April 24, 2016
John 14: 25-31
When I read this passage I knew I wanted to give my sermon on it because it has been so applicable to my, and I’m sure many of your, lives. There have been many instances in my life where I have experienced the Holy Spirit and the peace that Jesus promises us in this passage. However, there has also been many more times where I haven’t.
I immediately started racking my brain for the perfect story to fit this sermon, but it didn’t take me long to realize there was an obvious story to tell. It’s the kind of story that people always say “oh it's bad now but you will laugh at it in the future.” Well I’m still waiting for it to be funny. So I go to Oakland University to take the ACT. I get there with plenty of time to find the building I’m supposed to take it in, but lets just say it took a lot longer than I thought. I went around the entire campus trying to find the building and of course was stressing out. I did end up finding the building only to realize I didn’t have my ACT ticket with me. The ticket was my registration confirmation and was needed to take the test. I knew I had it with me when I was running around campus trying to find the building, so that meant I must have dropped it somewhere along the way. It could have been anywhere in the entire Oakland campus. That is when I really started freaking out. I ran, literally ran faster then i ever did in gym class, all over Oakland retracing my footsteps looking everywhere for it.The whole time I was thinking “ Its getting too late they probably already started taking the test. I need to take the this ACT or my future will be ruined.”
And just when I was about to give up and leave and cry the whole way home only what I can describe as an act of God occurred. I saw this white sheet of paper on the grass. I ran to it picked it up and lo and behold it was my soaked by still useable ticket lying in the grass. So I got the ticket and ran to the building the ACT was at, and miraculously I got there in time to take the test.
I experienced a lot of emotions that day. I was Scared I wouldn’t make it to the test in time. I was tired from running about two miles around the OU campus. And I was beyond stressed about the test and unnecessarily worried about my future. but I had no peace. I never felt the Holy spirit. But that was a part of Jesus’s promise in this passage, so why didn’t I have it? It is what Jesus says I should have.
When Jesus promises peace, he is basically saying you will be okay with God by your side. He also is saying that his peace is different than the world's definition of peace. The world’s definition of peace is the absence of troubles, but Jesus’s promise of peace is to be calm and collected in the midst of troubles. Our lives are partly defined by the struggles and troubles we face. Its a weirdly essential part of life that Jesus knows we can’t escape nor should we. As every gym teacher has said “no pain no gain.” So instead of Jesus promising that we have no struggle he promises that he will be there right next to us during all of our trouble. We just need to reach out and hold his hand. Jesus promises you that if you stick by him and focus on him you will have this peace.
This would have been good to remember while searching frantically for my ACT ticket. That all I needed was to stretch out my hand to the Holy Spirit. But Jesus doesn’t just want us to just half-heartedly believe this. He wants us to wholeheartedly believe and trust him. Just knowing a promise anyone makes isn’t enough to make the anxiety about the future disappear. We need to know how the promise will be fulfilled in order to rid us of our worry. The Holy Spirit is the how. The Spirit he sends is what will bring us peace and what will stay with us through all of our troubles. It is the means by which we will receive peace. It is the form God will take in order to be with us. Knowing the Holy Spirit will be with us helps us feel less anxious about future troubles because we know how God is going to help us. This promise helps us understand that we just need to let the Holy Spirit do its work in us and we will be okay.
The promises of peace and the Holy Spirit are of course not promises. They are another of the multiple ways God shows his loves us. These promises make us feel so loved and protected. God's love is his greatest gift that he wants us to open and embrace. Wasn’t that what Jesus was trying to do on earth? Love us. And with his love comes comes his care and promises of help. I wish I would have remembered this passage and God's promise when I was running (with burning lungs) around OUs campus. I should have reached my hand to the Holy Spirit that was running next to me the whole time. I then would have realized I would be cared for by God no matter if I found that ticket or not. If I did I wouldn’t have been worried or upset or afraid.
Three things I was and three things Jesus tells us not to be in this passage, and three things I didn’t have to be if I only let the Holy spirit do its job. So I just spent a lot of time talking about how I didn’t experience this peace that Jesus promises. But I haven’t talked about what exactly this peace feels like and any experience with it. I am not an experienced and super-wise person, but I will share with you most recent experience where Jesus fulfills this promise. It was just last night actually. I was sitting in bed practicing my sermon when I started to get incredibly nervous about giving it. I’m a little embarrassed to admit this. I was so overwhelmed I just started to cry. I then remembered what my sermon was about and how I just needed to reach out to the Holy Spirit.
So I began to pray that God grant me peace of mind, and shortly after I said Amen I stopped crying and this wave of excitement came over me. I was no longer nervous. I was looking forward to giving the Sermon. It was the weirdest and most sudden shift in mood that I ever experienced. I have been continually nervous about giving the Sermon for months and with just one prayer my nervousness was mostly gone and excitement took its place. I was texting my friend about how nervous I was and then I after I prayed I texted him saying, “I’m actually okay now. The Holy spirit is at work!” The Holy Spirit is always here to work. God is always here to love. And Jesus always follows through on his promises. So if I have one challenge for you (sorry pastor John I stole your idea to tell them a story and give them a challenge) it would be, whenever you're feeling stressed or overwhelmed or struggling just reach out to the Holy Spirit and pray. And Peace will be provided.
March 15, 2015
Isaiah 51:1-8, Matthew 6: 25-34
Good morning :) For those of you who don't know me, I am Katie Schlafhauser, and this is my last official year with the youth program, so I was really excited and also really nervous when the opportunity came for me to present a sermon to you (gesture towards crowd). Bethany told me the topic for this sermon was worry, and I sort of felt my calling, because, I am innately a worrier.
I think a big part of my worry is centered on my fear of heights. I have always been afraid of heights. I stare at the small cliff looming before me and imagine a thousand scenarios that ultimately lead to my feet no longer being attached to the ground but more so flailing as I fall to the solid earth below me. I was never the adventurous child, because I was so scared for my safety. Whenever we stayed at hotels, my little sisters would always run to the balcony, and to me they seemed to be running into the hands of death. I would immediately pull them back and keep them from falling to the not so forgiving ground below.
I think the strongest instance of worry I ever felt was when my fear of heights was exponentially increased on our family trip out west. For those of you who have not been out to Colorado or Utah or Arizona, they do not like safe, flat ground there. No… They like cliffs, and arches and canyons and gorges and mountains. That's how they do it out west.
Anyways, we went to visit the Delicate Arch, and as my five year old sister stumbled dangerously close to the edge, I walked as far on the inside of the path as I could shouting for her to join me on the safe side. I now understand why child leashes are so popular.
Anyways, we stopped when we were in view of the arch, and we sat down for a picture. In hindsight, we probably could have gotten a postcard and I would have many fewer traumatic memories.
We were sitting on a rock, and there is about five feet of flat, sturdy ground to the ledge. This isn't a one-two foot baby drop, this is a "I can't tell if that's the ground" kind of a drop. Also, to make it better, there were no railings. The man taking our picture must not have had the smallest amount of fear because not only was he at the five foot mark of safe ground, he was leaning back to capture the whole scene. I think the picture captured my face perfectly. Horror. Pure horror. My face was red, hair was frizzy, and I can't really tell if I was smiling or just grinding my teeth really hard. Of course, my mother looked good in that picture, so it became our Christmas card photo that year. It was great for the most terrifying moment of my life to not only be captured forever in photograph, but also distributed to a variety of family and friends who could share in that raw fear and worry I had.
Worry. It can consume us. It can control us. It can define us.
Everyone, at some point, experiences worry. It is in our instinct to try to survive, and if we feel that something is threatening that survival, we panic and formulate solutions to get around the particular obstacle. I think the biggest factor promoting worry is the "what if" tendency we tend to take towards certain situations. What if there is pain? What if we go hungry? What if we don't have enough to provide for our families? What if there is loss? What if there is joy that we don't think we deserve?
From the youth perspective, there tends to be a lot of fear and uneasiness towards the future. What do we want to do with our lives? What if we pick the wrong path and can't change it? What if we aren't good enough?
Jesus says not to worry about where we will get our food or water. This seems like a great practice on the surface. It would be great to get my weekly salary and not immediately think about where each bit will be siphoned off to. This chunk goes to college. This chunk goes to my food for the week. This chunk goes to buying gas. This chunk goes to prom. Imagine if that conscious and unconscious worry could disappear. This is what God is promising through Jesus, and I want with every ounce of my being to achieve this nirvana of worry free peace.
It all sounds so easy, if we trust in God than we will be fed and clothed with the most holy of things, but then I stop and think. What about the millions of people in America alone that are going hungry every day. This isn't a once in a while struggle for them. This is an all-consuming worry that never goes away.
The fact of the matter is Jesus is asking us to stray away from our human instinct and find peace knowing that ultimately God will provide for us.
Provide us what?
This question keeps resonating through my mind. We are taught that we need food, water and shelter, yet so many go without those basic needs.
Is God breaking his promises, or is there more to this sermon than the surface level.
Throughout his sermon on the mount, Jesus presents basically a how-to-be-a-true-follower-of-God handbook, and this particular passage comes from that. It seems overwhelming seeing all of these unattainable characteristics laid out. Jesus tells us what true happiness is. He tells us how we are supposed to follow the Law of Moses to a tee, remove anger from our lives completely, remove thoughts of lust, and in essence, be a perfect person.
I am not an expert biblical theologian, but, to me, I see these as more guidelines than rules. Jesus knows it is impossible to master even one of these characteristics. All of them seems to be an unreachable goal. Jesus is showing us all that is possible when we are truly followers of God. When we follow God in the most pure and perfect sense of the word, we can achieve all of the things on the checklist of how to be a good follower.
Jesus is telling us not to worry. The birds don't spend their time worrying, and they live just like us. Won't God take more care of us because we are his children? After I read the passage a few times, I started to realize, hunger is only controlling if we let it poison the mind as well as body. Thirst, while deadly, will only truly bother us if we spend all of our time thinking about it. Sure we can only live three days without it, but if we live those days not focused on the growing dehydration, then we have evaded worry's encompassing grasp.
If we give up on constantly obsessing over every curveball life throws us, we have achieved the peace God promises us. He promises that we will never go hungry if we trust in him. To truly trust in God and know that temporary hunger will be alieved is to beat the hunger. You are no longer hungry if you stop focusing on it.
I know how mind controlling it is to go even one morning without breakfast. We sit in classes and work and contemplate all of the savory meals we could be having while our stomachs rumble on. If we go more than a few hours without drinking something, our throats become dry and our minds become filled with images of gently rushing streams or waterfalls or water bottles. But regardless of how hungry or thirsty or sad or worried we are in the moment, we always survive. We have all made it through varying degrees of hardships when we didn't know what the future held. We all made it through those.
Some of you may be going through current periods of time when the future has not revealed itself to you. Currently, I am still deciding where I want to go to college, what I want to do, and who I want to become. I am so worried I will make a wrong decision and end up somewhere that is not suited for me.
I think what Jesus wants us to take from this passage is that in order for God to keep his end of the bargain, we have to keep up our end. His promise is not a promise saying "Oh, as long as you exist, you will be taken care of". This is a two way promise. We have to trust God. We have to trust that these situations will unravel themselves, and they always do. We have to remember the number of successes on God's scoreboard and compare that with the hopefully infinitely small number of losses to worry.
Even if there was a time when we were careless and suffered for it, many times the pain of the moment fades away through time and we gain invaluable experience for it. Initially, I was so worried for the man taking that awful picture of me, and that awful picture of me being circulated between all of our family and friends. Now, when I look back on it, I laugh and know that the worry was self-created, and even though it was difficult in the moment and for time following it, I can look back with fondness at that memory and I have learned to next time, just take a selfie. No unnecessary fear in that scenario.
We have to remember that God loves us, and his love is pure. Sometimes human love can be selfish, but God's love is perfect. He wants what is best for us, and he has the means to make sure that happens. If we stop worrying about what tomorrow might bring, we can see that today has unanticipated joys of its own.
I think a nice way to wrap up this sermon is to offer a challenge. My challenge is for everyone to pick one thing, however small it might seem, and focus on it. Really analyze it and believe the part of you that says it will turn out fine. My theory is, if you can beat worry once, you know you can beat it again, as many times as you wish because you know you have done it before. Thank you very much for your time, and I hope everyone enjoys this warm weather:)
June 8, 2014
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12: 4-13
Amy and Dr. Judson sometimes like to start their sermons with surveys and I think id like to do the same.
Its graduation season, and I have just recently graduated from Seaholm high school, right down the road, this past Sunday and I’m sure several of you in the audience know someone graduating this month.
So, here’s the survey part. By a show of hands, who has sent a graduation card to someone, ever? Great this is what I thought, several of you.
Since my brother and I are recent graduates, we”ve sent and received dozens of graduation cards and I can tell you from experience that they will probably go something like this; “follow your own path” or “you have what it takes to succeed”, or “this is just the beginning”.
Truly, I believe that today’s bible verse would make an excellent Hallmark card. (PAUSE) To summarize, the verse tells us that God gives us each different and unique talents but are all from the same God and are therefore equal. These talents should be used in unity with one another for the betterment of the world. So, if this is the case (which it certainly is), then why don’t we live in a perfect world? It seems to me that if we are all blessed with these talents then certainly our world should be a better place than it is now. Why does it appear that some people have no constructive talent such as members of the Taliban or other hate groups? Did God forget them? I believe that the fact of the matter is that although they are there, they may not exactly be present.
Thinking about how talents may not be so noticeable at first, I’d like to ask you all to take a journey with me three years back when I was just a wee little freshman, ending my first year of high school at Seaholm, For us Seaholmers, the Spring of 2011 started with an unexpected bang.
In one of the mens bathrooms, someone had vandalized a wall with racial graffiti. The writing consisted of something along the lines of “N-words” that should be lynched” followed by a list of five African American students at the school. The response was lightening fast. The police came to investigate, news stations rushed to the scene, Seaholm parent assemblies became a common occurrence and several pep rallys were strung together to fight the backlash and unify the school. With white students making up about 95% of the Seaholm community, we were quickly dubbed as racists. The school issued out buttons to students that depicted black and white people holding hands, so they could decorate their backpacks to display our intolerance of racism.
At first the situation seemed bleak . Nobody had any idea who had done it and other schools hated us for it. As a freshman baseball player, I have specific memories of being taunted as we left the bus to play an away game.
I felt it in my core; all my life I had been molded by good values and now I was being misrepresented because of a certain racist individual. Outside looking in, we appeared to be a bunch of affluent racists. However, on the inside, I can tell you that that was certainly not the case. Everyone was just as upset as I was. We felt judged and labeled just because we could proudly call ourselves “Maple Leaves”.
For a while whenever I met someone from a different school, this was one of the first things I was asked about.
Finally, and what seemed like against all odds, the identity of the person who had caused so much turmoil in our school community was revealed. And the identity of the person was nothing short of shocking. The student responsible was an African American senior at the school. In fact, his name was even on the list in the boy’s bathroom.
The immediate response from my peers and me was anger that the entire racism scandal had been fabricated and the damage was already done. Our school’s name had been tarnished and by affiliation, my name.
In reflection I realized that maybe there was more to the story. Maybe I had begun to judge unfairly just as I had been unfairly judged. From the outside looking in the student seemed confused and manipulative but in actuality I didn’t take the time to know him and do my best to understand. I certainly didn’t look for his talents.
Through our verse today, God has told us that no one is talentless and God has blessed all of us in different ways. Sometimes there will be misunderstandings as you can see from what happened at our school but that does not mean these talents are none existent. They may simply be buried for the time being and may need help getting to or are unclear at first but are nevertheless there. OUR JOB IS TO SEEK AND APPRECIATE THE GOD GIVEN TALENTS IN OTHERS even if it is at first not obvious.
And Maybe Hallmark could put that last line on a graduation card.
Pastors and Associate Pastors: Dr. John Judson, Rev. Joanne Blair, Dr. Kate Thoresen, Rev. Ted Thode