Sunday Messages

Sermon June 18: Tell Me Again!

Posted by on Jun 22, 2017 in Sunday Message | 0 comments

http://faithsbvt.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Tell-Me-Again_E.mp3 Faith United Methodist Church June 18, 2017 Second Sunday after Pentecost Rev. Kristabeth Atwood Scripture:  Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7, Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19 Prayer for Illumination: Draw us close, Holy Spirit, as the Scriptures are read and the Word is proclaimed. Let the word of faith be on our lips and in our hearts, and let all other words slip away. May there be one voice we hear today — the voice of truth and grace.  Amen. Sermon:  Tell Me Again! For $99, and a little DNA, you can now find out your precise ancestral roots.  My aunt mailed in her 23andMe test and, two weeks later, learned that she is 73% Western European, 12% Irish, 5% Scandinavian and 1% West Asian.   Some of the results were expected and some were rather surprising.  It makes the world seem smaller, somehow.   My aunt, a native and life-long resident of rural Maine, has relatives all over the world. For the next several weeks we are going to be talking about families.  Families come in all shapes and sizes.  Families can consist of people to whom we are blood related, legally committed, or simply drawn to out of mutual interests or shared worldviews.  Some people have very strong ties to their families of origin while others, due to distance or estrangement, find family among friends.  Sometimes we are proud of our families, while other times our families can be a source of pain or embarrassment.  One of my cousins (older than me) had a difficult time finding his way.  When my grandmother read about his arrest in the newspaper the shock and pain of that rippled out across our family’s generations. Family stories, when we tell them, can be a source of healing, hope, and perspective.  When we share painful family experiences we may learn that others have had similar experiences and we are not alone.  When we consider our family history we may see how we benefited from the experiences of our ancestors.  When we face struggle or loss we may be able to remember how our mother, or grandfather or great-aunt endured in a difficult time.    And families can also be a source of humor.  We may be able to laugh with (and at) our families in ways we can’t with others.  As one joke goes, “I shook my family tree and a bunch of nuts fell out.” I suspect that Abraham and Sarah, from today’s reading of Genesis, were a bit nuts – or at least their families probably thought so.   Prior to today’s reading the Scripture tells us that God instructed Abraham to take his wife and his livestock and leave his father’s house, his native land.  This was not something frequently done in those days…. To set off by oneself opened one’s household up to thieves and other tribes who might rob or even kill, not to mention the dangers of wild animals, drought and flood.  Together villages could often face these threats but alone, well, who knows? So Abraham should have known better than to drag his elderly wife out into the wilderness….and Sarah should have known better than to follow.  But there was something irresistible about God’s message to Abraham.  God told Abraham that, if he followed, he and Sarah would have a child and their...

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Sermon June 11: It Takes Three

Posted by on Jun 11, 2017 in Sunday Message | Comments Off on Sermon June 11: It Takes Three

http://faithsbvt.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/It-Takes-Three_E.mp3 Faith United Methodist Church June 11, 2017 Trinity Sunday Rev. Kristabeth Atwood Scripture:  2 Corinthians 13:11-13, Matthew 28:16-20 Prayer for Illumination: By your power and authority, God, may your servant love become our way of life.  May your grace and forgiveness inspire us to hope for the future.  May we become the living embodiment of your good news in all that we say and do.  Amen. Sermon: It Takes Three  The Trinity and I have been having an argument this week.  It’s not going so well on my side, but I guess that’s not surprising since it’s three against one.  Okay. That’s my attempt at a joke on Trinity Sunday.  I’m not offended if you didn’t laugh. But seriously, today is the day we get to talk about the Trinity.  To try to explain the mystery of the Trinity.  To remember that we worship a God who is both one and three, three in one.  Folks have come up with many technical analogies to describe the Trinity.  There’s the shell, white and yoke that make up one egg.  There’s the skin, flesh and seeds that make up one apple.  Water has three states – liquid, ice, and vapor – but remains water.  The shamrock has three leaves but is still one plant. The image I have on the projector shows one technical attempt to explain the Trinity.  As you can see the “is nots” are in the blue circle along the outside.  The son is not the father.  The father is not the spirit.  The spirit is not the son.  Yet the green paths that lead to God say “is.”  The Father is God.  The Son is God.  The Spirit is God.  The three persons of the Trinity are separate AND they are all God. Others experience the Trinity more through art and relationship.  The artist who created this icon depicts the three persons of the Trinity as literal persons sitting together in relationship.  A friend I spoke to this week said he has experienced the Trinity most profoundly in observing the relationship between his three children.  The book (and the movie) The Shack portrays each person of the Trinity as a character.  The father as an African American woman.  The son as a Middle Eastern man.  And the Spirit as an Asian woman.  These characters share a dynamic relationship as they shepherd the book’s protagonist, Mack, through the lessons he must learn. But the real question about the Trinity is, so what?  The doctrine of the Trinity itself isn’t even in the Bible.  It took centuries of theological wrangling, and a succession of ecumenical councils, to finally articulate what we now accept as the orthodox understanding of the Trinity.  There’s another joke about the Trinity (one that I didn’t write, so I promise it will be better): Walking with his disciples one day, Jesus said, “Whom do men say that I am?”  His disciples answered, “Some say you are John the Baptist returned from the dead; others say Elijah, or other of the old prophets.” But Jesus questioned again, “But whom do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “Thou art the Logos, existing in the Father as His rationality and then, by an act of His will, being generated, in consideration of the various functions by...

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Sermon May 28: On Earth, as in Heaven

Posted by on May 28, 2017 in Sunday Message | Comments Off on Sermon May 28: On Earth, as in Heaven

http://faithsbvt.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/On-Earth-as-in-Heaven_E.mp3 Faith United Methodist Church May 28, 2017 Ascension Sunday Rev. Kristabeth Atwood Scripture:  Acts 1:1-11, Luke 24:44-53 Prayer for Illumination (Unison):  Holy Lord, the gift of your hope and the power of your Spirit are given to all who worship here today.  Help us grasp the enormity of your gifts, that we may receive these gifts with open hearts and celebrate them joyfully as we serve you in every aspect of our lives.  Amen.  And may the words that I speak and the thoughts that we form be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Sermon: On Earth, as in Heaven It’s a little bit like science fiction, this thing we call the Ascension.  Jesus lifted bodily into heaven, rising like a helium balloon into the sky, feet getting smaller and smaller the higher he goes.  No wonder the disciples were ‘gazing up toward heaven’ as the Scripture put it.  Jaws dropped, they were probably dumbfounded, wondering what just happened.  What could possibly have just happened??? But at least they had a frame of reference ~ a little background ~ on which to draw to make sense of the experience.  This was only the latest extra-ordinary event they witnessed while in Jesus’ company.  Strange things seemed to happen when Jesus was around.  The blind saw.  The lame walked.  The dead came back to life.  Jesus’ presence alone seemed to elicit all sorts of supernatural happenings.  Voices from heaven.  Visits from prophets.  Vacated tombs.  So, come to think of it, being lifted bodily into heaven doesn’t seem so unlikely in light of everything else. Yet, for us, separated by centuries and scientific facts, this story can be a little hard to swallow.  We get caught up in the ‘how.’  How did it happen?  How could it have happened?  We know ‘scientifically’ that heaven isn’t literally ‘up there’.  Up there we find planets and galaxies and black holes and supernovas.  So where did Jesus go when he ascended into heaven?  Perhaps it was easier for those early disciples, heads titled skyward, to believe.  We know too much.  Stories like this are just too outrageous for educated, modern, cause-and-effect folks like us to take seriously.    This whole Ascension thing makes a good story, but really??   Stuff like this only happens in the movies with special effects and computer generated graphics, not in first century Jerusalem. Now, I certainly don’t want to offend anyone but it is probably not a shock that science fiction movies aren’t really ‘my thing.’  Sure, I got into Star Wars recently, but that’s about the extent of my sci-fi interest.  You might convince me to watch for a few minutes, but I’ll probably be gone as soon as my popcorn runs out.  I bet you can guess what kind of movies I like best.  Chick-flicks, that’s right!  I don’t like the stereotype, but it’s true that I like movies about relationships.  And, lucky for me, I think that is what the Ascension is really about. Today is the final Sunday in our “Rise Up” series.  (Which is fitting, since Jesus actually rises up in our Scriptures this morning.)  Over the past few weeks we’ve explored the Christian concepts of belief, salvation, suffering, judgement and, now, the Kingdom of Heaven.  We tend to think...

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Sermon May 7: The Valley of the Shadow

Posted by on May 14, 2017 in Sunday Message | Comments Off on Sermon May 7: The Valley of the Shadow

http://faithsbvt.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/The-Valley-of-the-Shadow_E.mp3 Faith United Methodist Church May 7, 2017 Fourth Sunday of Easter Rev. Kristabeth Atwood Scripture:  Psalm 23, 1 Peter 2:19-25 Prayer for Illumination:  Risen Christ, open our eyes, our ears, and our hearts, so we might recognize you once again in these words of scripture, by the power of the Holy Spirit. And may the words that I speak and the thoughts that we form be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen. Sermon: The Valley of the Shadow This is the fourth Sunday of Easter.  The Easter Season includes Easter Sunday and goes all the way until Pentecost, which is June 5th this year.  These days between Easter and Pentecost are called The Great Fifty Days of Easter.   In the early church new Christians were often baptized on Easter Sunday.  The fifty days between Easter and Pentecost served as a time of instruction for these new converts, an opportunity to learn the basic teachings of Christianity. So, these past few weeks, we’ve been following the example of the early church and exploring some of the basic concepts of our faith.  A couple weeks ago we considered what it means to believe in Jesus.  Last week we reflected on salvation and our understanding of “being saved.”  Today we are looking at suffering.  What does it mean to suffer as a follower of Jesus? First, I think we can all agree that suffering is an inevitable part of life.  We all suffer.  To suffer is to, “…to experience pain, illness, or injury; to experience something unpleasant (such as defeat, loss, or damage); to become worse because of being badly affected by something.”  We suffer broken bones and heart attacks.  We suffer heartbreak and loss.  We suffer from doubt and lack of confidence and the poor decisions of others and ourselves.  None of us get through life without suffering.  As the Psalmist wrote, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” And neither was Jesus immune to suffering.  We speak of the passion of Christ to describe the last week of Jesus’ life when we was arrested, betrayed, beaten, and crucified.  The word ‘passion’ comes from the Latin word we translate into English as suffering.   Our Messiah is a suffering Messiah.  Even the Son of God was not spared the cruelties and humiliations of human life. And, because Christ suffered, Christians over the centuries have attached certain significance to suffering.  We all have our cross to bear.  In our Adult Study class we’ve been exploring some “Christian phrases” that people often attribute to the Bible, but are not actually Biblical.  Everything happens for a reason.  God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.  These reassurances, which are not actually in the Bible, are often used to theologize another’s suffering.  If we can explain someone’s suffering as part of God’s plan, we don’t have to think too much about it ourselves.  Yet suffering, for suffering’s sake, is not redemptive.  Jesus came to relieve our burdens, to lead us out of the valley of the shadow and bring us to abundant life.  So what, then, is the value of suffering?  We all must endure suffering, so what can we learn from it?  I’m sure many of your remember my struggle with migraines. ...

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Sermon April 30: What Does It Mean to be Saved?

Posted by on May 14, 2017 in Sunday Message | Comments Off on Sermon April 30: What Does It Mean to be Saved?

http://faithsbvt.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/What-Does-It-Mean-To-Be-Saved_E.mp3 Faith United Methodist Church April 30, 2017 Third Sunday of Easter Rev. Kristabeth Atwood Scripture:  Acts 2:14a, 36-41, 1 Peter 1:17-23 Prayer for Illumination (Unison):  We will pay our vows to the Lord, in the presence of God’s people.  We will pay our vows to the Lord, as we purify our souls through obedience to God’s enduring word.  Amen.  And may the words that I speak and the thoughts that we form be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Sermon: What Does It Mean to be Saved? A while back, while shopping in the chip aisle of the grocery store, a   woman asked me, “Are you saved?”  At first I was taken-aback.  That’s not the kind of question I’m used to fielding while deciding between Nacho Cheese and Cool Ranch Doritos.  I managed to mumble out a, “Yes,” after which I received a series of follow-up questions.  It was at that point that I realized that she and I had completely different ideas of what it means to be saved.  The questions she asked me were about the things that I do and the things that I believe that would, to her, “prove” I’ve been saved.  Do you go to church every Sunday?  Do you read the Bible every day?  Do you pray?  Tithe?   Do you believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven?  You see, I don’t believe that we have to do anything to be saved.  I believe that God’s love saves us and God’s love isn’t something we can earn or deserve.  It is a gift.  As we teach our Confirmation youth, God’s grace is a free gift given to us without price.  We can’t tithe our way into heaven or pray our way into heaven or read our way into heaven or even believe our way into heaven.   We are not saved because of anything that we do.  Our salvation is all God’s doing. Yet, for us mainline Protestants the “Are you saved?” question can get a little tricky.  Even today it feels a bit presumptuous to me to answer, “Yes.”  I mean, I can hope….but how can I presume to know the will of God.  And I’ve had this conversation before when the questioner has asked for details.  When? Where? How was I saved?  I was raised a United Methodist from birth.  There is no single moment I can point to when I knew God’s saving love was for me.  It was more of a gradual thing, happening between Sunday school and church camp and potluck dinners. I was about 12 when I first felt what I would later come to define as a call to ministry.  Yet even now, thirty years later, I still have moments when I feel I understand God’s saving love in new and surprising ways.  For me, to say that I was saved at a particular moment, in a particular place, would diminish God’s continuing work in my life.  But that’s just me.  I know others have very different experiences of salvation, which is part of the beauty of God’s individual, specific love for each of us.  God gives us what we each truly need.  Indeed, John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, appreciated the variety of believers’ experiences of salvation. ...

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Sermon April 23: Seeing Is Believing?

Posted by on May 1, 2017 in Sunday Message | Comments Off on Sermon April 23: Seeing Is Believing?

http://faithsbvt.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Seeing-Is-Believing_E.mp3 Faith United Methodist Church April 23, 2017 Second Sunday of Easter Rev. Kristabeth Atwood Scripture:  John 20:19-31, Acts 2:14a, 22-32 Prayer for Illumination (Unison):  Living Christ, you give us what we need to transform our doubt into belief.  You come, offering us peace, and filling our lives with your living presence.  With joy and rejoicing we turn to you, confident in your love.  Amen.  And may the words that I speak and the thoughts that we form be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Sermon:  Seeing Is Believing? Thomas.  Thomas.  Thomas.  Doubting Thomas.  Tardy Thomas.  Too-late Thomas.  We’ve all been there, right?  We all know what it’s like to miss out on something really exciting, to arrive just a couple minutes too late. But to miss the Risen Christ is really something.  Where was Thomas anyway?  The Scripture tells us that the disciples were locked inside the house where they were staying ~ doors bolted shut ~ for fear of the authorities.  The disciples were scared.  They were scared because their teacher had been crucified.  They were scared because of the rumors he had risen from the dead.  Whether Jesus was really dead or had actually risen, they had reason to fear for their lives.  So where was Thomas?  Why was he not locked safely away with the other disciples?  Was he not, too, scared for his life?  Thomas appears in our Lectionary readings every year on the Sunday after Easter.  The Lectionary Committee, who assigned most other Scriptures on a three year rotating basis, must’ve thought that Thomas’ story was important enough to hear every year.  So each year we hear of how Thomas missed out on Jesus’ first post-resurrection appearance to the disciples.  Each year we hear how he complained that he couldn’t believe unless he saw for himself.  Each year we hear how Jesus then returned a week later to show himself to Thomas, nail-scarred hands and all.  And each year we hear Jesus pronounce, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have yet come to believe.” I might be missing the point, but I think we focus too much on Thomas’ doubt.  The truth is that Thomas didn’t ask for anything more than the other disciples had already received.  Earlier in the day Mary had come to all the disciples to tell them, “I have seen the Lord!”  Yet, instead of celebrating they locked themselves away in fear.  It was only after they saw Jesus for themselves that their fear turned to rejoicing.  When Thomas returned from his errand all his friends told him, “We have seen the Lord!” Thomas,  understandably, wanted to see him, too. And, truth be told, so would I.   I do experience the Risen One in my prayer life.  I feel Christ’s presence in the midst of our church community.  I sense Jesus among us as we share together the bread and the cup.  I know Christ guides us as we share our gifts in worship, in ministries of compassion, in our encouragement of each other and in a hundred different ways within and outside these walls.  But how amazing it would be to see Jesus, to touch his hands, to feel his breath. Yet, the reality is that we are about 2,000 years...

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Sermon April 16: Gratitude, Joy, Hope, Love, Wonder, and Generosity

Posted by on May 1, 2017 in Sunday Message | Comments Off on Sermon April 16: Gratitude, Joy, Hope, Love, Wonder, and Generosity

http://faithsbvt.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Gratitude-Joy-Hope-Love-Wonder-Generosity_E.mp3 Faith United Methodist Church April 16, 2017 Easter Sunday Rev. Kristabeth Atwood Scripture: John 20:1-18, Colossians 3:1-4 Prayer for Illumination (Unison):  God of wonder and mystery, we give you thanks for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that has been made known to us in the words of scripture and in our lives today.  Like Mary, standing astonished in the garden, we do not always recognize your presence with us.  But when we hear your voice, we can truly say: “We have seen the Holy One, and we know that Christ is risen.”  Alleluia!  Amen. And may the words that I speak and the thoughts that we form be acceptable in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen. Sermon:                  Gratitude, Joy, Hope, Love, Wonder, and Generosity It’s been a long Lent.  I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry.   Over the past six weeks we’ve emptied our plates of a lot of things.  Temptations, misunderstanding, regret, blame, doubt and fear have all been put out on the compost pile.  And it was hard work, wasn’t it?  Our Lenten series of “Emptying our Plates” invited us to look deep within and see what holds us back from true love of self, love of neighbor, and love of God.  By emptying our plates we’ve made room to experience the miracle of Easter.  We arrive here, on Easter morning, ready to be filled. But filled with what?  Personally, I’m really looking forward to Easter dinner in a few hours.  It’s our tradition to have lamb on Easter.  And cooking the lamb is Gary’s job ~ supportive pastor’s spouse that he is.  So I can’t wait to have a little Easter-afternoon rest and then enjoy some succulent lamb, veggies and a piece of apple pie from my favorite gluten-free bakery – with ice-cream on top.  My plate will be full. And I’m sure I won’t be the only one.  But I am not sure if this is the kind of “full plate” that Easter is really about.  I mean, Easter dinner with family and friends is certainly a good thing to enjoy, but I think Jesus had in mind something a little different than eggs benedict and apple pie.  We did the hard work of Lent in order to experience the true miracle of Easter.  Jesus endured the suffering of betrayal, denial, torture and death.   And we’ve arrived here on Easter morning to find that the tomb is empty.  It’s resurrection day. It’s resurrection day and it’s almost too good to be true.  Almost.  We know the story.  Mary Magdalene heads to the tomb early on Sunday morning, perhaps to finish the burial ritual of anointing the body with perfumed oil and spices.  What she finds, though, is not what she expects.  The stone is rolled away and Jesus’ body has gone missing.  Afraid of what this could mean, she runs to tell the disciples, who run to the tomb themselves.  Peter and John see just what Mary saw:  an empty tomb, but for the discarded burial wrappings.   Unsure what this means, they head home. Mary, though, stays right there.  As one preacher put it, “…face to face with the empty tomb…” she remains at the site of her grief and cries.  Her mind probably racing...

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Sermon April 9: The Hour Is At Hand

Posted by on Apr 11, 2017 in Sunday Message | Comments Off on Sermon April 9: The Hour Is At Hand

http://faithsbvt.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/The-Hour-Is-At-Hand_E.mp3 Faith United Methodist Church April 9, 2017 Palm Sunday Rev. Kristabeth Atwood Scripture: Matthew 21:1-11, 26: 14-16, 36-46, 57-58, 69-27:2, 15-23 Prayer for Illumination:  Give thanks to God, for God’s steadfast love lasts forever!  In this faithful love, we are forgiven and strengthened in Christ.  Amen. And may the words that I speak and the thoughts that we form be acceptable in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen. Sermon:  The Hour Is At Hand Palm Sunday started out so right.  How could it have gone so terribly wrong?  That’s the question centuries worth of Christians have asked, and there is still no easy answer.  The crowds that danced with joy on Sunday, waving their palms to shouts of “Hosanna!” stomped their feet and shook their fists on Friday crying “Crucify Him!”  Everything seemed so promising at first.   By Friday the hope of the world was nailed to a cross.  Sometimes that’s the way things happened, though, right?  Things aren’t always what they seem.  Jesus’ followers thought that he was going to overthrow the Roman government and return Jerusalem to the Jews.  They thought Jesus was going to be a military hero like his ancestor David.  They had been down on their luck for so long, but Jesus was going to fix all that.  Or so they thought.  When it became clear Jesus wasn’t going to meet their narrow expectations many of his followers turned their backs on him.  And, not only that, they joined with the Roman authorities in cheering his death. What, at first, seemed like a miracle turned into a nightmare. And it wasn’t enough that the religious authorities were out to get him.  It wasn’t enough that the crowds turned against him.  But his most intimate friends, those with whom he shared the most, didn’t understand.  Judas betrayed him for thirty pieces of silver.  Peter, James and John fell asleep when Jesus needed them most.  And, later, when asked if he was one of Jesus’ disciples Peter denied it three times.  In the end, Jesus was left alone. Last week, in our “Emptying Our Plates” series, we talked about emptying our plates of doubt.  In reflecting on doubt, I said that I don’t believe doubt to be the opposite of faith, but fear.  And, today, I think that is exactly what caused everything to go so wrong.  Fear.  A lot was at stake for the Jews of Jerusalem.  The Roman authorities, and even the Jewish leaders, were already suspicious of Jesus.  And even more so after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.  Jesus didn’t do things the way everyone else did.  Through his acts of healing and his radical teachings he drew attention to himself.  People were actually beginning to believe what he said.  To the Roman authorities and the Jewish leaders ~ those interested in maintaining the status quo ~ Jesus was a dangerous man.  They were afraid. So, in aligning themselves with him, Jesus’ followers were taking a risk.  A big risk. They were publically calling into question the rule of law.  And, as minority members of the Roman Empire, this was scary stuff.  This was not a democratic society.  There was no freedom of speech.  There was a very real possibility they could lose their livelihood, their homes,...

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Sermon April 2: A Way out of No Way

Posted by on Apr 2, 2017 in Sunday Message | Comments Off on Sermon April 2: A Way out of No Way

http://faithsbvt.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/A-Way-out-of-No-Way_E.mp3 Faith United Methodist Church April 2, 2017 Fifth Sunday of Lent Rev. Kristabeth Atwood Scripture:  John 11:1-45 Prayer for Illumination:  As Lazarus in the tomb heard your words of power, so have we.  On this day may we walk out of darkness and into the light of righteousness.  May the ministry of your word remove our grave clothes and embrace us in the kingdom of God.  Amen. Sermon:                               A Way out of No Way Doubt.  Faith.  Faith.  Doubt.  Some folks believe that faith and doubt are at opposite ends of the spectrum.  Merriam-Webster defines doubt as, “a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction.”  I doubt the Red Sox are going to make it to the World Series this year.  I doubt I will be able to fit into that dress.   To doubt is to be unsure.  Doubt always leaves open a possibility. I tend to believe that doubt and faith are not opposites.  I’ve heard a convincing argument that fear is, in fact, the opposite of faith, not doubt.   In fact, I think that doubt and faith go hand in hand.  We are human, after all.  We have limited imaginations.  Who would’ve thought it possible for a blind man to see, a leprous man suddenly made clean, a dead man to come back to life.  Of course we are going to scratch our head at these events.  Seriously?  Can that really be true?  We get so used to the predictable that it’s hard to believe anything else.   We’re not conditioned to believe there is a way out of no way. Our Gospel reading today is about the death of one of Jesus’ closest friends. When Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that their brother Lazarus was sick, you’d think that he would’ve left immediately to do whatever he could for his friend.  At least that was what the sisters were hoping.  But instead, Jesus waited two days to even begin the 20-mile journey.  Two days.  By the time Jesus arrived at the house of his friends, Lazarus had been dead four days and was buried.  In Jewish thought, it took three days after death for the soul to leave the body.  Lazarus wasn’t just dead.  He was dead-dead. Put yourself in Mary and Martha’s shoes for a minute.  How do you think these sisters must have felt?  Grief stricken, abandoned, angry?   Mary didn’t beat around the bush once Jesus finally arrived.  She confronted him, “Master, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”   She knew Jesus healed the sick, so she had hope when Lazarus was alive.  But now that Lazarus was dead, what could Jesus possibly do?  Tears accompanied Mary’s greeting.  While she loved Jesus, she doubted he could do anything at this point. And what did Jesus do in response to Mary’s tears? With those who mourned Lazarus’ death, Jesus wept.  Now this leads to an interesting question.  If Jesus knew that he could raise Lazarus from the dead, why would Jesus cry?  Some people even think that Jesus delayed his trip because he planned all along to raise Lazarus.  If that were the case, why would Jesus be moved to weep at Lazarus’ tomb?  Did Jesus doubt his ability to restore his friend’s life? Perhaps he was weeping over...

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Sermon March 26: Pointing The Finger

Posted by on Mar 26, 2017 in Sunday Message | Comments Off on Sermon March 26: Pointing The Finger

http://faithsbvt.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Pointing-the-Finger_E.mp3 Faith United Methodist Church March 26, 2017 Fourth Sunday of Lent Rev. Kristabeth Atwood Scripture:  John 9:1-17, Ephesians 5:8-14 Prayer for Illumination (Unison):  In the light of God, all is made clear.  We see how much God loves us and how much God loves all people.  We see Christ, the Light of the World, in Scripture and in our lives; and although we once were blind, now we see! And may the words that I speak and the thoughts that we form be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen. Sermon:                               Pointing the Finger The blame-game.   We’ve all played it at one time or another.   We do something risky or unwise or costly and, instead of accepting our responsibility, we look for someone else to blame, we point the finger at our kids, our partner, our coworker, the dog.  You fail the test not because you didn’t study, but because a friend kept you up late talking on the phone.  You burn your dinner not because you were careless, but because the dog had to go out and you didn’t hear the timer.  You miss your doctor’s appointment not because you forgot, but because they forgot to give you that reminder phone call.  The blame-game.  This is the fourth Sunday of our Lenten Series “Emptying our Plates.”  Throughout this series we’ve been considering the ways we fill our lives with things that distract us from what is truly important.  Thus far we have emptied our plates of temptation, misunderstanding and regret.  And today we are emptying our plates of blame.  Psychology Today, in a September 2015 article, outlined some of the reasons we play the blame-game. First, blame is an excellent defense mechanism.  When we blame someone else we can avoid seeing our own faults or failings.  Second, it is easier to blame someone else than to accept responsibility and change our behavior.   When someone else is at fault we don’t have to apologize or make amends.  The Psychology Today article sums up by pointing out, “Unlike other games, the more often you play the blame game, the more you lose. Learning to tell when you need to own up to your role in a bad situation will help you grow from your experiences, and ultimately help you achieve more fulfilling relationships.”  Blame can be an impediment to seeing the opportunities right in front of us.  In John chapter 9 we find several examples of pointing the finger.  First we see a man, blind from birth, begging on the street corner.  The disciples asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind.”  The disciples saw something they couldn’t understand and they wanted to assign blame.  They wanted to distance themselves from this man by making him a theological object lesson.  This beggar must have done something to get himself into this situation.   Yet, as David Lyle pointed out in The Christian Century, “In the darkness we have the luxury of having conversations about the sins and sufferings of others without acknowledging our own sin.” Jesus, though, knew the danger of objectifying other people.  When we assign blame, we lose the capacity for compassion.  When we point the finger we can feel better about ourselves at someone else’s expense. ...

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