Sermon for January 21, 2018

A Sermon from the North Yarmouth Congregational Church
A sermon offered by the Rev. Nancy J. White in the public worship of the North Yarmouth Congregational Church, UCC of North Yarmouth, Maine January 21, 2018 at 9:30 am.

Mark 1:14-20
1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,

1:15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

1:16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea–for they were fishermen.

1:17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

1:18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

1:19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets.

1:20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Mark’s gospel is believed to be the first Gospel written. It is only 16 chapters long and can easily be read in its entirety in one sitting. Pre-work for one of my seminary courses was to read Mark through three times before the first class meeting. I encourage you to do this as well – find a contemporary English version of the Bible and read it through at least once. This gospel lends itself to such reading – it is brief and to the point – Mark does not add eloquent poetry but moves quickly through Jesus’ ministry years. Immediately preceding today’s scripture is the story of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. Mark gives this story two verses compared to 11 in Matthew and 12 in Luke. It’s as if , in Mark, the story of Jesus is vital and important, needs to be heard right now and should be told in as few words as possible.
In today’s reading, we hear of Jesus calling the first of his 12 disciples. Mark gets right to the point – Jesus sees two sets of brothers fishing on the Sea of Galilee, says to them, ‘follow me’ and they drop everything and go with him. Simon Peter and Andrew are casting their nets for fish and they leave their nets and follow him. James and John are mending nets with their father Zebedee and they leave their father and go with him. Fishermen were doing pretty well in that day – note that they left their father with the hired men. This was a trade that allowed them to care for their families and probably live in some comfort. These were not teenagers; these were grown men and for at least Simon Peter we know from later in the Gospel that he was married with a family.

What was it about Jesus’ words ‘follow me’ that compelled these grown men with family businesses and obligations to change their lives and join Jesus’ in his ministry? These men had no doubt been fishing since they could barely walk – this was their family business. Were they tired of it? Did they long for something more? Did they just feel ordinary? These fishermen were doing alright but they certainly witnessed the effects of Roman occupation on the people of Israel – things could surely be better. Jews were a conquered people to Rome. They witnessed their own religious leaders cooperating, even colluding with the Roman occupiers.

Jesus called them to follow him and told them he could make a difference. In our NRSV translation, Jesus told them he would make them ‘fish for people’. A better translation is that Jesus told them he would make them ‘fishers of people’. To fish for people is a task. To be fishers of people is more than that – it changes who they are – it transforms them. It elevates who they are and what they do to a new level. It tells them they are important and they can make a difference in their world. They can be instrumental in bringing about God’s kingdom on the earth.

A while ago on facebook, there was a video shared of a social experiment. Someone videotaped an ordinary man on crutches who fell and was immediately helped to stand by passersby on the street. This happened repeatedly – each time he fell, people walking by stopped to help him up. Then they repeated the same situation except this time the man on crutches was clearly a homeless person carrying a blanket in a makeshift suitcase made out of a box. Each time this man on crutches fell, people just walked on by until he fell right in front of another homeless person sitting on the sidewalk. That person immediately helped the fallen man. Afterwards in speaking about the experience, the person who had fallen said in the second scenario, as a homeless person, he felt invisible, like nothing until he was helped by another homeless person – it was as if this person was saying you are not nothing – you are someone, you do have value.

Is that what Jesus was saying to the fishermen? You are more than fishermen to me. I see qualities in you that you don’t even know exist. With me you can make a difference in the lives of others. I have come to bring good news to the poor and you can help me do that! Become fishers of people and experience a whole new way of living!

For the ordinary person this might be a bit scary. Why should I change my whole way of life? I know what to expect right now – some of it good, some of it not so good but no huge surprises so I can handle it. It can be scary. Jesus is asking each of us to leave behind the ways of this world in order to experience God’s world. God’s world is pretty awesome from what I understand so why do we fear this? Jesus is asking us to live our lives for the sake of God’s kingdom. Share God’s love, help every person to know that they are loved and valuable in God’s sight. People in America are afraid this means they might be called to be a missionary in Africa and people in Africa are afraid they might be expected to go to NY city. It might mean that but probably not – there are enough people right here in our communities who feel worthless, who feel like nothing, who feel like if they fell down, no one would stop to help them.

One of the ‘ah-ha’ moments in my life as a minister was the first time I told someone God loved them only to have them tear-up with emotion. I shared that in God’s eyes they are loved, that they have value, that they are someone and it brought them to tears. I am no longer surprised by this. For many people feel deep down inside that they are not worthy of God’s love. But that is the Good News, my friends – no one is ‘worthy’ of God’s love – it is not something we earn or deserve. God loves us no matter what. Each of us is loved; each of us has value; each of us is someone in the heart of God. But do you believe that? Do you understand and accept that?

This is what Jesus is calling us to accept and believe and Jesus calls us to follow him so that we can help every person we meet understand that God wants them to know how much God values them. It does not matter who they are, what they have done, what life circumstances they find themselves in – God loves them – it is that simple. They might be homeless, heterosexual, gay, young, old, black, white, Christian, Muslim. We are called to be that love of God in our world and to also speak that love of God so that all may know. We are not called to judge. We are called to love in the name of Jesus the Christ. We are called to help those who have not known God’s love before understand it for themselves and their world. It is as simple as that and as scary as that.
I am here to tell you that God loves you. You have value. Take that knowledge and change your life – live in God’s love and go, be fishers of people in this world and share that love with everyone. Amen.

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Sermon for October 22, 2017

A Sermon from the North Yarmouth Congregational Church
A sermon offered by Sandra Golonka in the public worship of the First Congregational Church of North Yarmouth, UCC of North Yarmouth, Maine on Sunday,     October 22, 2017.
Principal readings John 2:1-11; John 6:1-13

Freely you have received, freely give.

Over the years I have served on numerous stewardship committees so today I just want to share some of my observations, some of the questions that puzzle me about stewardship and what I believe personally.
It’s been my experience that most churches throw in a quick, almost embarrassed appeal for increased giving from the congregation. Why is it that we are so embarrassed to say we need money for the ministry of the church? Why do people get annoyed or even mad when they hear of appeals for money coming from the pulpit?
In some churches they leave the offering plates at the doors and people drop their checks/envelopes/cash into the plates as they come into the church so it’s not part of the service. And even when we pass the plates how many of us drop our offering into them without a thought? Some of us don’t even have to touch money at all. Our offering goes straight from our bank account into the church’s bank account and our only connection with the offering is the statement we get at the end of the year. I think for most people money and church just don’t mix.
So, where does God stand on all this? Well in our bible there are about 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 on faith and about 2350 verses on money and possessions. Don’t panic, I’m not going to read all of them to you!

Scripture tells us that God owns every beast in the forest and the cattle on a thousand hills. In Revelation we are told that the 12 gates into the new Jerusalem were 12 pearls, each gate being made by a single pearl. Wealth beyond our imagination! Obviously God doesn’t need the small amount that I put into the plate every sunday so why does God want my offering? Well, I think that one of the things I tend to forget is that my offering is to be presented to God. Not the North Yarmouth church. To God. I forget that God does own every single thing on this earth. God owns every single thing I possess.

Bringing an offering is a way for me to have a spiritual, faith connection with God and a way to acknowledge God’s sovereignty over all I possess. It’s a way for me to share the blessings God has bestowed on me. And most importantly, it’s a way for me to place trust in God believing that he will take care of me.

I believe that another reason God wants my offering is because he wants me to work with him to tell others about the great love God has for all his children. God is inviting me into partnership with him in spreading the good news of the gospel. I also believe that stewardship is more than collecting monetary pledges. It is about offering to God our gifts and talents as well as money.
In our gospel readings today we first heard of the wedding at Cana. The wedding has been going on for a few days which was very common then, and the wine has run out. Jesus tells the servants to fill the water jars. Each jar held 20-30 gallons and there were 6 of them. Now these servants have been working for a couple of days. My guess is they were tired and ready to go home. Now they are asked to work overtime! It’s not a case of turning on a faucet or fixing a hose from the tap to the jar. They had to go to the well and draw buckets of water and lug them back to the house. Truly, would any of us have blamed them if they had only half filled the jars? But note what it says. They filled them to the brim. They were given a task by Jesus and they gave it their all.
In our second reading about five thousand people have gathered to hear Jesus. Jesus wants the disciples to feed them and the disciples are sweating bullets at the thought. One young boy steps forward and offers to share his lunch……a sardine sandwich. Let’s face it, for most of us it wouldn’t even have crossed our minds to make such a ridiculous offer.

In both these stories the thing that strikes me is that neither the servants or the little boy did anything special or miraculous. The servants did what they were called to do and did it to the best of their ability. The little boy offered to Jesus what he had even though it seemed so small and insignificant. I think that sometimes we in the church get so caught up in what we are trying to do to further God’s kingdom here on earth that we are blind to what God can do. The servants and the little boy did what they could but it was Jesus who changed the water into wine. It was Jesus who multiplied the loaves and fishes.

So what does this say? Good things are happening here at NYCC. Whether you are 6 or 106 you have a gift that Jesus can use in ministry here. And if you can only increase your monetary offering by 5 dollars, Jesus can bless that beyond what we can imagine.

So I believe that stewardship is about extending the invitation to each and every one of us to join together with Pastor Nancy and the leaders of the church in reaching out to the community, sharing God’s love with everyone. I also believe that stewardship is a time for reflecting on our relationship with Jesus. It’s a time to reflect on how much we trust in him and the love he has so freely given to us. It is a time to reflect on how we will respond to that love with our money, gifts and talents.

I would ask only that you come to our stewardship campaign with an open mind and an open heart.

Freely you have received, freely give. Amen.