Sermon: The Gift of the Spirit

Every year at the end of the Easter season we focus on Pentecost and what it means to be gifted with the Holy Spirit. Often, we recognize the energy and excitement that comes with the Holy Spirit. However, that energy is the effect of the Spirit, not its purpose.

We do need that energy and excitement, but the world desperately needs us to share the spirit — to tell the story of how the spirit has impacted us. If we tap into the power of the Holy Spirit, we can share the life-giving word of God to others.

In our daily interactions, in our conversations with others, we can communicate the role God plays in our lives.

“The Gift of the Spirit”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Acts 2: 1-21
May 20, 2018 • Pentecost

Sermon: You Are My Witnesses

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he called on us to be his witnesses. But what does being a witness actually entail?

Rather than be silent about our faith, we should embrace Christ and not be afraid to share our witness with others. It’s not about boasting, or acting self-righteous or even trying to convert others.  It’s about linking our day-to-day lives and interactions with our faith. And telling people why we act the way we act and why we live the way we live.

It’s not enough to simply witness, but likewise, it’s not enough to simply do good.

“You Are My Witnesses”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Luke 24: 44-53
May 13, 2018

Sermon: Eat and Run

When Jesus comes back to the disciples in Luke 24, he doesn’t command their attention. He waits for them to accept him.

Throughout the Easter stories, we see God’s divine discretion. We have an ability to either invite God in or to let God slip away. Every day this invitation is open to us.

Jesus is always walking with us, regardless of whether we acknowledge him or not. And sometimes God leads us on a journey that we did not intend to take. Just know that wherever you are on your journey, Jesus is with you. Even if you’re walking away from church, Jesus is with you you. In every moment, Christ is here, knocking, asking to be your heart.

“Eat and Run”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Luke 24: 13-35
May 6, 2018 • Sixth Sunday of Easter

Sermon: The Sense of an Ending

The original Gospel of Mark ends in a strange way:

“So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” –Mark 16:8

markThe Gospel ends with a preposition, and essentially says nothing happens after Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome were encountered by the spirit at the tomb, telling them Jesus had risen. It’s as if someone pulled Mark away from his desk just as he was about to wrap up his writings.

This Gospel ending was so unsatisfying the future Biblical scholars added onto the ending of Mark — adding a “shorter ending of Mark” and “longer ending of Mark” to the Bible we use today (NRSV).

But perhaps Mark was intentional about his ending. Because the Gospels aren’t about the disciples … they’re about Jesus. And Jesus lives on beyond the Bible, beyond the church and beyond the world.

“The Sense of an Ending
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Mark 16:1-17 …
April 22, 2018

Sermon: Idle Tales for April Fools’

Too often Christians get distracted by things of this world … things that just don’t matter to God. But Christians often take things of this world too seriously. “God chooses the foolish things of this world to confound the wise.”

Christians get caught up in the minutia of the world,  for instance complaining about people not saying “Merry Christmas” or an ice cream shop in Canada named “Sweet Jesus.” But Christianity is so much more than that. And God just doesn’t care about a Canadian ice cream shop.

“Instead of doing things God’s way, we often want to use the powerful things of this world to accomplish our own powerful ends.”

“Idle Tales for April Fools'”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Luke 24: 1-11
April 1, 2018 • Easter Sunday

Lenten Devotional: Saturday, March 31

by Carla Dennis

Matthew 6:5: And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat? Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be temped to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense God’s grace.

First of all, let me apologize. If you have ever received one of my voicemail messages, they are absolutely the worst and I know it! Imagine the most rambling piece of audible nonsense you’ve ever had the (un)pleasure of hearing. Yep, that’s my voicemails. Unfortunately, this awkward communication style has spilled into other aspects of my life – storytelling, joke telling, and especially saying prayers aloud.

I think excellent prayers. When I pray in my head, I feel so connected to God. The prayers just flow from my heart and it’s not unusual I’m brought to tears. Everything just seems so organic and authentic. But when I need to pray out loud, my brain takes over control from my heart. I overthink words and phrasing. I babble and sometimes even smile mid-prayer at my inadequacy of voicing my petitions. I often wonder, have I yet to fully develop that part of my brain that can appropriately put my feelings into words? It’s not that I’m worried about how my prayers are being judged by others or whether I said the “right” words, it’s more that I can’t seem to honor the feelings I have in my heart with the words that come out of my mouth.

This Lenten season has brought listening to God as a focus for Oconee Street, and frequently that’s accomplished through meditation and prayer. So what’s wrong with praying internally?  Absolutely nothing … as long as you’re not doing it because you’re embarrassed to be heard praying!

One of the strategies I’ve employed to help my external prayers be more meaningful is to write down what I want to pray about before I actually pray. The act of taking pen to paper allows my feelings to flow, and in fact, often generates additional reflections. Writing down simple concepts lets me look at the word and stirs up emotions and other thoughts. This concept works really well when praying out loud with kids as they, like us, are also uncertain about how to express their thoughts and feelings through prayer. Creating a prayer list helps prepare me to pray, but it also helps me hold myself accountable to truly pray for those who have asked for prayers in the last week.

Prayer is at the core of a relationship with Jesus, and as with any good relationship, regular communication is imperative in order to maintain it and grow from it. Therefore, if we want our kids to have a relationship with Jesus, we must look for opportunities to help them get comfortable with prayer aside from what they see and hear on Sundays. Whether it’s at mealtime, bedtime or anytime you see an emergency vehicle drive by, praying as a family is important.

This Lent, our family kept a routine of writing prayers using a Western Wall made of Legos. For those of you unfamiliar with the Western Wall, the Wall is a Jewish holy site in the Old City of Jerusalem. Each year, millions of people from all faiths and all countries journey to the wall to leave their prayers and petitions in the cracks and crevices of its massive limestone blocks. These written prayers are tucked in wherever space allows and represents voices of gratitude, adoration and desperation. The belief is that God’s divine presence filled the Temple built in the surrounding space many years ago and still rests upon the Western Wall. Once a year a local rabbi collects the notes and buries them in the nearby Mount of Olives.

Now while our Lego wall lacks the historic and divine presence of the Western Wall, it does provide a visual reminder that anytime can be prayer time. Life is so busy between work, school church and baseball that so much of our time is occupied. Rather than give something up for Lent, this is a way to support a more prayerful routine as a family – bringing ourselves as individuals and our family unit closer to God.

I’ll be honest – Matthew was a little confused at first and thought this was an opportunity to get ahead on his Christmas wishlist for Santa. But once we got past the whole praying-for-toys-petitions, I think everyone genuinely used it as a pause in their day to pray about what was on their heart. Of course, you can take written prayer beyond the world of Legos  and consider the spiritual habit of journaling, but similar to the small written notes, don’t make it too complicated! Simply write down what you’re saying to God, and write down what God’s saying to you.

Prayer: Dear God, there are times when the words I speak do not match the profound feelings in my heart. Please help me grow in my prayer routine and to remember that it’s not about the grand things I wish I could say. Whether written, oral or in my head, God, help me keep my prayers honest and simple.

Lenten Devotional: March 30

by Janet Frick

Luke 6:42: How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Things you don’t want to hear your 15-year-old half-screaming to you, in a panicked voice, while he drives on a highway for the first time: “What do you mean, glance over my shoulder? I can’t do that while I’m driving 55 miles per hour!”

In retrospect, I suppose it would have been good for me to verify that Colin understood how to safely change lanes before we were practicing driving on the loop for the first time. I had been giving little random driving lessons for a few years before that with the kids, pointing out pitfalls that can arise, and I am certain that many times, I had discussed the concept of our driving “blind spot” with the kids — that area just over our shoulders, where our mirrors and peripheral vision can’t see. It’s dangerous precisely because it’s so close to us that we forget we can’t see it. But a random lesson from mom, months earlier, is no substitute for understanding exactly *how* to deal with that particular issue, while you’re speeding down the road.

And so while driving that day on the loop, I was Colin’s extra set of eyes, to help him have confidence on when he could change lanes. When we got home, I demonstrated for him (in the safety of our driveway) how to do the quick over-the-shoulder glance, and then I stood outside the car so he could get a better feel for where that blind spot is precisely located. Once he realized how quick that “check the blind spot” glance could be, he felt a lot more relaxed about it.

As it turns out, driving is not our only blind spot. My intro psych students learn every fall that both of our eyes have literal blind spots — areas on the retina where we have no photoreceptors, because of where the optic nerve exits from the eye to travel to the brain. So theoretically, if you close one eye, you should have a small black spot in your field of vision. There are a couple of reasons why we don’t… for one thing, our eyes are constantly moving (even when we think we are holding them still, we still make little short scanning movements called saccades) and so our eyes don’t stay static long enough for us to become aware of that blind spot. But on top of that, our brain (which covers over so many of our shortcomings) helpfully “fills in” the missing information in our field of vision, so that what we see and perceive is a unified whole, even though it’s based on limited input because of that structural blind spot. (Here’s a helpful article for how to find your blind spot.)

 

That nerve-wracking day of driving practice out on the loop got me thinking about blind spots — how to discover we have them, and how to compensate for them. We don’t actually have to eliminate them, and in fact, in the two examples I’ve given here, we can’t. We can’t develop a wider angle of peripheral vision, and we can’t grow photoreceptors over our optic nerve. But we can discover we have them, and we can develop strategies for not being hindered by them.

First, how do we discover we have a blind spot? This can be tricky, because in so many areas of life, we don’t know what we don’t know. We may discover it through trial and error (a sharp car horn when we inadvisably try to change lanes on a multi-lane road) but more often, we can be told by trusted friends / loved ones with experience — not only more driving experience, but more life experience. I once received a gift of a sappy book of inspirational quotes, and most were forgettable but one stuck with me (original source unknown).

“If you want to know a person’s faults, go to those who love the person. They will not tell you, but they know.”

I believe we can discover our blind spots by listening to those who love us, by listening to those whose life experiences are different from ours, and by stepping outside of our comfort zones to live and love in the areas where God calls us.

And then, once we uncover some blind spots, what do we do next? Well, if we can’t eliminate them, we have to learn some new behaviors to compensate. It’s not easy to learn to glance over your shoulder while speeding down a highway, and in fact, that environment is not a good time to practice it for the first time. 🙂 But it gets easier with practice, to make that quick glance around us to see what we didn’t realize we couldn’t see; to be aware of things going on outside of our little incubated world; to learn how to live in harmony and community and mutual benefit with others around us who are also on their own unique journeys.

We can discover our blind spots, and learn ways of overcoming them, as we listen to God, and listen to the community of friends and loved ones that God has brought into our lives, walking (and riding) beside us.

Prayer: God, show me what I don’t know that I don’t know. And help me to find new ways of living, and loving, in better harmony with you, and with more awareness of the new eyes I need to better see the world around me. Amen.

Lenten Devotional: Thursday, March 29

by Amanda Martin

Isaiah 42:24-43:7 (an incredibly reduced synopsis from The Message: 

But now, Gods Message, The God who made you in the first place.. The One who got you started, Israel:
“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.  I’ve called your name. You’re mine. 
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you, When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place, 
It won’t be a dead end
Because I am God, your personal God I WILL change the world for you, I’d sell the world to get you back.
You mean SO much More than you know
So, don’t be afraid.  I’ll take care of your offspring, pull them in to me from every place and in each situation.  I’ll send them home from far away places, everyone, man woman child, who is created in my image and made to look like me, each one.
Get the blind and deaf out here and ready —

The blind (though there’s not a thing wrong with their eyes)
The deaf (though there’s not a thing wrong with their ears)
Then get all diverse nations out here and ready, what do they have to say, present their testimony
But You are my witnesses … my handpicked servant … so that you’ll come to know and trust me understand that I am and who I am, I spoke, I saved. I told you what existed long before these upstart Gods.  Yes, I am God, I’ve always been God and I always will No one can take anything from me.  I make; who can unmake it?”

Our personal God speaks. We have all been designed to listen and echo the sound.

The aural sense is the first to develop in utero, it is the last sense to degenerate before death.  Hearing its mother’s voice, the new born baby will turn its head in preference to any other sound stimulus. Those who experience profound hearing loss process sense waves of sound vibration and energy distributed from an external source.   Your ear is a complex sound chamber designed to receive signal, discriminate sound waves and echo them back to the brain to process meaning, deduce understanding, and formulate a response both emotional and many times physical.  In short, your body and mind are created to receive, poised to respond, and reverberate an external signal.  Surely you’re prepared to hear God, and EVERY OTHER cacophony of inner and worldy voices.

Isaiah reminds that God has spoken into the world (WHERE?), your name, and calls you, personally YOU to not be afraid (WHAT?) for she picks you for the team!  God is willing to go to great ends to talk to you and be close to you, you look a lot alike.

Isaiah urges in this sermon, God is speaking when there are choices that effect the FUTURE (WHEN), when your kids are sick, when far from family and friends and HOME.  God urges all nations (WHO?) can be heard without defensiveness and feel safe that we are to understand God, our creator, whom has showed us the language of love in the life of Jesus.  God is speaking, the one who knows us and loves us as we are made, who calls us to the existence that is her will. Thanks be to God.

Prayer:  Loving and nurturing creator, Thank you for this design that prepares us to sense you, help us to know we are understood by you, and can deep within understand your ways, then in turn to respond with caring your grand purpose.  Amen

Lenten Devotional: Wednesday, March 28

by Steve Frick

Romans 1:20 (VOICE): From the beginning, creation in its magnificence enlightens us to His nature. Creation itself makes His undying power and divine identity clear, even though they are invisible; and it voids the excuses and ignorant claims of these people.

While it may seem that the outward creation should be responsible for our faith, it is the interpreter of our faith. That faith has its primary sources within our own hearts, but it becomes an intelligible and articulate conviction only through what we observe around us. Hence, the inner and the outer revelation of God complement each other, making up between them one universal and immovable conviction that God IS, and that His power is not a mere blind force, or pantheistic “spirit of nature” but the power of a living Godhead. The Gospels not only testify that Jesus is God, but that He is our divine Creator. His divinity makes Him worthy our worship and praise.

John 1:3 (NASB) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.   

Have you ever wondered to yourself, “Could I be an atheist if I had never been exposed to religion, and more specifically, Christianity?” For me, the answer is a resounding NO. I consider myself a person who acts on logic quite a bit, and probably too much. It is often not logical to follow what God ASKS us to do, but takes faith, which is not necessarily founded in logic. However, the logic on which I operate absolutely tells me there is a Creator. I could not be an atheist if I wanted to because creation must have been preceded by its Creator. For me, being an atheist would be no different than believing that I didn’t have a mother and father!

When I consider the Earth orbiting the sun 93 million miles away, the moon orbiting the Earth, the oceans that cover the majority of the Earth, the mountains, the forests and deserts, rivers, trees, plants – ALL working in concert to produce and sustain life … I see evidence of God. When I see the bees buzzing around in the flowers, the butterflies flitting from bush to bush, the birds flying from tree to tree … I see the evidence of God. The Earth, the solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, the Universe … is not an accident. It is not something that simply happened because a fluctuation of an infinitely dense singularity burst forth without a creator.

While it may have been a big bang from nothingness, God’s OWNS that bang and the nothingness beforehand. When I consider the complexity of cells, the physics of the atom, the photons that give us light … I see evidence of God. Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Astronomy … Science – the facts, the truth. God is the author and creator of all science, and the beauty and exquisiteness of it ALL is tangibly seen in nature, in life. It is all an extension of His Being, WE are an extension of His Being. God made man in His own image. God is infinitely wise and intelligent beyond our imagination in all that He has created, and while mankind thinks He knows a lot, He only knows the tip of the iceberg – that which can be seen and studied, but much has not been revealed to us.

I realize I’ve only spoken about the physical world and what we can see, but it is the realm in which we live and as Roman 1:20 states: His power and divine identity are invisible to the eye, they are made evident from what He has created.

Prayer: Oh God of the universe and all life, we praise an honor You for Your goodness to us and for Your creation which is such a gift to enjoy. Thank you for the sustenance that you provide through your creation, and remind us daily that the beauty which surrounds us in the natural world and the goodness we find in others is all from You. I pray that the evidence of your creation will strengthen our faith and give us joy that we are made in your image.

Lenten Devotional: Tuesday, March 27

by Katie Lynch

It’s almost a joke between me and my roommates that sometimes I ask a question and don’t really listen for the answer. In busy days or hurried dinners, I’ll ask a quick, “How was your day?” or “What’s new?”, but my mind runs a million miles an hour and a couple seconds later I realize I missed everything they said. We laugh about it every time, but it’s even worse when I’m in large groups and the same thing happens … but thankfully in those times when I zone out, my friends are listening and I can poke them and they’ll whisper to me what I missed. They’re really good about this.

In a serious way, a couple days ago I was at home for Spring Break and under a crushing load of anxiety and fear. Anxiety about my family, my future, my friends. Anxiety about my anxiety — fear about what it all meant about me and my health and my faith. It was Spring Break so I wasn’t going to interrupt someone else’s beach trip or fun family time to tend to me, but something surprised me. My friend Claire called me randomly, and after a long conversation she shared something that was on her mind. She talked about thinking lately that Jesus really, truly is the only peace, and peace doesn’t always look like what we think it will.

Immediately when I got off the phone, I said to God, “Thank You for people who listen to You.”

God was whispering peace to me, through my friend, who was listening well. I was deep in a mess and wasn’t listening, but someone else was. It changed things.

We’ve been listening a lot as a church, as people together in a community, and in our personal faiths. I’ve been listening a little more in this season of Lent too, but I’ve also noticed how thankful I am for people in my life listening when I can’t. They share truth, grace, a lot of love with me when I have needed it most. It’s been friends sharing a smile, a hug, a quick word of love. It’s been parents welcoming me when I’m most tired and have nothing to offer, and a lot of y’all sharing wisdom and laughter too.

So together, today, let’s listen. We can listen for ourselves, but our listening may mean the difference for someone else too.

Prayer: Today, I thank you for the people in my life who listen to you, and it’s made all the difference to me. I listen now, and want to listen more, to be ears for those who can’t listen right now. Help me, Jesus. Amen.