Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Easter Morning Worship
7:30am Sunrise Service at Alyeska Mountaintop, with free tram ride between 6:30 and 7:30am
11am Easter Worship at Girdwood Chapel

Welcome to Girdwood Chapel, in the heart of the charming town of Girdwood, Alaska. We are a community of believers with a mission to love God, love others and change the world.

We are located on Timberline drive, just off the Alyeska Highway, heading to the Alyeska Resort and the mountain.   Our main worship service is at 10AM, and we also offer a shorter version of the main service at 8:30AM .  Communion is served at both services. 

Funday School for the kids is at 11:15 each Sunday of the school year.

All are welcome at Girdwood Chapel.  Get connected to God, and to others who love God.

Pastor Sandy Ward is available for weddings, funerals, spiritual discernment, prayer, and pastoral care.
We hope you will join us for worship and friendly faces. 

Contact information for Girdwood Chapel:
Mailing address:  PO Box 1068, Girdwood, AK  99587
Church email:  girdwoodchapel@gmail.com
Church phone:  907-783-0127

Pastor email:  rev.sandy.ward@gmail.com

Something Doesn't Add Up

“Something doesn’t add up!”                             Sermon for Aug. 3, 2014              
Matthew 14:13-21   New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Feeding the Five Thousand
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

I am a very linear thinker.  I like things to flow logically, I like to make lists and outlines and I like to have reasons and understandings of how and why something works.  I like to figure out cause and effect.

So when I read a story like this, Jesus feeding over 5000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fishes, I say Whaaaat?  Seriously!!??  My geologist friend that was here last week, and I were discussing this scripture and she told me she has a theory – turns out her theory is shared by others as I found out when doing more research.   The theory is that the disciples brought out their 5 loaves and 2 fishes and started passing them around, and folks in the crowd were inspired by their sharing, that  the members of the crowd brought out whatever food items they had in their packs and added to the overall meal.  Kind of like a big, impromptu, pot-luck.  I actually like this theory, but it is a theory – we have no evidence that supports it to be true or not true. 

My family, for years, has enjoyed the show “Mythbusters”.  In each episode the hosts take some sort of urban legend and try to prove or disprove its accuracy.  I don’t know if they have done an episode on how Jesus and his disciples were able to feed over 5000 people with five loaves of bread and two fishes, but it might be a good one to propose to the writers. 
First they would look at the facts, which, for us is the context of this story in relation to where it occurs in the Bible. 

Fact #1:  Today we are reading it from Matthew, chapter 14.  But the story also occurs in Mark, chapter 6, in Luke chapter 9 and in John chapter 6.  You might remember that a couple of weeks ago I mentioned that Matthew, Mark and Luke are considered synoptic gospels, because they share the same source; John was written from entirely different sources.  This is the only miracle story that appears in all four Gospels.  That means when the Gospel writers are writing their version of important events in the life of Jesus Christ, some 40-70 years after Christ’s death, that this story was of such significance it made the cut to be included by four different writers. 

Fact #2:  The story is taking place in the first century, in a land dominated by the Roman Empire.  The social reality was such that the hierarchical structure allowed for the elite to have much, and live with abundancy.  The rest of the population was subject to their power, and most of the people lived at a level that it was rare to have sufficient calories and nutrition in their daily diet.  The lack of food was part of the disparity and injustice that people had to live with, which left them not only hungry, but also often sick and without adequate immune systems. 

Fact #3:  bread and fish were two elements of the basic diet for the poor in Galilee. If you had three barley loaves you could feed two people for one day.  The fish would have been pickled or smoked

Fact #4:  Based on the versions of this story in Mark and John, green grass is mentioned, which indicates the scene probably took place more in a field or meadow.  John also mentions the nearness of Passover, so the time was likely a spring day.  Luke mentions surrounding villages, and the city of Bethsaida, on the northern coast of Galilee, so it seems likely that the geographical setting is in a meadow, in a desolate area, between villages, on the northern coast of the Sea of Galilee in the springtime. 

Fact # 5:  The scene, especially in verse 19, is loaded with Eucharistic references and Jesus acting with in the tradition of a father, or head of a household in a Jewish family.  In Jewish tradition, the head of the family thanked God for the meal.  Also in the Jewish tradition, the head of the household broke bread to indicate the meal had begun.  These are rituals that would have been familiar to the crowds.  In later years, but still in the early churches, the leader broke the bread, and then the deacons distributed the broken pieces to the congregation. 
What might seem odd about this Eucharistic reference is that this story comes before the time of the Last Supper.  That is true chronologically.  However, all of the gospels were written as a memory of the evangelist author who wrote it.  So Matthew was writing this sometime in the late first century, probably around 70-80CE, and he would have had the context of his memory of not only this story but the experience of the Last Supper as well in which to write his gospel from. 

Now in Mythbusters, Jamie and Adam would set about to re-create the scene and test the story.  They would likely go about getting a crowd to represent the 5000 plus women and children.  They would get two fish, of the size you could reasonably carry, and five loaves of bread.  And they would set about to pass out the food and then see if everyone was fed and if there would be any left.  And, you can imagine the outcome.  Rationally we would have to say that two fish and five loaves don’t add up to 5000 feedings.  So what is it? 

There is one more fact about this story that is significant.  The story follows the account in verses 1-12 of chapter 14, of the death of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist.  You see, just prior to the feeding of the five thousand, King Herod was celebrating his birthday with a party and a feast.  Herod had wanted a relationship with his sister-in-law,Herodius, but had been told it was unlawful to do such by John the Baptist.  Herod wanted to have John the Baptist put to death but didn’t because he was afraid of the repercussions that might take place from the crowd of people who followed John the Baptist – so instead, he had him put in prison.  At his lavish birthday party, Herodias’ teenage daughter danced for the king.  Herod was so enamored that he told the girl she could have whatever she wanted.  The teenager’s mother, Herodias, intervened and persuaded her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.  Now Herod was in a real bind, but he didn’t want to back away from his promise, so he had John the Baptist killed.  It was upon receiving the news of John the Baptist’s death that Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place.  We can just imagine the grief Jesus was experiencing at the news of the death of his beloved friend and cousin.

I can’t offer a rational explanation to how a crowd of over 5000 can be fed on two fishes and five loaves of bread, but I can offer you these considerations to mull over.

It was an absolutely outrageous act of cowardice and violence that outlined the actions of King Herod in the killing of John the Baptist.  Jesus could have reacted with revenge and violence, but instead, he did an equally outrageous thing by feeding hungry people.  David Lose comments:  “The juxtaposition couldn’t be more ironic or powerful.  One moment Matthew invites us to focus on the Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless, and the next he fastens our attention on a scene portraying poor, sick and hungry crowds looking for relief.  It’s kind of like switching channels from the Kardashian’s to a news report on immigrant children.  Matthew is indicating by these contrasting scenes just what kind of God Jesus represents.” (www.davidlose.net/2014/07/pentecost -8a-the-real-miracles) 

Herod’s use of power is destructive and defensive.  Roman rulers had to rely on marriages and relationships with their extended family to keep and expand their power.  They responded with violence and hostility to silence those whom they viewed as a threat to their power or lifestyle.  Jesus’ use of power, on the other hand, is merciful and beneficial.  It is not manipulative, destructive or defensive.  Jesus’ power is life-giving, not life-taking.  Jesus’ ministry is motivated by compassion. 

Jesus’ ministry is far deeper than the oppression and rule of the very shallow Roman Empire.  Not only does Jesus act as a role model for how we should live, he uses his disciples to show how it is to live in a world of thankfulness and abundance.  Matthew’s story tells us what happens with an attitude shift of scarcity, when the disciples say “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish” to an attitude of thankfulness and abundance when Jesus takes the food and blesses it, thanking God for what they had. 

Jesus gave the disciples a command that they surely thought was crazy. “Bring me your fish and bread”.   But they offered their limited resources to him to bless, and what they saw was nothing short of exponential blessing. 

The miracle of the story might be more than a multiplying of food.  The real miracle might be in the motivation to trust a little deeper, love a little broader and stand a little firmer in our faith.  God is still at work performing miracles in disciples who are both eager and reluctant to serve.  If you pay attention you’ll start seeing it everywhere. 

Thanks be to God!  Amen. 

The Lost and Found

Sermon for July 27, 2014 – The Lost and Found
Luke 15:1-10 (NRSV) 
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
15 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
The Parable of the Lost Coin
8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins,[a] if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

I know a little about how the shepherd and the woman felt…
About 15 years ago, our family was on vacation in Florida.  We drove down to Sanibel Island, after visiting with my mother in the Orlando area.  It had been stormy driving down and we were pretty delighted to see the weather clear up as we came across the bridge onto the island.  After checking into our little cottage-like hotel, we put on swim suits and walked down to the private beach area.  My sons Cameron and Blake were about 6 and 4.  It was just the four of us on the beach.  The waves were pretty big as the tide was rolling in, and little did we know how great the shelling would be as a result of the storm that had just passed.  Cameron was fearless and a lover of all things water.  He and my husband, Paul, were in the water digging up conch shell after conch shell.  Blake was tiny and the size of the waves was overwhelming to him.  He and I were finding shells on the shore.  All of the sudden, my husband, Paul, said, “Where’s Blake?”  My heart dropped – he had been right there.  Paul had been with Cameron in the water, and now we both were near panic.  Paul had been a lifeguard and waterfront director for many college years, and was worried about Blake venturing into the waves and getting swept out.  I was worried that he was in the tall sea grass that was growing between the cottage and the beach.  With no hesitation we searched.   I started up the boardwalk, surveying the grass and calling his name, while Paul was searching the beach.  As I got back to the cottage, there I saw him, sitting with legs dangling in a big Adirondack chair on the porch.  Joy and relief flooded me, and I ran back to tell my husband.   Relief flooded us and we rejoiced in the knowing our precious child was safe and happy.
Jesus is trying to teach us something through these parables, both the ones we have today and the ones we have studied the last 2 weeks.  Why doesn’t Jesus just come out and tell his disciples, and the crowds that have gathered, just exactly what he means – what it is that he wants them to get out of the story he is telling. Well, if he did that, the point he is trying to make would be in the context only of the time and place in which he was speaking.  In other words, the story would have specifics to it that would skew the point that he was trying to make, and it would be valid only the time period of Jesus’ life, around 28CE.  As it is, the truths, or the principles he is making are sufficiently vague enough to inspire you to think about how it might apply to your setting – your life. 
So what do we know about these stories, and the context in which they were told?  First we can consider the background in scripture up to the place where Jesus was sitting down to dinner with the tax collectors:
We know from the first chapters of Matthew that Jesus has been baptized by his cousin, John the Baptist, and endured the temptations of the devil -- in the wilderness, the pinnacle and the mountain.  He’s come down and gone to Capernaum, which is located on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  The whole area of Galilee is under the rule of the Roman Empire.
It’s while Jesus is in Capernaum that he calls the first of the disciples – Peter, Andrew, James and John, and most recently Matthew. 
Now Matthew is a tax collector.  Here’s the thing about tax collectors in the Roman Empire – they were not well-liked.  The reasons no one liked tax collectors was two-fold:  first because taxes were being used to subsidize the lifestyles of the emperors and governors who were not Jewish. The second reason no one liked a tax collector was because they padded the tax assessments in order to pay themselves.   It was a very unethical system that was subject to distrust, extortion and fraud – hence, the bad reputation of tax collectors.
But there’s a flip-side.  Remember when Jesus came to John the Baptist to be baptized?  Well, in the crowd of people also seeking baptism (Luke 3:12), tax collectors were among those who had come out.  By their baptism they were signifying a submission and allegiance to God – the one true God, which also meant they denied the worshipping of multiple Gods in the pagan tradition of the Roman Empire.  What the Pharisees and other Jews should have seen was that even tax collectors could receive repentance and align themselves with God’s purpose. 
So now in Luke 15, Jesus has been making his way to Jerusalem, doing a lot of teaching through parables along the way.  At this point he has just sat down to have dinner with some tax collectors and sinners when some Pharisees come along.  Now the Pharisees are a sect of jewish zealots who believed in literally living out all of the laws of the Old Testament.   The name Pharisee in its Hebrew form means separatists, or the separated ones. They were separatists because they were extremists in their literal interpretation and application of the Hebrew law, and very self-righteous. 
The Pharisees come upon this scene and are embarrassed and exasperated.  Verse 2 tells us “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them”.  The Pharisees perspective is that Jesus has no regard for the values and norms of his peer group.  Jesus is ignoring the social and religious boundaries by not only eating with this despicable group, but going so far as to extend hospitality to them as well. Jesus is hanging out with a bunch of social outcasts, in a culture that was focused on class, hierarchy, exclusion and exploitation. 
  David Lose, a seminary professor and author in Minnesota, describes the scene like this: 
“Eating -- that is, sharing table fellowship -- is a mark of camaraderie, acceptance, and friendship. And so in eating with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus is demonstrating a deep and abiding acceptance of those whom society has deemed beyond the moral turpitude.  Secondly, while we’re used to thinking “we’re all sinners,” that’s not the way Luke sees it. Rather, when he describes someone as a “sinner” he’s talking about someone whose pattern of sinning is so habitual, even second nature, that the whole community knows of it. All of which means that Jesus is welcoming the local untouchables, the moral disgraces and public outcasts -- welcoming, accepting, and befriending, to the point of embarrassment. And the Pharisees, who consider themselves the “decent folk”, are -- quite understandably -- concerned.
 So now Jesus is going to try to help these Pharisees gain a new understanding;  – and he does this through the telling of two parables, not finger-wagging or lecturing, but rather story-telling through stories about a lost sheep and a lost coin.
In the first case, a shepherd has a flock of 100 sheep and he’s lost one of them.  He leaves the 99 sheep, putting them at risk, risking their existence in the wilderness with no protection or shelter, to seek out the one that is lost. And when he finds the missing sheep, he rejoices, and carries that sheep on his shoulders while he herds the whole flock home and calls his friends and neighbors to join in his celebration.
Here’s what we know about this situation in the reality of Jesus’ day.  If someone owned a hundred sheep, they were pretty wealthy.  And the owner would not be personally out herding them.  The owner would have hired a shepherd.  So this shepherd is like a farmhand who was looking after his owner’s sheep, and he was responsible to the owner for the well-being of the sheep. 
In the second story, a woman has lost a coin.  Now she only has 10 coins so this lost coin is 10% of her wealth.  She lights her lamp and sweeps all night searching for the coin. She finds it!!! In rejoicing, she also calls together her neighbors and invites them to celebrate.
The reality of this story in Jesus day is that this woman would have been part of a family and the coins were her dowry.  Losing one of them would be a disaster for the whole family because it would jeopardize a crucial aspect of a marriage contract for her – dowries were about money, but also about honor and status.  Marriages were public arrangements where the honor of the family would be on display for the community, so if she lost one coin, the dowry would be less adequate and she was risking the family honor. 
What is extraordinary is that in both cases, the shepherd and the woman could have kept quiet about their lost and found.   But they are anything but quiet, and they go about telling everyone what is actually shameful, private business. 
So given the context for each story, what is the truth or truths that are so important for people of this world to understand?  Truths that will transcend the context of the first century and continue to be true to readers centuries later? 
I think there are several options for interpretation of these parables, but my interpretation is based on my experiences, my background, my context.  My interpretations, and anyone else’s interpretations are starting points for your consideration.  The parables are told to be truths that are timeless and of continual encouragement to you, whatever your experience, background and context is. 
Here are some themes I have interpreted that you may want to consider…
·         The joy of finding something so precious that has been lost, is so much greater than the shame and embarrassment of losing it, that the parent, or the shepherd, or the woman is willing to share their joy with people all around them. 
·         The item that each person is searching for, whether it is a son, a sheep or a coin, is so precious that there isn’t a second thought about whether it is efficient or practical to look for them or it.  The searching parent, shepherd or woman jumps into action as a reflex to losing something they value highly.
·         There is no judgement about how the lost got away, or where they were found.  There is only grace and joy in finding them. There is no blame or guilt, and there’s no repentance. 
·         There is an element that even though there are others surrounding those who are searchers, their life is incomplete without the one thing that is missing.  The missing child, sheep and coin are so needed and wanted.  The stories have a component about being inclusive. 
·         Finally, all the stories share a theme of restoration. 
What if we were to think about the person doing the searching as God, and we think of the son, sheep or coin as those folks among us who are lost, or not a part of us?  That would make God a God of extravagance, who is willing to risk the status quo to search for the lost person.  That makes God a God of great love, grace and joy.  That would mean God is inclusive, and actively values each of his children above all else.  That would mean each person is important to God, and has a place in God’s world.  
I think we can be the most righteous people on earth and still at times feel lost.  We like to think we have it all together, but life throws some distractions at us and we can find ourselves alone, apart and without direction.  So how do we get found?  We reach deep within ourselves and admit our lost-ness, confide our fears and dashed hopes and dreams to this God of joy, and peace and restoration.  God is so in love with each of us that he wants nothing more than to have you be in harmony with him.  And if we just can’t do it on our own, we use our church and our pastor to help us find our way back.  Because it’s not about what we’ve done, or what happened to get us to this lost point,  it’s about who we are.  And we are people who are meant to be part of the whole.  God’s dream and celebration is in relationships.  God will go to extravagant risks to seek us out and catch us up in God’s mercy, grace and love.  
So think about the themes of the parables and what they might be telling you.  Maybe you are finding yourself to be the lost, or maybe you are helping someone else be found.  Whatever it is, rejoice in the restoration. Thanks be to God!  Amen

Have a Little Faith

Sermon for July 20, 2014                        “Have a Little Faith”
Parable of the weeds  Matthew 13:24-30
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like someone who planted good seed in his field. 25 While people were sleeping, an enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 When the stalks sprouted and bore grain, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The servants of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Master, didn’t you plant good seed in your field? Then how is it that it has weeds?’
28 “‘An enemy has done this,’ he answered.
“The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and gather them?’
29 “But the landowner said, ‘No, because if you gather the weeds, you’ll pull up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow side by side until the harvest. And at harvesttime I’ll say to the harvesters, “First gather the weeds and tie them together in bundles to be burned. But bring the wheat into my barn.” ’”
God bless the reading of his word. 

Maybe you have known someone you thought to be a saint, maybe you think you are a saint, but then something happens that reveals another side. 
A woman was sitting in her car at a traffic light.  A man in a truck was in front of her, waiting for the red light to turn green.  When the light changed, he was distracted and didn’t move.  The woman gave a friendly honk, he didn’t move.  She honked again, and he still didn’t move.  By now she is pounding her fist on the steering wheel, making hand gestures, yelling out the window and finally resorting to laying on the horn non-stop.  The guy in the truck wakes up, just as the light is turning yellow, and he drives through.  The woman is about to drive forward, when she gets a rap on her window.  She looks up and sees the face of a police officer, who tells her she is under arrest.  He tells her to get out, put her hands on the car, and he takes her to the police station where she is fingerprinted, photographed and put in a holding cell.  Hours pass and finally the police officer returns and unlocks the cell door.  The officer then tells her, “sorry for  this mistake Lady, but I pulled up behind you as you were blowing your horn, cursing and ranting at the driver in front of you.  I noticed the stickers on your car – one said “Follow me to Sunday School” and the other said “What would Jesus Do?” – so naturally, I assumed you had stolen that car. 

Sometimes life is ambiguous.
In this parable we have wheat planted by a farmer, and we have weeds planted by an enemy.  The problem is, to most of us the weeds look just like the wheat at first, until they sprouted.  When the wheat rises out of the ground, the weeds rise right along with it.  And now we have 2 things that are not supposed to go together.  The servants go to the farmer and ask where the weeds came from.  The farmer says the enemy planted them.  Well, do you want us to pull them up?  No, because if you pull up the weeds, you’ll uproot the good wheat.   Let it all grow together until harvest time.  Then the weeds and the wheat will come out of the ground together and then they will be separated. 
In spite of growing up in the Farm Machinery capital of the world, I know very little about farming.  So I took to the internet in hopes of understanding the basics of wheat and weeds.  Turns out, the word we have as “weeds” in the more modern translations of the Bible, was originally translated as "tares" in the King James Version.  “Tares” is from the Greek: zizania, plural of zizanion. This word is thought to mean darnel (Lolium temulentum),[2][3] a ryegrass which looks much like wheat in its early stages of growth.[4]
Ancient farmers sometimes feuded and Roman law even had to forbid the practice of sowing poisonous plants in a neighbor’s field.  The most basic staple of the palastinian diet was bread, thus wheat was critical. But a poisonous weed, a kind of ryegrass known as darnel,  looked like wheat in the early stages and could only be distinguished from when the ear appeared.  The fields were normally weeded in the spring, but if the weeds were discovered too late, as is the case here, one would risk uprooting the wheat with them.  The master does not want to risk his wheat.  Once they were fully grown, however, harvesters could cut the wheat just below the head, leaving the shorter tares to be cut separately.  Once dried, the darnel proved useful for something – it could be used as fuel for burning. 
The first week I moved to Girdwood I was in a bit of a culture shock.  I was walking in the neighborhood and I started thinking about all the things that don’t go together.  Like I was wearing flip-flops, but l could see snow.  On my right was a house that was one step up from a shack, with weeds and woods for a lawn,  and on my left, a multi-story, multi-dimensional house  with landscaping and flowers;  and then there was light, light that lasted and lasted, when it should be night time. 
All these things co-existing, things that don’t go together, like wheat and weeds… 

At one level, then, we could look at the parable in terms of our individual selves, and we could say that we are weedy people. We can look out our lives, our character, our habits, and see that each one of us is sort of like a field full of a mixture of wheat and weeds.  Like the woman in the car, each one of us is a mixture of good qualities and bad qualities. But the fact is, for every single one of us, no matter how much good wheat we have growing, there are weeds among our wheat.
  • Weeds of pride.
  • Weeds of disappointment.
  • Weeds of resentment, anger, violence, guilt, and prejudice, oppression.
  • Weeds of despair.
  • Weeds of bitterness.
I think there is another lesson here though.  It’s what I might call the lesson of ambiguity. This story has ambiguity stamped on it in more than one way. 
First, we have wheat and weeds growing together, but until each stalk sprouts, we can’t tell which is the wheat and which is the weed. 
Second– the choice to rip out the weeds when we first discover them, risking uprooting the wheat with the weeds, or to leave it all in place and risk the weeds choking the growth out the wheat. 
We have 2 things that don’t go together, wheat and weeds, good and evil, co-existing.  The situation is ambiguous.
I think we face wheat and weed fields throughout our life.  Ambiguous situations that require difficult choices -  like things involving finances, or time comittments, or how to raise children, or difficult choices in healthcare. 
Throughout our lives we have situations with no clear-cut answers. The parable shows us a farmer who sorts out the ambiguity and sticks to a basic principle:   he knows he has planted good seed and he chooses to stay with it to let it bear fruit.  He does this with a faith that in the end, God will sort it out.  The farmer knows that any seed planted by God has the potential to bear good fruit, and that God has the ability to make something good come from the bad.   I think Jesus is telling us to choose faith in the midst of ambiguity.
When we know the options aren’t clear-cut, our first job isn’t to put into place a full blown plan to get rid of evil.  Contrary to what superhero cartoons show us, we can’t just blow up evil, or throw it over a cliff and have it gone forever.  It always comes back, so  our REAL first job is to be the good in the world. This is what I call living into the Kingdom. 
There’s a reason for this – we can’t always tell what is wheat and what is weed.   Our judgement of weeds may not be spot on. 
And when there’s ambiguity, the seeds of grace may be at work on the weeds.  We just don’t always know.  So our job is to be about goodness.  Be the light.  Don’t support evil with wickedness and despair, blame and hatred.  Be the light in the darkness.    Just like the farmer who chooses first to let the wheat grow – believing in the good seed that has been planted to bear fruit.  God will deal with the weeds, the evil, in the end. 
I have to confess that I really struggle with a point in this story.  And that point is the feeling that our response to evil is passive.  In light of the Malaysian airliner being shot down, and increased fighting in Gaza, I have to ask, “aren’t we supposed to do something more about this?”  I chased this in circles and I finally came upon some wisdom shared by Adam Hamilton:
Adam says:  In the modern era we’re used to propositional truths, core principles, and arguments supported by facts. We’re used to being able to wrap our minds around something, and we’re encouraged to be skeptical of ideas until we’re fully able to understand them. But Jesus wasn’t a twenty-first-century motivational speaker. Jesus was a first-century Jewish rabbi, and he spoke like one. He used stories (commonly called parables), analogies, and exaggerated language (hyperbole). He talked about things we can’t even begin to wrap our minds around, so he built bridges using ideas and situations we can understand (John 3:12).
The purpose of Jesus’ teaching was to help us understand the Kingdom of God. God’s reign in all of creation is a present reality, even though many parts of our world live in rebellion against it and do a good job of convincing us that other powers reign. This was also true during Jesus’ time, when the Roman emperor claimed all authority and brutally cracked down on anyone who suggested otherwise.
God’s reign is a possibility that exists for each person who chooses to follow in the way of Jesus. Disciples play by the rules of God’s reign even while the powers of the world follow a different set of rules. Being in harmony with God can lead us into conflict with the world. God’s reign is also a future reality that will be fully consummated at some point, when all earthly kingdoms are disabused of their notion that anyone but God reigns. When and how this will happen is not clear, and it’s not for us to know. We are simply called to live in light of God’s promise, to allow the Kingdom to reign in our own lives, and to let God take care of the rest.”

Some decisions we are going to get right, some we are going to get wrong.  We don’t have the promise that everything will always turn out all right – faith doesn’t prevent hardship.  But we still have a choice to make, and no matter what the outcome is, when we choose to live in faith, we know we always have God’s grace and love to hold us up. 
As members of this congregation we can join with others and acknowledge that life is hard, choices are not always easy, bad things happen.  But in the end, God will hold all our choices and our lives together in love.  Whatever choices we make, whatever happens, we can return to each other on Sunday morning and experience two things:
First, we will hear the words of absolution – you are loved and forgiven through the grace of God.  I believe with all my heart that Jesus’ story didn’t end with his death on the cross, but rather the world was changed because his resurrection was God’s sign to us that God’s love is stronger and triumphs over the evil forces of the world that put Jesus to death.  This was the ushering in of the Kingdom of God.  And we can choose to put our faith in this God who triumphs over evil, or we can put our faith in the world.  God knows we are humans and we have choices to make in the midst of a lot of ambiguity, and those choices might take us among the weeds.  But we have a promise through our faith in God that we will be pardoned and reconciled with God.  This is grace, and it’s what allows us to live into kingdom of Heaven.
And second, we dwell in our church as a place where we can confess and acknowledge the confusion and ambiguity in our lives and find comfort, peace, support and hope from one another, as we seek to be the people God called us to be.  We are the kingdom of heaven on earth for each other when we find joy and love in the midst of our tears and when we find a newfound ability to be tolerant and accepting. 
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The greatest glory lies not in never falling, but in rising everytime you fall”.  God didn’t tell us to get defeated by evil, but rather to leave evil to him so you can be the light of Christ.  Sometimes the weeds overtake us, sometimes they co-exist with us, and sometimes, the weeds even turn into wheat.  Some days I’m wheat, and some days I’m weed; would that I could tear the weeds out of myself and leave only wheat.  But we shouldn’t discount the miraculous: it is within God’s power to change the weeds into something useful. This parable challenges us to live in full faith and commitment that God will ultimately do the “sorting out” at the coming harvest. After all, who am I to say who is weed and who is wheat?
I want to close with a clip from the movie “Have a Little Faith”, based on a book written by Mitch Albom.  Mitch has been asked to write the memoirs of his rabbi, and over the years leading up to the rabbi’s death, he meets with the rabbi regularly.  During this time  he discovers his own faith.   In the midst of his own ambiguity and searching for truth, he is given an opportunity to put his faith into action, white Jewish man alongside a black Christian man - and it is a beautiful moment when the things that usually don’t go together come together for the glory of God. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

"The Extravagant Sower"

The Extravagant Sower  -  Sermon by Pastor Sandy Ward - July 13th            
The next few weeks we’ll be looking at some parables from the book of Matthew.  Before we do that I’ve found it helpful to understand the context and history of how these stories have come into being. 
Matthew is one of 4 gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Matthew, Mark and Luke are called the synoptic gospels.  Synoptic comes from the Greek words syn, which means same, and optic, which relates to sight or view.  So while each of these gospels contains its own divine inspiration, Matthew, Mark and Luke contain a lot of the same material, sort of the same view – hence, synoptic.  And the reason they cover a lot of the same ground is because these 3 relied upon the same sources when they were writing their gospel.  The gospel of john relied upon totally independent sources and that is why it is not considered one of the synoptic gospels. 
Each gospel writer had a distinct viewpoint.  They wrote with 3 main purposes:
·      converting readers and hearers to faith in Jesus; 
·      to instruct and strengthen  those who already believed; 
·      to refute those, including Jews and Christians, with whom they disagreed. 

Each gospel was what the author believed to be true, when they were writing some 40-60 years after Jesus’ death. 
So what we will see here, as we study parables in Matthew, is that the same story is often written in one or both of the other synoptic gospels. 

So that helps us understand a little about the gospels and the writing of Matthew.  Now let’s consider the biblical timeline:

Jesus was born around 3 BCE, baptized around 26 CE, and is telling the parables we will be talking about the next few weeks around the year 28CE; Jesus death and resurrection happen around 30CE.   So Jesus was around 31 years old when he was speaking the parables. 

Mark was the first gospel written around 70 CE;  Matthew and Luke were written sometime in the 80-90’s CE, and it appears that both Matthew and Luke relied upon 2 main sources for their writings:  the book of Mark and a collection of Jesus’ sayings called  the “Q”, that was likely written in 40-50CE.  Mark had only the Q to rely upon. 

When you hear of a story or a scene that is in 2 or more of the gospels, that is called a “gospel parallel”.  Today we will talk about a parable – one you may be familiar with–The parable of the sower.  We will be looking at it as it is found in Matthew 13:1-9, but the same story is also found in Mark 4:1-9 and in Luke 8: 4-8.  Those are the gospel parallels for this parable.

This parable is found in chapter 13 of Matthew, so if you are like me, you like to know what has led up to Jesus telling this story at this point in Matthew’s gospel?   Take a look at your bulletin insert for the highlights of Matthew’s first 12 chapters.  Chapter one is all about the ancestry and the birth of Christ.  Chapter 2 takes Jesus from a baby to his baptism as a grown man.  Then we have the temptations of Christ, and by Chapter 4 Jesus has returned to the area of Galilee and is calling his first disciples, the brothers Simon-Peter and Andrew and the other brothers James and John.  It’s at this point Jesus starts teaching and preaching to the crowds. 

In Chapter 5, Jesus needs a break and retreats from the crowds by going up to the mountain.  This is when he teaches the disciples the beatitudes – “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” (9 beatitudes in all).  The teaching goes on until Jesus comes down from the mountain in Chapter 8.  Then he starts the healings, first the leper, then Peter’s mother in law.  The crowds are following him and he again needs a break and he tells his disciples to follow him.  He gets into a boat and then calms the storm.  After that he returns to the crowds, casting out demons, and healing.  In Chapter 9, Jesus calls Matthew, a tax collector, to be his disciple.  Chapter 9 is also where the hemorrhaging woman touches Jesus’ cloak and he says the famous line “Your faith has made you well”. 

By chapter 10 Jesus has 12 disciples and he calls all of them together.   He gives them authority to cast out demons, cure illness and heal sickness, and then he sends them out. 

In Chapters 11 and 12, we start seeing how the Pharisees (who are strict followers of the Old Testament laws) challenge and refute and accost Jesus.  The Pharisees call him on working on the Sabbath – challenging  him about picking grain on a Sunday, which he was doing to feed the disciples, and then later, when Jesus is in the synagogue  and heals a man’s hand, and they again criticize him for healing on the Sabbath.  They discount his ability to remove demons from a blind and mute man, and then they demand a sign to see if he’s for real.  The Pharisees have started conspiring on how to get rid of him.  Jesus finally goes home

This is where chapter 13 picks up – and it’s in verse one we hear “That same day”, which is referring to  this “same day” of controversies, conflicts and teaching, that Jesus has come outside and now goes down to the Sea of Galilee.   It is in light of how the crowds have been infiltrated and influenced by the Pharisees, that Jesus tells this parable: 
A farmer, the sower, put a heavy seed bag on his shoulder and went out to his field to sow seed. The word “sow”, here, means to scatter.   In those days, seed was first scattered, and then gently plowed into the ground.
Here, as this farmer tossed his precious seed, some fell on a well-worn path cut by foot traffic through the fallow field. When fields lay fallow, foot travelers would cut walking paths through the fields, taking the shortest distance between two points. They didn’t really have fences to keep people out.  So some seed landed on the path. And when it did, the birds ate it for lunch.
Other seeds fell on rocky ground. Because there was little soil there, the seedlings sprang up quickly and then withered under the scorching sun. Thorns choked off other seeds because the thorns were so dense that the seedlings couldn’t get enough light to grow. Finally, some seed fell on good ground and brought forth a bumper crop yielding thirty, sixty, even a hundred times the amount of seed that was scattered.  Jesus ended the story admonishing all to listen; everyone with ears is to pay attention and listen carefully, deeply, and thoughtfully.
Some time passes. Probably alone with his disciples, and now in verses 18-23, Jesus gives them an interpretation of the parable he told to the crowds earlier.
He starts with an explanation of The path:
The seeds that fell along the path are the people who hear the message about the kingdom, but don’t understand it. These people are influenced by the evil and wickedness surrounding them in the world, and they let that evil overtake them, and it snatches the good message from their hearts. You know; some people are just too involved in the world to pay attention to spiritual things; they hear the word, but don’t really absorb it, these are the people represented by the path.

The rocks:
The seeds that fell on rocky ground are the people who gladly hear the message and accept it right away. But they don’t have deep roots, and as soon as life gets hard or the message gets them in trouble, they give up.  Other people get all excited about the Gospel for a while, but then their excitement dies down because they don’t grow in their faith; these are the people represented by the rocky ground.

The Thorns
The seeds that fell among the thorn bushes are also people who hear the message. But they start worrying about the needs of this life and are fooled by their own neediness and desire to control, so the message gets choked out, and they never produce anything. Then there are the ones who lose their faith when trouble comes, when sickness and persecution and trial attack their lives. These are the people the thorns represent.

Good ground:
The seeds that fell on good ground are the people who hear and understand the message. They produce as much as a hundred or sixty or thirty times what was planted.

What’s interesting to me is that this parable is called the Parable of the Sower, but the theme, explanation and interpretation is really about the four kinds of ground, and the people represented by each kind of ground. 
So I’m going to offer a couple of other explanations. 

The first is that maybe it’s not about people each being a different kind of ground, but maybe it’s about each life having all kinds of ground…if that is so, all of our lives have worn, rocky, thorny, and yes, good soil in which seed can germinate and grow.

If your life is like mine, you know how daily living creates well-worn paths. We call them ruts. We drive to and from work using the same route day after day. We shop at the same grocery store, fill our tanks at the same gas station, thankfully attend the same church, and, more times than not, feed our families predictable menus of foods we know they will eat and enjoy. Routines are often required, but sometimes in our relationship with God, routines can become ruts. We can attend church week after week, hear the scriptures read (like this familiar parable), sing familiar hymns, go through the church routine.  And all these routines can leave us kind of complacent, maybe even bored.
God’s seed also falls on the rocky places of our lives. Life, by definition, can leave us cold, sharp, soilless, and rough. Physical pain, emotional pain, the cruelty of insensitive friends, and the crude comments of strangers can leave us feeling lifeless and immobile, like those rocks on the highway.  Those rocks can’t produce anything, or reflect any of God’s bounty.
 Thorns pop up in our life’s ground as well.   An unexpected bill or family crisis can be brutal and overwhelming and none of us intend for the thorns to overwhelm us, but there they do, choking out God’s blessings, robbing us of God’s promise.
But thanks be to God, some seed falls on good ground. When it does, we can experience the kingdom of heaven, the goodness of God, the miracle of new life or a renewed spirit is cultivated and nourished.  Our spirits can soar 100fold in ways we never dared to dream. 
The second explanation I offer is this: 

What if it is not about us at all but about the sower?   Barbara Brown Taylor, an ordained minister and Christian writer asks:  What if it is not about our own successes and failures and birds and rocks and thorns,  but about the extravagance of a sower who does not seem to be fazed by such concerns, who flings seed everywhere, wastes it with holy abandon, who feeds the birds, whistles at the rocks, picks his way through the thorns, shouts hallelujah at the good soil and just keeps on sowing, confident that there is enough seed to go around, that there is plenty, and that when the harvest comes at last it will fill every barn in the neighborhood to the rafters?

If the parable is about the Sower and not the parable of the different kinds of ground, then it takes on yet a different meaning.   The focus changes from being about us and our shortfalls, to that of the generosity of our maker, the prolific sower who doesn’t spend time obsessing about the condition of the fields, who is not stingy with the seed but who casts it everywhere, on good soil, on paths, on rocks and on thorns.  A sower who is not cautious or judgmental or even very practical, but one who is willing to keep reaching into his seed bag for all eternity, covering the whole creation with the fertile seed of his grace and goodness.

God, the sower, showed us grace and mercy through the human life and death of his son, Jesus Christ.  He showed us the incredible harvest through Christ’s resurrection, so maybe then, I need to apply the same grace and mercy to this parable.   Maybe I need to unlearn looking at myself as good soil and someone else as bad soil. Maybe this is where the two explanations meet and mesh.  Because each of our lives is the most basic field into which God sows his grace, where it sometimes meets with a life and heart that is hard soil and rocky soil and weeds, and sometimes a life and heart with good soil that bears the fruit of extending God's limitless love with others.

The ministry of sowing is not a task for those who are easily discouraged.  The seeds of God’s love and grace can look very different and sometimes that difference sustains us.  Sometimes our seed might be talking about God’s love to another, other times it might be expressed in an act of kindness, goodness or concern.  Sometimes I don’t think I have it to give, but if I reach deep enough, I can find a way to be the seed or plant the seed.  Lots of times in Missouri I would run down the street for lunch, I would get a sandwich, cut it in half and on the way back to my office give the other half to one of our many homeless friends coming in and out of the church.  This was something I could do when I was stressed or in my grumpiest of moods, when I was field of rocks or thorns. 
This week I discovered a story about Vincent van Gogh that really touched my heart.  Van Gogh was the son of a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church in the 1800’s.  Vincent had a call to ministry and he pursued this call as a student of theology and then as a missionary to coal mine workers in Belgium.  He was deeply moved by the poverty around him and he gave all of his possessions, including most of his clothing, to the miners.  An inspector from the Evangelization Council (of the Dutch Reformed Church)  came along and found that van Gogh’s generosity bordered on scandalous and he reported Vincent’s behavior to the church’s authorities.  Although he was successful in his ministry, the hierarchy of the Dutch Reformed Church rejected him and at the end of 1879 he left the church. 
He remained in Belgium in deep misery, but he found it within himself to make drawings of the simple life of the Belgium peasants.  He found drawing a kind of conversion experience, saying “Even in that deep misery I felt my energy revive…” Although most of the van Gogh biographers viewed the transition as a rejection of religion, what actually happened was that his art, rather than preaching, became van Gogh’s chief form of religious expression.  His faith in God and eternity and respect for God’s word remained firm.  He rejected the religion of his parents for what he thought was true piety, which he called “the white ray of light”.  Many of his paintings have religious themes.   Van Gogh claimed “our purpose is self-reform by means of a handicraft and of interaction with nature – our aim is walking with God”.  He had a desire to bring people closer to God, closer to each other and closer to themselves.  In 1888 he painted “The Sower”, an important piece in the history of art, and a scene straight out of our Matthew text.  We see the farmer sowing the seed deliberately.  For van Gogh, the color yellow symbolized faith, triumph and love; the color blue represented the divine.  You see how he combined the colors to show the relationship between all living things.  

How do you nurture your heart to make it good ground that will yield a fruitful harvest for the Lord?   The holy sacrament of communion is one way to feed your soul with God’s grace.  Prayer is another way.  As we prepare to come to the Lord’s Table, let us take a time to share our joys and concerns and bring them to God in a time of prayer.  To acknowledge and know the sower is in your midst, let the Eucharist unite you, prayer guide you, the Holy Spirit empower you and loving service define you.  Spend time observing the world with eyes that are blessed to see.  Spend time listening to the world with ears that are blessed to hear.  Not just what you want to see and hear, but with the blessing of seeing and hearing the reality and diversity of the world.  A journey Jesus forged for us on the path of His human journey and taught us to heal brokenness, welcome the stranger and love as we have been loved.  Then the seeds He sows in our hearts will indeed bear fruit and yield a crop thirty, sixty or even a hundred times the seed that was scattered.
Amen.  .

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Ordinary People

ed. note:  This was Pastor Sandy's introductory sermon to Girdwood Chapel on July 6th.  It's a great way for you to get to know our new pastor, in her own words.

Ordinary People                                         sermon: 7.6.2014                Sandy Ward
Good morning. 
This is a story about a very ordinary person, in a very ordinary life.  There is nothing glamorous, and no one is going to write an epic drama mini-series depicting this life.  But in this ordinariness there is something very awesome and very empowering…
It was a blustery fall day, in fact it was Halloween, and the doctor was trying to finish his obligations.  I was one of his obligations – or rather my mother and I were his obligations.  I had to be born so he could go out of town.  I was both a trick and a treat that night in Moline, IL. 
Over the next seven years, my older brother and I were joined by another sister and brother.  It was the 60’s and my dad went to work each day at his job as a tool and die maker, and my mother stayed home and raised the children.  We were… a very ordinary family.  We walked to our school two blocks away, went to lessons and after school activities, and on Sundays my mother took us four kids to Sunday School and church service at the Watertown Baptist Church.  I remember it being a medium size church with one male pastor, and a male youth pastor that was hired later.  This was the church my mother’s entire family attended, 3 aunts, 3 uncles, 9 cousins, grandma, mom and my 3 siblings. 
I grew up memorizing bible verses and the books of the Bible.  John 3:16, King James style, was the central verse of this church’s ministry, long before churches had mission statements and ministry plans.  The minister lived in a parsonage that was connected to the church.  Worship was every Sunday morning, Sunday night and I think there was a mid-week service.  When I was in high school, we had youth group on Sunday evenings. It was a …very ordinary church.
I was an ordinary middle child, who went to an ordinary school and ordinary church.  I even went to Normal, IL for college.    In the years that followed college I moved to Chicago, worked in corporate America and went to grad school at night.   I was living the dream of the 80’s – working in corporate America, getting an MBA.  I had a nice car, a condo in the city,  By some folk’s standards, I had it all… but after about 10 years of that I wanted something more meaningful. 
I was growing restless; I drifted in and out of church attendance, not really finding a downtown church to latch onto. I was struggling with how to live in a self-absorbed, fast-tracked world while really wanting to make some sort of social contribution.  I had growing need to serve others. 
In July of 1989, I met my husband on a boat in Wilmette Harbor.  We were sailing together on a mutual friend’s boat in a regatta on Lake Michigan.  Two years later we were married outdoors at Windpoint Lighthouse in Racine, Wisconsin.  Our son, Cameron, was born a year and a half later.  It was 1992, and by this point I had left corporate America and was working as the Marketing Manager of a hospital, starting  to make some contribution to society.  And with a new baby, it was time to get serious about getting back to church.  (How ordinary is that story?)
In 1994 we moved to Ames, Iowa, we began to find a family routine and values around worship, mission and fellowship at the First UMC in Ames.  With a one year old in tow, and another baby on the way, now my identity was as a wife and mother.   When we moved again to East Lansing, Michigan, it was easy to connect with a new church.  Now we had 2 preschoolers (Cameron and Blake), my husband was in law school and I was working at Michigan State University.  At church I was a Sunday School teacher and my husband ran the sound board, and we chaired the outreach committee, and many of our neighborhood friends were also our church friends.
Fast forward ten years.  We had been raising our children with Church attendance and activities as a regular part of our lives, when we moved to Columbia, MO.  We found a new church and it was easy to connect because now we had school age children.  I was employed working for the church – first in a more regional setting then later at the church we attended and were members of.  My oldest son graduated from high school, my husband had a good job, my younger son was growing up, and life should have been savored and appreciated.  But I knew there was something more.  Thoughts of attending seminary had floated in and out of my mind, and I had this very compelling feeling that each job and each experience had been building to something greater.  This was my call and I either had to live into it, or forget it.  I knew I had to be true to myself and my God.  So, like many of our household business discussions, I decided to bring it up with my husband over lunch.  I said “hey, I want to talk to you about something”… and he said “you want to go to seminary”.  I was shocked!   “yeah… how did you know?”  He said “I thought you should have gone years ago”.    What a gift that was to me.  I felt peace, and a solid sense of direction. 

The story doesn’t end there.  It’s actually a new beginning.  Because, through this journey, I began to discover that even the most ordinary people are something special.  And through my own Bible study, this is one of the scriptures that has really really embraced and empowered me; 
Psalm 139:13-14:
 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.”
 In this passage, the psalmist is David, and he is writing in praise for the formation of each and every person -- unique and not of ourselves or our parents, but of God.  Think about it, each and every muscle, bone, organ and blood vessel is in place to work together in exact symmetry and proportion and is designed exquisitely to deliver energy and function when we need it.  These verses transcend the scientific concept of humans as merely biological happenings. David is so eloquent in making the case that each human is a deliberate and intentional work of our omnipotent creator.  Our very being, our self, wholly and complex, is the will of God and we belong to God in every aspect of our being.   
            Look especially at 3 words in this passage:  formed, fearfully and made:
First, the word “formed”, from verse 13 ““For it was you who formed my inward parts”:  Albert Barnes,( in his article in Sacred Texts), comments that the literal translation of v.13 should be “Thou hast “woven” me in my mother’s womb”, “meaning that God had put the psalmist’s parts together, as one weaves cloth – God made us human, forming our parts and uniting them in a bodily frame and form.” [1] 

Second, the word “fearfully”, from verse 14, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made”:   Dr. C. John Collins, a theologian at  Covenant Theological Seminary, writes that when you interpret verse 14 from the Hebrew, it is better translated as “I am fearfully (or even better, awesomely) wonderful”.   Fearfully is derived from the root word “yara”,  In today’s culture, fear is usually associated with the instincts to run, defend or retaliate.  But “yara” actually encompasses a larger meaning of awe, reverent respect, and honor.  At its root, the word denotes obedience to the divine will, so another meaning might be “reverently”.  Albert Barnes provides a translation of “fearfully” as things suited to produce fear or reverence – things in creation which are suited to inspire awe”. [2]   

Third, look at the word “made”, also from verse 14:  The common Biblical translations usually say “I am fearfully and wonderfully made…”, but actually, the word “made” translates closer to “be separated, distinct”, with a nuance based on the Hebrew verb that means “set apart for God’s gracious attention.”[3]  

Putting it all together, using the wisdom of Barnes and Collins, a better interpretation might be ‘God put me together in my mother’s womb, uniting all of me together in a human body.  I am revered as an awesomely distinct being, set apart for God’s gracious attention.’ 

We are living proof of God’s wonder, wisdom and knowledge.  We are created in the image of God, according to Genesis 1:27 “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them”. 
When I first began this journey of exploring a call to ministry, I was asked to tell my story.  I told a humble, “Readers Digest” version and a colleague said to me, “you have something to shout about – you are the daughter of the King”.  What a conviction!  God created me and gave me exactly what I need, to be able to do what I am called to do.  I am created to share the good news of the love and grace of our Lord and do good works.  I am created to serve as Jesus served, lead as Jesus led, pray as Jesus prayed and love and Jesus loved. 
And I think we all have a call to serve God in one way or another.    God has created you uniquely, formed and framed by God.  Each of us was reverently, wondrously, strikingly, remarkable, differently made, in ways beyond human explanation.  We are to know God, just as God knows us.  God has given you exactly what you need to be able to do what God calls you to do.  You are empowered to live a God filled life, by virtue of the wondrous creation you are. 
 While I may have had a pretty ordinary life by most people’s standards, I am far from ordinary in God’s eyes.   I AM the daughter of the King!   And there is nothing ordinary about any of us – we are all children of our living and loving God – each of us uniquely created to live out our own faith, our own call, our own identity in the world.  You are sons and daughters of the King!!
On this weekend when we are celebrating our country’s independence, we remember all those who have done a part to protect our freedom -- many of them from very ordinary walks of life, but all of them courageously stepping up.  But in each of us, ordinary or not, God has created us with beauty and purpose.  Remember that you are the daughter or son of the King, and that each and every one of us is an “awesomely distinct being, set apart for God’s gracious attention and reflection.    

[1] Albert Barnes.  Notes on the Bible:  Psalms Chapter 139, 1834, http://www.sacred-texts.com, 2010
[2] Albert Barnes.  Notes on the Bible:  Psalms Chapter 139, 1834, http://www.sacred-texts.com, 2010
[3] C. John Collins.  “Psalm 139:14:  “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made” Presbyterian: Covenant Seminary Review 25:2 (Fall 1999): 115