The Lighthouse Keeper

Greetings from Pastor Kerry, former pastor of Spring City UMC. This blog contains my sermon outlines and/or manuscripts from my pastorate among the people of Spring City PA, from 2006 to 2011. Pastor Dennis is now the lighthouse keeper. Come and worship on Sundays at 10:00 a.m.!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Ask A Pastor: Where Was God When...?

July 22, 2007

from Psalm 42

"Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God." – Psalm 42:5

My sermon outline:

• To Catch a Predator, Dateline NBC Chris Hansen, identify and detain child sexual abusers. Suicide. Nearly 300 arrests in 3 years (11 stings). Where is God, that children are sexually abused? Scout leaders and even priests break their trust and engage in sexual abuse. Where is God?

One race enslaves or seeks to destroy another. Apartheid. 9/11. Holocaust. Where was God?

Tens of thousands starve daily. God?

Businesses and governments abuse power and breed corruption. God?

Surely there have been thousands and millions of Godloving Godfearing faithful innocents who have suffered untold injustices at the hands of evil people. Where is God?

• Even if you remove the “hands of evil people” element, human suffering abounds through natural disasters.

Hurricane Katrina. 2,000 lives lost, plus millions, (poor, disabled, oppressed) displaced, homeless.

Back up a few months to the day after Christmas, 2004, Indian Ocean Earthquake and tsunami, claiming 230,000 lives. God?

Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, counts from 25 to 100 million dead. God?

Black Death / Plague, wipes out 1 to 2 thirds of Europe in the mid 1300’s. Not only was the Church hit hard, but it lost credibility as it failed to heal, prevent death. God?

Where Was God When? Why do these terrible things happen?

• Psalm 42 David the psalmist entertains this question with something like a split-personality. Devil on one shoulder Angel on the other. Psalm 42 simultaneously reveals both despair and hope, both proclaims downcast and praise. You’ll want your Bible in hand for this.

• Verses 1-3. Starts with image of water, which sets the stage. Longs for life giving water, communion with God. But soul is cut off from God. Instead of receiving, he’s losing lifewater, tears days on end, pouring out soul as people mock. (verse 4: it wasn’t always this way. It used to be real good. I used to be able to see God)

• The angel kicks in in verse 5. Remember the good times! You know God has been with you! God will never leave you nor forsake you! (verse 5) Why are you so sad? You’ll praise God again.

• David answers in verse 6: I’m grieving here, I can’t see God in this world anymore, but I remember. I remember. It’s etched in my memory like the outline of Mount Hermon, the greatest mountain in the land, is etched in the skyline. I remember. (angel grins)

• little interlude: remember mountaintop experiences. Two things: sustain when life’s griefs take over, also refocus on God, repent if needed. 2 times to praise: when you feel like it, and when you don’t.

• Who doesn’t want to see you happy? The devil pops in, verse 7. Took me a while to get this one: “Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts, all your waves and your billows have gone over me.” Deep to deep? Cataracts? Thundering waterfall of whatever to separate from God. Not a gentle rain but a tornado of disaster. Onslaught of events. Pounded, beat, drowned. Like the Allied forces storming the beaches of Normandy. Trouble upon trouble, and (says the devil) God is wiping you out.

• Angel counters, verse 8: What is the definition of God? God is love. How are you defined? You are defined by God… God defines your life. God showers you with love.

• Verse 9-10: devil tries a new tack: says “man, you fully rely on God, and this happens? God’s forgotten you. Go ahead, ask him.” nurtures seed of doubt of God’s goodness.

• Psalm 42 ends with verse 11, a repeat of what the angel said before. Angel doesn’t need to change what it says, just repeat. Why are you downcast? Why no hope? Didn’t you hear me? Hope is stronger than any of the forces you face; God is not a forsaker but the giver of life. God is your help. Trust me, says the angel. Trust God. Remember.

• City of Angels, 1998, Nic Cage plays Seth, an angel who falls in love with a doctor Meg Ryan.
Seth: You're a good doctor.
Maggie: How do you know?
Seth: I have a feeling.
Maggie: Yeah, well that's pretty flimsy evidence.
Seth: Close your eyes. Just for a second... what am I doing?
Maggie: You're... touching me.
Seth: How do you know?
Maggie: Because, I feel it.
Seth: You should trust that. You don't trust it enough.

• Ps 42 gives us this little dialogue between doubt and faith, in this attempt to answer Where was God, Why does such happen. Reminds us that God is, that God is love, that God is rock, that God is life, that God is worthy of praise.

• People will always ask why. We’re designed to. If disaster didn’t happen, we’d ask why.

• The existence of darkness does not negate the presence and the power of light; indeed the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.

Be still and know that God is.

Close your eyes and listen to your own breath, your heartbeat, and know that God gives it.

Feel the pulse, the warmth in your skin, remember the mountain top, remember the Shepherd.

• 137 Psalm 23

• 534 Be Still My Soul

- Pastor Kerry
This Sunday: 48 in worship. Warm and humid.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Ask a Pastor: Does Prayer Really Change Anything?

July 15, 2007

from Hebrews 10:19-25 and Philippians 4:4-7

"Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds." – Hebrews 10:24

My sermon outline:

• If your prayer is answered the way you want it answered, how do you respond?
What if your prayer is not answered the way you want it to be answered, how then do you respond?

Prayer is one of those things. Like marriage. For better or for worse, except in this partnership the other person is God.

Last Week: Does God Answer Prayers?
Prayer > petition. Includes Adoration Confession Thanksgiving too.
Answer to prayer can be Yes, No, or Wait.

• Pray for good, yet tragic happens, may ask “Does prayer really change anything? Why bother praying if not?”

• Look at Philippians for some words about prayer.

4:6 Do not worry about anything... Worry is at best creative thinking gone bad and at worst mistrust of God. Either way it’s not peace.

4:6 ...but in everything by prayer and supplication... reminiscent of 2 Thessalonians 5:17 “Pray without ceasing”. What areas of life should be bathed in prayer? What should not?
Pray at meals, bedtime, travel, in the hospital, meetings, tests, schools, even parking...

4:6 ...with thankgiving... Half of Paul’s letters begin with something like “I always thank God for you, always remembering you in my prayers...

4:6 ...let your requests be made known to God.

4:7 ...And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Not: “& God will answer every prayer the way you think it ought to be answered...”

• Does prayer change anything?

It changes you.

• Looking at other NT books we see Paul praying for:
Strength & encouragement, for self & others (Romans 1:8-10, 1 Cor 1:4-9)
Enlightenment & power (Ephesians 1:15-21)
Testimony (Ephesians 6:18-20)
Growth in love and in spiritual wisdom (Philippians 1:3-11)
Fruitful faith (Colossians 1:3-12, Philemon 1:4-7)

• And yes, for healing (James 5:14)

• We are changed

2 Corinthians 3:16-18
"But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."

• Does prayer change anything? Prayer changes us  communities  the world

• 492 Prayer Is The Soul's Sincere Desire

- Pastor Kerry
This Sunday: 50 in worship. Getting warmer.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Ask A Pastor: Does God Answer Prayer?

July 8, 2007

from Matthew 6:5-15, 7:7-8 and James 5:13-18

"Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed." – James 5:16

My sermon outline:

Who hasn’t prayed for a loved one to be healed, and they died? Unanswered prayer?

What about the prayer of the qualified worker passed up for promotion by an outsider? Unanswered prayer?

You were able to get a last-minute appointment at the doctor’s, but being unable to find your car keys despite praying for the ability, you miss the appointment. Unanswered prayer?

We have in this congregation persons who have prayed and prayed, whom we’ve prayed for again and again, who remain undiagnosed or untreatable in illness, who continue to suffer with depression or cancer, who bear chronic pain.

• Unanswered prayer is one of the biggest problems we face as Christians. We believe in prayer, we practice prayer, yet it seems some of our prayers go unanswered. What’s worse is that unanswered prayer becomes ammunition for those who don’t follow Christ. “If God existed or if God loved you, these bad things wouldn’t happen, or God would answer your prayers.” Conversely, think of what a witness for nonbelievers it would be to witness a miracle cure following the prayer of the righteous.

• When do you feel that your prayers have been answered / not answered? asking for something. Petition. Limited view of prayer, santa-God to grant our requests: We decide before we pray what the answer should be, we tell God what we want. God does not exist to grant our every wish but to do what God sees fit. God is sovereign. (When Job questioned his suffering, God came back with “were you there when the foundations of the earth were laid? do you know so much? trust me. I was there.)

• looking at the way Jesus taught us to pray (including time, place, object of prayer), prayer includes blessing / honoring of God (i.e. worship), it includes proclamation of thanksgiving, it states humility, it includes confession. Perhaps you’ve heard ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication (petition)).

• also biblical examples we might call unanswered prayers: Paul prayed for thorn removal, Jesus points out that though there were many in need in Israel during the time of Elijah, Elijah was sent to one widow, and that, an outsider (zarephath). Jesus himself, a righteous person if ever there was one, prayed that he be spared the suffering of the cross… yet thy will be done.

"No," though perhaps an answer we don’t want, is not the same thing as unanswered prayer.

• Jesus teaches us to pray with persistence… that we ask of God who loves us and knows our needs better than we do; that we seek, that is put some effort into what we pray (give us bread, and work; thy kingdom come, and witness;); that we knock (persistence, make requests seriously)

• Pray with humility. confession and forgiveness linked to both Jesus’ example in Matthew and James

• Pray with patience. Yes, No, Wait. God’s schedule.

I Asked God.........
-Author Unknown

I asked God to take away my pain.
God said, No.
It is not for me to take away,
but for you to give it up.

I asked God to make my handicapped child whole.
God said, No.
Her spirit was whole,
her body was only temporary.

I asked God to grant me patience.
God said, No
Patience is a by-product of tribulations,
it isn't granted, it is earned.

I asked God to give me happiness.
God said, No.
I give you blessings, Happiness is up to you.

I asked God to spare me pain.
God said, No.
Suffering draws you apart from worldly cares
and brings you closer to me.

I asked God to make my spirit grow.
God said, No.
You must grow on your own,
but I will prune you to make you fruitful.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.
God said, No.
I will give you life so that
you may enjoy all things.

I ask God to help me LOVE others,
as much as he loves me.
God said... Ahhhh,
finally you have the idea.

• 496 Sweet Hour of Prayer

- Pastor Kerry
This Sunday: 57 in worship. Getting warmer.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Ask A Pastor: What's UP with denominations?

July 1, 2007

from 1 Corinthians 1:10-12, 3:5-9 and Mark 9:33-41

"For we are God’s servants, working together…" - 1 Corinthians 3:9

My sermon outline:

• Questions, What’s Up with denominations, why are there so many different kinds of churches? And really, what’s the difference? Some of your responses (same Bible, same God, same songs, community)

• Can you imagine if Jesus’ body had been left behind, the church would’ve become its stewards… can you imagine if there was a disagreement over where and how to keep and honor the remains?

• Story of confirmation class to Catholic church. A priest answered "what's the difference between us?" by saying: The very thing that should unite us is that which divides us. Sad, but true.

• Cover of bulletin shows a religious family tree. At the base of this tree is the Great Schism, in 1054, and over the course of 600 years you make a left and a right and you end up in The United Methodist Church. Today I’m going to focus on two questions that cause the different branches to happen: Where is the authority, and what is believed?

• Church started with the Apostle Peter, who took the Good News to Rome, and Apostolic authority and tradition – Rome becomes the seat of the Church. As the church grew during the first 1,000 years, there were other regional bishops, and controversy arose over whether the Bishop of Rome had authority over bishops. Where is the authority? In 1054 the church split, in part because of Roman hierarchy (West ^ East /-\), and in part because of question two, what is believed: specifically, where’s HS come from? From Father alone, or from Father and Son?

• Church has spread throughout Europe, and in Germany in 1517 Martin Luther, a Catholic monk, publicly protests some teachings of the Church, including indulgences. Justification is by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ. Both a question of authority (Pope or Bible?) and belief (grace or works?) and Protestant Reformation is kindled. Lutheran church is born.

• 1534 Henry VIII, himself Catholic, seeking an annulment of marriage so he could marry Anne Boleyn and have an heir, Pope denied. Henry declares himself head of Church in England.

• 1560 a third major break from the papacy, this time in Scotland, adhering to the teachings of another Reformer, John Calvin. The Presbyterian Church was born. One question of belief that came up in the Protestant Reformation was the issue of how to observe Lent: the Catholic Church practiced abstinence from meat during Lent, and one early Reformer, seeing no biblical mandate for it, protested by eating sausage!

• So far the different churches have similar hierarchies with either one person at the top or a council of equal persons at the top, and priests and local congregations at the bottom. In 1580 some churches break from Church of England that give authority to the local congregation, and Congregational Churches are born. In 1608 there’s another division of the Church of England and the Baptist church is born.

• Included in the splits are questions surrounding the sacraments: what happens in Communion, what happens in Baptism, who may commune, who may be baptized. Questions about salvation (earn it or receive it? lose it?) and predestination (do people have any choice?) And worship wars have been happening for centuries concerning the use of instruments in worship and how decorated the sanctuary should be.

• What difference do these make? Example: force-rank God’s grace v. power.

• Also: pastoral leadership styles. clergy v. lay? Charismatic leader under episcopacy? vice-versa?

• John Wesley Church of England priest in 1725, zealously sought to practice faith in community, social justice plus personal piety, self-examination plus accountability. So zealous was he to teach the Gospel to anyone who would hear it that he began preaching wherever people would gather, regardless of whether it was in a church. He even authorized laypersons to preach the word, so that none should be lost. As the American colonies gained their independence from Britain, he realized the importance of passing on ecclesial authority, and the Methodist Church was birthed in Baltimore, after Christmas of 1784.

• Methodist Church maintains a system of authority like the Church of England, with local congregations clustered in districts, districts clustered in Annual Conferences under one bishop, and a council of coequal bishops at the top. Unique to Methodist policy is the equal voice of the lay.

• Signature elements of Methodism include the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, in which the living core of the Christian faith is revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason. Also the path to salvation of Prevenient Grace, Justifying Grace, and Sanctifying Grace. Wesley believed that by sanctifying grace we are going on to perfection – that is, one may attain “perfection in love” in this lifetime.

• So that’s it in a nutshell, why there are denominations and some of the things that are distinct about Methodism. I was raised UCC, schooled Lutheran, married Methodist. UCC seminary, learned that it was in Methodism’s polity and theology that I was most comfortable, and I believe God is using people of many denominations as God’s servants, working together.

• 437 This Is My Song

- Pastor Kerry
This Sunday: 66 in worship. Nice weather. Communion Sunday.