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Posts by Betty Berghaus

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  1. Sermons : Declare It Boldly

    Ephesians 6:10-20, 23-24

    I remember walking into a religious book/gift store many years ago (down at Rockwood – Sign of the Fish)  when I was still working as a DCE.  As I went in, my eyes were drawn to a mom and a young boy, maybe 3 or 4, at the checkout counter.  She was paying, and he was happily opening the package and putting on a small shield, helmet, gloves, and waving a sword.  I remember thinking at the time, even many years ago, “No, no, no, that is wrong.  It is not biblical.”  Fastforward to August 5, 2018, and I saw the news from Portland, OR, where a Prayer Patriots Rally was taking place.  The camera stopped on a man clad mostly in green, with long gloves and a mask, carrying a shield, and with something, either a megaphone or a weapon, slung over his shoulder, joining the crowd chanting, “Go home! Go home!”  Again, my first thought was, “No, that is just wrong. If you are prayer patriots, you must know that is not what Jesus says.”  And I was reminded of the little boy in armor, so happy to wear a shield and wield a sword in God’s name.

    This epistle passage uses the language of war because that was a language the people of that time would understand.  The people of Ephesus may even have been in a war at the time.  Soldiers of that era would wear a belt around their waist to tie up their loose robes, in order to keep them out of their way in the battle.  Special belts would signify higher office.  They wore breastplates of leather or metal, on their front and sometimes on their backs.  They wore sturdier shoes, for their time, so that they would not lose their footing.  Any good soldier would carry a shield. Many shields in ancient times were big enough to cover the whole body. They were usually made of leather or of wood, and they might be soaked in water before battle, in order to extinguish flaming arrows.  Helmets were needed to protect the head.  And every good solder had a sword, in this time long before guns were invented.  People of the first century would know these images because they saw them all the time.

    But the writer, who was possibly Paul, but more likely a disciple of Paul writing in Paul’s name, took these familiar images and turned them on their head, much as Jesus did in his teachings.  Instead of a belt, he said, Christians should wear truth.  And instead of a breastplate, live in righteousness, in right relationship with God and with one another.  Instead of worrying about the right shoes, Christians should make sure they are grounded firmly in the Gospel message.  Christians are shielded by faith, and their heads and hearts are protected by salvation.  The only sword a Christian should carry is the Word of God.  These are the weapons needed to fight a never ending battle, says the author, this battle against evil.

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  2. Sermons : More Than Enough

    John 6:1-15

    “Food, glorious food, “the poor boys in an orphanage sing near the beginning of “Oliver Twist.”  “Is it worth waiting for?  If we live for 84 all we ever get is gruel,” they start, and then they dream of “Food, glorious food, hot sausage and mustard. While we’re in the mood, cold jelly and custard….” Ending with “What wouldn’t we give for that extra bit more. That’s all we live for. Why should we be fated to do nothing but brood on food – magical food, wonderful food, marvelous food, beautiful food, food, glorious, glorious food!”  Whatever our diets may include, no one can live without food.  We need it to live.  Today’s story is a miracle story about food.  It is an important story because it is the only miracle story to appear in all four of the Gospels.  In this story, Jesus provides food for thousands of people.  Since only men were counted at that time, the numbers were much larger when women and children were added.  And Jesus fed them with 5 barley loaves and 2 fish. Everyone had enough, and there were leftovers.  Yes, that is a miracle!  How could it be?!?

    Some have tried to logically explain it away.  Everyone was very polite and only took a small bit, as we do at the communion table.  Or people had food with them and added it to the pile as it went by them.  Or maybe Jesus did this miraculous thing.  It harkens back to an OT story where a man came to offer the first fruits with 20 loaves of barley bread and fresh ears of grain.  Elisha told him to give it to the 100 men gathered, and his servant, like the disciples, was incredulous to hear that this small amount of food might feed 100.  But, says the story, Elisha “set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.”  (II Kings 4:42-44)  As usual in the Gospel of John, the story points beyond just the facts.  So it reminds us of God’s bounty over and over again, and how generous God is.  “Give us this day our daily bread,” Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer.  Food is a basic need, and God provides.

    But especially in John, God does not provide just bread and fish.  If we continue reading in chapter 6, it tells us that the next day Jesus went away alone and the crowd went looking for him.  When they found him, he said, in the mysterious way that Jesus often speaks in John:  “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.  Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”  “I am the bread of life,” he said to them. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  (These are words we hear often in communion.)  But then he said, “But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.”  This, the text tells us, is when the Jews began to complain about Jesus, because he said “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”  (John 6:25-27, 35, 36, 41)  Jesus revealed himself with these words, yet he was not fully understood.

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  3. Sermons : Do Not Fear, Jesus is Here!

    Mark 6:45-52

    Jesus was ready for some alone time.  He sent his disciples away on a boat, dismissed the crowd that he had miraculously fed copious amounts of loaves of bread and fish, and hiked up a mountain to be alone and to pray.  His disciples were on the Sea of Galilee when the winds increased, and they were struggling.  Jesus saw this and headed down the mountain, and walked right across the water.   In the darkness, the disciples did not realize the figure coming towards them was Jesus, and they were frightened.

    Fear is a common human response to a perceived danger.  It can alert us to act, to flee, to fight back, to do whatever we need to avert the danger that threatens us.  Psychologists note that especially in more ancient times, the fear response has been very necessary for human survival.

    President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is renowned for saying, in his first inaugural address, in 1933, “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…”  How we react to fear can be problematic at times, rather than helpful.  Noam Shpancer, in “Psychology Today” in December 2017, said that the “fear of fear” can cause us to react to fix the problem as quickly as possible, and that can lead to mistakes. Mostly, he points out, we try to escape, or avoid, whatever makes us afraid – which means that we remain afraid of it whenever we encounter it again.  But we harden our hearts to that which frightens us.

    Maybe, then, avoidance and escape can be, at times, the wrong approach.  Maybe we need to face our fears in order to get over them. In Matthew’s version of this story, Peter did just that. When he saw Jesus walking on the water, tried to join him.  He was successful at first, but began to sink.  Jesus rescued him.  But in Mark and John, no one else dared to walk on water.  Jesus calmed the wind.  But, first, he spoke to them to reassure them, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

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  4. Sermons : Planting Seeds

    Mark 4:26-34

    I like stories.  I read novels for fun.  I like my job because I get to visit with folks and hear them tell the stories of their lives.  Lots of folks like stories.  Jesus must have known that, because he taught a lot of the truths of the Gospel in stories.  And Jesus’ stories employed things or characters that would be familiar to his listeners.  Today we read two of his stories familiar to an agrarian society to help explain the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom of God, he said, is as if someone scatters seed and leaves it.  Miraculously it grows into something that produces a useful harvest.  Or the Kingdom of God is like the tiniest of seeds that can, again, rather miraculously, grow into a large enough bush to shelter birds and hide their nests.

    Granted, the listeners and the disciples might not really have gotten the point of these stories.  Maybe we do not either.  Earlier in this chapter of Mark, Jesus told the story of the sower who threw seed on the path, and birds ate it before it grew; and who threw seed on rocky ground, and it withered because it could not establish good roots; and who threw seed among thorny plants, and the other plants grew up and overwhelmed it so that it did not grow; and who threw seed on good soil, where it took root and flourished.  But the disciples did not seem to understand the story, and Jesus interpreted it for them.  He also told them that these stories, these parables, were told so that they might understand the secret of the Kingdom of God, and that not all would understand.

    One of the striking things about all three of these stories is that the sower scatters  the seed, but does  not nurture the plant to grow.  The growing happens all on its own.  But the sower plants the seed.  The seed must be sown, and it needs good soil, it needs rain and sun.  The grown plant can nurture others of God’s creatures.  It is all for the good. 

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  5. Sermons : A Spirit-Led Church

    Acts 2:1-13

    The disciples were gathered together, the Book of Acts tells us.  They had just appointed a new 12th disciple, Matthias, to replace Judas, who had betrayed Jesus.  And they waited.  When Jesus had ascended to heaven, he said to them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  (Acts 1:8).  So maybe they were waiting for this power from on high, not even knowing quite what it would look like.

    Other people were gathered in Jerusalem as well, for the festival time that marked the beginning of the growing year, the first fruits of the season.  They were gathered from every known nation in the world at that time. So they talked different languages, they wore different clothing, they looked different from one another.  This may be a bit irrelevant, or even irreverent, but I kind of imagine it to be like the bar scenes in STAR WARS, with very diverse folk from around the universe gathered together in close quarters, looking very different and speaking very different languages, yet all getting along happily.  Or maybe it was like walking through the mall or the airport and hearing languages and seeing styles of dress from all over the world and realizing how diverse we are.  The crowd gathered in our passage was as diverse as it could be.

    And all of a sudden a wind blew through them.  Whether it was a literal wind or not, it got the attention of everyone there, this moving of the Spirit.  There is a song I do with the preschoolers sometimes that says, “When the Spirit says move, you gotta move.”  And we do!  The Spirit blew through the place like a hurricane wind.  And, the story tells us, tongues of fire (That’s what I tried to create in the back of the sanctuary as you entered!) rested on each of them.  And they began speaking in many languages.  Some churches use this to justify the gift of speaking in tongues.  In such churches, someone has to translate what is being said in tongues. Sometimes, no translation is given and everyone revels in this great, mysterious gift.  But this was not what happened that day, because everyone understood what was said in their own language.  Everyone heard and rejoiced.  Well, not everyone understood, because the text says some thought all of these crazy, happy people filled with the Spirit must be drunk.

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