus in Biblical times, so we too can encounter Him in our lives today. I invite you to pick one of these suggestions and ask the Lord to bring His living Word to your life, to speak to you in this time you spend with Him.

1.  Re-listen to the sermon. You can forward the video to the beginning of the sermon. As you listen, write down words or phrases or ideas that “catch” your thoughts or feelings. Stop the video and write or think about what “caught” your deeper attention. Why did you stop in that spot? What might the Holy Spirit be saying to you?

2.  Re-read the story of Jesus at the Pool of Bethesda. Imagine that YOU are the invalid. Why are you there? What would Jesus say to you? How would you answer him?

John 5:1 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

3.  Spend time meditating on the 19th century painting by Carl Bloch that we saw.

What do the shadows and the colors say to you about this story? What insight does the artist’s manner of painting Jesus give you? Where are you in this painting? Why?

4.      Listen to the story that Pastor Bruce told us about the Abbot Joseph and the novice. (It is towards the end of the sermon). Read Susan Spear’s poem aloud.

Wind and Flame

The wind is wild; the fire is not tame.
You mouth the prayers, recite the ancient creed.
If you will, you can become all flame.
You scour the Scriptures, making truth your aim.
You advertise your goodness, deed by deed.
The wind is wild; the fire is not tame.
You pay your tithe to stake a heavenly claim.
You aid the poor to justify your greed.
If you will, you can become all flame.
You pass the peace and play your high church game.
Yawning at tradition, you accede.
The wind is wild; the fire is not tame.
With your voice you sing and praise God’s name
Then utter words that cut and make men bleed.
If you will, you can become all flame.
Refining fire and wind want to reclaim
You. They’ll sear and burn and not recede.
The wind is wild; the fire is not tame.
But if you will, you can become all flame.

            By Susan Delaney Spear courtesy of The Christian Century

What does this poem say to you? How might you pray the phrase, “If you will, you can become all flame”?

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ,” (2 Cor. 4:6).

Monday, June 22, 2020

For Online Sermon June 21, 2020

By P@ Russell

Considering the sermon by Pastor Bruce Spear on Father's Day, June 21, 2020

Scripture Readings: Mark 9:35-37 and Mark 10:13-16

Yesterday we celebrated Father’s Day in music, interviews, stories and through Jesus’ encounter with the children of Palestine.  Our service was a beautiful kaleidoscope of earthly and heavenly fatherhood. 

Which part of the service spoke to your heart in some way?  Recall what may have stood out as something important – a memory, a word from God especially to you, an emotion that came over you, a new thought.  All or any of these is your heavenly Father saying to you, “Let (your name) come to me.”  Spend some time in meditation and prayer with this.

Pastor Bruce spoke of the value of children as expressed in Jesus taking action towards the rejected children, the blessing upon children as Jesus spoke over them words of affirmation, and the reception of children as he took them up in his arms.  Which of these three aspects of your heavenly Father’s attitude towards you is particularly meaningful to you in these days?  How does it speak to you?  Does it call you to action in some way?  Does it help you understand your place in the Kingdom?  Does it bring insight to your soul?

Re-read Mark 9:35-37.

Jesus sat down and called for the twelve disciples to come to him. Then he said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last. They must be the servant of everyone.”

Jesus took a little child and had the child stand among them. Then he took the child in his arms. He said to them, “Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me. And anyone who welcomes me also welcomes the one who sent me.”

Re-read Mark 10:13-16

People were bringing little children to Jesus. They wanted him to place his hands on them to bless them. But the disciples told them to stop. When Jesus saw this, he was angry. He said to his disciples, “Let the little children come to me. Don’t keep them away. God’s kingdom belongs to children like these. What I’m about to tell you is true. Anyone who will not receive God’s kingdom like a little child will never enter it.” Then he took the children in his arms. He placed his hands on them to bless them.

Now, gaze upon this picture of Jesus blessing the child. Ask him if he would like to speak to you in some way.

Pause today. Encounter Jesus today.

For Online Sermon June 14, 2020

By Pat Russell

Considering the sermon by Bruce Spear on June 14, 2020

Scripture Readings: Mark 2:1-13

How do we “go deeper” with a sermon?  What does “Going Deeper” mean, anyway?  Here are some thoughts on that:  We listen to a sermon at various levels.  At one level we gather in facts or we ask questions, like “Oh, it was Peter’s house that Jesus was in,” or “Capernaum was Jesus home now because he was kicked out of Nazareth.  I had forgotten that,” or “Interesting roof design!  Now I know how those guys got through that roof to let a bed down,” or “How big was that house??”  These are all good things to learn for understanding the context of the story.

“Going Deeper” means that we are not content to learn the facts of an “encounter with Jesus.”  We sense there is an invitation from God to take what the Holy Spirit presents by way of Pastor Bruce into our very lives – the way we live or think or feel.  We approach listening at a whole different level.  This is the call to transformation of our souls.  Jesus says, “Let anyone who has ears, listen!”

What we learn from the context of a sermon is meant to lay the groundwork for something more to grow in our lives, rather like my stirring the soil in my Garden of God’s Goodness and adding compost.  Now, the Holy Spirit plants the seeds.  What seeds are meant for you?  Here are some questions that might help you think about that:

  1. What word or phrase or picture stood out to you, that you remember from yesterday beside the “facts”?  For example:  “great love of friends” or “2 greatest needs – forgiveness and healing” or “Son of Man” or Tim Russell’s gathering, etc.  Recall.  If nothing stands out, ask Jesus to help you.  Was there something that encouraged you to think or act differently -- something for which you would like to ask Jesus?
  2. With whom or what in this “encounter with Jesus” do you most identify?  The silent sick man, Peter’s mother-in-law, the Pharisees (yes, that might be so, if you are honest), an observer in the crowd, Peter, the torn-up roof, the friends….  What made you pick that person or thing?  What feelings do you have as you are experience the story as that person or object?  How does that speak to your life?
  3. As you “encounter Jesus” in this story, what might He be saying to you?  What might He be inviting you into this week?

Here is my Going Deeper:  I remember Bruce talking about the 2 greatest needs in life (forgiveness and healing) and that Jesus does both.  I recalled that I have experienced wonderful healing in my life over the years.  I also recalled various times when I have needed forgiveness for something I have said or done; how the pain of both played out in my life and how I can still feel what it was like.  I think I am like that torn up roof at times.  I am taken apart for something significant to happen but then I can be put back together.  Right now, I have an invitation to let the “sun” shine through me, like an open roof, to the beautiful scene of what Jesus is doing in my world.  That feels exciting and hopeful, no matter what happens next in my life.

For Online Sermon June 7, 2020

By Pat Russell

Considering the sermon by Pastor Bruce Spear on June 7, 2020

Scripture Reading John 8:2-11

Yesterday Pastor Bruce introduced “Ordinary Time” in the church calendar. It is true that we do not have any significant events for the Church to celebrate coming up, but these days do not appear to be “ordinary” with all that is going on with the virus and racial tensions. I believe that our hearts yearn for a time “when crops were planted, fields cultivated, livestock raised and provisions laid up for the next winter” and, I might add, “when we get back to church” without all this disturbance.

When I think about the woman brought before Jesus, I imagine that in her desperation she wished that she could simply be left alone to do what she needed to do, what she had been doing in her ordinary life. But that was not to be. As unjust as the situation was, Jesus had something more for her, something that would give her a chance to begin life again in freedom. Her ordinary life was interrupted; she was given a voice; she was presented with new hope.

Jesus encounters us in the interruptions of life. Times we would not choose for ourselves, times when someone or something jerks us out of our planned existence. He is there in his quiet and purposeful kneeling before us, with words that could change our lives.

I encourage you this week to think about:

1. How your ordinary life has been interrupted in these days.

2. How Jesus has been meeting you.

3. Listen for what He is telling you about yourself.

4. Consider what to do with His words.

“Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

For Online Sermon May 31, 2020

By Phil Wood

Considering the sermon by Pat Russell on Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2020
Scripture Readings: Acts 2

Reporting from her garden, which she calls her "Garden of God's Goodness," Pat gave us a beautiful lesson on the similarities between square-foot gardening and the amazing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

I'm not a gardener, so the concept of square-foot gardening was new to me. But as Pat explained, it's a relatively new technique for gardening in raised beds that can produce a remarkably high yield of kitchen vegetables in a minimum amount of space. The garden is divided into one-square-foot sections, and each square is planted, rather densely, with a single variety of plant.

Pat used this technique as a metaphor for the work of the Holy Spirit who, on the day of Pentecost, brought about "a whole new way of gardening – a whole new way of growing people."

As with the hundred or so disciples who were touched by the Spirit's tongues of fire and planted in house churches (square-foot gardens) to support the spiritual growth of the 3,000 who were converted that day, so we each have been planted in our square-foot gardens. And we have each been blessed with the same power that was given to the disciples to impact the lives of those in our square.

So here is the question of the day, as you "go deeper" into Pat's Pentecost message. Do you think of yourself as a person with power?

Please take some time to reflect on that question honestly, and to talk to Jesus about it.

For almost my entire life I can say I have definitely not considered myself as someone with power. But in these days since Resurrection Sunday, these COVID-19 days leading up to Pentecost, I have been rethinking that question.

The Bible couldn't be more clear that disciples of Jesus have been given power. It's not our own power. It's the power of the Holy Spirit, doing the will of Christ. But it's clearly power that is exercised through real, flesh-and-blood people like you and me.

Certainly it wasn't Peter's own power that enabled him to speak so articulately, so convincingly, with such brilliance and logic that 3,000 people fell to their knees in repentance and believed in Christ that day.

Maybe it's a bit of a stretch to see yourself doing something that huge. But Pat did say, and the Bible does say, and I've come to believe: that same power is in us!

Maybe we just need to start small and build confidence (faith). Maybe with a word here, or a spirit-inspired word there, we can impact the life of another who has been planted in the same square-foot garden as we have. Pat pointed to examples of such movement by the Spirit in our own congregation, with one member reporting that the Holy Spirit gives her compassion for the broken, helping her to feel what they feel, keeping her from being afraid to be present and walk alongside someone who is hurting.

Pat suggested another question for us to consider in going deeper. Actually it was a question she suggested that we each pose to the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit, what would you have me do in my square-foot garden during this COVID-19 era?

If you sincerely ask this, and are watchful, don't be surprised if an "assignment" presents itself, giving you a chance to test your wings and build your confidence (faith).

One of the most beautiful descriptions of a garden I've ever seen was that given in the book, and later portrayed in the movie, The Shack. The fictional storyline is tragic and not for the feint of heart. But the garden, tended and cultivated by none other than the Holy Spirit, is a very holy place. To the main character, the garden seems wild, chaotic, totally without any semblance of order. But in the end, the camera pulls up to a view from above. We see that the garden is an incredible array of swirling color, of such beauty that only God could have created it. And it is revealed to be a place of redemption, forgiveness of the unforgivable, and the healing of a broken man.

Your square foot in the Garden of God's Goodness can be just as magnificent, when the Holy Spirit is your gardener.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

For Online Sermon May 24

By Phil Wood

Considering the sermon by Bruce Spear on May 24, 2020
Scripture Readings: 1 Peter 5:7-11

In Peter's day, Christians were dealing with persecution, and it was deadly serious. No Christian, anywhere in the Roman world was safe. Christians were "safer at home" than they were venturing out into the world.

In his sermon, Pastor Bruce noted that our situation today is similar. We're facing adversity that poses a threat to our lives. To protect ourselves, we're sticking pretty close to home, isolating ourselves from community, friends, loved ones. This is impacting us on many levels.

Bruce spoke of epidemiologists who have been researching these things for some 50 years, trying to find ways to help us deal with the impact of such a pandemic on our lives. Their research shows that people, when faced with such adversity, fall into three basic groups:

1.  Those whose first response is anger
2.  Those who turn inward and worry about all the bad things that could happen
3.  Those who acknowledge the difficulties, resist the two approaches above, and work to overcome the adversity.

If you ask me, the epidemiologists could have saved themselves a lot of trouble simply by turning to 1 Peter Chapter 5. But let's humor them for the moment.

In which of these three groups do you think the epidemiologists would place you?

Which of these three groups do you think is most likely to emerge from these troubles in one piece?

Okay, that question was too easy. Let's look at what Peter had to say.

"Be alert and sober of mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."

Take some time to meditate on that verse. Think about what weapons the devil might be turning against you during this coronavirus pandemic. How, exactly, does the devil go about devouring someone? What sort of things do we need to be watching out for with alertness and soberness of mind?

Resist the devil, Peter said. And he gave us some clues on how to do that by turning to God. I think the epidemiologists would agree these were some pretty good tips.

"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you."

Try meditating on that verse and turning it into a prayer. Be completely honest. Tell Jesus everything you're anxious about during this COVID-19 era; the people whose health and lives you fear for, the financial impact on your family and the world, the rising tide of divisiveness around how we're going to emerge to the new normal. All of it, whatever it is, put it on the altar. Surrender it into his hands.

And then prayerfully reflect on the second half of that sentence, "...because he cares for you."

It's okay to let it go. You can trust him because he cares for you. And your enemy the devil sure as hell does not!

In his message yesterday morning, Bruce was strongly calling us all to trust in the God who loves us and cares for us because, as Peter promised, "...the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast."

And all the epidemiologists said...Amen!

God be with you.

Monday, May 18, 2020

For Online Sermon May 17, 2020

By Phil Wood

Considering the sermon by Bruce Spear on May 17, 2020
Scripture Readings: 1 Peter 3:8-9, 18-20, 4:6

Pastor Bruce's sermon this week was about good news. Bruce said that Peter's message in chapters three and four was good news not only for the early church scattered throughout Asia Minor but for us believers today who make up Elizabeth Presbyterian Church.

Just as Peter commended his congregations and all believers, so Bruce commended us, the people of EPC for our:

   unity of spirit
   sympathy (empathy for one another – sharing of mutual joy, mutual woes)
   love for one another
   compassion (tender hearts)
   humble minds
   like-mindedness (not necessarily agreeing on everything but linked by common purpose, with hearts set on unity)

As Bob Johnson suggested when Bruce was interviewing him, take some time to slow down this morning and walk at Jesus' pace – two mph! Think about specific times when you have seen the above characteristics in action at EPC. Try to jot down a name and a brief recollection of how someone demonstrated at least one of these characteristics (preferably more than one).

Bruce said this was good news because Peter was not commanding that we should be unified, sympathetic, loving, compassionate, etc., but he was commending us because, to a great extent, these characteristics were already in place. Review the notes you've just written, and reflect on how these demonstrations show the work of the Holy Spirit building us into a spiritual house.

Smile. Praise God. Worship him in the Spirit and in truth.

The other piece of good news Bruce pointed out from these passages in 1 Peter was this: Christ the righteous died for the unrighteous. Even the people who had incurred God's wrath, and who had failed to observe warnings given by Noah, even those got a second chance when Jesus descended into hell.

"...the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that...they might live in the spirit as God does."

In the context of your own life, at this time in your life, how is this good news? Write down your thoughts and spend some time in prayer.

And later, if anybody asks you why you're so happy today, tell them you've heard some good news.

God be with you.