As we continue in our Lenten journey, we will be entering into the Gospel according to John. This week, we meet Nicodemus, a respected religious leader who has a secret passion for a new faith: a faith he finds in Jesus. Unfortunately, he isn't yet ready to make a public declaration. Instead, he goes to Jesus at night, hoping no one sees him in the camp talking to this man. Jesus was not exactly someone Nicodemus wanted to be seen chumming it up with right now; after all, Jesus had just had his memorable encounter with the money-changers and said he would rebuild the temple in three days. However, he confesses to Jesus that they (and possibly other leaders) know Jesus comes from God because these signs are only possible through God. But Jesus doesn't let him off the hook! Instead, he throws metaphors and exaggerations at Nicodemus, confusing him.
And we still get confused with Jesus' language today! So many people believe in a "born again" movement, without realizing this passage is about being born anew, or being born from above! It isn't about making a personal change, but about allowing God to change you as you come to understand the depth of his love. This love is expressed famously in John 3:16, but we often ignore where we best see that love--the cross! Lastly, even though Nicodemus doesn't exactly shine in his first interaction with Jesus, he is still the one where we find our hope for this morning!
The Gospel lectionary reading for the First Sunday of Lent finds us out in the wilderness, witnessing Jesus being tempted by the devil. It's a text that is as misunderstood as it is well-known. We have all heard preachers offer sermons that tell us that the devil is among us and we must avoid all the evil temptations satan throws our way! And because of that--we've long included any possible temptation as coming directly from the devil. But you know, that seems to be taking a concise message about our faith and stretching it to the extremes. I've also heard that the temptations have nothing to do with us, and this story is only about Jesus. That idea goes too far in the other direction. You see, the temptations weren't new to Jesus, and they aren't new to us. The Israelites faced the same situation after leaving Egypt. The temptations found in this reading are only about being tempted to be someone other than who God calls us to be--it's about denying our identity as children of God--and disciples of Christ! Those are the temptations we must watch for in life!
Within our faith, we have truths and Truths. Lowercase "t" truths are things that are simple, provable facts. For instance, we know Paul traveled all around planting churches because of his letters. We even know which ones he did write and the ones he didn't write. But we also have Truths with a capital "T" throughout our faith. Those are the ones we can't prove, but our faith tells us are true. These can be tough to handle, because they are the foundation of our faith, and yet we cannot prove them, no matter how much we wish we could! The Transfiguration of Christ is one of these Truths. And when we have a challenging story like that, the main goal isn't to determine if we can or cannot prove it, but what it tells us about our faith. So what Truth can we discover in the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus? Take a listen and find out!
This is our third week reading the Sermon on the Mount. And it suddenly gets decidedly more difficult this week! While trying to lead into the spirit of the Beatitudes and trying to be the salt and light for the world aren't necessarily easy, the passage consists of four of the six phrases beginning: "You have heard it said"...followed by "but I say to you..." We read Jesus words on anger, adultery, divorce, and oath-taking. Those first three, especially, are hard for us to hear today. That is, unless you remember an important lesson from the previous weeks. As we look at the Sermon on the Mount, we must remember that each week doesn't stand alone, but are a part of a larger narrative. So the idea of looking at the will of God standing behind each commandment that we heard before helps us better understand these commandments. When we do that--we will hear just how radical the teachings of Jesus were and still are to this day!
We're continuing our look at the Sermon on the Mount, and how we can live into Jesus' teachings to help bring the kingdom of heaven closer to earth. In this passage, Jesus reminds us that we are to be the salt of the earth. We all know how much flavor salt can bring out in foods, and our role as disciples for the church is to bring out that goodness around the world. Christ is telling us we can't be satisfied with the status quo, that we should shake things up by realizing the value of those people who have been viewed as worthless for too long. Christ also tells us to be the light of the world. Even though we are comfortable proclaiming our faith in the church, too frequently we hide the light of God in the world. Jesus reminds us that we must go into the dark places and hold he light of God's love high about our heads, so the glory of God can illuminate even the darkest corners. Finally, Jesus commands us to have an exceeding amount of righteousness by understanding the will of God that stands behind the commandments, which Jesus is here to fulfill!
Today, we begin to understand exactly how we do kingdom work by "doing" the Beatitudes. As well known as they are, the Beatitudes are frequently misunderstood as commands, rather than as promises from Christ. We do kingdom work when we live into the Beatitudes--when we understand them through simplicity, hopefulness, and compassion. Once we realize that, we won't be able to do anything but continue to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Beatitudes, when viewed as promises, become a guiding principle in our pursuit of righteousness and love for all our neighbors. So today, as we begin the Sermon on the Mount, let's live into the spirit of these powerful words of Jesus everyday of our lives.
is week, we find ourselves living between Christmas/Epiphany and Lent/Easter. As important as those times of the year are, this Ordinary church time is a powerful reminder that we spend a majority of our lives doing the grunt work of spreading our faith. And though our churches are often far more filled on those Sundays, it's really these other weeks that give us the strength to continue on our Christian journey. Today, we heard the call* stories of the first four disciples. How can we be fishers of people today? Do we need to give everything up in our lives to travel the world near and far to spread the gospel message? Can we differentiate the many voices claiming to do God's work? Most importantly, what can we do each and every day to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth? What kingdom work will we choose to do?
*a divine vocation or strong inner prompting to a particular course of action
Image The word "evangelism" can bring about strong reactions. My fear is that the word has been taken over by extreme voices that make the church feel too distant from the lives of most people, today. Many of us probably cannot imagine trying to ask a stranger is they believe in Jesus or want to live in Christ. However, what we learn from John the Baptist today is that evangelism isn't rooted in hatred, fear, persecution, or any other divisive idea--it's all about "come and see". Evangelism is an invitation to come and see Jesus, to hear his radical message of loving others, to care for the sick and dying, and to feed the hungry. Evangelism, for John the Baptist, is nothing like we view it today; so, how can we "do" evangelism in 2020? Simply by serving the church. We can change how we proclaim this Good News to the world by extending the invitation to come and see!
Image by Cerezo Barredo: http://servicioskoinonia.org/cerezo/
On this day, we celebrated Baptism of the Lord Sunday. In this passage, we read Matthew's story of Jesus' baptism, which has some unique parts not found in other versions: The biggest one is God's reaction.
In Matthew--God tells the world that Jesus is the beloved Son, with whom God is pleased--as opposed to God speaking directly to Jesus. It's a small, yet significant difference that changes the meaning of the passage. In this sermon, we look at that meaning, as well as the depth of the meaning of Baptism in our faith.
While it is a cleaning of sin, it is so much more than just that. When we understand the true meaning of this sacrament, we can better understand why Jesus was baptized at all!
There are plenty of passages we love to read and reread; but there are also many passages that give us pause, if not downright doubt. This morning, in our reading of the Slaughter of the Innocents, we encounter one of those passages. How do we feel after reading what Herod did to the youngest children in and around Bethlehem? It's ok to be challenged and struggle--and to admit you feel that way. But what we can realize is that there is always hope in Christ. We see, in this passage, that God gives us the freedom to respond to God's love in any way we want. We see one terrible response from Herod. He denies that grace of God, refuses God's Kingdom on Earth, and does everything he can to protect his own throne. The question we are left with in this passage, then, is how will we decide to respond? Will we fight God and fight the love and grace offered to us? Or will we live into it, showing our neighbors that very same love?
Image by Cerezo Barredo: http://servicioskoinonia.org/cerezo/
Rev. CHRIS HOUTZ
Welcome to the pastor’s blog! This page will have sermons uploaded so you can listen to them whenever you want, and I will add a brief reflection on the text, the sermon, or a little bit of both. My hope is that you will be able to see that the Bible can still speak to our world today, and that we can always find a note of God’s grace in any passage, whether it is one of the most well-known and beloved passages, or one of the most difficult readings to grasp.
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Iselin, NJ 1295
20 Middlesex Ave, Iselin, NJ
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Our Mission Statement
We are a friendly, multi-cultural congregation that welcomes all to worship with us as we glorify our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; sing praises to God, the Father; and let the Holy Spirit guide our footsteps. As faithful witnesses to our Christian beliefs, we dedicate ourselves to worship, stewardship and discipleship. We will always endeavor to nurture the youth in our congregation to grow in their commitment to God and the Church and to become active participants in the life and work of the Church.
We commit ourselves to evangelism and mission to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to all people in a variety of ways in our community and beyond.
We will continue to be open to God’s presence, leading us into new pathways of ministry and service for the betterment of the community and to the glory of Jesus Christ our Savior. -
-ratified by congregational vote, January 27, 2008
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