June Birthdays Celebration

birthdaywagon

Let’s honor our congregational members’ June birthdays this month.

June birthdays include Michael McRoy (June 1), Dylan Kemper (June 2),  Jer’Mia Alberty (June 4), Laura Unterweger (June 5), Deshonda Burgess (June 6), Meisha James (June 7), Matt Edwards (June 16), Cassandra Kinkade (June 24), Jerimiah Alberty (June 29), Donald Johnson (June 29), and Sarah Copeland (June 30).

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Trusting the Good Shepherd- Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is likely one of the most familiar passages in scripture. I imagine that, if we were asked, most of us could probably quote the KJV of Psalm 23 from memory. It was the first passage of scripture that I ever memorized.

In Psalm 23, one of the things the writer does is affirm that God’s being and God’s consistent acts of caring for God’s children cannot be separated from each other. God’s actions towards God’s children are not simply what God does, but who God is.

God does not simply perform acts of love, God is love. God does not simply act like a shepherd. God is the holy shepherd. Because of this fact, the psalmist knows that God’s acts on their behalf will always be enough to manage and/or to overcome the challenges of life.

Within its six short verses, Psalm 23 affirms multiple theological ideas that help the reader to understand the progressively deepening relationship that occurs between God and God’s children. Today, I want to highlight three theological ideas Psalm 23 affirms. They are the theological ideas of provision, protection, and restoration.

God provides for God’s people as shepherds provide for the sheep within their care. Within the Hebrew context, one of the foremost responsibilities of shepherds was to lead their flock/ensure that sheep had access to the resources they needed to thrive.

This was not always an easy task. Sometimes the fields shepherds wanted their flocks to graze in had already been over-used by other shepherds. Other times there were droughts or other conditions caused by the weather and seasonal patterns that did not allow for grass to grow well. And many times, there was not traditional access to water and the shepherd had to lead the flock on long journeys to get to a place where they could get what they needed.

No matter the conditions, it was the shepherd’s responsibility to get the sheep to a place where they could receive/experience what they needed to become or stay healthy.

Not only were shepherds responsible for providing for their flock, they were also responsible for protecting the sheep under their care. This was not always an easy task to accomplish, either. Shepherds had to be on the lookout for predators looking for an easy meal, or poachers who wanted to take what belonged to someone else.

Shepherds would often find themselves putting their own safety in jeopardy to protect their flocks. What would save shepherds and sheep were the tools they carried that often doubled as weapons for protection.

Two of the tools used by shepherds were rods and staffs. Staffs were long pieces of wood that were typically used by shepherds to guide or move sheep as they traveled. Rods were much shorter pieces of wood, almost like a mace with a heavy round end. In the hands of a capable shepherd, both became useful objects to defend their flocks.

No matter what type of predator was being faced, it was the shepherd’s responsibility to protect the flock so they could get to the place where they could receive/experience what they needed to become or stay healthy and produce what they were created to.

Not only were shepherds responsible for providing for their flocks and protecting them, shepherds were also responsible for restoring sheep who had been physically injured. One responsibility of a shepherd was to ensure that sheep who had experienced trauma or injury were nursed back to health.

If a sheep experienced injury, the shepherd would help that sheep heal by providing personal care for it. The shepherd would often perform surgeries on sheep that had been hurt. Shepherds would eventually take time to check every sheep in the flock so they could become familiar with all of them individually and make sure that they were all safe and healthy.

The point of the psalm is that God, the good shepherd, does all of this for God’s children, in real time. God provides, protects, and restores God’s children regularly. God makes sure that God’s children have what they need, even when resources seem slim. God ensures that God’s children are safe, even when the path they travel on seems dark. God also restores God’s children when it seems like life gets the upper hand on them.

We can all rest assured that when, like real sheep, we cannot do much for ourselves, God, the good shepherd, loves us and travels with us wherever we find ourselves. Like human shepherds, sometimes we can see God out in front of us guiding the way, and like David, physically fighting off the predators that want to overcome us.

But other times, we may start walking and end up somewhere unexpected and wonder how we got there. But when we look around for God, we see God behind us and realize that God had been with us the whole time. God allowed us to move as we pleased, but God remained present watching over us.

This is the essence of God. The essence of who God is. God does as God is. God is our provision, protection, and restoration. We do not have to do anything for God to be this in our lives. God is that already.

Dr. F.B. Meyer wrote, “We (should) think less of our attitude toward (God) and more of (God’s) responsibility for us. The flock does not keep the shepherd, but the shepherd keeps the flock. Look away from yourself and trust Him with all, in all, and for all.”

God the great shepherd has been, is, and will be all, in all, and for all in our lives. That is why we worship today. Amen.

Pastor Terrell

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May Birthdays

birthdaycupcakeWe won’t be able to gather for our customary monthly celebration, but we still want honor our folks who have birthdays in May.

May birthdays include Drew Patrick (May 13), Emily Koch (May 18), Halla Chinnici (May 23), Keillyn Johnson (May 23),  Pat Clark (May 25), and Joe McRoy (May 27).

 

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Dr. Carter shares God’s message ‘Faith When We Don’t Know What’s Next’ (Psalm 16)

I must acknowledge that last Sunday, Easter Sunday, was not what I had hoped or expected. Although we experienced a few glitches in our first Zoom meeting together, that is not what I’m referring to.

Last Sunday did not go as I had imagined because there is so much uncertainty in our world right now. When I began thinking and praying about Easter and developing plans for what the day would look like, a Zoom meeting was not what I had in mind.

I imagine that Easter was not what any of us expected. Not much of any of our lives is probably going as we anticipated. And unfortunately, we do not have any idea when life will begin to look like we thought it would. The only thing we can be certain of for the near future is…uncertainty.

Uncertainty was a major part of the first Easter story in the New Testament. The followers of Jesus experienced uncertainty for Jesus and themselves as they watched/witnessed/heard about Jesus’ trial, physical abuse, execution on a cross, and placement in a tomb. They were even more uncertain when they found that tomb empty.

A clear component of the Easter story was the challenge the disciples experienced in not knowing what was next.

Psalm 16, a Psalm that, in the past, was believed to have been a prediction of Jesus’ resurrection, also addressed the challenge of uncertainty, but in a way that we usually would not expect.

In general, there are two types of psalms in the Bible: Psalms of lament where a writer pleads with God for help with a negative situation they are experiencing and Psalms of confidence/faith where a writer celebrates God’s actions on their behalf. Psalm 16 is one of confidence and faith.

The writer of Psalm 16 celebrates the fact that their life was good because of all that God had done for them. The writer provides a laundry list of praise by saying, “God, you provide protection, good things, joy, fellowship (with other believers), true worship (I don’t worship false gods), hope, positive spiritual life (because I worship You, the one true God), and peace.”

The writer states that because of the multiple examples of God’s faithfulness, they could trust that things would work out for them in the future. They can trust that God will remain faithful to them even when life/their future looks uncertain. I get this idea from what the writer said in verses 10 and 11. In verse 11, the writer said, “I am your chosen one. You won’t leave me in the grave or let my body decay.”

In many ways, the idea of death and the afterlife was the most uncertain idea that the Hebrew people faced daily. Their concept of death and the afterlife was not as fully formed as ours is in the 21st Century.

They did not have the concept of dying and going to heaven to be with God, as we do. Instead, they held to a not fully formed concept that when a person died, their soul either ceased to exist or it went to the grave/Sheol/the Pit.

The grave/Sheol/the Pit was believed to be a place of darkness where souls resided. No one knew how long souls resided there. Some thought it would be temporary, while others thought it was for eternity. Some thought that every soul went there, while others thought that only bad people’s souls ended up there.

This various ideas about death and the afterlife were some of the key ideas that eventually separated the Pharisees and the Sadducees in the New Testament. We see this in how each group interacted with Jesus around the question of life and death.

Again, death was one of the most, if not the most, uncertain things facing the writer of Psalm 16. Yet, the writer said that because God had been faithful in consistently protecting them, they could trust that God would protect them even in death.

“When I die, you will not leave me in the grave. Instead, I believe that you will continue to personally guide me and protect me. Instead of being alone in the grave/Sheol/the Pit, I will be with you wherever you are. Although my future may be uncertain, there is something I am certain of. I am certain that you will continue to be faithful to me and that you will continue to be with me and protect me. Even in the afterlife.”

Of the psalmist’s confidence in God, Dr. J. Clinton McCann writes, “Security (certainty) for the psalmist is not an achievement but a result of a life entrusted to God.”

So far, our Easter season has been overshadowed by the uncertainty caused by multiple things. COVID-19 has cast a large shadow over all of us. Some of us are worried about the physical and mental health of loved ones. Some of us are kept awake at night by concerns about employment. Some of us are fearful about other things that we will not mention out loud. This year has been filled with a clear level of uncertainty for all of us.

My prayer for all of us is that we would remember the hope that we have in common with the writer of Psalm 16. That God has been faithful before, and because of that, we can trust that God will continue to be faithful to us, even though we do not know what’s next for our lives.

God has not left us. God will not leave us. God has provided good things for us. God will continue to provide good things for us. These provisions are not based our actions but on God’s faithful love that was exemplified in the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of our savior, Jesus. I pray that we all will continue to hold on to the hope and peace that comes with claiming Jesus as our savior. Amen.

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Rev. Terrell Carter shares God’s message ‘A Needed Easter Hope’

Romans 5:1-11

The Letter to the Romans was written by Paul and it was his magnum opus that explored the idea that humankind’s relationship with God was changed for the better through the work of Jesus Christ. It was Paul’s explanation of what the gospel is. In many ways, it’s also one of Paul’s clearest explanations of the need for and results of Easter.

God created humans in order to be in relationship with them. But humans had the habit of doing the opposite of what God wanted which led to damaged relationships between God and humankind.

To fix this problem of damaged relationships between God and humankind, God sent the Son, Jesus, as the way/the sacrifice that would restore and repair God’s relationship with humans.

Romans is not necessarily a happy go lucky book. Truthfully, some of the book can be depressing because Paul spent a lot of time telling his readers that they were sinners. Romans 1-4 fits this description.

In those chapters, Paul told his readers that because they were controlled by their flesh, their natural tendency was to go in the opposite direction God wanted them to go. None of them naturally wanted to follow God, not even their ancestors.

Paul told them that it did not matter whether a person was a Jew, someone who was born into the chosen lineage of God or willingly chose to follow the laws and principles given by God in the Old Testament.

It also did not matter if a person was a Gentile, someone who was believed to be on the outside of God’s love due to not following God’s laws or principles. Everyone in both groups (Jews and Gentiles) naturally did what they wanted instead of doing what God wanted.

Because of humankind’s tendency to do as they wanted instead of as God wanted, God had every right to pass judgment against everyone in the world. Everyone needed help to be acceptable before God.

Paul was not trying to be a moron or trying to put his readers in their place when he said that. He was telling them the truth. All humankind needed restoration because no one could live right before God.

But, out of love for all creation/humankind, God could not/would not leave humankind that way. God gave the world the help it needed through God’s Son, Jesus. Through God’s sacrificial love, as evidenced in Jesus, humankind’s relationship with God was restored through the work of Jesus through his death on the cross and resurrection on Easter Sunday. Through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, anyone who trusts in that work of Jesus has full access to God restored.

In Romans 5, Paul told his readers that, through Jesus, they/we have been given access to God’s grace. The idea that he has behind that word is similar when a person was granted the privilege of entering the presence of a king or other highly important person of the time.

Knowing that no one ever deserved to be able to approach a king, a the person knew that if they were in the king’s presence, it was only because the king wanted them to be there or someone close to the king made it possible for them to be there.

The same is true for humankind’s restoration to God. It did not occur because we were able to make it happen. It happened because God loved us and wanted us to experience God’s presence unhindered. And Jesus was willing to lay down his life for us to be able to enter God’s presence.

Amid this wonderful news, Paul said that a challenge would still exist even though their/our relationships to God have been fully restored. That challenge is that life is not always perfect. People will still get sick. Unfortunate things will still happen to those whom we love. We will still get bad news and have not so great experiences in life.

The past month of watching the spread of COVID-19 and understanding that most of our lives will not be as normal as they used to be is an unfortunate testament to how correct Paul was.

Paul told his readers that, although grace is available and present in our lives, life is not perfect, and we are not perfect. But, the imperfections of life do not have to get us down. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, God provides us with the strength and wisdom to endure all that life throws at us until the day that God returns and recreates us and the world.

Paul says that we are not only able to be at peace with God, but we are also able to be at peace, in general, no matter what life throws our way. Because we have been restored to God’s presence, nothing that we experience has the power to overcome us. Instead, we can embrace the hope that comes in knowing that Jesus has restored us to God.

Dr. Laird Stuart writes, “This passage sets us on the pilgrimage of hope. Hope comes from experiencing this progression as God feeds us and leads us through it. Hope also comes because before us is the cross, a sign both of the suffering of Christ and of the triumph over death that God made possible for him and for us. These two sources of hope are intertwined. It is the cross before us, like the north star, that calls us forward through this pilgrimage from suffering into endurance and character on our way to hope.”

The benefits of Jesus’ work, his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, are available to all humankind through God’s grace and through faith in those works. Today, more than ever, we can embrace the hope that comes from the work of the cross. Hope that as God did not allow Jesus to be overcome by life or enemies, we will not be overcome by anything either. This is one of our greatest hopes as those who claim Jesus as our Savior.

Amen.

Pastor Terrell

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