Faith is Our Anchor

Giulianna C Gray, Sermon September 23rd, 2018

Mark 9:30-37

Throughout the course of our lives, there some things happen that we can’t ever hope to fully understand.

Illnesses that seem to come from nowhere.

Senseless, heartbreaking tragedies.

Betrayals…

 

We know only in part why life-changing tragic things come to pass…

At times, even as the details behind a tragedy are revealed, we may still feel we are in the dark… with questions unanswered… wondering if there was something we could have done- or said- that would have made things turn out differently.

These uncertain times, times when our minds are full of questions, are vulnerable times for us.

And vulnerable times for us are times when God’s strength becomes our strength.

 

The passage from Mark’s Gospel tells of a vulnerable time in the lives of the disciples. As you know, Jesus (at this point in the story) was really actively engaged in powerful, life-changing ministry. His disciples watched and listened to Jesus… and followed wherever he went.

When Jesus starting bringing up that uncomfortable subject of his own death  (about how the Son of Man was going to be betrayed… and killed before rising to life again), however, his disciples started having some serious trouble. Scripture says the disciples simply did not understand what he was talking about. And they were afraid to ask him to explain.

Have you ever sat in a classroom… with no earthly idea what the professor was talking about?

Surely, we’ve all been there. Aware that you don’t understand… thinking it would be too embarrassing to ask for help as a sense of inadequacy and anxiety washes over you…

 

If we have felt this badly in classroom when the only thing at stake were grades, how much more uncomfortable the disciples must have felt when the matter they did not understand pertained to life and death… Jesus’ passion predictions confused them, but they were all too afraid to ask Jesus what he was talking about…. So instead of asking Jesus, their Messiah, the one in whom they had put their trust, to help them to understand, they did what seemed like the next best thing to them...

They broke off from Jesus on the road…. and distracted themselves with an argument. The disciples really were human, weren’t they?!

To begin, one must have posed the question, “All right… who is the best one here?”… Perhaps they were trying to figure out who was most worthy to serve as the Messiah King’s sort of right hand man/ chief of staff.  

Surely, they were raising joyless questions of comparison:

Questions like:

-         Who’s the smartest? Who’s the wisest?

-         Who’s the most articulate speaker?

-         Who is taller? Stronger? Better looking?

-         The bravest?

-         Who has the most money? The most possessions?

 

When they finally reached their destination, Jesus asked what the argument was about. Already knowing the answer, he was not amused.

Jesus got very clear… He sat all 12 of them down, and simply said,

“Whoever wants to be first must be last… and servant of all…”

Perhaps it was the puzzled looks on their faces that caused him to illustrate the point by inviting a little child to draw near to him.

In the ancient world, Children were without rights. Children had the very lowest status in the household. They were utterly vulnerable.

But Jesus took the little one in his arms. Tenderly, Jesus said: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes (not me) the one who sent me…”

 

Jesus was showing them the way to the kingdom:

The way was simple.

The way to the kingdom was (and is) to walk in love as Christ loved us… and to extend gentleness-- and mercy --and kindness to all, and serve one another with a spirit of humility.

The way of Jesus was for everyone: young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor.

 

The values of God’s kingdom are very different from the values of our world.

Greatness in the kingdom of God is not achieved through might… or money… or prestige… or power.

Greatness in the kingdom of God comes only through mercy, gentleness, humility, service.

 

In the face of all the tragedy and confusion that was going to come for the disciples, there were many days when they didn’t do what they should have done, or say what they should have said. Yet those 11 disciples who watched in confusion and horror during the days of Jesus’ passion were not lost. They were not lost because Jesus had showed them the way, and they kept on choosing to follow.  

 

So it is for us.  

While God does not willingly grieve or afflict his children, losses in life can shake us to the core.

But we keep choosing to follow.

 

The world can be a harsh place. So many painful things do happen… and will happen.

But we keep choosing to follow… even in those dark, painful moments of life.

 

Our call is not to trust in our own strength, but in the God who is strong… who is always strong, who is stronger, even than death!

The storms of life rage on, but faith is our anchor. The daily practice of faith roots us…. And so,

-         We keep connecting to God in prayer

-         We keep finding ways to help our help OTHER people,

-         We keep coming to worship

-         It is in these simple acts of service to God, to one another, that we find greatness and strength and life.

 

Thanks be to God, the God who promised to be with us always, even to the end of the age… is with us in times of ease and in time of hardship.

May we have the wisdom to put our trust not in ourselves--- but in our God. This day, and all the days of our life.

Amen.

 

 

 

Calm in the Storm

 Preparing to preach on this ancient text had me pondering the power of fear, and the grip of safety, and our constant invitation to be rooted in the deep peace of God.

May God bless you with the peace the world cannot give, so that you might go about your life with courage, clarity and an open heart!

Giulianna+

Mark 4:35-41 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Jacopo Tintoretto had his imagination captured by Jesus's power over the chaos of a stormy sea in the 1570s. He created this beauty that now hangs in the National Gallery of Art in DC.

Jacopo Tintoretto had his imagination captured by Jesus's power over the chaos of a stormy sea in the 1570s. He created this beauty that now hangs in the National Gallery of Art in DC.

Gifts of Prayer: Love, Joy, Gratitude

This Mother's Day, we heard Jesus' beautiful goodbye prayer from John's Gospel (John 17: 6-19). Jesus showed us how to pray and even prays for us constantly.

Mother's Day is a great day to focus on prayer-- to lift up our mothers and pray for all who provide nurture to others. We give thanks for the beloved daughters of God-- many of whom were the very first people to pray for us. While we give thanks for mothers, however, the great love we celebrate is the perfect love God has for all of us.

It has been said that prayer is love. Perhaps the greatest gift we can give our mothers, and the whole world, is simply that gift Jesus gives us so freely: prayer.

What's love got to do with it?

The readings we were appointed for this morning got me thinking about what motivates our actions.

In John, Chapter 15, Jesus said to his disciples:

As the Father has love me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love... This is my commandment, that you would have one another as I have loved you.

What motivates you to do the things you do? It is love? Obligation? A desire to "be good"?

Below is a sermon about this theme and this lovely old prayer that strikes me as being beautifully tied together.

Grace and Peace,

Giulianna+

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Peace, Joy, and Understanding: A Sermon on the Gifts of the Risen Christ

It is a joy to preach the Good News of Easter!

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Below is the passage from Luke's Gospel we read in church today and my sermon. In my sermon, you will hear lots about this Gospel, as well as this fantastic quote by the spiritual writer and teacher Marianne Williamson:

Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things actually are.

My prayer this morning is that we will be open to receive the gifts of peace, joy, and understanding that the Risen Christ is offering to us today!

In Peace,

Giulianna+

Luke 24:36b-48
36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, "Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence. 44 Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.
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Lest we fall into despair, God gives us Good Friday...

On Good Friday, we read the Passion Narrative in John's Gospel and we knelt in prayer and repentance. Below is my sermon from the noonday service. Regardless of where you may be during these final holy days, I pray that you find time to contemplate and marvel in the perfect love of God as it has been made known to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

- Giulianna+

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Holy Week is Here!

Happy, Holy Maundy Thursday!

I'm feeling blessed to walk through our holiest of weeks again with this church family that is always up for a new challenge. Who knew we had so many people able to use their hands to express their faith?!..

Below is an image from our Intergenerational Sunday School held on Palm Sunday. This evening, we will gather to recall the last night Jesus spent with his disciples before he went to his death. We will worship together at 5:30pm. Tomorrow, Good Friday, we will worship at noon. And Easter Sunday will begin with an egg hunt and coffee hour at 10:00am, followed by a festive Eucharist at 11am. 

Giulianna+

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Jesus Gives Light to our Way

The last Sunday before Lent begins, we always hear the story of the transfiguration of Jesus. This story is the one where, out of the blue, Jesus shone brightly while he and a few of his disciples were up on the mountain.

Jesus' mysterious transfiguration was a moment of clarity that broke into the dullness and shadows of regular life. In my sermon today, I pondered transfiguration moments and considered how they shed light on our path.

Our destiny is glory, but our path to get there is full of shadows. Thanks be to God, the same God who was transfigured on the mountain also walks into the valley with his disciples...

May the light of Christ be our comfort and our guide!

Giulianna+

PS- the sermon is below... forward over the first 3 minutes to get right to the sermon

 

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Silence: Waiting for God's Word

Silence is hard to find, especially in December. One of the reasons I love Advent is because it encourages us to carve out time to be quiet so that we might listen as we wait for Christ to come among us.

I have been using Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book God is in the Manger: Reflection on Advent and Christmas for my own prayer thus far this Advent. The devotional for today struck me as particularly helpful, so I recorded a bit of it to share with you... it is a reflection for the 6th Day of Advent.

This is just a 3 minute clip... perhaps you will want to use it as an introduction into a time of holy silence. If so, I encourage you to set a timer on your phone so you can give yourself permission to take 3...or 5.. or 30 minutes to simply rest in the quiet of peace.

Giulianna+

The First Sunday of Advent

Advent is here! May this season of holy waiting and anticipation be one of peace for you and those you love. Below is my sermon from the first Sunday of Advent, and also the Gospel from the 13th Chapter of Mark.

May the Sun of Righteousness scatter the darkness from before your path,

Giulianna+

Mark 13:24-37  Jesus said, “In those days, after that suffering,the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.  “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.  “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Mark 13:24-37

Jesus said, “In those days, after that suffering,the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

The Gift of Gratitude

Even as the world seems to tell us that we need to buy more, and more, and more in order to be content and prepared for Christmas, this Thursday in late November tries to interrupt the action by reminding us where true joy can be found.

Thanksgiving draws our attention to gratitude. Having a single day when the whole nation is encouraged to pause to simply say "thank you" is a wonderful gift. Social scientists, after-all, tell us that joyful people are grateful people. Joyful people are folks who make counting their blessings a regular practice in their lives. 

Gratitude is simple. Gratitude is about pausing long enough to give thanks for the abundance that is already in our lives. When we are giving thanks, we are no longer striving. When we are giving thanks, we are not longer thinking about what else we are hungry for. When we are giving thanks, we can rest in the goodness of what already is. 

Thanksgiving is best when we celebrate the day simply-- with people we love-- mindful of the abundant blessings we already enjoy. If we want joy, let us begin here. Counting blessings. It is that simple.

This will be the form of my own prayers leading up to Thanksgiving, and I encourage you to do the same. While we often find counting blessings to be easy, we do have help. The ancient prayers of the church can help us find the words to pray when we are feeling a little low on inspiration. Below is a prayer that has fixed my sight toward gratitude over and over again, particularly at times in my life when my glass has been a little half-full. Found on page 836 in the Book of Common Prayer, The General Thanksgiving summaries the fullness of gratitude people of faith share.... even in the hard times of life. 

I am grateful for you, friends! And I pray your week is one of joy, and rest, and abundance. 

Giulianna+

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The General Thanksgiving
Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have
done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole
creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life,
and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for
the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best
efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy
and delight us.

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures
that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the
truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast
obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying,
through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life
again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and
make him known; and through him, at all times and in all
places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.