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The Weekly Word for September 21-27


Opening Prayer:

Almighty and eternal God, you show perpetual lovingkindness to us by your servants. Because we cannot rely on our own abilities, grant us your merciful judgment, and train us to embody the generosity of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Amen.

The Word:

Jonah 3:10-4:11

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ And the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.

The Lord God appointed a bush,* and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered.When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’

But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?’ And he said, ‘Yes, angry enough to die.’ Then the Lord said, ‘You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labour and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’

Matthew 20:1-16

(Jesus said) ‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage,* he sent them into his vineyard.When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.* Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.* And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?* Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”* So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’

Sermon for September 21, 2014: “The Unfair God”

Sermon for September 21, 2014: “The Unfair God”

Sooner or later, all of us will have to come to the realization that God is unfair.

And that we need to get over it.

Why do I say that?

Well, number one, because it’s true.

And number two: when I look at our scripture today, that is the theme running throughout.

Especially in our Gospel and First Lesson.

And I will mention the Gospel shortly, but this morning I want to talk a lot about Jonah.

I love Jonah: the book AND the prophet.

I love the prophet because of his personality.

Jonah is not a happy go-lucky guy.

In fact, throughout the whole book, Jonah is a jerk, a curmudgeon.

And yet God chooses HIM for a very important task.

God tells Jonah go to Nineveh and “cry out” (1:1) against the city.

To “cry out” was to give heed, warning, and give prophecy.

Jonah’s response to God’s command is something unprecedented for a prophet.

He runs FROM God.

He tries to escape from God’s call.

He boards a ship heading to Spain, which is in the opposite direction of Nineveh.

Why does Jonah go through all this trouble?

Because Jonah hates Nineveh.

Nineveh was the capital of Assyria in the last few decades of the Assyrian empire.

Nineveh was regarded as the seat of the greatest enemy of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

And because Nineveh was the enemy, Jonah will not go and preach to the people he hates.

At this point in the story, God interrupts Jonah’s travel plans.

It’s like God says, “Ah! Look at the little fella trying to run away from me. It’s kind of cute, actually. Let’s see how he reacts to this.”

He brings a storm onto the boat, the sailors are going out of their minds, and Jonah jumps out of the boat to save the boat.

And God thanks him in kind by way of a giant fish that swallows Jonah.

 

And when you are in the belly of a fish, you have time to re-think your life.

 

And Jonah re-thinks God’s command.

And he tells God he will go to Nineveh.

 

But Jonah still thinks he is going to outsmart God.

I don’t know how many of you have ever watched Law & Order or pick your favorite crime show,

But you normally get the cops or lawyers confronting a witness who did not give the whole truth.

And the reasoning is “You did not ask me SPECIFICALLY about that detail.”

 

Jonah does the same thing.

When he arrives in Nineveh, Jonah gives the least amount of effort to “preach” to Nineveh.

In English, it’s just 8 words!

In Hebrew, it’s a 5 word sermon!

 

Jonah was Twitter before there was a twitter!

“Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

That’s it.

There is not even a call for repentance in that sermon!

But Jonah’s worst fears are realized, Nineveh repents.

And God changes his mind about destroying the city.

 

This is why I love this story.

 

While prophets like Moses and Jeremiah become angry because their listeners ignore their words, Jonah becomes enraged when the people of Nineveh HEED his!

 

This goes back to the very reason Jonah ran away from God’s call.

Jonah KNEW this would happen!

Jonah knew that God would save the city.

Because Jonah knew that God was…above everything else…a God who was slow to anger and abounding in steadfast.

A God who would even show Grace towards Nineveh.

And even with this faith in God’s good works, Jonah is still angry at God for showing grace to that horrible city Nineveh.

And we get a great ending to the story:

Jonah: “Why do you care?”

God: “Why should I NOT care?”

What a great response by God.

Why should God NOT care about the people in Nineveh?

And that is how the book ends.

The book ends with a question… a cliffhanger.

We never get Jonah’s response.

The matter is left completely open-ended…

which may be the purpose.

 

Because this story gives us pause and it makes us realize God’s love for all people.

 

Earlier in the book God even speaks of the people of Nineveh as His children, just as God speaks of the Israelites in other passages of the scriptures.

 

And for Jonah…and us…that is unfair.

 

But we have to come and realize who we are dealing with.

 

Let me give you a hint.

The first article in the Creed.

We believe in God, Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

Let me say that one part again “Creator of heaven and earth.”

We get an example of the Creating God in Jonah.

The wind, the worm, and the weed are part of God’s way to get Jonah’s attention.

To remind him that GOD alone decides to whom He will give mercy.

And for us that is SO hard to take.

And I would say that for us,

For those who have been hurt.

For those of us who have been wounded and scarred,

To think that God could show the same grace to our transgressors is almost unbearable.

 

To the point that we, like Jonah, would rather die than forgive, cling to hate rather than embrace love and mercy.

 

But this goes back to my original point.

 

God’s grace is unfair.

And that is NOT open to debate.

 

Look at our Gospel lesson where an uproar occurs because the landowner gives the same wage to the people who have worked only an hour as the ones who have worked nearly 12 hours.

Those who worked hard all day think it is unjust that those who have hardly worked receive the same pay.

But if we really believe what we profess through the Creed, than we have to believe that God is free to do what He wishes with what is His own.

 

And today when it comes to Jonah, the Gospel, I want you to remember the commandment.

The first one.

You shall have no other Gods before me.

And I believe that ties into the scriptures.

God does not ask us if He can save us.

He also does not ask us if He can save the people we hate.

God just does it.

And the moment we think we can complain, or tell God how things are, we are suddenly taking our word, our power, over His.

And that is wrong.

 

Let me throw this out to you:

The same complaint we may have about God giving grace to someone we don’t like, that same complaint someone might be saying about YOU!

 

Think of the things…the sins… we have done that would be deemed unforgivable in the eyes of another.

And I am sure all of us have done something (known and unknown) that has caused hurt and pain and scarring.

 

I had the privilege of listening to Elizabeth Eaton, the presiding bishop of the ELCA, preach this week at the NC Synod Convocation.
And she asked a very important question: “What makes us so certain that we are the laborers who have worked all day? What if we are the ones who have just arrived?”

 

If you think about it, maybe God’s grace isn’t that unfair after all.

 

Our attention should not be on who gets paid what, because we ALL get the same reward!

Our attention should be to get the Word out!

Our focus should be getting more and more workers to help us with the Vineyard.

We should praise God for all He has done and DOES:

For us.

For others.

 

And we should give thanks to a God who is merciful, gracious,

And…at times…unfair.

 

 

 

Closing Prayer:

Pour out upon us the spirit of your love, O Lord, and unite the wills of those whom you have fed with one heavenly food; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

The Weekly Word for September 14-20, 2014


The Weekly Word for September 14-20th

 

Opening Prayer:

O Lord God, merciful judge, you are the inexhaustible fountain of forgiveness. Replace our hearts of stone with hearts that love and adore you, that we may delight in your will, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

 

The Word:

Matthew 18:21-35

Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him;and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made.So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’

Sermon for September 14, 2014: “It Ain’t Easy”

For the past two weeks, our Gospel lessons have focused on the act of forgiveness.

Last week I spoke about WHY we forgive.

This week I want to focus on the actual act of forgiveness itself.

And the IMPACT it has in our lives.

I want to tell you two stories.

 

When I was young, I loved comic books.

I still do, but back then comic books were my life.

But with that kind of passion, there came a dark side.

I was 9 years old when this happened.

I had a buddy who lived up the street from me.

And we spent just about every day with one another.

Playing sports, games, what have you.

 

And then…

 

Then came the comic book sale a neighbor put together.

He was selling/getting rid of his comic collection.

And for someone my age, that was the mother lode!

Spider-Man comics, Avenger Comics, Marvel Team-Up comics.

They were all there.

And I wanted them all!

But my friend got to them first.

And he chose many of the books I wanted.

Fair and square.

 

But I wanted them.

I needed them.

And I felt like I deserved them.

 

So over a period of two visits to his house, I took them.

I wasn’t really smooth about it.

This was not an Ocean’s 11 situation.

Things did not go as smoothly as they do in the movies.

And I knew that my friend had to have known I had taken them.

Comic books just don’t walk away by themselves.

 

But that kind of act does something to a relationship.

We weren’t that close afterwards.

Over the years, I felt bad.

I felt guilty.

I felt so low.

 

To this day, I still feel horrible about that time in my life.

 

How could I have been so stupid?

How could I have been so blind?

How could I have wasted a friendship over a comic book?!

 

The reality was:

I WAS stupid.

I WAS blind.

I DID waste a friendship.

 

Looking back, I should have confessed.

I should have told my friend what I did.

And return the books.

But that never happened.

I kept them.

And I kept the guilt.

 

Then just a few years ago, I was visiting my mom,

And as I was driving up the road, I saw my friend.

He was visiting his family.

Our eyes met.

And I was so expecting him to look at me, get angry, maybe start chasing me.

But instead…

He smiled.

He waved.

So I waved.

I stopped the car.

I got out of the car,

 

And we hugged.

 

And not a small, quick hug,

But a GOOD LONG, “My goodness it’s good to see you after all these years” hug.

 

We talked about life.

His family.

His awesome kids.

I talked about Kristen and my ministry.

 

And as we talked I felt we were not only talking about the present but also the past.

I could feel my friend through his actions and words was saying, “I forgive you. Friend.”

And a gigantic burden was lifted from my shoulders.

 

My friend had every right to hold on to what happened.

And he chose not to.

Besides we were 10 and 9 years old at the time.

We had a LOT of living still to do.

 

My friend’s act of forgiveness made an impact in my life.

I felt new.

I felt relieved.

 

Why did I share my story with you today?

To me, the act of forgiveness is relational.

It’s building a life with another person.

A life built on trust, honesty, and peace.

And second chances.

 

And in our Gospel lesson, Jesus answers a very important question raised by Peter.

“How many times do I forgive someone?”

Peter suggested 7 times.

Many commentaries will point out that in First Century Judaism there was a LIMIT to the number of times you forgave someone.

The practice was to forgive someone once, twice, three times.

That’s it.

So Peter is being generous.

BUT Jesus blows that out of the water!

Jesus says to forgive not seven times, but 77 times!

Now before you start a list of the number of times you get to forgive someone before you reach that 77th time, please hear this:

For Jesus, “77” does not represent a number.

It represents the unlimited and almost absurd quantity of forgiveness.

But unlimited forgiveness is not just something we receive.

 

It is something we give.

 

Several years ago, I had a few members of another congregation get mad at me because I had forgotten to mention an event they were involved in during the announcements.

They took it REALLY personally.

And these were the kind of people who remembered EVERY LITTLE THING done to them.

Ironically, they never seem to remember the wrongs they had done to others.

Anyway…

After the church service, these members let me have it in front of other members.

It was real embarrassing and infuriating moment for me.

I had forgotten an ANNOUNCEMENT and you would have thought I had insulted them with the worst names possible.

Well I knew that there had to be a way to resolve this issue.

So within the week I called them and set up a meeting at their place.

And we had a very powerful and deep conversation.

I would say it was one of those “Come to Jesus moments.”

And somehow, thanks be to God, they realized that my mistake was just that.

A mistake.

Not intentional.

 

A few days after this “Jesus moment” the wife of this duo came by my office and she came as close to saying “I am sorry” as I had ever known her to do.

Then she asked me to forgive her.

The moment of truth.

 

And I said, “I forgave you when you said it.”

 

And she was shocked.

“You did?”

“Yes, I did.”

 

In that moment I showed her (at least I hope) what forgiveness looks like.

She was expecting me to have a grudge.

She was expecting me to make her feel like dirt.

She was expecting me to hold their actions over their heads for the rest of time.

 

But that is not how forgiveness works.

 

Forgiveness is an active process.

Forgiveness is an of progress.

 

And do not fool yourselves thinking that forgiveness is easy.

 

Is it easy for the one spouse to forgive the other when adultery has occurred?

Is it easy for the two to work on reconciliation?

To work on rebuilding trust?

 

Is it easy for an Amish Community called Nickel Mines to forgive the man who came in one morning and shot 10 young girls, killing five before turning the gun on himself?

Is it easy for a young man life Joseph who was abandoned and sold into slavery by his own brothers to forgive them?

Is it easy for a group of followers like the disciples to find forgiveness to a man like Paul who once persecuted them?

 

Do you think that is easy?

Do you think unlimited forgiveness is absurd?

 

Be honest.

That’s fine.

 

But then let me ask you how many times have you asked or sought forgiveness from God?

When has there NOT been a day that you haven’t asked for forgiveness?

That’s a LOT of days!

Suddenly, unlimited forgiveness doesn’t sound so bad does it?

 

When we hear the story of God, the story of Jesus, and we look to the cross, we do not see a number on the cross.

And there are no business hours when it comes to Holy Communion.

 

There is no limit to the Grace we have been freely given.

 

Forgiveness is not easy.

And it takes practice.

A LOT of practice.

 

How many times do you forgive?

 

As many times as it takes until you mean it.

 

 

Until YOU are transformed.

 

Until you live it.

 

And then you do it again.

 

 

Closing Prayer:

Pour out upon us the spirit of your love, O Lord, and unite the wills of those whom you have fed with one heavenly food; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Weekly Word for September 7-13 ,2014


Opening Prayer

O Lord God, enliven and preserve your church with your perpetual mercy. Without your help, we mortals will fail; remove far from us everything that is harmful, and lead us toward all that gives life and salvation, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

 

The Word

Matthew 18:15-20

15 (Jesus said) ‘If another member of the church* sins against you,* go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.* 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. 18Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.19Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’”

Sermon for September 7, 2014 “Forgiveness Sunday”

 

Today we celebrated Rally Day.

Rally Day is the kick-off to a new year of Sunday school activities.

But if we look at the Gospel we could call this day by another name:

“Forgiveness Sunday”

I mean…I am sure all of us…from the little ones to the seasoned ones…have had to forgive someone.

At least once in our lives, right?

But this morning, I want to talk about WHY we forgive.

And WHY we MUST forgive.

Our Gospel lesson opens up with Jesus in the middle of a sermon.

Being that he is a rabbi, a “teacher,” I think it is more appropriate to call it a lecture.

It is a lecture that has its origins in the beginning of Matthew 18.

 

And I believe what Jesus has said prior to our Gospel is vital to our understanding of our reading.

 

Matthew 18 begins with the disciples asking Jesus a rather peculiar question: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

By that they are asking which among THEM is the greatest.

I have a feeling that Peter, James, and John were in the middle of that debate.

After all, Peter’s confession is “the rock” that the church will be built on.

And Peter, James, and John all were witnesses to Jesus’ transfiguration back in Chapter 17.

So those three would be looking around at the other disciples and comparing notes.

And they want to know where they rank with Jesus.

So Jesus answers with a lecture focuses NOT on greatness and superiority but on humility and forgiveness.

 

Jesus says one must be HUMBLE…like a child… in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

By that he is teaching humility and selflessness.

 

Those are the characteristics of someone who is “Great” in the kingdom.

 

And Jesus teaches how we treat one another is a part of the kingdom talk.

So then Jesus says a disciples is one who:

  • Welcomes one such child (or a humble)
  • Does not become a stumbling block to a child (think back to Jesus’ rebuke of Peter)
  • Does not despise one of the little ones.

 

By doing those three things the little ones know you mean what you believe.

 

But what Jesus wants and expects from us is not how to deal just with the OUTSIDE world.

It’s also what he expects from us when dealing with one another IN the church.

This is what I refer to as why we MUST forgive.

Why we MUST practice forgiveness not just outside of these walls, but from within.

 

And by that I mean, THIS congregation.

 

In the 4 Gospels, the term “church” is used only in Matthew (16:18 & 18:17).

In the latter verse, the reference is to the local congregation, not to the church-at-large.

So let us see how Jesus teaches US to deal with sin and forgiveness…

IF A MEMBER SINS…

Go

Point out the fault

If that should fail…

Go again

Point out the fault

If that should fail…

Go again

Point out the fault

 

Do you see a pattern?

I hope you do, because this is about reconciliation.

 

Not once does Jesus say that if a member sins close the door as he or she leaves.

But that about the line about treating the person who sinned as a gentile or tax collector?

Well let me answer that question with my own questions…

In the Gospels, where do we find the gentile?

Where do we find the tax collector?

Better yet, where do we find Jesus?

We find Jesus WITH the Gentiles.

We find Jesus WITH the tax collectors.

We even see Jesus invite a tax collector to be one of his disciples!

 

The art of forgiveness,

The art of reconciliation,

Is that there is no end point.

 

And the point of forgiveness is not to focus on the sin, but the grace that comes, that is offered.

The concern is never to point a condemning finger at others, but to point others to Jesus as forgiving Savior and Servant Lord.

 

The “church” is not just a place, but it is a community filled with caring SERVANTS.

 

And as servants we do not point out the sins of the sinner,

We point to the one who forgives, who renews, and the one who does not stop loving us.

As God says in our first lesson, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and LIVE!”

 

Today I ask all of you not to take for granted the power of forgiveness.

 

WHY do we forgive?

So that we can live.

 

Why forgive at all?

Quite simply, because Jesus told us to.

He commanded to forgive.

As Paul writes in our second lesson, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

 

So today we do celebrate Rally Day.

But we also give attention to the Gospel, to Forgiveness Sunday.

 

Where there is FORGIVENESS,

where there is HONESTY,

there is PEACE,

and there is God.

 

 

Closing Prayer:

Pour out upon us the spirit of your love, O Lord, and unite the wills of those whom you have fed with one heavenly food; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Ella Bunting 6th Annual Cancer Retreat October 11, 2014


You are invited to join The Open Arms Community for a FREE day of Pampering & Fellowship for cancer survivors & caregivers.
There is something for everyone including:

  • Healing Service
  • “Look Good Feel Better” Workshop
  • Manicures
  • Hot wax hands and feet
  • Zumba
  • Self Defense
  • Bingo
  • Cake Walk
  • Door prizes
  • Breakfast & Lunch Served

The retreat will run 8 am – 2 pm

To attend please RSVP at 476-4114

Download a flyer 2014 Ella Bunting Retreat

 

Ella Bunting Open Arms August 2014 Newsletter


The Ella Bunting Open Arms Cancer Support Newsletter for AUGUST 2014 is available now.

Just click on this link: August 2014 Newsletter

Grace September 2014 Newsletter Now Available!


Check out our latest newsletter to read about all the things going on at Grace this month! September 2014

NOW AVAILABLE “Recipes for Hope:Cooking with Miss Ellie and Friends”


The Ella Bunting Open Arms Cancer Support Group Cookbooks “Recipes for Hope: Cooking with Miss Ellie and Friends” are now available at the church! The cookbooks cost $15 each. We would love to hold a copy for you. Just contact the church office at tvillegrace@aol.com or 336-476-4114 and we will put one on hold WHILE SUPPLIES LAST.